Whether you are a conservative, a liberal, or someone who purports to not care about politics, you should be alarmed by what is happening in our government.
Quietly in December, both the Senate and House passed a law creating a modern Ministry of Truth. Then President Obama signed it into law on December 23, 2016.
The law creates a new entity called The Center. The powers and scope of this organization are extraordinary. The mission of The Center is to create and disseminate “strategic narratives” in coordination with paid and unpaid partners around the world in a clandestine manner. The partners will collect and analyze all available information to discover foreign government disinformation and then ‘counter’ that narrative by unspecified means.
The law was passed as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017.
S.2943 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 Search for “GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT CENTER”
This is real. It was formerly a law proposed by Senators Portman and Murphy called the “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016” and has now been buried in the S.2943 act. This wikipedia article covers the origins.
Every news story gets spun by all sides. So, I decided to look at the actual text of the law myself. It is amazing and should be preserved for all time. For the intrepid, I walk through the actual text of the law below so that the reader can witness it for themselves. None of the text has been altered with the exception of my added boldface emphasis.
This is going to be tedious… but here we go…
S.2943 - National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017
SEC. 1259C. GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT CENTER.
(a) Establishment.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, shall establish a Global Engagement Center (in this section referred to as the “Center”). The purposes of the Center are—
Summary: Within 6 months, in coordination with, roughly anyone, the Secretary of State shall create The Center.
Officially, it is the “Global Engagement Center”, but given our penchant for brevity, The Center is the more likely moniker. The label “Ministry of Truth” wouldn’t be far off, as it will engage in monitoring and adjusting what the world believes to be true. Their job will be to make people believe the strategic narratives.
(1) to lead and coordinate the compilation and examination of information on foreign government information warfare efforts monitored and integrated by the appropriate interagency entities with responsibility for such information, including information provided by recipients of information access fund grants awarded under subsection (f) and other sources;
There’s a lot in this paragraph.
The following terms are used throughout this law to refer to a single concept:
- foreign propaganda
- foreign government propaganda
- foreign government information warfare efforts
- disinformation efforts
- disinformation directed against United States national security interests
- foreign misinformation and disinformation
Since US Allies are themselves foreign governments, I’ll refer to all of the above as anti-strategic-narratives. While the narratives generated by The Center will be called strategic-narratives.
Note that the first paragraph ends with the caveat: “and other sources”. Hence, any prior narrowing of the scope of sources is moot. Data may come from any source. This includes all data available to the US Government, CIA, NSA, FBI, DoD, etc. in addition to all data available to any partner of The Center. That includes print, television, radio, Internet, social-media and more as described later in the law.
Summary: The Center will lead a group of global partners to inspect all accessible data worldwide to detect anti-strategic-narratives.
Those partners will include departments within the US Government in addition to any recipient of an Information Access Fund (IAF) grant. As we’ll see later, that can be pretty much anyone desiring to partner with The Center. There is no requirement to disclose with whom The Center is partnering. Given the clandestine nature of the mission, the partnership is likely to remain known only to The Center.
(2) to establish a framework for the integration of critical data and analysis provided by the appropriate interagency entities with responsibility for such information on foreign propaganda and disinformation efforts into the development of national strategy;
A framework for integration of data requires a central repository. Here the construction is mandated, but not given a name. I’ll name this DCAS (data collection and analysis) — a central repository of data collected by The Center and its partners in order to discover and analyze anti-strategic-narratives.
Summary: The Center will create DCAS.
(3) to develop, plan, and synchronize, in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, and the heads of other relevant Federal departments and agencies, whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign propaganda and disinformation directed against United States national security interests and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support United States allies and interests;
With the trailing “and interests”, the meaning is broadened to be anything The Center deems to be in our interest.
Summary: The Center will create initiatives anywhere within the US Government to expose and counter anti-strategic-narratives. In addition, The Center will advance strategic-narratives it deems to be in our interest.
There is no definition of what it means to “expose and counter”. Reason would dictate these as possibilities:
- Advance a narrative that is in direct opposition
- Block dissemination of the anti-strategic-narrative
- Modify the anti-strategic-narrative as it is disseminated
- Create a new narrative which combines an obviously ludicrous narrative with the message to be countered. e.g. add space aliens and disseminate widely
- Discredit the author of the anti-strategic-narrative
- Apply pressure by any legal means on the author (e.g. tax audit)
- Create narratives which mischaracterize the target narrative.
Among other things, this appears to legalize censorship of any data The Center determines to be anti-strategic-narrative. No definition is given of what it means to “counter” a narrative, nor to whom such counter-measures might apply.
