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“On the Offensive”: US State Dept. Gives $40M Boost to “Troll Farm” Propaganda Efforts

“On the Offensive”: US State Dept. Gives $40M Boost to “Troll Farm” Propaganda Efforts

“On the Offensive”: US State Dept. Gives $40M Boost to “Troll Farm” Propaganda Efforts
March 01
17:01 2018

WASHINGTON — As U.S. corporate media outlets and lawmakers continue to work themselves and the U.S. public into a lather over alleged “foreign propaganda,” the State Department has launched a new initiative to advance the U.S. government’s own disinformation operations in league with its allies in Silicon Valley.

Announced on Monday, the move will see $40 million in Defense Department funds added to the existing $35 million budget of the Global Engagement Center (GEC), more than doubling the amount of money in the counter-propaganda office’s war chest.

Jason Ditz of has mocked the hypocrisy of the move, calling the center a “troll farm” meant to continue the “embarrassing” and failed past attempts to manage online narratives.

The move comes as netizens at home and abroad increasingly question the dubious legitimacy of U.S. imperialism, while beltway figures pin the blame for online skepticism on state-run and independent news outlets deemed “fake news.”


“On the offensive” and into the breach!

A House Intelligence Committee task force questions attorney's from Google, Twitter and Facebook about Russian ads during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 1, 2017. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

An Intelligence Committee task force questions attorney’s from Google, Twitter and Facebook about Russian ads during a hearing on Capitol Hill, Nov. 1, 2017. (AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Officials hope the influx of funds will allow the State Department to intensify its fight to convince audiences of the beneficial global role of U.S. imperialism. In a statement, department Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said:

This funding is critical to ensuring that we continue an aggressive response to malign influence and disinformation and that we can leverage deeper partnerships with our allies, Silicon Valley, and other partners in this fight … It is not merely a defensive posture that we should take, we also need to be on the offensive.”

The GEC’s attempt to tackle alleged “Russian meddling” in anticipation of the 2018 midterms will include a new $1 million Information Access Fund grant that will eventually grow to $5 million, and will be awarded to groups willing to assist the State Department’s propaganda war. According to a statement released Monday:

Under the Information Access Fund, civil society groups, media content providers, non-governmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies and academic institutions will be eligible to compete for grants from the GEC to advance their important work to counter propaganda and disinformation.”

The move comes amid a continued hue and cry over the St. Petersburg, Russia-based social media management firm Internet Research Agency (IRA), which stands accused of attempting to disrupt the 2016 U.S. presidential elections through ad placements and opinionated comments directed at U.S. and Russian audiences.

The push to boost the capabilities of the GEC – which critics had called “low priority, understaffed and without real leadership” –  is the most recent move in Washington’s “long war” to win the hearts and minds of global netizens.

The GEC was created in March of 2016 to counter alleged “terrorist propaganda” from groups like the Islamic State group (ISIS) through one-on-one online interactions with people in regions like Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Iraq’s Mosul.

The center was subsequently given another mission: focusing on the “threat to democracy” posed in the form of news from state media outlets in Russia and other state rivals to the United States, including China, Iran, and North Korea.

Watch | JD Maddox explains what the Global Engagement Center is and what they do

According to former GEC head Ahmed Younis, once Donald Trump’s officials took the reins, the GEC became bogged down in “administrative incompetence” and incoherent policy proposals. Other former GEC personnel have called the center utterly useless.

Now, though, the current 66 employees at the GEC are tasked with working alongside U.S. security agencies like the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, as well as social media corporations, in a bid to “target the American audience” with their counter-propaganda messaging.

Watch | The DoD’s Tightening the Net on ISIL


Washington: No stranger to black-hat social media and spy ops

In March, 2011, The Guardian revealed that United States Central Command (Centcom), which is tasked with overseeing U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, had awarded a contract to a California corporation for the development of an “online persona management service” that would allow U.S. service members to control up to 10 separate identities or “sock puppets” for use online, anywhere in the world “without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries.”

At the time, Centcom spokesman Commander Bill Speaks said:

The technology supports classified blogging activities on foreign-language websites to enable Centcom to counter violent extremist and enemy propaganda outside the U.S.”

The contract also required that operators rely on one “virtual private server” located within the U.S., as well as others that would be camouflaged so that the fake personas appeared to be real people based in different locations throughout the world. By means of what it called “traffic mixing,” sock puppet operators’ internet usage would be blended with the usage of non-Centcom netizens so as to provide operators with “excellent cover and powerful deniability.”


U.S. imperialism’s long propaganda war

In an essay published last year, Professor Roland G. Simbulan of the University of the Philippines noted:

The grand ambition of imperial powers is to create a cultural infrastructure that would hold firm the dominant imperial policy frameworks that would shape the values, ethics and morality of the times, no matter how distorted. The core and fabric of American media is to argue that imperial aggression and American values are for our own good.”

The United States already wields a highly formidable cultural-ideological apparatus for securing the legitimacy of its policies in the eyes of global audiences, including but not limited to U.S. intellectual institutions and think-tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, the Harvard Center for International Affairs, the Atlantic Council, the RAND Corporation, and The Heritage Foundation.

These centers, as well as leading academic figures, enjoy significant financial support from Washington and U.S.-based transnational corporations, for the purpose of combating not just so-called “terrorist propaganda” but also left-leaning “populism,” income-redistribution-oriented policies, and anti-militarist sentiments abroad.

The ideas produced by these think-tanks and institutions are proliferated to global audiences through books, magazines, academic journals, television news programs, and even through Hollywood films.

However, it’s clear that the Empire’s spin-doctors are on the back foot while the credibility of U.S. global hegemony becomes increasingly hard to justify on its own merits.

Whether the new Washington propaganda initiative is another high-dollar boondoggle rendered impotent by bureaucracy and incoherence or a sleek Orwellian nightmare capable of effectively manufacturing consent is yet to be seen.

Top Photo  | PIXABAY/Creative Commons

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

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