Debunked: 2013 NDAA Thornberry amendment, domestic propaganda, disinformation

Mick West

Administrator
Staff member
Interesting story. The rationale behind the bill is that current legislation prevents the use of propaganda overseas, as American audiences might see it via the internet. The critics say it's a way of legalizing lying to the the American public.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mhastings/congressmen-seek-to-lift-propaganda-ban
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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.
here's the simplified description of the amendment from which the above quote snippet is taken:

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Amendment No. 114—Reps. Thornberry (R-TX) and Smith (D-WA):The amendment would amend the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (known as the Smith-Mundt Act) and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987 to clarify the authorities of the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to prepare, disseminate and use public diplomacy information abroad and to strike the current ban on domestic dissemination of such material. The amendment would clarify that the Smith-Mundt Act's provisions related to public diplomacy information do not apply to other federal departments or agencies (including the DoD).
What Buzzfeed refers to as "propaganda material", the amendment refers to as "public diplomacy information"

The text of the amendment (To H.R. 4310) was a little hard to find, so here it is, with the relevant change highlighted in red:

External Quote:

AMENDMENT NO. 114 OFFERED BY MR. THORNBERRY OF TEXAS
At the end of title X, add the following new section:
SEC. 10__. DISSEMINATION ABROAD OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE UNITED STATES.
(a) United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948.--Section 501 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1461) is amended to read as follows:
``GENERAL AUTHORIZATION
``Sec. 501. (a) The Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors are authorized to use funds appropriated or otherwise made available for public diplomacy information programs to provide for the preparation, dissemination, and use of information intended for foreign audiences abroad about the United States, its people, and its policies, through press, publications, radio, motion pictures, the Internet, and other information media, including social media, and through information centers, instructors, and other direct or indirect means of communication.
``(b)(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), the Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors may, upon request and reimbursement of the reasonable costs incurred in fulfilling such a request, make available, in the United States, motion pictures, films, video, audio, and other materials prepared for dissemination abroad or disseminated abroad pursuant to this Act, the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (22 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.), the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465 et seq.), or the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465aa et seq.). The Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall issue necessary regulations--
``(A) to establish procedures to maintain such material;
``(B) for reimbursement of the reasonable costs incurred in fulfilling requests for such material; and
``(C) to ensure that the persons seeking release of such material have secured and paid for necessary United States rights and licenses.
``(2) With respect to material prepared for dissemination abroad or disseminated abroad before the effective date of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012--
``(A) the Secretary and the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall make available to the Archivist of the United States, for domestic distribution, motion pictures, films, videotapes, and other material 12 years after the initial dissemination of the material abroad; and
``(B) the Archivist shall be the official custodian of the material and shall issue necessary regulations to ensure that persons seeking its release in the United States have secured and paid for necessary United States rights and licenses and that all costs associated with the provision of the material by the Archivist shall be paid by the persons seeking its release, in accordance with paragraph (3).
``(3) The Archivist may charge fees to recover the costs described in paragraph (2), in accordance with section 2116 (c) of title 44. Such fees shall be paid into, administered, and expended as part of the National Archives Trust Fund.
``(c) Nothing in this section may be construed to require the Secretary or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to make material disseminated abroad available in any format other than in the format disseminated abroad.''.
(b) Rule of Construction.--Nothing in this section may be construed to affect the allocation of funds appropriated or otherwise made specifically available for public diplomacy.
(c) Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987.--Section 208 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987 (22 U.S.C. 1461-1a) is amended to read as follows:
``SEC. 208. CLARIFICATION ON DOMESTIC DISTRIBUTION OF PROGRAM MATERIAL.
``(a) In General.--No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States. This section shall apply only to programs carried out pursuant to the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1431 et seq.), the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (22 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.), the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465 et seq.), and the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465aa et seq.). This section shall not prohibit or delay the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from providing information about its operations, policies, programs, or program material, or making such available, to the media, public, or Congress, in accordance with other applicable law.
``(b) Rule of Construction.--Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of communication, either directly or indirectly, because a United States domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or based on a presumption of such exposure. Such material may be made available within the United States and disseminated, when appropriate, pursuant to sections 502 and 1005 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1462 and 1437), except that nothing in this section may be construed to authorize the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to disseminate within the United States any program material prepared for dissemination abroad on or before the effective date of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.
``(c) Application.--The provisions of this section shall apply only to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors and to no other department or agency of the Federal Government.''.
(d) Conforming Amendments.--The United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 is amended--
(1) in section 502 (22 U.S.C. 1462)--
(A) by inserting ``and the Broadcasting Board of Governors'' after ``Secretary''; and
(B) by inserting ``or the Broadcasting Board of Governors'' after ``Department''; and
(2) in section 1005 (22 U.S.C. 1437), by inserting ``and the Broadcasting Board of Governors'' after ``Secretary'' each place it appears.
(e) Effective Date.--This section shall take effect and apply on the date that is 180 days after the date of the enactment of this section.

