Congress' new spending bill includes $100M to counter Russian information operations

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At least $100 million in funding specifically to counter Russian information operations will be available under a newly unveiled spending bill to keep the U.S. government running until the end of September.

Dubbed the “Countering Russian Influence Fund,” the new initiative is designed to provide support to “civil society organizations and other entities” based in Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia.

The inclusion of the provision comes just one day after President Trump once again downplayed the impact of Russian information operations on the 2016 presidential election during a nationally televised interview with CBS News. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence published a historic, declassified report in January accusing Russian intelligence services of hacking into the Democratic National Committee and email mailbox of top political strategist John Podesta in an effort to leak confidential messages that would discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Congress must send the spending bill to Trump for his signature before Friday evening to avoid a government shutdown. The president has said he will sign the $1.1 trillion legislation.

Private sector cybersecurity firms have warned in recent months that a hacking group synonymous with Russian intelligence services, known as APT28 or Fancy Bear, is actively targeting political organizations in France and Germany — both of which plan to hold elections later this year.

In Congress, lawmakers are becoming increasingly aware of the threat of information warfare — a term used to broadly define propaganda efforts undertaken by a nation state to strategically influence public opinion in a foreign country — after several recent congressional hearings, which brought experts to Capitol Hill to discuss the matter.

“Not less than $100,000,000 shall be made available for assistance to counter Russian influence and aggression in countries in Europe and Eurasia: Provided, That such funds shall be referred to as the Countering Russian Influence Fund (the Fund), and be made available to civil society organizations and other entities in such countries for rule of law, media, cyber, and other programs that strengthen democratic institutions and processes and counter Russian influence and aggression,” the bill reads.

Screenshot of relevant section of the bill

The legislation also importantly establishes an implementation framework for the “Countering Russian Influence Fund,” which calls on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and USAID Administrator Wade Warren to submit a spending plan within 45 days of the bill’s passage to the Committees on Appropriations “detailing the proposed uses of the Fund on a country-by-country basis.”

This is not the first time Congress has introduced legislation that aims to stifle Russian information operations. In early January, Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, sponsored the Counteracting Russian Hostilities Act of 2017, an expansive and comprehensive sanctions bill that proposes a package of fiscal and diplomatic penalties against the Kremlin.

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APT28, breach, budget bill, Congress, cyber, disinformation, Europe, foreign assistance, information operations, information warfare, policy, Russia, spending bill, Trump White House
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