140. Letter From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Marks) to All United States Information Agency Public Affairs Officers1

Dear PAO:

All of us in USIA take pride in the growing recognition that our responsibility for direct communication with foreign audiences is essential to the conduct of U.S. foreign relations.

This recognition reflects awareness that public opinion exerts increasing influence on governments throughout the world and reaches [Page 431] beyond national boundaries. To achieve its foreign policy goals, the United States must break down barriers of misunderstanding; it must communicate effectively and persuasively with other people on the many issues on which our security and welfare depend.

Obviously, in an increasingly complex world society, our responsibilities are growing. I thought that it would be useful at this time, for us in Washington and you in the field, to review these responsibilities.

The Task of USIA

In carrying out the mission assigned us by law and Presidential directive, USIA:

—Supports the foreign policy of the United States by direct communication with people of other nations.

—Builds understanding of the United States, its institutions, culture and policies among other people; and shares with them information, thought and experience that can contribute toward achieving mutual goals.

—Advises the U.S. government on public opinion abroad and its implications for the United States.

Specifically this means that the Agency:

—Serves as official voice of the U.S. government through the media and through the USIS role as press spokesman for the Ambassador and Country Team abroad.

—Informs foreign audiences about the United States, U.S. policies and issues of mutual concern.

—Provides, through the Voice of America, an accurate, objective, and comprehensive service of world news.

—Acts as an advocate for the views and policies of the United States, correcting distortions of our position and falsehoods about our country.

—Advises within the Executive Branch on foreign opinion.

—Plays a role in the cultural relations of the United States with other nations, both through its own programs and through its responsibility for administering abroad the educational and cultural programs of the Department of State.2

USIA Objectives

To guide overseas operations, we have established objectives for each country program, stemming from the foreign policy objectives of the United States.

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I find it helpful to consider USIA Objectives in the following three broad categories:

1. The United States as a nation. To achieve its goals, the United States requires cooperation and often active partnership with other countries. Their understanding of what we have achieved and are seeking to achieve, inevitably colors their interpretation of U.S. actions and intentions throughout the world. It is imperative that they know the kind of nation we are—the facts about our people, our governmental officials, our industrial, business, political and labor leaders, our educators and cultural figures.

From this need derives USIA’s fundamental responsibility to build understanding of the United States, its institutions, culture, and ideals. Such understanding is a necessary basis for the respect, confidence, and support that the U.S. world role today requires. A sympathetic climate of opinion not only helps to achieve immediate objectives; it can also keep alive common bonds that may withstand or lessen serious political tensions.

Because the panorama of America is so broad, we must concentrate on significant aspects most relevant for our audiences in their total judgment of the United States. Where those who disagree with us have distorted the truth, we must correct the record and affirmatively present the facts. The values that our audiences themselves prize, as well as the misconceptions they hold about the U.S., should determine the points of emphasis in each country program.

2. International Issues and U.S. Policies. The United States needs understanding and support on many international issues. These may range from NATO and the Kennedy Round3 to a non-proliferation treaty, the Alliance for Progress, and questions before the United Nations.

We in USIA must present the facts about these issues clearly and cogently. When the U.S. needs active support for its position, we seek to persuade not only governmental leaders who have the power of action, but also influential elements of public opinion who must support them.

3. National Development. The United States is today helping many developing countries to build the foundations of independent, modern states, responsive to the needs of their people.

When the U.S. has specific objectives of national development within a country, USIA has a role in the total U.S. effort. This may include:

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—Explaining AID assistance and showing how cooperative programs can spur the nation’s growth;4

—Helping build understanding of responsible citizenship and the democratic process;

—Focusing attention on critical issues such as the relation of population to agricultural production;

—Sharing relevant thought and experience that the developing countries can apply to their own problems;

—Acting as a catalyst in the circulation of ideas and helping shape new attitudes that must underlie modernization.

Exposing the fallacies and dangers of communism in its many forms has been a task of USIA and its predecessor organizations5 since the end of World War II. This task is still with us, particularly in the developing countries where the threat often takes the form of communist-supported insurgency. Our information programs can help alert people to the dangers, and support efforts of these nations to maintain their independence.

