The US isn’t doing enough to counter RT and Sputnik, media outlets which are powered by lavish Kremlin funding and the KGB, according to Ed Royce, the House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman.
During a breakfast meeting last week at the Ripon Society in Washington, DC, Royce voiced his concerns over the rise of anti-American trends in Central and Eastern Europe, which he eagerly blamed on Russia.
“If you remember back to the 1980s, the United States was very effective using Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. It is now the case that Moscow is every bit that effective,” the California Republican said, as cited by the Ripon Society website.
According to Royce, the Russians “have become expert at supporting a certain pattern of thought — which is very authoritarian, very hard-edged, and which increasingly in Eastern Europe is moving an illiberal element into positions of power.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman said that he was mostly worried by “Sputnik and RT television and especially the social media that’s being deployed.”
“You can monitor in all the former Soviet states the feelings about [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and watch them increase arithmetically year after year in the Gallup polling. At the same time, you can also monitor the feelings about the UK and the United States and watch them plummet,” he told the guests at the Republican public policy organization.
A Gallup poll in February revealed that people in Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Slovenia – all members of the US-led NATO bloc – opted for Russia, not America, when asked whom they felt they could count on if they felt under threat.
The Russian campaign is “successful not only because they are putting a billion dollars a year into it, but also because the KGB has become so damn effective at it,” Royce explained.
The senator reiterated mainstream media claims of the lavish state funding received by RT, which the broadcaster has refuted on numerous occasions.
RT’s budget in 2017 stands at roughly $300 million, which includes financing for all of its seven television channels and digital platforms, according to the organization’s press office. As for Sputnik news agency, it was funded by around $100 million this year.
To put that into perspective, the 2017 budget of the US Broadcasting Board of Governors, which runs Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, among other outlets, is over $748 million.
The California senator was also, apparently, referring to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) when he mentioned the KGB, which ceased to exist back in 1991 together with the Soviet Union.
“Watching his [Putin’s] overhaul of Russia’s communications — and watching the increase in repression across Central and Eastern Europe — tells us that frankly we are not competing,” Royce said.
“I know how effectively this can be countered. But we haven’t countered it,” he added.
However, measures will be taken to effectively counter Russia’s influence on its neighbors, Royce promised.
“Now we are putting in place an overhaul [of the Broadcasting Board of Governors], and we will drive that through Congress. It’s essential, because otherwise the power that Russia has over its former satellites will eventually metastasize into a situation where we see a real diminution of democracy in these countries,” he said.
US cyber army… of school kids?
During the breakfast session, Royce was also addressed on claims of Russian hacking in the US election, with the senator saying that “there needs to be a Cyber Command.”
He said that a US Cyber Command could be modeled on the Israeli Unit 8200, which mainly involves young specialists.
“Many of these kids are still in high school. They have the same kind of reputation as our Marines, except they’re known more for their brains than their brawn. They’re working specifically on how to hack into Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and who knows where else. And they do it better than anybody I have seen,” he said.
“What I suggest is that we set up the equivalent of this in Palo Alto, so that the sons and daughters of our IT greats and other Americans can join a unit established to keep America’s cyber networks secure,” the Republican added.
RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan, ridiculed Royce over his comments, tweeting that he was “yet another US politician/fiction monger” who has everything mixed up in his head.
КГБ, мильярд баксов, RT и Sputnik – всё смешалось в голове у очередного американского политика-фантаста. https://t.co/kRDSenZUwN
— Маргарита Симоньян (@M_Simonyan) July 24, 2017
In a separate comment, Simonyan said: “A California congressman has urged the creation of cyber forces by recruiting school kids and blamed the KGB for the success of RT and Sputnik. Let me remind you that California is one of the states where marijuana is legalized.”