MICHELLE GIUDA: All right. Hello, again, everybody. Good to see everyone. I am here with Under Secretary Allen, who is the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. At the State Department, there’s an acronym for everything, but for all of the Under Secretaries and the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy is, you guessed it, “R.” And so, Liz is known as the R. When I was at the State Department, I was the R. So, you’ve got a little “R&R” here going on – on the stage. Liz, thank you so much for being here with us today.

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: It is such a pleasure to be here. We’re a little blinded, but I know there’s a lot of you out there from our partner industries, from the State Department, from across the U.S. Interagency. It’s a pleasure to be here with you, Michelle. You’ve been such a good partner to me. The Krach Institute is such a good partner to us in government. We’re very grateful, so thanks for the opportunity.

MICHELLE GIUDA: Thank you, Liz. There’s actually 50,000 people out there. It’s like a Taylor Swift concert. We didn’t want to make you nervous though. Liz, you are the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. We’ve got leaders here from business, academia, Silicon Valley, government. We’re all familiar, I think, with diplomacy. We’re all familiar now with “tech diplomacy.” But just so we’re grounding our conversation today, what is public diplomacy? Define that for us.

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: This is a great question. I’m so eager to talk about it because public diplomacy crosses every geography, every issue area, and every society and audience. So, we really feel like the work that we’re doing to build trust and to build relationships between people is central to every other facet of diplomacy.

Here’s what I would say. My view is that the future of the world is not just going to be shaped between relationships between governments, but truly between relationships between people. If you accept that premise, then what our imperative and obligation to do is both to be informing people and conveying truthful information about our vision, our values, our priorities. Public diplomacy encompasses all of our media relations, social media, digital diplomacy, but also critically building those long-term relationships and investing in young leaders. It’s that long-term work done through academic exchanges, professional training opportunities, cultural diplomacy, using arts, sports, music, and things to really bring people together to start to have conversations about solutions in ways that are needed to bridge borders, break beyond borders, and create opportunities to build those relationships.

I will say if it’s a helpful stat, over 600 world leaders at the head of state level have gone through a U.S. public diplomacy program. Over 2,500 world leaders at the cabinet level and above have gone through a U.S. government public diplomacy program. As it turns out, we’re actually pretty good at identifying the leaders of tomorrow earlier in their careers from any sector, whether it be medicine or education or clergy or whoever, really, in society that’s leading in their sectors. It’s in our interest as the United States to get to know those folks early, to align around common values and common vision, and then invest in them and invest in our relationship with them going forward.

MICHELLE GIUDA: So public diplomacy encompasses all of that. At the Krach Institute, we talk a lot about this four-dimensional contest that’s taking place between the free world and authoritarianism, diplomatic, economic, cultural, and military, and how technology is at the crossroads of all of that. But you could easily argue that the information space is also crosscutting and plays a huge role in every domain of that contest. Yet I think now and often in the conversation around the information space, it gets bucketed under disinformation more broadly. But it’s more than just that. And I think when you talk about the information space, talk to us a little bit about this existential connection between emerging technologies and the information space, because it’s not just disinformation.

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: It’s not. This is such a good question, there’s so much here. So when we think about the evolution of what we call “public diplomacy,” what I just described, we are so far beyond public diplomacy just traditionally being either talking to the people through media or reaching them through exchange programs. Obviously, right? You all know both domestically and internationally that the information space is now, as we say, a contested theater of competition. People are using the information space for influence to manipulate narratives often for maligned gain, in the instance of Russia or China.

But also to your point about definitions, the information space and the way people consume information these days also has a lot to do with misinformation, with no malintent, has to do with just an overflow of information. If you all think about your own information diets, it’s hard to keep up, right? So our challenge in this moment is how to break through. How to break through with the truth, how to call out for maligned actors who are weaponizing the information space. I mentioned Russia and China, but also Iran, Belarus, other non-state actors, particularly when we’re thinking about extremism and attracting extremists. When we think about the information space now, how are we thinking about it holistically?

I would offer that while countering disinformation and countering foreign malign influence has often been about identifying lies on the internet, and calling out lies with truths and calling out fiction with counter facts. While that’s important, it is not sufficient. And so we’re really thinking about the information space as its own ecosystem, different than cyber and different than tech, but impacted by both. And as we think about how to make the information space healthier, more truthful, more values aligned to getting people the free flow of truthful information, which to your question, underpins our ability to solve every other problem, we also need to make sure that people are better information consumers.

