Combating Russian, Chinese, and Iranian efforts to undermine American democracy has taken on a new significance in recent years, but obstacles stand in the way of crafting a coherent policy response to these malign influence efforts.
The latest problem: U.S. officials are having trouble setting up a congressionally mandated intelligence-community center to counter foreign-disinformation and political-interference efforts. Anders Corr, the publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, contextualizes the issue in a column at the Epoch Times:
In 2019, the U.S. Congress passed a law establishing a “Foreign Malign Influence Response Center” within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). The law requires the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to appoint a director.
A long list of DNIs and Acting DNIs under both presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden—including Joseph Maguire, Richard Grenell, John Ratcliffe, Lora Shiao, and the current DNI, Avril Haines—failed to comply, leaving the nation inexcusably vulnerable to foreign malign influence.
Two years and five noncompliant DNIs later, and one mainstream media outlet finally reported that the Center is non operational. Congress is reportedly dragging its feet on funding it, and ODNI bureaucratic infighting is leaving implementation of the law, including a requirement of annual reports from the Center on foreign malign influence, in the dust.
Corr cites a recent Associated Press report that details the bureaucratic disagreements among intelligence officials and lawmakers that have delayed the center’s opening.
Meanwhile, U.S. diplomatic efforts to confront the Chinese Communist Party’s political interference around the world have also hit a roadblock of sorts. Although U.S. officials, including top Biden appointees, have spoken out against the Chinese Communist Party’s influence operations, a State Department spokesperson confirmed to me in November that Foggy Bottom is curtailing its use of the term “malign influence.”
State’s decision to curtail its use of the phrase malign influence came to the backdrop of progressive advocacy efforts that claimed the term leads to anti-Asian hate crimes. The spokesperson emphasized that State is focused on using precise language so as to make clear that “U.S. criticism is not directed toward PRC nationals, the global Chinese diaspora, or U.S. citizens of Chinese descent, as well as citizens of other countries who are of Chinese ethnicity or heritage.”
In his column, Corr cites my piece, making the important point that the Biden administration’s explanation about precision doesn’t really hold up: U.S. efforts to combat malign influence are clearly about countering the Chinese party-state, and speaking forthrightly about Beijing’s malfeasance does not put people of Chinese descent at risk.
Portraying the use of the phrase “malign influence” as so sweeping and unspecific as to cause hate crimes seems more a rhetorical trick by pro-engagement types on the losing side of the policy debate. Unfortunately, they say that they successfully lobbied the State Department to soft-pedal its concerns about the party’s activities around the world. They’re not wrong.
Neither the bureaucratic foot-dragging within ODNI nor State’s willingness to listen to progressive China doves bodes well for U.S. efforts to confront malign-influence campaigns.
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