House Armed Services leaders urge Trump to boost State's foreign propaganda fight

House Armed Services leaders urge Trump to boost State's foreign propaganda fight
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The heads of the House Armed Services Committee want President Trump to add dollars and a leader to the Global Engagement Center (GEC), the State Department arm that fights foreign propaganda and disinformation.

“We are ... disappointed that to date your administration has not provided adequate resources, including funding and personnel, to the GEC to carry out its mission and, furthermore, that you have not yet appointed a director to lead the agency in this endeavor,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the committee's chairman, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member, write in a March 9 letter to Trump.

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“We write to urge you to enable and fully resource the GEC to effectively execute its roles and responsibilities in leading the United States efforts to counter the exploitation of the information environment by state and non-state actors aimed at undermining democratic institutions values, and principles,” they add in the document, also signed by House Armed Services Committee Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee Chair Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikGOP announces members who will serve on House intel panel Bipartisan House group introduces bills to stall Syria, South Korea troop withdrawals House votes on 10th bill to reopen government MORE (R-N.Y.) and ranking Democrat James Langevin (R.I.).

A New York Times report earlier this month found that the State Department has not spent any of the $120 million intended since 2016 for the GEC, set up that year to combat foreign propaganda.

Congress at the end of the Obama administration had directed the Pentagon to send $60 million to Foggy Bottom to counter disinformation from Russia, China and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The provision was included in the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was fired this week by Trump and whose last day is March 31, stalled on spending the dollars and didn’t send a request for the money to the Pentagon until September, only days before the end of the fiscal year.

Department of Defense officials did not send the money, deciding that the State Department missed its chance that year. The two departments then stalled for another several months on the next $60 million available in fiscal 2018.

The departments in February reached a deal to transfer at least $40 million from the Pentagon to the GEC by April, and Tillerson received harsh criticisms from lawmakers on the delay.

Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) last week pressed Tillerson on why the State Department has not yet spent any of the millions of dollars the center had been allocated.

“The Department’s lack of spending for the [Global Engagement Center] is yet another example of the Trump administration’s failure to use the tools Congress provides to adequately respond to Russia’s 2016 election interference and counter its efforts to subvert our upcoming elections in November,” Lieu and Castro wrote.