Feds Getting Ready To Target “Opinions” Online

Some people are concerned that the new federal office set up to protect American public opinion from the supposed threat of foreign disinformation is nothing more than a rebranding of the failed Disinformation Governance Board, an office in the Department of Homeland Security that was shut down after being widely viewed as an Orwellian “Ministry of Truth.”

The new Foreign Malign Influence Center (FMIC), housed in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, was unannounced but has already sparked concerns that it will use exaggerated foreign threats as an excuse to meddle in domestic political debate or will duplicate other federal efforts, particularly a controversial State Department unit that tries to stifle populism abroad.

On Thursday, 45 minutes into a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Director Avril Haines acknowledged the facility.

Contrary to what one might expect from an organization with a name that includes “foreign,” FMIC’s legislatively mandated mission includes safeguarding American “public opinion,” raising the specter of domestic narrative policing.

“Foreign malign influence” refers to any hostile actions taken by, at the direction of, or on behalf of, or with substantial support from” Russia, North Korea, China or Iran, to influence public opinion or elections through overt or covert means. 

The DNI appoints the director of FMIC, and the director can add “any other foreign country” to this list.

Despite being referred to as “the successor to the ODNI Election Threats Executive,” the latter remains in operation under the direction of the acting head and CIA veteran Jeffrey Wachman.

It appears that the first post-activation mention of FMIC on Twitter was a thread on its history by a pseudonymous user on February 23. This user claimed that FMIC’s “mission is identical” to that of the Disinformation Governance Board, a DHS entity disbanded last year after congressional Republicans criticized it. 

The Air Force Special Operations Command commissioned a study from Rand Corp., which concluded that the Russian disinformation campaigns had been exaggerated, and they are neither organized nor well-resourced, and we should not over-attribute disinformation on social media to Russia.