Sunday, July 25, 2010

FSO Karen Walker on the Smith-Mundt Act (Public Diplomacy)

Ms. Karen Walker on the Smith-Mundt Act; from a Facebook SC discussion group; posted here with Ms. Walker's kind permission:

M. Karen Walker • Because Smith-Mundt may be a relatively esoteric topic allow me to add some background context for the common good and to encourage others in our group to weigh in.

The Smith-Mundt Act is the informal title referring to the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948, designed as "an act to promote the better understanding of the United States among the peoples of the world and to strengthen cooperative international relations." [Tuch, Hans N. Communicating with the World: U.S. Diplomacy Overseas. NY: St. Martin's, 1990, p. 17]

Smith-Mundt became the operating legislation for the USIA at its founding in 1953.

The Act made clear that the programs it authorized, including if not most especially the Voice of America (VOA), were to operate overseas. Subsequent legal interpretations of Smith-Mundt would lead to a ban on any materials created under its auspices (meaning, by USIA). Quoting Cull, "It was the information equivalent of posse comitatus, the law forbidding domestic deployment of the U.S. military." In the early 1960s the act was interpreted as meaning that films produced by USIA required an act of Congress before they could be shown within the U.S. And from 1972 onward, the act underwent a series of revisions to make this ban explicit. [Cull, Nicholas J. The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propoganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945-1989. NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008, p. 40]

The Zorinsky Amendment of 1985 reaffirmed that no appropr[ia]ted funds shall be used to influence domestic public opinion in the United States, and no program material prepared by the USIA shall be distributed in the United States. These provisions carried over to the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act that enfolded USIA into the Department of State. [Waller, J. Michael. The Public Diplomacy Reader. Washington, DC: The Institute of World Politics Press, 2007, pp.491-492.]

The Thornberry-Smith legislation is informed by a December 2009 Congressional Research Service report authored by Kennon Nakamura and Matthew Weed, titled "U.S. Public Diplomacy: Background and Current Issues." The report acknowledges that Smith-Mundt provisions are seen as anachronisms in the current global communications environment, and notes that use of new communications technologies and techniques may be curtailed to avoid the risk of inadvertently propagandizing the American public. The report adds the DoD has interpreted the provisions as applicable to its communications efforts as well, and that Congress has asked DoD to review this interpretation to determine whether it is justified.

The CRS report cautions that repealing the Smith-Mundt provisions could result in US public diplomacy efforts becoming preoccupied with "communicating to the American public for political effect, to the detriment of creating effecive, targeted communications to specific foreign populations" (p. 56).

With this background now in place, what do I think? If public diplomacy programs continue to be Embassy and Mission-directed, with overseas public diplomacy specialists setting priorities, feeding requests to Washington-based program managers, and taking point in managing the programs' implementation, then public diplomacy will continue to support country-level and regional strategies based on a deep cultural understanding and approaches effective in local contexts.

If the repeal makes clear that programs can be implemented even if the diffusion effects expose Americans to the programming, it would remove constraints on public diplomacy officers in employing web based tools and social media, and could lead to more effective engagement of U.S.-based Diaspora communities in American diplomacy.

Re-Inventing Oneself in America and the Digital Age

From Jeffrey Rosen, The New York Times

... For most of human history, the idea of reinventing yourself or freely shaping your identity — of presenting different selves in different contexts (at home, at work, at play) — was hard to fathom, because people’s identities were fixed by their roles in a rigid social hierarchy. With little geographic or social mobility, you were defined not as an individual but by your village, your class, your job or your guild. But that started to change in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, with a growing individualism that came to redefine human identity. As people perceived themselves increasingly as individuals, their status became a function not of inherited categories but of their own efforts and achievements. This new conception of malleable and fluid identity found its fullest and purest expression in the American ideal of the self-made man, a term popularized by Henry Clay in 1832. From the late 18th to the early 20th century, millions of Europeans moved from the Old World to the New World and then continued to move westward across America, a development that led to what the historian Frederick Jackson Turner called “the significance of the frontier,” in which the possibility of constant migration from civilization to the wilderness made Americans distrustful of hierarchy and committed to inventing and reinventing themselves.

In the 20th century, however, the ideal of the self-made man came under siege. The end of the Western frontier led to worries that Americans could no longer seek a fresh start and leave their past behind, a kind of reinvention associated with the phrase “G.T.T.,” or “Gone to Texas.” But the dawning of the Internet age promised to resurrect the ideal of what the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton has called the “protean self.” If you couldn’t flee to Texas, you could always seek out a new chat room and create a new screen name. For some technology enthusiasts, the Web was supposed to be the second flowering of the open frontier, and the ability to segment our identities with an endless supply of pseudonyms, avatars and categories of friendship was supposed to let people present different sides of their personalities in different contexts. What seemed within our grasp was a power that only Proteus possessed: namely, perfect control over our shifting identities.

But the hope that we could carefully control how others view us in different contexts has proved to be another myth. As social-networking sites expanded, it was no longer quite so easy to have segmented identities: now that so many people use a single platform to post constant status updates and photos about their private and public activities, the idea of a home self, a work self, a family self and a high-school-friends self has become increasingly untenable. In fact, the attempt to maintain different selves often arouses suspicion. Moreover, far from giving us a new sense of control over the face we present to the world, the Internet is shackling us to everything that we have ever said, or that anyone has said about us, making the possibility of digital self-reinvention seem like an ideal from a distant era.

A personal note: Throughout the years I have been giving a lecture, "Reinventing Oneself in America," to participants in the "Open World" program. The talk starts with Ben Franklin as the epitome of American reinvention, then goes on to talk about the two types of reinvention in the U.S. today: in the workplace and in people's personal lives. An American can have many jobs/careers; and he/she can have many "selves" throughout his/her life. The talk provides examples of American reinvention: The Great Gatsby; Arnold, the California gubernator; and Las Vegas. The presentation ends with reasons why Americans keep reinventing themselves, and asks the following concluding questions: Has natural, historical evolution been replaced by technological, future-oriented reinvention? To what extent does humanity want to reinvent itself and still remain "human"?

The Heart of a Realist (on George Kennan)

July 15, 2010
The Heart of a Realist

The Correspondence of George F. Kennan and John Lukacs, New York Times

Edited by John Lukacs

276 pp. University of Pennsylvania Press. $39.95
When the former diplomat and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer George F. Kennan died in 2005, obituary writers were quick to proclaim him one of the most influential Americans of his age. By conceiving the “containment” strategy that guided United States foreign policy throughout the cold war, Kennan not only stamped his ideas on an entire era of the nation’s history but also, eulogists suggested, pointed the way to the ultimate American victory over Soviet Communism.

The curious thing about such praise is that Kennan himself vigorously disagreed. During his lifetime, he complained bitterly that the nation’s leaders had misunderstood his ideas and initiated a far more militaristic and dangerous confrontation with the Soviet Union than he ever intended. But Kennan’s unease with his place in American history ran deeper. Far from viewing himself as an epoch-defining figure, he spent much of his life feeling out of sync with both his country and his times.

