George Orwell and Franz Kafka could not have crafted a more cunning character than President Clinton. Orwell and Kafka, who devoted so many of their writings to warning of the dangers of centralized governmental control and thought police, would find the president's new International Public Information (IPI) system eerily familiar.
Back in April, while NATO was dropping bombs on Kosovo, Clinton issuedPresidential Decision Directive 68, ordering the creation of the IPI, a newmultiagency plan to closely control the dissemination of public informationabroad. The initiative was designed to ensure that all U.S. governmentagencies disseminating information abroad presented a single message. Thereported purpose of the IPI is to "prevent and mitigate crises and toinfluence foreign audiences in ways favorable to the achievement of U.S.foreign policy objectives."
The White House seems to be concerned that the public is not sympatheticenough to the president's noble foreign policy aims. Thus, the IPI willalso reeducate Americans while "educating" non-Americans. As the WashingtonTimes reported in July, a former senior Clinton administration officialcharged that the IPI is really aimed at "spinning the American public."The idea of an administration trying to influence the thinking of people,both overseas and at home, is not novel. During the Cold War the UnitedStates had an enormous foreign information service that also performed somepropaganda functions. That hybrid approach was exemplified by the UnitedStates Information Agency, Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/RadioLiberty, Radio Moscow, and Radio and TV Marti.
But the IPI initiative, coming from a White House that has blamed criticismof it on a "vast right-wing conspiracy," and whose sense of paranoia rivalsthat of Richard Nixon, makes perfect sense. After all, as Washington Postmedia writer Howard Kurtz detailed in his book Spin Cycle, for the Clintonadministration spinning is a way of life.
It seems to baffle the Clinton White House that its conduct of foreignpolicy since 1993 could be greeted with anything other than adulation. Ifpeople believe that the U.S. intervention in Haiti was unnecessary, thatAmerica has needlessly entangled itself in quagmires in Bosnia and Kosovo,or that Washington has engaged in cosmetic cruise missile diplomacy towardIraq, they must simply be ignorant, the administration believes.
The problem is that the mission of correcting so-called misinformation mayitself breed further misinformation. According to one former senior Clintonofficial quoted in the Washington Times article, the IPI plan "did notdistinguish what would be done overseas and what would he done at home."Intelligence officials have a name for this: It's called blowback.
Gene Kopp, a former deputy chief of the USIA who served under presidentsNixon, Ford and Bush, fears that IPI would mean that U.S. propaganda aimedat foreigners would be used to manipulate domestic opinion to influenceAmerican elections. Kopp noted the elections of presidents Kennedy andCarter were directly influenced by leaks of USIA public opinion polls takenin other countries. Those polls showed a decline in American prestigeabroad.
According to Kopp, "The administration is transferring all assets, exceptbroadcasting, to [the Department of] State, where they will not beseparated in any way. It will be very difficult to separate what isdisseminated in the United States and overseas."
In other words, it will be next to impossible to prevent thepro-administration information from seeping back into the United States.That is because U.S. media outlets frequently repackage foreign newsreports or just repeat the information within them. So these "foreign"stories that appear in your morning paper or on the evening news across theUnited States may actually originate within the halls of the U.S.government's information apparatus. According to the former White Housesource in the Washington Times report, this is just what the Clintonadministration intends with the IPI. The potential for blowback and the defacto propagandizing of the American people is enormous.
The IPI may not have yet reached the level of Orwell, but even Big Brotherhad to start small. Americans owe it to themselves and their nation tolearn about the IPI and call for a halt to it -- before the informationthey can receive is controlled for them by the White House spin machine.