Rep. says outrage over propaganda bill 'dead wrong'on May 21, 2012 @ 9:14 pm (Updated: 9:00 am - 5/22/12 )
Smith, D-Wash., and Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, are behind HR 5736, also known as the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012.
The bill would update the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was created to counter communism during the Cold War, but banned the distribution of such government-backed propaganda in the U.S.
"They didn't want to disseminate the message that was designed to go abroad at home," said Raymond Tanter, CBS News anti-terror expert. "That would allow the U.S. government to control American thought."
But Tantor agrees with Representatives Smith and Thornberry that the act needs to be modernized to deal with more modern enemies, such as al-Qaeda.
"There is a war for the hearts and minds of people who are sitting on the fence; young kids in Pakistan who grow up to become radicals and extremists," Tanter said. "This kind of outdated Cold War-era legislation is hampering the United States' information war."
Smith said the act, in its current form, prevents the U.S. government from combating anti-American propaganda posted by extremist groups online because the U.S. response could be viewed by audiences here.
"If you put something out on the Internet or social media, even though it's intended for a foreign audience, it may well be viewed by a domestic audience because it's the Internet, it's everywhere," Smith said.
"This outdated law ties the hands of America's diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible and transparent way," Rep. Thornberry said. "Congress has a responsibility to fix the situation."
The 2012 act would "eliminate the existing ban on domestic dissemination of public diplomacy material, which prohibits such material from being viewed in the United States."
But the proposed bill has drawn sharp and increasing criticism with concern that the U.S. government will use it to sway public opinion on unpopular policies at home.
"That's dead wrong," Smith said. "I think some folks took a quick look at this [...] and ran with the story in what was an incorrect direction."
Smith said he wants to be clear that the bill leaves in place the ban of government-funded or created propaganda for use in the U.S.
"This bill restates, in several places, the clear prohibition on distributing any propaganda intended for a domestic U.S. audience, or to influence them," Smith said.
The bill is included in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House of Representatives on Friday.
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