This powerful sense of estrangement from mainstream America pervades “Through the History of the Cold War,” a gloomy but fascinating volume containing more than 200 letters exchanged by Kennan and John Lukacs over half a century. The correspondence began in 1952, when Lukacs, a Hungarian émigré who later became a prolific historian of modern Europe, wrote Kennan to commend his view that the United States needed to resist Soviet expansion through political and economic, rather than military, means. To Lukacs’s surprise, Kennan wrote back.

As their literary careers grew over the following decades, their letters ranged far beyond foreign affairs to history, philosophy and theology, giving their correspondence a weightier, more abstract tone as time passed. Lukacs’s admiration for Kennan led him to publish an elegiac biography of his friend in 2007 and then to set about editing their letters for a separate book. His goal with this collection, Lukacs explains in his introduction, was partly to pay tribute to Kennan and partly to lay out the idiosyncratic opinions that they shared.

The collection conveys their enormous erudition and (especially on Kennan’s side) stylistic brilliance. More than anything, though, the book poses anew, in an admirably lean and accessible way, a question that has long swirled around Kennan: What were the intellectual ­underpinnings of his insistence on a ­restrained, “realist” foreign policy that shunned bold efforts to remake the world in the American image?

One answer is surely Kennan’s inordinately pessimistic assessment of human capabilities to effect change on a grand scale. If the world managed to escape catastrophic war, he wrote in one characteristically dark letter in 1953, “it will not be because of ourselves but despite of ourselves: by virtue, that is, of the fact that we have so little, rather than so much, control over the course of events.” Mere randomness was, for Kennan, a better bet for a happy outcome than the conscious efforts of well-intentioned people. Even they, after all, were constrained by “man’s fallen state.”

But Kennan’s ideas about the United States’ role in the world also sprang from his particular disdain for American democracy. An unashamed elitist ill at ease with his own modest upbringing in Milwaukee, he viewed Americans as dangerously susceptible to the pedestrian tastes of the majority, unmoored as they were from the aristocratic sensibilities that Kennan considered the best hope for resisting mindless enthusiasms. If he ­doubted Americans’ abilities to act sensibly on the global stage during the early cold war, he grew even more skeptical in an era of mass communications and mounting immigration. The United States was, he wrote in 1984, “a politically unsuccessful and tragic country” that lay ­“always vulnerable to abuse and harassment at the hands of the dominant forces of the ­moment.”

Mark Atwood Lawrence teaches history at the University of Texas at Austin. His latest book is “The Vietnam War: A Concise International History.”

Fake Femme Fatale

Fake femme fatale shows social network risks: Researcher Thomas Ryan says fictitious Robin Sage character fooled many holding security, military and intelligence posts
Jaikumar Vijayan
July 22, 2010 (Computerworld) Via Joshua Fouts

Hundreds of people in the information security, military and intelligence fields recently found themselves with egg on their faces after sharing personal information with a fictitious Navy cyberthreat analyst named "Robin Sage," whose profile on prominent social networking sites was created by a security researcher to illustrate the risks of social networking.

In a conversation with Computerworld, Thomas Ryan, co-founder of Provide Security, said he used a few photos to portray the fictional Sage on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter as an attractive, somewhat flirty cybergeek, with degrees from MIT and a prestigious prep school in New Hampshire. Then he established connections with some 300 men and women from the U.S. military, intelligence agencies, information security companies and government contractors.

The goal, said Ryan, was to determine how effective social networking sites can be in conducting covert intelligence-gathering activities.

Despite some patently obvious red flags -- such as noting that the 25-year-old Sage had worked professionally for 10 years -- the scheme worked. The connections to Sage, who was depicted as a real-life Abby Scuito, a fictional character in CBS's NCIS television series, were established in less than a month.

Many friends freely shared personal information and photos, invited the fictional threat analyst to conferences and asked her to review documents. Some "friends" at major companies, including Google and Lockheed Martin, even expressed interest in hiring her, he noted.

A security researcher created a fake online profile for a fictional cyberthreat analyst named "Robin Sage." Had Sage really been a foreign agent, she would have had access to a lot of very useful information, said Ryan, who is scheduled to present his findings next week at the BlackHat security conference in Las Vegas. Excerpts from his interview with Computerworld follow:

What prompted you to conduct the experiment? One of the biggest drivers was all the talk about cyberwarfare and cyberespionage -- and what's real and what's not real. I wanted to see how much intel you could gather from a person just by lurking on a social networking site. I [also] wanted to see who was most susceptible to clicking. I wanted to see how fast this thing would propagate. One of the things I found was that MIT and St. Paul's [prep school] were very cliquey [note from the author of "Notes and Essays": As a graduate of SPS '66, I never saw Ms. Sage at class reunions]. If they don't remember seeing you, they are not going to click. You had less of a chance of penetrating those groups than the actual intel and security communities.

How many connections and friends did Robin Sage make? On Facebook, 226; on LinkedIn, 206; and on Twitter, 204. The connections on Facebook were security and military, LinkedIn was mainly security and intel, and Twitter was mostly hackers.

Did Sage mostly seek out these friends, or were they more likely to make the first move? It was a combination of both. I did approach a few people, [mostly] from the security industry. They had the most connections. They are the speakers, the ones that are always sociable.

What type of information can one get through such connections? Pretty much everything. I had access to e-mail and bank accounts. I saw patterns in the kind of friends they had. The LinkedIn profiles would show patterns of new business relationships.

Why do you think Sage was so successful at making new connections? Because she was an attractive girl. It definitely had to do with looks.

Were most of the connections male? It wasn't all men. The male versus female split was 82% to 18%. The highest number of women were from the intelligence community. The only women who were there from the security community were people promoting conferences and stuff like that.

Do you think a fictional male character would have been as successful in attracting "friends"? It depends on who the male was and how he was portrayed.

What did Facebook do when they discovered what was going on? Facebook shut down the Robin page and my personal page. They said, due to security reasons, I am not allowed to use Facebook again. LinkedIn just deleted the Robin account but [a cached version] is still there on Google.

What's the takeaway from the experiment? The big takeaway is not to friend anybody unless you really know who they are. The same tactic was used to infiltrate a secret Israeli base. The people on the base were the only ones on a private Facebook page. Somebody was able to gain access to it and gather intel on the base.

Anything else? I was never able to friend anyone from the CIA or the FBI. I tried. It just didn't work. Toward the end of the experiment, there was this massive influx of Arabs from overseas that were trying to get on the Robin page where all the military stuff was. I didn't really care for it. That was a bit scary.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

P.J. O'Rourke: 'Very Little That Gets Blogged Is Of Very Much Worth'

July 23, 2010
P.J. O'Rourke: 'Very Little That Gets Blogged Is Of Very Much Worth'

This week, Facebook announced that its number of user profiles had reached 500 million. But American satirist and journalist P. J. O'Rourke is not impressed. In an interview with RFE/RL's Luke Allnutt, he explains why he isn't very hopeful about the future of journalism and what he thinks of when he thinks about Twitter.

RFE/RL: This week Facebook achieved 500 million users. Are you one of them?

P.J. O'Rourke: No, I most certainly am not. Are there 500 million people with computers? I guess there must be.

