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The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought new life to an old debate. That the hostility of Islamic fundamentalist extremists could result in approximately 3,000 deaths forced the people of the United States to ask a fundamental question, Why do they hate us? It also resparked interest in American overseas information programs, a topic that had lost much of its luster since the end of the Cold War.
This paper looks at the ongoing debate over the role of U.S. government overseas information programs in the War on Terrorism. It does so by reviewing the last time the government and opinion leaders focused as much attention on what many label as propaganda. That debate took place in 1953, in the middle of the Cold War. A new president, unhappy with what he saw as the ineffective efforts of his predecessor, sought new approaches for communicating American policies and values to the rest of the world. That effort led to the creation of the United States Information Agency, an independent government agency that essentially served as the nation's public relations outlet. It remained in that role until 1998, when its functions were consolidated within the State Department.
As this paper will demonstrate, many of the issues that surrounded the decision to create the USIA are present in today's debate. Those issues include the definition of propaganda, whether it has a role in democratic societies, and what forms it should take. Then there is the question of where within the government should such a program be housed. Prior to the creation of the USIA, most overseas information functions resided under the umbrella of the State Department. However, as this paper will chronicle, State Department stewardship of these programs was an issue in 1953 and is so again today. The paper also suggests that presidential communications advisers have been and continue to be key players in framing this debate.
Propaganda versus Persuasion
There are few words in the English language that are as emotionally charged and carry as many ethical intonations as propaganda. Among many Americans, the very mention of the word conjures images of Nazi Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels, Pravda and the Cold War. How broadly the term is defined creates a filter through which persuasive communication activities are viewed.
The convergence of the Industrial Age, new mass communication technologies, and tensions growing out of international competition brought persuasive communication to the forefront in the early 20th century. However, for as long as humans have organized themselves into groups of shared values and concerns, communication has been used to strategically advance self interests. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence dating back to 1,800 BC of primitive agricultural extension agents giving farmers advice on how to improve their crop yield. During the fifth century BC in the city-state of Athens, new political freedoms gave rise to the birth of rhetoric, the study of public opinion and how to influence it. A philosophy of vox populi, the voice of the people, was embraced four centuries later in the Roman Republic. The spread of Christianity during the Middle Ages was also linked to strategic communication. The faith was passed along by word of mouth through missionaries such as Francis of Assisi, who spread his teachings of self-imposed poverty and service to the poor across Europe and the Middle East during the 12th century. The Catholic Churchís efforts became more formalized in the 17th century with the establishment of the Congregato de Propaganda Fide for the purpose of spreading church doctrine. (1)
The history of the use of propaganda is somewhat confusing because its very definition is a matter of dispute. Historian Brett Gray wrote, "Propaganda as a label suffered (and suffers) from a certain imprecision; it is not unlike Justice Potter Stewart's fabled definition of pornography: 'I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.'"(2) Webster's Dictionary defines propaganda in a broad context as "the propagating of doctrines or principles; the opinions or beliefs thus spread."(3) Linebarger wrote in a Cold War era publication that propaganda is "the planned use of any form of public or mass-produced communication designed to affect the minds and emotions of a given group for a specific purpose, whether military, economic, or political."(4) Jowett and O'Donnell wrote that propaganda, "in its most neutral sense, means to disseminate or promote particular ideas."(5)
Many scholars -- and laypersons -- embrace the paradigm of propaganda as an umbrella covering all forms of persuasive communication, including advertising and public relations. Mertz and Lieber lump persuasive communications into two broad categories. One is revealed propaganda, messages that are overt in their effort to persuade, such as those in conventional advertising. The other is concealed propaganda, such as publicity generated from the distribution of news releases. In their model, the propaganda label can apply to almost any communication.(6) Noam Chomsky, who also embraces the broad definition of propaganda, says it has the effect of narrowing debate within democratic societies:
However, that interpretation draws criticism from many quarters, especially public relations scholars and communication professionals. Since its earliest days, modern practitioners have tried to differentiate public relations from propaganda by placing it within an ethical framework. That was certainly the intent of Ivy Ledbetter Lee, whose Declaration of Principles in 1906 was the first attempt to articulate such a framework. That is also why public relations historian Scott M. Cutlip wrote that Bernays' efforts to further define public relations in his 1928 book Propaganda served only to muddy the waters and "handed the infant field's critics a club with which to bludgeon it."(10)
Gray argued that propaganda should not be confused with advertising and public relations. He wrote, "For my part, I try to maintain that distinction by defining propaganda as the organized manipulations of key cultural symbols and images (and biases) for the purposes of persuading a mass audience to take a position, or move to action, or remain inactive on a controversial matter."(11) Historian Leo Bogart wrote that the propaganda studies of the mid-1930s were "prompted by the assumption that the statements of totalitarian governments represented cunning and deliberate distortions of the truth to serve deeper strategic objectives."(12)
Jowett and O'Donnell prefer a narrower definition of propaganda, one that makes it a sub-category of both persuasion and information. "Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist."(13) On the other hand, they say persuasion "is interactive and attempts to satisfy the needs of both the persuader and persuadee."(14) These tend to be in closer harmony with more widely accepted definitions of public relations that stress two-way communications, as well as the building and maintaining of mutually beneficial relationships.
