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When Billionaires And The Government Work Together To Control Information

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/08/2022 - 2:28am in

Listen to a reading of this article:

https://medium.com/media/aff6231b171fa1685a1f4b2c39e936ef/href

Facebook restricted visibility of the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story in the lead-up to the 2020 election after receiving counsel from the FBI, according to Facebook/Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“So we took a different path than Twitter,” Zuckerberg said during a Thursday appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience. “Basically the background here is the FBI, I think basically came to us — some folks on our team and was like, ‘Hey, um, just so you know, like, you should be on high alert. There was the — we thought that there was a lot of Russian propaganda in the 2016 election. We have it on notice that basically there’s about to be some kind of dump of — that’s similar to that. So just be vigilant.’”

Zuckerberg said a decision was made to restrict that information on Facebook’s multibillion-user platform. He said that unlike Twitter, which banned the sharing of the article entirely, Facebook opted for the somewhat subtler option of censorship by algorithm.

“The distribution on Facebook was decreased,” he said, adding when pressed by Rogan that the decreased visibility of the article happened to a “meaningful” extent.

As we’ve discussed previously, censorship by algorithm is becoming the preferred censorship method on large Silicon Valley platforms because it can be done to far more people with far less objection than outright de-platforming and bans.

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In addition to being censored across social media platforms, the Hunter Biden laptop story was first ignored and dismissed by the mainstream news media, then spun as a Russian disinfo operation. Those media outlets eventually came around to admitting that the leaked emails were probably authentic, and Hunter Biden tacitly authenticated them himself when he acknowledged that the information “could” have come from his laptop. Nothing that came from that laptop was anywhere near as scandalous as the unified front presented by the news media and Silicon Valley in reducing the political impact of an October surprise before a presidential election.

And now we know that the reason the world’s largest social media platform censored that particular story was because they were cautioned by the FBI against allowing such information to circulate. How many of those other institutions suppressed that news story because they were told to by the FBI or other government agencies? How often are US government agencies involving themselves in the act of censorship? What other information is being suppressed in this or similar ways? What other information will be suppressed in the future?

Because of the veils of government and corporate secrecy which obscure our view of the behaviors of power, we don’t get to have answers to these questions. All we get to have is what oligarchs like Mark Zuckerberg choose to tell us, in whatever way and to whatever extent they choose to tell us about them.

But even what we’ve been told is pretty ugly. A government agency and a social media platform of unprecedented influence teaming up together to silence impactful political speech is censorship by any sane definition. Mainstream liberals can come up with all kinds of arguments for why the continually expanding justifications for online censorship are fine and normal and not really censorship, but are they able to maintain those justifications when government agencies are actively involved? Is it really better when political speech is being censored by a collaboration of government operatives and billionaires than censored directly by the government alone?

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Alan MacLeod has been putting out a number of reports with Mintpress News documenting the way many veterans from the FBI, CIA, NSA and other government agencies have been recruited to work for tech companies like Google/YouTube, Facebook/Meta, and Twitter. The intimacy with which these government and corporate entities are working together is growing closer and closer, and they’re making less and less effort to conceal it.

In a power structure without clear boundaries separating corporations from the government, corporate censorship is state censorship. The mightiest power structure on earth is growing more and more brazen and shameless about this reality.

You know you are living in an oligarchy when Mark Zuckerberg has more political influence over your country than any elected official. Democracy is an illusion. Those who live under the US empire are a propagandized and politically impotent population who only think they are free because they’ve been given the illusion of freedom, and less and less effort is being made to sustain that illusion.

We are ruled by unelected sociopaths who have no wisdom, no compassion, and no intention of ever relinquishing their rule. This will continue unless and until enough of us wake up to what’s going on to stop them.

__________________

My work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following me on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud or YouTube, buying an issue of my monthly zine, or throwing some money into my tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy my books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff I publish is to subscribe to the mailing list for at my website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything I publish. Everyone, racist platforms excluded, has my permission to republish, use or translate any part of this work (or anything else I’ve written) in any way they like free of charge. For more info on who I am, where I stand, and what I’m trying to do with this platform, click here. All works co-authored with my American husband Tim Foley.

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How the CIA has Infiltrated Social Media Companies, with Alan MacLeod

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 27/08/2022 - 12:18am in

 
The MintPress podcast, “The Watchdog,” hosted by British-Iraqi hip hop artist Lowkey, closely examines organizations about which it is in the public interest to know – including intelligence, lobby and special interest groups influencing policies that infringe on free speech and target dissent. The Watchdog goes against the grain by casting a light on stories largely ignored by the mainstream, corporate media.

It is a story that is straight out of a dystopian science fiction novel. Big social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, have gone on a hiring spree, recruiting dozens of CIA officers to run their most important, politically sensitive departments – and almost no one is talking about it.

On episode 39 of “The Watchdog” podcast, Lowkey speaks to Alan MacLeod, an investigative journalist who has spent months painstakingly combing through employment databases and corporate social media sites like LinkedIn to catalog this national security state infiltration of many of the largest social media platforms.

One of these platforms is Facebook, the world’s most influential news distributor. Recently, the Silicon Valley giant released a PR video featuring a man they identify as “Aaron” – the company’s Senior Product Policy Manager for Misinformation. Aaron informs viewers that he and his team think deeply about how to balance their commitment to freedom of speech with their duty to protect users from harm and violence, and underlines that “transparency is incredibly important in the work I do.”

There is one problem with this, as MacLeod explained:

Aaron is, in fact, a senior CIA agent. Or at least he was until a couple of years ago, when he left his post at the agency, where he was a senior analytic manager, to take a job at Facebook. As Facebook itself describes, he is basically the person in charge of the team that is deciding what gets zapped off the platform and what gets promoted.”

Nor was he a minor pen pusher at the CIA. In fact, he was so high up that he wrote the President’s Daily Brief, a document read out to the commander-in-chief in the Oval Office every day. The fact that a former high-ranking CIA member is now influencing content moderation on Facebook should concern everyone, MacLeod notes, telling Lowkey that,

This has huge consequences, not just for media organizations who live and die by the amount of clicks they get on Facebook…but it also affects what 3 billion people see in their news feeds. Because that’s how many people actually get their news from Facebook.”

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer and Podcast Producer for MintPress News. He has worked at the company since 2019. Before joining MintPress, he was an academic and a freelance journalist specializing in Latin America and in analyzing media and propaganda.

His series of articles for MintPress News has highlighted the connections between the national security state and big social media outlets like Reddit, Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter. To understand more about this worrying trend, follow the links above or watch the interview exclusively at MintPress News.

Lowkey is a British-Iraqi hip-hop artist, academic and political campaigner. As a musician, he has collaborated with the Arctic Monkeys, Wretch 32, Immortal Technique and Akala. He is a patron of Stop The War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Racial Justice Network and The Peace and Justice Project, founded by Jeremy Corbyn. He has spoken and performed on platforms from the Oxford Union to the Royal Albert Hall and Glastonbury. His latest album, Soundtrack To The Struggle 2, featured Noam Chomsky and Frankie Boyle and has been streamed millions of times.

The post How the CIA has Infiltrated Social Media Companies, with Alan MacLeod appeared first on MintPress News.

