Monday, March 28, 2016

Maybe It's Not Kudzu?

Saturday, March 26th 2016
Creative Commons
Backyard Garden photo by Jasper33 via Creative Commons
A previous commentary here unfortunately missed the point about kudzu.  
Sorry, I mean, about the ‘‘Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016.’’  That’s the one recently unveiled by Republican Senator Rob Portman and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy.  The S.2692 bill text is here.
It is worth reading the actual text of the bill, because it describes something quite different from the kudzu that famously “sucks up all the water and nutrients” needed by existing plants (or “funding and support needed by existing government organizations.)”
As I read the bill, it authorizes and funds some things we don’t have right now.  The new center will:
  • coordinate the collection and analysis of information on foreign government information warfare efforts;
  • incorporate data-based analysis of foreign propaganda/disinformation into  U.S. national strategy;
  • synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose/counter foreign information operations directed against U.S. national security interests;
  • advance fact-based narratives that support United States allies and interests;
  • share technology and technical expertise among  agencies as well as seeking  help from external sources;
  • identify gaps in United States capabilities.
If anyone thinks we are succeeding at those things right now, please do speak up? 
It’s not obvious that we’re doing a very good job – at the inter-agency level – of countering or even analyzing Russian, Chinese or ISIL propaganda.   
The kudzu commentary worries that such a “counter disinformation center” will come at the expense of  VOA, RFE-RL, RFA, MBN, and OCB.  With international civilian broadcasting already absorbing about one third of total USG spending on public diplomacy, that garden seems well tended. 
And, the State Department’s public diplomacy focus in recent years has done a good job on cultural diplomacy, English teaching, educational exchanges, and long-term relationship building activities worldwide.    
But the endless succession of weeds and crop failures – I mean endless succession of organization charts and leadership turnover in the Counterterrorism Strategic Communication Center (CSCC), Global Engagement Center (GSEC), and other entities – look like symptoms of dysfunction.  Add the apparently unbridgeable gulf  that separates Foggy Bottom, Arlington, Langley, and the West Wing, and it is no wonder that some senators think it’s time to bring in a new gardener.
Oh, and that new gardener? Well, the bill proposes that the chairman of the new center’s steering committee be the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, not the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy.

Portman-Murphy Counter Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act.pdf36.06 KB

Author: Brian Carlson

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