Download The Disintermediation of Diplomatic Communication

yes no Was this document useful for you?
   Thank you for your participation!

* Your assessment is very important for improving the work of artificial intelligence, which forms the content of this project

Document related concepts

German Corpse Factory wikipedia, lookup

Propaganda in the Mexican Drug War wikipedia, lookup

RT (TV network) wikipedia, lookup

Eastern Bloc media and propaganda wikipedia, lookup

Propaganda of Fascist Italy wikipedia, lookup

Propaganda in Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II wikipedia, lookup

Cartographic propaganda wikipedia, lookup

Airborne leaflet propaganda wikipedia, lookup

Political warfare wikipedia, lookup

Propaganda in Nazi Germany wikipedia, lookup

Radio propaganda wikipedia, lookup

Randal Marlin wikipedia, lookup

Propaganda in the Soviet Union wikipedia, lookup

Propaganda of the deed wikipedia, lookup

Psychological warfare wikipedia, lookup

Architectural propaganda wikipedia, lookup

The Disintermediation of Diplomatic Communication:
Propaganda, Lobbying, and Public Diplomacy
Christopher Young, Rutgers University – Newark ([email protected])
Anthony Deos, University of Kent at Brussels ([email protected])
Geoffrey Allen Pigman, Bennington College ([email protected])
International Studies Association 2006 Annual Conference
San Diego
21-25 March 2006
The revolution in information and communications technologies (ICTs) in the late
twentieth century has had a transformative and disintermediating effect upon the two core
generic functions of diplomacy, representation and communication. Representation has
been disintermediated in the sense that the reliance of governments upon traditional
structures of diplomatic representation – embassies and missions, ambassadors and in
situ agents – has been lessened by the capacity of telephony, television and the Internet to
transmit information across distance in real time. Diplomatic communication itself has
been disintermediated in that governments seeking to implement and legitimate a foreign
policy must seek to communicate and promote their policy directly to affected foreign
publics (as well as domestic publics) and must be prepared to react to and act on the
responses of foreign publics in an ever shortening real time feedback loop. This
phenomenon of disintermediation has increased significantly the need for governments to
engage in public diplomacy, which has resulted in a significant increase in scholarly
research into public diplomacy as a form of political communication. What is less well
conceptualized, however, is the relationship between public diplomacy and its cousin in
the political communication family, propaganda. As with public diplomacy, the need for
and use of propaganda by governments appears to have increased, both for expressly
military purposes and in diplomacy more broadly conceived. But also as with public
diplomacy, the use of propaganda has been affected by a much shorter information
feedback loop, wherein both targeted foreign populations and the home government’s
domestic public become informed rapidly about propaganda activities, and about failures
of propaganda projects in particular.
Traditionally, the distinction between public diplomacy and propaganda has
centred around positivist, objective criteria of truth and falsehood, wherein information
disseminated through public diplomacy was considered to be true, whilst propaganda
consisted of false claims or statements intended to deceive their audience. In
contemporary diplomacy, however, the distinctions between public diplomacy and
propaganda have become blurred. Increasingly, the disintermediation of diplomatic
representation and communication has resulted in the rise of a new mediation – the use
by governments of private firms to implement strategies for both public diplomacy and
propaganda. Truth claims of both public diplomacy and propaganda have been contested
more frequently and more rapidly by audiences, as the media and technology have
accelerated the feedback loop. The authority of the diplomatic voice in both public
diplomacy and propaganda has been challenged by reportage querying and challenging
the relationships between governments and private firms appointed to ‘speak’ for them.
Whilst problematising a traditional positivist distinction between public diplomacy and
propaganda, all these similarities beg the question of effectiveness. What public
diplomacy and propaganda truly share, in the age of instant communications, ubiquitous
media and public scrutiny, is a common metric of effectiveness. Does political
communication in diplomacy achieve its objective by affecting its audience in such a way
that its authors’ policy objectives are advanced? Assessing the effectiveness of public
diplomacy and propaganda need not rely upon objective truth criteria, but instead can
draw upon meanings upon which both parties to the diplomatic communication can
agree. Further, following Habermas’ Theory of Communicative Action, communication
can be understood as successful if it increases each party’s understanding of the interests
and objectives of the other and enables both to advance their respective objectives.
Our project seeks to map the landscape of political communication in diplomacy
as a continuous communicative space extending from traditionally understood public
diplomacy to propaganda. We want to understand authority in diplomatic voice as
variable rather than absolute, reflecting a gradation of distances between the often
multiple sources within a government who are articulating policy, the government’s
public and private representatives now often engaged to communicate policy, and the
targeted audiences of the communication. Our argument relies upon an intersubjective
epistemology that treats meanings in communication as agreed rather than relying upon
objective criteria of validity. After considering further the impact of the revolution in
ICTs upon contemporary diplomacy and surveying the evolution of public diplomacy and
propaganda as tools of political communication in diplomacy, we explore a series of
cases of public diplomacy and propaganda activities under taken by and on behalf of the
government of the United States since the 1980s. Our findings suggest that the
accelerated feedback loop resulting from the revolution in ICTs has made political
communications strategies that rely upon deceiving and manipulating a foreign audience
increasingly less effective, as they become progressively more likely to be exposed to the
general public rapidly and therein undercut the credibility and authority of the voice of
the diplomatic actor. However, this approach does not rule out the possibility of certain
limited circumstances in which propaganda as traditionally understood may achieve its
intended effect.
ICTs and the Evolution of Contemporary Diplomacy
The revolution in information and communications technologies since the 1970s
has piggybacked on transformations in the international system, and in the resultant
modes of diplomatic practice, that had already been underway throughout the twentieth
century. ICTs in a sense accelerated and intensified processes of change already
underway in diplomatic practice.
ICTs allow the diffusion of command and control; they allow boundless new