Most of the “Fact-Checking” Organizations Facebook Uses in Ukraine Are Directly Funded by Washington

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/08/2022 - 3:02am in

Most of the fact-checking organizations Facebook has partnered with to monitor and regulate information about Ukraine are directly funded by the U.S. government, either through the U.S. Embassy or via the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an information war as bitter as the ground fighting has erupted, and Meta (Facebook’s official name) announced it had partnered with nine organizations to help it sort fact from fiction for Ukrainian, Russian and other Eastern European users. These nine organizations are: StopFake, VoxCheck, Fact Check Georgia, Demagog, Myth Detector, Lead Stories, Patikrinta 15min, Re:Baltica and Delfi.

“To reduce the spread of misinformation and provide more reliable information to users, we partner with independent third-party fact-checkers globally,” the Silicon Valley giant wrote, adding, “Facebook’s independent third-party fact-checkers are all certified by the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). The IFCN, a subsidiary of the journalism research organization Poynter Institute, is dedicated to bringing together fact-checkers worldwide.”

The problem with this? At least five of the nine organizations are directly in the pay of the United States government, a major belligerent in the conflict. The Poynter Institute is also funded by the NED. Furthermore, many of the other fact-checking organizations also have deep connections with other NATO powers, including direct funding.

 

StopFake

Perhaps the most well-known and notorious of the nine groups is StopFake. Established in 2014, StopFake is funded by NATO’s Atlantic Council, by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the British Embassy in Ukraine and the Czech Foreign Ministry. It has also received money from the U.S. via the National Endowment for Democracy, although that fact is far from trumpeted by either party.

One potential reason for this was alluded to in a 2016 article reprinted by StopFake itself. As the article notes, “in the case of StopFake.org when opponents want to insult the project, they immediately invoke National Endowment for Democracy donor support as evidence of U.S. government and CIA involvement.”

In the wake of the Russian invasion, the NED pulled all public records of their Ukraine projects from the internet. Nevertheless, incomplete archived copies of those records confirm a financial relationship between the groups.

StopFake was explicitly set up as a partisan organization. As a glowing report on them from the International Journalists’ Network notes, the majority of StopFake’s fact-checks are on stories from Russian media, and the motivation for its creation was “Russia’s 2014 occupation of Crimea and a campaign to portray Ukraine as a fascist state where anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia thrived.”

While it is indeed incorrect to label Ukraine a fascist state, the country clearly has one of the strongest far-right movements anywhere in Europe. And unfortunately, StopFake itself is far from an apolitical bystander in that rise. Multiple established Western media outlets, including The New York Times, have reported on StopFake’s ties to white power or Nazi groups. When local journalist Ekaterina Sergatskova exposed these links, death threats from far-right figures forced her to flee her home.

Indeed, according to some, one of StopFake’s primary functions appears to be to promote the far-right. A long exposé by Lev Golinkin in The Nation cataloged what it called StopFake’s history of “aggressively whitewashing two Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups with a long track record of violence, including war crimes.”

Surely StopFake’s most famous former host is Nina Jankowicz. Jankowicz was briefly head of President Biden’s newly formed Disinformation Governance Board before public uproar caused her to resign. Dubbed the “Ministry of Truth”, both the board and Jankowicz generated strong opposition. Yet few mentioned the fact that, while at StopFake, Jankowicz herself had, on camera, enthusiastically extolled the virtues of multiple fascist paramilitaries.

In a 2017 TV segment about the Aidar, Dnipro-1 and Azov Battalions, Jankowicz presented the groups as heroic volunteers deafening Ukraine from “further Russian separatist encroachment.” As she stated,

The volunteer movement in Ukraine extends far beyond military service. Volunteer groups are active in supporting Ukraine’s military with food, clothing, medicine, and post-battle rehabilitation, as well as working actively with the nearly two million internal refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine,”

This framing jars with multiple reports from human rights groups such as Amnesty International, who claim that the Aidar Battalion is guilty of a litany of abuses, “including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.” Amnesty also accuses Aidar and Dnipro-1 of “Using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.”

Azov, meanwhile, is the most infamous organization of the lot. The group’s insignia is directly lifted from the 2nd Waffen-SS Panzer Division, a unit responsible for carrying out some of the worst crimes of Hitler’s holocaust. The Azov Battalion also dip their bullets in pig fat before battle as a calculated hate crime, attempting to block Jewish or Muslim enemies from a better afterlife. Andriy Biletsky, the group’s founder, said in 2010 that he believes Ukraine’s mission is to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen” – the word Hitler used to describe Jews, Poles, Ukrainians and other peoples he designated for extermination.

In February, Facebook announced that it was changing its rules on hate speech to allow praise and promotion of the Azov Battalion. Was this on StopFake’s recommendation? MintPress asked Meta/Facebook for comment on their fact checking partner’s ties to far right groups and if StopFake had influenced their decision to allow pro-Nazi content on their platform, but did not receive a reply.

As Golinkin noted in his article for The Nation, StopFake has also defended C14, another fascist paramilitary, describing it merely as a “community organization”, citing C14’s own denial of its pogroms against Roma people as “evidence” of its innocence. This designation clashes even with the U.S. State Department, which classifies C14 as a “nationalist hate group.” The “14” in its name refers to the “14 words” white supremacist slogan.

StopFake has made a number of controversial claims, including that the rise in anti-semitism in Ukraine is “fake” – even going so far as to brand well-established outlets like NBC News and Al-Jazeera as printing fake news about the Azov Battalion’s role in this. In an article entitled “Russia as Evil: False Historical Parallels. Some peculiarities of Russian Political Culture,” it also insisted that Hitler’s concentration camps were modeled on Russian ones set up by Vladimir Lenin. In reality, the German government pioneered the use of concentration camps during their genocide of the Herero and Namaqua peoples between 1904 and 1908 in Namibia. The British and Spanish were also early adopters.

In addition, StopFake has close links with The Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian outlet directly funded and trained by the National Endowment for Democracy. Since 2016, the Post has published 191 StopFake reports.

 

Who is the NED?

Why receiving funding from the National Endowment for Democracy should immediately raise suspicions of any organization is because the NED was explicitly established by the Reagan administration as a front group for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Although it is funded by Washington and staffed by state officials, it is technically a private company and therefore not subject to the same legal regulations and public scrutiny as state institutions.

The CIA has used the NED to carry out many of its more controversial operations. In recent years, it has trained and funneled money to the leaders of the Hong Kong protesters to keep the insurrection alive, fomented a nationwide campaign of demonstrations in Cuba, and helped attempts to topple the government of Venezuela. Perhaps most importantly for this story, however, the NED was also involved in the 2014 coup that removed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych from power. Regime change is, in short, one of its primary functions.

The NED does this by establishing, funding, supporting and training all manner of political, economic and social groups in target countries. According to its 2019 annual report, Ukraine is the NED’s “top priority”. The agency has (officially) spent over $22 million in Ukraine since 2014.

In their more candid moments, NED leaders are explicit about the organization’s role. “It would be terrible for democratic groups around the world to be seen as subsidized by the CIA,” Carl Gershman, NED president from 1984 to 2021 said, explaining why his organization was set up. NED co-founder Allen Weinstein agreed: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” he told The Washington Post.