RFE/RL: But it's a remarkable achievement, right?

O'Rourke: I guess so. You know, had you told me that 500 million people last week wrote their name on the bathroom wall with a magic marker I would be equally impressed by the number, but I don't think that I would be favorably impressed.

RFE/RL: You've been notoriously characterized as a technophobe. Is that unfair? Do you own a computer or do you use the Internet?

O'Rourke: I own a computer. I don't use the Internet very much. I'm not a technophobe. It just doesn't help me very much. Writing is a slow and a difficult process mentally. How you physically render the words onto a screen or a page doesn't help you. I'll give you this example. When words had to be carved into stone, with a chisel, you got the Ten Commandments. When the quill pen had been invented and you had to chase a goose around the yard and sharpen the pen and boil some ink and so on, you got Shakespeare. When the fountain pen came along, you got Henry James. When the typewriter came along, you got Jack Kerouac. And now that we have the computer, we have Facebook. Are you seeing a trend here?

RFE/RL: Well that's not a very rosy outlook for the future then. Anyone who's a writer or novelist might as well just hang up their hat now because it's going down the pan.

O'Rourke: I don't mean it that way, but I do mean that the ease and speed that one can put words into some sort of permanent state -- screen, paper, whatever -- does not improve the words that are put there. The real work goes on behind the eyes. And I find, I've used a typewriter for 40 years and so using a typewriter, [it's] simply automatic, it doesn't get in the way. I think [and] it goes straight to the page. I don't have to think about what I'm doing. When I try and use the computer I have to think about what I'm doing because I keep hitting the control key instead of the shift [key] and so on and so forth. When I'm really having a problem with what I'm writing, when it's really difficult for me, I will revert to longhand because that's how I learned to write in the first place. And I don't know, maybe if it got really really difficult I might revert to block printing like I did in first grade. I just find that -- everybody says the medium is the message, and there may be some truth in that. But when it comes to creating something, even something so modest a creation as journalism, it is the thinking that is the important part and the technology comes last and is least important.

RFE/RL: With that in mind, what do you think about the future of long-form journalism? And here I'm talking about 10 or 15,000 word magazine pieces. Do you think the Internet is threatening those?

O'Rourke: I do think the Internet is threatening long magazine pieces. Now some of them needed to be threatened. There was a time in recent memory, say 30 years ago, 35 years ago, when William Shawn edited "The New Yorker." And "The New Yorker was famous for 10,000 word pieces about wheat. There would be immense long pieces. "Granta" is an admirable magazine but I have known "Granta" to print immensely long pieces about [topics that] didn't need to be that long. Brevity is the sole of wit perhaps, but by wit, whoever said that meant intelligence, they didn't mean just being funny.

So brevity is a good thing and the Internet pushes us towards brevity. But is brevity always the way to go? Well, I think you could cut the last 100 pages out of "War and Peace" and not miss much. But you don't want to cut the other 900 pages out of "War and Peace." "War and Peace" is not a short form. "War and Peace" shouldn't have been tweeted. I think that kind of long-form writing -- well "War and Peace" isn't journalism, although it certainly has some of the best war reporting I've ever read in my life -- but I think long-form journalism will survive when it's needed. But frankly, it isn't always needed. So we'll see fewer long-form journalist pieces, but I think that they will be better justified in their length.

RFE/RL: When you hear the word "Twitter" what do you think?
WATCH: O'Rourke on Twitter

O'Rourke: Little bird noises. I hunt birds. In fact I'm an avid bird hunter. And believe me if one of those little Blackberries flew up in front of my dog it would get the full force of my shotgun. There's small talk, and then there's very very small talk, and then there's Twitter. I don't see the need or the benefit.

RFE/RL: Have you ever tried Twitter or read a tweet?

O'Rourke: I've read some "tweets," but no I've never tried Twitter, my thumbs are too clumsy to work the tiny buttons on whatever these personal communication devices are called. Random sharing of my thoughts is something that I do sometimes late at night in a bar with other people who are in the bar late at night, who don't remember much about it in the morning. I think that's the place for random sharing of thoughts, you know, and it will all be forgotten in the morning.

RFE/RL: Can we just go back to one thing on long-form journalism. One of the arguments that's made, in particular by Nicholas Carr with his article about whether Google is making us stupid, is that somehow with today's climate of social media, it's basically reducing our attention spans. And this is somehow because of the onslaught of tweets and Facebook status updates and mobile phones going off and Blackberries, and this is somehow impairing our cognitive function. And it's actually affecting the ability that we have to read, in terms of deep reading where you're sitting alone with a novel for 10 minutes. I know you said you don't use the Internet much, but have you noticed in your own personal consumption that you've found it harder to read or concentrate since the Internet has been around? Or do you think you've somehow managed to enclose yourself?

O'Rourke: No, I'm too old to have been affected by this. But I take his point about the shortening of attention span and I think he's right. But I think he's coming late to the argument. It's not the fault of computers or Blackberries or Twitter. This has been going on arguably since the beginning of mass communication with the radio. People have been less able to read long, difficult books since the end of the 19th century. All you have to do is go back to "Middlemarch" or the afore-mentioned Henry James. What kind of book like that has been published since? Well, there have been some books of that difficulty, but they weren't worth the effort. I mean what kind of book with the difficulty and the length of "War and Peace" or "Middlemarch" that was truly worth the effort of the concentrated reading required has been published since? The diminishing of the public attention span has been going on for a long time.

That said, there've always only been a relatively few people who were able to sit still and concentrate long enough to become experts in their field. I mean, if you go around and talk to people who are truly experts in their field, you will find that the one thing that they share is an ability to sit still and concentrate. I don't have it, that's why I'm a journalist. But if I did have it I'd be a scholar or something nobler than a journalist. But I think it's wrong to blame the computer on that.

That said, I do see one pernicious trend, which is blogging. I don't care much for blogging because it is undigested thinking, because it comes straight from the heart, or the lizard brain, or the mouth without due consideration. Very little that gets blogged is of very much worth. Almost everything should be thought over. Don't we all know it from things that we've said to our spouses? That you should think twice before you say anything.
WATCH: O'Rourke on blogging

RFE/RL: But would you actually think that blogging is a dangerous and damaging trend in journalism?

O'Rourke: I don't know if it's a dangerous and damaging trend. I think it's kind of a worthless trend. And I go into [what] my Irish great aunt would often say, too often because she drank a bit, "Come back my words." Think how many times you've said things you wish you could unsay. "Come back my words." And I wonder how many people wish they could un-blog.

RFE/RL: The argument in favor of blogging goes that it's actually a much more transparent and objective demonstration of the thought process, in the sense that we have thoughts and then we clarify them later. And that's something that we air in public.

O'Rourke: That's sort of like saying disemboweling somebody is a much more transparent look at the digestive system. I don't really buy the argument. Thought is difficult. Rational and reasonable thought is difficult, and it takes time, and it takes concentration. And the first thing that we blurt out, while it may be a true reflection of our particular feelings at that particular moment, is unlikely to be very illuminating for others. Blogging is very selfish. I mean, if you want a true picture of what somebody's thinking at a moment, kick them and see what they say. You'll get a blog. You'll get a tweet. You'll get a brief expression of how somebody feels at a given moment. But communication is all about the other person. It's not about the person who is communicating. It's about the person who is listening, or receiving, or viewing. And blogging is very self-indulgent. It's all about me. It isn't about the person who is reading the blog.