The Agency must, of course, operate here with considerable caution, and recognize the limits of our capacities and responsibilities. While much of our activity will be carried out in cooperation with local organizations and governments, we should not attempt to substitute for them.

Program Priorities

Opportunities for USIA programs far outstrip our resources. The skill with which we set priorities in large measure determines our effectiveness.

Priority need not go only to immediate objectives. Just as the goals of the United States are both long and short range, so USIA Objectives may be a combination of both. Some of our most significant work requires time: change in understanding and attitude often comes slowly. The fact that an objective is long range, however, does not [Page 434] obviate the need for precision in its definition—nor for periodically evaluating progress toward its accomplishment.

With rare exceptions our primary targets must be leaders, present and potential. The commercial mass media often give us the opportunity to reach not only leaders but also wider audiences. We should remember, however, that our greatest effect comes from concentrating on those individuals who wield influence in their own societies.

Our programs must be limited to those activities most likely to contribute toward achievement of objectives. The work-load must be realistic. We should not attempt more than we can competently perform.

Finally, there must be no reverence for activities simply because they have been carried on for many years. As conditions change, so must programs be altered to meet current problems.

New Challenges for USIA

I am well aware that the Agency’s many and varied responsibilities place exceptional demands upon our personnel.

To meet them, we need the highest standards of professional competence.

We must be proficient in the arts of communication and the techniques of the media. We must also be experts in understanding our audiences—their cultural heritage, their aspirations and attitudes. To be a good communicator requires an ability to listen and understand, as well as to speak and inform.

Looking ahead, I see increasing demands upon us. The growing complexity of issues around the world with which the United States is concerned; the burgeoning of communications in an electronic age; the development of new information techniques and media—all pose new challenges.

I particularly hope in the coming months to make significant progress toward:

1. A more effective means of setting priorities for all Agency activities. We must devise through the Planning, Programming and Budgeting System a systematic means of analyzing the relative benefits of different programs, making full use of research tools.

2. Reduction of marginal activities.

3. Higher quality of output.

4. Further definition of the Agency’s role in national development.

5. Exploration of new media techniques.

6. Increased professionalism of Agency personnel, both through recruitment of talented new staff and through the training of career officers to help each develop his abilities to the fullest.

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With your help I know we can enhance the Agency’s capacity to meet new challenges. I invite your comments and questions on these vital problems.


Leonard H. Marks
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 306, Director’s Subject Files, 1967–1967, Entry UD WW 108, Box 3, Field—General, 1967. Limited Official Use. A shorter version of the letter, which Marks also signed, was circulated in the April edition of the U.S. Information Agency publication, USIA Correspondent, a copy of which is in the National Archives, RG 306, USIA Historical Collection, Office of the Director, Biographic Files Relating to USIA Directors and Other Senior Officials, 1953–2000, Entry A1–1069, Box 14, Leonard H. Marks, Letter to PAOs, 1967. A year later, on March 27, 1968, the U.S. Information Agency, sent an unclassified copy of Mark’s March 6, 1967, letter in circular airgram 2202, and noted that the letter “has been slightly revised and reissued in unclassified form so that it may be made available to all personnel.” (National Archives, RG 306, Executive Secretariat, Secretariat Staff, Subject Files, 1973–1978, Entry P–116, Box 1, 1975 Pike Committee)
  2. In my memorandum of August 12, 1966, to all USIS posts, I emphasized that I expect our field representatives to carry out educational and cultural functions on behalf of the Department “with as much understanding, insight and knowledge” as they bring to the conduct of USIA programs. [Footnote is in the original. For the August 12 memorandum, see Document 104.]
  3. For information about the Kennedy Round, see footnote 9, Document 96.
  4. As the information arm of AID abroad, we build public understanding of AID programs. Our task does not include providing technical information, which is the responsibility of AID. While the demarcation line may not always be clear, and there is often an understandable tendency to “get the job done,” we should avoid activities that do not clearly fall within our mission. [Footnote is in the original.]
  5. Reference is to the Office of International Information and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State, established in late 1945, which was followed by the creation of the Office of International Information and Office of Educational Exchange by the U.S. Information and Education Exchange Act of 1948 (62 Stat. 9) and, in 1952, the International Information Administration, which was abolished with the formation of the United States Information Agency in 1953.