It is not just communication professionals who have sought to distance themselves from the propaganda label. The United States government has backed away from that terminology since an initial flirtation with it at the outbreak of the First World War. In what is a common government tactic, officials have attached the label "public diplomacy" to the effort to influence foreign public opinion. However, few are fooled by the use of creative language. USIA veteran Fitzhugh Green acknowledged in his 1988 book American Propaganda Abroad that public diplomacy is "a euphemism for the word modern Americans abhor - propaganda."(15)
The same skittishness holds true for the more benign term "public relations." Once again, this is largely because of the broad definition many apply to propaganda. Although thousands of public relations practitioners are employed in all levels of government, they tend to operate under stealth job titles such as press secretary, public information officer, public affairs officer, and communications specialist. As early as 1913, Congress adopted the Gillett amendment, which declared that "appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose."(16)
The use of strategic communication in the United States predates the founding of the nation. Placed in a 21st century context, some of this activity can be characterized as propaganda. And as with modern-day propaganda, these activities took different forms that were defined by their source and accuracy.
According to Jowett and O'Donnell, white propaganda is that which comes from a source that it identified correctly and accurately reported. (17) Thomas Jefferson urged President James Monroe to use what could be characterized as white propaganda to promote an American perspective against what he saw as a negative and hostile British press:
Black propaganda is "that which is credited to a false source and spread lies, fabrications and deceptions."(19) This is the form of propaganda most widely associated with Josef Goebbels. However, far less sinister figures have employed this technique to advance their causes. During the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin spread false stories about British acquiescence in Seneca Indian atrocities against colonists. He did so to undermine the British war effort and to bolster overseas public opinion in favor of American independence.(20)
A third form identified by Jowell and O'Donnell is gray propaganda, where the source "may or may not be correctly identified, and the accuracy of the information is uncertain."(21) Exaggerated claims were often the basis for encouraging settlement of the wilderness. At first they were aimed at attracting Europeans to fledgling East Coast settlements. Later, the myth of frontiersman Daniel Boone was created to woo settlers into the new nation's interior.(22)
On some occasions, the form of the message is not as important a consideration as its timing. President Abraham Lincoln delayed publication of the Emancipation Proclamation until he could link it to a Union victory in the battlefield. Lincoln did not want the abolition of slavery (limited to just the Confederate states) to be seen as an act of desperation. When Lincoln got a much-needed victory at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, it gave the proclamation credibility and eliminated the threat of European intervention into the American Civil War.(23) To hasten American. intervention into World War I , the British government delayed release of the infamous Zimmerman telegram -- an intercepted German diplomatic communique that outlined a plot to draw Mexico into a war with the United States -- until it would have a maximum effect on U.S. public opinion.(24)
Propaganda and the World Wars
The seeds for today's common conceptions of propaganda -- or misconceptions, depending on your point of view -- grew out of the 20th century's two world wars. For contextual purposes, it is important to remember that the term did not hold the same meaning prior to the outbreak of World War I. When the United States was drawn into global conflict in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson saw the creation of the Committee on Public Information as a necessary counterweight against the propaganda of the Central Powers. He appointed a long-time friend and political ally, newspaperman George Creel, to head its operations. Creel saw the application of American-style propaganda as being preferable to the wartime censorship favored by some in the military. However well-intentioned, CPI had its critics. As David M. Kennedy has written:
The Office of War Information, created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the outset of the Second World War, had neither the authority or the influence of the CPI.(27) The Voice of America, modeled after the BBC's overseas broadcasts, was beamed to occupied Europe. As the Allies moved into Europe, OWI served as media contacts and established a series of Information Centers, or libraries. The agency engaged in white and gray propaganda.(28) It was left up to the Office of Strategic Services to conduct psychological warfare against the enemy, including the use of "black propaganda."(29)
