Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) pressed hard to get the Voice of America to offer programming that would inform Pashtuns in Pakistan and Afghanistan about the real aims of America and the news of the world. What Kirk and the US wound up funding, Eli Lake reports for the Washington Times, was a radio service that gave the terrorists of the region free air time. After hearing that Baitullah Mehsud, a notorious leader of the Pakistani Taliban, got interviewed on VOA to claim credit for terrorist attacks, Kirk hit the roof:
Complaints that the U.S. government’s Voice of America (VOA) interviewed a top Pakistani Taliban leader have sparked an investigation into VOA’s Pashto language service to determine if it has allowed itself to become a platform for terrorist propaganda.
In a letter obtained by The Washington Times, the State Department’s acting inspector general, Harold Geisel, said his office will conduct a review “to determine the effectiveness of their broadcast and editorial practices and policies.” The service broadcasts into the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region that serves as a refuge for al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The probe was spurred by concerns first raised by Rep. Mark Steven Kirk, an Illinois Republican who in the past had championed the Pashto-language service known as Deewa Radio. Mr. Kirk said he became concerned that American taxpayers were providing the Taliban a megaphone after he learned that Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud had been interviewed by the service — and claimed responsibility for terrorist bombings in the Pakistani city of Lahore in March.
“The U.S. taxpayer should not be subsidizing free air-time for al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban leaders,” Mr. Kirk wrote in a May 5 letter to Mr. Geisel. “These broadcasts put the lives of American soldiers in danger and undermine the policies of the United States in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
The VOA wanted to interview Mehsud to protect its journalistic street cred. No, I’m serious:
VOA Director Danforth Austin said Deewa Radio was simply seeking to report the news in a way that was credible to listeners from the same ethnic Pashtun group as the Taliban.
Speaking of credibility, Eli notes that the Taliban have used the VOA service for their military maneuvers as well. They have on at least one occasion used VOA interviews to deceive the Pakistani military as to their position. On April 24th, a Taliban spokesman claimed that their forces were withdrawing from Buner, when in fact they were holding the territory. They wanted to lure the Pakistani army into a trap, although it didn’t work out very well for the Taliban when they did.
Perhaps the VOA doesn’t quite get the ‘A’ in its acronym. No one wants the VOA to broadcast half-truths and falsehoods; during the Cold War, people trapped behind the Iron Curtain learned to rely on VOA broadcasts for the truth. However, the news service did not give free air time for enemies of the US to broadcast their own propaganda, which was abundantly available in that period, as is the Taliban’s now, although through less technological means.
For a little proof of this hypothesis, Lake reports:
The professional staff of VOA consider the operation akin to the British Broadcasting Corp. and other Western news outlets, Mr. Austin said.
Note to the VOA: You are not the American equivalent to the BBC. (That would be NPR, anyway.) The VOA exists for strategic purposes, not for the purposes of the individuals employed by it. If current management doesn’t understand their raison d’etre, Congress needs to replace it with people better suited to the task.