The Department of Justice (DoJ) said Thursday it was putting in place a new policy governing disclosure by DoJ and other Federal agencies of “foreign influence operations” being conducted in the United States.

The agency said the new policy “provides guideposts for Department action to expose and thereby counter foreign influence threats, consistent with the fundamental principle that the Department always must seek to act in ways that are politically neutral, compliant with the First Amendment and designed to maintain the public trust.”

At the heart of the policy is a pledge to not only disrupt and persecute perpetrators of illegal foreign influence activities “where feasible,” but to “alert victims and unwitting targets of foreign influence activities when appropriate and consistent with the Department’s policies and practices, and with our national security interests,” DoJ said.

Alerts may be provided in a range of contexts, including to support prosecution of Federal crimes such as hacking or malicious cyber activity, to alert victims, to alert unwitting recipients of covert support from foreign governments, to alert technology companies and others if their services are being used to disseminate covert foreign government propaganda and disinformation, to alert congressional committees, and to alert the public “where the Federal or national interests of doing so outweigh any countervailing considerations.”

Foreign influence operations covered under the policy include “covert actions by foreign governments intended to sow divisions in our society, undermine confidence in our democratic institutions, and otherwise affect political sentiment and public discourse to achieve strategic geopolitical objectives,” DoJ said. “Such operations are often empowered by modern technology that facilitates malicious cyberactivity and covert or anonymous communications with U.S. audiences on a mass scale from abroad.”

DoJ also said it “may not be possible or prudent” to disclose foreign influence operations in certain contexts because of investigative or operational considerations or other constraints. But, it added, “In some circumstances…public exposure and attribution of foreign influence operations can be an important means of countering the threat and rendering those operations less effective.”

The agency also said that it may not always be the appropriate entity to perform disclosures.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.