The Smith-Mundt Act, originally enacted in 1948, was designed to regulate the dissemination of information by the US government to foreign audiences. The primary goal was to counteract Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. However, the 2012 Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, signed into law as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), has raised concerns over the potential for government-produced propaganda to reach US citizens.
This article will examine the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act and provide evidence supporting the claim that it has been used to disseminate propaganda to US citizens.
- Loosening of Restrictions
The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act significantly loosened restrictions on the distribution of government-produced content to domestic audiences. Prior to the amendment, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) was explicitly barred from distributing content to US citizens. The Modernization Act removed this prohibition, allowing for the possibility of government-produced content to reach domestic audiences.
- Ambiguity in the Language
The Act’s language is ambiguous, leading to potential misinterpretation and abuse. Critics argue that it provides the government with the legal framework necessary to distribute propaganda to US citizens. With unclear guidelines regarding what constitutes “public diplomacy” and what constitutes “propaganda,” the government may find it easy to blur the lines and manipulate public opinion.
- Expanding Reach through Digital Platforms
The rise of digital platforms and social media has made it increasingly easy for the US government to disseminate content to domestic audiences. The State Department and the BBG have both been granted greater latitude in utilizing digital platforms to communicate with foreign audiences, and there are concerns that these messages could inadvertently reach US citizens.
- The Case of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
One prominent example of the potential misuse of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act is the case of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL). Although it was initially created to counter Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, the BBG-funded organization has increasingly targeted domestic audiences with content that could be considered propaganda. This shift in focus has raised concerns about the organization’s role in promoting specific government narratives to US citizens.
- Psychological Operations
The US military has a long history of utilizing psychological operations (PSYOPs) to influence foreign adversaries. With the loosening of restrictions in the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, there is a risk that these tactics could be applied to domestic audiences. In recent years, the US military has shown an increasing interest in utilizing social media and other digital platforms to conduct PSYOPs. This development, combined with the Act’s ambiguous language, raises questions about the potential use of these techniques against US citizens.
The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, while originally intended to counteract foreign propaganda, has opened the door to potential misuse by the US government. With the loosening of restrictions, ambiguous language, and the expanding reach of digital platforms, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the Act could be utilized to distribute propaganda to US citizens.
To ensure transparency and protect the rights of citizens, it is crucial for lawmakers and the public to remain vigilant in monitoring the government’s use of these newfound powers. Only by maintaining a watchful eye can the potential dangers of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act be mitigated.
Do you believe the US Government has mislead Americans through the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012?