U.S. State Dept. launches initiative to counter Russian midterm election meddling

The State Department is launching a $40 million program as part of new efforts to combat Russian interference and influence in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Steve Goldstein, undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department, told American media that the effort is designed to combat state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda targeting the U.S. and its interests.

The State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) will run the operation.

“Under the Information Access Fund, civil society groups, media content providers, non-governmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies and academic institutions will be eligible to compete for grants from the GEC to advance their important work to counter propaganda and disinformation,” according to a statement.

Center officials say they are planning to launch a series of test projects that have been developed in conjunction with the Pentagon, with additional funding from the Defense Department.

Goldstein told reporters that the funding took longer than expected but “hasn’t inhibited the Global Engagement Center from doing its job” of countering state-based efforts to change the U.S. political conversation. [source]

Analysis: No matter what you think of Presidents Obama and Trump, the fact is Russian meddling in the U.S. political process has happened in the past, did occur in the 2016 election (though no evidence of actual vote-changing exists publicly) and is nothing new. The U.S. does as much to Russia.

The difference today appears to be the ease with which outside actors can influence attitudes via social media, especially. Personally, I think Twitter and, to a degree Facebook, are sewers, but they are popular and that’s all that matters to a foreign power seeking to subvert our democracy.

With minimum effort and just a few people using hundreds or thousands of identities, issues can become polarized or “controversial” almost instantaneously. And it doesn’t help that the social media companies are being pressured to, shall we say, ‘eliminate’ or ‘downplay’ certain political perspectives. That’s not hyperbole or conjecture, that’s fact; I’ve seen Facebook do it to certain sites that I am involved with and currently operate. 

That said, it is the job of the State Department, Defense Department, and Intelligence Community to safeguard American democracy; the good news is the current administration is taking the threat seriously enough to dedicate resources to ensure our electoral processes are fair and unaffected by outside actors, directly or indirectly.

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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