Current legislation makes it illegal for the US government to use propaganda on its own citizens. The House of Representatives, however, has placed an amendment on the defense authorization bill that eliminates this ban.
The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.
The new law would give sweeping powers to the government to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”
According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.
Clearly, it should now be evident that the US government no longer has our best interests at heart. They are eager to use their propaganda machines on the civilian population in order to sway public opinion in their favor as a means of justifying whatever they want to do.
“Clearly there are ways to modernize for the information age without wiping out the distinction between domestic and foreign audiences,” says Michael Shank, Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace in Washington D.C. “That Reps Adam Smith and Mac Thornberry want to roll back protections put in place by previously-serving Senators – who, in their wisdom, ensured limits to taxpayer–funded propaganda promulgated by the US government – is disconcerting and dangerous.”
Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.
The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.
In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.
Anyone who is paying attention should be deeply concerned by the actions of Congress.
The Pentagon spends some $4 billion a year to sway public opinion already, and it was recently revealed by USA Today the DoD spent $202 million on information operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last year.
In an apparent retaliation to the USA Today investigation, the two reporters working on the story appear to have been targeted by Pentagon contractors, who created fake Facebook pages and Twitter accounts in an attempt to discredit them.
Contractors for the Pentagon are already targeting individual journalists who don’t adhere to their desires. Whilstleblowers are under constant threats. A passage of this bill would elimi9nate any need for the government to tell the truth. At the moment, it is still relatively easy to tell when the media is attempting to spin a news story, providing you aren’t watching FOX News. If the bill passes, the lines between government propaganda and legitimate news will be impossible to differentiate.
This is no a partisan issue either. This is a bill that has support from both sides of the political aisle. Given the fact that the Pentagon already spends $4 billion annually in an attempt to sway public opinion, this bill would allow the Pentagon to utilize that money for propaganda and outright lies. Once the general public is fed enough propaganda it is an easy step to convince Americans to fight and die to “preserve the American way of life.” Those that can’t fight can pay more taxes, buy bonds, and be patriotic to the cause.
The defense authorization bill and its amendments is yet another bill in an ever-increasing line of disturbing ways the government is attempting to legislate control over the general American population. The fact that this information was posted on a Friday proves that the government knows and understands that many Americans and privacy advocates would protest if it had been released earlier in the week. Releasing it at the end of the week ensures that nearly everyone will miss any amendments slipped into the bill.
Fortunately, the Senate version of the bill has dropped the added measure of propaganda.
The version of the defense appropriateions bill that passed through markup in the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday afternoon does not include an amendment to “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda says Glen Caplin, Communicaitons Director for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is a member of the committee.
Even though the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that passed through Senate committee includes no mention of altering the Smith-Mundt Act, it remains possible for an amendment allowing for domestic propaganda to be introduced on the Senate floor, or added when the House and Senate versions of the bill are reconciled.
It is unclear how much support Thornberry and Smith’s amendment has in the Senate, but it faces some opposition.
“Senator Gillibrand is hopeful this troubling language will remain out of the Senate bill and stripped out in conference committee when the House and Senate bills are reconciled,” Caplin said.
Now is not the time to relax. Call and write your Senators and make sure it stays dropped.