opportunities for communication, and they allow the players to target the
information stores, processes and communications of their opponents. The
sophistication of the modern nation state, and its dependency on computer based
ICTs, make the state ever more vulnerable.1
In 1997 and 1998, at a series of conferences on Information Technology and Diplomacy,
Richard Langhorne spoke of the ever-changing landscape in the international system, the
decline of the sovereignty of states, and the emergence of a wide range of new entities
operating in the realm of international relations.2 His focus was on how the system, and
more specifically the practice of diplomacy, could be transformed and yet remain a useful
tool for all actors within the international system. In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia
created the nation-state system, which established the sovereign state as the main actor in
international affairs. Diplomacy emerged as a practice concentrated between the
governments of sovereign nations. According to Michael McClellen, traditional
diplomacy, or ‘government-to-government diplomacy’, is focused mainly on the efforts
by officials of one country to persuade officials of another country to take particular
actions.3 Over time, however, traditional diplomacy has evolved. Technological
advances have allowed for large-scale dissemination of information, and the reach of
information soon became limitless. As information became more readily available and
reached greater numbers of people, the boundaries separating the domestic from the
Gerth, Jeff. “U.S. Is Said to Pay to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers.” Washington Post, December 1, 2005.
Richard Langhorne, ‘History and the evolution of diplomacy’, in Jovan Kurbalija, ed., Modern
Diplomacy, Malta: Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta, 1998, pp. 147168.
Michael McClellen, ‘Public Diplomacy in the Context of Traditional Diplomacy’, conference paper
presented to Vienna Diplomatic Academy, October 14, 2004.
international blurred. Before long it was as important to know a government’s stand on
foreign policy issues as it was to know their strategy for the local tax code.
In this whirlwind of change, relations between sovereign nations have become
more complex. Publics have become more involved in creating the national foreign
policies that structure a nation’s relations with the international community, thereby
becoming an essential part of diplomatic practice. Governments began to understand
that, for the most part, they were bound to conduct themselves in accordance with the
will of their people. Persuading the population of other nations to sympathize with one’s
cause became a necessary goal of diplomacy. The aim of public diplomacy is to sway the
public opinion environment of the target country so that officials in that nation take
actions that the advocate country wants.4 After the Great War, or the First World War as
it came to be known later, many doubted the effectiveness of traditional diplomacy, and
the practice underwent the metamorphosis explained above. Modern public diplomacy in
the United States can be traced back to the U.S. government’s creation of the Committee
on Public Information (the Creel Committee), which was designed to build public support
for America's entry into that war, and to inform and influence foreign audiences about
U.S. war efforts in support of democratic ends5. Diplomacy would once again undergo a
transformation after World War Two, and as the twentieth century entered into its second
fifty years, the nations of the world developed a vast number of international entities
charged with the task of maintaining international peace and tranquillity. As public
diplomacy evolved during the twentieth century a myriad of new actors became part of
the diplomatic mix alongside the world’s nations.
Michael McClellen, ‘Public Diplomacy in the Context of Traditional Diplomacy’, conference paper
presented to Vienna Diplomatic Academy, October 14, 2004.
University of Southern California, Center on Public Diplomacy,, accessed November 16, 2005.
In today’s society, the sovereignty of the nation state is under ‘challenge and
erosion, resulting in a significant impact on diplomacy.’6 At the end of the Second World
War the numerous international institutions that were created were designed in
accordance with the theory that economic interdependence would result in peaceful
relations within the international system. However, as Kishan Rana states in Inside
Diplomacy, the economic interdependence that exists today produces limitations on
nation-state sovereignty. As public diplomacy evolved, more and more non-state actors
emerged on the diplomatic scene. Such international organizations as the United Nations
and the World Trade Organization (WTO) along with international financial institutions
including the World Bank and the IMF, as well as civil society organizations (CSOs),
multinational corporations (MNCs), and transnational corporations (TNCs), increasingly
infringe upon nation-state sovereignty as traditionally conceived.
Public Diplomacy and Propaganda
The articulation of distinctions between public diplomacy and propaganda draws
attention to propaganda’s very different history and etymology from that of public
diplomacy. In 1965, Edmund Gullion of Tufts University, an early user of the term
‘public diplomacy’, argued that ‘public diplomacy…deals with the influence of public
attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies. It encompasses dimensions
of international relations beyond traditional diplomacy; the cultivation by governments of
public opinion in other countries; the interaction of private groups and interests in one
country with those of another; the reporting of foreign affairs and its impact on policy;
communication between those whose job is communication, as between diplomats and
foreign correspondents; and the processes of inter-cultural communications’. Public
Kishan Rana, Inside Diplomacy, New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2000, p. 57.
diplomacy differs from traditional diplomacy in that public diplomacy deals not only with
governments but primarily with non-governmental individuals and organizations.7
As public diplomacy has continued to evolve, the use of private actors by
governments in diplomatic communications has become increasingly common in recent
decades. In The 21st Century Ambassador, Rana argues that public diplomacy has
become a ‘lobbying’ and ’networking’ practice.8 In this context one can understand the
ways in which governments have moved to incorporate the use of private actors to reach
public diplomacy goals. This new form of diplomacy used an entirely new set of tools
and became less of a roundtable discussion and more of a public relations campaign. The
transformation brought with it ugly connotations, most notably an association between
public diplomacy and propaganda. Fears were articulated that public diplomacy would
be used like propaganda as a weapon against a nation’s citizens by opportunistic and
imperialistic foreign governments. However, according to McClellen, public diplomacy
‘is neither propaganda nor public relations, but a unique form of diplomacy that is only
now coming into vogue.’9
Propaganda in various forms has been in use by human beings, mostly for