 

VoxCheck

VoxCheck receives substantial monetary assistance from the U.S. government through both the NED and the U.S. Embassy. It is also funded by the Dutch and German governments. Incomplete NED records show VoxCheck receives substantial yearly grants and has accepted around $250,000 in total.

That sort of money goes an extremely long way in Ukraine, which is by quite some way the poorest nation in Europe. The country’s GNI per capita of $3,500 per year is well below that of even Russia, which stands at $10,700. One $15,000 NED grant given to a Ukrainian media foundation, for instance, was enough to pay for over 100 articles to be written.

Despite its funding, Western media portray VoxCheck extremely positively. The Washington Post, for example, describes them as “a small group of independent fact-checkers.” In common parlance, the word “independent” is usually reserved for any media group not owned or funded by governments (as if that is the only type of dependence). But even at this extremely low bar, VoxCheck falls.

VoxUkraine NED

An NED document shows a 2020 grant given to VoxUkraine

In the article, the Washington Post describes VoxCheck’s fact-checking process, which largely consists of “sourcing credible news sources – such as a BBC article,” and then labeling Russian claims as false on this basis. In other words, the official state mouthpiece of the British government – one that was instrumental in promoting the lies which led to the invasions of Iraq and Libya – is considered sacrosanct.

What comes across in the Post’s glowing exposé is that VoxCheck staff have few pretensions about being neutral and see themselves as digital foot soldiers in a crusade against Russia. As one employee said, the mission is to “prevent someone from falling into Russian lies and manipulation.” Indeed, one of the staff quit his job to volunteer for the Ukrainian Army. Other VoxCheck employees revealed that they felt guilty for not doing so themselves and only contributing virtually to the fight.

Of course, Russia has lied constantly during this war; the entire invasion was based on a lie. Throughout the winter, Russian officials consistently repeated that they had no intention of invading Ukraine. Russian media, meanwhile, claimed that President Zelensky had fled the country in the wake of the invasion. But in war, all sides lie. And when a fact-checking operation constantly critiques only one side and stays largely quiet about the other, it has clearly taken a side in the conflict and is therefore acting in a partisan fashion. People interested in thinking critically should be scrutinizing claims made by all sides.

 

Fact Check Georgia

Fact Check Georgia describes itself as “an independent and non-partisan website which offers readers researched, verified and evidence-based information.” Yet it is bankrolled by a litany of dubious organizations, including the NED and the U.S. Embassy, the German Marshall Fund, the Dutch government and the European Endowment for Democracy, a European government-funded “private” organization explicitly modeled on the NED.


Fact Check Georgia’s “About Us” section reveals just how independent the fact checking organization really is

Fact Check Georgia’s independence is potentially undermined by the fact that at the bottom of every page of its website, it displays the crests of both the NED and the U.S. Embassy in Georgia. This is accompanied by the disclaimer, “The views and opinions expressed on this website belong to Factcheck.ge and are not the views and opinions of project support organizations” – a sentence that would not be necessary to attach if an organization was truly independent.

Furthermore, some of its staff have notable backgrounds. The first person listed on Fact Check Georgia’s “our team” section was formerly the Deputy Minister of Defense for Georgia – a country that fought a war against Russia in 2008.

 

Myth Detector

Another Georgia-based company, Myth Detector, was funded by the U.S. Embassy to the tune of €42,000 in financial year 2021. German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle contributed €41,000. Also donating €41,000 last year, according to Myth Detector’s financial report, is a group called “Zinc.” This is quite possibly the Zinc Network, a shadowy intelligence firm that conducts information warfare operations on behalf of the U.K. and U.S. governments.

 

Demagog

Not only is the U.S. Embassy in Poland funding Demagog, it is also carrying out training in how to think. Demagog’s website notes that the embassy established a “fact-checking academy” on “how to deal with false information.” “Thanks to the [embassy] cooperation,” it notes, “classes were conducted for students and teachers on fake news, reliable sources of information and fact-checking.”

Alongside the U.S. government, Demagog also receives money from Polish government, European Union and European Economic Area organizations.

Together, these five organizations’ operations are all directly bankrolled by Washington. However, many of the other fact-checking groups Facebook pays to serve as content police on their platform have similarly close connections to Western state power. Indeed, the only one of the nine that appears relatively free from direct government collaboration is self-funded outlet Lead Stories.

 

Patikrinta 15min

Lithuanian outlet Patikrinta 15min insist that they are an independent, non-partisan group. As their “About” section states: “Sponsors of Patikrinta 15min cannot be political parties, politicians, state organizations or companies or organizations related to politicians.” They do, however, accept funding from the Poynter Institute, the journalism group that owns U.S. fact-checking organization Politifact. Since 2016, the Poynter Institute has sought for and received at least seven grants from the National Endowment for Democracy, totaling well over half a million dollars.

Notably, some of these grants are clearly a way of funneling cash to Eastern European fact-checking groups. As one NED grant summary for $78,000 notes, the goal of the money is to “promote the use of fact-checking websites as an effective accountability tool in Central and Eastern Europe, and strengthen the global fact-checking community.” The NED goes on to note that Poynter will bring over 70 journalists to a training summit and afterward continue to “train” “mentor,” “support,” and help them and their organizations with “capacity building.”


One of several grants given to the ostensibly neutral Poynter Institute by the US State Dept’s NED

A cynic might conclude that the NED was simply trying to launder its money through Poynter. MintPress asked Patikrinta 15min to confirm or deny whether they were one of the Eastern European groups mentioned in the NED filings but has not received a response.

Like other groups, Patikrinta 15min’s non-partisan veneer frequently slips. This can be seen in headlines such as “Russian cynicism knows no bounds” and the fact that they frequently defend Nazi groups like the Azov Battalion.

Like StopFake, n 15min has argued that Azov’s use of the Waffen SS symbol is coincidental. It also presented Azov as an apolitical organization and has used quotes from Azov founder Andriy Biletsky – possibly the world’s most infamous living neo-Nazi – as “proof” that charges against it are Russian disinformation.

 

Re:Baltica

While there is no evidence that Re:Baltica has a financial relationship with the United States government, the lion’s share of its funding still comes from the West. As they note on their website, around two-thirds of their funding comes “from the institutions based in EU/NATO countries.” They also list “the Kingdom of the Netherlands” as one of their “friends” – i.e., donors.


Re:Baltica is generously funded by western govt’s and NGOs, including George Soro’s Open Society Foundation

 

Delfi

Delfi is a major web portal in Eastern Europe and the Baltic. The company does not disclose if it receives foreign funding. It does, undeniably, however, have a close relationship with the NED. In 2015, Delfi interviewed Christopher Walker, a senior NED manager about the best way they could counter Russian propaganda. Two years later, NED President Gershman addressed the Lithuanian parliament, revealing that his organization had,

[W]orked with Lithuania in countering Russian efforts to subvert and destroy democracy in Lithuania, in Europe, and in Russia itself. We have supported the work of the Lithuania-based Delfi and the East European Studies Center in monitoring, documenting, and combatting Russian disinformation in Lithuania and the Baltic states.”

