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Dec. 14, 2023
Notes from the Pentagon

'Misinformation' service NewsGuard targeted in defense bill

By Bill Gertz
The 2024 defense authorization bill now in its final stages on Capitol Hill contains a provision that would restrict the Pentagon from spending money on an advertising agency that relies on the self-described “counter-misinformation” group NewsGuard, a blow to the left-leaning organization that critics say unfairly targets conservative media.

The restriction in the proposed annual National Defense Authorization Act recently survived a House-Senate conference. The final bill is being taken up by both chambers this week.

The provision calls on the defense secretary to ensure all ad agencies that contract with the Defense Department do not “place advertisements in news sources based on personal or institutional political preferences or biases, or determinations of misinformation.”

The section also requires that the defense secretary and military service secretaries notify Congress whenever an ad agency employs NewsGuard, a similar British-based group called the Global Disinformation Index, or similar services.

The provision is a response by several House Republicans who have said that self-appointed anti-misinformation watchdog groups are effectively being used to target conservative media outlets.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said the final provision was not as strong as the curbs he originally sought. But the restrictions are moving in the right direction, he added.

“It is unacceptable for the Department of Defense to contract with companies that censor news sources based on subjective criteria,” Mr. Lamborn said in a statement.

“The Department of Defense should be spending taxpayer money on our national defense — not propping up companies that mute conservative voices,” he added. “I will continue to fight these kinds of harmful policies from my position [as subcommittee chairman] in future versions of the NDAA.”

NewsGuard spokesman Matt Skibinski said the company has never contracted with the government on the placement of ads.

NewsGuard is “pleased to see that the bill’s language achieves the goal of maximizing military recruitment advertising campaigns while preserving the Pentagon’s ability to use the best tools in market, including NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints, for the important goal of combating foreign state-sponsored information operations in Russia, China, and Iran/Hamas,” he said in a statement.

Gordon Crovitz, a co-founder of NewsGuard, denied his group is left wing. “The criteria we use to assess news sources on their journalistic practices are apolitical,” he said.

Mr. Crovitz said the Pentagon work by NewsGuard is not related to rating news sites or advertising. Analysts at the group hunt for Russian, Chinese and Iranian or Hamas disinformation claims, he said.

Steve Brill, NewsGuard chief executive, is a former Wall Street Journal editorial writer who has since become a high-profile Democratic Party supporter and donor. Under Mr. Brill, NewsGuard has tangled with conservative news outlets in what critics said was an attempt to scare off advertisers.

In October 2020, Mr. Brill called reports about the laptop computer owned by President Biden’s son Hunter “a hoax perpetrated by the Russians.” The authenticity of the laptop has since been confirmed by both the federal government and many media outlets.

NewsGuard came under fire recently from Elon Musk, whose social media site, X, issued a warning about the news rating service in November. The company’s @Safety account stated in a post that its platform had been unfairly targeted by NewsGuard, and Mr. Musk said in a post in October that “NewsGuard should be disbanded immediately.”

The NDAA provision was first reported by Newsmax, a cable news service that has also been a target of the service.

“People like Steve Brill and groups like NewsGuard masquerade as neutral journalists but they are nothing more than Democratic Party operatives,” said Christopher Ruddy, CEO of Newsmax Media Inc.

Mr. Ruddy said both NewsGuard and Global Disinformation Index are working to defund conservative media and pose “a threat to our constitutional freedoms and an attack on free speech.”

The Washington Times reported in November that NewsGuard labeled as misinformation stories that question COVID-19 vaccine safety while receiving significant funding from a firm that represents some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. NewsGuard denied the funding posed a conflict of interest.

The conservative Media Research Center in December 2021 reported that research it conducted revealed NewsGuard was “biased toward left-leaning news sites, as it gives left-wing outlets better trust ratings on average than right-wing sources.”

Defense bill curbs Chinese spying on port data
The House-Senate conference report on the fiscal 2024 defense authorization bill also contains a provision that backers say is meant to prevent China from spying on ports and critical logistics data used by the American military.

The measure prohibits the Pentagon from contracting with any port or logistics platform that uses the national transportation logistics public information platform known as LOGINK, which is controlled by China‘s government. U.S. officials believe LOGINK allows the Chinese government and military to track U.S. military and commercial ships through data on supply chains used by the United States and its allies.

LOGINK is directed by the Chinese Ministry of Transportation and has been in operation since 2007. Under China‘s military-civil fusion program, all information gathered by LOGINK can be used by the People’s Liberation Army.

The restriction was added to the House version of the bill by Rep. Michelle Steel, California Republican, who warned that any use of the database could potentially be used by the Chinese government to obtain sensitive military and supply chain data.

“For 15 years, the [Chinese Communist Party] has conducted espionage campaigns on our military and supply chains to help in their mission to become the world’s strongest economic hegemony,” Ms. Steele said in a statement. “By banning the [Department of Defense] from using of the Chinese state-owned platform LOGINK, we take vital steps in protecting our national defense and global trade.”

Ms. Steele said the use of LOGLINK is a serious national security threat with far-reaching implications amid growing tensions with China.

Security concerns regarding LOGINK echo those that surfaced with Huawei Technologies and ZTE, two major Chinese telecommunications providers. Congress in 2019 banned federal agencies from using their products and services, she said.

The restriction, part of the final bill being considered by both the House and Senate this week, prohibits any use of LOGINK by the U.S. military or commercial companies at ports in the United States or abroad. The measure also calls on the federal government to work with allies to end their use of LOGINK.

State Department seeks greater U.N. role for Taiwan
The State Department said Wednesday it is seeking to expand Taiwan’s role in the United Nations and other international organizations that have limited Taipei’s activities under pressure from China.

State Department officials, along with officials at the American Institute in Taiwan, met with Taiwan’s representative group in Washington, known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, and the Taiwan Foreign Ministry to discuss the issue. The talks in Washington involved “expanding Taiwan’s participation in the United Nations system and in other international forums,” the department said in a statement.

“This discussion focused on near-term opportunities to support Taiwan’s expanded participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA) and other global public health bodies, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), as well as Taiwan’s meaningful participation in non-UN international, regional, and multilateral organizations,” the statement said.

The talks included discussion of global challenges such as global health, aviation safety, climate change and transnational crime. Plans for jointly enhancing economic cooperation were also discussed.

“U.S. participants highlighted the world-class expertise Taiwan brings in many areas of global concern, including health, food security, aviation green fuels and bolstering women’s economic and political empowerment,” the statement said, adding in a veiled reference to Beijing: “All participants recognized the importance of working closely with like-minded partners who share our concerns regarding attempts to exclude Taiwan from the international community.”

A German Marshall Fund report in March said Beijing has launched a campaign to systematically block Taiwan from working with international organizations like the United Nations.

The report said China is using secret agreements with U.N. agencies and specialized funding to block Taiwan — despite the fact that the United Nations has not formally accepted Beijing’s policy that Taiwan is part of China.

China‘s “efforts to constrain Taiwan at the U.N. have broader implications for international governance, as it shows a prioritization of one member state’s national interests over the global community’s — as exemplified by Taiwan’s damaging exclusion from global health debates during the coronavirus pandemic,” the report said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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