Speed Reads

Things that make you go hmmmm

Congress gave Rex Tillerson $120 million to fight Russian election meddling. He's spent none of it.

Since December 2016, Congress has given the State Department $120 million to counter foreign attempts to hijack U.S. elections and sow distrust in American democracy, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has spent none of that money, The New York Times reports. "As a result, 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, and a department hiring freeze has hindered efforts to recruit the computer experts needed to track the Russian efforts."

Tillerson, who's been "focusing his energies instead on drastically shrinking the department," spent seven months thinking about whether he even wanted to spend the original $60 million Congress set aside to coordinate a government-wide response to anti-democracy propaganda from Russia and China, the Times reports, and when the State Department finally sent over its request in September, "with just days left in the fiscal year, Pentagon officials decided that the State Department had lost its shot at the money." After months of haggling, the State Department said last week it will take $40 million from this fiscal year's $60 million allotment, and it expects the Pentagon to transfer the funds in April, half a year before the midterms.

The Global Engagement Center currently toils to counter jihadist and extremist propaganda, and its 23 analysts speak Arabic, Urdu, French, and Somali. The Trump administration has "the vehicle to do this work in the center," James Glassman, the State Department's under secretary for public diplomacy, tells the Times. "What they don't have is a secretary of state or a president who's interested in doing this work." You can read more about the holdup and Tillerson's role in it at The New York Times.