The U.S. government desperately needs new and better tools to fight the information war against the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist networks.
One such new tool, The United States International Communications Reform Act (H.R. 2323), which was passed last May by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, remains in waiting mode and is pending a full House vote and Senate action.
Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a recent statement:
Enough is enough. America desperately needs a modern, dynamic international broadcasting agency to take on ISIS and Russia’s propaganda in real time, over the internet and on the airwaves with the accurate news and information.
The Obama administration appears to have come to the reluctant conclusion that there is a need for action against terrorist propaganda. In recent months, it has taken several steps:
- A high-level delegation went to Silicon Valley to address high-tech executives, hoping to enlist their help (not very warmly received, one might add).
- A new inter-agency group on counter-terrorism was formed within the Homeland Security Department, and new leadership installed in the State Department’s former Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication, which has been revamped and renamed, more innocuously, the Center for Global Engagement.
- Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on a recent visit to Europe discussed joining British efforts to more effectively counter Islamist propaganda, an initiative that has the support of at least five other European countries.
When it comes to reform of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which is in charge of $750 million’s worth of U.S. government non-military communications assets, Royce has made a good case that the agency should be split in two.
One part, Voice of America, should be an invigorated part of U.S. strategy to fight violent extremism and Russian propaganda advances, among other challenges. The other part, the surrogate broadcasters Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, etc., is more closely aligned with democracy promotion and the broadcasting of local news into countries where no free press exists. Both are important policy objectives and must be based on the dissemination of fact-based and credible news reporting (not mere propaganda, as critics on H.R. 2323 have suggested).
Needless to say, the Broadcasting Board of Governors has no desire to be split in two and is deeply opposed to the Royce-Engel legislation. Influenced by Broadcasting Board of Governors leadership, the same position has been taken by the White House, though the issue does not seem to be high of the radar screen of the administration.
The point is this: We need much better and more effective tools to fight the deadly scourge of terrorist propaganda and other pressing challenges in the information space. Congress is at least thinking creatively, whereas the Obama administration is supporting an underperforming status quo.