So we are investing a lot through public diplomacy, through State Department programming, in educating people on how to be good information consumers, investing in media literacy and digital literacy programs, supporting independent media and supporting investigative journalism, we know that content moderation is not the answer. And that’s a little bit controversial because I think a lot of bodies, multilateral bodies, outside actors, think that this is a problem that can just be solved by the social media companies doing a better job at policing what the truth is.

And I think what we’ve seen is that is never going to happen. That is not a business imperative for them. That is not a political imperative for them. And so while the platforms are very good partners to us in trying to specifically root out their platforms being used by maligned actors, we should not think that content moderation is the way to tackle disinformation. We should think about it much more holistically and how can emerging tech help us make people smarter information consumers and enable independent media.

MICHELLE GIUDA: You mentioned a few adversaries, Russia, China, Iran – these adversaries are very good at playing in the information space, mostly because they’re not beholden to the truth. It’s very easy to get out there with a false message. At the State Department, we’re going through clearances on every single statement and every single press release, and this word and that word and 18 people weigh in. And then by the time you get something out there, it’s generally too late and our adversaries don’t have those truth barriers, if you will.

There’s countering disinformation, and there’s a specific bureau within the State Department called the Global Engagement Center that’s in charge of countering disinformation. But the phrase “counter disinfo” is always funny to me because counter disinformation is just information. You’ve got two negatives. It’s really just information, and it’s an important mindset, and I know one that you share because going on offense on information, I thought, and I know you agree with this, is better than just playing defense and counter disinformation. Talk to us a little bit about how we go on offense when it comes to the information space. How do we make sure that our narratives are winning? Not that we’re just mitigating some of the false narratives. And how do we do that? Especially using new tools with emerging technology.

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: This is such a good question because it’s exactly how we’re thinking about the fact that it is insufficient to just counter lies with the truth. If we’re doing that, we’re playing defense and we are already behind. I think you can all agree in your own information consumption, it is really hard to break a first impression. So if we’re trying to do that, we’re already behind.

So how do we go on offense? I would offer three things. One, really smart strategic communications. We have to move faster, we have to talk more clearly, and as the U.S. government we have to actually sound like a human – which for those of you in government knows that it is difficult to do with all of our bureaucratic processes, but we are working on it. That also includes being really smart about audience-targeted communications.

The State Department has an embassy in almost every country in the world. Those audiences are not monolithic. We should not pretend they’re monolithic. It is critically important that our teams on the ground are empowered to reach their audiences in ways with language that means the most to them to convey our vision. All of that, being audience-centric, being fast, being concise, being results-driven in our messaging has to do with being smart strategic communicators, and that’s the first way we play offense.

I would say, Michelle, to your very good question, what makes us different? It is that our credibility is the most important thing to hold on to. It is that we don’t use lies and disinformation overtly to manipulate the information space as a weapon, as our adversaries do. And so to hang on to that credibility, it’s incumbent upon us to have this proactive vision and to convey it. I will say that when we pull audiences across the Global South, people want to know what the United States is for, not just what the United States is against. So part of how we play offense is having that vision and conveying it smartly.

The second thing is we are working on actually some new pre-emption tactics when it comes to disinformation. Let’s not wait for Russia or China to perpetrate a disinformation campaign or an influence operation. The Global Engagement Center that Michelle mentioned, which falls under my “R” family, in the public diplomacy family at the State Department, is working on some novel ways to actually get ahead of a Russian disinformation campaign. For example, right now in Latin America. We can take declassified intelligence, we can take information that we’ve learned through networks and sources, and as I did in Chile a few weeks ago, present evidence to governments, to media, to stakeholders that says, we know that you are about to be manipulated by the Russians in a certain way, and how do we help you get ahead of that? The pre-emption strategy may not apply everywhere, but it is something new that we are doing.

Then I would say the third way we play offense and I want to come to tech is really thinking about this long-term value proposition. As public diplomacy specialists, we are not just consumed with this short-term information space, counter disinformation, strategic communications, imperative. We are thinking about that long-term relationship building because that makes us different. It makes us different to forge relationships based on values, and we have to be able to play the long game just as much as the short game. In all of that, emerging tech, particularly generative AI, gives us an enormous opportunity on playing offense. I think you probably all talked here today, we can talk about how we are looking at mitigating the risks of AI, which are well-known to all of us. But what has been really important to this Administration and to all of our partners is thinking about how to harness opportunities, not just manage risk.

There is so much opportunity in the information space to use emerging tech and AI for good. For example, if all of a sudden I can use AI to do media analysis and clips analysis and generate sentiment studies and summaries for our State Department leadership in a matter of minutes, instead of in a matter of hours, that makes a huge difference to free up bandwidth for all of my public diplomacy professionals.

