The nation’s top spy suggested Thursday that it would behoove the incoming administration to revive the defunct U.S. Information Agency, or USIA, as a bulwark against Moscow’s powerful propaganda operation.
“We could do with having a USIA on steroids to fight this information war [with Russia] a lot more aggressively than we’re doing right now,” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Resuscitating and revamping the agency, which was officially shuttered in 1999, and focusing the organization’s pro-U.S. messaging into social media networks would go a long way in countering Russian-sponsored media outlets like Russia Today and Sputnik, Mr. Clapper said.
“[Russia Today] was very active in promoting a particular point of view, disparaging our system, our alleged hypocrisy about human rights,” he said. “Whatever crack, fissure they could find in our tapestry, they would exploit it,” via the state-owned news network.
Currently the aging State Department-run Voice of America is the closest capability Washington has in offsetting Russia Today’s growing influence across the globe.
The State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism carries out a similar anti-propaganda mission, but it focuses on fundamentalist groups like the Islamic State and al Qaeda.
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Mr. Clapper’s comments, alongside Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel Lettre II and Adm. Mike Rogers, head of U.S. Cyber Command, were part of the group’s testimony on possible Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election.
The debate has largely centered on alleged cyber hacks against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta, reportedly ordered by Moscow — a claim President-elect Donald Trump has vehemently denied.
On Thursday, U.S. intelligence officials delivered their final assessment on Russian cyber activities during the presidential election to President Obama.
Details of the White House-mandated report, which outlines the sources and methods in which Moscow interfered with the election process, will be briefed to Congress next week, Mr. Clapper said.
But the infiltration of DNC and Mr. Podesta’s email accounts was only one element in a larger Russian campaign to manipulate the U.S. election process, he added.
“This was a multifaceted campaign. The hacking was only one part of it. It also included classic propaganda, disinformation and fake news,” Mr. Clapper told defense lawmakers Thursday.
The re-establishment of a USIA-type organization would be crucial in deterring the latter portions of Russia’s efforts to meddle in the election process. Thursday was not the first time Mr. Clapper has advocated for the need of a such an agency.
Mr. Clapper made a similar argument during a 2015 Senate Armed Services hearing on emerging national security threats in the cyber realm.
“I think I would [need] a much more robust capability from the standpoint of the resource commitment to counter-messaging,” he said at the time, adding that from a personal standpoint, “a USIA on steroids that would address these messages more broadly and more robustly” is what was needed to wage war in the cyber information realm.