State Department Has Spent None of its $120 Million Budget to Protect Against Russian Interference

While Team Trump has gone out of its way to waylay the Russia investigation, this may not be is part of that effort.


NYT (“State Dept. Was Granted $120 Million to Fight Russian Meddling. It Has Spent $0.“):

As Russia’s virtual war against the United States continues unabated with the midterm elections approaching, the State Department has yet to spend any of the $120 million it has been allocated since late 2016 to counter foreign efforts to meddle in elections or sow distrust in democracy.

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.

The delay is just one symptom of the largely passive response to the Russian interference by President Trump, who has made little if any public effort to rally the nation to confront Moscow and defend democratic institutions. More broadly, the funding lag reflects a deep lack of confidence by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson in his department’s ability to execute its historically wide-ranging mission and spend its money wisely.

Mr. Tillerson has voiced skepticism that the United States is even capable of doing anything to counter the Russian threat.

“If it’s their intention to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that,” Mr. Tillerson said in an interview last month with Fox News. “And we can take steps we can take, but this is something that once they decide they are going to do it, it’s very difficult to pre-empt it.”

The United States spends billions of dollars on secret cybercapabilities, but these weapons have proved largely ineffective against Russian efforts on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere that simply amplify or distort divisive but genuine voices in the United States and elsewhere.

Leaving aside that this report from the Newspaper of Record reads too much like an editorial, this is simultaneously shocking and unsurprising.

While Team Trump has seemingly gone out of its way to waylay the Russia investigation, it’s not a slam dunk that this is part of that effort. Rex Tillerson has made no bones about wanting to dismantle his Department. He’s intentionally left senior level posts unfilled and presided over an exodus of top talent. Even at the lower levels, he’s not taken his allotment of Presidential Management Fellows, the government’s mechanism for attracting promising people into the civil service and fast-tracking their careers. It’s completely possible that, because this was a new initiative, it simply didn’t get acted on.

It’s not like the Department was going to create competent Russian linguists or cyber specialists in the time allotted. It would have had to bring them in. But they’ve had a  hiring freeze.

Tillerson distrusts his own people and, as a consequence, they don’t trust him. He’s created a vicious cycle, since there is near-daily evidence that Department employees, trying to fulfill their mission, are trying to undermine him and President Trump, who are trying to undermine their mission.

I share his skepticism about our ability to prevent further Russian interference, given the nature of our networks and the openness of our society. But you can’t win if you don’t play, either. And Tillerson and company are not even in the game.

FILED UNDER: Russia Investigation, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Tillerson presumably knows that this is the 3rd rail of politics in Trumpistan. You can beat your wife, but you can’t say anything about Putin.




    12



    0
  2. gustopher says:

    I’m actually surprised that they haven’t quickly spent all that money on something completely useless, and then used the lack of funds as an excuse for not doing anything.




    10



    0
  3. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    So this falls in the incompetent category and not the corrupt category?
    Phew…glad to hear it.




    4



    0
  4. Kathy says:

    Could they at least use the money as a dowry to get Tiffany Trump hitched to a nice dictator, or at least an oligarch?




    5



    0
  5. mattb says:

    Rex Tillerson has made no bones about wanting to dismantle his Department.

    Is there any Trump cabinet appointee who isn’t actively or passively dismantling their department?

    In all seriousness, is there any historical precedent for the gutting that is currently happening at State and other departments?




    2



    0
  6. gVOR08 says:

    Via Balloon Juice, Jane Mayer has a new, long article on the Russia investigation in New Yorker.

    One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would cooperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.

    Need I remind everyone that Tillerson’s life long employer, Exxon, is blocked from huge projects in Russia by those very Ukraine-related sanctions?




    5



    0
  7. teve tory says:

    Seen On the internet:

    ACCORDING TO THE ALL-TIME WORST PRESIDENT EVER, RUSSIA DID NOTHING WRONG, AND OBAMA DID NOTHING TO PREVENT IT.




    10



    0
  8. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Tillerson presumably knows that this is the 3rd rail of politics in Trumpistan. You can beat your wife, but you can’t say anything about Putin.

    One imagines. Still, there’s so much normal State Department business not getting done right now, this might just be part of the pile.

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    So this falls in the incompetent category and not the corrupt category?

    Possibly. There’s a malevolence here—at least to the State Department as it has traditionally run—but it may have nothing to do with sidetracking the Russia investigation.




    3



    0
  9. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @gVOR08:
    We discussed that some on another thread, although it was OT. Jane Mayer did a great job in that piece explaining it all. If you haven’t read the whole thing, you should.

    Also OT…Trump Campaign Aide Sam Nunberg says he is going to refuse Mueller’s subpoena. He says he won’t testify against Roger Stone, who was his mentor, but that based on Mueller’s previous questions to him, Trump very well may have colluded.




    2



    0
  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I share his skepticism about our ability to prevent further Russian interference, given the nature of our networks and the openness of our society. But you can’t win if you don’t play, either. And Tillerson and company are not even in the game.

    I’m pretty sure they’re in the game and playing to win, it’s just not the game you think they should be in.




    5



    0
  11. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:
    Clarification…Speaking to MSNBC, Nunberg said he doesn’t think Trump colluded with the Russians but that the president “may have done something” illegal that Mueller knows about.




    2



    0
  12. Kathy says:

    Do you suppose Trump has an especial hatred of the State Department because Hillary Clinton ran it for a while?




    1



    0
  13. Mike in Arlington says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl:

    So this falls in the incompetent category and not the corrupt category?
    Phew…glad to hear it.

    Why not both?




    4



    0
  14. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    Do you suppose Trump has an especial hatred of the State Department because Hillary Clinton ran it for a while?

    I saw this earlier and it seems bizarre even for Trump. But I just heard Carmen Medina, formerly the #2 of CIA’s analysis branch, say she was hearing the same thing back in November. So: Quite plausible.




    4



    0
  15. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    I saw this earlier and it seems bizarre even for Trump.

    I’m beginning to think nothing is too bizarre for Trump, nor too self-destructive.

    But neutralizing the State Department is as bad as doing the same thing to the Defense Department.




    2



    0
  16. PJ says:

    If you spend money on it then it might actually prevent Russian interference.




    1



    0
  17. An Interested Party says:

    If you spend money on it then it might actually prevent Russian interference.

    This is not something that Trump wants…after all, he has already invited Russian interference before…




    1



    0