RFE/RL: I would probably take issue with that a little bit. I don't always think that blogging is self-indulgent. I think that tends to be a common perception, like the example people always use with Twitter, that's it's just people telling each other what they had for breakfast. And I think there are blogs that actually are fulfilling the function journalism used to of being the Fourth Estate. And they're run by civic-engaged people who are taking on the powers that be and they are also including their audience. I don't think it's always black or white.

O'Rourke: Of course you're right. The test is always in the content. And blogging is a very quick, easy, and inexpensive way to reach out to a large audience. If you have information to share that's worth sharing, information to give that's worth giving, great. The more communication between people and the easier that communication is, the better. Is this the majority of the stuff that fills the blogosphere? I'm no expert, but not so far as I can tell. There's a great deal of people sitting around in pajamas giving each other their opinions. I think that's undeniable. Again, the tweet, it's just like the cell phone. There are times in modern life when it's unbelievably handy to have the cell phone. You wonder how the heck did we get along without this. If you need to get me at 12:45 I'll be passing the phone booth at the corner of 48th Street and Third Avenue. I mean, how do we do it?

And yet on the other hand that's one out of the 100 phone calls that you get. The other 99 are "Will you pick up a loaf of rye bread on the way home?" "Honey, where are you?" "I just landed in the plane." I travel a lot, so I end up listening to, one half at any rate, of people's cell phone conversations. In the years of people commonly using cell phones, I have yet to hear anyone say: "You mean, it's a boy!" or "Gosh, I'd better sell that stock!" or "Oh my god call 911!" I keep waiting to hear the half of a really important cell phone call. But it's always "O.K. honey, I landed, I'll be home in about half an hour, plane was a little late." Or more often: "Huh? What? Oh yeah? Yeah, yeah that's what I meant. Huh?" You could do this without the cell phone and be communicating just as much to that other person.

RFE/RL: Just back to blogging and journalism, the big new thing over the last few years has been citizen journalism. Do you think the idea that news organizations potentially have millions of correspondents, armed with cell phones with the ability to take photos and videos, is a good thing?

O'Rourke: It is a good thing. It's particularly a good thing when something awful happens. We can imagine the value of this kind of citizen journalism when some terrible event happened that the powers that be attempted, successfully or unsuccessfully, to cover up. We can imagine the power that this kind of citizen journalism could have had to mitigate the Holocaust, if this [was] being recorded. Some things, [such as] the massacre of Polish officers in the Katyn forest, may have happened too fast. But it would've been known much sooner with repercussions. The question of the Armenian genocide and the Turkish role in it would be settled if we had all sorts of citizen video of this.

On the other hand there is the Rashomon effect. One thing a professional reporter knows that I'm not always sure that a person who isn't a reporter knows is that it is very easy to see part of an event and miss the more important part of an event, to see one thing when something else has happened. You have to be very aware of how complex most events are, and how narrow one's vision of most events are. And the police will tell you -- my father-in-law is a retired FBI agent -- and he will certainly tell you that there's nothing as unreliable as an eyewitness. You don't even have to go to the movies to see Rashomon. Just take any couple that you know that's been divorced and ask for his story of what happened, and then ask for her story of what happened.
(WATCH: O'Rourke on cell phones)

RFE/RL: And is that where you see the role of journalists coming in? We're faced with this infusion of content, this explosion of content, and do you see the journalist's role now more as someone who has to curate and filter that content and still do the very important job of making sure that content comes packaged to the audience in an objective way?

O'Rourke: We always had to do that. Maybe we have to do a little bit more of it quantitatively than we did before. But that was always the job of the experienced reporter. It really isn't any one person. It's the experienced news organization that filters this out. There's a reason those old movies about newspaper work [show] the reporter getting on the phone and saying "Give me rewrite!" Well, it's the rewrite man's job to take in the reports from anywhere from one to a dozen reporters and put this together in a story. Does this in any way make us some sort of Supreme Court judge of information and insure the accuracy of that information or the validity of that information? Alas, no. Mistakes can be made not only at a micro level but even worse mistakes can be made at a macro level.

The test of any news organization to me is not one given story but the way they deal with a variety of different stories over a long period of time, so then you establish a certain trust. I don't always agree with "The Economist," but I have a certain feeling of trust in "The Economist" because they feel that their mission is to deliver accurate information to businesspeople who are going to use this information. If the businesspeople find out the information is inaccurate they're going to quit taking "The Economist." So there is a positive value. A tabloid newspaper on the other hand, they want simply to attract readers. So accuracy of information does not have [a positive value]. Prince Charles, as it turns out, is not a space alien no matter what the girl on page three said. So it is our job to filter, organize, make sense of, edit all this information and now there is more information coming in. I think that the general fact of more information coming in is not a bad thing by any means. It's a positive good. But does it guarantee that the information coming in will necessarily be more accurate? Not perfectly sure on that.

RFE/RL: The big question now in journalism since everything's moved online concerns the future of newspapers, and in particular how to monetize online content. And we've seen Rupert Murdoch experimenting at the moment with putting up pay-walls, in particular with "The Times" in London. Do you think that's the way forward?

O'Rourke: I do think it's the way forward. Something that you get for free is usually worth exactly that. There is no way we can get decent journalism without somebody paying for it somewhere. If I have a gripe with the Internet, it isn't short attention spans, it isn't blogging, or it isn't ease of idiot communication. It would be that the initial effect of the Internet, probably because it has academic origins rather than economic origins, was to devalue content. And I mean that in a gross monetary sense. The idea was that information was suddenly free. Information is not free. You [always] pay a price for information. Sometimes the price is just paying attention or being careful. But usually there's a monetary price involved because it costs money to get people out there who know what they're doing and have reasonable judgment and knowledge and perspective and background, and you don't want it to be free. It's not going to be terribly expensive, it's probably going to be cheaper than what newspapers have come to cost. Of course advertising can pay for some of the content. I've got to say that advertising on the Internet is a whole lot more annoying than advertising in newspapers is. Or even in magazines with the exception of those ads that smell. I can't stand them.

RFE/RL: You said that information shouldn't be free. The problem is that now a lot of information is free. But also the people who are producing it are quite happy with it being free. And I'll just give you a real-world example. In this town I used to read the local restaurant reviews in the newspaper. Now there's a couple of food bloggers who blog for free and have great restaurant reviews. They don't want money for what they're doing. They're happy. It's what Clay Shirky described as the cognitive surplus, the idea that people are happy to spend their free time doing these things. So that makes it quite difficult to say that the information shouldn't be free, right?

O'Rourke: I take your point, and the fact that the Internet has made information less expensive is probably a good thing. And it probably doesn't matter whether something like restaurant blogs are free. But when it comes to the more important analytical side of news, where it is important say for instance for a news organization to have a team of experienced reporters in place with the background knowledge of the place they're in and contacts they've developed over time, you can't replace that with a random backpacker tweeting from Tajikistan.

