News / USA

    US Congressional Hearing Looks at Countering Russian Propaganda

    US Lawmakers Warn of Russian 'Weaponization of Information'i
    April 16, 2015 11:05 AM
    A number of Western officials, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have voiced concerns about unprecedented efforts by Russia to spread misinformation across the entire area of the former Soviet Union and much of Europe. Experts at a congressional panel in Washington described the vast Russian media operation as “the weaponization of information.” VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Cindy Saine has more from Capitol Hill.
    Related video report by Congressional Correspondent Cindy Saine
    VOA News

    Participants in a congressional hearing Wednesday argued that Russia is waging sophisticated propaganda campaign that threatens American allies and interests – and that U.S. government-funded news media haven’t adequately countered that disinformation.

    "Russia’s propaganda machine is in overdrive, working to subvert democratic stability and foment violence," the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Ed Royce, said in opening the hearing.

    "Russian propaganda has the potential to destabilize NATO members, impacting our security commitments," the California Republican added. "This Russian campaign – what one witness describes as the 'weaponization of information' – seriously threatens U.S. security."

    The committee’s ranking Democrat, Congressman Eliot L. Engel of New York, described propaganda as "a critical element of Russia’s so-called hybrid warfare strategy – a strategy on devastating display in occupied Crimea and war-torn eastern Ukraine.

    "Coupled with cyberattacks and other covert operations, these new capabilities and [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s belligerence pose a direct threat to our allies and our interests," Engel said. "These measures are well financed. These measures are working. And these measures demand a robust response from us."

    As an antidote, Royce called for "righting [U.S.] international broadcasting" and "clarifying" the mission of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). The independent federal agency oversees government-supported, civilian international media. Its networks include Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (Alhurra TV and Radio Sawa), Radio Free Asia, and the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (Radio and TV Marti).

    Andre Mendes, BBG interim chief executive, issued a statement after the hearing saying the BBG shares the committee’s concern about the intensification of Russian propaganda. He said the agency "is deploying a flexible, innovative, aggressive multimedia effort aimed at Russians and Russian-speakers in the former Soviet Union, Europe and around the world."

    In the last Congress, Royce and Engel co-sponsored a bill to reform the BBG, a measure that passed the House on a voice vote but was not taken up by the Senate. The two are expected to reintroduce the legislation.

    Peter Pomerantsev, a senior fellow with the Legatum Institute, testified to the committee that Russia crafted an "information-psychological war" almost a decade ago. He said the Kremlin targeted Estonia in 2007, when authorities there wanted to move a Soviet war memorial.

    "Russian media went into a frenzy, accusing the Estonians of fascism," said Pomerantsev, whose London-based think tank promotes capitalism. He said the Kremlin also sponsored a crippling cyberattack on Estonia’s government and banks, in a show of force designed to demonstrate that NATO was unable to protect its member-state.

    Pomerantsev said Russian state-sponsored media exert outsized influence with domestic and international audiences.

    Kremlin media reach "30 million Russians outside the country [and] in NATO countries such as Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine,” Pomerantsev said in prepared testimony. "The Kremlin has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars into foreign-language media, including the multilingual news channel RT, or Russia Today, which reaches millions of watchers in English, Spanish, German and Arabic, just for a start."

    He said the Russian government also hires people to put out fake news and slanted messages on social media. 

    Pomerantsev said Putin’s administration is "bankrolling and lending political support to both far-right and far-left parties in Europe" as part of its destabilization effort. Information is twisted and manipulated "to sow divisions," he said. "This is not merely an information war but a war on information."

    The committee also heard from Elizabeth Wahl, a former RT anchor. Frustrated by the channel's coverage of Ukraine, she resigned on air in March. She said that RT and other Kremlin-backed outlets have added to audience confusion or mistrust by including some legitimate coverage, as well as by adopting the look and feel of Western news media. 

    "We’re dealing with an organization that doesn’t play by the rules," she said.

    Helle Dale, a former journalist, told the committee the U.S. government "became complacent in the battle for hearts and minds in Russia and its neighboring countries after the end of the Cold War."

    Now it’s scrambling to catch up, said Dale, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. She, too, called for reform.

    In written testimony, she cited lopsided spending. The U.S. administration’s "budget request for 2016 is $751,436,000 for U.S. International Broadcasting," she said. "Reportedly, RT has a budget alone of $400 million for its Washington bureau."

    Royce said Russia is spending an estimated $600 million a year on its media campaigns. The BBG’s most recent allocation was $742 million, including $212 million for the Voice of America.

    VOA’s outgoing director, David Ensor, recently noted that VOA’s international radio, television and online audience has increased to 172 million people a week, an increase of 49 million over four years.

    In his statement, Mendes said the panelists had failed to mention "noteworthy successes of U.S. international media such as doubling our audience in Ukraine and launching 25 new programs to Russia and neighboring countries since the start of the Maidan protests" in November 2013.

    He said: "BBG has also increased its audiences by 2 million in China through innovative satellite TV delivery and usage of online tools to circumvent Internet censorship. In addition, we welcome the results of a recent private survey showing 20 percent of those surveyed in Cuba tune into the Martís.

    "We can all agree that in our current world environment, BBG’s mission to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy is more important than ever."

    The BBG says its programing has a measured audience of 215 million in more than 100 countries and in 61 languages.

    You May Like

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Who Are US Allies in Fight Against Islamic State?

    There is little but opportunism keeping coalition together analysts warn — SDFs Arab militias are not united even among themselves, frequently squabble and don’t share Kurds' vision for post-Assad Syria

    Learning Foreign Language Helps US Soldiers Bridge Culture Gap

    Effective interaction with local populations part of everyday curriculum at Monterey, California, Defense Language Institute

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    by: William Baldwin from: United States
    April 18, 2015 2:01 AM
    It's worth it to note that Russia has been building their propaganda machine since the beginning of their occupation of Alaska. The Monroe doctrine was a warning and a wakeup call to the US citizens and a shock to the European powers that the US would stand up to any European powers or combination of powers where it involved the interest of the United States. As a result, the monarchs of Europe at that time responded by sending to the United States more of Europe's immigrants. An example of this continued run with Russian propaganda is the Oklahoma City Bombing by Timothy McVeigh, a White Supremacist. Another example are the recent police shootings in the United States of unarmed Black and Mixed race people. That's two incidents and one source. Like James Earl Jones, where was Timothy McVeigh going when he tried to escape? These Russian threats need to be dealt with by sending the US military to Ukraine and mustering up the manpower to meet the threats of the White Supremacists and the Russians here in the United States...

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora