Lazy eyes listen
The United States has developed a Foreign Malign Influence Center to address foreign threats to elections as well as “public opinion” within the country, according to Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday.
The FMIC, which reports to the Director of National Intelligence, has access to “all intelligence possessed or created pertaining to foreign malign information, including election security.” Its director, Jeffrey Wichman, was previously the CIA’s Counterintelligence Mission Center’s chief of analysis.
For the purposes of the agency, ‘foreign’ means originating in Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, or “any other foreign country that the Director of the Center” deems appropriate, while ‘foreign malign influence’ is defined as “any hostile effort undertaken by, or at the direction of, or on behalf of, or with the substantial support of,” one of the named countries to influence, covertly or overtly, US government or state policy or “public opinion within the United States.”
While the FMIC was allegedly established in September in response to recent legislation, Thursday’s session was the first public acknowledgement of its existence. Its creation sparked debate, with some lawmakers and intelligence officials questioning the need for another entity with the same mandate as the Global Engagement Center, a State Department subsidiary tasked with disseminating American propaganda to combat foreign propaganda.
In Thursday’s hearing, Haines addressed some of those concerns, stating that the FMIC was seeking to “assist the Global Engagement Center and others throughout the US government in understanding what are the plans and intentions of the key actors in this space: China, Russia, Iran, and so on.”
Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, countering ‘foreign disinformation’ has become something of an obsession for government bureaucrats, with half a dozen new bodies cropping up. Along with the GEC, which was established in 2017, the Pentagon quietly established an Influence and Perception Management Office last year, joining the Department of Homeland Security’s Foreign Influence and Interference Branch, Countering Foreign Influence Task Force, and the doomed Disinformation Governance Board, as well as the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force.
However, Pentagon contractor RAND Corporation has admitted that Russia’s role is likely exaggerated. In a research completed last year, the think tank warned that blaming Moscow for all material that Washington does not like is likely to backfire, encouraging the Defense Department to prevent “overattribution of disinformation on social media to Russia.”
“Pointing the finger at Russia in every instance of activity on social media resembling Russian interference distorts understanding of the threat,” the report stated.