If, for example, instead of being able to translate our communications materials into seven core languages with our team of humans currently doing that, we can now all of a sudden translate our materials into 40 languages across the world. That gives us an enormous edge. So we are very aware of the risks of AI in the information space, right? We all think about deep fakes and the proliferation of AI-generated fake content. That is, of course, a risk we are looking to manage, whether by content authentication or other labeling means. On the other hand, let’s not miss the opportunity to reach more people and reach more people faster through emerging technology.

MICHELLE GIUDA: I love this pre-emption strategy that you are talking about, and how you also made sure that we’re tracking. There’s the pre-emptive strategy, there’s the stuff that we have to solve right now. And then we’re also thinking down the road, 25 years through these public diplomacy programs that are the people-to-people engagement. It really does demonstrate how cross-cutting, on a time horizon even, that public diplomacy is. How do you prioritize all of that? When you can be doing stuff ahead of time, right now, and then 25 years down the road with issues like what’s going on with Israel and Hamas, Russia and Ukraine, China on a daily basis, all of these actors that are flooding the information space, how do you prioritize, and what are your priorities?

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: Great question. Thank you for asking. Critically important to prioritize, I would say the biggest tyranny for those of you who’ve either been in government, or who are in government now or who’ve been in government, we all know that the biggest challenge for all of us is figuring out the delta between the scale of our ambition and what we know we need to do to meet the moment, and acknowledging the reality that we will never have enough resources to do that. What is the delta? What is the venn diagram in those things?

At this moment, I’ve distilled down to about four priorities in the public diplomacy space. The first, as is reflective of the U.S. national security strategy, is managing our relationship with China – the most complex, most consequential relationship that we could manage to shape the future is our relationship with the PRC. Our public diplomacy priorities, resources, and investments reflect that. What I think is important to say is that that is not just in China, that is not just in the Indo-Pacific, that is around the world. We see the PRC’s influence increasingly shaping the future of Latin America and Africa. So as we think about great power competition and the competition for influence in so many ways, security influence, economic influence, development influence, and information and communications influence, that is foremost among our priorities.

Second, countering foreign influence in the information space. To state the obvious, again, the information space being this contested theater of competition, we have to prioritize really understanding what it means to counter what Russia, China, Iran, and others are doing, and also, again, how to make the information space itself healthier. So while for so long supporting independent media was an important democracy building objective of the United States, it is now true that information space security is a national security issue, and we are thinking about it as such.

Third, and I’d be curious for people’s reactions, is we have to be engaging with our U.S. domestic audience better and more often. I think from the U.S. State Department standpoint, it has not typically been a muscle to communicate robustly with the American people. And there are some good reasons for that in terms of our authorities and our budget allocations from Congress and what we are legally allowed to do.

There are very meaningful and important distinctions, for example, of what the State Department is doing on countering disinformation overseas, which is not what we’re doing in the United States to counter disinformation in the United States, which for example, is the FBI, DOJ, and DHS’ job. So while there are important legal distinctions, we cannot afford not to be talking to the American people about why foreign policy matters to them, what’s at stake in our national security for their equities, and why we’re working on their behalf to make their lives better from a security, economic, and prosperity standpoint. So that’s a big priority.

And then finally, and particularly where you have been such a good partner and where we hope to make some progress is in making sure that our workforce is ready to meet this moment. I think for all of us who’ve been in and out of government as I’ve been, we know that there’s a lot of learnings to be had from the private sector, academia. All of you assembled here today are here in the spirit of partnership. And we in the U.S. government, or when we’re in the U.S., those of us who are in the U.S. government at certain times – have to be open to training, to education, to convening.

Because I will tell you that the career workforce, particularly at the State Department, is so dedicated, is so mission-driven, is so driven by the stakes of this moment. But we cannot fail them on trying to do a better job of training, education, resources and prioritization for bandwidth. I think for all of you who out there, I know we’re joined by many leaders across industry, I think we can all agree, you can really have a great strategy. But if your workforce is not ready to execute that strategy, it doesn’t matter how good that strategy is. It really is about investing in our people.

MICHELLE GIUDA: Yeah, and we’re excited to partner with you on that. I know so is everybody here, especially as we put together the Tech Diplomacy Academy. You talked earlier when you were defining public diplomacy about the importance of engaging people, and that’s what public diplomacy is all about. When I was Acting Under Secretary and R, I used to talk to our PD officers and say that PD was never public diplomacy, had never been more important. I imagine that’s even more important now, especially as we talk about an all-of-free-world approach to securing freedom and securing high tech because it’s not just heads of state, it’s not just CEOs – they’re both important. But the end-user at the end of the day is the people. They’ve got the governing power, and by the way, they have the purchasing power. Engaging people in the discussion around securing high tech and securing freedom is so important. What are some of the new ways that you’re doing that in order to engage the public in shaping how high tech is going to be used versus just being a spectator?

