Obama signs defense bill, authorizes creation of anti-propaganda organization

President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Friday, an appropriations bill that gives the Pentagon $618.7 billion, including $67 billion for overseas contingency operations (OCO), $3.2 billion more than the White House requested.

The additional OCO funding authorized by Congress will be used to give U.S. troops a 2.1 percent pay raise and increase the number of active duty Marines, Army and Air Force personnel in foreign countries.

Also attached to the 2017 NDAA is the relatively unknown Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016, a bill first introduced in March which orders the establishment of an interagency organization to “expose and counter foreign information operations directed against U.S. national security interests and advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.”

The anti-propaganda program will be run through a “Global Engagement Center”, coordinated by the State and Defense departments, along with the Director of National Intelligence and the Broadcasting Board of Governors — the latter being an independent U.S. government agency that promotes American values around the world.

Specifically, the Engagement Center will be charged with first, publishing “fact-based narratives and analysis to counter propaganda and disinformation directed at United States allies and partners.” Second, identifying nations “most susceptible to foreign government propaganda and disinformation.” And lastly, working with “allied and partner nations, particularly those frequently targeted by foreign disinformation operations . . . in order to amplify the Center’s efforts and avoid duplication.”

The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), also permits funding for non-governmental organizations that are involved in anti-propaganda campaigns to “help foster a free and vibrant press and civil society overseas”.

“The use of propaganda to undermine democracy has hit a new low,” Sen. Murphy said in a statement. “But now we are finally in a position to confront this threat head on and get out the truth. By building up independent, objective journalism in places like eastern Europe, we can start to fight back by exposing these fake narratives and empowering local communities to protect themselves.”

While the creation of a coordinated anti-propaganda campaign may seemingly be a singular response to Russia’s apparent effort to manipulate November’s presidential election through hacks of campaign communications, China responded to the news earlier in the week claiming to be victims of U.S. government targeting.

“The initial purpose of this bill was certainly against Russia,” said U.S. relations expert Shi Yinhong of Renmin University, a Chinese research institution. “But with the close relationship enjoyed by President-elect Donald Trump and his business interests in Russia, it now seems this bill is totally against China.

According to a college-level history text edited by a Hong Kong professor, this isn’t the first time the American government has made public efforts to counter foreign propaganda. In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Information Agency had offices in the then-British colony broadcasting to mainland China and providing regional information to other news media globally.

 

[The Hill] [ZeroHedge] [South China Morning Post] [Image courtesy True Activist]