This is the original law that this amends/replaces, relevant text in green.

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/1461-1a
External Quote:
Except as provided in section 1461 of this title and this section, no funds authorized to be appropriated to the United States Information Agency shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States, and no program material prepared by the United States Information Agency shall be distributed within the United States. This section shall not apply to programs carried out pursuant to the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2451 et seq.). The provisions of this section shall not prohibit the United States Information Agency from responding to inquiries from members of the public about its operations, policies, or programs.
Note the amendments still says:

External Quote:

No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States.
However it relaxes previous restrictions to allow publication of things that might have been prohibited:
External Quote:

because a United States domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or based on a presumption of such exposure.​
And it allows the material to be "disseminated" in the US
External Quote:

Such material may be made available within the United States and disseminated, when appropriate, pursuant to sections 502 and 1005 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1462 and 1437),
So while it explicitly forbids spending money to influence public opinion, it could be seen to open a back door, by producing material for overseas consumption, but with a covert intent to also have that material be seen by a US audience.
 
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The ACLU has no real problems with the amendment, in fact they quite like it:

http://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/new-government-propaganda-bill-positive-step-first-amendment

External Quote:
Reactions to the amendment have been mixed, with critics saying it would allow the government to pump “propaganda” into our own country. With only minor tweaks, however, the Thornberry-Smith Amendment is on balance a very good thing for free speech.
It is crucial to understand two things.

First, the current ban (which also exempts covered material from release under the Freedom of Information Act), has its origins in the red-baiting days of yore. Imposed by the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, the ban was motivated by fear of subversive elements at the State Department, which was seen at the time by many Cold War hawks as a Communist redoubt. When the first incarnation of the Smith-Mundt Act was introduced by Rep. Sol Bloom (D-IL), Rules Committee Chairman Eugene Cox (D-GA) decried giving the State Department the ability to engage in public diplomacy because it was “chock full of Reds” and the “lousiest outfit in town.” Although we should certainly be concerned about any arm of the government pushing a particular viewpoint on the American people (be it left or right), the absolute ban on Americans even accessing this material was an overreaction born of this kind of hysteria.

Second, the Thornberry-Smith Amendment contains an express prohibition on the use of any appropriated funds to “influence public opinion in the United States” (see new Section 208). Further, the amendment narrowly applies only to the BBG and the State Department, which both operate under existing checks on their authority that would prevent what we would consider “propaganda.
 
Here's a video of some detailed discussion:

http://www.heritage.org/events/2012/05/smith-mundt

External Quote:
Controversy has swirled around the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act since it passed mark-up as an amendment to the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act on May 18. The bill is now before the Senate. The Smith-Mundt Act, which established public diplomacy and international broadcasting as activities of the U.S. government, has been in force since 1948. One of its provisions prohibits U.S. citizens from accessing the public diplomacy products of the U.S. government, whether in print or on the airwaves. The purpose of this provision was to prevent domestic government propagandizing. Yet, in an age when global news and information flows are available 24/7 in print, on the airwaves, and online, this prohibition has become an anachronism. Critics on the left and right alike have charged that modernizing the Smith-Mundt Act will lift the floodgates for U.S. government propaganda aimed at U.S. citizens. Not so. Rather, the amended act will force greater government transparency and accountability and it will allow Americans insights into what Washington is communicating to audiences around the world. Join us as our panel examines these and other aspects of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act.
If the ACLU and the Heritage Foundation can agree its a good thing, then it probably is. The amendment updates an outdated law, and results in greater transparency for the American public.
 
Does this restriction apply only to the State Department? What about CIA, NSA, and FBI? Also, when a reporter uses a government source, and that government source is clearly promoting an unbalanced point of view, isn't that a form of propaganda? If you simply observe the coverage of the Ukraine story, for example, it seems fairly easy to see the influence of US government sources, directly and indirectly, and there is little or no eastern point of view presented. The result is a blatant slant and even purposeful misinformation, I think fairly characterized as propaganda. No?
 
"So while it explicitly forbids spending money to influence public opinion, it could be seen to open a back door, by producing material for overseas consumption, but with a covert intent to also have that material be seen by a US audience."

Exactly that may have happened now, with the dissemination of dubious claims by the US embassy in Kiev regarding Russian interference and the MH17 shoot down.
 
Exactly that may have happened now, with the dissemination of dubious claims by the US embassy in Kiev regarding Russian interference and the MH17 shoot down.

Sorry, what?

Please substantiate these assertions.

Because.....there are no "dubious claims" of the shooting down of MH17. It is a well-documented fact, at this point in history.
 
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Ok, this a summary of information from "reliable sources" we have today.

1. Photos of the wreckage

A missile explosion is very likely, very likely near the cockpit and likely on the left side.

Additional machine canon hits are unlikely, but cannot be excluded

2. Russian data

I would consider Russian data reliable. Though we are in a propaganda war, handing out fabrications to investigators would have been very likely and triumphantly exposed by the US. As nothing of that sort happened, I regard the US reaction as a silent confirmation. Later, I will talk about additional leaked US intelligence confirming this point.

Russian data tells us that

a. There has been another Ukrainian military plane in proximity of about 3-5 km

b. There were several Ukrainian BUKs in the area, radars were turned on, they were operative and had been moved close to rebel positions on the very day of the shoot-down and they were removed, when the satellite flew over again the next day.

c. That a US spy satellite, capable of providing high resolution images, was flying over the scene at the time of the shoot-down.

3. Eyewitnesses

Eyewitnesses may make errors and may not tell the truth. However, I would consider their report reliable, because it was presented on the BBC, which is not known to be biased in favour of Russia or the rebels, and because all witnesses tell the same story.

Eyewitnesses support 2a, that there was a military aircraft, probably below the airliner. None of the eyewitnesses reported an exhaust fume trail of a surface to air missile.



4. Physics

The rebel BUK site (Snizhne), as purported by the Telegraph and a US intelligence cartoon, was out of range of hitting or even discovering the approaching airplane.

Three Ukrainian BUK sites, however, were active and in range, and one of them (Shakhtar) appears to have been well positioned to shot down the airliner matching the wreckage profile.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0ByibNV3SiUoobnpCVDduaHVORHM/edit?pli=1

5. US Intelligence Leak

US intelligence officers have leaked to Robert Parry, a US award winning investigative journalist, that

"What I’ve been told by one source, who has provided accurate information on similar matters in the past, is that U.S. intelligence agencies do have detailed satellite images of the likely missile battery that launched the fateful missile, but the battery appears to have been under the control of Ukrainian government troops dressed in what look like Ukrainian uniforms."

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/20/what-did-us-spy-satellites-see-in-ukraine/

Further,

"But I’m now told that U.S. intelligence analysts ... are concentrating on the scenario of a willful Ukrainian shoot-down of the plane, albeit possibly not knowing its actual identity."

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/08/03/flight-17-shoot-down-scenario-shifts/

6. US Data

Though the US is in a propaganda war and despite having pushed its allies into sanctions, the most drastic after the shoot-down, the US did not present any evidence to support their claims apart from social media information posted by unknown individuals with unknown background.

It is very likely that the US would have presented evidence to support their claims, that a). the airliner was shot down by rebels and b). the BUK was delivered to them by Russia, if they had such evidence.

It is therefore very likely that such evidence does not exist.

7. US History

In the 2 previous, most similar cases, the shoot-down of KAL007 by the Sovjets over Siberia and Iran Air 655 by the USS Vincences, we know that the US lied to the public.

a. In the case of KAL007 the US even altered the transcript of intercepted communication to produce the impression of a willful, murderous attack.

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/29/obama-should-release-ukraine-evidence/

b. In the case of Iran Air 655, the US lied about the circumstances of the shoot-down, that the captain ignored commands, chased Iranian small boats into Iranian waters and then unprovokedly fired on them and finally shot down the airplane in Iranian airspace on its regular route.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_Flight_655

c. Nine former US intelligence officers have signed a letter to president Obama stating that secretary Kerry was already not telling the truth to the public about the Sarin attack in Syria:

"We are hearing indirectly from some of our former colleagues that what Secretary Kerry is peddling does not square with the real intelligence."

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/29/obama-should-release-ukraine-evidence/


Summary:

All known facts from reliable sources indicate that the shoot-down was very likely committed by Ukrainian forces and that the US very likely knowns it. A willful attack is likely, as otherwise the deployment of Ukrainian BUKs in that area is hard to explain.
 
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Since it has been almost 3.5 years and this topic is coming up again in "alt media", where are we at with this?
 
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