Congress is using Hillary Clinton’s partisan-motivated fiasco regarding “Russian interference” in the U.S. elections to set up an inter-agency that would have the power to indirectly disseminate propaganda through various news and social media outlets. The goal, it would seem, is to alter the views of American citizens so that theirs ultimately aligns with the foreign policy and national security interests of the United States and its allies.
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The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2017 is the primary way Congress meets its most important constitutional obligation to “provide for the common defense.” It advances the vital funding and authorities America’s military requires. This is the Conference Report to H.R. 4909, which passed the House in May with a vote of 277-147 and S. 2943, which passed the Senate in June with a vote of 85-13.
However, what’s unsettling is that this particular piece of legislation received very little media coverage over the holidays, which may explain why many of you haven’t heard about it until now.
Tucked away among the myriad of additional laws and spending bills–totaling $611 billion dollars–is something called the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016, initially introduced as H.R. 5181.
This bill (H.R. 5181) expresses the sense of Congress that:
- foreign governments, including the governments of the Russian Federation and China, use disinformation and other propaganda tools to undermine the national security objectives of the United States and key allies and partners;
- the U.S. government should develop a comprehensive strategy to counter foreign disinformation and propaganda and assert leadership in developing a fact-based strategic narrative; and
- an important element of this strategy should be to promote an independent press in countries that are vulnerable to foreign disinformation.
It was first introduced into the House back in May 10, 2016, but it mysteriously disappeared after being referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Nonetheless, the primary motivations of the bill made its way as a measure into S. 2943, and then into H.R. 4909. As proof, compare the original purpose of H.R. 5181 to the new one in H.R. 4909:
H.R. 5181 (old)
The Department of State shall establish a Center for Information Analysis and Response to:
- lead and coordinate the collection and analysis of information on foreign government information warfare efforts;
- establish a framework for the integration of critical data and analysis on foreign propaganda and disinformation efforts into the development of national strategy; and
- develop and synchronize government initiatives to expose and counter foreign information operations directed against U.S. national security interests and advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
H.R. 4909 (new)
(2) PURPOSE.—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.
Before going further…
We must remember, though, that the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA)–a report coordinated by The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA)–never proved Russians hacked the DNC.
Instead of explaining how Russians “hacked” the U.S. elections, the ICA only speculates possible Russian motives.
We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.
What does “high confidence” and “moderate confidence” mean? In Annex B (page 23), the CIA and FBI assert the following:
“…generally indicates that judgments are based on high-quality information from multiple sources. High confidence in a judgement does not imply that the assessment is a fact or a certainty; such judgments might be wrong.”
The NSA, on the other hand, takes a different position:
…generally means that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.
Read the report for yourself: ICA’s Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections. Published on January 6, 2017.
Back to the topic at hand…
So, as a result of the DNC spending the latter half of 2016 perpetuating an unsubstantiated narrative to justify Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss, it successfully convinced members of House to pass both S. 2943 and H.R. 4909 with the inclusion of the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act.
According to the man who sponsored the bill, Sen. Rob Portman (R) OH, the U.S. needs it because…
“Surprisingly, there is currently no single U.S. government agency or department charged with the national level deployment, integration, and synchronization of whole-government-strategies to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation.”
We’re essentially being told it’s to “counter propaganda,” but how do we know that the government will never surreptitiously use it to alter the views of millions of Americans? This is a critically important question.
Six months from now, before June 21, 2017, we will have a new inter-agency called the “Global Engagement Center” (GEC), or “Center” for short.
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, shall establish within the Department of State a Global Engagement Center (in this section referred to as the ‘‘Center’’).
Congress has endowed it with the following responsibilities:
(4) Identify current and emerging trends in foreign propaganda and disinformation in order to coordinate and shape the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures to expose and refute foreign misinformation and disinformation and proactively promote fact-based narratives and policies to audiences outside the United States.
(7) Identify the countries and populations most susceptible to propaganda and disinformation based on information provided by appropriate inter-agency entities.
(10) Maintain, collect, use, and disseminate records (as such term is defined in section 552a(a)(4) of title 5, United States Code) for research and data analysis of foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts and communications related to public diplomacy efforts intended for foreign audiences. Such research and data analysis shall be reasonably tailored to meet the purposes of this paragraph and shall be carried out with due regard for privacy and civil liberties guidance and oversight.
Again, how do we know that the government will never surreptitiously use it to alter the views of millions of Americans both at home and abroad?
The legislation essentially authorizes funding of $160 million over a two-year-period, and the Center can use it to
…provide grants or contracts of financial support to civil society groups, media content providers, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions.
Note: Media Content Providers such as CNN and Facebook. Those providers will then use the Center’s information to
…support the efforts by the Center to counter efforts by foreign entities to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability of the United States and United States allies and partner nations.
Will the Center provide unbiased, objective sources of information?
Based on its mission statement, NO.
The GEC’s general purpose would be to discover, expose and counter foreign government information warfare efforts (to include foreign propaganda and disinformation efforts) and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support US allies and interests. The GEC would terminate 5 years after enactment.
In other words, as long as the “evidence” it unearths supports the national security and foreign policy interests of the U.S. and its allies, Americans will hear about it indirectly through arbitrarily chosen news and social media outlets.
The law, in of itself, uses propaganda to combat propaganda.
The House originally wanted the GEC to terminate five years after enactment, but the Senate extended the termination of the GEC to eight years.
(i) TERMINATION.—The Center shall terminate on the date that is 8 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.
All of this has been made possible by the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 that amended the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, overturning a 64-year ban on the domestic dissemination of propaganda intended for foreign audiences. Prior to the amendment, the U.S. Department of State couldn’t disseminate that information domestically–only Congress, the media, and academic institutions were allowed to.
Thanks to the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, there was no longer a distinction between domestic and foreign audiences, and the U.S. Department of State acquired the ability to disseminate information to whomever it wanted, either directly or indirectly–that is, if it truly desired.
A free-flow exchange of information between America and the rest of the world isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the enactment of the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 threatens to turn that upside down. The government evidently plans to create an inter-agency to REGULATE what U.S. citizens read and hear, wherever they may be in the world.
Notably, in 2013, officials assured the public that the government wouldn’t create a propaganda machine, but it seems as if their priorities have shifted since then.
We should be very, very concerned. If the mainstream media’s trustworthiness was in doubt before, we can be even more skeptical of it now.
What can we do to combat our government from spreading its own propaganda?
Let our congressional representatives know that we don’t approve of what they’re doing on Capitol Hill. Tell them that our views are our views, and they must stop trying to control them.
By the way, is it any surprise that the one who pushed this legislation into law is none other than Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton?
In a speech to lawmakers on 8 December 2016, Hillary Clinton called attention to the issue, saying pending legislation before the U.S. Congress would “boost the government’s response to foreign propaganda.”
She called on trendsetters in society to work together on the problem: “It’s imperative that leaders in both the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy, and innocent lives.”
What are your thoughts? Please share them in the comment section below.