Former Fox News reporter Lea Gabrielle will likely be the next head of the State Department’s agency that counters foreign propaganda and disinformation campaigns, CNN reported on Thursday.
Two officials told the network that Gabrielle is “expected to be officially named the special envoy and coordinator of the Global Engagement Center as soon as Thursday.”
Gabrielle was a general assignment reporter for "Shepard Smith Reporting," according to her Fox News biography, and was previously a military reporter. A friend of Gabrielle's told CNN in September that she was leaving Fox News and moving to Washington, DC.
Gabrielle is a United States Naval Academy graduate and served in the US Navy as fighter pilot for more than a decade, as well as taking part in some intelligence operations. She has said that her time in the Navy made her a better reporter. "I know how important it is that those who wear combat boots have their voices heard and their perspectives understood in news reporting," Gabrielle said during a 2016 interview with fightersweep.com. "My goal as I report on military topics is always to honor them ... by getting it right."
The former Fox News employee was first floated as a possible pick for the post in September, at which time several current and former officials in the field were critical of “the choice of a relative foreign policy novice.”
But CNN noted that the Trump administration seems to have an affinity for hiring those with military experience, as well as those who have worked for Fox News.
Recently Andrea Thompson, who spent more than 25 years in the US military, also joined the State Department as the Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security just last year.
The administration has hired a number of former Fox News employees in prominent roles. Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesperson, and the Bill Shine, the White House Communications chief, also worked at the network.
If selected, Gabrielle would come on board at a crucial time, as the U.S. heads toward the 2020 election and Russia is still looking to interfere in American democracy — particularly with targeted disinformation campaigns.
As recently as last week, the Justice Department alleged that Russia has continued pushing online disinformation to discredit the American government, after a pro-Russian Twitter account spread confidential information from a criminal case that special counsel Robert Mueller's team brought against a Russian company for social media conspiracy.
The GEC has been strongly criticized during the Trump administration for not actively taking on Russian interference, and for not using all of the money it has been given.
At least one former official has spoken out forcefully against Gabrielle’s potential appointment:
Brett Bruen, a former White House director of global engagement during the Obama administration, said, "Lea may be a great reporter and pilot. She has evidenced absolutely no knowledge of or experience with information warfare. Our nation, indeed the world, faces a serious and sophisticated threat. We need leadership that can take on this danger from day one."
He added: "Her appointment endangers our elections, our public discourse, and potentially our economy."