The State Department’s Reaction To Russian Propaganda Will Absolutely Infuriate You

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It’s no secret that Donald Trump does not think Russian interference in the 2016 election was a big deal. In fact, the president has frequently denied that it happened at all and has called the entire investigation a “witch hunt.”

However, not only does Trump not think Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he is apparently so committed to this angle that he won’t even let the State Department counter Russian propaganda. President Obama created the State Department’s Global Engagement Center to counter terrorist propaganda, as well as that of enemy nations. One of the leaders of this project was Ahmed Younis, a college professor and Islamic scholar who was especially interested in countering the propaganda spread by Islamic extremist organizations.

However, a mere eleven months after taking the job, Younis and two other top officials are leaving the organization. Wired reports that Younis expressed frustration with “administrative incompetence.” He says that the lack of clear policy goals within the State Department as well as a lack of knowledge on the part of Trump’s appointees made the job an impossible task.

Younis told Wired:

‘Before the inauguration there was a very clear perspective on what the Global Engagement Center was supposed to be. Once it became clear that wasn’t the reality, it made no sense for me to sacrifice that much for this government job.’

The report notes that even though members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, are investigating Facebook and other U.S. companies for their role in helping spread Russian propaganda during the election, there is no action from the State Department despite it being one of the agencies specifically tasked with dealing addressing propaganda from foreign states.

A former staffer told Wired:

‘The headline is: There’s nothing that’s being done. On this issue of state aggression, I would say we’re doing almost zilch.’

The GEC was originally created to deal with terrorist propaganda, but Obama gave the task of handling Russian propaganda to them as well. At first, Younis said he was skeptical of their ability to deal with this, as addressing propaganda being put out by a state as powerful as Russia is vastly different in scope from dealing with that of terrorist organizations. However, he said he realized that both had to do with the consumption of online media and knowing how to counter such propaganda in social media, speeches and other venues.

Unfortunately, it turns out that Trump’s administration was unwilling to commit to the issue of Russian propaganda. Citing budget debates, hiring freezes, a disagreement on how to handle Russia, and an apparent lack of interest from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Younis admitted that the the GEC had gotten almost nothing done on Russia:

‘We did not get the sense we were getting through to Secretary Tillerson. You’re in this holding pattern where you’re designing and building, but unable to implement, because the money has not arrived.’

Despite some reports that Tillerson might have feared to anger Russia, Younis said that he felt it was more a matter of incoherent policy than outright malice. Regardless of the reason, it is looking like Trump’s State Department is woefully unprepared to deal with Putin’s propaganda.

Featured image via Getty Images.

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