Trump administration taps former Fox News reporter, Navy veteran to lead center combating Russian disinformation

PHOTO: A view of the State Department seal on the podium June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.Drew Angerer/Getty Images
A view of the State Department seal on the podium June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The Trump administration has tapped Lea Gabrielle, Navy veteran and a former Fox News reporter, as the head of the State Department's center to combat disinformation.

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The Global Engagement Center, which critics say the administration has underfunded and underutilized, was created to take on propaganda from the Islamic State and other Islamic terrorist groups. Starting in 2016, Congress also mandated that it counter state actors like Russia and Iran as they seek to weaponize information and influence the American public.

PHOTO: A view of the State Department seal on the podium June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
A view of the State Department seal on the podium June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC.

But the Global Engagement Center has remained leaderless for much of the Trump administration with only an acting coordinator, and while Congress appropriated $60 million in funding each year, the funds were not properly transferred from the Pentagon, leaving the center with an infusion of $40 million after two years.

Gabrielle served as a Navy fighter pilot and intelligence officer in Afghanistan before pivoting and working as a reporter at Fox News.

Critics say that experience does not qualify her for the role at a time when America's adversaries, especially Russia and China, are weaponizing information and trying to influence the U.S. public.

"The notion that we're going to send somebody who doesn't have even an elementary grasp of information warfare to deal with one of the most pressing threats to our country and giving paltry amount of resources to do it is quite frankly national security malpractice," said Brett Bruen, a former U.S. diplomat who served as Director of Global Engagement at the White House.

But others disagree, saying Gabrielle's relationship with the White House will help her and the Global Engagement Center do their job by giving her the political juice to push initiatives through.

"I'm looking forward to working with Lea Gabrielle as she leads the Global Engagement Center. I'm glad this is a priority for Secretary Pompeo. As we fight to ensure that the GEC is fully funded and staffed, I hope she'll be able to elevate the profile and importance of the work that the GEC does to combat propaganda and disinformation," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., told ABC News in a statement.

Murphy co-sponsored the legislation with Republican Rob Portman of Ohio that authorized the GEC to take on propaganda and disinformation from state actors and provided $60 million annually to do so.

Portman defended the choice of Gabrielle, saying he met her recently and is "confident that she has the right blend of military, interagency, and media experience to take the Center to the next level of effectiveness."

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