US agency readies new war of words
While the Reagan administration focuses on building missiles and bombers, one agency is readying another kind of weaponry. The US International Communication Agency (ICA) is planning to step up its effort to win the battle of propaganda.
"We are in a contest for the hearts and minds of the agency, in words reminiscent of earlier cold-war days. He told a breakfast meeting of reporters last week that he plans to launch a "project truth" to counter the false information planted by the Soviet Union.
Mr. Wick sees his agency, which produces the Voice of America radio broadcasts , as closely tied to us security. A close friend of the President, he says easy access to the White House, which could help him in his effort to build up his agency, soon take back its old name, the US information Agency NUSIA)
Despite his high aims, the egency will probably suffer the same 12 percent cut in funds that most federal agencies are facing. so Wick is planning to take the President's advice to all of us and turn to volunteer help for the agency, which, besides running 40 Voice of America stations in 40 languages, also sends books, magazines, and speakers to foreign countries as part of a national public relations effort.
Volunteers from the intellectual community will help detect Soviet "themes" of disinformation, Wick said, so that his agency can refute those thmes. He pointed particularly to Western Europe where "the Soviets created an aura that the US really wants to make Europe a threater of nuclear war."
He has asked Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, to organize a committee as part of the volunteer effort. Mr. Podhoretz explained in a telephone interview that his group will tell the ICA "what the United States ought to be saying to the world now and in the immediate future."
"I don't think it's an issue of returning to the cold war because I don't think the cold war has ended," said Podhoretz, adding that America merely dropped out. "Just as we've allowed our military defenses to decline, we've also allowed our ideological defenses to decline."
Podhoretz said that his committee members, still to be named, will share his "nationalist hue" and denied that the group needed a greater mix of ideology. "I believe that the job of the [soon to be renaved] USIA is to engage in competion or a war of ideas with the Soviet Union," he said. "That can only be done by people who have an appreciation of the importance of the job and who understand the relevance of ideas to the conflict."
Wick is also enlisting the help of Edwin J. Feulner Jr., president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, who has gathered a committee of 17, almost all from equally conservative backgrounds. Mr. Feulner makes n apologies fr picking a heavily ideological group.
"As the director [Mr. Wick] and I discussed, there was an election last November, and a conservative was elected," Feulner says.
The information agency has also recruited help from less political groups, ranging from the sports world to the motion picture and television industries. The aim, according to Wick, is to gather free advice and also to recruit speakers who are traveling abroad and who can make a stopover in a country without costing tax dollars. (Feulner said that while he was on a trip to Europe recently, the ICA asked him to stop in Warsaw to talk with representatives from the government and Solidarity as well as with students and journalists.)
Despite the heavily anticommunist tenor of his plants, Wick maintained last week that the Voice of America will not be used as a propaganda tool, and he rejected any suggestion that it slants news toward the official US view. "The Voice of America has a high degree of credibility," he said, adding that "if anything" the radio network has erred on the side of being too critical of the US.
Wick cited as an example the fact that the station gave 13 minutes of time to a Soviet Embassy spokesman in a weapons controversy. He indicated that such a thing will not happen again.