In Op-Ed Calling for Counter-Disinformation Strategy, Will Hurd Engages in His Own Disinformation

I like Will Hurd. I think he’s smart, thoughtful, and (when I met him at an event I did last year in DC) personally very nice. So I was a bit disappointed by this op-ed, arguing that to save democracy, “Americans must begin working together,” just weeks after he voted with all the rest of the House Intelligence Committee Republicans to release the Nunes memo.

After revealing that his CIA clandestine service was in places in Russia’s sphere, Hurd argues that we need a counter-disinformation strategy.

I served in places where Russia has geopolitical interests, and learned that Russia has one simple goal: to erode trust in democratic institutions.

[snip]

To address continued Russian disinformation campaigns, we need to develop a national counter-disinformation strategy. The strategy needs to span the entirety of government and civil society, to enable a coordinated effort to counter the threat that influence operations pose to our democracy. It should implement similar principles to those in the Department of Homeland Security’s Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism, with a focus on truly understanding the threat and developing ways to shut it down.

That much I can agree with him on.

But it has no business appearing in an op-ed that suggests bipartisan criticism of the Nunes Memo stunt amounts to Russia winning — which flips reality on its head.

Unfortunately, over the last year, the United States has demonstrated a lack of resilience to this infection. The current highly charged political environment is making it easier for the Russians to achieve their goal. The hyperbolic debate over the release of the FISA memos by the House Intelligence Committee further helps the Russians achieve their aim. Most recently, Russian social-media efforts used computational propaganda to influence public perceptions of this issue, and we found ourselves once again divided among party lines.

When the public loses trust in the press, the Russians are winning. When the press is hyper-critical of Congress for executing oversight and providing transparency on the actions taken by the leaders of our law-enforcement agencies, the Russians are winning. When Congress and the general public disagree simply along party lines, the Russians are winning. When there is friction between Congress and the executive branch resulting in the further erosion of trust in our democratic institutions, the Russians are winning.

Let’s unpack this passage closely.

First, note how Hurd refers to “the last year” during which the US demonstrated a lack of resilience to Russian disinformation? Hurd is pretending that that lack of resilience doesn’t extend to 2016, when in fact at least the social media companies started to respond to Russian election year events last year.

He then calls the debate over the release of the memo — not propaganda seeded by Republicans claiming the Nunes memo revealed something “worse than Watergate” — hyperbolic.

Hurd then makes the same mistake everyone always makes with the Fucking Gizmo™, the Hamilton Dashboard that tracks right wing propaganda and — because it moves in tandem with official Russian propaganda outlets — deems it Russian, not American.

Then Hurd rebrands Nunes’ stunt as the press being “hyper-critical of Congress for executing oversight and providing transparency on the actions taken by the leaders of our law-enforcement agencies.” As I’ve noted before, it’s particularly rich for people who voted against the Amash-Lofgren amendment to the FISA 702 reauthorization to claim they support transparency, as that amendment would have provided just that. But it’s also pathetic that Hurd would claim either the Nunes or Schiff memos are about transparency or oversight. It’d be awesome if HPSCI decided to hold a hearing on the use of consultants and informants in FISA applications and elsewhere in law enforcement. The Nunes stunt only brought a concern about that to a white politically connect white guy, not the people who really would benefit from actual oversight.

And more importantly, the Nunes memo (which GOPers admitted made a false claim about whether FISC got notice about the political nature of the Steele dossier), especially, was about obfuscation, not transparency.

Will Hurd was on the wrong side of adult behavior when he voted in favor of the Nunes memo. He seems to be trying to spin his vote as something it wasn’t.

He’d do well if, instead, he tried to make up for it.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

11 replies
  1. earlofhfutingdon says:

    more importantly, the Nunes memo (which GOPers admitted made a false claim about whether FISC got notice about the political nature of the Steele dossier), especially, was about obfuscation, not transparency.

