BY MORGAN CHALFANT – 06/29/17 12:55 PM EDT
A Republican lawmaker warned Thursday that drastically reducing the State Department’s budget would hurt efforts to counter disinformation worldwide.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) argued during a panel discussion on disinformation that the department’s budget cannot be cut because U.S. diplomats need to be engaging with their partners abroad to counter disinformation, particularly that spread by Russia.
“We can’t cut the State Department 30 percent because we need our diplomats out there working with our partners to stop this,” Hurd said at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.
The Trump administration has proposed cutting the State Department’s budget by 29 percent in fiscal year 2018, including sharp cuts to foreign aid.
The panel discussion Thursday largely focused on Russia’s use of cyberattacks and disinformation to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“When the next GRU officer is getting trained in Russia, they’re … going to get told this is the greatest covert action campaign in the history of mother Russia. Why? Because it drove, it created a wedge — whether real or perceived — between the president, the intelligence community and the American people,” Hurd said, referring to Russia’s main intelligence directorate. “We can’t let that continue.”
A State Department official involved in efforts to counter disinformation abroad defended the department’s efforts during the discussion Thursday.
“The State Department with the [Pentagon] and its interagency partners has been doing a lot to inoculate foreign audiences for a long time,” said Dr. Jennifer Lambert, deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Analytics at the Bureau of International Information Programs.
Lambert said that new technology has caused the department to adjust and ramp up its efforts to counter disinformation.
“Artificial intelligence means that disinformation can take advantage of situations much faster in a much greater volume than we’ve seen before,” she said. “We’ve just now had to add to our skillset and our technical capacity and our tool belt to play on this playing field.”
The State Department has several bureaus involved in working to deliver credible information to audiences in the U.S. and abroad as well as to counter disinformation.
For instance, the Global Engagement Center — initially formed as an office focused on countering terrorist propaganda — saw its efforts expand to include countering propaganda from Russia, China and other nations as a result of legislation last year.
President Trump has been criticized by lawmakers in both parties over the proposed cuts to the State Department budget. The department, meanwhile, has defended the budget request as evidence of Trump’s commitment to “a leaner, more efficient government.”