RFE/RL: If you were teaching today at a journalism school in America, or anywhere around the world, what would your advice be to young journalists at the beginning of their career?

O'Rourke: Well I haven't taught at a school but I have taught classes, and actually I'm going to teach a couple of classes this fall. I'm going to two different schools in the United States to [hold] a kind of guest artist [position], an artist is overdoing it, but that's what they called me. I have pretty much the same advice to would-be journalists, which is: Please don't approach this as a calling, or even a profession. It's mainly a craft. The world of journalism came from lower-middle-class origins, educated lower-middle-class origins. If you were a working class or lower-middle-class kid -- even as late as [in] my era growing up in the 1950s -- and you liked to read and you didn't like to get up real early in the morning and lift heavy things, you basically had two choices. You could become a newspaper reporter or you could become a priest. You didn't go to "J School" to do this. H.L. Mencken, one of the greatest newspaper reporters who ever lived went straight from high school to become a reporter. You went and served an apprenticeship, starting maybe [as] a copy boy, or writing "deaths elsewhere," or covering the sewer commission. And you worked your way up to journeyman and eventually to some sort of master of the craft.

But you always knew that what you were doing was a trade, like brick-laying. And like brick-laying it's a very difficult trade at times. It takes skill. It takes experience. But your job was simply to be the public rubberneck. You were the person who was allowed inside the yellow police lines to look at the car wreck. Everybody wanted to know what happened in that car wreck and you were the person who was allowed inside the police lines and could come back out and say to the public: "That was a bad car wreck. Guy's head went right to the windshield. Always wear your seatbelts." The job wasn't to speak truth to power. Anybody can speak truth to power if they're far enough away from the power. I can sit right here and say anything I want about Robert Mugabe. Maybe [that wouldn't be] so easy if I were in Zimbabwe.

Too many people in journalism today are there on a world-saving mission. They should've joined the Peace Corps. At a formative age they saw "All the President's Men," and they saw Woodward and Bernstein bring down a wicked president of the United States and make democracy safe again in America. And they thought, "Boy, that's me! I'm going to do that and be played by Robert Redford." Somehow nobody ever saw themselves as being played by Dustin Hoffman. Dustin Hoffman looks much more like an actual newspaper reporter than Robert Redford does. But they're all going to be played by Robert Redford in the movie of how they saved democracy, and that's baloney. You're a paid rubbernecker. You are there as a surrogate for the public to see what's going on and if you're an honorable person you'll report this as accurately as you're able to. If you're a dishonorable person you can go to work for one of the tabloids or a cable TV station or something.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty © 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Newest Killer App for Public Diplomacy

“It has always seemed to me the real art in this business is not so much moving information or guidance or policy five or 10,000 miles. That is an electronic problem. The real art is to move it the last three feet in face to face conversation.”

–-Edward R. Murrow, director of the United States Information Agency (USIA), which handled outreach to foreign audiences during the Kennedy administration and the Cold War, on ABC TV’s “Issues and Answers,” August 4, 1963

John Brown's Body Enterprises, USA's leading producer of Awesome Communications Software (TM), is proud to announce its latest Killer App, the result of literally thousands of years of development. This unique product, which Computerworld has predicted will be the craze of Generation-Beyond-the-I, has the following unique features:
  • It requires no factory-produced hardware;
  • It automatically reinvents itself, reacting to changes in social situations, spontaneously improving communications to meet evolving human needs;
  • Its grid -- called vocalcords -- are 99.9999% glitch-free and are more reliable than today's bug-infested software;
  • It cannot be accused of reflecting American capitalistic cultural imperialism, as it is a universally-conceived consumer item;
  • Unlike electronic products, it poses no danger to the environment;
  • Its use, not only in childhood but beyond, leads to improved brain development and (according to social scientists) higher IQ;
  • To get started, its users need no instruction books or specialized training;
  • It's a life-long product, unlike other communications tools that last only a few years;
  • To function, it requires no awkward "thumbing" or time-consuming pressing of keys;
  • Anyone in the world, no matter his/her background, social status, education, or income, can use this product;
  • Far more effectively than twitter, facebook, or other social media, it brings people together, leading to significant exchanges of ideas and in-depth relationships, including love;
  • And last but not least this remarkable communications creation is ... TOTALLY FREE
The name of this killer-of-all killer App?

Face-to-face conversation!

No, no need to buy it online -- you already have it in you if you use it!

Note: While this product can be used by every human being on the face of the earth, it can be especially useful for diplomats, including those involved in public diplomacy.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Russian Spy Case? Just an Advertisement for the new movie, "Salt"

At last we have the final explanation: The recent Russian Spy Case was just a Hollywood conspiracy to promote its action thriller "Salt" (see below review).

July 22, 2010
Movie Review 'Salt'
Spies, Spider Venom and Sex Appeal

“Who is Salt?” is the question posed, for the past month or so, on the side of just about every bus in the land. To the extent that “Salt” is a mystery, the question is apt enough. Is she — played at high velocity and with steely ferocity by Angelina Jolie — a Russian mole, a C.I.A. superassassin or a little of both? But to the much greater extent that “Salt,” directed by Phillip Noyce from a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, is an action movie, the more salient question might be: What does Salt do?

You name it. On the run from suspicious colleagues in the C.I.A. after she has been slandered or had her deep cover blown by a Russian defector (Daniel Olbrychski), Salt sheds her shoes and then her underwear (so as to blind a security camera and spike the blood pressure of at least half the audience) and proceeds to assemble a rocket launcher out of office furniture and cleaning supplies. That’s just an overture, really, to a symphony of hurtling, fairly ingenious fights and escapes. Salt leaps from the roofs of moving trucks on her way out of Washington and then — once in New York — enacts vengeance, pre-emptive mayhem and self-defensive killing using spider venom, plastic explosives and stolen clothes.

It all happens in such a frenzy of momentum and on-the-fly exposition that some of the more preposterous elements in the story will strike you only in retrospect, after the helicopter leaps, the elevator-shaft daredevilry and the race-the-clock flirtation with thermonuclear war. But that it as it should be. Mr. Wimmer has constructed a puzzle just complicated enough to keep you alert while Mr. Noyce, a protean Australian craftsman whose other credits include “Patriot Games”and “Rabbit-Proof Fence,”throws the pieces in the air and watches them collide, explode and crash to the ground.

Evelyn Salt — a name usually reduced, because everyone is in such a hurry, to its first or final syllable — is seen, before the opening titles, being tortured in a North Korean prison, from which she is sprung by a co-worker (Liev Schreiber) and the German arachnologist (August Diehl) who will become her husband. Two years later, on their wedding anniversary, Salt leaves the apartment they share with a cute dog and some poisonous spiders, and makes her way to the corporate offices that serve as a front for her C.I.A. job. There she meets the Russian defector, who insists that Salt is really named Chernkov, that her father was a wrestler and her mother a chess prodigy, and that Salt was taken away by the K.G.B. to be trained from infancy as an undercover agent.

