Broadcasting Board of Governors – Information War Lost – Dysfunctional, Defunct and Ungovernable – Boston, Chechnya, Kazakhstan
by The Federalist
“In reality, the actions of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives represent US national insecurity: leaving the United States with no broadcast presence in key strategic regions that are known hotbeds of jihadist activities, organizations or operations. These officials lack the requisite intellectual acumen to understand how vulnerabilities are created in relation to their failed ‘strategic plan.'”
LAST MINUTE UPDATE
Kazakhstan – Chechnya – RFE/RL – IBB
New management at Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), appointed by reformist Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) members is now trying to clean up the mess created in large part due to the distorted strategic plan and lack of any prompt management response from the top executives of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) to the crisis in U.S. news outreach to Kazakhstan, Chechnya and Russia.
Kazakhstan: Students Charged with Obstructing Marathon Bombing Probe, EURASIANET.org, RFE/RL
What did International Broadcasting Bureau top executives do?
1. IBB did nothing when last June former Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) management fired experienced Kazakh journalists and eliminated live radio broadcasts to Kazakhstan. They did not alert BBG members that this could become, as it did, a major problem.
2. IBB did nothing when former RFE/RL management produced and posted sexually suggestive videos for audiences in Kazakhstan, a largely conservative and Muslim nation, which produced an outrage and may have encouraged some extremists in their anti-American views. (Offensive videos were later removed.)
3. IBB did nothing as pro-democracy opposition leaders in Kazakhstan began to complain that the Radio Liberty Kazakh website became a tabloid devoid of any significant human rights content.
Interview: North Caucasus Insurgency Was Possible Influence On Boston Suspects, RFE/RL
What did International Broadcasting Bureau top executives do?
1. In the FY 2013 budget request to Congress, IBB proposed to end RFE/RL radio broadcasts to Chechnya, the ancestral homeland of the Boston bombings suspects and to lay off a number of experienced RFE/RL journalists specializing in covering Islamist extremism in the region and countering anti-American propaganda.
2. IBB did nothing as the former RFE/RL management fired dozens of experienced Radio Liberty Russian journalists.
3. IBB failed to alert BBG members to the developing news and information delivery and public diplomacy crisis in Russia, Chechnya, Kazakhstan and in other nations and regions where jihadists operate.
END OF UPDATE
We have temporarily put our FY2014 budget commentaries on hold in order to address a subject of immediate importance:
April 15, 2013
The Boston Marathon bombing is now part of the story line of the American Experience and will remain so for the rest of our national existence, lest we forget.
By The Numbers:
The human cost: two individuals detonated two explosive devices (pressure cookers loaded with nails and pellets – an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) much like canister rounds used in artillery munitions or as in an antipersonnel Claymore mine). These homemade explosive devices had the same effect of anti-personnel munitions: to inflict maximum casualties when detonated at close range. These devices achieved the intended results: three deaths (plus that of a security officer during the manhunt that followed), over one hundred wounded including those who suffered serious traumatic injuries to arms and legs.
The financial cost: public funds spent mobilizing the Boston area emergency medical facilities and response personnel, the mobilization of local, state and federal law enforcement and last, the lockdown of the Boston area – in its effect, walking very close to the imposition of martial law.
Thus, the city of Boston already well-established in American history will add this incident to its historical record: the first successful terrorist attack on the American homeland since September 11, 2001.
The repercussions of this incident and its aftermath will represent many millions of dollars, the lingering trauma to the families of those killed and wounded and another level of wariness for a weary American citizenry (weary and not really fully understanding the nature or depth of the threat).
And there is more.
Federal, state and local authorities must now revise their plans for dealing with international terrorism directed against US citizens and others (the Boston Marathon includes international participants), expand the scenarios of domestic target vulnerabilities and settle on new countermeasures and surveillance techniques.
Approaching the twelfth anniversary of September 11, 2001 we find that we are not as secure as we hoped and a successful prosecution of and/or conclusion to the war against international jihadists remains elusive.