Later that year, Delfi teamed up with the NED to hold the 1st Vilnius Young Leaders Meeting, whereby handpicked young activists were invited to rub shoulders with journalists and spooks from across Europe and the United States, in the hope of building up a Western-friendly force in civil society.


A chart showing the leadership structure of the EXPOSE network published as part of the Integrity Initiative Leak 7

Delfi, Re:Baltica and StopFake were all identified as proposed members of a “counter”-propaganda network hoping to be established by the EXPOSE Network. EXPOSE was allegedly a secret U.K.-government funded initiative that would have brought together journalists and state operatives in an alliance to shape public discourse in a manner more conducive to the priorities of Western governments.

As EXPOSE wrote, “An opportunity exists to upskill civil society organizations around Europe, enhancing their existing activities and unleashing their potential” to be the next generation of activists in the fight against Kremlin disinformation.”

“Coordinat[ing] their activities,” wrote EXPOSE, “represents a unique opportunity” for the British government in their fight against Russia. Unfortunately, they lamented, StopFake’s “monomaniacal fixation” on Russia had hurt its credibility.

Remarkably, EXPOSE also wrote that, “Another barrier to combating disinformation is the fact that certain Kremlin-backed narratives are factually true” – an admission that underlines that, to many governments and media outlets, “disinformation” is rapidly coming to simply mean “information we disagree with.”

The names of those individuals listed as potential employees of this network are a who’s who of state-linked operatives, including the Zinc Network, multiple individuals from NED-funded investigative journalism website Bellingcat and Ben Nimmo, a former NATO spokesperson who is now head of global intelligence for Facebook.

 

Facebook’s Cyber War

Nimmo is only one of a great many former state agents now working in the higher echelons of Facebook, however. Last month, MintPress published a study revealing that the Silicon Valley giant has hired dozens of ex-CIA personnel into influential positions within the company, especially in security, content moderation and trust and safety.

Given how influential Facebook is as a media and communications giant, this sort of relationship constitutes a national security issue to every other country in the world. And this is not a hypothetical threat either. In November, Nimmo led a team that effectively attempted to swing the Nicaraguan elections away from the ruling Sandinista party and towards the U.S.-backed candidate. In the days leading up to the election, Facebook deleted hundreds of accounts and pages of pro-Sandinista media.

This action underlines the fact that Facebook is not an international company existing only in the ether, but an American operation bound by American laws. And increasingly, it is moving closer to the U.S. government itself.

 

Who will guard the guardians?

Fake news abounds online, and we as a society are wholly unprepared to counter it. A study conducted by Stanford University found that the vast majority of people – even the digitally savvy youth – were unable to tell factual reporting from obvious falsehoods online. Many will fall for Russian propaganda. Russian media is indeed pumping out misleading information constantly. But so are NATO countries. And if the fact-checkers who have volunteered to sort truth from fiction for us relentlessly attack Russia but are quiet on their own side’s spin, many more will fall for Western propaganda.

The implicit outlook of many of these fact-checking groups is that “only Russia lies.” This is the position of a partisan organization, one that cares little about truth and more about imposing control over the means of communication. And this is all being done in the name of keeping us safe.

Who is fact-checking the fact-checkers? Unfortunately, it is up to small, independent media outlets to do so. However, MintPress has faced constant suppression for doing so, being blocked from communicating with our 400,000+ Facebook followers, suppressed algorithmically by the Silicon Valley giants, and being removed from financial transaction services like PayPal.

The solution is to teach and develop critical media literacy. All media outlets have biases and agendas. It is up to the individual to learn these and constantly scrutinize and evaluate everything they read. However, governments do not want their populations thinking critically; they want their message to be dominant, one reason why the NED has been quietly bankrolling so many fact-checking organizations to do its work for it.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Most of the “Fact-Checking” Organizations Facebook Uses in Ukraine Are Directly Funded by Washington appeared first on MintPress News.

Leaked Docs: Facebook ‘Bot’ Adviser Secretly in Pay of US Regime Change Agency

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/07/2022 - 12:48am in

Tags 

Facebook, leak, USAID

Documents shared with MintPress reveal that Valent Projects – a shadowy communications firm that advises social media platforms such as Facebook on alleged state-backed online influence campaigns – has itself received $1.2 million from U.S. intelligence front USAID, for “counter disinformation and communications support.”

This relationship has hitherto never been publicly acknowledged, and the resulting income is not reflected in the company’s published accounts.

On Valent’s direction, Facebook has purged huge numbers of Sudanese accounts and pages critical of the Western-backed government, helping to keep a controversial civilian and military administration in power. There are also suspicions the company may have played a role in the mass suppression of Ethiopian voices online supporting the government of Abiy Ahmed, and opposing U.S. attempts to overthrow him.

Valent Projects is the creation of Amil Khan, a veteran BBC and Reuters journalist turned British intelligence-adjacent information warfare professional. For many years, Khan worked on secret Foreign Office projects in Syria. There, he ran covert psyops campaigns targeting domestic and international audiences, trained ostensibly independent opposition journalists and activists to communicate effectively with the media, and provided propaganda support to numerous armed groups trained, funded, and armed by London and Washington.

Perversely, but perhaps unsurprisingly given his professional history, Khan is now an influential and well-remunerated component of the international counter-disinformation industry. He and his company receive vast sums from an assortment of prominent clients – not all of whom are advertised – for a variety of dubious services, including managing online astroturf campaigns, and identifying alleged foreign-borne propaganda and enemy government-backed “information operations” online.

Khan bills Valent Projects as “an integrated digital agency that works with clients who want to do good in the world.” But internal company documents passed to this journalist anonymously reveal that his disinformation busting efforts amount to a deeply sinister arm’s length state censorship mechanism.

There is no indication that Khan apprised social networks of his commercial connections to USAID when making representations to them about purported “inauthentic behavior”, “coordinated activity” and troll and bot accounts on their platforms – representations that result in independent activists, journalists and others being permanently suspended, and dissent crushed online.

By definition, this activity poses a grave, unseen, and wholly unaccountable threat to the ability of independent journalists, academics, activists, and regular citizens the world over to be heard online, if their perspectives contravene established Western narratives. And it represents yet another ominous example of how major social media platforms have been insidiously coopted and corrupted by national security interests.

 

Propping up our men in Sudan

Valent’s active role in compelling major social media platforms to take action against “networks” of trolls and bots elsewhere has been well-publicized. In June 2021 for instance, 53 Facebook accounts, 51 pages, three groups, and 18 Instagram accounts in Sudan, with over 1.8 million followers “that targeted domestic audiences,” linked to individuals associated with a national opposition party, were summarily purged.

“We found this network after reviewing information about some of its activity shared by researchers at Valent Projects,” a Meta report on “inauthentic behavior” that month states.

This was one of many mass-defenestrations of social media users in Sudan carried out by Facebook in the period between the April 2019 coup that ousted long-time President Omar al-Bashir, and the military’s seizure of power in October 2021, to which Valent was either central or closely adjacent.

These accounts, usually associated with opposition elements in the country, were variously claimed to have engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by disseminating content critical of the country’s military and civilian power-sharing government, “[promoting] Russian interests,” and other malign activities.