She and her classmates were schooled in “idioms, idiosyncrasy and ideology” (a much better slogan than “Who is Salt,” by the way, though perhaps for a different movie) so they could infiltrate American society. Now, two decades after the end of the cold war, they are being activated to cause some big global trouble.

Does Salt travel to New York to foment this trouble or to head it off? Since Ms. Jolie is someone you are inclined to root for, and since she throws out a few damsel-in-distress bids for empathy amid all the smackdowns and chases, it’s hard not to think of her as one of the good guys. But a lot of circumstantial evidence, like flashbacks to her childhood at the Soviet superspy Hogwarts, suggests otherwise. The movie does what it can to scramble the moral signals, but the plot twists are telegraphed even as they are camouflaged, by the casting, as well as by the writing. Mr. Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor, squabbling as two C.I.A. officers chasing Salt, are skilled at suggesting potential ambiguities about their characters without distracting attention from the star.

Which is scarcely possible, in any case. Perhaps the most ridiculous scene in “Salt” has Ms. Jolie walking away unnoticed from the aftermath of a multi-vehicle smashup. I suspect this was meant as a joke, since her magnetism is the film’s foundation and reason for being (even though her role was originally conceived as a vehicle for Tom Cruise). She is the prime special effect, and a reminder that even in an era of technological overkill, movie stars matter.

Not that “Salt” matters much. Despite an overlay of geopolitics, the movie is as loud and empty as James Newton Howard’s score, which I don’t mean entirely in a bad way. The music does what it needs to do to amplify and inflect the action, while also paying subtle sonic homage to the brassy Bond-style soundtracks of the past. And the film itself moves with speed and efficiency. Ms. Jolie’s contribution is to endow the silliness with a gravity and clarity of purpose that makes you care, for a scant hour and a half, who Salt is, what she does and where she stands. Not that she stands for much, or stays still for very long.

“Salt” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Fisticuffs and gunplay, accompanied by swearing.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Phillip Noyce; written by Kurt Wimmer; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Stuart Baird and John Gilroy; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Scott Chambliss; costumes by Sarah Edwards; produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Sunil Perkash; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes.

WITH: Angelina Jolie (Evelyn Salt), Liev Schreiber (Ted Winter), Chiwetel Ejiofor (William Peabody), Daniel Olbrychski (Orlov), Andre Braugher (Secretary of Defense) and August Diehl (Mike Krause).

A Wry Dystopian Seer

By MATTHEW KAMINSKI, Wall Street Journal (July 22)

In the American future of "Super Sad True Love Story"—Gary Shteyngart's third novel, to be released Tuesday—the satire comes without veils. Books, a.k.a. "printed, bound Media artifacts," smell bad. The new generation can't read texts but "scans info" and sends "Teens," a sort of tweet, on the latest model of "äppärät," the iPhone a dozen generations hence. Nearly everyone under 30 is "completely ahistorical"; over 30, obsolete. "We're in a post-literate age," says one young thing. "You know, a visual age." And "America is history."

Mr. Shteyngart says he knows a bit about the passing of the literate age. "I'm writing novels!" he says. "I'm one of those last Japanese soldiers on one of those islands, hiding in a cave and shooting, because nobody told him that Hirohito has surrendered. Banzai!"

At 38, the writer is hardly obsolete. His name appears on glam lit lists like Granta's "Best of Young American Novelists" and the New Yorker's "20 Under 40." Our obsession with rankings is actually a running gag in "Super Sad True Love Story," and as in 2006's "Absurdistan," or his first book, "The Russian Debutante's Handbook," Mr. Shteyngart can barely write (or utter) an unfunny sentence. He says he worries the comedy may blunt some of the serious intent. "But can you imagine a dystopic novel about our stupid media culture that has no humor? It'd be a disaster."

Sitting earlier this week at Brown Café, his midday haunt on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Mr. Shteyngart wears a checkered blue shirt and thick glasses. He is shortish and balding, a Soviet-born Jew who emigrated from Leningrad in 1978. An awning on a shop across the street reads "Information Overload." "How appropriate," he says, laughing. "I don't know what they sell, but I don't want it."

In the imaginary future, technology makes us dumber. "I'm feeling pretty dumb these days," says Mr. Shteyngart, an iPhone nestled in his khaki shorts. "I'm so glad that one of the first teenage slang was TMI"—too much information.

While conceding "change is inevitable," he notes that "things happen way too fast. I always bring up the example of Tolstoy writing about the War of 1812 in the 1860s. The horse was a horse and a carriage was a carriage. Tolstoy didn't have to worry about the next killer app. The novel is a disaster at this point. It's not a disaster that there are no good novels being written. There are wonderful novels written. It's that our brains are being disassembled right now and being put back together in a whole different shape, and that is not going to be conducive to reading a 300-page thing that doesn't have any links."

Mr. Shteyngart made an amusing Internet trailer for the book starring writers Edmund White and Jay McInerney and the actor James Franco, a former student in his writing class at Columbia. "You have to use extraordinary ways to attract an audience," he says. The danger is that serious fiction will "become poetry, which now exists almost entirely inside the walls of academia."

In "Super Sad True Love Story," the death of letters helps bring about America's collapse. At the start, we see a country sapped by a military misadventure in Venezuela and deeply indebted to the People's Bank of China-Worldwide. The Chinese People's Capitalist Party is the new global hegemon.

Behind the scenes, a U.S. secretary of defense whose name evokes Rumsfeld rules a one-party (the Bipartisans) paramilitary state. Hot fashions for women are "TotalSurrender" skirts with a slit down the crotch or see-through "Onionskin" jeans. Consumption of pornography starts around age 6. News comes courtesy of FoxLiberty-Prime or FoxLiberty- Ultra, or any member of the Media, always capitalized, who streams whatever first comes to mind with his äppärät. And things get worse. A clue toward the end of the story that won't give away the ending: A sign outside a local watering hole reads, "WE ACCEPT ONLY YUAN SORRY BUT WE ALSO HALF TO EAT."

Mr. Shteyngart waves away easy political labels. "Everyone gets a drubbing," he says. "Some conservatives can say it's about illiteracy, about certain cultural values no longer being transmitted." He sings a popular tune of American decline: "Every power that moves that quickly will have a precipitous fall. There's little you can do about it. One can hope for a soft landing—the Netherlands, not Argentina."

But enough of the Orwellian prophesy. As Mr. Shteyngart says, "I wrote a love story. It's in the title." Lenny Abramov, a shortish and balding 39-year-old Russian Jew, falls for a young Korean-American, 15 years and several technological eras younger.

Lenny's fictional 740-square-foot apartment in a 1950s tower on Grand Street was Mr. Shteyngart's real home until two weeks ago, when he moved up to fashionable Gramercy Park. We sneak into his old building. Mr. Shteyngart finds another occasion for his dyspepsia, a death notice posted next to the elevator: "Every other day someone is dying, old Jewish guys and girls who didn't move out to the suburbs. It's so disconcerting." In the novel, Lenny is obsessed with mortality and aging, and works for a "life-extension" company called Post-Human Services.

When I say I miss the pre- äppärät days—say, 1995—and even felt better informed then, my fellow Gen-Xer completes the thought. "Much better informed—and happier," he says.

