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[infowar.de] War Of The Words: Rumsfeld im WSJ
The defense secretary writes: "Every conflict in history has seen its
share of rumor, propaganda and misinformation . . . But the information
technology of the 21st century has made waging an ideological global
struggle against extremism particularly complex. Decision makers, the
media and the public at large will need to come to terms with the effect
of these new realities. The old adage that "A lie can be half-way around
the world before truth has its boots on" becomes doubly true with
War of the Words
By DONALD H. RUMSFELD
Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2005; Page A12
Every conflict in history has seen its share of rumor, propaganda and
misinformation. The "yellow journalism" that helped launch the
Spanish-American War and the infamous radio broadcasts of "Tokyo Rose"
during World War II come to mind. But the information technology of the
21st century has made waging an ideological global struggle against
extremism particularly complex. Decision makers, the media and the
public at large will need to come to terms with the effect of these new
realities. The old adage that "A lie can be half-way around the world
before truth has its boots on" becomes doubly true with today's technology.
But, it must be noted, the availability of new communications media can
inform and illuminate as well as lead to new challenges. I think of how
much has changed just in my lifetime. In earlier wars, Americans, for
the most part, were limited to a few definitive news sources -- Edward
R. Murrow during World War II, for example, or Walter Cronkite during
Vietnam -- to get information that had been packaged and approved for
presentation to the public.
Think of all the new doors that since have been opened. Today we have
multiple global-satellite-television networks; 24-hour news coverage;
dozens of domestic and international television channels devoted to
news, commentary and analysis; talk radio; bloggers and the Internet;
and live coverage of terrorist attacks, disasters and combat operations.
Consider a few of the other changes we are experiencing today. In
previous wars, right up through Operation Desert Storm in 1991, families
and loved ones communicated with the troops using what is now
dismissively referred to as "snail mail." Letters often took weeks to
reach their destination. Today, email, cell phones and digital cameras
give every citizen and soldier global reach near instantaneously.
Something that is happening, or that a person may think is happening, in
one location is instantaneously transmitted to multiple addresses
halfway around the world across digital networks.
The Department of Defense is working to find ways to adapt to these new
realities, as we must, and to try to better inform the public of our
many and varied activities on their behalf. And like other large
unwieldy bureaucracies, we are doing this through a process of trial and
error, and, therefore, imperfectly.
At the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Department of Defense
decided to "embed" hundreds of reporters in U.S. military units, with
few restrictions on what they could broadcast or publish. This was a
risk, but it has been judged by most accounts a great success -- indeed
a breakthrough. As a result, journalists -- and because of them, many
more Americans -- received a greater understanding of the realities of
the conflict, as well as of the sacrifices undertaken daily by America's
men and women in uniform. This added considerable texture to the nuance
and perspective of the overall news coverage.
We have also posted increasing amounts of information -- including
transcripts of interviews and speeches -- on the Department's Web page
(www.Defenselink.mil1) to enable the public to inform themselves
directly about the military's activities. Following the publicity of
allegations of detainee abuse, the Pentagon even declassified and
published memoranda pertaining to interrogation techniques and detainee
I have long believed in the importance of granting the public greater
access to information about their government -- the good and the bad.
Almost four decades ago, while serving as a member of Congress, I was a
co-sponsor of the legislation later called the "Freedom of Information
Act" that allows individual citizens and the press to obtain access to
public documents, absent a showing by the government of a need to keep
certain information confidential.
That law has opened up a flood of new information, but it has also added
new challenges to policy makers attempting to comply with those
requests. Last year alone, for example, the federal government received
nearly three million requests for documents. And though many of the
documents released have been informative, the release and subsequent
news coverage of others have actually had the opposite effect of fully
informing the public when presented selectively without relevant context.
The challenge of conveying accurate and complete information is
multiplied when it comes to the battle of perceptions beyond our
borders. In the Middle East we have an enemy that is using the various
types of media to try to poison the minds of people in that region about
the intentions and actions of the U.S. and other countries. We see this
in Web sites that propagandize hate and despair and that have turned the
gruesome murder of innocents into grist for terrorists. We see it in
purposely misleading broadcasts that say, for example, that U.S. forces
Yet even in that region, where information historically has been tightly
controlled, the advance of technology is forcing a greater information
flow. Internet blogs are appearing in countries where the press is still
controlled by the government. Pro-democracy forces are communicating by
email, pagers and blackberries. As more citizens gain access to new
forms of information, to new ways of learning of the outside world, it
will be that much more difficult for governments to cement their rule by
holding monopolies on news and commentary.
* * *
As America adjusts to this new Information Age, I suggest the following
notions as part of the discussion:
• First, government officials will need to communicate clearly and
often. When a government official is found to have put out information
that is not exactly correct or fully complete -- even in good faith --
it plays into the hands of our enemies, who seize on any fault to try to
harm the American system.
• Second, a healthy culture of communication and transparency between
government and the public needs to be established. Due to the ubiquitous
sources of information and access, most things -- controversial or not
-- become known eventually. But they become known unhelpfully when they
dribble out piecemeal or in highly selective excerpts -- as opposed to
being presented early, in full and with appropriate context.
This openness, however, does not obviate the necessity of protecting the
secrecy of confidential information that, if revealed, could harm the
security of the U.S. While I have long believed that too much material
is classified across the federal government as a general rule, an
increasingly cavalier attitude towards sensitive information in various
quarters can put the lives of our troops at correspondingly increasing risk.
• Lastly, government officials must find new and better ways to
communicate America's mission abroad. This will mean embracing new ways
of engaging people across the world, as the U.S. Information Agency and
Radio Free Europe did during the Cold War. We will need to find ways to
use the capabilities offered by the Information Age to counter the toxic
images and lies that target the U.S. and to better inform the world
about our nation's efforts.
I have no doubt that free and well-informed people can and will sift
through the increasing volumes of information and over time develop a
balanced view of our government, our Armed Forces, and our values and
principles. The American system of openness works and I know our country
will ultimately benefit, as we always have, from being on the side of
Mr. Rumsfeld is secretary of defense.
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