State Department Agency Failing to Fully Counter Foreign Disinformation Campaigns, Says Watchdog

State Department Agency Failing to Fully Counter Foreign Disinformation Campaigns, Says Watchdog
A misinformation newsstand aiming to educate news consumers about the dangers of disinformation, or fake news, in the lead-up to the U.S. midterm elections, in midtown Manhattan, on Oct. 30, 2018. (Angela Weiss/Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

The U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), which is tasked with countering disinformation, has been unable to completely fulfill its aim of exposing foreign propaganda, according to the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

“Despite having a clear legal mandate to coordinate Department and interagency efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation by foreign state and non-state actors, the center’s legacy organizational structure, insufficient internal controls to properly manage contractors, and a limited strategic planning process affected its ability to fully meet its mission,” a Sept. 15 report by the OIG states (pdf).

The GEC was established in 2016 to counter terrorist propaganda, and its role was later expanded to coordinate government efforts and various agencies for countering and exposing foreign disinformation. The center has a budget of $74 million and employs 167 staff members who are mostly non-government contractors.

The OIG found that there was a lack of coordination across the U.S. government departments to counter disinformation programs. Multiple government agencies who were involved in countering disinformation sometimes had “competing coordination mandates.”

The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence began their own separate agency efforts to counter propaganda. Even within the State Department itself, the Bureau of Counterterrorism officials had a “challenging” relationship with one of the divisions at GEC, according to the report.

The lack of coordination hurt American efforts to expose disinformation. “Foreign actors spend billions of dollars on disinformation campaigns to establish and legitimize their narratives using constantly changing technology, requiring an agile response from the U.S. government,” the report states.

Russian and CCP Propaganda

The GEC leadership admitted during the OIG investigation that the problem of disinformation is “serious and growing.”

The report alleges that prominent examples of such campaigns targeting U.S. national security include attempts to influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, as well as ongoing disinformation about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines produced in the United States.

A 2021 report by the Digital Forensic Research Lab of Washington-based think tank the Atlantic Council revealed that China was the most active country in propagating disinformation regarding the origin of the COVID-19 virus. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) concealed information about the epidemic from the public and silenced eight whistleblower doctors at the time.
Both the Russian government and the CCP regime have learned that spreading disinformation contributes to sowing distrust against the United States and winning over foreign audiences, Evan Anderson, CEO of INVNT/IP, an organization that fights state-sponsored intellectual property theft, said in an interview with The Epoch Times.

Of the two, Anderson feels Russia has perfected the use of propaganda as a tactic. “They mixed a percentage of truth with a slightly higher percentage of misinformation or propaganda and delivered it to an audience that was already inclined to hear it,” he said. The tactic proved to be effective in “affecting the way those people thought about certain topics.”

J.M. Phelps contributed to this report.