On December 23, 2016, President Obama signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. As Sarah Lazare reported for AlterNet, the 2017 NDAA included a provision to create a new federal center with “sweeping” surveillance powers to counter foreign “propaganda and disinformation.” The Global Engagement Center, Lazare wrote, will be granted “broad and ill-defined powers to surveil the ‘populations most susceptible to propaganda,’ compile reporting and social media messaging critical of the U.S. government and disseminate pro-American propaganda.”
The NDAA states, “The purpose of the Center shall be to lead, synchronize, and coordinate efforts of the Federal Government to recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United States national security interests.” For example, the Center will be responsible for keeping track of “counterfactual narratives abroad that threaten the national security of the United States and its allied nations.” As Lazare noted, the imprecise wording of the NDAA language “could be interpreted as targeting information and communications critical of the U.S. government.”
The AlterNet report quoted Michael Macleod-Ball, chief of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, “We have big concerns with the retention of that information and how it might be shared across agencies… Whether you’re talking about law enforcement or intelligence officials, having the government in the business of monitoring individual communications is very troubling to us.”
The NDAA specified that the president appoint the Global Engagement Center’s director. As Lazare noted, passage of the NDAA took place at the very end of 2016, with “little debate or notice,” despite its “broad implications.” Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman and Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy initially proposed the Global Engagement Center in separate legislation.
As of March 2017, this story appears to be significantly under-reported in the US corporate press.
Source: Sarah Lazare, “Obama Just Signed off on a Shadowy New ‘Anti-Propaganda’ Center That Will Be Handed Over to Trump,” AlterNet, December 30, 2016, http://www.alternet.org/human-rights/obama-just-signed-shadowy-new-anti-propaganda-center-will-be-handed-over-trump.
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