Information Operations: Death by Propaganda

In an effort to move away from what some charge has been an operation of propaganda overseas, the Pentagon has dismantled the office for support of public diplomacy. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele A. Flournoy, it reportedly made the move to ensure global communications efforts by the defense department would be aligned with the rest of the U.S. government.

It seems the now-defunct office “violated guidelines for accuracy and transparency.” (Worse, it seems its biggest faux pas is its association with a previous administration.) Critics have called it the DoD Propaganda office, though we would think that title has been bestowed on many a government information operation. Created in 2007, the office for support of public diplomacy was tasked to coordinate DoD’s information efforts with the White House, State Department, and U.S. embassies specifically for overseas efforts. This mission was not unlike that of its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Influence (we love that name!), which shut down in 2002 amid concerns that the office’s work might serve to undermine the U.S. military when at war.

Communication castration? Despite this latest shut down, DoD remains armed with more money and trained communicators than anyone else in government, which makes the P-word allegations even more curious. Possibly one person’s information dissemination is another’s propaganda? If we may, let’s fall back on a reliable convention: According to Webster, propaganda is (1) the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person; (2) ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause.

Applying those definitions, military recruiting and retention messages are … maybe propaganda? Winning over foreign populations … may be more propaganda? If there is a line, it is either very fine or very blurred.

No more propaganda! Or centralized coordination. Or leadership in the area of communication. We wish communicators and policy wonks well in their efforts to make everyone equal and maybe DoD a little less so. They might not have much more work inside DoD. Communications efforts across the DoD are fragmented at best. It boggles the mind the many of the Army’s “G” sections at the Pentagon have their own nearly autonomous communications professionals, with little coordination with what should be the Army’s central communications entity, the office of the chief of public affairs. Reducing redundancy is always encouraged, but ridding the Pentagon of the guy (or the office) that says “I know how to do this thing. I’ll lead the effort,” might further degrade effective communications efforts at the Defense Department.

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