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United States Information Agency

United States Information Agency

The United States Information Agency (USIA), which existed from 1953 to 1999, was a United States agency devoted to public diplomacy.


The USIA's mission was to understand, inform and influence foreign publics in promotion of the national interest, to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions and their counterparts abroad, and to foster exchanges of students, professors, and diverse categories of citizens between the U.S. and foreign societies.

The USIA's goals were:

  • Increased understanding and acceptance of U.S. policies and U.S. society by foreign audiences.
  • Broadened dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions and their counterparts overseas.
  • Increased U.S. Government knowledge and understanding of foreign attitudes and their implications for U.S. foreign policy.

The USIA was established in August 1953, although cultural and educational exchange functions remained in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State until 1978, when they were shifted to USIA. Following a brief period during the Carter administration, when it was called the International Communications Agency (ICA). To avoid confusion with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) the agency's name was restored to USIA in August 1982. The agency was known as United States Information Service (USIS) overseas but could not use that abbreviation domestically to avoid confusion with the United States Immigration Service.

There were two basic statutes authorizing the programs of the Agency. The first was the Smith-Mundt Act, which authorized information programs including Voice of America as well as the Radio and TV Martí broadcasts to Cuba. Voice of America was intended as an unbiased and balanced "Voice from America" as originally broadcast during World War II. The Smith-Mundt Act established a so-called "Charter" which required balanced news, dual sourcing, etc. Other broadcasts supported by the U.S. Government (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) were more specific in their anti-communist intent and might more closely resemble propaganda.

The second statute authorizing USIA's activities was the Fulbright-Hays Act, which authorized the international cultural and educational exchanges (the Fullbright Scholarship Program). Thus "Fulbrighters" were grant recipients under the USIA educational and cultural exchange program. To ensure that those grant programs would be fair and unbiased there were a series of grantees of educational and cultural expertise who chose the actual grantee recipients.

As part of the increased dialogue between people of the U.S. and people of foreign countries, USIA was also the agency principally responsible for U.S. participation at World's Fairs outside the United States.

The Foreign Affairs and Restructuring Act abolished the U.S. Information Agency effective 1999-10-01, when its information (but not broadcasting) and exchange functions were folded into the Department of State's Bureau of Public Affairs, headed by the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.

Broadcasting functions, including Voice of America, Radio and TV Marti as well as other U.S. Government supported broadcasting such as Radio Free Europe (Eastern Europe) and Radio Liberty (the former Soviet Union) were consolidated as an independent entity under the Broadcasting Board of Governors (IBB), which continues independently (as a separate entity from the State Department) today.

Possible reestablishment

2008 presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ) announced his support for bringing the agency back.

See also


Further reading

  • Bardos, Arthur, "'Public Diplomacy': An Old Art, a New Profession", Virginia Quarterly Review, Summer 2001
  • Bogart, Leo, Premises For Propaganda: The United States Information Agency's Operating Assumptions in the Cold War, ISBN 0029043905
  • Snow, Nancy, Propaganda, Inc.: Selling America's Culture to the World, ISBN 1888363746
  • Kiehl, William P. (ed.) "America's Dialogue with the World", ISBN 0-9764391-1-5
  • Sorensen, Thomas C. "Word War: The Story of American Propaganda" (1968) ISBN-10: 3530827509 ISBN-13: 978-3530827507

External links

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