So far Trump’s response to Russian meddling in the 2016 election has been little more than yelling “NO COLLUSION” to fill any silence and absolutely nothing else. But now it’s clear that the government’s official response is right in line with his: do nothing.
The New York Times reports that of the $120 million allotted to the State Department to fight Russian meddling at the end of 2016, the department has spent $0.
Not only that, the sector of the Department tasked with handling the Russian issue has no Russian speakers.
“Not one of the 23 analysts working in the department’s Global Engagement Center — which has been tasked with countering Moscow’s disinformation campaign — speaks Russian.” https://t.co/BoKydxkc6F
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) March 4, 2018
This is akin to the state of affairs in the late 90s, pre-9/11, when only 8 out of the FBI’s 10,000 agents were Arabic speakers. It was only after the cataclysmic tragedy of September 11 at the hands of Arabic speaking Al Qaeda that the intelligence community got proactive about being about to counter the threat. The question now is, are we on that same path?
This is a failure of leadership at all levels. This is an indication of Trump’s inability or unwillingness to acknowledge the meddling happened at all. To direct funds towards countering Russian meddling would be seen as his tacit confirmation that it happened and might therefore call into question the legitimacy of his presidency.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also expressed doubts that the department is even capable of countering the threat. So his approach is basically “walk it off.”
The Global Engagement Center hasn’t even received any of the $120 million allotted to it at the end of 2016. Tillerson spent seven months deciding what to do with a $60 million disbursement Congress sent over to the center at the end of the Obama administration. By the time the State Department finally sent in its request for money in September 2017, the Pentagon decided the end of the fiscal year was too close and there was nothing they could do.
There is also a hiring freeze that is hampering the Department’s ability to bring on the computer programmers and language specialists needed to take on the Russians.
James K. Glassman, a Bush Administration diplomacy expert sees this as a failure of leadership, that the problem stems from the top: a president and secretary unwilling to do anything about the problem.
Department heads of other sectors of the State Department have volunteered to contribute portions of their own budgets to kickstart the efforts, pending the delivery of any of that $120 million.
With this combination of dormant leadership, hiring freezes, and delayed funding, the US is a sitting duck for the coming 2018 midterm elections. Will the President heed the mistakes of the past – think FBI pre 9/11 – and do what’s right to protect democracy? Or will he fail to act and reveal him what everyone already knows him to be: Putin’s puppet.