U.S. Intelligence Community Has a New ‘Disinformation’ Center

Director Avril Haines of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) testif
Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP/, file)

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has stood up a new office to oversee the intelligence community’s efforts to combat “disinformation” and foreign influence campaigns in the United States, Director Avril Haines announced Thursday.

“Congress put into law that we should establish a foreign malign influence center in the intelligence community. We stood that up and it encompasses our election threat executive work essentially looking at foreign influence and interference in elections, and deals with disinformation more generally,” Haines (pictured) told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing.

She said the office would support the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) monitor threats from China, Russia, Iran, and others so that policymakers can counter them.

The office is meant to coordinate efforts of the many government agencies that have sprung up in the wake of the 2016 election, when Democrats blamed Russia for Donald Trump’s presidential win.

The center will be focused on “foreign malign influence” aimed at U.S. elections but also at “public opinion within the United States,” according to the law that established the FMIC.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, left, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines walk through the Senate Subway, on their way to a closed briefing at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday, May 4, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty)

The new center comes amid House Republicans’ efforts to reduce the countering disinformation bureaucracy over concern they are aimed at targeting conservatives and free speech.

Last week, a group of Republicans demanded more information from Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the GEC, which they say has expanded well beyond its primary mission of fighting terrorism to funding groups that hound conservative media outlets under the guise of diminishing disinformation, Breitbart News’ Sean Moran reported.

The GEC funded the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a foreign data-driven advocacy organization, which “created blacklists of U.S. domestic media voices to cripple U.S. citizen journalists’ advertising revenue,” according to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (TX), Foreign Affairs Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee Chair Brian Mast (FL), and GOP Reps. Chris Smith (FL), Darrell Issa (CA), Maria Salazar (FL), Keith Self (TX), Cory Mills (FL), and Ken Buck (CO).

Specifically, the GDI created the Dynamic Exclusion List, which lists the likeliness of an outlet to be at risk of spreading disinformation. The GDI, which also receives funding from George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, often labels right-wing outlets as being at risk of spreading disinformation.

Federal government cannot scrap the First Amendment merely because they want to curb “disinformation” or “misinformation,” the Republicans argued.

Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier speaks during a hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The need for a new counter-disinformation agency was also questioned by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) has called into question the need for the FMIC, according to the Intercept. Warner expressed concerns in January 2022 it would duplicate existing agencies.

According to the Intercept, there are at least four organizations the Department of Homeland Security to combat foreign “disinformation,” in addition to ones in the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), State Department and also, now, the Pentagon. The outlet detailed the Pentagon recently created the Influence and Perception Management Office to oversee its various counter-disinformation efforts, which was not publicly announced.

The Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein noted:

That foreign governments such as Russia spread lies as part of propaganda to advance their own interests is not in dispute. But the efforts to counter disinformation have now become a cottage industry that critics suggest has grown far out of proportion to the threat.

He also noted that last month, a Pentagon-funded RAND Corporation report called for reducing “overattribution of disinformation on social media to Russia.”

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