"The younger generation that I know—and I do know a lot of them—they're not happy," he says. "All of us are overwhelmed with information. All of us are struggling to survive in ways we never had to before. Things were much better when this country actually produced things like drivable cars and people like us wrote about it. It was simple, and good. Good cars, good journalism, good haircuts. . . . 'Mad Men' is nostalgia for all of us—well, not the racism, the sexism and the anti-Semitism."

One of Mr. Shteyngart's literary heroes is Philip Roth. After several beers at Cafe Katja in Lenny's hood, we agree that Mr. Roth's books, whatever the period, are a distinctive pleasure to read. "This is all I wish for my career," Mr. Shteyngart says. "Some will be better than others. I don't care. I want people to have fun. Why is that so wrong?"

Mr. Kaminski is a member of the Journal's editorial board.

Write to Matthew Kaminski at

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Twittering/Theorizing: Two Sides of the Same Public Diplomacy Counterfeit Coin

In reply to Professor Graig Hayden's thoughtful article, "In the interest of informed debate," InterMap:

On the one side of the coin, you have what I'd call Twi'lek twitterers: 140 characters in cyberspace will solve American image/public diplomacy problems now! On the flip side you have academe's over-conceptualizers: what's needed are the latest social-science (often quantitative and survey-driven) studies of PD to make it effective and productive.

But let's consider the golden middle: in-depth discussions, face-to-face, on US public diplomacy -- and efforts to improve it -- based on history and experience, including the current realities of practicing public diplomacy today by American diplomats overseas.

Such a historical, "let's be-concrete" but substantive perspective does not exclude (well, not quite) mindless twittering or overly "mindful" conceptualizing. It just puts these two approaches -- quite similar in their avoidance of the complexities of life, one by superficiality, the other by abstraction -- in their proper intellectual/policy place.

As for academics engaged in arcane PD theory, examples of their work can be seen in abundance, and on a continuing basis, in Bruce Gregory's outstanding Updated Public Diplomacy Resources and the equally excellent Literature on Public Diplomacy of The Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ Library and Documentation Centre.

As for preparing for a public-diplomacy career, I think that, far more important than an advanced degree in public diplomacy, are the following: thinking and writing clearly; in-depth exposure to the humanities; a historical perspective; knowledge of foreign language(s); wide overseas experience; and keeping up to date with technological developments. Of course, a PD "degree" does not necessarily exclude these matters, but it's a question of what should be a priority.

Regarding professors' ability to engage persons in the last three feet, so important in public diplomacy, the legendary rudeness and bad manners of socially club-footed academics ("the mad professor" trope) -- uncouth behavior I have endured on perhaps too many occasions, while in academic settings, since leaving the Foreign Service -- are also in not infrequent evidence among university/think tank experts in public diplomacy. There are, of course, numerous exceptions, as is always the case in life, Craig Hayden being among them. Indeed, I was honored and delighted that he addressed and enlightened my Georgetown class.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What's important, what's happening, and what's public diplomacy

Note: Final version of the below at Huffington Post

Yes, we all love the new social media. They provide instant information. And, what's often overlooked, they can be a useful research tool. Type, for example, "public diplomacy" when you're on Twitter, and you'll get the latest on what twitterers are saying about the subject.

But what's happening is not necessarily what's important. Much of what twitterers say is as significant as that Viagra ad aired on the corporate evening news. "Now" is not "wisdom." That's the great limitation of the new social media as an intellectual or even political tool, including public diplomacy.

All those titillated by Twitter should read Evgeny Morozov, who has written skeptically about the new media and is dismissed by a self-promoting State Department functionary in the following sweeping fashion:
The problem with his thinking ... is it neglects the inevitability that this technology is going to spread — so he advocates a very dangerously cautious approach that says it’s dangerous and we shouldn’t play in that space. What the Evgeny Morozovs of the world don’t understand is that whether anybody likes it or not, the private sector is pumping out innovation like crazy.

Yes, Mr. Jared Cohen -- the State Department functionary referred to above -- it's the inevitable end of history all over again, 21st century version! Keep on technologically pumpin', private sector (with a little help from the State Department) and all will be fine with the universe (just ask BP). How naive, ahistorical can you get ...

Public diplomacy (PD) -- which the State Department defines as "engaging, informing, and influencing key international audiences" -- is not rocket science. All too many of academic theories about PD are incomprehensible, pompously-expressed "concepts" from persons -- among them rightfully esteemed tenured professors whose intelligence is all-too-often joined by a tactless inability to handle the last three feet of person-to-person contact -- who have never actually practiced the "public diplomacy" they lecture about. Walt Whitman:

When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
Still, PD, dealing as it does with complex human relationships from an international perspective, is worth talking intelligently about, especially when approached by scholars/PD practitioners who value life and history above theory and abstraction. Goethe:

Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie
Und gruen des Lebens goldner Baum.
Twitter and other social media can provide an entrée into PD discussions, but such discussions should go far beyond 140 characters, as I'm sure most twitterers themselves -- and they are, like this writer, ordinary persons eager to communicate with their fellow human beings -- would agree.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Russian Spy Case and Public Diplomacy: Some Out of the Box Speculations

In a recent conversation with a wealthy member of the US corporate world with whom I have been in close contact since childhood and who has done extensive business in the communist world (yes, he's my older brother), he gave me -- I, a long-time student of Russia (an intriguing country about which I am still learning, after 40 years of observation) -- his somewhat unconventional, but -- upon further thought -- provocative take on the recent Russian "spy" scandal in the U.S.:

The FSB actually let the word out to the FBI about the undercover activities of these so-called spooks so that it (the FSB) could get them (its spooks) off its payroll, given the huge costs (for the hard-up Russian government budget) of keeping these silly amateurs fed, housed, and bourgeois-comfortable in the USA.

Makes a lot of sense to me, given the sorry state of the Russian "economy."

So does the notion, towards which I incline, that the so-called "spies" were the privileged relatives/contacts of ex-KGB bigwigs who were given a free long-term komandirovka (business trip) in the US thanks their "godfathers" in what was once the USSR -- following the Russian age-old custom of po blatu. Is it that surprising that the straight-out-of-a-James-Bond movie sex kitten/"spy" Anna Chapman is the daughter of a former KGB officer?

The jeunesse dorée of the elite sent overseas for its enlightenment/amusement at the state's expense is a recurrent pattern in Russian history since at least Peter the Great. So are denunciations by Russians of Russians perceived to live privileged lives abroad by those, stuck in Russia, who believe such privileged lives should belong properly to them.

Please forgive the generalizations, but I am trying to understand events about which we have so little real information.

If you think the above is nonsense, read the court documents (which actually are interesting information) cited in Anne Applebaum's article "Up to their old spy tricks again," Washington Post. It's quite clear, from perusing this record, that "Moscow Center" was not exactly happy with how little its "agents" were "doing" in the Land of the Free at state expense. Some quotations:

A Moscow Center message to spook Richard Murphy:

You were sent to the USA for long-term service trip. Your education, bank accounts, car, home etc. -- all these serve one goal: fulfill your main function, i.e., to search and develop ties in policymaking circles in US and send intels [intelligence reports] to c [Center].