While one would be forgiven for concluding from Meta’s “inauthentic behavior” report that Valent approached the social network in an independent capacity, the company was in fact acting on behalf of USAID’s Agency’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), which “provides fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key political transition.”

This is an Orwellian euphemism for facilitating regime change. While never admitted in the mainstream, and strenuously denied by officials in Washington, USAID has since its 1961 inception served as a U.S. intelligence Trojan Horse, aiding the CIA and other agencies in undermining “enemy” governments.

The Agency’s penetration of Sudan following the 2019 coup was extensive. An official USAID explainer openly avows that the event represented a “historic” opportunity to “further U.S. interests” in the country and wider region, strongly hinting that the civilian and military power-sharing government was created by OTI.

The administration was then provided extensive financial and material support by USAID, its representatives coordinating closely with the Sudanese Prime Minister’s office to “counter mis- and disinformation.” The Agency also financed independent media outlets and NGOs, and supported “civilians advocating for democratic reforms,” in order to shore up its rule.

Numerous reports from leading human rights organizations published during the executive’s two years of operation documented rampant corruption and egregious abuses of power by authorities, including murderous crackdowns on protests, jailing of activists without charge or trial, and closure of opposition media outlets. By the time the administration disintegrated, it had failed to implement almost all of the institutional and legal reforms outlined in its founding constitutional charter.

US role South Sudan

South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, left, walks with Samantha Power outside the presidential compound in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 4, 2016. Justin Lynch | AP

One would not know any of this from statements by U.S. officials, however. In September 2021, USAID chief and notorious war hawk Samantha Power hailed Khartoum’s “hopeful…progress” in “achieving a democratic, inclusive, and peaceful future benefiting all Sudanese.”

To say the least, USAID had a significant vested interest in maintaining this grossly distorted fiction, and silencing detractors of the power-sharing executive. It was no doubt calculated that Washington becoming openly involved in compelling social networks to deplatform the disreputable administration’s denigrators would even further undermine its legitimacy at home and abroad though.

Hence, the need to employ Valent Projects to achieve that objective, and lend a legitimizing imprimatur of ostensibly independent “expertise” to insidious state censorship.

 

‘Disinformation, division, and war’

Questions also abound on Valent’s role in the Ethiopian Civil War, which has raged since November 2020, and the mass online censorship that has accompanied the bitter fighting.

What began as a limited regional skirmish in which government forces responded to attacks on military infrastructure and atrocities perpetrated against civilians by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) eventually came to engulf much of the country. A political movement-cum-party which ruled the country between 1991 and 2018, the new government in Addis Ababa has designated the TPLF a terrorist group.

During its period in power, the U.S.-backed TPLF made Ethiopia the country “one of the most inhospitable places in the world,” carrying out vicious actions “bearing the hallmark of crimes against humanity”, according to Human Rights Watch. Untold billions provided in financial aid was embezzled by state officials and spirited out the country, and Ethiopia became the second-worst jailer of journalists on the continent.

This egregious track record is reflected in the TPLF’s conduct in the civil war. The group has committed countless atrocities, including gang rapes and multiple massacres of civilians, and used children extensively as human shields. Yet these abuses have barely been acknowledged by Western journalists.

The elected government’s efforts to quell the bloodshed, and time in office more generally, have not been without fault. But the administration evidently represents a welcome change for Ethiopian voters, who re-elected it in an overwhelming landslide in mid-2021, even as the TPLF-instigated carnage continued apace. However, corporate news outlets have consistently framed authorities’ prosecution of the war as a murderous, unprovoked assault on the general population, with charges of artificially manufactured famine, mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing, if not outright genocide repeatedly abounding – although never substantiated.

Officials in Washington have at regular intervals also openly and eagerly advocated for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ethiopia, if not U.S. boots on-the-ground. Such comments are commonplace in buildups to Western military intervention.

In November 2021, independent journalist Jeff Pearce released a leaked recording of a secret Zoom summit earlier in the month between high-ranking current and former U.S., U.K., and EU diplomats and a senior TPLF representative. During the meeting, the TPLF was actively encouraged to advance on Ethiopia’s capital and seize power via force, which only confirmed suspicions that Addis Ababa had been earmarked by Washington for regime change.

In response to this aggressive tubthumping, many Ethiopians, members of the country’s sizable diaspora, and independent reporters and researchers took to social media and began coordinating via messaging apps to counter the war propaganda perpetuated by Western politicians, journalists and think tanks, in furtherance of U.S. aggression and exploitation throughout the Horn of Africa.

Their collective struggle gave birth to the No More movement, its name a concise but powerful call to end “disinformation, division and war” in Addis Ababa and beyond – a corresponding hashtag spread like wildfire across social media platforms, and served as a rallying cry at many protests in key Western capitals, where Ethiopians and Eritreans defiantly marched side by side against conflict and imperial meddling.

Ethiopia Tigray Protest

Ethiopian and Eritrean protest against western intervention in their country in Washington, Dec. 10, 2021. Gemunu Amarasinghe | AP

These endeavors very effectively challenged mainstream consensus on the civil war, in the process amply underlining the potential power of independent media and social networks. Were it not for the crusading work of No More et al, it seems almost certain Washington would have staged some form of direct intervention to assist the TPLF in overthrowing the Ethiopian government.

This can only be considered a tremendous achievement for people power. But Valent Projects had very different ideas. Among the leaked papers reviewed by MintPress is a report on “inauthentic behavior” and “coordinated networks” online related to the Ethiopian civil war produced by the company in May 2022.

It frames the seismic upsurge of grassroots outcry over the past 18 months as a “complex and sophisticated online manipulation effort” on the part of Addis Ababa, with the Chinese and Russian governments “supporting if not directing” vast armies of troll and bot accounts to support that activity, and promulgating “anti-imperialist” narratives via social media to manipulate “specific audiences,” as part of an “orchestrated online influence campaign.”

The methods by which Valent reaches these sensational conclusions leave much to be desired. To put it bluntly, its report is a poorly woven patchwork of peculiar logical fallacies, paranoid conspiracy theorizing, dumbfounding non sequiturs, defamatory and false allegations, sweeping conspiratorial conjecture, unsupported and inexplicable value judgments, and amateurish analytical blunders.

For example, the company’s initial assumption – for reasons unstated – was the overwhelming majority of accounts tweeting #NoMore were automated. Its research team therefore analyzed 150 accounts that used the hashtag most frequently using Botometer to validate this hypothesis.

Just 20% were found to be “probable” bots, quite obviously indicating most of the users were real people. But Valent instead concluded that the Russian and Chinese “operation” was in fact quite so sophisticated, “many inauthentic accounts” simply escaped detection.

To reinforce this dubious, self-perpetuating conclusion, Valent “isolated” 49 of these accounts, which displayed location data, and found 30 had tweeted from six separate “identical locations, within and outside Ethiopia.” This is said to suggest they were all being run “by an individual or small group of actors,” in order to create the false impression that interactions between these accounts were “organic online conversation.”

One site purportedly linked to several accounts was the world famous Trafalgar Square. Valent cites this as “a clear sign of falsification,” although a far more logical explanation is that these users simply listed London as their location on their profiles.