(4) to demonstrate new technologies, methodologies and concepts relevant to the missions of the Center that can be transitioned to other departments or agencies of the United States Government, foreign partners or allies, or other nongovernmental entities;
Summary: The Center will help domestic and global partners implement data collection and monitoring systems that feed into DCAS.
(5) to establish cooperative or liaison relationships with foreign partners and allies in consultation with interagency entities with responsibility for such activities, and other entities, such as academia, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector; and
Here, the inclusion of “other entities” and “private sector” open this up to any group or individual world wide; be they a government, a private organization, or an individual; foreign or domestic.
Summary: The Center may work closely with anyone it chooses.
No description of ‘cooperative relationship’ is stated. Can partners access DCAS? Can partners specify new strategic narratives to be advanced by The Center? Can the partners find out which narratives repeated by the media are true, and which are part of a strategic narrative effort?
As these partners are sharing sensitive information, it is reasonable to assume they will have access to DCAS. See Information Access Fund in section (f).
(6) to identify shortfalls in United States capabilities in any areas relevant to the United States Government’s mission, and recommend necessary enhancements or changes.
The Center will strive to identify any vulnerabilities of the US in any area and will recommend changes.
(b) Functions.—The Center shall carry out the following functions:
(1) Integrating interagency and international efforts to track and evaluate counterfactual narratives abroad that threaten the national security interests of the United States and United States allies.
To discover which anti-strategic-narratives are reaching the US population, The Center would necessarily have to monitor all information reaching the populous. Any suggestion that activities of The Center are restricted to being strictly outside of the United States are badly mistaken.
(2) Integrating, and analyzing relevant information, data, analysis, and analytics from United States Government agencies, allied nations, think tanks, academic institutions, civil society groups, and other nongovernmental organizations.
As previously established, The Center may collect information from anyone.
(3) Developing and disseminating fact-based narratives and analysis to counter propaganda and disinformation directed at United States allies and partners.
Summary: The Center will create and distribute strategic-narratives wherever necessary in the interests of the current membership (US, allies, and partners).
(4) Identifying current and emerging trends in foreign propaganda and disinformation based on the information provided by the appropriate interagency entities with responsibility for such information, including information obtained from print, broadcast, online and social media, support for third-party outlets such as think tanks, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations, and the use of covert or clandestine special operators and agents to influence targeted populations and governments in order to coordinate and shape the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures to expose and refute foreign misinformation and disinformation and proactively promote fact-based narratives and policies to audiences outside the United States.
Paragraph 4 seems to be written to be incomprehensible by human minds. Let’s simplify things by reduction [in square brackets] and by breaking the sentence structure apart. Feel free to skip to the summary if you don’t wish to see the entrails.
“current and emerging trends in foreign propaganda and disinformation based on the information provided by the appropriate interagency entities with responsibility for such information” = anti-strategic-narratives
“including information obtained from print, broadcast, online and social media, support for third-party outlets such as think tanks, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations” adds no new information as we’ve already established that the data can come from anywhere. There are no limitations.
“covert or clandestine special operators and agents” = spies
“targeted populations and governments” = enemy
“coordinate and shape the development of tactics, techniques, and procedures to expose and refute foreign misinformation and disinformation” = disrupt their propaganda system
“proactively promote fact-based narratives and policies” = advance the strategic-narrative
Here is paragraph 4 again with the substitutions:
(4) Identifying [anti-strategic-narrative data] [from anywhere], and the use of [spies] to influence [the enemy] in order to [disrupt their propaganda systems] and [advance the strategic-narrative] to audiences outside the United States.
Half way though the subject changes from analyzing information to authorizing the use of spies. Finally, a 3rd clause, tells us that The Center will only advance the strategic-narrative to audiences outside of the U.S. We should be clear that it is not possible to spread misinformation only to a targeted audience in the Internet age.
The new information added in section 4 is that The Center is authorized to use spies. Or put another way… agents acting secretly in the interest of The Center.
Summary: The Center can enlist a covert force of undisclosed agents as needed.
(5) Facilitating the use of a wide range of technologies and techniques by sharing expertise among agencies, seeking expertise from external sources, and implementing best practices.
Summary: The Center will seek the help of experts and do whatever it deems ‘best practice’.
(6) Identifying gaps in United States capabilities in areas relevant to the Center’s mission and recommending necessary enhancements or changes.
Summary: The Center will recommend how to enhance itself.
(7) Identifying the countries and populations most susceptible to foreign government propaganda and disinformation based on information provided by appropriate interagency entities.
Summary: The Center will determine where action is needed.
(8) Administering the information access fund established pursuant to subsection (f).
Summary: The Center can provide funds to unspecified and unrevealed groups worldwide.
There is no explicit mention of where the IAF money comes from. Presumably part of the startup costs granted in this bill for the first two years of operation.
(9) Coordinating with allied and partner nations, particularly those frequently targeted by foreign disinformation operations, and international organizations and entities such as the NATO Center of Excellence on Strategic Communications, the European Endowment for Democracy, and the European External Action Service Task Force on Strategic Communications, in order to amplify the Center’s efforts and avoid duplication.
With the inclusion of “entities such as”, this paragraph becomes a restatement:
Summary: The Center can coordinate with anyone it sees fit.
(c) Coordinator.—The Secretary of State shall appoint a full-time Coordinator to lead the Center.
(d) Employees Of The Center.—
(1) DETAILEES.—Any Federal Government employee may be detailed to the Center without reimbursement, and such detail shall be without interruption or loss of civil service status or privilege for a period of not more than three years.
Summary: The Center can require any Federal Government employee to report to it for up to three years.
The individuals will keep their prior job, pay, status, etc, but will be working for The Center. There is no reporting requirement to show how many, or which, individuals have been detailed to The Center. The salaries of these individuals will continue to come from other branches of government – making the true budget of The Center unknown.
(2) PERSONAL SERVICE CONTRACTORS.—The Secretary of State may exercise the authority provided under section 3161 of title 5, United States Code, to establish a program (referred to in this subsection as the “Program”) for hiring United States citizens or aliens as personal services contractors for purposes of personnel resources of the Center, if—
(A) the Secretary determines that existing personnel resources are insufficient;
(B) the period in which services are provided by a personal services contractor under the Program, including options, does not exceed three years, unless the Secretary determines that exceptional circumstances justify an extension of up to one additional year;
(C) not more than 20 United States citizens or aliens are employed as personal services contractors under the Program at any time; and
(D) the Program is only used to obtain specialized skills or experience or to respond to urgent needs.
Summary: The Center can only hire 20 contractors at a time.
(e) Authorization Of Appropriations.—Under “Diplomatic and Consular Programs”, for each of fiscal years 2017 and 2018, $10,000,000 is authorized to be appropriated to the Department of State and may remain available until expended to carry out the functions, duties, and responsibilities of the Center.
Summary: The Center may spend $20M over the next two years.
This does not include salaries of any detailed employees.
(f) Information Access Fund.—
Information Access Fund (IAF) – The name implies that members receive access to DCAS. However, that is never described nor prohibited.
Keep in mind that while this section is about paying funds to groups selected by The Center, there is no such requirement. Should a group choose to partner with The Center at nominal or no cost, that is not prohibited. In practice, there may be funded and unfunded partners.
(1) AUTHORITY FOR GRANTS.—The Center is authorized to provide grants or contracts of financial support to civil society groups, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, federally-funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions for the following purposes:
(A) To support local independent media who are best placed to refute foreign disinformation and manipulation in their own communities.
(B) To collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda directed at the United States and its allies and partners.
(C) To analyze and report on tactics, techniques, and procedures of foreign government information warfare with respect to disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda.
(D) To support efforts by the Center to counter efforts by foreign governments to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability of the United States and United States allies and partners.
Summary: The Center may pay anyone to act on its behalf in support of the mission.
This explicitly includes paying journalists to “support efforts” of The Center. Presumably, private organizations, which choose to cooperate with The Center, may disseminate strategic-narratives in US media markets.
It seems likely that grant recipients would not be subject to FOIA requests, nor public review of their actions. Indeed, as they are from many countries, they may not be subject to US law.
(2) FUNDING AVAILABILITY AND LIMITATIONS.—The Secretary of State shall provide that each organization that applies to receive funds under this subsection undergoes a vetting process in accordance with the relevant existing regulations to ensure its bona fides, capability, and experience, and its compatibility with United States interests and objectives.
It is reasonable to believe that the head of The Center could get nearly any organization approved thought the above process.
Summary: The Center may pay anyone to act on its behalf in support of the mission.
(g) Limitation.—None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by the Act to carry out this section shall be used for purposes other than countering foreign propaganda and misinformation that threatens United States national security.
Summary: Money made available for the IAF will only be used to counteract information The Center deems threatening to US security.
As linkage to national security is easy to establish in all cases, this seems of little import.
(h) Termination Of Center.—The Center shall terminate on the date that is 5 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.
Summary: The Center lives for five years unless Congress passes a law to renew it or passes a law to end it earlier.
It cannot be terminated by the Executive branch. No funding beyond 2 years is provided, so action within that time is required for funding unless The Center requires no further funds from the US government.
That our Congress, with full bipartisan support, passed this law is a shameful act.
The Center has the potential to significantly transform and damage our society. There is very little public awareness of this law. News that our government will be intentionally misleading us is no longer news. The creation of this new institution was quietly imposed on an unaware public.