political gains, for thousands of years. Propaganda as a means of controlling information
flow, managing public opinion or manipulating behaviour is as old as recorded history.10
The history of propaganda as a tool of the state is based on three interweaving elements,
according to Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell. These three elements include the
increasing need, following from the growth of civilizations and the rise of nation-states,
7 Public Diplomacy – What it is and what it is not., accessed 15 March 2006 .
Kishan Rana, The 21st Century Ambassador, Malta: The DiploFoundation, 2004.
Michael McClellen, ‘Public Diplomacy in the Context of Traditional Diplomacy’, conference paper
presented to Vienna Diplomatic Academy, October 14, 2004.
Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion, 3rd ed., London: Sage
Publications, 1999, p. 47.
to win ‘the battle for the mind’; the increasing sophistication of the means of
communication available to deliver propagandistic messages; and lastly, the increasing
understanding of the psychology of propaganda and the application of such findings.11
Therefore, propaganda as such has not developed clearly over time. It has evolved and
become more refined as psychology and technology has grown more advanced and
The use of propaganda techniques predates the use of the word propaganda itself.
This is the case with a majority of words, since language evolved slowly within
prehistoric human communities. As Habermas describes in his theory of communicative
action, definition occurs through interpretation, translation, and argumentation.12
Additionally, Wittgenstein stated that each word relates to an object or action simply
through agreement on meaning.13 Therefore, defining an action whose uses, intentions,
and characteristics are not agreed upon becomes almost impossible. Propaganda is one
such word. The evolution of the meaning is puzzling and still entertains a variety of
possible definitions to this day.
Prior to the beginning of the twentieth century, the word propaganda was
infrequently used in the English language. Propaganda made its entrance into current
vernacular during World War I. The use of the word propaganda to define
communication tactics by governments in the Great War sealed its fate as a negative
weapon of deceit. However, the actions originally associated with the word were much
less sinister than those of the powerful world governments in 1914.14 Propaganda stems
from the Latin word propagare,15 to propagate, meaning to foster growing knowledge of,
Ibid, 48.
Juergen Habermas, On the Pragmatics of Social Interaction, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press,
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophische Untersuchungen. 3rd edn., Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda, New York: IG Publishing, 1928, p. 9.
Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002, p. 22.
familiarity with, or acceptance of (as an idea or belief).16 According to historical record,
Pope Gregory XV coined the word propaganda in 1622. In response to fears about the
spread of Protestantism, he established the Office for the Propagation of the Faith
(Congregatio de propaganda fide).17 This office would supervise the Church’s
missionary efforts in the New World. The word held this Roman Catholic connotation for
most of the nineteenth century. Surprisingly, until after its use in World War I, there was
not even an entry in Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the definition in the Oxford English
Dictionary was innocent and even bland, describing propaganda as ‘any association,
systematic scheme, or concerted movement for the propagation of a particular doctrine or
Nevertheless, the use of the word propaganda by the Roman Catholic Church to
describe the actions of its missionaries removed the neutrality of the word, rendering it
pejorative.19 Hence World War I allies Great Britain and the United States defined the
communications and persuasion tactics of their enemies as propaganda. All the while,
they produced propaganda of their own in order to conjure up public support for the war
efforts against the ‘barbarian’ Hun.20 Slowly, as the evidence of Allied propaganda was
exposed to the American and British publics, they noticed the half-truths, exaggerations,
and outright lies that were told to them by there own governments and they became
outraged.21 Understandably, the public viewed propaganda as a treacherous weapon.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary. (Online Dictionary) 2005
<>, accessed 15
March 2006.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda, New York: IG Publishing, 1928, p. 9.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda, New York: IG Publishing, 1928.
Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion, 3rd edn., London: Sage
Publications, 1999, p. 3.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda, New York: IG Publishing, 1928, p. 15.
As propaganda emerged as an identifiable phenomenon, contemporary scholars
debated functional definitions. By doing so, they engaged in a process of seeking
agreement on how the term might be understood and used most usefully. As described
by Randal Marlin in Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, there are various types of
definitions, including descriptive, stipulative, and persuasive definitions.22 Today
propaganda may be defined in numerous ways with positive, negative, and neutral
undertones. Presently, public opinion holds propaganda as a deceitful and dangerous
practice, even though a more descriptive definition of propaganda may be neutral.23
Jacques Ellul, a pioneer of propaganda analysis, defines propaganda as ‘communication
employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive
participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through
psychological manipulation and incorporated in an organization’.24 According to Karen
Johnson-Cartee and Gary Copeland, Ellul ignores an important component in effective
propaganda communication.25 For Johnson-Cartee and Copeland, the predispositions of
the audience must be taken into account.
Propaganda is not brainwashing – or the introduction of new ideas,
attitudes, and beliefs – contrary to the individuals’ cognitive structure.
Rather, propaganda is a resonance strategy, the discovery of culturally
shared beliefs and the deliberate reinforcement and ultimately
aggrandizement of those beliefs26.
Marlin has proposed a definition of propaganda as ‘the organized attempt through
communication to affect belief or action or inculcate attitudes in a large audience in ways
that circumvent or surpass an individual's adequately informed, rational, reflective
Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002, pp. 16-17.
Edward Bernays, Propaganda, New York: IG Publishing, 1928, p. 48.
Jacques Ellul. Propaganda, the Formation of Men's Attitudes, tr. Jean Lerner Konrad Kellen, New York:
Vintage Books, 1965.
Karen S. Johnson-Cartee and Gary A. Copeland, Strategic Political Communication; Rethinking Social
Influence, Persuasion, and Propaganda, ed. Robert E. Denton Jr,. New York: Rowman & Littlefield
Publishers, Inc., 2004, p. 4.
judgment.’27 This is interesting and brings together a number of negative, positive and
neutral definitions, which he cites in Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion.
