Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

In an article posted yesterday, The Independent (UK) claims that an alliance of “freelance political agitators” and intelligence agencies in the US and UK are circulating false communications by the Bad Guys.  They cite the case of a letter, purportedly sent from Abu Musab al Zarqawi to the leaders of al Qaeda in 2004 and reported in the New York Times:

 The paper’s Baghdad correspondent, Dexter Filkins, reported that US officials had obtained a 17-page letter, believed to have been written by the notorious terrorist Abu Musab al Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qa’ida’s leadership, urging them to accept that the best way to beat US forces in Iraq was effectively to start a civil war.

This letter was one of “sequence of highly suspect documents” that were funneled to the media.

This material is being generated, in part, by intelligence agencies who continue to work without effective oversight; and also by a new and essentially benign structure of “strategic communications” which was originally designed by doves in the Pentagon and Nato who wanted to use subtle and non-violent tactics to deal with Islamist terrorism but whose efforts are poorly regulated and badly supervised with the result that some of its practitioners are breaking loose and engaging in the black arts of propaganda.

says the Independent.

Given that the story circulated in U.S. news outlets and had an impact on U.S. perceptions of the situation in Iraq, it raises serious questions.  The Smith-Mundt Act forbids both the spreading of false information and the use of the U.S. strategic communication apparatus to influence the domestic public.  If the Independent’s report is true, either we are running afoul of the law, or it is not as great a constraint as we and others have argued.