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Former Pentagon and CIA spokesman George Little discusses communicating on national security


On Monday, March 23, 2015, former CIA and Pentagon spokesman George Little gave a lecture titled “Communicating Effectively on National Security in a 24/7 News Cycle” at The Institute of World Politics.

Dr. Little structured his lecture around three main topics: the nature of the communications environment today, the role of a government spokesperson regarding national security, and a case study of the operation that resulted in the death of Osama bin laden. 

The communication environment that we live in today is quantitatively and qualitatively different than it was in previous years, according to Dr. Little. He believes that the modern national security community faces an unprecedented number of threats and challenges from entities such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, Russia, China, the rogue states of Iran and North Korea, and the new front of the evolving cyber battlespace. Previous national security issues and the communications involved therein were focused more on a single target.

Another important aspect of the modern communication environment includes the growing role of Washington’s politics in national security. Dr. Little pointed out that the old adage -“when it comes to national security, politics stops at the water’s edge”- is no longer relevant in the modern context. National security is now a politically charged subject, where events such as the Benghazi attacks and the process by which Netanyahu came to speak in front of Congress are accentuated and politicized.

According to Dr. Little, the role of a government spokesperson is to be above the political dysfunction of Washington. He believes this is the only way national security matters can be properly communicated. By adequately articulating the policies of the administration as well as properly understanding the questions and concerns of the public, the spokesperson can begin to build rapport amongst the journalistic community and establish a sound foundation for objective dialogue.

Dr. Little concluded his lecture with a case study on the bin Laden raid. In 2010, Dr. Little had argued to build a strategic contingency public affairs plan for both a positive and negative outcome of such a raid. If the raid were to take place, he wanted to be prepared to get the correct information out at a moment’s notice. In this way, Dr. Little believed that the risk of miscommunication could be significantly mitigated.