In the final hours before the Christmas holiday weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday quietly signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law—and buried within the $619 billion military budget (pdf) is a controversial provision that establishes a national anti-propaganda center that critics warn could be dangerous for press freedoms.
The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, establishes the Global Engagement Center under the State Department which coordinates efforts to "recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests."
Further, the law authorizes grants to non-governmental agencies to help "collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda" directed at the U.S. and its allies, as well as "counter efforts by foreign entities to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability" of the U.S. and allied nations.
The head of the center will be appointed by the president, which likely means the first director will be chosen by President-elect Donald Trump.
The new law comes weeks before the New York billionaire assumes the presidency, amid national outrage over the spread of fake news and what many say is foreign interference in the election, both which are accused of enabling Trump's victory.
Those combined forces have already contributed to the overt policing of media critical of U.S. foreign policy, such as the problematic "fake news blacklist" recently disseminated by the Washington Post.
And for those paying attention over the holiday weekend, the creation of the a new information agency under the Propaganda Act appears to be another worrisome development.
I hate to get your tinsel in a tangle, but Obama signed NDAA, allowing government to place propaganda while labeling anti-US news as such.— Michael Salamone (@MichaelSalamone) December 24, 2016
Gotta stop that Fake News™— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) December 25, 2016
Gotta keep those lists pic.twitter.com/I59tTrRpOg— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) December 25, 2016
It owns all these not-at-all-important laws are smuggled into NDAAs that are signed on Christmas Eve with basically no public debate— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) December 25, 2016