IBB Response and Aftermath
[We are making a distinction here between the remaining presidentially-appointed active Broadcasting Board of Governors members who have started the process of reforming Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and International Broadcasting Bureau executives who nominally work for BBG members and American taxpayers but in reality behave as if they are in charge of the agency. It is these IBB executives who are resisting reforms initiated by current active BBG members. They are defiant and ungovernable. In addition to resistance from IBB officials, actions undertaken recently by BBG Governors are being hampered by the prolonged and unexplained absence from Board meetings of Interim Presiding Governor Michael Lynton. Without him, the BBG Board has no quorum and can’t force reforms at IBB. ]
Along with major news outlets, the Voice of America got burned by an erroneous report, attributed to a sole source, that arrests were imminent on the day of the bombings. Those arrests never materialized. Sources indicate that some of the VOA news personnel were skeptical of relying on a “sole source.” Nonetheless, VOA ran with the report, following the herd.
It is bad enough that the commercial media blew it. It is worse when the agency follows suit. One must remember that the Voice of America is supposed to represent the United States to the world. In short: reporting has to be right the first time and hopefully every time.
Unfortunately, this is a standard that is falling by the wayside, according to dispirited agency broadcasters who, for example, confront on an all-too-often occurrence mistakenly reworked headlines to their stories appearing on the agency’s websites beginning with its English language website.
These lapses belie a more serious problem: the effort by the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) to substantially reduce the presence of the Voice of America (VOA) broadcast programs and eliminate the Central Newsroom. The Newsroom which represents a core agency operation has been repeatedly and specifically targeted for cuts to staff, along with cuts to broadcast time for Worldwide English programs. The staff is under-resourced. Staff members have used the word “schizophrenic” to describe how news stories are processed. An under-resourced core operation means an increased likelihood that formerly solid news practices are being diluted and standards lowered de facto – the perfect incubator for more, not fewer, errors.
As to the events of April 15, 2013 and beyond:
According to our sources, the agency responded to the Boston Marathon bombings by producing reports from the scene and elsewhere, assembling broadcasters and production personnel for the assignment.
In addition, the agency sent out one of its press releases touting a number of employees described as “experts” on Chechnya, the birthplace and homeland of the suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The death of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrapped up the main portion of the national public focus on the event.
Afterward, VOA Executive Editor sent out an email to agency employees. Starting with the salutation “Friends,” he proceeded to praise the agency’s coverage of events in and around Boston.
[Please note the “Friends” salutation. Perhaps this was a suggestion from the Partnership for Public Service, along the same lines as another Third Floor favorite, “Colleagues.” The people on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building are neither. Review the IBB FY2014 budget request: asking for less money and doing less as the IBB careerists continue to hack away at the agency’s core mission and broadcast operations. Many employees recognize the hypocrisy; with “friends” like these…]
While perhaps intended to salvage some measure of the agency’s collapsed employee morale, the email appeared to have had the opposite effect.
The email set off a firestorm involving the author, one of the declared “experts” on Chechnya and the service chief of the language service where the expert is assigned, with everyone who was copied on the original email provided a front row seat.
In essence, the staffer complained of being under-utilized during the event, feeling it would have been better to be on site during the Boston attacks and police dragnet, rather than sitting it out in Washington, fielding a few phone calls from press contacts looking for people on the ground in the Boston area to interview.
And that is not the end of it.
Since the emails got wide circulation, other employees chimed in with their own opinions among themselves. From what we’ve seen, none were positive and many not at all flattering. Conditions inside Voice of America have devolved to the point that employee angst is now making its way into widely circulated emails, a service chief stepping up to do “CYA” and top VOA executive having to issue an additional email in an attempt to dampen the uproar created with his original email.
Even in the dysfunctional, defunct and generally hostile work environment created by the senior agency management, this is an extraordinary demonstration of finger-pointing.
[By the way, the offended agency employee was sent on a detail to Boston with a production crew to do “follow-up.”]
Our sources also offer the view that one of the things sorely lacking in the current rendition of the VOA Central Newsroom is one or more staffers covering national security affairs, someone with a well-rounded portfolio of contacts and experts to call upon for events such as the one in Boston.
We have said it before and will say it again: Washington, DC radio station WTOP has one of the top national security correspondents in US broadcasting: JJ Green. His sources are high value and his reports are insightful, penetrative and understandable. They are archived as both print and audio files on the WTOP website.
