The U.S. Congress is attempting to dispense with two laws, one from 64 years ago, that were intended to protect Americans from government propaganda. The laws—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—are in danger of being altered by an amendment that passed the House yesterday that would allow the government to target misleading campaigns towards American citizens.
According to the summary of the law posted on the House Rules Committee’s official website, the amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon. BuzzFeed has learned that the amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mark Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State. Thornberry justified the new proposal, saying that the Internet age “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way” under the current law. The new law, on the other hand, would allow “U.S propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”
Those who support the bill believe it is necessary in order to make progress in the fight against Al-Qaeda. In their opinion, if Americans can be reached by Al-Qadea’s own propaganda then the American government should be able to use their own campaigns on domestic soil as well. Those who oppose the bill, however, find this logic to be ridiculous.
“Clearly there are ways to modernize for the information age without wiping out the distinction between domestic and foreign audiences,” said Michael Shank, the Vice President at the Institute for Economics and Peace in Washington D.C. He goes on to describe the new bill as being “disconcerting and dangerous.”
The amendment has been under the radar for quite some time, being hidden behind other issues in the $642 billion defense bill such as indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations. According to one Pentagon official, the bill provides “no checks and balances,” a fundamental principle that prohibits the government from having too much power. “No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false,” the Pentagon official added.
According to USA Today the Pentagon already spends about $4 billion a year to sway public opinion. Last year the Department of Defense spent $202 million on information operations pertaining to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.