    Indeed.  Hurd acts to protect that obfuscation, not to promote legitimate oversight.  At least here, the Dems, with their memo – that Hurd, his party and president are keeping from the public, unlike their own bent memo – are attempting that oversight.  Hurd is blocking it while claiming to promote it.  Is this an example of once a company man, always a company man?

  2. Trip says:

    Disinformation is ruining everything, people are in chaos, they are distrustful! I know, let’s add more, double down on all of it! Because if anything makes people trust democracy, it’s disinformation.

  3. TarheelDem says:

    Ending disinformation is much different from having my own disinformation prevail.

    McCarthy’s appeal in West Virginia in the 1940s sought the same goal as Hurd’sl.

  4. orionATL says:

    i never knew there was a human (and republican congressman) named will hurd until i read this post.

    now i know some things about will hurd’s and his persona.

    “… [Will Hurd is] smart, thoughtful, and… personally very nice. So I was a bit disappointed by this op-ed, arguing that to save democracy, “Americans must begin working together,” just weeks after he voted with all the rest of the House Intelligence Committee Republicans to release the Nunes memo… ”

    i read once that the premier objective of a good con man is to convince you that he’s just a nice guy who could not be a con man. will hurd seems to fit here.

    will hurd served with cia. “… I served in places where Russia has geopolitical interests, and learned that Russia has one simple goal: to erode trust in democratic institutions.”…”.

    o.k. so far so good. will knows the damage propaganda can do.

    but then congressman hurd the con man goes after his mark – readers of defenseone.com. he employs a bit of rhetoric featuring the mantra “the russians are winning” which hurd afixes to:

    – “the public losing trust in the press”, but surely this is a calculated consequence of a trump white house offensive.

    – “the press [being] hyper-critical of Congress for executing oversight and providing transparency on the actions taken by the leaders of our law-enforcement agencies”, but surely this is the result of the transparent dishonesty associated with the nunes memo

    – “the Congress and the general public disagree[ing] simply along party lines”, but surely the congress and some portion of the public have, in our history, routinely disagree along party lines.

     – “When… friction between Congress and the executive branch result[s] in the… erosion of trust in our democratic institutions”, but surely this is has always been a common feature of relations between the congress and the president.

    so what do i conclude? that will hurd is a typical politician who speaks out of both sides of his mouth. what is remarkable about this op-ed is the hurd speaks out of both sides at one time.

    congressman hurd has no compunction whatever about eroding trust in public institutions where it serves his party’s interest.

    • Trip says:

      Give the guy some credit, he advocated for more disinformation, and then gave himself an early start on that effort. It’s like he announced his own disinformation before spewing it.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Nothing could be more classic disinformation than criticizing disinformation while engaging in it. Appearing personally likeable is part of the con. Is Mr. Hurd demonstrating the truth of the observation that once a company man, always a company man?

  6. researchdude101 says:

    Of course Will is trying to play all sides. His district is basically the only one in play for Dems in Texas.

    He is a real nice guy. And very very smart. I just don’t agree with his politics.

  7. Charles says:

    I always get a strange look on my face when people start advocating a one-party state… you know, where there’s no friction at all between government representatives?

    A one-party state would really, truly represent the Russians winning.

  8. DMM says:

    Moreover, there just might be valid, wholly internal reasons for not trusting our democratic institutions. The fact that we can only get centrist to hard right, pro corporate policies being chief among them. But Hurd would treat such criticisms (and demands for something different) as “Russian disinformation.”

    If there’s any doubt about that, one need only read the Brennan, Clapper, Hayden et al amicus brief filed in the Cockrum suit and the IC assessment on the DNC hacking from Jan 2017 to see that the IC already considers criticisms along the lines that the US is controlled by corporate, wealthy, and military interests to be illegitimate, the “manipulation” of “political organizers and activists, academics, journalists” by Russian propagandists to “misunderstand” their “best interest[s]” and their economic and ideological positions.

    Hurd’s recommendation, if implemented, would constitute a far greater danger to our democracy than Russian “active measures” could ever hope to.

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