‘They Have To Do It To Their Own Population’: Former Top Obama Official Said He Was Called ‘Chief Propagandist’

(Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)

Dylan Housman Deputy News Editor
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A former top official in the Obama administration State Department once said he isn’t opposed to propaganda and that all countries have to do it to their own population in a newly-resurfaced video.

Richard Stengel, who served as Obama’s Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs from 2014 to 2016, made the comments while moderating a panel hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in 2018. The comments resurfaced in light of news that an office at the State Department, the Global Engagement Center (GEC), flagged certain posts on Twitter as “foreign disinformation” regardless of their accuracy.

“Every country creates their own narrative story, and my old job at the State Department was what people used to joke as the ‘Chief Propagandist’ job,” Stengel said during the 2018 event. “I’m not against propaganda. Every country does it, and they have to do it to their own population. I don’t necessarily think it’s that awful.”

Stengel’s work leading the State Department’s operations led to an executive order in 2016 establishing the creation of the GEC, building on the 2011 creation of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC), an office led by Stengel. The CSCC was focused largely on countering ISIS messaging during the Obama administration’s fight with the Islamic terrorist organization.

The GEC made news recently after a batch of the “Twitter Files” alleged that the office had been flagging certain tweets for Twitter executives that it considered to be “foreign disinformation.” Those tweets included those that speculated that COVID-19 originated from “research conducted at the Wuhan institute,” which the office claimed was part of a Kremlin disinformation campaign.

The State Department defended the practice, claiming that it never asked Twitter to censor certain posts and was only doing its part to curtail foreign influence operations on the platform.

“The GEC does not attempt to moderate content on social media platforms. Its role is to identify foreign disinformation narratives, trends and techniques that are aimed at undercutting U.S. national interests,” State Department Spokesman Ned Price said last month in response to a question from the Daily Caller. (RELATED: ‘Belly Button’: FBI Reportedly Promised Twitter The Bureau Would Be ‘Conduit’ Between Tech Industry, Intel Agencies)

Prior to joining the Obama administration, Stengel was the longtime managing editor of Time Magazine, working in the role from 2006 to 2013. He has since been a contributor to MSNBC and fellow at the Atlantic Council.