Thursday, January 5, 2017

Global Engagement Center – New Focal Point for Countering Propaganda & Disinformation

As a parting holiday gift, President Obama signed the National Defense Act which, included (on page 547) Section 1287 Global Engagement Center (see:
According to Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and his co-sponsor, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT):
NOTE: The bipartisan Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act is organized around two main priorities to help achieve the goal of combatting the constantly evolving threat of foreign disinformation from our enemies:
  • The first priority is developing a whole-of-government strategy for countering THE foreign propaganda and disinformation being wages against us and our allies by our enemies. The bill would increase the authority, resources, and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include state actors like Russia and China as well as non-state actors. The Center will be led by the State Department, but with the active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community, and other relevant agencies. The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations by our enemies and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
  • Second, the legislation seeks to leverage expertise from outside government to create more adaptive and responsive U.S. strategy options. The legislation establishes a fund to help train local journalists and provide grants and contracts to NGOs, civil society organizations, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations, and other experts outside the U.S. government with experience in identifying and analyzing the latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques. This fund will complement and support the Center’s role by integrating capabilities and expertise available outside the U.S. government into the strategy-making process. It will also empower a decentralized network of private sector experts and integrate their expertise into the strategy-making process.
There are two ways to look at this latest attempt at central coordination of influence. The positive view is that there is finally recognition that the US does not have a current influence strategy and needs one very badly. The new law and organization also concedes that the government does not have the internal capability to develop and execute this strategy itself. By placing the Global Engagement Center within the Department of State, it can legitimately foster the President’s influence goals as the diplomatic arm of the cabinet.
The other, more negative view can found in The Event Chronicle (see:, which is also the photo source and The True Pundit ( The negative view is deeply distrustful of government influence activity and compares the new Global Engagement Center to "The Records Department of the Ministry of Truth" in George Orwell's book 1984.
As with many polarizing actions, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. The US clearly needs an overarching influence strategy and critics have legitimate cause for concern based on what many perceive as the dismal track record of influence efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and the media criticism of the use of contractors to further DOD influence goals abroad.
Of course DOD’s actual role is unclear and the establishment of the Center within Department of State follows the civilian rule of government theory. Experience has shown that the practice will be far more difficult than the conception.
Reader input eagerly sought.

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