- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly didn’t use $A77 million offered to him by the Pentagon to fight Russian influence.
- In sum, the State Department spent a whole year trying to decide how to use Defense Department funds, and in the end only secured a third of all the potentially available money.
- Intelligence veterans agree that not enough is being done by President Donald Trump and other leaders like Tillerson to combat Russian interference, which will likely continue to take place in future US elections.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was offered $A77 million by the Defense Department last year to fight Russian election interference efforts — but after Tillerson waited for seven months trying to decide whether he wanted to spend it or not, the Defense Department withdrew its offer, and none of the money was used, according to The New York Times.
A similar scenario played out during the 2018 fiscal year, The Times reported, in which another $A77 million became available. This time, after another five months of back-and-forth, Tillerson’s State Department was finally given $A51 million to counter Russian efforts, a mere third of a potential total of $A155 million the department could have used to match the threat.
The initial $A77 million sum was directed for transfer to the State Department by former President Barack Obama during the 2017 fiscal year, which began on October 1, 2016. The State Department will receive the $A51 million sum in April of this year, The Times reported.
Every intelligence agency that investigated the matter concluded by early 2017 that the Russian government had purposefully interfered in the 2016 US elections. And yet over a year since the election meddling took place, little has been done to counter efforts by Russia to intervene in future elections that are already underway.
At the State Department, the division that has been tasked with addressing Russian social media influence, the Global Engagement Center, has yet to take on the issue, and is still currently focusing on counter jihadist and terrorist propaganda, according to The Times. No one on the team speaks Russian.
Tillerson admitted last month that the US was woefully underprepared for future Russian interference efforts.
“I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,” Tillerson told Fox News. “The point is, if it’s their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. 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 preempt it.”
Intelligence agencies and the office of the special counsel Robert Mueller, which is investigating ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, have determined the Russian interference effort in 2016 was executed in two main ways — an online influence campaign that utilized Facebook ads, false social media accounts, and automated Twitter “bots” meant to amplify divisive political messages, and a hacking campaign that included the infiltration of US election systems and the theft of Democratic National Committee emails.
According to US intelligence officials, Russia “successfully penetrated” some voting systems in the US. Seven states reported that their systems were hacked by Russians, according to Reuters, but the Department of Homeland Security has disputed these claims.
A lack of leadership
The State Department and other departments and agencies have been unable to devote almost any resources to try to address the matter largely because Tillerson and Trump have not authorized them to do so.
Speaking before lawmakers last month, US Cyber Command chief Adm. Mike Rogers said that although he had not yet been directed by the president through the Defense Department to confront Russian cyber operations, he has been trying to do all he can to find strategies to meet the threat.
“We have not opted to engage in some of the same behaviors we are seeing,”Rogers said, speaking about American efforts to confront continuing Russian online infiltration operations. “It has not changed the calculus or the behavior on behalf of the Russians.”
Rogers agreed with Tillerson that Russia will continue their election interference operations.
“I believe that President Putin is clearly come to the conclusion there’s little price to play here,” Rogers said. “And that therefore, ‘I can continue this activity.'”