If Congress gave the Pentagon $120 million to buy a new weapon or dispatch more troops to fight the Taliban or ISIS in the Middle East, the Trump administration would move at something close to the speed of light to spend the money – and then demand even more.
But the New York Times reported over the weekend that the State Department has not spent even a penny of the $120 million set aside by lawmakers to counter Russia’s cyberattacks on American democracy.
“As a result,” the Times said, “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 administration’s foot-dragging comes as state election officials across the country are pressing their legislatures to pay for new voting machines and computer systems they hope can be hardened against cyberattacks.
President Trump answered the Times report this morning as he often handles criticism of his administration – with a fresh attempt to change the subject. He again accused then-President Barack Obama of launching a bogus investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016 and complained that Obama “did NOTHING about Russian meddling.”
Neither charge is true, though it’s certainly arguable that Obama didn’t do enough about the Russian intrusion. But Trump already has tweeted so many lies about his predecessor and the Russia investigation that this one is likely to go mostly unnoticed by the media and the general public.
The Times’ report said the inaction in part reflects Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s skepticism that anything the U.S. might do would be effective against Russian cyberattacks. Leaders of the nation’s intelligence agencies warned last week that Russian hackers already are at work online to spread misinformation and sow political discord among Americans in advance of the November midterm elections.
“If it’s their intention to interfere, they’re going to find ways to do that,” Tillerson told Fox News last month. “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.”
Tillerson’s defeatism contrasts with the assessment Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, gave senators last week. America has the tools it needs to respond with enough force to the Russian attacks to persuade President Vladimir Putin to change course, Rogers said, but Trump has neither directed nor authorized him to use them.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections