Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
The 2018 midterm elections are just months away, and American election systems remain vulnerable to attack. But according to a New York Times report, the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million allocated since 2016 to protect against interference—including from Russia—in our elections.
As of March 2018, none of the “23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center—which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign—speaks Russian, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Kremlin’s efforts.”
The State Department’s refusal to act is not only a product of President Trump’s unwillingness to admit foreign powers may have played a role in his election, but also a “deep lack of confidence by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in his department’s ability to execute its historically wide-ranging mission and spend its money wisely.”
Tillerson has seemingly thrown up his hands, even telling Fox News, “If it’s their intention to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that…And we can take steps we can take, but this is something that once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it.”
If the Global Engagement Center was able to do its job, its staff would be assessing current Russian interference, which includes everything from cyber attacks to social media disinformation campaigns, and then it would “set about amplifying a different set of voices to counter them, perhaps creating a network of anti-propaganda projects dispersed around the world.”
There are thousands of Russian journalists and other professionals in exile who could help, yet Tillerson remains uninterested.
Even before Trump took office, Congress directed the Pentagon to send $60 million to the State Department specifically to coordinate government-wide efforts to combat anti-Democratic messaging from Russia and China, separate and apart from its budget to combat government-directed cyber attacks or physical meddling in voting machines. After seven months, Tillerson finally decided it was time to spend the money, but by then he had missed his fiscal year deadline. The departments then spent another five months arguing about how much the State Department should receive. It remains unclear how much they’ll get, and whether it will be received in time to protect the midterms.
Rather than carrying out the State Department’s mission, Tillerson seems intent on shirking it by “leaving a significant part of its budget unused and hundreds of important decisions unmade. Last year, the State Department spent just 79 percent of the money that Congress had authorized for the conduct of foreign affairs, the lowest such level in at least 15 years and well down from the 93 percent spent in the final year of the Obama administration, according to an analysis of data from the Office of Management and Budget.”
Ilana Novick is an AlterNet contributing writer and production editor.