Smith-Mundt Has Been Modernized

by Steven R. Corman

I was shocked to see  in a post at bbgstrategy.com that the 2013 Defense Authorization Act had passed and was signed into law over the holidays with Smith-Mundt modernization provisions intact.  I say shocked because of the sh#*tstorm that erupted when these provisions were proposed last summer.  I thought this was a no-go, or would at least require a fight, but the critics seem to have either lost track or lost interest.

The provision is part of a very long bill, of which the interesting part for the purposes of this post  (Section 1078) reads:

(c) FOREIGN RELATIONS AUTHORIZATION ACT, FISCAL YEARS 1986 AND 1987.—Section 208 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1986 and 1987 (22 U.S.C. 1461–1a) is amended to read as follows:

‘‘SEC. 208. CLARIFICATION ON DOMESTIC DISTRIBUTION OF PROGRAM MATERIAL.

‘‘(a) IN GENERAL.—No funds authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors shall be used to influence public opinion in the United States. This section shall apply only to programs carried out pursuant to the United States Information and  Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1431 et seq.), the United States International Broadcasting Act of 1994 (22 U.S.C. 6201 et seq.), the Radio Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465 et seq.), and the Television Broadcasting to Cuba Act (22 U.S.C. 1465aa et seq.). This section shall not prohibit or delay the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from providing information about its operations, policies, programs, or program material, or making such available, to the media, public, or  Congress, in accordance with other applicable law.

‘‘(b) RULE OF CONSTRUCTION.—Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the  Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors from engaging in any medium or form of communication, either directly or indirectly, because a United States domestic audience is or may be thereby exposed to program material, or based on a presumption of such exposure. Such material may be made available within the United States and disseminated, when appropriate, pursuant to sections 502 and 1005 of the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1462 and 1437), except that nothing in this section may be construed to authorize the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors to disseminate within the United States any program material prepared for dissemination abroad on or before the effective date of section 1078 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013.

‘‘(c) APPLICATION.—The provisions of this section shall apply only to the Department of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors and to no other department or agency of the Federal Government.’’.

 Section (c) makes it clear this only applies to State and BBG.  Military units have interpreted the law as applying to themselves even though the original Smith-Mundt Act was clearly designed to apply to the State Department.  So if this interpretation stands they will still be subject to the (IMO, in modern times) silly requirement that nothing they do by way of communication operations be viewable on U.S. soil.

Otherwise this amendment is a step in the right direction…unless you are one of the critics, in which case it’s time to hunker down because the jack-booted thugs should be descending in their black helicopters any time now.