Friday, December 22, 2006

Once Again, "Loophole" Allows Government To Violate Propaganda Laws

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, amended in 1972 and 1998, prohibits the U.S. government from propagandizing the American public with information and psychological operations directed at foreign audiences.

But in two recent examples, the government has found "loopholes" in the law, allowing it to allow propaganda to inadvertently reach U.S. audiences.

TV and Radio Marti are spending $377,500 of taxpayer dollars over the next six months to air propaganda on South Florida broadcast stations, in spite of laws that prohibit the distribution of propaganda within the United States.

The spin -- the "loophole" -- is that the intended audience for Radio MambĂ­ 710 AM and WPMF-TV are residents of Cuba. That the Cubans have a radio station on the same frequency should be overlooked.

The situation is remarkably similar to a loophole that came to light back in January, when a 2003 Pentagon document was released that said that "information intended for foreign audiences, including public diplomacy and PSYOP (psychological operations) increasingly is consumed by our domestic audience," most often because of the Internet.

Just consider: today's loophole is tomorrow's precedent. A government that inadvertently propagandizes Americans without being held accountable now may decide to look for more "loopholes" later. And that's dangerous.


The connection to these events is the Republican leadership in Washington.

Larry Hart, a spokesman for the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the TV and Radio Marti, told the Miami Herald, ''We believe we have the authority to do this.'' Wby? Because Hart had met extensively with the Republican-led Congressional committees overseeing TV and Radio Marti.

The Pentagon document was approved by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The Pentagon's response when the document came to light? Larry Di Rita, a senior adviser to Rumsfeld, rejected the "premise" offered by critics that as long as the American public is not "targeted," leakage of propaganda to Americans doesn't count.

But Di Rita told the Associated Press that the Pentagon has no guidelines regarding the loophole. That also means the Pentagon has no real idea how many Americans are receiving their propaganda.

And that, too, is dangerous.


Anonymous ixion said...

ya know, for a group the sells themselves as 'simple' folk, they sure do spend a great deal of time creating complex semantic distinctions, that are ultimately bogus.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my question is, who is going to fight this?

now that the GOP doesn't control Congress, I hope the Democrats reverse their interpretation of the law -- which was about as sound as their reasoning for domestic wiretapping.

4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a member of the Armed Forces PSYOP community, I'm rather surprised at all the fear that my profession gathers. Americans are terribly afraid of an organization that works to change people opinions and shapes their behavior. The Smith-Mundt Act is followed religiously in the PSYOP community. It is possible though in this age of information for PSYOP messages to reach the american public. You can even buy psyop products on E-Bay! It's become a curious legal issue that because of the global availability of our products. Can the American public be considered an indirect audience? Certainly! But it is never planned that way, if it was a lot of people would go to jail.

That said PSYOP is easy, terribly easy, and it's being done to the American public by all kinds of groups that aren't involved with the government. Watch fox news for a day and suddenly the mysterious PSYOP community looks a little friendlier. After an hour of Hannity and Colmes you may even start to wonder if the Government really does have mind control devices.

2:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you're being serious, anonymous, but look at your contradction: "The Smith-Mundt Act is followed religiously in the PSYOP community. It is possible though in this age of information for PSYOP messages to reach the american public."

You can't have it both ways. Either PSYOP messages don't reach a U.S. audience, or they do. The Pentagon should try a whole lot harder to make sure there are no "inadvertent" leaks.

2:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous PSYOP guy said...

It's getting confusing with all these anonymous people so i'll take a name.

We in the Armed Forces PSYOP are always taught that the Smith-Mundt Act means that we cannot target American audiences. The production of PSYOP is a process that involves a lot of careful analysis of a target audience, the audiences susceptability to PSYOP messages, the effectiveness of the audience to carry out an action that PSYOP wants them to perform, vulnerabilities of that target audience, etc... It's takes a great deal of research and focus to conduct an effective Psychological Operation. In order for it to be PSYOP it has to follow this long process which ultimately ends with lawyers and a general saying that the message is ok to put out.

PSYOP is prohibited from targetting the American public but it doesn't mean that an American can't get the message. Shortwave radio signals can travel around the globe. Psyop posters and leaflets are regularly sent home as war souveniers. And in the case of emergency situations PSYOP loudspeaker teams are used to communicate public service messages to the american public. This was done in the LA police riots and in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.

There are all kinds of ways for PSYOP messages to accidentally reach a secondary audience. Radio signals do not respect politcal boundaries. Now in the case of this article it is questionable that TV and Radio Marti are using an antenna in America to target Cuba, and yes I agree with the article, the government has found a loophole. The law prohibits the government from targetting the public, but it doesn't prohibit a private organization from targetting the public with pro-government propaganda. I think something should be done to stop things like this being exploited. But official U.S. PSYOP messages can and will continue to reach secondary audiences in America and there is no way to stop it, especially when there is a consumer market for PSYOP products.

6:23 AM  

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