However, this definition also ignores the point brought forward by Johnson-Cartee and
Copeland regarding the predisposition of the audience.
Another contemporary process of agreeing meaning is the online encyclopaedia,
Wikipedia. Very much in keeping with Wittgenstein’s understanding of meanings of
terms deriving from how their users agree that they should be used, the users of
Wikipedia contribute the definitions, descriptions and associations (links) for each entry
(word, term) and are free to edit and contest entries already made by fellow users. The
Wikipedia entry for propaganda can thus be understood as providing evidence, even if
not authoritative and final, for propaganda’s meaning as shared by its users.
‘The aim of propaganda is to influence people's opinions actively, rather than
merely to communicate the facts about something. For example, propaganda
might be used to garner either support or disapproval of a certain position, rather
than to simply present the position. What separates propaganda from ‘normal’
communication is in the subtle, often insidious, ways that the message attempts to
shape opinion. For example, propaganda is often presented in a way that attempts
deliberately to evoke a strong emotion, especially by suggesting illogical (or nonintuitive) relationships between concepts.28
Taking into account the definitions of Ellul, Johnson-Cartee and Copeland, and Marlin,
as well as the meanings of the Wikipedia users, we would propose an encompassing
understanding of the idea of propaganda that might read as follows: the attempt, through
communication employed by an organized group, to affect culturally shared beliefs or
actions, reinforce and aggrandize these beliefs and deliberately inculcate attitudes in
large audiences in ways that circumvent or suppress an individual’s adequately informed,
rational, reflective judgment. Importantly, such an understanding of propaganda does not
Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, Toronto: Broadview Press, 2002, p. 22. 2006. Wikipedia Encyclopaedia. Propaganda., accessed 15 March 2006.
differentiate it or exclude it from practices of public diplomacy in contemporary,
information-centric global society.
From our historical and etymological reflections on the meanings of public
diplomacy and propaganda, it appears that public diplomacy and propaganda have many
of the same goals, the most important of which is to ‘influence public attitudes’ or to
‘influence people’s opinions’. Diplomacy, as it has traditionally been studied, has relied
upon the use of positivist objective truth criteria. In their use of such objective criteria,
scholars have tried to demarcate propaganda normatively and thereby discourage its use
in the practice of public diplomacy. But as noted above, propaganda may have a negative
connotation, but its use can prove to be effective in reaching specific goals under
particular limited conditions. If actors within the international system assumed that
criteria of truth are intersubjective, one would be hard pressed to label any particular
message as propaganda. In moving forward to analyze and measure the effectiveness of
public diplomacy one may find that a new metric is needed. In the examples of political
communication in contemporary U.S. diplomacy that follow, the factor that will prove to
be paramount in distinguishing effective public diplomacy campaigns from those that are
not is trust. Those governments who are perceived by publics, both domestic and
foreign, as regularly engaging in deceptive public diplomacy, come to find that they are
not trusted, which in turn limits their ability to engage in effective public diplomacy in
future. Whether or not a message is characterized as propaganda, with its pejorative
connotation concerning deception, proves to be a factor only if the deception is
Political Communication in Contemporary U.S. Diplomacy
We chose a series of recent examples of a range of diplomatic communications by
the government of the United States to search for evidence that our proposed criterion,
effectiveness of achieving diplomatic objectives, is a more useful way of evaluating
political communication in diplomacy than criteria that use the traditional dichotomy
between public diplomacy and propaganda. Recent examples from U.S. government
diplomatic communication have been plentiful, in part because of the wave of diplomatic
activity resulting form the ‘War on Terror’ and the invasion of Iraq, and the range of
types of communications stretches from what would have been understood traditionally
as propaganda to more straightforward examples of public diplomacy . Whilst our
findings are anecdotal, rather than systematic, they do suggest a pattern that could be
subjected to more rigorous testing.
Whilst influencing public attitudes and public opinions are very important skills
for diplomacy in a world where news and information can be disseminated instantly, this
skill set is particularly important during wartime. Both public diplomacy and
propaganda have played a major role for the United States government during wartime,
ranging from CIA operations to the recent hiring of private intelligence and
communication actors. However, most recently the use of propaganda and public
diplomacy has been used aggressively by opponents of the United States government –
particularly as it relates to the ‘War on Terror’ or, as it has been characterized more
recently, the ‘Long War’. These opponents employ sophisticated strategies utilizing
information and communication technologies (ICTs), which include but are not
necessarily confined to Internet, satellite, cable and mass media technologies.
Due to the rather uncontrollable nature of the Internet and more generally the
mass media, ICTs allow a government to diffuse its control of influence from a historical
hub and spoke model to one that is distributed amongst people, geographies and time.
Modes of communication and vast amounts of infrastructure are vulnerable to destruction
and can be exploited by various enemies with varying degrees of success.29 The United
States is arguably the country most vulnerable to attack from adversaries, mainly because
of its broad and open technological infrastructure and because of its vastly educated and
technologically driven population. The President’s Commission on Critical
Infrastructure Protection reported in 1998 that the United States infrastructure was rather
prone to attack because of its open society and non regulated use of sometimes dangerous
Internet technologies. Technology, in particular viruses, can be used in a similar fashion
as a bomb to negatively and destructively impact millions of lives. All nation states that
adopt Internet commerce and Internet based communications are prone to destructive
forces via viruses, worms and other forms of computer destruction.30
In addition to, and perhaps just as important as, infrastructure risk posed by ICTs
is the effect that the content of the information transmitted can have upon a targeted
public. In his article ‘A New Medium for Communications, Command and Control by
Extremists,’31 Michael Whine of the RAND Corporation argues that there are five
benefits from the use of ICTs that previously did not exist:
1. ICTs allow interconnectivity, that is communication and networking, both
externally and internally,
2. Cyberspace allows covert communications and anonymity,