Trafalgar Square marks the point from which all distances to Britain’s capital are measured, and thus represents the city’s epicenter. Searches for “London” via online maps invariably direct to the area as a result. As a native of the city and resident to this day, it is remarkable Khan was apparently unaware of this.

 

Targeted suppression

An accompanying Excel spreadsheet lists a large number of accounts that tweeted content related to the civil war, divided by Valent into “seeders” – “accounts that produce original content and introduce it into the discourse”; “superspreaders – “accounts that take that content and amplify it”; and “endorsers” – “accounts that interact with the content to give the appearance of organic engagement to the interactions.” Each user is also given a Botometer ranking out of five.

Among the accounts are dozens of Ethiopians, including academics and activists, and anti-imperialist Western journalists and researchers. Much of the Ethiopian contingent rate highly on the Botometer scale, although academic tests show the software to be “imprecise when it comes to estimating bots,” producing significant volumes of false positives and negatives alike, “especially” so when accounts tweet in a language other than English.

Underlining Botometer’s inaccuracy, the official account of independent media outlet Breakthrough News is ranked 3.3 on the inauthenticity scale, and highlighted in the spreadsheet in a menacing red.

Breakthrough and its founders Eugene Puryear and Rania Khalek crop up repeatedly in the report. In November 2021, they traveled to Addis Ababa to conduct on-the-ground reporting on the situation, which Valent outlandishly asserts was the start and core component of a dedicated “phase” of China and Russia’s “political influence operation” related to the civil war.

This is predicated on the bogus basis that the outlet – which receives no state or corporate funding, and is primarily financed via viewer donations and subscriptions – is in fact “Russia-backed”.

The existence of such a “phase” is buttressed by the observation that other figures bogusly accused of being “linked to Russian state interests” also became “more active in shaping discourse” on social media at this time, pushing an “anti-imperialist” narrative to “hard-left audiences.”

Again, an altogether saner explanation could be that the interest and output of anti-imperial, independent activists and journalists was spurred by ongoing developments in the crisis, and they reported on them accordingly. After all, November was when the aforementioned bombshell recording leaked and when the TPLF concurrently expressed a desire publicly to push on to Addis Ababa.

That was certainly the case in my regard. I feature prominently in the report as a result of having independently published a Substack newsletter on the leaked recording, and Valent levels a number of wild charges against me. For example, a series of tweets about the company and Khan posted in early December 2021 is framed as a “doxxing attack” that “demonstrated an awareness of Valent’s internal operations” and “suggested access to information obtained through espionage/security links.”

The “sophistication” of this “attack”, the report argues, “further reinforces the view” that Russia was managing a high-level “pro-Ethiopian operation” on social media, despite the tweets being completely unrelated to Ethiopia, and this journalist having not the slightest inkling the company was engaged in work related to the civil war at this time.

The report goes on to lament that despite Valent reporting these tweets to Twitter, the company took no action, which is said to suggest “a lack of commitment on the part of the platform to enforcing its stated policies.” In reality, Twitter’s failure to respond was likely due to the information included in the tweets being gleaned from internet search engines, and publicly-accessible resources such as LinkedIn, and therefore no rules actually being broken.

 

‘Key Political Transition’

Such irrationality, ineptitude and rank incompetence would be amusing, except Valent’s framing of legitimate, organic online activity by genuine civil society actors as malign, orchestrated, counterfeit, enemy state-directed and in breach of established platform rules could well have influenced social media platforms to suppress if not outright ban a large number of users, distorting public perspectives and damaging reputations and livelihoods in the process.

Independent journalists named in Valent documents, such as Sputnik contributor Wyatt Reed, have told MintPress that their online reach collapsed after they reported on the civil war. Many of the accounts flagged by Valent as bots – likely wrongly – have been permanently suspended. Other prominent pro-Ethiopian activists unnamed in the report, including No More cofounder Simon Tesfamariam, have likewise been banned without warning, explanation or recourse. Meanwhile, prominent figures have engaged in outright hate speech about Ethiopians and no action has been taken.

Rania Khalek likewise alleges there was a “huge dip” in views of Breakthrough videos related to Ethiopia after they traveled to Addis Ababa, despite their initial output on the crisis generating vast numbers. Jeff Pearce, who is listed in the spreadsheet as “historian/propaganda [sic]”, believes his Twitter account to now be shadowbanned. Pearce told MintPress that,

I’m volcanically pissed that Valent has the gall to smear myself and my colleagues as Kremlin assets, or part of some info op run by Moscow. It’s beyond ridiculous and insulting. I’ve publicly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on several occasions – you can watch a speech I made on the war earlier this year on my YouTube channel.”

“We’ve traveled to Ethiopia multiple times, interviewed witnesses, investigated massacres, seen hospitals, universities and museums vandalized and looted by the TPLF,” he added. “I’ve published documents proving UN officials ignored war crimes and did nothing to help their own staff when they were assaulted and kidnapped. You can make up what you like, but you can’t transform the reality of over 100 million people.”

 

Counter-disinformation as coup d’état

Whether Valent’s work on Ethiopia was also conducted for USAID is an open question, but the parallels with its Sudanese operations are clear and cohering. It may be significant that Samantha Power was one of the most prominent voices agitating for U.S. intervention in the civil war, declaring in August 2021 that “every option is on the table” for dealing with the crisis.

Moreover, the Valent report on “inauthentic behavior” states the company has identified “information operations in the Middle East and Africa,” while other leaked documents refer to Valent helping “supporting newly democratising governments” deal with “disinformation” for USAID – suggesting several other countries, and their populations, in the Agency’s crosshairs have likewise been in the firing line of Khan’s warped insight.

There is quite clearly an urgent need for social media platforms to review any and all suspensions that have been motivated by information provided by Valent Projects. It is inevitable that untold numbers of journalists, activists, academics and authentic civil society voices will have been purged on the most preposterous, unjust grounds imaginable as a result of Khan’s interventions. The only question is who was targeted, and where.

 

Ukraine on the brain

On June 7, it was revealed that Khan was also working closely with British journalist Paul Mason in an effort to deplatform The Grayzone, as part of a wider personal crusade against the anti-war, anti-imperialist left over the matter of Ukraine.

Leaked emails between the pair exposed how Mason suggested subjecting The Grayzone – which he baselessly and bizarrely believed to be a Chinese and Russian intelligence operation – to “relentless deplatforming” via “full nuclear legal” attacks, official probes by government bodies, and cutting the website and its contributors off from online donation sources such as PayPal.

This was a fate MintPress News, its founder Mnar Adley and senior staff writer Alan MacLeod suffered in May this year – an egregious development Mason spoke of approvingly in the leaked emails. In reality, MintPress does not support the Russian government, and staff such as MacLeod have publicly condemned Vladimir Putin for his actions.

Nevertheless, the conflict in Ukraine has grown the power of Western governments to directly dictate what is and is not true, and what their populations are and are not allowed to know, exponentially. Yet, their ability to distort and censor overseas is limited, if not outright waning – and that’s where Valent Projects comes in.

As such, the leaked documents reviewed by MintPress illuminate a hitherto unexplored purpose of online suppression and deplatforming: regime change. By filtering out troublesome viewpoints and inconvenient facts in target countries, governments can be destabilized, and who or what replaces them entrenched in power, with domestic and foreign audiences deprived of access to any and all critical viewpoints.

