State Dept. threatens to obstruct House censorship probe

According to House Republicans, the State Department is threatening to obstruct their investigation into the “censorship” of U.S. companies.

Fueled by a series of Washington Examiner reports on the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), an interagency group that funds the Global Disinformation Index, House Small Business Committee Republicans have repeatedly requested GEC grant records for its probe into “government censorship and revenue interference of American small businesses by proxy,” the Examiner now reports.

Like NewsGuard, the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a brainchild of a British think tank, blacklists conservative media from crucial advertising dollars.

“We exist to disrupt online disinformation,” they state on their website.

“Now, the Biden administration is asserting it may resort to letting the GOP-led panel review documents solely under in camera supervision, which lawmakers say is a ‘veiled threat to further impede’ their investigation,” according to the Examiner.

House Small Business Committee Chairman Roger Williams (R-Texas) and Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas) fired off a Friday letter to GEC special envoy James Rubin and Naz Durakoglu, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs.

“Not only is this an impermissible standard, but it improperly hinders congressional oversight,” they wrote.

“The letter once more asked the GEC to turn over lists of subcontractors and grant recipients, among other records,” according to the Examiner, “plus an internal document titled ‘2023.02.14 GEC-GDI-BLACKLIST.docx’ and for a briefing.”

On Wednesday, Durakoglu wrote to Williams “to express the department’s deep concern regarding certain information that appears to have been publicly released by the committee without prior consultation with the department.”

“The Small Business Committee sent a letter on June 7 to Secretary Blinken regarding the Global Engagement Center (GEC),” the letter, obtained by the Washington Examiner, reads. “The Department responded by providing documents on December 3, 2023.”

“Those documents were marked ‘SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED’ and ‘PRODUCED TO COMMITTEE ON SMALL BUSINESS, NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE,’ as the Department had determined that public release of this information could jeopardize the GEC’s programs and/or cause harm to the Department’s implementing partners,” the letter continued.

“However, on January 9, the Washington Examiner published an article regarding the committee’s investigation, and linking to the documents produced by the department — still clearly showing their ‘SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED’ and ‘PRODUCED TO COMMITTEE ON SMALL BUSINESS, NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE,’ markings, which it reportedly obtained from the Committee,” Durakoglu told Williams. “The committee made no effort to consult with the department to protect or even ascertain any particular sensitivities before making the information public.”

“The Department continues to respond to the Committee’s requests and remains committed to accommodating your need for information regarding the Global Engagement Center,” he wrote. “However, without better understanding how the Committee will utilize this sensitive information, in the future the Department may be forced to only provide the Committee with sensitive information that is not suitable for public release in an in camera setting.”

The State Department’s response is further proof of the GEC’s stalling tactics, according to House Republicans.

And, according to the Washington Examiner, Durakoglu “was a fellow between 2017 and 2021 for the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, a think tank office that partnered with the GEC on the 2021 grant that saw the Global Disinformation Index take home $100,000.”

After six months, lawmakers argue, the GEC provided a single five-page spreadsheet that conveniently omitted the “vast majority” of the records Williams and his team requested.

“This committee will not be deterred by State’s hedging, threats, or other impediments to its investigation,” Williams and Van Duyne informed Rubin and Durakoglu in their Friday letter. “Today we write to reiterate our previous requests and formalize our request for a briefing.”

Melissa Fine


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