Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012

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Concept.png Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 
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Interest of• Robbie Martin
• Vocativ

The Smith–Mundt Modernization Act of 2012[1] was a formal repeal of US domestic dissemination of propaganda (described as "public diplomacy information") produced for foreign audiences. Domestic propaganda has been a standard practice for decades (see Operation Mockingbird), but the repeal allowed the effort to be ramped up. The effects of the lifting of the ban have turned what was once covert manipulation of the media by the government into a transparent “revolving door” between the media and the government.


The bill was introduced by U.S. Congressman Mac Thornberry on May 10, 2012 in the House of Representatives. U.S. Congressman Adam Smith was a Co-Sponsor. The bill purpose is "to authorize the domestic dissemination of information and material about the United States intended primarily for foreign audiences"

Robbie Martin, who made a documentary film[2] about the issue, noted, “after the ban was lifted, things changed drastically here in the United States,” resulting in what was tantamount to a “propaganda media coup” where the State Department, and other government agencies that had earlier shaped the narrative at the BBG, used their influence on corporate media outlets to shape those narratives as well.[3] Martin explained:

“For example, if a CIA agent at the Washington Post is directly piping in U.S. government propaganda or a reporter is working the U.S. government to pipe in propaganda, it wouldn’t be seen as a violation of the law. Even though it could have happened before the ban, it’s under more legal protection now.”
Robbie Martin [4]


The act was discreetly added to the 2013 Military budget as section of 1078 of the NDAA, to amend certain passages of Smith–Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987. The Smith–Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 passed Congress as part of the NDAA 2013 on December 28, 2012.[5]

Amendments made to the Smith–Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987 allow for materials produced by the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to be released within US borders.[6][7][8]


U.S. Congressman Adam Smith stated with the respect to the bill's purpose that al-Qaeda was infiltrating the Internet in order to promote anti-Americanism and that with passage of the Smith–Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 the U.S. government would be able disseminate public diplomacy information by the State Department to counter that in the Arabic language abroad.[9]

Thornberry stated that removing the ban was necessary because it had tied “the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others, by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”[10]

Several corporate news outlets reported that the 2013 NDAA overturned a 64-year ban on the domestic dissemination of propaganda (described as "public diplomacy information") produced for foreign audiences, effectively eliminating the distinction between foreign and domestic audiences.[11][12][13][14] The corporate news website BuzzFeed News - not a stranger to a bit of government propaganda itself- quoted an unnamed source saying the Smith–Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 would allow "U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population."[15]


An unnamed Pentagon official who was concerned about the 2012 law version stated: "It removes the protection for Americans. It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false."[16] The monthly magazine The Atlantic echoed those concerns by pointing out to two USA Today journalists who became target of a smear and propaganda campaign after they reported that the U.S. military "information operations" program spent millions of U.S. dollars in marketing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq criticized as ineffective and poorly monitored.[17][18] As it turned out one of firm leaders who executed the marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan admitted to be a part of the smear and propaganda campaign against the USA Today reporters.[19]


Related Document

TitleTypePublication dateAuthor(s)Description
Document:Not All Propaganda is EqualArticle30 May 2012Barrett Brown


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  6. See National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (section 1078 (a)) at the entry Text of H.R. 4310 (112th): National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013 (Passed Congress/Enrolled Bill version)