Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War with Iran Lost

A commentary by The Federalist

“The BBG is the most worthless organization in the federal government,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, told The Cable in an interview. “It’s full of people who know nothing about media or foreign policy. All they are doing is spending money and somebody’s got to look into it.”

(From Chaos at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. By Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, April 30, 2010)

“The integrity of any organization depends on the character and honesty of its employees and especially its leaders.”

(From a John F. Hein article on the  FedSmith.com website, August 23, 2012)

The U.S. Congress and the White House would be well served to heed the words of Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) who not too long ago labeled the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG)  and its executives in the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) as “the most worthless organization in the Federal Government.”

It was true then and the situation is worse now.

By far, the example of the worst of the worst inside the Cohen Building, the BBG headquarters in Washington, DC,  is  how these BBG/IBB executives have managed the agency’s Farsi language Persian News Network (PNN) which broadcasts to Iran.  See “Staffers: Voice Of America Left Lawmakers in The Dark About Loss Of Prominent Show ‘Parazit’” by Elizabeth Flock – Washington Whispers, U.S. News & World Report.

The service is a hotbed of controversy, division and rivalries.  Service chiefs come in and go out the door on a regular basis: some go elsewhere in the Federal Government, some to retirement and some to other assignments in the agency (either to get away from the service or to escape some imbroglio they got caught up in).  Employees and contractors reflect the conflicted nature of the larger Iranian-American community.  Some support the former monarchy.  Some support an aggressive US posture toward the existing regime.  Some want a more accommodating stance with Tehran.

Not long ago, a popular PNN television anchor  was taken off-the-air and detailed to the agency’s Worldwide English operation ostensibly to develop an interview program.

But more recently, Iranian websites such as  Iranian.com  and  VOAPNNWatchdog.com  reported that the much-ballyhooed PNN satire program “Parazit” and one of the program’s co-hosts have gone “missing-in-action.”

Because of the factionalism that is part of the day-to-day politics in the Iranian community, we read the materials on these sites with care.  But, they do merit attention, especially when juxtaposed with actions by the agency’s senior officials.  In this case, the websites were on to something.

We already know that the  IBB bureaucrats do not believe in transparency.  We know that they will go to extraordinary lengths to block information and threaten employees and political appointees alike with reprisals for releasing information out to the general public that would cause them great difficulty in protecting their self-interest and bonus-mongering.  Thus, it becomes necessary for external outlets, like but not limited to BBG Watch, to get information out to the general public and Members of Congress because:

The American people are being ripped off by these Cohen Building executives.  They are protecting themselves from getting a deserved boot out the door for being the perpetrators of a failed agency mission.

Thus, we learn that:

The PNN program “Parazit” has been off the air for months even though the agency has tried to concoct the notion that it is still part of the regular PNN program schedule.

One of the program hosts is nowhere to be found in the PNN programming, absent for reasons not being publicly discussed.

The agency relocated “Parazit” to the agency’s New York City bureau, with unknown costs to the American taxpayer connected with set construction, equipment purchases and the like – and now, no “Parazit.”

And the topper:

We learn that senior agency officials “neglected” (our word) to inform members of the BBG as to what has been going on for the past eight months.

Supposedly, the BBG has a “PNN subcommittee.”  Where was it on this?

Was the subcommittee “OTL” (“out to lunch,” in essence, not aware of what was going on, and if not, why not)?  Or, knowing how the IBB likes to avoid bad news, did someone from the IBB executive director down through the IBB and VOA executive staffing pattern make the decision to keep a lid on the situation, in essence engage in a cover-up?  Was it a group decision?

This stuff never stops because:

It is the worst organization in the Federal Government – run by the worst managers in the Federal Government.

Keep in mind that the BBG/IBB and its Office of Propaganda (the agency’s Public Affairs Office) made a big deal out of an award that was given the “Parazit” program and kept issuing press release after press release implying that the program was very much on the air long after it ceased to exist. It looks awkward at best when one of your showpiece programs disappears into the BBG/IBB “Bermuda Triangle.”

Another thing – did the IBB apparatchiks somehow think that no one in the Iranian community here or back in the homeland would notice “Parazit” doing its disappearing act?

The regime back in Tehran has got to be feeling mighty good that “Parazit” delivered some kind of self-inflicted wound to take it off the air.  Not only that, the regime in Tehran must be feeling even better that the alleged supporters of “freedom and democracy” (the BBG/IBB senior executives) have been engaged in a body of lies and deceit about the non-existing  program.

