At the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey said a number of curious things, but one comment in particular stood out. When asked about Russian influence in the U.S. election and the ability to combat a foreign actor’s misinformation campaign, the Director said, “We need to arm ourselves with good troll armies pushing back.”
It struck me as odd, because I thought it was illegal for the FBI to engage in statewide propaganda efforts as outlined in the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948.
For background purposes, the Smith-Mundt Act was established as a prohibition on domestic dissemination of materials intended for foreign audiences by the State Department, also known as propaganda. The thought, and a good one, was to establish a barrier between government agencies and the media, and for 65 years the act stood unchallenged, given the role propaganda is generally reserved for in empowering dictatorial governments.
Fast forward to 2012. Under President Obama, the law was changed with the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, an act sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry (R- Texas) and Rep. Adam Smith (D- Wash.). The reform was quietly inserted into the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and effectively nullified the original 1948 act.
Let's be clear, the original law prohibited U.S. organizations from using state resources, including the intelligence community, to influence public opinion of United States citizens. Obama’s reform to the Smith-Mundt Act allowed the American public to be a target audience of U.S. government-funded information campaigns.
The purpose of the repeal, ostensibly, was to disseminate foreign policy related information. However, in the midst of a presidential campaign that threatened to transfer control over the government itself to a new party with a vastly different agenda, it would be far-fetched to think the establishment wouldn’t use this newfound power to influence the domestic election.
Have you really been watching the “news,” or have you been the recipient of state-sponsored propaganda? There’s no way to know.
How many “news correspondents” and “contributors” are also on the government payroll? No way to know that either.
So the question is, will President Trump reinstate the Smith-Mundt Act? If so, this would seem to fly right in the face of claims that Trump is the biggest threat to journalism and democracy itself.
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Photo Source: AP