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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,”, 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).

First They Came For The Muslims

We tend to look at things from our own little corner of the world and I suppose I am no exception.

Over the past few years, hate crimes against Jews have spiked, and my focus as a Jew has been on my own community. "You feel the hate rising," said one Jewish person in France, where hate incidents increased by 74% in 2018.

Here in the States, earlier this month a yeshiva in Monsey, New York was torched, with swastikas spray-painted outside. And last Friday night, Jewish residents of Bushwick (Brooklyn), New York were sitting down to Sabbath dinner at a local synagogue when somebody smashed the windows.

This of course is not a laundry list of crimes. I could go on and on about the kids who threw pennies at my daughter's friend in school. The catcalls when we went on vacation in Florida. The sinister, not friendly "Shalom" aimed at my husband more than once.

I could talk to you about the synagogues that are sending their members out on patrol, every weekend. The security guards. The hushed discussions of Pittsburgh and the Tree of Life massacre. The rush to get guns and learn self-defense, in case there is another active shooter situation.

"The rabbeim (rabbis) are specifically authorizing this," someone told me recently. "They never would have allowed it in the past."

Yes, it's always been scary to be an open Jew. And now it's becoming terrifying.

In recent years, I've also become aware that other groups are both targeted and scared. Just like Jewish people have a volunteer patrol in New York called the "Shomrim" (guards), the Muslim community has its own community watch. They are victims of horrifying hate crimes, from decapitated pig's heads to terrifying social media posts to violent assaults and worse. Anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 15% in the U.S. in 2017 and hit a record high in the UK in 2017.

In general, hate is on the rise. According to the FBI, there were 7,175 hate crimes in 2017, up from 6,121 the year before. The number-one target group: African-Americans, followed by Jews.

Christians do not talk about it as much, but they are victims of hate crimes just as Jews and Muslims. According to one recent poll, "half of white Protestants say there is a fair amount or a great deal of discrimination against Christians."

Why is it important for us to focus on the problem of hate crime, particularly if we are not part of the group that was targeted in the attack?

The answer, in my view, has to do with censorship. As we know when it comes to the Middle East, in an environment where free speech is constantly blocked, fanatics rule. Wajahat Ali, a Pakistani-American writer who visited the Middle East to better understand the conflict there, is preoccupied with learning more about extremists' "zealous conviction, unclouded by doubt, anchored by an arrogant righteousness, unwilling to tolerate dissent."

In an environment where thought itself is dangerous, insane people step in to regulate the lives of everybody else -- and peace, which has to be based on truth, justice and reconciliation -- becomes impossible to achieve.

In fact, I remember working for USAID, and an offhand comment someone made about Muslims getting harassed if they so much as hinted at the desire to work with Israel toward peace. Their normal desire for a normal life, for themselves and their children, was brutally repressed and distorted. They could not speak the truth of what they saw or felt; peacemakers were not wanted; peacemakers were "collaborators with the occupation."

It is popular to blame hate crimes on conspiracy theories; the impulse is quite naturally to silence anyone who seems to be rousing the public toward anger, even if the corruption they are pointing to is real.

But I would argue that the greater danger is our innate desire to assume the Orwellian posture of "thought police," even if our motives are noble.

As a parent I am troubled to see that my children fear speaking out publicly, even in a thoughtful way, about any controversial but important topic.

As a teacher I am troubled to see my students far too willing to provide the answers they think I want to hear.

And as an employee, I have always been troubled by the Darwinian tendency of many a colleague to figuratively "step over the bodies," just go along to get along -- because they've seen too many people stick their heads out only to find their necks chopped off.

Social media platforms, and now even banks, now routinely regulate speech in just this misguided way. They target all sorts of people, for reasons that are hard to know, with messages that simply offer some variation of "you are no longer online."

We have the opportunity to unite against hate, by supporting one another as members of the human race. Human beings must think, they must express themselves, they must learn, and they must debate in order to arrive at higher truth -- in this we are no different than scientists doing hard experiments.

Let us commit to protect each other's right to say unpopular things, things that make the rest of us uncomfortable, things that may turn out to be flat-out wrong. Let us trust the human race to crowdsource the truth, and correct those among us who are simply misleading or inaccurate.

Miscommunication is dangerous enough.

Repression is the genesis of war.


Public domain. Opinions are the author's own.