As the New Cold War grows considerably hotter every day, Khan’s services will surely become ever-increasingly in demand. Neither he nor his state and quasi-state sponsors can be allowed to succeed.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg.

The post Leaked Docs: Facebook ‘Bot’ Adviser Secretly in Pay of US Regime Change Agency appeared first on MintPress News.

Meet the Ex-CIA Agents Deciding Facebook’s Content Policy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/07/2022 - 11:48pm in

Tags 

News, CIA, Facebook, FBI, Meta

It is an uncomfortable job for anyone trying to draw the line between “harmful content and protecting freedom of speech. It’s a balance”, Aaron says. In this official Facebook video, Aaron identifies himself as the manager of “the team that writes the rules for Facebook”, determining “what is acceptable and what is not.” Thus, he and his team effectively decide what content the platform’s 2.9 billion active users see and what they don’t see.

Aaron is being interviewed in a bright warehouse-turned-studio. He is wearing a purple sweater and blue jeans. He comes across as a very likable, smiley person. It is not an easy job, of course, but someone has to make those calls. “Transparency is incredibly important in the work that I do,” he says.

Aaron is CIA. Or at least he was until July 2019, when he left his job as a senior analytic manager at the agency to become senior product policy manager for misinformation at Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. In his 15-year career, Aaron Berman rose to become a highly influential part of the CIA. For years, he prepared and edited the president of the United States’ daily brief, “wr[iting] and overs[eeing] intelligence analysis to enable the President and senior U.S. officials to make decisions on the most critical national security issues,” especially on “the impact of influence operations on social movements, security, and democracy,” his LinkedIn profile reads. None of this is mentioned in the Facebook video.

Berman’s case is far from unique, however. Studying Meta’s reports, as well as employment websites and databases, MintPress has found that Facebook has recruited dozens of individuals from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as many more from other agencies like the FBI and Department of Defense (DoD). These hires are primarily in highly politically sensitive sectors such as trust, security and content moderation, to the point where some might feel it becomes difficult to see where the U.S. national security state ends and Facebook begins.

In previous investigations, this author has detailed how TikTok is flooded with NATO officials, how former FBI agents abound at Twitter, and how Reddit is led by a former war planner for the NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council. But the sheer scale of infiltration of Facebook blows these away. Facebook, in short, is utterly swarming with spooks.

 

Trust me, bro

In a political sense, trust, safety and misinformation are the most sensitive parts of Meta’s operation. It is here where decisions about what content is allowed, what will be promoted and who or what will be suppressed are made. These decisions affect what news and information billions of people across the world see every day. Therefore, those in charge of the algorithms hold far more power and influence over the public sphere than even editors at the largest news outlets.

There are a number of other ex-CIA agents working in these fields. Deborah Berman, for example, spent 10 years as a data and intelligence analyst at the CIA before recently being brought on as a trust and safety project manager for Meta. Little is known about what she did at the agency, but her pre-agency publications indicate she was a specialist on Syria.

Between 2006 and 2010, Bryan Weisbard was a CIA intelligence officer, his job entailing, in his own words, leading “global teams to conduct counter-terrorism and digital cyber investigations,” and “Identif[ying] online social media misinformation propaganda and covert influence campaigns”. Directly after that, he became a diplomat (underlining how close the line is between those two professions), and is currently a director of trust and safety, security and data privacy for Meta.

Meanwhile, the LinkedIn profile of Cameron Harris – a CIA analyst until 2019 – notes that he is now a Meta trust and safety project manager.

Harris Embed

Individuals from other state institutions abound as well. Emily Vacher was an FBI employee between 2001 and 2011, rising to the rank of supervisory special agent. From there she was headhunted by Facebook/Meta, and is now a director of trust and safety. Between 2010 and 2020, Mike Bradow worked for USAID, eventually becoming deputy director of policy for the organization. USAID is a U.S. government-funded influence organization which has bankrolled or stage managed multiple regime change operations abroad, including in Venezuela in 2002, Cuba in 2021, and ongoing attempts in Nicaragua. Since 2020, Meta has employed Bradow as a misinformation policy manager. 

Others have similar pasts. Neil Potts, a former intelligence officer with the U.S. Marine Corps, is vice president of trust and safety at Facebook. In 2020, Sherif Kamal left his job as a program manager at the Pentagon to take up the post of Meta trust and safety program manager.

Joey Chan currently holds the same trust and safety post as Kamal. Until last year, Chan was a U.S. Army officer commanding a company of over 100 troops in the Asia Pacific region.

None of this is to say that any of those named are not conscientious, that they are bad people or bad at their job. Vacher, for example, helped design Facebook’s amber alert program, notifying people to missing children in their area. But hiring so many ex-U.S. state officials to run Facebook’s most politically sensitive operations raises troubling questions about the company’s impartiality and its proximity to government power. Meta is so full of national security state agents that at some point, it almost becomes more difficult to find individuals in trust and safety who were not formerly agents of the state.

Despite its efforts to brand itself as a progressive, “woke” organization, the Central Intelligence Agency remains deeply controversial. It has been charged with overthrowing or attempting to overthrow numerous foreign governments (some of them democratically elected), helping prominent Nazis escape punishment after World War Two, funnelling large quantities of drugs and weapons around the world, penetrating domestic media outlets, routinely spreading false information and operating a global network of “black sites” where prisoners are repeatedly tortured. Therefore, critics argue that putting operatives from this organization in control of our news feeds is deeply inappropriate.

One of these critics is Elizabeth Murray, who, in 2010, retired from a 27-year career at the CIA and other U.S. intelligence organizations. “This is insidious,” Murray told MintPress, adding,

I see it as part of the gradual and sinister migration of ambitious young professionals originally trained (with CIA’s virtually unlimited, U.S.-taxpayer funded pot of resources) to surveil and target ‘the bad guys’ during the so-called Global War on Terror of the post-9-11 era.”

MintPress also contacted Facebook/Meta for comment but has not received a response.

 

Arm’s length control

Some may ask what the big fuss is. There is a limited pool of individuals with the necessary skills and experience in these new tech and cybersecurity fields, and many of them come from government institutions. Casinos, after all, regularly hire card sharks to protect themselves. But there is little evidence that this is a poacher-turned-gamekeeper scenario; Facebook is certainly not hiring whistleblowers. The problem is not that these individuals are incompetant. The problem is that having so many former CIA employees running the world’s most important information and news platform is only one small step removed from the agency itself deciding what you see and what we do not see online – and all with essentially no public oversight.

In this sense, this arrangement constitutes the best of both worlds for Washington. They can exert significant influence over global news and information flows but maintain some veneer of plausible deniability. The U.S. government does not need to directly tell Facebook what policies to enact. This is because the people in decision-making positions are inordinately those who rose through the ranks of the national security state beforehand, meaning their outlooks match those of Washington’s. And if Facebook does not play ball, quiet threats about regulation or breaking up the company’s enormous monopoly can also achieve the desired outcomes.