In short, what a local Washington, DC area radio station can do, seemingly the international broadcasting agency of the US Government cannot.
Alienation/Disaffection: Causes and Effects
The older of the two Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, is said to have once remarked that he had no American friends and that he didn’t understand Americans.
If you want a sterling example of the failure of the agency and its strategic misdirection, this is it.
The agency has done several things to set itself on this course:
First, it has continued to further erode its broadcast coverage to many parts of the world. This is a critical failure: creating a vacuum to be filled by others with messages and ideologies hostile to the United States. In China, Tibet, Russia, Chechnya, Kazakhstan, Tatarstan, Turkmenistan and so on.
Second, it has allowed itself to be outplayed by the Chinese, Russians, Iranians and others who are blocking agency broadcasts and websites outright, controlling access to its programs through cyber countermeasures, on some occasions being targeted by specific organizations (the Iranian Cyber Army) for cyber attacks and in other cases having its ability to reach audiences with substantive news programming curtailed in the intended target area through the establishment of laws prohibiting the dissemination of news by international broadcasters.
Third, it has fallen into a trap of its own making, perhaps influenced by a disturbing trend in Western media. In short, the agency no longer adheres to the provisions of the VOA Charter. Instead, the agency now embraces naive advocacy. This isn’t journalism or the war of ideas. What the agency advocates, “support of freedom and democracy,” should be an intended outcome of its programming choices, not a marketing strategy. And therein lays the great weakness, the trap and the ultimate strategic failure.
There is nothing wrong with effective “support of freedom and democracy.” It comes naturally if there is outstanding journalism. But IBB strategic planners have made sexually suggestive videos and pop Western music the centerpiece of “support of freedom and democracy” to the Muslim world. They confused Western marketing to a Western audience like themselves with what should be the strategy of using objective, skeptical journalism to help strengthen freedom and democracy instead of preaching about it through music and videos.
Senior agency officials – most notoriously those who shill for the agency’s “flim flam, Soviet-style, dysfunctional and defunct strategic plan” – treat “supporting freedom and democracy” like a commodity – a one-size-fits-all, do-it-yourself kit with universal application. Ultimately, with this skewed world view, these hucksters have set the United States up to fail with global publics.
In an op-ed piece appearing in the Outlook section of The Washington Post on Sunday, April 28, 2013 (“The second American century? It’s already here”), Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass notes that in order to solidify this position for the United States in the 21st century, one of the things we have to come to grips with is: “…accepting that we cannot remake other societies in our image.”
The people on the Third Floor of the Cohen Building who like to utter their “supporting freedom and democracy” mantra leave a great deal out of the equation. Uttering this mantra ad nausea does not make it real. While “freedom and democracy” are high value political, social and economic concepts, they also require eternal vigilance and high maintenance. Absent those beliefs or an historical record of those beliefs, “freedom and democracy” are alien concepts or are interpreted – often negatively – on the strength of other actions – including military operations which produce collateral damage among non-combatants. Playing music and showing funny videos is not going to fix the problem. Accurate, objective news and information, hard hitting journalism, and intellectual commentary might do it in the long run.
Fourth, along with a naive advocacy bent to its unsophisticated editorial content, the agency has also embraced what we call a “kumbaya” posture toward global publics. The worst example of this is with Radio Sawa – where a programming philosophy was adopted to play pop music to Arab youth and use that “hook” as the basis to get Arab and Muslim youth to like us, identify with us and be like us. Music can be an element of good programming focused on personalities rather than music alone, but it cannot be a strategic element.
Another example of this “kumbaya” programming is a program called “Middle East Voices” in which the apparent intent is to identify with the Arab and Muslim world, seemingly lumping Sunni, Shiite and other sects into some kind of agency self-willed potpourri of peoples without regard to issues specific to each.
[Let’s all join hands and sing, “We Are The World”]
In both cases, it isn’t working and is likely never going to work because it trivializes hundreds of years of history often filled with bloody conflict.