Bogart wrote that the differing missions of OWI and OSS led to a philosophical split that influenced American overseas information programs throughout the Cold War and into the post-Soviet era.(30) These differing views were first articulated in a 1948 Brookings Institute study:
Cold War Propaganda
At the start the Cold War era, the U.S government was uneasy about embracing anything that smacked of Goebbels-like propaganda. Former Senator William Fulbright (D-Ark.) echoed this sentiment when he said, "there is something basically unwise and undemocratic about a system which taxes the public to finance a propaganda campaign aimed at persuading the same taxpayers that they must spend more tax dollars to subvert their independent judgment." (32)
Nevertheless, there were others who felt the government should be doing more to counter the communists. Allen M. Wilson, vice president of The Advertising Council, told a New York gathering on March 22, 1949, "Is propaganda an effective weapon? It must be. How else, since the communists have nothing to offer France but promises, could the communist leaders have captured control of great sections of the French labor movement?"(33)
Harry Truman distanced the government from the use of overseas information as a strategic tool during the early stages of his presidency. When Truman signed an executive order abolishing the OWI on August 31, 1945, he said, "This government will not attempt to outstrip the extensive and growing information programs of other nations. Rather, it will endeavor to see to it that other peoples receive a full and fair picture of American life and the aims and policies of the United States government."(34) However, Truman's view toward overseas information programs would evolve over the next two years as a result of both foreign and domestic pressures.
The initial step in this evolution came on March 12, 1947, when the president first articulated what would become known as the Truman Doctrine in a nationally broadcast speech before a joint session of Congress. The purpose of the speech was to announce a $400 million economic and military aid package for Greece and Turkey. The fear was that British disengagement because of post-war financial strains would leave that area of the world open to Soviet domination.
Prior to the speech, Assistant Secretary of State Will Clayton wrote in a memorandum that "the United States will not take world leadership effectively unless the people of the United States are shocked into doing so."(35) Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) told the president that he would have to "scare the hell out of the country" to win approval of the Greco-Turkish aid package.(36) The Truman Doctrine speech established the philosophical and rhetorical tone for the announcement of the administration's signature foreign aid program, the Marshall Plan, later that same year.
Overseas information programs became a political battleground between the President and his congressional critics. The administration consolidated the State Department's Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs (a direct descendent of OWI) into the new Office of International Information and Educational Exchange in the fall of 1947.(37) However, the Republican-controlled Congress, unhappy with what it saw as a timid American response to Russian propaganda, trumped the White House with the Smith-Mundt Act, which authorized the government to globally disseminate information about the United States and its policies.(38) In turn, the White House created an even larger, more aggressive overseas information program, the Office of International Information.(39)
Truman fully embraced overseas information programs in an April 20, 1950, speech before a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Truman told the editors that his administration would embark upon a "Campaign of Truth:"
The United States International Information Administration was created in January 1952 "for the conduct of the (State) Department's international information and educational exchange programs."(42) This development occurred, in part, because of a rift between the Economic Cooperation Administration and the United States International Information and Exchange Program. While there were other domestic and foreign influences on this debate, this was, essentially, a turf battle. USIE was the operating agency responsible for the State Department's foreign information and exchange program.(43) In 1949, Congress also authorized ECA to publicize its Marshall Plan programs in the participating countries.(44) It wasn't long before the two public information staffs began stepping upon each other's toes.
The creation of IIA did not quell the criticism of overseas information programs. At the start of 1953, the agency was faced with four congressional probes, including a McCarthy committee investigation into the location and construction of two Voice of America transmitters. And even before Truman vacated the Oval Office, Dwight Eisenhower was preparing IIA's demise.
The Eisenhower Approach
Unlike his predecessor, Eisenhower embraced the strategic use of oversees information from the outset of his administration. And different from many political figures, Eisenhower's rhetorical approach was oriented more toward outcomes than process:
"But propaganda is not the most important part of this struggle," Eisenhower said. "The present Administration has never yet been able to grasp the full import of a psychological effort put forth on a national scale."(46)
Just six days after taking the oath of office, President Eisenhower appointed the President's Committee on International Information Activities. It became widely known as the "Jackson Committee" because of its two most prominent members, William H. Jackson, the managing partner of a New York investment firm, and the committee's chairman, and C.D. Jackson, a Time-Life executive who had become one of Eisenhower's closest advisers. It was C.D. Jackson, an adviser to General Eisenhower on psychological warfare matters during the Second World War, who first suggested the creation of the committee in a November 26, 1952, memorandum, to the President-elect.(47)
Other members of the committee were New York advertising executive Sigurd Larmon, University of North Carolina President Gordon Gray, New Jersey businessman Barklie McKee Henry, and New York textile executive John C. Hughes. General Mills executive Abbott Washburn served as the executive secretary of the committee. All of the members, except Larmon, had military experience in either intelligence or psychological warfare. Most had media experience. The committee's final report was due no later than June 30, 1953.(48)
In a letter to the executive secretary of the National Security Council, Eisenhower said the purpose of the committee was "to make a survey and evaluation of the international information policies and activities of the Executive Branch of the Government and of policies and activities related thereto with particular reference to the international relations and the national security of this country." The President went on to say, "It has long been my conviction that a unified and dynamic effort in this field is essential to the security of the United States and of the peoples in the community of free nations."(49)
The Debate of 1953
When the Jackson Committee met for the first time on January 30, 1953, it was not the only panel in Washington discussing the future of U.S. overseas information programs. Within a month, the Senate extended the life of a special subcommittee investigating overseas information programs until June 30, the same day the Jackson Committee report was due. The Hickenlooper Committee, chaired by Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper (R-Iowa), held a series of hearings March 6 through May 13.(50) There was the Advisory Commission on Information, a five-member panel of specialists outside of government created by President Truman to review the operations of the IIA. (51) There was the aforementioned McCarthy committee, which was being closely monitored -- as evidenced by the large volume of archived memoranda and newspaper clippings in the Jackson Committee files. The Jackson Committee also received indirect input from the President's Advisory Committee on Government Organization, chaired by Nelson A. Rockefeller.
There was also intense interest in the Jackson Committee's deliberations from outside government circles -- particularly among journalists, who were generally opposed to anything that had the appearance of propaganda. The tone of much of this commentary was along the lines of the editorial opinion of The Washington Post, which said "Psychological warfare, in addition to being contrary to the American way of doing things, is antithetical to the American way of life."(52) Columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop wrote "Democracy cannot be peddled like soap flakes."(53) Walter Lippmann, who wanted to abolish the Voice of America, wrote, "In a society where opinions are free, a government propaganda, which is a monopoly, is an inherent contradiction and practically unworkable."(54)
Predictably, the deliberations also had the attention of the nation's public relations practitioners. While generally supportive of an aggressive program of overseas public information, they, too, shied away from the "propaganda" label. "Psychological warfare must be an integral part of our national policy, not a thing apart," said public relations pioneer Edward L. Bernays. "The government should use social scientists who understand our activities as they relate to other countries."(55) Thomas J. Deegan, Jr., vice president and director of C&O Railway Company, told participants in a public relations workshop that the U.S. was "naive" in its counter propaganda and that the government had "traded down" public relations by using inadequately trained "press-release men."(56) Some of the most comprehensive recommendations came from Denny Griswold, the publisher and editor of the weekly newsletter Public Relations News.(57)
The debate on the role overseas information programs can be boiled down to two questions: Should the nation use propaganda to advance its foreign policy goals, and where in the government should overseas information programs reside? Considering the political atmosphere of the times, it is somewhat surprising that the Jackson Committee was able to reach a broad consensus on both points.
As already noted, there was strong opposition to the use of propaganda. The feeling in the Congress, within the media, and among public relations practitioners was that the nation's initial flirtation with propaganda, the Psychological Strategy Board, had been a failure. President Truman created the PSB on April 4, 1951, "to authorize and provide for the more effective planning, coordination, and conduct within the framework of approved national policies, of psychological operations." The PSB had been charged with reporting to the National Security Council "on the Boards's activities on the evaluation of the national psychological operations, including the implementation of approved objectives, policies, and programs by the departments and agencies concerned." The PSB role was designed to be that of strictly coordination. It did not conduct any operations of its own.(58)
The Jackson Committee heeded the voices of the board's many critics who felt that the PSB had been established on a false premise. "It is founded upon the misconception that 'psychological activities' and 'psychological strategy' somehow exist apart from official policies and actions and can be dealt with independently by experts in this field," the committee stated in a July 8 press release timed announcing its recommendations. "In reality, there is a 'psychological' aspect or implication to every diplomatic, economic, or military policy and action." (59)
The committee also won praise from both reporters and public relations practitioners for rejecting of the use of propaganda in pursuit of American foreign policy goals. "American broadcasts and printed materials should concentrate on objective, factual news reporting," the committee news release said. "The tone and content should be forceful and direct, but a propagandist note should be avoided."(60) The Jackson Committee report also objected to the use of terms such as "psychological warfare" and "Cold War." The committee report said "they should be discarded in favor of others which describe our true goals." (61)
There wasn't as much a consensus as to where in the government overseas information efforts should reside as there was for where they shouldn't. From the very beginning of this debate, an array of voices from a variety of perspectives had advocated the removal of these programs from the operational control of the State Department.
During the 1952 presidential campaign, Eisenhower singled out the State Department when criticizing the Truman administration for compartmentalizing the nation's response to the Cold War. "We shall no longer have a Department of State that deals with foreign policy in an aloof cluster," Eisenhower said. "The Administration in power has failed to bring into line its criss-crossing and overlapping and jealous departments and bureaus and agencies." (62)
The State Department's stewardship of overseas information programs also drew fire from the legislative branch Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) said the only way to save these programs from "certain death" was to transfer them from the State Department to an new federal agency. Senator Karl E. Mundt (R-S.D.), a member of both the McCarthy and Hickenlooper committees, predicted that the government's various overseas information programs would be placed under one head.(63) In a 44-page memorandum, Hickenlooper Committee staff concluded that "Congress and the American people lack an accurate definition of what we are attempting to accomplish with overseas information programs." The report stated that the program had "strayed too far" from its original purpose and "has become increasingly less effective as it has become more an instrument of propaganda and less an instrument of information."(64)
There was less consensus on where the overseas information programs should reside. The Hickenlooper Committee and the Advisory Committee on Information proposed that these programs be consolidated into one Cabinet-level agency. This drew support from public relations practitioners such as Griswold, who wrote the White House and said, "Set up an independent agency, free to operate a fast-moving, modern program where timeliness takes precedence over protocol,"(65) However, there were also critics to raising the profile of overseas information programs to the Cabinet level. Senator John L. McClellan (D-Ark.), the ranking minority member on the McCarthy committee, said the proposal "doesn't make any sense."(66) Jackson Committee staff member Lewis C. Mattison wrote in a critique of Griswold's proposals that "Cabinet rank is newspaper talk."(67)
President Eisenhower effectively ended the debate when he sent Congress Reorganization Plan No. 8 of 1953. The order created the United States Information Agency. In many ways, it mirrored the Rockefeller Committeeís recommendations. USIA represented a consolidation of overseas information programs administered by IIA, the Mutual Security Agency, the Technical Cooperation Administration, and by programs financed in connection with government in occupied areas. The president also agreed with the chorus of those who favored abolishing the PSB. However, the Rockefeller Committeeís recommendation that the new agency be established under the control of the NSC was rejected.
Oddly, the only voice in the debate that appeared to favor State Department control of overseas information was President Eisenhower's own hand-picked group, the Jackson Committee. However, Reorganization Plan No. 8 was sent to Congress on June 1, 1953, exactly one month before the Jackson Committee report was due. Noting that the White House had already sent its proposal to Capitol Hill, the Jackson Committee declined to make a specific recommendation. But the report did say, "In our opinion, the most satisfactory arrangement would be to retain within the Department of State those functions now assigned the IIA and combine them with the information activities handled by MSA and TCA."(68) In a strategic footnote, the Jackson report stated that the committee had considered the recommendations of the Hickenlooper and Rockefeller committees to remove overseas information functions from the State Department. By declining to make a recommendation, the Jackson report appears to have acknowledged the political reality.(69)
There is an ironic historical footnote to this debate. Under the direction of Vice President Al Gore, the Clinton administration embarked upon a cost-cutting program in 1993, the National Performance Review. USIA was one of the agencies targeted for fat-trimming. Gore said, "It is imperative that both the State Department and USIA look for efficiencies and economies that result from the elimination of redundant programs, duplicative functions, and excess capacity in the infrastructure that supports the conduct of foreign affairs."(70) In the context of the Jackson Committee's deliberations 40 years earlier, this sounded a lot like movement toward the consolidation of overseas information programs under a State Department umbrella.
As late as February 15, 1995, the White House remained committed to an independent USIA. "After a review under auspices of the Vice President's National Performance Review, the Administration concluded that USIA, AID and ACDA should continue to pursue their missions as independent agencies under the foreign policy direction of the Secretary of State." However, the same White House statement foreshadowed the future when it said, "The review the Vice President directed also concluded that the State Department, and each of the other agencies, should continue to conduct thorough reinvention activities to attain greater efficiency and effectiveness and eliminate activities that can no longer be justified."(71)
On December 30, 1998, the White House announced that USIA's functions would be consolidated within the State Department. Because it came during the holiday season and in the period immediately following President Clintonís impeachment, the move received little attention. On October 1, 1999, USIA ceased to exist.(72) Ironically, the one Jackson Committee recommendation ignored by President Eisenhower had finally been realized.
The Past Becomes Prologue
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States thrust the debate over the role of overseas information programs in advancing American foreign policy initiatives back to center stage. This would, in turn, spark a public debate reminiscent of the overseas information debate nearly a half-century earlier. Again, the two most prominent issues in this debate were what kind of propaganda, if any, is appropriate, and where within the government should it be practiced?
With what many assume was one eye on history and the other on reelection, the Bush White House gave Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward unprecedented access to the president, key administration and military figures, and classified documents during 2002. The result was Bush At War, a 376-page book detailing the administration's response during the first 100 days of the War on Terrorism. It gave the reader a rare, albeit filtered, look at a major historical event as it is evolving. It also showed that overseas information, often referred to as the politically more palatable public diplomacy, was on President Bush's mind in the first hours following the attacks.
According to Woodward, Bush met with Karen P. Hughes, counselor to the president, on the morning after the attack. The president told Hughes to develop a "plan, a strategy, even a vision...to educate the American people to be prepared for another attack. Americans need to know that combating terrorism would be the main focus of the administration -- and the government -- from this moment forward."(73) The significance of this exchange was its focus on framing message content. Bush was, in effect, embracing the use of overseas information programs for strategic purposes.
A slightly different philosophy, one emphasizing the control of information, was articulated by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. During a September 15 meeting of the Bush war cabinet at Camp David, Rumsfeld outlined his vision for overseas information. The minutes of that meeting indicated that the secretary of defense said, "Need tighter control over public affairs. Treat it like a political campaign with daily talking points."(74)
At the risk of reading too much into the nuances of the individual speakers, these semantical differences foreshadowed the debate on the role of overseas information in the war on terror. Using the term propaganda in its broadest and least pejorative context, the U.S. would engage in white and gray propaganda -- and flirt with the use of black propaganda -- in the months that followed the attacks.
