The United States Senate pulled a fast one. On December 8, it passed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act was added to the authorization bill.
“The passage of this bill in the Senate today takes us one critical step closer to effectively confronting the extensive, and destabilizing, foreign propaganda and disinformation operations being waged against us,” said Senator Rob Portman, who introduced the original bill along with Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy. “While the propaganda and disinformation threat has grown, the U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel. Today we are finally signaling that enough is enough; the United States will no longer sit on the sidelines. We are going to confront this threat head-on. With the help of this bipartisan bill, the disinformation and propaganda used against our allies and our interests will fail.”
The following day, the CIA concluded with “high confidence” Russia had hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems along with Democratic organizations, reported The New York Times.
The CIA and the National Security Agency say they have identified individual Russians responsible for the intrusion but have so far not named names or publicly released information to make their case.
Zero Hedge notes the bill “further chips away at press liberties in the US, and which sets the stage for future which hunts and website shutdowns, purely as a result of an accusation that any one media outlet or site is considered as a source of ‘disinformation and propaganda’ and is shut down by the government.”
Prior to the passage of the NDAA an anonymous group calling itself Propaganda Or Not listed dozens of alternative news websites it claims are responsible for disseminating Russian propaganda. The Washington Post cited PropOrNot when it published an article alleging the Russian’s are responsible for “fake news” intended to destabilize the election and get Donald Trump elected.
“The flood of ‘fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation,” the newspaper reported on November 24.
The Washington Post refused to retract the article after website publishers complained and threatened to take legal action. Instead, it appended the article with an editor’s note. It said the newspaper does not “vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do so.”
The disclaimer, however, did not prevent the establishment media from denouncing the alternative media as Russian collaborators. The “fake news” story dominated headlines.
The NDAA will establish the Center for Information Analysis and Response. It will “track and evaluate counterfactual narratives abroad that threaten the national security interests of the United States and United States allies” and develop and disseminate “fact-based narratives and analysis to counter propaganda.”
Although the bill indicates the effort will be focused abroad, many of the websites cited by PropOrNot and the Post are located in the United States. The fact alternative media websites are situated in the United States, however, will not moderate action the government takes. The establishment argues domestic websites are part of a large Russian effort to penetrate media in the United States and this represents a serious threat that must be dealt with.
If the legislation is signed by the president it will “increase the authority, resources, and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include state actors like Russia and China in addition to violent extremists.”
The Global Engagement Center is based out of the State Department. It offers services ranging from planning thematic social media campaigns, providing factual information countering alleged disinformation, building capacity for selected third parties to effectively utilize social media, and research and evaluation, explains Harry Henderson. In short, the center will design propaganda for the government.
“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,” Portman explains.
Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.
In 2013, the NDAA passed by Congress negated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 1987. Both set legal restrictions on domestic use of propaganda intended for foreign audiences. With the passage of the NDAA, the State Department and Pentagon began to officially use propaganda against the American people.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the Pentagon spends more than $626 million per year on propaganda, more than all over government agencies combined. GAO statistics show that from 2006-2015, the Pentagon was allocated 66 percent of the $1 billion annual federal spending on public relations.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has a history of undermining governments. “In a number of countries, including Venezuela and Bolivia, USAID is acting more as an agency involved in covert action, like the CIA, than as an aid or development agency,” writes Mark Weisbrot.
USAID trained police in Guatemala; trained police, ran prisons, and participated in the Phoenix assassination program during the Vietnam war; backed Russian “democrats” during the downfall of Yeltsin in Russia; and worked with George Soros and the State Department to engineer a coup in Ukraine.
USAID also engages in the dissemination of propaganda. In 2010, the agency paid contractors to develop ZunZuneo, an online social networking and microblogging service targeting Cubans. The Twitter-like platform encouraged Cubans to revolt against the government and foment a “Cuban Spring.”
The Broadcasting Board of Governors is the body that manages the US overseas propaganda service, including Voice of America, Al-Hurra, Radio Free Europe, Radio Marti, and others. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were run by the CIA. In 1971, the CIA said it had ceased funding overseas propaganda but continued “informal supervision” of project activities.
In 1999, the Broadcasting Board Governors “became the independent, autonomous entity responsible for all U.S. government and government sponsored, non-military, international broadcasting," according to their website.
In addition to government agencies, Sen. Portman’s bill “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.”
The legislation reveals the establishment is pulling out all the stops and will significantly expand its propaganda efforts. If the NDAA is signed by the president, we can expect “whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests,” in other words, the interests of the corporate oligarchy and its political class.
The establishment media has laid the groundwork, portraying the alternative media is part of a Russian propaganda campaign. Publishers of alternative media websites should expect to be targeted if this bill becomes law. In addition to the overt and publicly revealed propaganda efforts of the State Department, the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and NGOs, alternative news websites should prepare to become targets of covert cyber warfare. In April 2015, secretary of defense Carter Ashton announced the Pentagon is ready to wage preemptive cyber war.
It is, to say the least, ironic the United States has expressed outrage over a supposed Russian propaganda campaign while at the same time operating a massive propaganda apparatus targeting millions of people, including Russians and now the American people.
Kurt Nimmo, Newsbud Producer & Analyst, is a writer, editor, producer and researcher based in New Mexico. His research centers on international geopolitics and national politics in the United States. He is the former lead editor and writer for Infowars and now edits Another Day in The Empire. His most recent books are Donald Trump and the War on Islam and Another Day in the Empire: The Reign of George W. Bush and the Total War Neocons.