Abu Aardvark on Smith-Mundt & Information Ops

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Those of you interested in the whole Information Operations / Public Diplomacy angle of COIN will likely find Marc Lynch’s blog, Abu Aardvark, worth checking out.

In his most recent post he assesses Matt Armstrong’s recent criticisms of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, which sought to protect American audiences from being influenced by US propaganda aimed at foreign populations, but which Armstrong points out, “is now invoked to prevent any potential communication that might possibly be heard or seen by Americans”.

While acknowledging Armstrong’s point that this has significantly impeded US information operations in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lynch argues that “the ban on domestic dissemination is there for a reason“.

The temptation to manipulate American public opinion has always been there, and has only grown more potent in an age where counter-insurgency practitioners and “Long War” planners openly view the American domestic arena as a vital strategic arena. I’d go so far as to suggest that a not-insignificant portion of General Petraeus’s information operations efforts have been directed towards shaping American public discourse. It isn’t an accident that he has been so available to so many journalists, or that the flow of “good news” about the Anbar Awakening and the surge into the American media has expanded so dramatically. And why wouldn’t he, when at the heart of the new counter-insurgency doctrine lies the recognition that maintaining domestic public support for a long, drawn-out military presence is one of the most important single factors?

However, while expressing sympathy with the principles behind Smith-Mundt (as well as with those seeking to break free from its constraints), Lynch concludes by questioning whether the act is even remotely practical in the modern age, irrespective of any ethical debate:

At the same time, I’ve become somewhat fatalistic about the ability to actually control this or to enforce Smith-Mundt’s principles in any serious fashion. Preventing the domestic reception of propaganda released abroad is simply impossible given the globalization of the media and the incredibly fast movement of information from one public to another, from one language to another, from one media form to another.

Read the full post here.

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2 Responses to “Abu Aardvark on Smith-Mundt & Information Ops”

  1. Insurgency Research Group Blog « Kings of War Says:

    […] go to the IRG blog. Anyway, have a look there if you’re interested. Will has a post there on Mountain Runner and Abu Aardvark’s discussion of the Smith-Mundt  act which will be of interest to infowar/public diplomacy […]

  2. Matt Armstrong Says:

    I’m glad you picked up the discussion. Smith-Mundt has a critical impact on America’s ability to be effective in counterinsurgencies that are more often global in nature, deriving support from beyond the geography within which they operate. This is not, of course, unlike the past, such as our (America’s) insurgency against the Crown (you). But New Media and Globalization has shrunk the time and distance between points in ways that changes the very nature and purpose of kinetic operations, as well as non-kinetic COIN operations like reconstruction and stabilization.

    I have a response to Marc on the “principles of Smith-Mundt” up at http://mountainrunner.us/2008/03/talking_about_the_principles_s.html.

    Also, moving down from the strategic level of the above discourse, you may be interested in the following:
    Synchronizing Information: The Importance of New Media in Conflict at http://mountainrunner.us/2008/03/synchronizing_information_the.html.

    Cheers.

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