The IBB is into denial on a fundamental, basic level:
Many of these people simply do not want to be like us, do not identify with us or do not want to embrace our lifestyle and cultural choices. These same people will go to extraordinary lengths to defend their beliefs and reject ours. These people have closed their minds to us and no amount of hectoring from the IBB ideologues is going to change that. In fact, it makes things worse (offensive videos with sexually suggestive content).
The two alleged suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing fit that mold, including the older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who appears to have traveled back to the Caucasus region in the Russian Federation then returning to the US seemingly with his apparent jihadist views validated. He was prepared to act.
More IBB Nonsense
The hucksters of the IBB like to lay the claim that they are part of the national security apparatus of the United States.
They are not.
In reality, the actions of the International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) executives represent US national insecurity: leaving the United States with no broadcast presence in key strategic regions that are known hotbeds of jihadist activities, organizations or operations. These officials lack the requisite intellectual acumen to understand how vulnerabilities are created in relation to their failed “strategic plan.”
An IBB urban myth – in support of its effort to push through the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, the IBB made the argument that with the changes in the law, the agency would now be able to reach ethnic audiences within the United States.
First, these audiences have been reachable via the Internet and agency websites for many years and any US radio or TV station could have already legally taken and legally rebroadcast any Voice of America program found on the Internet.
Second, and more importantly, the IBB has lost sight of an important point of Americana:
These ethnic communities have come to the United States for one common reason: to remove themselves from adverse conditions in their homelands — the vast majority of members of these communities.
These homelands have names: Syria, Darfur, Chechnya among others.
Reaching these people with news about their homelands is one thing. But for the purposes of our American society, the top priority for these communities is participation in the American Experience: inclusion and not exclusion. Anyone remotely familiar with these communities knows – and the historical record validates – that the top priority is moving forward. With each new generation, what we should work toward and hope for is that these communities become better educated, more successful, more inclusive into the American mainstream.
These American communities are not the problem. The problem is abroad: countries on which IBB strategic planners should concentrate but instead are cutting programs and eliminating journalistic positions while expanding their own bureaucracy in the United States.
The agency’s mission is abroad, not in the United States.
And this is in our national interest.
It is not in our national interest to have communities or individuals within those communities who feel isolated, alienated, who cannot make serious cultural adjustments to balance ethnic or religious identity with the broader American culture. This is not always an easy fit. At times, what we consider to be “freedom and democracy” appear to those from more traditional societies to be an excuse for licentiousness and excess (again, offensive and sexually suggested videos for Kazakhstan).
And that is what leads to incidents like –
April 15, 2013
We do not need more people who believe that they have no American friends and who don’t understand Americans, as in the case of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
And one of the reasons publics abroad feel this way is because US Government international broadcasting has fallen off the rails at the hands of venal, self-interested opportunists within the IBB making decisions that have diminished impact with global audiences. Despite getting larger and larger budgets from Congress almost every year, these IBB executives have not expanded BBG’s global audience since at least 2008. Having failed to grow audiences abroad, this may explain great eagerness of IBB executives to force their ineffective programs on Americans.
They have to go. No matter how hard they resist, stonewall and engage in acts of gross insubordination to direction from the reformist members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, this IBB cabal has to go.
Their track record has made US Government international broadcasting:
Dysfunctional, defunct and ungovernable.
[This is deviant administrative behavior by a group of government bureaucrats at its worst. For the Obama administration, the name of the game is this: if you don’t fix it, you tolerate and condone it. And that is unacceptable. The IBB is not a group of poster boys and girls for the best of American Federal governance.]
In closing his op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Richard Haass offers the following:
“The alternative to a U.S.- led 21st century is not an era dominated by China or anyone else, but rather a chaotic time in which regional and global problems overwhelm the world’s collective will and ability to meet them.
Americans would not be safe or prosperous in such a world. One Dark Ages was one too many; the last thing we need is another.”
The IBB strategic plan serves to facilitate and enable a New Dark Ages. This plan has created strategic vacuums eagerly filled by others with a very different message for global publics. China – Tibet – Russia – Chechnya – Kazakhstan are nations to which IBB strategic planners cut or proposed to cut programs and programming positions while making their bureaucratic operation the largest single segment of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ budget (35%).