Senators angry over Tillerson’s delay to take action on radical Islamists

Reeling from pressure from lawmakers, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made moves toward spending tens of millions of dollars to combat propaganda by radical Islamist and governments such as Russia, Politico reports.

An official of the State Department disclosed on Thursday that Tillerson last week approved the use of about $60 million by the Global Engagement Center toward the anti-propaganda efforts.

Tillerson’s decision follows insinuations which alleged he was holding off on using the money despite the unrepentant desire of Republicans and Democrats to see it spent.

Almost $20 million of the $60 million which was already in the State Department’s coffers is sure to be released to the center’s officials to counter propaganda by terrorist groups, notably, the Islamic State, while $40 million transfer request as approved by Tillerson from the Pentagon would also go to the center so it can fight state-sponsored propaganda.

Though, it is unclear why Tillerson made a split request from Pentagon and not the whole $60 million, State official said “only that the dollar amount was based on the efforts to counter propaganda and disinformation that the [Global Engagement Center] has identified through consultations with other agencies”.

The official equally said, the Secretary’s overall decision to use the funding “comes after a review and then realignment of [Global Engagement Center] programs to match national security priorities and to ensure that this funding will be used as effectively as possible.”

The Global Engagement Center, an inter-agency unit incorporated into State Department, was created in the spring of 2016 to replace the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Its core mission was about countering terrorist propaganda, but has expanded overtime to deal with state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.

Tillerson’s hesitation in using the funding had sparked anger among both GOP lawmakers and the opposition Democrats. Aggrieved with Tillerson’s action were Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland, a notable Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. They all insisted Tillerson should use the funding to counter the threats posed by terrorist and unfriendly governments.

In a statement to Politico, Senator Murphy said, “I’m glad Secretary Tillerson is moving forward on this, and I hope he’s taking the [Global Engagement Center’s] mission seriously. … Hopefully now, we can utilise these resources to counter harmful propaganda and support a free press in places that desperately need it.”

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