Hughes spearheaded the use of white propaganda with the creation of the Coalition Information Center in October 2001. The CIC was set up in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building -- the site of many of Ike's Cold War news conferences. (The irony of this will be noted later.) There were also smaller CIC operations in London and Islamabad. Within the CIC, staffers from the White House, other administrative agencies, and the British Embassy engaged in what The New York Times described as "the most ambitious wartime communications effort since World War II."(75) The CIC's stated purpose was to more effectively and quickly communicate U.S. foreign policy goals to the world -- especially a skeptical Muslim world. The CIC was also established to counter the propaganda efforts of the Taliban regime, al Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden. The New York Times also reported that its creation was "an acknowledgment that propaganda is back in fashion after the Clinton administration and Congress tried to cash in on the end of the Cold War by cutting back public diplomacy overseas...to balance the budget."(76)
The creation of the CIC came at a time the administration was being hammered in the media for targeting mistakes during the U.S. bombing campaign in Afghanistan. Twice during the early weeks of the air campaign, Red Cross facilities had been mistakenly struck by U.S. bombs. President Bush told the National Security Council on October 29, 2001, "We need to also highlight the fact that the Taliban are killing people and conducting their own terror operations, so get a little more balance here about what the situation is."(77) Just two days later, the President repeated his frustration when he opened an NSC meeting by saying "We're losing the public relations war."(78)
The first fruits of the CIC came within a few days of its creation. It arranged an appearance by former American ambassador to Syria Christopher Ross on the influential Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera. It was the first time an American official had addressed the Arab world in its own language since the attacks.(79) On November 17, First Lady Laura Bush presented the White House's weekly radio address as part of a coordinated effort to draw attention to the Taliban regime's brutality against women and children.(80) Just a few days later, the CIC office in Islamabad released a list of 22 atrocities it alleged were committed by al Qaeda and the Taliban.(81)
At approximately the same time Hughes and the White House created the CIC, the Pentagon established its own information outlet, the Office of Strategic Influence. Defense officials would say after its existence was revealed several months later that its objectives were not that much different from those of the CIC. However, it also engaged in the use of gray propaganda techniques, often associated with military and CIA PSYOPs, psychological operations, against the Taliban and al Qaeda. In the early stages of the war, the gray propaganda efforts included the dropping of leaflets and the use of flying radio stations -- both carrying instructions to the Taliban on how to surrender. One such broadcast began: "Attention Taliban! You are condemned. Did you know that? The instant the terrorists you support took over our planes, you sentenced yourselves to death."(82)
The speculation that OSI was planning to move into the area of black propaganda spelled its early demise just three months later. When media reports surfaced in February 2002 of OSI plans to spread disinformation to foreign journalists,, White House aides reportedly "hit the ceiling," and, in a rare show of disharmony within the administration, said they were "furious" about the proposal. Hughes, who had been accompanying Bush on a Asian trip at the time the news broke, called a Washington Post reporter to ensure "that there be no change in the administration's strict policy of providing reporters with the facts."(83) Although he characterized the reporting as "inaccurate speculation and assertions," Rumsfeld announced the office's closing one day later. He also said the Pentagon would not deal in disinformation.(84)
As 2002 drew to a close, White House and Pentagon officials found themselves still trying to avoid the stigma of black propaganda. The New York Times reported in December the existence of a secret effort "to discredit and undercut the influence of mosques and religious schools, as well as planting news stories in newspapers and other periodicals in foreign countries." White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters, "The president has the expectation that any program that is created in his administration will be based on facts, and that's what he would expect to be carried out in any program that is created in any entity of the government."(85) In a Pentagon briefing, Rumsfeld said that the idea may have been discussed "at the 50th level" of the bureaucracy, but that "we don't intend to do things that are in any way inconsistent with the laws, or our Constitution, or the principles and values of our country."(86)
As mentioned, there was another echo of the past in this debate: Where within the government should overseas information programs be housed? As was the case in 1953, there were a variety of opinions -- most of which wanted to distance these programs from the State Department.
The White House announced July 30, 2002 -- the 49th anniversary of the Jackson Committee Report -- that it was establishing a permanent Office of Global Communications, an extension of the CIC, to coordinate the administration's foreign policy message and to help shape the country's image abroad. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "better coordination of international communications will help America to explain what we do and why we do it around the world. It's important to share the truth about America and American values with other nations in the world." However, when asked whether the new office would replace or supersede State Department public diplomacy efforts, he said, "it's not above the Department of State. The Department of State has the lead in public diplomacy around the world. But it's a White House coordinating body, to work shoulder to shoulder with the State Department on this."(87)
This approach won qualified praise from the United States Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a bipartisan panel created during the Cold War to provide oversight on overseas information programs. In a report released September 18, 2002, the five-member panel said "The Office of Global Communications should provide strategic direction and themes to the U.S. agencies that reach foreign audiences, while relying on the Secretary of State to provide tactical and strategic coordination of the diplomats overseas."(88) Translation: Let the State Department take the lead on diplomacy, and let the OGC take the lead on overseas information.
