There are multiple groups and agencies already focused on countering disinformation, but the question remains whether they are effective and efficient or a waste of taxpayer dollars. Some argue that it is time to get rid of federal ‘disinformation’ bureaus.
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Recently, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines announced the creation of a new office within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI): The Foreign Malign Influence Center (FMIC). It would encompass “election threat work, essentially looking at foreign influence and interference in elections, but it also deals with disinformation more generally.” Legislation creating the center was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2022.
Although its work nominally deals with disinformation targeting U.S. elections and public opinion within the United States, there are at least two questions that need to be asked: First, is this office essential or duplicative of other ongoing efforts? Second, is this even appropriate work in which the federal government should be engaged?
In the last few years, as disinformation and countering disinformation have become the staples of political and public policy discourse, a cottage industry has grown up within the federal government around these topics. Support in Congress means the money grab is on, with federal agencies vying to secure funds for the hot new topic to grow their bureaucracy, influence and power.
Other agencies already involved in disinformation are numerous. The State Department has the Global Engagement Center (GEC) that combats foreign disinformation through promoting U.S. interests and messaging. The GEC does its own assessments of foreign operations and shares its analyses with partners throughout the government, thereby creating an American disinformation distribution center.
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The FBI, in 2017, created its own Foreign Influence Task Force. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may be the most active of all government agencies that jumped on this bandwagon. The DHS has, or had, a Countering Foreign Influence Task Force, a Foreign Influence and Interference Branch, Countering Foreign Influence Subcommittee, and a heavily criticized, ridiculed and now disbanded “Disinformation Governance Board.”
Not to be left out, the Pentagon also established an Influence and Perception Management Office responsible for coordinating the multiple counter-disinformation efforts conducted by the military.
The bottom line is that there are multiple groups and agencies already focused on disinformation, but has anyone thought through how these agencies coordinate and enhance the mission, or are they duplicative and overlap? Are they effective and efficient or a waste of taxpayer dollars? Is the threat of a new Orwellian “Ministry of Truth” as big as it is toxic? There are many questions that need to be answered — above all, is this function for the federal government even appropriate?
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s center has as its motto, “Exposing deception in defense of liberty.” That is a noble goal. How has the federal government been fulfilling this role as it has expanded its disinformation apparatus?
The U.S. Intelligence Community, spanning eighteen different agencies across the federal government, has some of the most effective disinformation capabilities of any organization on the planet. Think about the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon. The CIA historically has participated in the undermining of foreign governments. The State Department, through its Global Engagement Center, has, as part of its mission, fighting foreign propaganda by promoting an American agenda. The Pentagon spends tremendous amounts of resources trying to deceive those who might be trying to ascertain its plans, intentions and capabilities. The American government is extremely capable at generating its own disinformation.
A lawsuit in federal court challenging the censorship-industrial complex, as journalist Michael Shellenberger has described it, exposes the government-led information war to censor what Americans think.