Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA 9th) is a co-sponsor a bill (H.R.5736 -- Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012) to overturn what has long been widely perceived to be a barrier to the U.S. Government engaging in propaganda directed at a U.S. domestic audience.  --  Smith, who represents much of Pierce County, said that the bill, which has been incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, is needed to "bolster our strategic communications and public diplomacy capacity on all fronts and mediums -- especially online," the Washington Times reported Tuesday in the only mainstream media piece on the matter that we have run across.[1]  --  Buzz Flash's Michael Hastings said Friday the law introduced by Rep. Smith and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX 13th) would "legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences."[2]  --  Juan Cole said Sunday that "Nothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our representatives . . . that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda 'ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.'"[3]  --  That's not the view of Matt Armstrong, the executive director of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, who has for some time been campaigning for the change in the law.[4]  --  COMMENT: Armstrong's arguments sound sensible, but they credit the U.S. government with moral virtues that it long ago forfeited and that we would be fools to believe in.  --  It is true that the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 has come to have an anti-domestic-propaganda significance that it did not originally have.  --  But that new import is much needed, and Prof. Cole is right to speak of its disappearance as a sign of "creeping fascism."  --  It's well-known that the U.S. national security state now regards speech as a weapon of war and has identified "Information Operations" (IO) as a "core military competency."  --  Now that that U.S. national security elites regard the world as a battlespace in a "global war on terror," the law Smith is cosponsoring will allow the government to ramp up Orwellian practices at home that it has long employed freely abroad, like creating and planting false or misleading stories in media, engaging in disinformation, discrediting dissenters, etc....



By Shaun Waterman

Washington Times

May 15, 2012

Two lawmakers -- a Democrat and a Republican -- are pushing a bill to update a Cold War-era law on propaganda efforts by federal agencies that critics say hinders the U.S. war of ideas against Muslim extremists.

The Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 was designed “to counter Communism during the Cold War, [and] is outdated for the conflicts of today,” said Rep. Adam Smith, Washington Democrat.

“This outdated law ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican.  “Congress has a responsibility to fix the situation.”

At issue are provisions of the law banning the domestic dissemination of government-produced or -funded communications aimed at a foreign audience, to keep anti-Communist and other kinds of U.S. propaganda out of America.

But experts say such restrictions do not make sense in the Internet age.

“Leaflets don’t blow across the world,” Isaac R. Porche, a researcher on strategic information campaigns at the Rand Corp., said last year.

The two lawmakers, authors of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (HR 5736), say the current law restricts the broadcast in the United States of any programs produced by Voice of America.

In 2010, for instance, emergency broadcasts in Creole, aimed to help the stricken survivors of the Haitian earthquake, could not be carried by Sirius satellite radio, according to a joint statement from Mr. Smith and Mr. Thornberry.

Officials say effective outreach and communication with foreign audiences, especially in the Muslim world, are essential elements in U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda and other violent extremists.

“Smith-Mundt must be updated to bolster our strategic communications and public diplomacy capacity on all fronts and mediums -- especially online,” Mr. Smith said.



By Michael Hastings

Buzz Feed
May 18, 2012

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill, BuzzFeed has learned.

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee's official website.

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 bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

In a little noticed press release earlier in the week -- buried beneath the other high-profile issues in the $642 billion defense bill, including indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations -- Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”

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.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

“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 U.S. government -- is disconcerting and dangerous."

“I just don’t want to see something this significant -- whatever the pros and cons -- go through without anyone noticing,” says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law.  According to this source, the law would allow "U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population."

The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon 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.

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 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.

(In fact, a second amendment to the authorization bill -- in reaction to the USA Today report -- seeks for cuts to the Pentagon’s propaganda budget overseas, while this amendment will make it easier for the propaganda to spread at home.)

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.

The upshot, at times, is the Department of Defense using the same tools on U.S. citizens as on a hostile, foreign, population.

A U.S. Army whistleblower, Lieutenant Col. Daniel Davis, noted recently in his scathing 84-page unclassified report on Afghanistan that there remains a strong desire within the defense establishment “to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to "protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit U.S. national will," he wrote, quoting a well-regarded general.

The defense bill passed the House Friday afternoon.



By Juan Cole

Informed Comment
May 20, 2012

Two congressmen are attempting to insert a provision in the National Defense Authorization act that would allow the Department of Defense to subject the U.S. domestic public to propaganda.  The bipartisan amendment was introduced by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

Nothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our representatives, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”  And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!

As Will Rogers observed, “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.”

I love our guys and gals in uniform, but they can be extremely obnoxious in any discussion about U.S. government policy that ‘gets off point’ or ‘doesn’t serve the mission.’  At Washington think tank events, I’ve seen them repeatedly close down discussions among e.g. State Department foreign service officers.  You don’t want most of the DoD types providing information to us, because it won’t be in any way balanced.

