- By Jenna McLaughlinJenna McLaughlin is an intelligence reporter for Foreign Policy, focusing on the culture, dynamics, and events happening in the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the other 15 members of the intelligence community—plus the way the sensitive information they gather and analyze informs and directs the White House and policy makers on the Hill. Previously, McLaughlin was a national security reporter for the Intercept where she covered everything from the FBI’s secretive subpoena powers to cybersecurity companies in the Middle East. Before that, she covered similar topics including the rise of the Islamic State at Mother Jones Magazine. You can reach her with tips and responses securely through Signal or WhatsApp at 203-537-3949, or through her email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The intelligence community’s authorization bill includes a revived section that would establish a new committee to “counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence over peoples and governments,” according to the final text passed on Wednesday evening.
The Intelligence Authorization Act is part of the larger omnibus spending bill for the 2017 fiscal year.
The Obama White House opposed the formulation of the new task force, according to a report by Politico in December, arguing it would simply repeat existing interagency and intergovernmental cooperation efforts to mitigate malicious Russian influence around the world. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), the architect behind the proposal, has held out hope President Donald Trump will be more supportive.
“We’ve heard no opposition from the Trump White House on the provision, which is much different than the Obama White House who expressed their opposition directly,” a spokesperson for Cotton wrote to Foreign Policy. “It’s also worth noting the bill contains a second Russia provision that was also opposed by the Obama White House.”
The bill is expected to head to the president’s desk soon. The White House did not respond to request for comment on the provision.
The members of the interagency committee would include members appointed by the attorney general and the heads of state, treasury, energy, the FBI, and others selected by the president.
Those members would be responsible for meeting regularly to discuss the Kremlin and its “covert broadcasting,” likely including government-funded media outlets like RT, “media manipulation,” and attempts to spread false information. The goal of the special committee would be to counter Russian influence, and highlight human rights abuses and corruption in Russia.
After 180 days, the committee would submit a report on its activities to Congress.
Meanwhile, the congressional intelligence committees and the Department of Justice and FBI are investigating Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The investigations are looking at, among other issues, whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to sway the election, or if Russian officials worked on their own to sow confusion and discord.
According to the text of the bill, large portions of which haven’t changed since last summer before Trump’s election, the president would have relatively wide latitude to assign tasks and initiatives to the committee.
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