Talk about the C- student being told why he's going to school free of charge!

And then there's this from the record:


BC. The Yonkers conspirators have also worked to gather information on behalf of the SVR [Moscow Center]. Thus, for example, throughout 2002 and 2003, law-enforcement agents, acting pursant to judicial orders, intercepted aural communications taking place inside the Yonkers House. On September 10, 2002, JUAN LAZARO and VICKY PELAEZ, the informants, were recorded discussing Moscow Center's disappointment with the quality of LAZARO's then-recent reporting:

LAZARO: They tell me that my information is of no value because I didn't provide any source ... it's of no value to them.

PELAEZ: Really?

LAZARO: Yes. They say that ... " ... without a source ... without stating who tells you all of this ... It isn't ... your report isn't ...

PELAEZ: [interrupts] Put down any politicians from here!


LAZARO: I'm ... I'm going to give them what they want want. But, I'm going to continue what I'm telling them ... If they don't like what I tell them, too bad ... but, [unintelligible] work because they like it . ... they're [unintelligible]. They say their hands are tied. On the inside, they don't even care about the country ...

PELAEZ: So ... why do they have you? If they don't care about the country ... what do we have intelligence Services for?

What would you -- if you were an underpaid FSB apparatchik sitting in a dumpy office in Moscow with a ruble salary -- do with these freeloaders?

Full of envy, you'd do all you can to get rid of them, despite their KGB connections, living off the hog in America thanks to Kremlin-provided dollars! Off with their heads! Now!

And you'd let the FBI do it! The Americans are efficient, after all, and they can do the job better without our no-nonsense leader Stalin around ...

Meanwhile, with this minor episode over, how about serious public diplomacy on the part of our century-old Eurasian neighbor if it wishes to present/represent itself to American citizens? Of course, the same recommendation, flip-side, could be made to us, the relatively young United States of America, vis a vis Russia, with which we do share many common aspirations (common values, in the Putin era, is perhaps too strong a word, at least as regards Russian officials close to an ex-KGB operative who spent perhaps too many formative years in communist East Germany).

Chapman Image from

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The McChrystal Controversy and Public Diplomacy

Below my comments, slightly edited, to an on-line discussion regarding General McCrystal's dealing with the media, specifically Rolling Stone:

1) McChrystal and his staff didn't know how to deal with the press in an adult way: a "public affairs" gang that couldn't shoot straight. Sure, the media must be kept accurately and honestly informed, but that doesn't mean reporters must treated on "he's my good drinking buddy, I can tell him everything" basis, which evidently was the case with the Rolling Stone reporter and the McCrystal staff, the reporter who "exposed" his drinking buddies and their boss so mercilessly.

From my twenty-year-plus Foreign Service officer (FSO) experience (for what it's worth), as a "public diplomacy" member of US missions overseas who often dealt with media, both American and foreign, I learned that journalists respect spokespersons who keep a professional distance, as it underscores the fact that the spokesperson realizes that he can separate the official from the personal.

2) The RS article suggests that the McChrystal "Team America" was living in its own, own, very own little world. Sure, the "team" was fighting a war (which does, granted, mean a certain sad involvement in reality on its part), but the team's comments indicated, at least to me, that its members saw themselves in terms of "us" ("us" being Special Operations living in a bubble of its own macho making) vs. "them" -- "them" being, ironically enough, not so much the "insurgents" as other (wimpish) members of the USG, supposedly superiors and colleagues.

3. The Pentagon has gotten so huge and overextended that its right hand doesn't know what its left hand is doing. It's an apple that looks quite shiny on the outside (boy, those aircraft carriers sure look great on photographs, as do well-pressed military uniforms).

But inside the organization there's a rot of confusion, turf wars, indecision, waste, duplication, and simple idiocy. Money is thrown away in incredible ways, all this in the name of "keeping the homeland safe." (I won't get into the military-industrial complex debate). We are not only militarily overextended (we simply can't afford such mind-boggling expenditures on wars and bases unless we want to be the next collapsing empire, be it Rome or the USSR). We are also militarily totally confused, with too much taxpayer money made available for often senseless military initiatives we simply can't afford (AFRICOM comes to mind).

Moreover, and perhaps more important, America is increasingly perceived overseas as wearing combat boots rather than projecting new ideas and providing innovative products. This view about America-as-an-aged-centurion

fighting against social and political change, held among foreigners, including the young, is not in our long term economic and political interests.

4. I admire our men and women in the military. I have had many intellectually stimulating exchanges with members of our armed forces in academe and elsewhere from which I learned a great deal. Overseas, as an FSO, I thought our military attaches were exemplary representatives of our country, well informed and sensitive to local public opinion.

However, the most important lesson for me, as a civilian, regarding the McChrystal fiasco -- aside from how badly it was handled from a strictly "how to deal with the press" professional perspective -- is that we are engaged in a senseless, ruinous war -- a war unpopular throughout the world -- in Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, that no one, in or out of the administration, really knows why we are fighting. Whenever I hear a military official say that we're fighting "the bad guys," I want to ask: But who the hell are the "bad guys"? Please, tell me, specifically, who are they?

For McChrystal and his boys, it seems, the bad guys were everyone but themselves.

Image from

An email from Rosa Brooks on psyops, MISO, and public diplomacy

Original Message-----
From: Brooks, Rosa CIV OSD POLICY

Sent: Monday, June 28, 2010 4:11 PM

Subject: Yes, "PSYOP" is changing to "MISO"


USDP sought clarification from SecDef and reports that he is comfortable
with a complete PSYOP name change, from PSYOP to Military Information
Support Operations ("MISO" - sounds like a soup, but what can you do? I
guess we could also keep saying MIS).

ADM Olson and GEN Casey's emails and related message traffic have
already leaked out, so now that we have clarity on SD's views, we will
need to move quickly to inform key Congressional and interagency
players, and respond to media queries with this information. (Walter
Pincus from Wash Post as already queried us). My hope is that this will
not be a big deal, but given the sensitivities around PYSOP and the
PSYOP budget, you never know.

Key points to make if asked: This is just a terminological change, not
a substantive change. The term PSYOP was anachronistic and misleading;
Military Information Support is a more accurate description of the
activities and programs at issue. We already use the term "Military
Information Support Teams" to describe the PSYOP personnel who deploy to
embassies and provide support to State Dept public diplomacy efforts;
this more thoroughgoing terminological shift will make our terminology
consistent and help reduce misunderstandings.

If this generates enough Hill or press interest, we may want to pull
together a one-pager from existing congressional reports to explain what
kinds of activities we are talking about.

Meanwhile, we will work with OGC & Leg Affairs to determine whether
formal congressional notification/legislative change is needed to make
this... officially official.



Rosa Brooks

Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy &

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Rule of Law & International
Humanitarian Policy

--From; Brooks image, with following caption: Appearing on the last episode of Tucker on March 14, 2008, Barack Obama fan and LA Times columnist Rosa Brooks grimaces after claiming Obama "probably wasn't listening" in church when Rev. Jeremiah Wright made his controversial statements.