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State Dept. launches $40M offensive against foreign propaganda

State Dept. launches $40M offensive against foreign propaganda
© Camille Fine

The State Department is launching a $40 million initiative to crack down on foreign propaganda and disinformation amid widespread concerns about future Russian efforts to interfere in elections. 

The department announced Monday that it signed a deal with the Pentagon to transfer $40 million from the Defense Department’s coffers to bolster the Global Engagement Center, an office set up at State during the Obama years to expose and counter foreign propaganda and disinformation. 

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The new influx of funds will bolster the center’s operations in the current fiscal year. 

“This funding is critical to ensuring that we continue an aggressive response to malign influence and disinformation and that we can leverage deeper partnerships with our allies, Silicon Valley, and other partners in this fight,” Steve Goldstein, the department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, said in a statement. 

“It is not merely a defensive posture that we should take, we also need to be on the offensive.” 

The announcement comes less than two weeks after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE indicted 13 Russians for allegedly participating in an elaborate scheme to meddle in the 2016 presidential election by creating false U.S. personas and spreading divisive content on social media platforms. 

There are widespread concerns in Washington that Russia will look to repeat its 2016 behavior in future elections. Earlier this month, top U.S. intelligence officials said they expect Moscow to interfere in the 2018 midterms, citing evidence of Russia already using “information warfare.”

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonWatchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US Trump administration rigging the game, and your retirement fund could be the loser Haley’s exit sends shockwaves through Washington MORE approved the request for Pentagon funds for the program last year under pressure from lawmakers in Congress to strengthen the center’s efforts to counter propaganda from Moscow and the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (ISIS). 

The funds were officially transferred recently after the State Department signed a memorandum of agreement with the Pentagon.

The new money will be used, in part, to supply grants to civil society groups, media providers, academic institutions, private companies and other organizations that are working on projects to counter disinformation. 

The department said it plans to award an initial $5 million in grants from the so-called Information Access Fund. The fund will receive $1 million in initial seed money from the State Department’s public diplomacy coffers in order to get off the ground quickly, the department said. 

The U.S. intelligence community has publicly accused Russia of using cyberattacks and disinformation to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to sow discord, damage former Democratic candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonO'Rourke's rise raises hopes for Texas Dems down ballot Gabbard considering 2020 run: report Claiming 'spousal privilege' to stonewall Congress MORE and help elect now-President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE.

The revelation has gripped Washington for more than a year, as Mueller presses forward with his investigation into Russian interference and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

The Global Engagement Center was set up in April 2016 to counter terrorist and foreign government propaganda, before there was public knowledge of Russia's efforts to interfere in the election.