Top State Department officials on Thursday announced the long-rumored appointment of Navy veteran and former Fox News correspondent Lea Gabrielle as a special envoy in charge of the department’s controversial three-year-old Global Engagement Center.
“The fight against propaganda and disinformation is one we must win,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced to staff. “Under Lea’s visionary leadership, America will be better protected from those who would turn hearts and minds against us.”
Gabrielle, who begins her job on Feb. 11, was described to reporters by deputy spokesman Robert Palladino on Thursday as “a former CIA-trained human intelligence operations officer, defense foreign liaison officer, United States Navy program director, Navy F/A-18C fighter pilot, and national television news correspondent and anchor at two different networks.”
Critics in the diplomatic community, however, highlighted the Trump administration’s other hires from Fox News: Heather Nauert as acting State Department spokeswoman and current nominee to be United Nations ambassador, and Bill Shine, Deputy White House chief of staff for communications.
Foreign Policy magazine, which broke the story on Gabrielle’s appointment and interviewed her this week, said the small office Gabrielle will run “became a political lightning rod amid feuds between the Trump administration and Congress over how to address threats, including Russian election meddling, in the wake of the 2016 presidential elections. The internal fight reflects a broader challenge the U.S. government faces in how to confront misinformation and propaganda from abroad,” wrote reporters Robbie Gramer and Elias Groll.
In their exclusive interview, Gabrielle said, “We have to realize that we are under attack by adversary countries and international terrorist organizations that are using propaganda and disinformation as a weapon. They’re doing it because it’s cheap, and it’s easy, and because they can.”
The center’s budget had been reduced under previous Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but State has since reported that Pompeo has restored it, with a new request for $55 million.
The center for the past two years was run on an acting basis by counter-terrorism specialist Daniel Kimmage, whom Pompeo thanked on Thursday for “steady leadership,” according to the blog Diplopundit. Originally called the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications under State’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, the center under Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry was renamed in January 2016. President Obama appointed Michael Lumpkin as special envoy and coordinator of the Global Engagement Center.