The Iranian regime's blanket censorship of satellite and Internet communications last week was so effective, it led many to wonder, why didn't the U.S. government do more to stop it?
But despite strong statements from the podium in Foggy Bottom, the Obama White House appears to be treading carefully. Three sources tell The Cable that the National Security Council at first tried to prevent Jeff Trimble, executive director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the independent agency that oversees the U.S. government's media operations including Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, from allowing VOA to attach its name to a statement last week with Deutsche Welle and the British Broadcasting Corporation protesting Iranian signal jamming.
Two sources close to the issue say the NSC first didn't want the VOA to join the statement if it mentioned "jamming." Later in the email chain, the NSC modified its position to object to the use of the term "intensified jamming."
According to Trimble, "The BBG wasn't asked not to participate in the statement."
"NSC is ok with our confirming that jamming continues, they ask that we not say for now that it has intensified," one Feb. 11 email from Trimble to several BBG staffers read.
Dan Austin, the president of VOA, acknowledged that changes had been made to the statement, but declined to discuss the NSC's role. He said that the U.S. government should not be interfering with the BBG's editorial content, but acknowledged that on the communications and policy side, the lines were less clear.
"If it doesn't violate the letter of the firewall, common sense dictates it violates the spirit," a BBG official told The Cable on background basis.
VOA did finally join the statement, and Trimble declined to confirm or deny that the White House pressured him. His spokeswoman sent The Cable a list of actions BBG has taken to combat Iranian censorship and referred to two previous BBG statements on the issue.
Meanwhile, the State Department says it is working furiously to increase its capabilities to confront the kind of censorship promulgated by Iran last week, bringing major Silicon Valley companies and top tech executives into the fold, and rushing to develop technologies that can overcome even the most draconian measures.
"We have gone from zero to 100 on this issue in the last 30 days, after inheriting an incredibly empty policy from the last administration," a State Department official told The Cable. "Does that mean that as of right now we are as far along as we intend to be in the not-distant future? Absolutely not."
The White House and NSC did not respond to queries by the time of publication.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.