Public Diplomacy and the Hidden Hand: Part 3

June 10, 2013

Two final thoughts on the relationship between the hidden hand and public diplomacy.

1.  Particularly in dealing with closed societies material generated from intelligence has been an essential input for external communications:  Effective communications draws on knowledge of who you are talking to and on having something interesting to talk about.  People are interested in things that happen that affect them. In dealing with closed societies knowledge of relevant events and knowledge about the audience are in short supply and material gathered through covert means may become an important input into what you talk about.  If you look at situations where you can’t just turn to the news agencies for news external communications operations develops some type of intelligence or quasi-intelligence function to provide inputs.  This was clear as early as the First World War where control of ‘political intelligence’ was a bone of contention between the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Information. Information on developments in enemy in neutral countries was an input for the diplomats as well as the propagandists . In the Cold War we have the Information Research Department in London or the research organizations of RFE/RL where the gathering of information on Communism and the Communist bloc was seen as a vital resource in formulating relevant communications.

2. Aldrich explicitly discusses activities that were undertaken ‘covertly’ to influence foreign publics, yet a good part of this work was widely known about.   The thought that struck me we need to think about the ‘covert’ and ‘overt’ in a more complex way.  From an analytical perspective rather than thinking about a dichotomy  it’s probably better to think of a continuum between the completely overt ie ‘this message comes to you courtesy of the government of x’  in big neon letters through all types of variants of the ‘discrete but not secret’ through differing levels of covertness.  Keep in mind that a good chunk of the news in democratic countries comes from only partially identified sources; ie ‘sources close to the minister’, a surrogate spouting talking points or the press release minimally converted into a story with a byline.

The standard typology of ‘white’, ‘grey’ and ‘black’ propaganda is supposed to apply to the identification of sources.  However, the assumption is frequently made that source identification maps onto  levels of veracity.  While it’s reasonable to assume that a black source is more likely to indulge in deception than a white one it doesn’t necessarily follow that black material is necessarily false.  This would suggest that we need to think in terms of multiple dimensions.


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