Ever since Rex Tillerson became Secretary of State, he’s been looking to dismantle the State Department. He agreed with Trump’s budget proposal to slash department funding by 31 percent, upsetting even conservative members of Congress. Even when Trump lifted his three-month hiring freeze in April, Tillerson kept the freeze in place for the State Department. At the time, he had a spokesman say,
We can’t be onboarding people when we don’t know what our reorganization is going to ultimately look like.
It’s four months later, and Tillerson apparently still doesn’t know what the reorganization will look like. But it won’t include anyone to fight foreign propaganda. Despite pleas from career officials, Tillerson is refusing to take the $80 million that Congress appropriated for the Global Engagement Center. The GEC was established to fight terrorist communication efforts, such as the ISIS recruitment videos distributed on social media.
But a law passed last December expands the GEC’s mandate to also cover state-sponsored propaganda from other countries, such as China and North Korea. The mandate also includes a country both Trump and Tillerson greatly admire: Russia.
A former State Department official told Politico that Russia factored heavily into discussions about GEC’s funding. Apparently, Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond said that extra money to counter Russian media influence would anger Moscow. To be fair, that’s probably true. The Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik News starting attacking the GEC as being itself a propaganda outlet as soon as Obama signed the law. Russia admits that they’ve added “information warfare troops” to its military, so of course they’d oppose efforts to curtail their propaganda dominance.
The real question here is whether hobbling anti-propaganda efforts reflects incompetence or corruption. With special counsel Robert Mueller investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, there is some remote chance that ongoing efforts by the GEC could provide his team with some insight into Russia’s propaganda investigation. Would Trump and Tillerson risk letting foreign propaganda run unchecked just to hobble Mueller’s investigation? Only time will tell.