NEW COUNTER-DISINFORMATION CENTER
The fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill signed into law by President Obama last week contains a provision calling for a new U.S. government program to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation. The Global Engagement Center will be located in the State Department and must be established in the next six months.
“The purpose of the center shall be to lead, synchronize and coordinate efforts of the federal government to recognize, understand, expose and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests,” the law states. The center will seek to integrate efforts to track and evaluate disinformation, analyze foreign narratives, and disseminate “fact-based” narratives aimed at countering the lies and deception.
The center will have an operating budget of up to $60 million for 2017.
The legislation also will allow the center to provide funds to civil society groups, media content providers, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, and academic institutions. The funds will be used to refute disinformation and media manipulation.
The center, however, will be temporary and close down on Dec. 23, 2024.
The center will replace some functions of the defunct U.S. Information Agency, which was shut down in 1999. Its functions were transferred to the State Department and critics say its effectiveness has been limited by diplomats more concerned with not upsetting U.S. foreign relations than countering foreign lies.
The new center was the result of efforts by Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican and Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat.
“Our enemies are using foreign propaganda and disinformation against us and our allies, and so far the U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel,” Mr. Portman said in a statement. “But today, the United States has taken a critical step towards confronting the extensive, and destabilizing, foreign propaganda and disinformation operations being waged against us by our enemies overseas.”
The bill follows aggressive Russian influence activities that have included cyberattacks against U.S. political figures and what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was a covert program designed to affect the outcome of the presidential election.
Mr. Obama has ordered an intelligence review of the Russian influence operation. The Washington Post reported this week that the president may soon impose sanctions on Russia for the election interference.