3. ICTs are relatively cheap,
4. ICTs are a force multiplier, substantially enhancing their power, and
5. ICTs enable people to reach their target audiences when other outlets and media
are denied them.
Gerth, Jeff, ‘U.S. Is Said to Pay to Plant Articles in Iraq Papers’, Washington Post, December 1, 2005. A New Medium for Communications, Command and Control
by Extremists. March 2006 <
31 A New Medium for Communications, Command and Control by Extremists.
March 2006 <
This cheap platform, with substantial reach to mass audiences, coupled with anonymous
collaboration, poses a significant threat to the technology-reliant governments such as
that of United States. Although both are concerns, the greatest concern is more about the
‘war of ideas’ and less about the ‘war of infrastructure’. Our investigation focuses
predominantly on the ‘war of ideas’ and how such ideas have been fostered and are
continuing to be fostered by government diplomatic actors such as the United States and
by their most aggressive adversaries.
The United States employed the use of ICTs (although in a different form) mainly
since the late 1940s. Although not exploiting Internet technology, clandestine and covert
operations mainly driven by the CIA used other forms of media interaction to win the
‘hearts and minds’ of a foreign populace. Although utilized in World War II, the vast use
of ICTs did not start to take shape until the Cold War. The CIA initiated operation
Mockingbird in the early days of the Cold War to help influence the foreign and domestic
media. The CIA recruited, hired and trained journalists to write stories favoring the
United States policies at home and abroad. Additionally, the CIA purchased media
distribution companies, such as the Rome Daily American (40%) to help thwart
communist infiltration. Additionally, the CIA either directly or indirectly through
various partnerships with media executives purchased or controlled some of the major
media conglomerates in the United States. For instance, the CIA was known to have
control over Capital Cities, the predecessor to ABC. The control over Capital Cities was
mainly through a direct relationship that the CIA maintained with William J. Casey, who
later became Ronald Reagan’s CIA director. Allen Dulles, at the time CIA director,
maintained a very close relationship with Lowell Thomas, a partner and founder of
Capital Cities.32 It is also been documented that the CIA had previous relationships with
approximately 400 journalists from the early 1950’s to the late 1970’s.33 Additionally,
the New York Times, one of the CIA’s closest collaborators, published an article in 1977
stating that more than eight hundred news and public information organizations and
individuals had participated in some manner with the CIA.34 Congress put a stop to
media propaganda in the mid-1970s.35 Despite Congress’s direction, it appears that the
behaviours enacted between the 1950s and 1970s are resonating once again in the United
States, mainly as it relates to the ‘War on Terror’.
Since the end of the Cold War, and with some of the wind let out of the sails at
the CIA, it appears that government priorities have started to move power away from the
CIA to the Department of Defense and the National Security Council. Directing power
away from the CIA directly, the CIA Director William Casey in 1982 assigned Walter
Raymond to the National Security Council to assist in establishing a public diplomacy
program. Walter Raymond, previously a CIA propaganda expert, set up the Office of
Public Diplomacy for Latin America, known by the acronym S/LPD, at the State
Department.36 The S/LPD was created to supervise ‘White Propaganda’ mainly in
Central America and mainly in support of the right wing political opposition movement
in Nicaragua known as the ‘Contras’. The S/LPD was to assist the U.S. public in
understanding the information that was coming out of Latin America. To do this
32 SourceWatch. March 2006.
33 SourceWatch. March 2006.
Cloud, David. “Quick Rise for Purveyors of Propaganda in Iraq”
The New York Times, February 15, 2006.
Cloud, David. “Quick Rise for Purveyors of Propaganda in Iraq”
The New York Times, February 15, 2006.
36 Hartford Web Publishing. March 2006.
correctly, S/LPD created op-ed pieces and other new stories that were published in US
based and sometimes foreign based newspapers. Additionally, the S/LPD was known to
have ties to well respected academics, such as John Guilmartin, Jr., who were paid to
plant stories in well respected newspapers, such as the New York Times and Washington
Post. Moreover, the S/LPD also placed articles in these same publication giants to favour
a pro-Reagan agenda, mainly as it related to painting a very bad picture of Nicaragua’s
left-leaning Sandinista government.37 The comptroller of the U.S. government watchdog
agency, the General Accounting Office (as it was then known), shut this program down in
1987. These political communications activities led to what is known as the
‘Iran/Contra’ hearings in the U.S. Congress.
The Iran/Contra hearings revealed to Congress and the U.S. public that the S/LPD
did many illegal things, which include but are not limited to influencing journalists and
media executives into developing misleading positions of the Reagan administration,
funding various private actors, such as professors and think tanks to write anti-Sandinista
propaganda, and using other government agencies such as the FBI to intimidate local law
enforcement personnel and other members of government from offering opinions that
differed from the administrations.38 In addition, the investigation revealed that the
administration raised money to fund and channel money to several independent
organizations, such as Accuracy in Media, Freedom House and the National Endowment
for Preservation, to assist them financially in building a public relations campaign on the
Reagan Administration’s behalf. By utilizing independent organizations, a process that
38 Leftturn. March 2006, <>
Bamford, James. “The Man Who Sold the War, ‘ Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005, Issue 988, p. 52-62.
still exists today, senior Reagan administration officials thought that the conclusions put
forth by such organizations would appear free of any administration bias. 39
In 1991, it appears that a major shift in outsourcing propaganda activities started
to take shape. Although the United States had utilized private contractors in the past, the
Kuwaiti invasion by Iraq was one of the first truly organized propaganda efforts prepared
and executed by a private contractor. One of the key players in the privatization of U.S.
political communications in diplomacy has been John Rendon, who built his career
developing communications strategies for political campaigns such as Sen. Walter
Mondale’s (Democrat-Minnesota) 1984 presidential bid. Rendon later established his
own media and communications consulting firm, which began to acquire substantial clout
within the major intelligence and defense agencies. When the Kuwaiti invasion took
place, Rendon’s firm, The Rendon Group (TRG), was hired by the Kuwaiti royal family
to help counter negative press related to the family’s ‘oil-to-cracy’. TRG established
many campaigns for the Kuwaiti family, most notable of which was the time when TRG
had 20,000 personally signed Valentines shipped to American troops to help divert
