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News of the Day: State Department Was Given $120 Million From Congress to Fight Russian Disinformation But Spent Nothing– NYT

2018-03-05

The New York Times reported that Congress had authorized the State Department to spend $60 million a year for two years, starting in late 2016, for the specific purpose of assembling a staff and equipment and conducting operations to counter the perceived threat from Russian cyber-meddling.  The Obama administration had become aware of this problem in 2016 and rushed to obtain authorization from Congress to set up a counter-cyber-espionage program, which was granted.  The State Department already had a unit called the Global Engagement Center, and this unit was tasked with countering Russia’s disinformation campaign that was unrolling on Twitter and Facebook.  From the article:

The role for the Global Engagement Center would be to assess Russian efforts and then set about amplifying a different set of voices to counter them, perhaps creating a network of anti-propaganda projects dispersed around the world, experts said.

“There are now thousands of former Russian journalists who have been exiled or fired who are doing counter-Russian stuff in exile who we could help,” said Richard Stengel, who as the under secretary for public diplomacy in the Obama administration had oversight of the Global Engagement Center.

In other words, the money was available starting in October, 2016, the beginning of the country’s budget year– it was to be sent from the Pentagon, where our military spends billions on counter-espionage programs unrelated to social media as such– it was oriented to fighting cyberattacks in which critical infrastructure is damaged and other programs, not open communications on Facebook and Twitter.  The State Department was supposed to cooperate in a government-wide effort to counter the malicious posts that were appearing in social media.  However, when Mr. Trump won the election, the State Department was left without a leader who could direct the hiring of Russian-speaking experts in computer programming, and without direction to fight the Russians.

The article states that Mr. Tillerson, the new Secretary of State, tabled the decision as to where to spend the money for seven months, resulting in no progress on the organization of a crew to do the work which was obviously needed.  When the issue of the money transfer from Defense to State became public last August as the result of an article in Politico, the Pentagon finally announced on February 26 that it would transfer $40 million to the State Department, describing the creation of “An Information Access Fund to Counter State-Sponsored Disinformation.

The Center for Global Engagement, with 60 employees and 23 contractees, many fluent in Arabic, Urdu, and so on, has been concentrating on countering anti-jihadist propaganda and has succeeded, for example, in demonstrating in a video that ISIS was responsible for destroying the al-Nuri grand mosque in Mosul.  This threat comes from an entirely different direction.  Unfortunately, none of the personnel currently employed or contracted by the Center speaks Russian.

The article in the NYT goes on to describe the extreme level of dysfunction that Mr. Tillerson has allowed to develop throughout the State Department.  The plan appears to be to run State into the ground by not doing any of the things that it has been doing under previous presidents.  Mr. Trump seems to believe that the federal government is a business enterprise and that he can allow traditional functions like diplomacy to simply wither away while he concentrates on supporting the Defense Department in its plans to militarize foreign affairs.

Mr. Tillerson’s close ties to Russia from his years in Moscow as an Exxon employee finally come into focus.  He is an agent of the Russians and Mr. Trump and his plan is to destroy the State Department.

There are no words to describe how bad this is for us as Americans.  Our nation is being transformed into an autocracy– and by definition, autocracy is dysfunctional.  We must band together as people to return our government to a democracy by all Constitutional means.  Impeachment of the President and Vice-President is the first order of business and must be preceded by an electoral transformation of Congress.  We are handicapped by perversions of democracy like gerrymandering, which ensures such results as that in Wisconsin– where the Republican minority controls two thirds of the seats in the House under the current district configuration.   We must organize as Democrats to reverse gerrymandering, obtain a level playing field, and throw the rascals out of Congress.

If the Supreme Court– already perverted by a judge selected by the Republican leader of the Senate McConnell instead of the Democratic President Obama– refuses to reverse the gerrymandering of districts in most of the states, then Democratic revolution is the only answer.  Be prepared and vote this November.

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and ParentRap)

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