The agency did attempt to clone a Parazit-like program, but  it doesn’t seem to have generated the same resonance as the original.

And, in the category of “Just Being Plain Stupid:”

We note the concocted PNN idea called “Weapons of Mouse Destruction.”  We understand that this is a parody on the term “weapons of mass destruction.”  There’s really not much that’s funny about the latter.  However, we do understand that the core subject has to do with freedom of expression.  The approach to a legitimate issue was clearly bungled.  You can read previous BBG Watch posts on this subject.  There are many more substantive ways to get at the issue of freedom of expression, whether artistic, political or in terms of other lifestyle choices.  This “idea” doesn’t elevate itself to that level.  Not surprisingly, it has fizzled.  Another nose-dive for PNN.  Was this an intentional diversion to take the focus off the missing “Parazit” program?

Whose Side Are These Guys On?

And there’s more…

There is a certain sentiment among Iranian expatriates in the West and dissidents in Iran that PNN is “the Voice of Tehran.”  Once again, the ideological divide among the PNN staff seems to be making its way into PNN programs.

Why is this bad?

The most obvious answer is that it does not serve U.S. interests very well to be seen as cowed by or a toady for the Iranian regime.  But there is a deeper, much more substantive issue.  Following the mass and bloody demonstrations in Iran a couple of years ago, the opposition movement appears to have developed a sense that the West cannot be relied upon for support.  The opposition movement is still there, but there has been noticeable pullback on overt action.  In short, the opposition has learned the hard way to be skeptical of Washington, including programming from PNN.

And, aside from the Kool-Aid pronouncements from the agency’s Office of Propaganda, no one in Iran seems to be putting much value into the BBG/IBB hypocrisy of “supporting freedom and democracy”  after learning of their plans — some executed and some blocked in bipartisan actions by Congress — to end or reduce many broadcasts to Russia, China, Tibet and other countries without free media. The agency has done a superlative job of taking itself out of the credibility department.

The Iranian opposition need not be taking risks on behalf of the hypocrites on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.

The Department of Broken Careers

By the way, the agency has put out not one but two vacancy announcements – for a top management position in PNN.  One announcement is for non-citizen candidates, the other for American citizens.  Please note: from a mission performance standpoint, there is no one who is survivable in that position.  If you’re interested in having a black mark on your career resume, this job has got to be high on the list: the job will get you, BBG/IBB will use you as a scapegoat for when things go bad (just about all the time), and if that isn’t enough, the Iranian community will rip you to shreds for being a toady for one faction or another for any decision not to someone’s liking.

We Know Senior Agency Officials Very Well  

We know the mindset they operate from, patterns to their behavior.  Withholding pertinent information relating to a VOA program, from the agency’s bipartisan presidential appointees, for a period of many months, is a conscious, willful and premeditated act of gross misconduct, consistent with protecting their agenda, their bonuses.

It is nowhere near enough for members of the BBG to be “appalled” by the actions of the officials involved in this cover-up.  They should be outraged and prepared to act.  There has to be a full investigation preferably and exclusively by individuals without ties to the agency.  It is wholly unacceptable for the BBG to take a pass on its accountability and oversight responsibilities to sit back and do nothing.  To all appearances, the actions of these officials were a deliberate effort to undermine the BBG authority and responsibility.  It goes a long way to show just how little respect the IBB types have for the bi-partisan board.

The American people are entitled to know who was involved and the extent of their involvement in this incident.  We should expect that those involved be held accountable – up to and including removal from the Federal Service for cause, if the facts make the case in this matter.

And consider this –

This is no trivial matter.  The officials involved in this cover-up made a conscious decision to embrace behavior putting lies and deceit ahead of transparency and truthfulness.  They have lied to the members of the BBG; they have lied to the American taxpayer and the Congress which provides funding for its programs.  They have intentionally deceived the intended audience.  They have put their agenda ahead of the national and public interest.  They have betrayed a public trust.  To outward appearances, they have done so with malice aforethought.

This is amoral behavior at its worst from inside a Federal agency.

If you think this agency has any reservoir of credibility left, you’re dreaming.

If you are someone who subscribes to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, here is a perfect example of what these agency officials will do – misinformation, disinformation, misrepresentations to the American public.  It’s all here and these guys are exposed.

