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US Unit Established To Control Info During Crisis

John Howard reports that President Clinton has signed yet another Executive Order establishing a State Department unit that will control the flow of US government news overseas, especially during crisis.

Apparently dismayed by the success of anti-American propaganda worldwide, the new International Public Information group, (IPI) will coordinate the dissemination of news from the State Department, Pentagon and other government agencies.

"What this is intended to do is organise the instruments of the federal government to be able to support the public diplomacy, military engagements and economic initiatives that we have overseas," said David Levy, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

The IPI group came about partly in response to the spread of unflattering or erroneous information about the United States received abroad via email, the Internet, cellular phones and other communication advances.

In the recent Kosovo war, the Pentagon, State Department and White House poured out information each day but no single agency tried to assemble it so that the United States spoke with a coordinated message overseas.

On the other hand millions of people worldwide joined Internet chat groups during the Kosovo war and sent e-mail's to people directly affected at the coal face of the airstrikes.

People in countries from where US forces were deploying sent email messages advising that air force planes were on the way, their number, and the direction in which they were flying. This gave people in affected towns and villages some time to take preventative action and was said to be a major factor in reducing casualties and death from the bombing raids.

This had a dramatic effect on countering the US Government spin doctors.

Although the new Executive Order was signed on April 30, in the thick of the Kosovo war, the White House at the time did not announce the group's existence or role.

However, an unclassified mission statement just now obtained by reporters describes IPI's role as:

"Effective use of our nation's highly developed communications and information capabilities to address misinformation and incitement, mitigate inter-ethnic conflict, promote independent media organisations and the free flow of information, and support democratic participation will advance our interests and is a critical foreign policy objective."

A media concern is that the coordinated effort may filter information that should be broadly available to foreign reporters.

The IPI will hold its first meeting around October when officials from the Pentagon, FBI, CIA and the departments of State, Commerce and Treasury come together. Regular members will be senior diplomats and others in foreign policy or national security jobs in Washington.

The rationale for IPI dates from the confusion and bad press surrounding the US intervention in Haiti in 1994-95, but Kosovo is the best recent example of how the United States needs to fight a propaganda war in concert with military strikes, officials said.

Anti-American sentiment ran high during the 78-day war, even among Yogoslavs who did not support President Milosevic. Many Europeans were leery of the airstrikes, seen as a US enterprise, and reluctant to levy heavy military power against a modern European capital.

The air war that ended in June also produced one of the worst diplomatic and public relations disasters in recent memory when a US plan mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on May 7, killing three Chinese journalists.

Outraged mobs rushed the American Embassy in Beijing, trapping then-Ambassador James Sasser inside for a long time.

It was days before the United States could get its official apology before the Chinese people at large, and the US explanation was greeted with disdain by both the Chinese government and the rock-throwing mobs.

It has been well said that truth is the first casualty of war. Justice Bentham said; "Now and then, it is true, one error may be driven out, for a time, by an opposite error: one piece of nonsense by another piece of nonsense: but for barring the door effectually and forever against all error and all nonsense; there is nothing quite like the simple truth."

As Australian's vote in their November referendum on whether to become a republic with an Australian president, perhaps capable of also issuing executive orders, they should keep in mind Henry Kissinger's words; "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

And ain't that the truth!

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