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: This is a great question, and it’s particularly relevant in my mind. I’m just off travel to seven countries in the month of October. I was in Fiji, Vanuatu, Australia, Chile, Norway, Bulgaria, and Prague all in the last three and a half weeks. It’s nice to be home.

MICHELLE GIUDA: By the way, State makes you take commercial, coach. Middle row.

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: Yeah, we did not have the power of the U.S. Air Force behind us on that travel itinerary, but my United account thanks me for my business. Look, this is foremost on my mind because just having done a lot of travel to various regions around the world, the very question of how are we making sure that our policy is informed by different perspectives is really a lot of why I went places. We have to go listen, we have to go convene. For as much as the United States government thinks about what can we bring to the table in terms of solutions, we should not underestimate our convening power.

It is powerful everywhere we go in the whole world. And so to your question, part of what we’re doing is just making sure we have a table set with the right number and diversity of seats for people to be at that table talking about solutions. Thinking about the equities across our emerging tech portfolio – AI, quantum, biotech, other things included – it’s just as important for me to sit down with the medical ethicist that I did in Sofia, Bulgaria, as it is for an independent journalist in Vanuatu, as it is for women working on anti-corruption across the Pacific Islands.

It helps us and the U.S. government make better policy if we understand equities and use cases across the world. So just that convening and listening power is critically important. But secondly, and where public diplomacy has such a powerful role to play is in the training piece. The thing about public diplomacy programs, and by that I mean, people know the Fulbright, obviously, right? International Visitor Leadership Program, a lot of different study abroad programs. We can modulate all of those programs around emerging priorities, as we are including on tech. We have embassies across the world who are saying to us in DC, please send us speakers on AI. We are dying to understand it better, both here at the embassy and in societies around the world.

Please help us understand, for example, what the military equities on the use of AI are. Please help us understand the bioethical equities in AI. We can really modulate speakers programs, academic programs, professional training programs, and that’s how we’re bringing people into the fold. These alumni of our U.S. government public diplomacy programs are exactly the people leading in their communities now and who, as I mentioned, will be leading governments and other sectors later on. And so now starting these conversations, providing that training, is a way to get everyone involved.

MICHELLE GIUDA: I could talk shop all day long. It’d be so fun. But we were almost out of time, so I have time for one more question. We’ve been talking here about engaging the public among our partners and allies. You have an amazing audience here of business leaders, academic leaders, high tech leaders who can help. My last question to you would be, what is your ask of this audience here? How can they be helpful to you as you think about your priorities in public diplomacy and how we go secure freedom through high tech?

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: I really appreciate this question, and it goes to the spirit of what I was just talking about, which is, please keep talking to us and please keep forcing us to talk to you. I think we all feel like we get so caught up in our own inboxes and our own portfolios that it’s really often hard to be incentivized to pick our heads up and to have open conversations. At least in my own experience, every time you do a convening or a gathering of some sort, you always learn something – always. Let’s just not forget the value of prioritizing that convening and that conversation. Part of why I’m so pleased to be here is that all of you are prioritizing having those types of conversations from across industry to hear from me, for me to hear from you. It’s critically important. Just don’t stop doing it.

And second, and it’s a bit of a parochial interest, but as someone again who’s gone in and out of government to the private sector, back in, really incentivizing public service amongst talent and helping recruit people into U.S. government positions is critically important. I know for all of you in private industry, if you wish that government regulation, government policy, government legislative proposals better matched your needs, then it’s important that people who understand your needs are in government.

And we have to be doing a better job in the U.S. government, which we’re certainly looking to do at State, to incentivize people to come in, whether that’s for two weeks, two months, two years, or 20 years – we have to make it easier for people to come in to work with us, to lend us their expertise, because whether it’s the Krach Institute or Microsoft or Stanford or even the social media platforms, people are really willing to help, and we need to continue to find mechanisms to recruit good talent in. So thank you for your partnership on that.

MICHELLE GIUDA: Liz, you are doing extraordinary work. Thank you for your leadership in public diplomacy, but not just public diplomacy, tech diplomacy, and helping make sure that we secure freedom by securing high tech. Thanks for being here. Thanks for being a tremendous partner.

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: Thanks for having me. Great to see you all.

U.S. Department of State

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