Of course, having a Pentagon propaganda unit at all is highly anti-democratic.  The best defense of the truth is a free press.  It should also be remembered that nowadays everything in Washington is outsourced, so government propaganda is often being turned over to Booz Allen or the American Enterprise Institute, which have a rightwing bias.

Doing propaganda abroad has the difficulty that it doesn’t stay abroad.  False articles placed in the Arabic press in Iraq were translated into English by wire services, who got stung.

Then, another problem is that the Defense Intelligence Agency analysts also read the false articles placed in the Arabic press by another Pentagon office, which they did not know about.  So the analysts were passing up to the White House false information provided by their own colleagues!

I was told by an insider that one reason Washington analysts often read my blog in the Bush years was that I had a reputation for having an accurate bull crap meter, and thus my judgments on what was likely to be true helped them fight the tendency to believe our own propaganda!

Not only should this amendment be gotten rid of quick, but their constituents should please vote out of office Reps. Thornberry and Smith next November.



By Matt Armstrong

Mountain Runner
May 17, 2012

Last week, Representatives Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA) introduced a bill to amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to “authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences, and for other purposes.”  The bill, H.R.5736 -- Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 (Introduced in House -- IH), removes the prohibition on public diplomacy material from being available to people within the United States and thus eliminates an artificial handicap to U.S. global engagement while creating domestic awareness of international affairs and oversight and accountability of the same.  This bill also specifies Smith-Mundt only applies to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors, eliminating an ambiguity creatively imagined sometime over the three decades.

The Modernization Act was approved last night to be included in the House’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act now being debated.  The Rules Committee approved the inclusion last night, a move that was not intended to challenge jurisdictional issues.  Adding this to the NDAA, which is sure to pass and soon, rather than as a stand-alone foreign affairs bill, reflects the House’s imperative to change the Smith-Mundt Act to better enable and support America’s national security and foreign policy writ large.  A State Department authorization bill, which this would normally be included with, has not passed the Congress in years.

Below are highlights of the bill:

--Specifies Smith-Mundt applies only to the State Department and the BBG, in doing doing so extends the Act over the entire department instead of just the public diplomacy side of the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

--The bill applies to material produced after the bill is passed into law.  The existing regime for making content available remains intact to limit the burden on the agencies.

--The bill emphasizes, in legislative language, existing law (that remain untouched since 1948) requiring the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to maximize the use of private resources and to not have a monopoly (22 USC 1462 and 22 USC 1437, respectively), the real “anti-propaganda” protections in the law.


Specifying the Smith-Mundt Act only applies to the BBG and the State Department counters a myth that has grown over recent decades that the law applies to the whole of government.  Even a 2006 Defense Department review of Smith-Mundt found that while the law did not apply to Defense, in the absence of a clear instruction (i.e. law) from Congress, Defense should consider it as applicable to Defense.  (The legislatively minded will note Smith-Mundt is found in Title 22 of U.S. Code, covering State Department activities, while Title 10 of U.S. Code covers Defense Department activities.)

This particular myth was generally part of the false characterization of the Smith-Mundt Act as an anti-propaganda law.  This label likely stems from 1985 when Senator Zorinsky labeled USIA material as propaganda if it were to be available inside the U.S.  An amendment by Zorinsky led a federal court to block Freedom of Information Act requests on USIA material for a time (during which time the Congress removed the propaganda label from foreign government material disseminated within the U.S.).

The “disseminate abroad” language in the original legislation was intended to protect the U.S. Government from the State Department, which the Congress did not trust at the time as they felt State was too soft on Communism and filled with socialists and Communists.

Removing this restriction will allow departments to engage globally.  There is and remains “anti-propaganda” language in (seemingly) all appropriation bills, and many authorization bills, passed by the Congress.

The Modernization Act extends coverage of the Smith-Mundt Act over the entire Department of State.  Previously it arguably applied only to the public diplomacy side of the Office of the Under Secretary of State of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  Other bureaus in State restricted their engagement according to their own individual view of the law.

Removing the restriction of domestic access to content -- the law never specified someone in the U.S. could not use the material, just that it should not be available to a person inside the U.S. -- eliminates virtual restraints on global engagement.  Legally, the American public is not supposed to know what Michelle Kwon, for example, does when she is traveling abroad on behalf of the State Department as that is a public diplomacy trip.  The concern of violating Smith-Mundt permeates not just State, even coming up in a conversation on whether to put an American on a foreign government radio program, but other departments as well.

