Federal Communication Is National Security

was thinking about this idea that “federal communication is national security” today (that in a way, it is similar to cybersecurity) and developed the below logical flow as a way of thinking about it. 

Clearly, the post raises more questions than it answers. That's okay with me. 

1. Disinformation is a tool of war.

“There can be a continuing struggle to define the national and international debate/discussion on terms favorable to one side, causing a clash between the competing narratives of the actors involved. This is often what is referred to as the ‘battle of the narrative.’” - Commander’s Communication Synchronization Joint Doctrine Note (JDN 2-13), pp. ix-x

 “Insurgents are not constrained by truth; they create propaganda that furthers their aims. Insurgent propaganda may include lying, deception, and creating false causes…. point out the insurgency’s propaganda and lies.” - U.S. Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24), p. 5-8

2. The threats posted by disinformation are current, intentional and real. Our enemies are actively attacking us using this tactic. 

“Hostile forces, employing automated bots, leverage the blind spots and biases of unwitting Americans to help them send falsehoods flying to spread division and demoralization….Figuring out how to fight back, in a free society of open communication, is the most urgent national security challenge we face.” - D. Von Drehle, “The Disinformation Factory Threatening National Security,” The Washington Post, February 18, 2018

3. Federal communicators can defend the country against insurgents by taking an evidence-based approach to effective communication.

“We argue for a scientific approach to online misinformation and disinformation. Such an approach must be grounded in empirically validated theory, and is necessarily interdisciplinary, requiring insights from the social sciences, decision science, computer science, and systems integration.” - D. Broniatowski, 2017. “Combating Misinformation and Disinformation Online: The ‘Battle of the Narrative.’” Workshop on Culture, Language, and Behavior October 11, 2017, at George Washington University. 

4. As part of this evidence-based approach, we need to accept and understand that “dominating the airwaves” with a “flood of data” is not the answer. Rather, we need to engage different stakeholders in a broad national conversation aimed at facts.

“Co-creation is the most adequate method for achieving the right equilibrium between actors and types of solutions against misinformation. By promoting this method governments have the possibility to promote the interaction between researchers, journalists, private sector, non-profit sector and citizens with minimal intervention.” – V. Koulolias, et al., 2018. Combating Misinformation: An Ecosystem in Co-creation. A report by CA, eGovlab of Stockholm University, the Open University in UK and the OECD.

5. Because we have failed to leverage known methods of effective communication, and because we aren’t working proactively or as a united front, we have failed to counter disinformation.

Our messages and actions are typically disunified,’ said Matthew Armstrong, an associate fellow at the center for strategic communications at King’s College London. ‘Our response to adversarial propaganda is almost invariably reactionary.’” 

- M. Chalfant, “U.S. falling short in countering propaganda from other nations, experts tell Congress,” TheHill.com, March 5, 2017.

6. As federal communicators working on a day-to-day level, one of our major struggles has to do with navigating the gray area between providing information and employing appropriate methods of persuasion. 

 “Civil servants navigate gray areas. At one end of the spectrum is the provision of factual information in dry government reports. At the opposite end is ‘PR to gain public support.’ In the middle are programs to persuade the public to do something, such as give up smoking or use government servicesMessages such as these implicitly carry endorsements for government policy. - J. M. Hamilton and K. R. Kosar, “Government Information and Propaganda: How To Draw A Line?” R Street Policy Study No. 73, October 2016, p. 5.

7. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the two apart.

 “The line between advocacy and manipulation is hard to define, nearly impossible to enforce and arguably must be drawn differently for different classes of government workers.” - J. M. Hamilton and K. R. Kosar, “Government Information and Propaganda: How To Draw A Line?” R Street Policy Study No. 73, October 2016, p. 4.

8. However, the actual apparatus of government will stop working if federal communicators are not empowered to communicate on the level of fact. 

“The useful functioning of government requires that the public receive information to make sound independent judgments.” - J. M. Hamilton and K. R. Kosar, “Government Information and Propaganda: How To Draw A Line?” R Street Policy Study No. 73, October 2016, p. 5.

9. Yet data alone is not enough. If we are going to fight back against our enemies effectively, we have to explain to the public what’s going on and what a solution to the hostilities looks like. 

 “A key component of the narrative is establishing the reasons for and desired outcomes of the conflict, in terms understandable to relevant publics.” - Commander’s Communication Synchronization Joint Doctrine Note (JDN 2-13), pp. ix-x

10. As we embark on this path, it is important to remain sensitive to the distinction between the Federal communicator and the political appointee. (Both are bound by the Hatch Act). 

“Ideally, the two can work together in a complementary way to support the free flow of information about government plans, policies and programmes between the elected politicians and the public.” – OECD (1996), “Effective Communications Between the Public Service and the Media,”SIGMA Papers, No. 9, OECD Publishing, Paris. 


By Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. Public domain. Photo by MasterTux via Pixabay (free; no attribution required).


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