attention away from recently, unacceptable, publicized family behaviours. In addition to
TRG’s help in ‘spinning’ the story about the Kuwaiti family, TRG was hired by the CIA
in 1990 to help the Iraqi National Congress secretly launch a media campaign against
Saddam Hussein. TRG had been a very easy choice for Kuwait, and many of the most
recent conflicts mainly due to the fact that either John Rendon or TRG have been secretly
involved in most American diplomatic and military conflicts over the past 20 years.40
According to Rendon, TRG has worked in ninety-one countries, beginning with Panama,
and has been involved in every war except Somalia. In Panama, Rendon was responsible
Bamford, James. “The Man Who Sold the War, ‘ Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005, Issue 988, p. 52-62.
for covert psychological operations which were used to help put Guillermo Endara into
the presidential seat. To get paid for these highly covert and often clandestine operations,
Rendon was paid directly by Endara, whose money was secretly laundered through
various bank accounts that emanated with funding directly from the CIA.41
Although TRG was involved in many past wars and covert and clandestine media and PR
campaigns, it appears that they have recently become even more involved with
propaganda activities, mainly as it relates to the recent war in Iraq. Additionally, it
appears that agencies such as the CIA, NSA or DIA are all starting to outsource sensitive
military and propaganda functions that they undertook previously in house. It has been
stated that ‘half of the CIA’s work is now performed by private contractors – people
completely unaccountable to congress.’42
Although a private citizen, John Rendon has been empowered to speak
authoritatively on behalf of the U.S. government regarding the most sensitive diplomatic
and military matters. Rendon has a Top Secret/SCI/SI/TK/G/HCS clearance, which
entitles him to view special intelligence information, images from satellites and recon
aircraft, communications from extremely sensitive sources, and human intelligence
gathered from operatives or military on the ground. Speaking at a conference at the U.S.
Air Force Academy in 1996, Rendon described himself thus: ‘I am not a national security
strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication
to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior
and a perception manager.’43 John Rendon and his TRG are being utilized by many
United States government agencies to turn ‘realities’ into perceptions by constructing
Bamford, James. “The Man Who Sold the War, ‘ Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005, Issue 988, p. 52-62.
Bamford, James. “The Man Who Sold the War, ‘ Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005, Issue 988, p. 52-62.
John Rendon quoted in Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Weapons of Mass Deception, London:
Robinson, 2003, p. 5.
shared meanings for target audiences in ways that advance U.S. government objectives.
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Rendon stated, ‘We are being haunted
and stalked by the difference between perception and reality…Because the lines are
divergent, the difference between perception and reality is one of the greatest strategic
communication challenges of war.’
Rendon argues that TRG can be much more
efficient in dealing with issues around communication and propaganda mainly because of
its anonymity and its limited accountability to Congress and the U.S. domestic public.
Most recently, TRG was hired by the Pentagon to conduct a worldwide propaganda
campaign, deploying its team to allied nations to assist them in ‘developing and
delivering specific messages to the local population, combatants, frontline states, the
media and the international community.’45 It has been shown that Rendon has or had the
following contracts with the United States or one of its agencies:
$6.4 million contract to track media coverage in Iraq
$1.4 million contract to advise the Afghan president
$3.9 million contract to developing a counternarcotics program in Afghanistan
$16.7 million contract to test public opinion and track the media in various East
European and Middle Eastern countries. 46
TRG also appears to have a partner in this game of cloak and dagger, The Lincoln Group
(LG). A Washington, D.C.-based firm that started as an investment firm, the Lincoln
Group quickly became a public relations firm that specializes in propaganda and
psychological warfare. Unlike TRG, LG is a rather newcomer to this highly specialized
field of propaganda development and distribution. LG was hired by the Pentagon in 2005
to assist in identifying religious allies in Middle Eastern countries who would be
amenable to writing pro US stories influencing participation in national elections, as well
Bamford, James, ‘The Man Who Sold the War’, Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005, Issue 988, p. 52-62.
Bamford, James, ‘The Man Who Sold the War’, Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005, Issue 988, p. 52-62.
Bamford, James, ‘The Man Who Sold the War’, Rolling Stone, December 1, 2005, Issue 988, p. 52-62.
as to persuade the Iraqi public to reject insurgent extremists.47 The Pentagon paid tens of
millions of dollars for this project, dubbed ‘Western Mission.’48 Additionally, as the lead
propagandist in Iraq, LG acquired substantially more duties, such as producing television
and radio ads, buying newspaper ads and placing many more articles in the Iraqi press.
The military also approved paying Iraqi editors to run stories, according to an ex-Lincoln
employee.49 The LG was not hired to provide reliable information but rather was hired to
utilize deceptive techniques, like payments to sympathizers and temporary
spokespersons, which could not necessarily be identified as working for the coalition. Lt
Col Steven A. Boylan, spokesman for the US military, said ‘the Pentagon’s contract with
the Lincoln Group was an attempt to try to get stories out to publications that normally
don’t have access to these kinds of stories.’50 LG is presumed to have planted more than
1,000 articles in Iraqi and Arab newspapers and has put forth plans that have yet to be
approved by the Pentagon to assist in establishing underground media outlets.51
Although there is a pressing tide to outsource much of these very covert and
clandestine missions in Iraq, the U.S. government has also utilized some very strategic
assets in addressing some of these initiatives. The United States Agency for International
Development (USAID) finances approximately 30 radio stations in Afghanistan, yet does
not divulge that they are U.S. government-owned.52 Additionally USAID, mainly
through Voice for Humanity, distributed tens of thousands of iPod-like MP3 players in
Iraq and Afghanistan that play pre-packaged civic messages.53 USAID has long kept a
close relationship with the Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command
Gerth, Jeff, ‘Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid US Propaganda’, The New York Times, January 2, 2006.
Gerth, Jeff, ‘Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid US Propaganda’, The New York Times, January 2, 2006.
Gerth, Jeff, ‘Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid US Propaganda’, The New York Times, January 2, 2006.