The result will be greater awareness of and oversight over what is said and done with taxpayer money.  This was a strong recommendation of the 1967 Advisory Commission on Information, predecessor to the recently closed Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy:  "The American taxpayer should no longer be prohibited from seeing and studying the product a government agency produces with public funds for overseas audiences.  Students in schools and colleges all over this country who are interested in government, foreign affairs, and international relations should not be denied access to what the U.S. government is saying about itself and the rest of the world."


To prevent a potentially significant burden on State and BBG to make all past material immediately available, the Modernization Act applies only to material produced after it becomes law and restates the 12-year rule for all past material.

This rule of making USIA, and not State and BBG, material available after 12 years was intended to prevent access to the material in slower times as scholarly research wasn’t down for many years after an event.  The Modernization Act should revert the availability of past material to the original language:  a reasonable time.


The Modernization Act emphasizes the original “anti-propaganda” sections of the Smith-Mundt Act.  These were put in place to “remove the stigma of propaganda” and as a response to the contemporary Freedom of Information movement that both caused Smith-Mundt and was part of the resistance to Smith-Mundt in 1943 through 1947.  (Shameless plug:  details on this in my forthcoming book on Smith-Mundt.)

The section “Policies Governing Information Activities” (22 USC 1462, or Section 502 in the original legislation) is not only intended to prevent government propaganda by ensuring other voices are heard, but it was also intended to be a “sunset” clause of international information activities:  "In authorizing international information activities under this chapter, it is the sense of the Congress (1) that the Secretary shall reduce such Government information activities whenever corresponding private information dissemination is found to be adequate; . . ."

22 USC 1462 should be read as a guiding principle today:  the information provided by the Government should not be otherwise available to the target audience.  In other words, material produced by State and the BBG should be exceptional.


The Modernization Act does not refer to, or reauthorize, the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy that was in the original legislation to provide oversight over and advocacy of public diplomacy by the Government for the Secretary of State, the President, and the Congress.  For more on the Commission, see


This bill is a bipartisan effort between Republicans (Thornberry) and Democrats (Smith) at the front.  This mirrors the passage of the original Act.  In December 1945, the House Foreign Affairs Committee referred the Bloom Bill to the floor.  Named after the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a Democrat, it gained bipartisan support in a Democratic House where opposition tended to fall along divisions of geography and cosmopolitanism.  It passed the House but failed in the Senate, blocked by the Republican Senator Taft, a proponent of the Freedom of Information movement, who believed in freedom of information and felt Government should stay out of the information business.  The bill thus died in the 79th Congress.

The bill was picked up in the 80th Congress by the Republicans Congressman Karl Mundt and Senator Alexander Smith.  The 80th Congress, with both chambers under Republican control, fought President Truman on nearly everything and was nicknamed the “Do Nothing Congress.”  Nevertheless, it recognized the importance of the U.S. becoming actively engaged in the global struggle for minds and wills and it passed the Smith-Mundt Act with substantial bipartisan support, including Taft’s.  The Congress recognized the increasing importance of information and public opinion.  On January 7, 1948, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended passing the legislation, stating that propaganda campaigns against the U.S. called for “urgent, forthright, and dynamic measures to disseminate truth.”  The committee report said:  "The enactment of the bill is essential if we are to have mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other nations which will serve a fair and lasting foundation for world peace.  Today that peace is endangered by the weapons of false propaganda and misinformation and the inability on the part of the United States to deal adequately with those weapons.

"Truth can be a power weapon on behalf of peace.  It is the firm belief of the Committee that HR 3342 [the Smith-Mundt Bill], with all the safeguards included in the bill, will constitute an important step in the right direction toward the adequate dissemination of the truth about America; our ideals, and our people."

The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 should have similar bipartisan support at a time when public opinion has an even greater role than over six decades ago.

This update to the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 removes restraints imposed by Senators in 1972 and 1985 that reflect the changing nature of international politics where public opinion mattered relatively little.  It was zero-sum bipolar politics with the substantial negotiations done behind closed doors rather than in the minds of people.  Smith-Mundt was created and passed in a time when the struggle for minds and wills of people mattered.  We are again in such an era.

What are you thoughts on the proposed changes to the Smith-Mundt Act?
Comment below or write a guest post.

See also:

    Public Law 80-402 - the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, as signed into law on January 27, 1948. (H.R. 3342)
    Public Law 92-352 Domestic Distribution - the amendment by Senator Fulbright (“The Radios should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics“) that inserted “shall not be disseminated” into the legislation. (see page 6 of 11, or page 494 by the printed page numbers.)
    Smith-Mundt Symposium Report - a public discussion with a diverse group of stakeholders on the purpose and means of U.S. public diplomacy.
    The Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Caucus by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX)

A future edition to the above list will be my book on the history of Smith-Mundt that focuses on 1943-1948, including the contemporary Freedom of Information movement.  The remains forthcoming.