Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the highly unusual decision to turn down money for his department — $80 million to fight terrorist propaganda and Russian disinformation — because he’s afraid of angering Vladimir Putin.
The money is earmarked for the State Department, but Tillerson hasn’t submitted a request for the funds, reported Politico.
The funds are intended for the Global Engagement Center, which is responsible for coordinating government efforts to counter online terrorist activity and, since December, state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
President Barack Obama expanded the unit’s mission at the end of his term after intelligence agencies concluded Russia had flooded social media with fake news and phony Twitter accounts to influence the 2016 elections, and lawmakers from both parties want a stronger U.S. response.
President Donald Trump wants to cut State Department funding, so Tillerson is trying to spend less of it — not more.
“They use the reorganization as an excuse to not act on anything,” one former State official told Politico. “That’s why people doubt the motivations of the reorganization. They think it’s all about starving the beast.”
But a former senior State Department official told Politico that Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond suggested the secretary of state doesn’t want to fully fund the unit for fear of angering Putin.
Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship from Putin after signing deals with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft.
Hammond, who serves as Tillerson’s spokesman and on the department’s policy planning staff, has said the unit hadn’t explained how $60 million, which will expire next month, of the earmarked funds would be spent, but the former State Department official denied that was the case.
“Hammond said the secretary is in the process of working through disagreements with Russia, and this is not consistent with what we’re trying to do,” the former senior State official told Politico.
The Kremlin-backed news site Sputnik compares the Global Engagement Center to the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984, and Hammond told Politico the secretary of state did not want to upset Russia while trying to find common ground on Syria and other matters.
“Regarding Russia, we have not sought to reduce efforts to spotlight and combat Moscow’s ‘active measures’ or information activities,” Hammond told the website.