A Fox News correspondent is a leading candidate to head the State Department agency tasked with combating propaganda and disinformation from foreign adversaries, CNN has learned.
Lea Gabrielle is being considered for special envoy and coordinator of the Global Engagement Center, multiple State Department sources and one former senior State official told CNN.
Gabrielle is a general assignment reporter for “Shepard Smith Reporting,” according to her Fox News biography, and was previously a military reporter. She is also a United States Naval Academy graduate and served in the US Navy as fighter pilot for more than a decade, as well as taking part in some intelligence operations.
The State Department said Wednesday it did not have information on staffing announcements and Gabrielle did not immediately reply to a CNN request for comment. A friend of Gabrielle’s told CNN that she was indeed leaving Fox News and moving to Washington, DC.
No luxury of a learning curve
The choice of Gabrielle for the role incensed several current and former officials with experience in the field.
“Countering information warfare requires someone who understands the threat and the sophisticated tools needed to defend our democracy,” said Brett Bruen, a former White House director of global engagement during the Obama administration.
“We currently lack a strategy, resources and time,” Bruen continued. “The person who goes into this job won’t have the luxury of a learning curve. They need to be prepared to lead one of the most complex and challenging fights of our time. I know from personal experience the Russians will exploit inexperience and any misstep.”
Obama’s pick for director of the GEC, Michael Lumpkin, served as the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict and as the acting under secretary of defense for policy, the third-highest civilian job at the United States Department of Defense.
Current acting director Daniel Kimmage has served in several State Department roles, including being principal deputy coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Kimmage, who is fluent in Russian and Arabic, according to his biography, was also a senior fellow at the Homeland Security Policy Institute. His writings include reports on extremist media strategies.
The ‘World Cup of information warfare’
The GEC, established in April 2016, has a mission that includes “countering the adverse effects of state-sponsored propaganda and disinformation.” It has taken on increasing importance as experts warn of the potential for massive disinformation campaigns heading into the midterm elections.
Facebook’s former security chief Alex Stamos told CNN this week that US elections are at risk of becoming the “World Cup of information warfare.”
In early August, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said intelligence agencies “continue to see a pervasive messaging campaign by Russia to try to weaken and divide the United States.”
Bruen noted that the budget for the GEC is overseen by Acting Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Heather Nauert, who was a breaking news anchor on the Fox News show Fox & Friends.
The Huffington Post reported last week that the GEC had yet to receive the $40 million allocated for its efforts to combat foreign election interference – an amount a Senate aide told the publication had been reduced to $20 million.