Gerth, Jeff, ‘U.S. Is Said to Pay to Pant Articles in Iraq Papers’, Washington Post, December 1, 2005.
Gerth, Jeff, ‘U.S. Is Said to Pay to Pant Articles in Iraq Papers’, Washington Post, December 1, 2005.
Gerth, Jeff, ‘Military’s Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive’, Propaganda, December 11, 2005.
Gerth, Jeff, ‘Military’s Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive’, Propaganda, December 11, 2005.
(CAPOC), a part of the Special Operations Command (SOC). CAPOC is made up of two
military functions: psychological operations and civil affairs. CAPOC is charted with
two main tasks: to conduct psychological operations and to perform civil service-type
tasks, such as managing interim governments, building roads, and developing legal
systems. CAPOC and USAID have over the past several years worked very closely
together in Bosnia, Somalia and many other countries. Utilizing both Psychological
Operations and Civil Affairs in a combined effort allows the US military to control not
only the airwaves in certain countries but also the purse behind projects such as building
roads, schools, and sewer systems. CAPOC’s capital resources are utilized as both a
carrot and a stick. Those who cooperate with the military get financial rewards via the
civil affairs component, and those who are hostile or adverse to their operations tend to
be manipulated and or threatened via very productive tactical psychological operations.
The military notion of psychological operations oddly captures the notion of a
continuous communication space extending from public diplomacy to propaganda as
traditionally conceived. Lt. Col. Charles A. Krohn, a retired Army spokesman and
journalism professor stated, ‘Psychological Operations are an essential part of warfare,
more so in the electronic age than ever.’54 Arguing along the same line, Maj. Gen. David
Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne stated, ‘At the end of the day you don’t
defeat an insurgency solely with military forces. You’ve got to capture or kill the bad
guys, but you win by getting the people to believe they have a stake in the success of the
New Iraq.’55 The role of CAPOC and SOC is to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi
populace. General Krulak, the Marine Corp Commandant in Iraq, identifies the key
objective for public diplomacy and propaganda as political communication. Krulak states
Gerth, Jeff, ‘Military’s Information War Is Vast and Often Secretive’, Propaganda, December 11, 2005.
‘The Propaganda War’, The Economist, October 6, 2001, Volume 361, Issue 1842, p 11.
that to win the hearts and minds of a target audience, you need the government to put
forth a better idea. General Krulak believes that winning the war against insurgents is not
a military mission but rather a political mission.56 Hence the audience’s trust in the
authority of the voice of the speaker is crucial in terms of convincing the audience that
what the author says is credible.
One way to measure the success of U.S. political communication in diplomacy
using our proposed metric of effectiveness at achieving objectives is to examine evidence
of public perceptions of the United States amongst foreign target audiences. Clearly the
ideas that are being put forth by the State Department and the Pentagon, whether using
their own staff or private contractors, have not been credible and persuasive enough to
curtail the rise in anti-American sentiment. Recent polls by the State Department, Zogby
International, Pew Research Centre and Gallup show that since the start of the ‘War on
Terror’, anti-Americanism has been on the rise. These polls demonstrate that Egypt,
Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Jordan have somewhere between 78 percent and 98 percent
of their entire population who view the United States unfavourably. The war has
increased mistrust of America in Europe, weakened support for the war on terrorism, and
undermined US credibility worldwide.57 The polls suggest United States is viewed as a
country that is arrogant, hypocritical and self-indulgent.58 These perceptions are being
exploited with the use of ICTs and the quick dissemination of information over the
Internet. A few examples of these perceptions being exploited with ICTs were the Abu
Ghraib prison scandal and rumours of US soldiers burning the Koran. The effects of this
Thomas, Evan, ‘Operation Hearts and Minds,’ Newsweek, December 29, 2003, Volume 143 Issue 1, p
Eikmeier, Dale, ‘How to Beat the Global Islamist Insurgency’, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp
Eikmeier, Dale, ‘How to Beat the Global Islamist Insurgency’, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp
ICT-shortened feedback loop affecting public perceptions are in no way limited to the
United States, as press reports in 2005 of abuse of Iraqi civilians by British forces in
Basra and the recent propagation of Danish cartoons depicting a derogatory picture of
Mohammad illustrate.
Many non-state diplomatic actors that are opponents of the United States have
adopted ICT-intensive public diplomacy and propaganda skills quite successfully.
Osama Bin Laden, notwithstanding the fact that the Taliban government that he
supported banned television in Afghanistan, quite successfully employed the use of ICTs,
mainly through the release of video and audio tape to Middle Eastern media outlets.
Utilizing al-Jazeera television and the al-Jazeera website, Osama Bin Laden was able to
reach massive audiences (34 million people) both domestic and abroad. During the short
time after the September 11 attacks, al-Jazeera was the one of the most frequented
websites. Osama Bin Laden’s successful media campaign was perceived as posing a
significant threat to the United States, in that Bin Laden’s messages were treated as
credible and persuasive by many people in their target audience. Some have argued that
the United States should not counter this media campaign with covert operations, such as
those undertaken by TRG or LG, but rather put forth a less deceptive campaign showing
the values of the United States. David Hoffman, writing in Foreign Affairs, argues,
‘Rather than resorting to censorship and counterpropaganda, Washington should make
use of the greatest weapon it has in its arsenal: the values enshrined in the First
Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.’59 Hoffman continued, ‘As the United States adds
weapons of mass communication to weapons of war, therefore, it must also take on more
important jobs of supporting indigenous open media, democracy and civil society in the
Muslim world. Even though many Muslims disagree with US foreign policy, particularly
Hoffman, David, ‘Beyond Public Diplomacy’, Foreign Affairs, March April 2002, vol. 81, Number 2.
toward the Middle East, they yearn for freedom of speech and access to information.’60
Hoffman and others agree that to win the ‘War on Terror’ and to defeat the insurgents in
Iraq, the United States must turn to its best idea – the idea of freedom. The idea of
freedom played an instrumental role in bringing down the former Soviet Union.61 Only
by encouraging and helping foster independent media that is based upon freedom and not
censored by covert groups from the CIA or Defense Department or any other independent
group can the United States come to realize its overall communication strategy. Similar
to the former Soviet Union, Muslim countries will find it very difficult to fight against
independent media entrepreneurs and journalists. Hard line governments such as North
Korea and China have recently found it very difficult to curtail ICTs once the population
has access to their power.
There is evidence that U.S. policy makers on both the military and civilian sides have
begun to recognize the problem that erosion of credibility and trust resulting from an
accumulation of publicized U.S. public diplomacy and propaganda undertakings. The
Defense Science Board Task Force in September 2004 published a Report concluding
that the US strategic communication plan must be transformed to help change the
negative image that is currently resonating throughout the world. 62 To do this, and
similar to a report released by the General Accountability Office on pre-packaged
propaganda which stated, ‘To succeed, we must understand that the United States in
engaged in a generational and global struggle about ideas, not a war between the West
Hoffman, David, ‘Beyond Public Diplomacy’, Foreign Affairs, March April 2002, vol. 81, Number 2.
Hoffman, David, ‘Beyond Public Diplomacy’, Foreign Affairs, March April 2002, vol. 81, Number 2.
United States. Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Managed Information Dissemination,
October 2001
and Islam.’63 To assist in this war of ideas, the Task Force Report recommended that the
President issue a directive to:
1. Strengthen the US Governments ability to understand global public opinion,
advise on the strategic implications of policymaking, and communicate with
global audiences,
2. Coordinate all components of strategic communication including public
diplomacy, public affairs, international broadcasting, and military information
operations, and
3. provide a foundation for new legislation on the planning, coordination, conduct,
and funding of strategic communication.
Additionally, the Task Force recommended that the President should establish a
permanent strategic communication structure with the NSC and work with Congress to
create legislation and funding for a:
1. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications
2. Strategic Communications Committee with the NSC, and
3. Independent, non profit, non partisan Center for Strategic Communications
The Center for Strategic Communications should embrace four core instruments:
1. Public diplomacy
a. Build lasting international relationships by influencing attitudes and
mobilize publics in ways that support policies and interests.
2. Public affairs
a. Activities intended primarily to influence US media an the American
3. International broadcasting services
a. Funds available to establish broadcasting services in foreign countries.
Voice of America, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, Radio/TV Marti,
and the Radio Sawa, and Al Hurra.
4. Information Operations
a. Is a term used by the DOD to include Computer Network Operations,
Electronic Warfare, Operational Security, Military Deception, and
Based upon its structural recommendations for reorganizing political
communication to achieve diplomatic objectives, the Defense Science Board Task Force
United States. Unattributed Prepackaged News Stories Violate Publicity or Propaganda Prohibition.
GAO. May 12, 2005
appears to have grasped the continuity of the space between public diplomacy and
propaganda, the ICT-shortened feedback loop, and the significance of trust for
maintaining credibility for the United States as a diplomatic actor. As recent news and
developments continue to come out of Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, with the
premise that insurgents are winning the war of ideas, political support may be building
for the idea that the United States will need to adopt the policies outlined by the Task
Force. Dale Eikmeier concludes in his article, ‘How to Beat the Global Islamic
Insurgency’: ‘If the U.S. government is to develop successful counterinsurgency
strategies, its policymakers and military strategists must understand the Islamist
insurgency’s mixture of subversion, propaganda, and military pressure. U.S.
counterinsurgency strategy should be comprehensive.’64 The need adopt a
comprehensive strategy that encompasses better integration of traditional diplomacy,
public diplomacy, public affairs, propaganda and psychological operations may in due
course turn U.S. policy makers towards the conclusion that they will need to adopt and
implement the Defense Science Board Task Force’s recommendations, at least in some
Conclusions – a programme for further research
Our account drawn from examples from U.S. diplomacy is far from complete. In
order to round out the picture we are seeking to paint, we intend to include further cases
drawn from recent more ‘conventional’ public diplomacy undertakings of the U.S.
Department of State, including projects of the public diplomacy office headed under the
Bush Administration by Charlotte Beers and, more recently, by Karen Hughes. We still
Eikmeier, Dale, ‘How to Beat the Global Islamist Insurgency, Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2005, pp.
maintain that there may be limited occasions where deceptive political communication in
diplomacy may be effective. To demonstrate this, we intend to include at least one recent
example of political communication in diplomacy that involved deception of the target
audience and that can also be judged effective both at achieving the government’s
objectives and at furthering the interests of the target audience. But overall, our findings
thus far support our broad contentions that there is a continuous space of political
communication in diplomacy that stretches from public diplomacy as traditionally
defined to what was commonly understood as propaganda. Rather than evaluating these
types of communications as separate categories, according to objective truth criteria, they
can most usefully be evaluated on the basis of effectiveness at achieving objectives,
assuming an intersubjective understanding of meaning. Over the period from the 1970s
to the 1990s, the U.S. government repeatedly attempted to employ techniques of political
communication that relied upon deception, both of foreign audiences and of the U.S.
domestic public. The same technologies that made these communications possible also
shortened the feedback loop by making it progressively easier for the media and other
actors with different interests to expose the deception. This had the effect of eroding,
progressively, the credibility of the U.S. government as a diplomatic actor. The use of
private actors to attempt to create views that appeared not to originate from the U.S.
government made the authorial voice of U.S. policy makers ambiguous. It also
backfired, because, as each instance was exposed, it progressively undermined trust in the
authorial integrity of U.S. policy, which has made it steadily more difficult for U.S.
policy makers to employ public diplomacy/propaganda successfully in communicating to
foreign audiences. A gradual learning curve for government diplomatic actors like the
United States reflecting an increased understanding of the impact of ICTs, the shortened
feedback loop and the significance of shared meanings and interests over time may have
an impact upon how political communication in diplomacy is undertaken going forward.