That interpretation is supported by another commission recommendation, that the 1998 consolidation of USIA within the State Department be reviewed. The report noted that the State Department's public diplomacy efforts had been strengthened since the consolidation, "much remains to be done to ensure that public diplomacy is brought into all aspects of policy decision making." It also favored integrating Congress into public diplomacy efforts(89) It should be noted that a previous incarnation of the commission had made similar recommendations 49 years earlier. The only major difference was that in 1953 it had favored placing overseas information programs in an independent Cabinet-level agency.(90)
There were others who wanted distance between the State Department and overseas information programs. In a report released the same day the White House made its announcement, the independent Council on Foreign Relations recommended the creation of an independent Corporation for Public Diplomacy, modeled after the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to develop programs to communicate American messages overseas.(91) In a recommendation that in some ways mirrors the creation of the OGC, the Council on Foreign Relations also proposed the creation of a "Public Diplomacy Coordinating Structure, whose chair would be the president's principal advisor on public diplomacy."(92) The report also called for increased funding of public diplomacy efforts -- which would be echoed six weeks later in the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy's report.
Different Wars, Common Themes
In comparing the debate over the role and direction of U.S. overseas information during the Cold War with the renewed debate brought on by the War on Terrorism, one cannot help but be struck by the similarities. In both cases, the United States was not as much at war with another nation as it was at war with a philosophy. The rhetoric of communists and fundamentalist Islamic extremists was inflammatory and hostile toward Western values. In both cases, the influence -- and therefore, the threat -- of the adversary appeared to be spreading. And in both instances, Americans were left to ask themselves the question of "why don't they like us?"
Both debates occurred at a time when new media were emerging. In the case of the Cold War, television was just starting to take its place as the predominant mass medium. With the War on Terrorism, the Internet and forms of wireless communication are the emerging media. Significantly, in both debates the focus was more on the message than the media.
In terms of message content, the White House, the Congress, public relations practitioners and the media struggled in 1953 to define the appropriate role for overseas information when it came to advancing national foreign policy objectives. That debate was revived on September 11, 2001. In both instances, there was broad consensus on the need to more effectively communicate U.S. messages and values. However, when it came to the specific nature of such communication, opinions diverged. Those aligned with the military tended to take a more tactical approach to overseas information. This, in turn, provided them with justification for the use of gray and, occasionally, black propaganda techniques. Journalists and public relations practitioners preferred a more strategic approach. They favored the use of white propaganda -- although the practitioners distanced themselves from the term. The political leadership in the White House and the Congress publicly embraced the strategic approach while, at times, appearing the turn a blind eye to the occasional necessity of the tactical approach.
Another striking similarity is the ambivalence toward State Department leadership of overseas information programs. There appears to be a basic mistrust of the State Department that transcends eras or political parties. There was a broad-based consensus toward removing these programs from State Department control during both the Cold War and the War on Terrorism. Even the different versions of the same presidential advisory panel made parallel recommendations some 49 years apart.
During both debates, there was intense Congressional interest in oversight. However, if the 21st century war follows the pattern of the 20th century war, it will ultimately be the White House that determines the question of how overseas information programs are administered. Only during the early stages of the Truman presidency, before the Cold War had reached its full intensity, and the later stages of the Clinton presidency, as the Cold War faded into memory, was there White House support for State Department control. History suggests that some public diplomacy functions currently housed within the State Department may yet again be on the move.
There is one other significant point of comparison: the role of a key presidential adviser in framing the debate. For Dwight Eisenhower, that key adviser was C.D. Jackson, who had a relationship with the president that pre-dated the White House and who had long served as an adviser on communication matters. For George W. Bush, that person is Karen Hughes -- a trusted confident who has served as his chief adviser on communication issues since his days as Texas governor. These were the first people the two presidents turned to when it came to the critical question of how to win the hearts and the minds of an overseas audience. Theirs are the voices that appears to matter the most in this debate. It should be noted that this has precedent: It was Woodrow Wilson's close friend and adviser George Creel that convinced the White House to adopt create CPI in lieu of military censorship at the outbreak of the First World War.
While these comparisons between the Cold War and the War on Terrorism may be somewhat simplistic, they may provide some direction for future policies and, therefore, merit further study.