And keep in mind that these people want one of their own to be an agency “Chief Executive Officer.”  This would be a mockery of effective accountability and oversight because – there is no effective accountability and oversight existent in this agency with these guys in charge.

If no action is taken, there is no value to the national and public interest in the operations of the BBG/IBB.

Trust no one and believe nothing from the Third Floor of the Cohen Building.

Why We Take This Incident Very Seriously

Some time ago, we wrote a piece on “Six Minutes to Armageddon,” a reference to the time it takes an Iranian ballistic missile to reach Israel.  We’ve got news for you:

The situation is worse now than when it was when we wrote the piece.

The general consensus is that the Israelis are ready to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.  It could come in a matter of weeks.  Both the Israelis and the Iranians have been escalating their rhetoric.  It isn’t hollow rhetoric.  These guys are not playing paintball.  They’re playing for real and the rhetoric is in line with what is at stake for both parties.  Things are rolling with a full head of steam.  There isn’t much room for a graceful backing-off.  And the rhetoric is becoming in equal doses more frequent and more resolute.

Here’s more bad news:

In addition to its long-range ordnance, the Iranians have been working diligently on developing their short and intermediate range missiles.  The Iranians know that US military assets in the Persian Gulf could pose a potential threat.  These missiles could be intended for our armed forces in the region.

There used to be a saying in US military circles during the Cold War that if a US warship were to be sunk in an engagement with the Soviets, it would go down with half its ammunition still on board.  A Soviet ship would go down with its powder magazines empty.  In other words, the Soviets would let go with everything they had on the first shot knowing that there might not be a second opportunity.

The Iranians may have the same idea.  And if they do and do not believe in a gradated use of their ordnance, things could get very bad, very quickly, for everybody in the Persian Gulf and beyond.

Some people on this side of the Atlantic Ocean may not have a realistic appreciation of the Israeli dilemma.  The Israelis are surrounded on all sides – by the Mediterranean Sea on their western coastline and a whole lot of unsettled, hostile and roiled-in-revolutionary-politics Arab neighbors north, east and south.  The Israelis don’t have the luxury of a lot of options or in making an error in judgment regarding threats to their existence.  If a threat is deemed credible, the first priority is to protect their population.  Even as this is being written, the Israelis are issuing gas masks and taking defensive measures to harden schools and hospitals against attack.

On top of that, there is the additional threat by Iranian clients – Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian militants – with their own supplies of rockets for use in any engagement with the Israelis, on their own or in conjunction with Iran.

Without question, the Israelis have run through computer war game simulations of the different scenarios they are likely to encounter with the Iranians.  They most likely run these simulations in real time.  They likely know the numbers – including casualty figures – if they make the right move or the wrong one.

The Iranians are not stupid either.  More than likely, they have run their own simulations examining the results of scenarios seen from their perspective.

In short, for either party there is nothing to be gained by making a wrong decision.  This is a potential conflict that has mutually assured destruction (“MAD,” usually thought of in the context of mutual deterrent, though not in this case) written all over it, with either conventional or nuclear weapons in the mix.

And you can best believe that if the Israelis and Iranians engage in hostilities, the Iranian Cyber Army will be ready to act to take out all BBG/VOA Internet operations.  They’ve done it before and only the flim flam artists in the Cohen Building would believe that they couldn’t or wouldn’t do it again.  They’ve had plenty of time to refine their techniques since their last attack.

Something else that weaves its way in a subtext to all this is that the Iranians also see themselves as fulfilling their historic manifest destiny – and that includes establishing hegemony over their Arab neighbors.  In short, whether it is admitted publicly or not, a whole lot of people in the region, not just the Israelis, have very big worries concerning an Iran with nuclear capability.

Without question, the Iranians monitor PNN programs, as they do all U.S. Government actions.  In a situation with this degree of volatility, it is dangerous to send mixed, confused or otherwise irrational signals to the Iranians which would lead them to conclude that this is an optimum moment to take this situation to the tipping point between rhetoric and actual hostilities.  The actions of the BBG/IBB with regard to its PNN programming can have the effect of creating the perception that the U.S. Government is out of focus.

Put this all together and you have more than enough reason to lose sleep at night, with the Broadcasting Board of Governors and its International Broadcasting Bureau (BBG/IBB) making its contribution to the nightmare.

The Federalist

August 2012

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