Again, this article is not claiming that any of the named individuals are nefarious actors, or even that they are anything but model employees. This is a structural problem. Put another way, if Facebook were hiring dozens of managers from Russian intelligence agencies like the FSB or GRU, everybody would recognize the inherent dangers. It should be little different when it hires individuals from the CIA, an organization responsible for some of the worst crimes of the modern era.

 

From state intelligence to private intelligence

Facebook has also hired a plethora of ex-national security state officers to run its intelligence and online security operations. Until 2013, Scott Stern was a targeting officer at the CIA, rising to become chief of targeting. In this role, he helped select the targets for U.S. drone strikes across South and West Asia. Today, however, as a senior manager of risk intelligence for Meta, “misinformation” and “malicious actors” are his targets. Hopefully he is more accurate at Facebook than at the CIA, where the government’s own internal assessments show that at least 90% of Afghans killed in drone strikes were innocent civilians.

Other former CIA men at Facebook include Mike Torrey, who left his job as a senior analyst at the agency to become Meta’s technical lead of detection, investigations and disruptions of complex information operations threats, and former CIA contractor Hagan Barnett, who is now head of harmful content operations at the Silicon Valley giant.

BarnettMeta’s intelligence and online security team includes individuals from virtually every government agency imaginable. In 2015, Department of Defense intelligence officer Suzanna Morrow left her post to become director of global security intelligence for Meta. The FBI is represented by threat investigations manager Ellen Nixon and head of cyber espionage investigations Mike Dvilyanski. Facebook’s influence operations policy manager Olga Belogolova had stints at the State Department and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Before Meta, David Agranovich and Nathaniel Gleicher both worked for the National Security Council. Agranovich is director of global threat disruption at Facebook while Gleicher is head of security policy. Hayley Chang, director and associate general counsel for cybersecurity and investigations, worked formerly for both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. And Meta’s global head of interaction operations, David Hansell, was once an Air Force and Defense Intelligence Agency man.

One of Meta’s most outwardly-facing employees is its global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, Ben Nimmo, a character MintPress has covered before. Between 2011 and 2014, he served as NATO’s press officer, moving the next year to the Institute for Statecraft, a U.K. government-funded propaganda operation aimed at spreading misleading information about enemies of the British state. He was also a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, NATO’s semi-official think tank.

Perhaps then, it is not surprising that Facebook never seems to find U.S. government influence operations online – they are part of one!

 

Cyber war, cyber warriors

While Meta has not unmasked any nefarious U.S. government action, it regularly uncovers what it claims are foreign disinformation campaigns. According to a recent Facebook report, the top five locations of coordinated inauthentic behavior between 2017 and 2020 on its platform are Russia, Iran, Myanmar, the United States and Ukraine. However, it was at pains to note that American operations were driven by fringe far-right elements, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists, and not the government.

This is despite the fact that it is now well-established that the Pentagon fields a clandestine army of at least 60,000 people whose job is to influence public opinion, the majority of them doing so from their keyboards. A Newsweek exposé from last year called it “The largest undercover force the world has ever known,” adding,

The explosion of Pentagon cyber warfare, moreover, has led to thousands of spies who carry out their day-to-day work in various made-up personas, the very type of nefarious operations the United States decries when Russian and Chinese spies do the same.”

Newsweek warned that this army was likely breaking both U.S. and international law by doing so, explaining that,

These are the cutting-edge cyber fighters and intelligence collectors who assume false personas online, employing ‘nonattribution’ and ‘misattribution’ techniques to hide the who and the where of their online presence while they search for high-value targets and collect what is called ‘publicly accessible information’—or even engage in campaigns to influence and manipulate social media.”

As far back as 2011, The Guardian was reporting on this enormous cyber force, whose job it was to “secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.” Yet the ex-military and ex-CIA officials Facebook employs do not seem to have found any trace of their former colleagues’ at work on the platform.

 

Digitally swinging elections

Since its beginnings in 2004, Facebook has grown to become a massive global empire and by far the most important news distributor the planet has ever known. The company boasts almost 3 billion active users, meaning that nearly 2 in 5 people worldwide use the platform. A recent 12-country study suggested that around 30% of the entire world gets its news via their Facebook feeds. This gives whoever is in charge of curating those feeds and controlling those algorithms inestimable power. It also represents a serious national security threat for all other countries, especially those that might wish to take a path independent from the United States. That those people are in large part former spooks makes this threat all the more perilous.

This is far from a hypothetical quandary. In November, less than a week before the country’s election, Facebook took the decision to delete hundreds of pages and accounts belonging to individuals and groups that supported the Nicaraguan Sandinista party – a longtime U.S. target for regime change. These included many of the nation’s most influential journalists and media outlets. Considering that around half of the country uses the platform for news and entertainment, the decision could barely have been more intrusive, and was likely designed to try to swing the election towards the pro-U.S. candidate.

Facebook claims that those accounts were bots engaged in “inauthentic behavior.” When those individuals migrated on to Twitter, recording videos identifying who they were to show they were not bots, Twitter immediately deleted those accounts too, in what was dubbed a coordinated attempt at suppression.

The individual behind this attempt was the aforementioned Ben Nimmo, who co-authored an unconvincing report, full of questionable assumptions and allegations. This included an insinuation that accounts following a pattern of activity whereby their Facebook usage levels peaked in the morning and afternoon and dwindled to almost nothing after midnight Nicaragua time suggested they were bots.

Facebook was also used by right-wing Cubans to attempt a U.S.-backed color revolution against the ruling Communist government last year.

Giving any individual or group that much control over the airwaves of communication raises huge questions about national security and sovereignty – doubly so when those individuals are so intimately connected to the U.S. national security state.

When asked what the public’s reaction would be to the news of such an intimate connection between Facebook her former employer, Murray stated that she was unsure whether many would be bothered:

I would like to think that the American public would strenuously object. However the CIA and other agencies have worked over many decades to cultivate a positive – indeed almost glamorous – image in the eyes of the vast majority of the public, mostly through TV series, Hollywood films, and favorable media coverage – so sadly my guess is that the vast majority of the public probably believes that these are the folks who should be in charge.”

However, she said, the news would likely land a very different way in countries that have been the target of Washington’s ire. “As you’re no doubt aware, the CIA has an atrocious public reputation in most parts of the world,” she added.

 

Spooks in every department

MintPress has found former representatives of the U.S. national security state in virtually every politically sensitive department at Facebook. This includes even higher levels. Between 2020 and 2021, Kris Rose was a member of Meta’s governance oversight board – the group responsible for the overall direction of the platform. He left his job at the Director of National Intelligence as the president’s daily brief writer to take up the role. Before that, he had spent six years at the CIA as a political and counterterrorism analyst. Meanwhile, Gina Kim Sumilas, Facebook’s director and associate general counsel for the Asia Pacific region, spent nearly twelve years in the CIA before moving into the tech private sector.

There is also considerable overlap with the U.S. government in the company’s front facing staff. Kadia Koroma, for instance, was plucked from her position as an FBI spokesperson in January 2020 to become media relations manager at Facebook. Jeffrey Gelman, policy communications manager for Facebook’s oversight board, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and held influential roles in both the State Department and the National Security Council. And executive communications spokesman Kevin Lewis spent many years in the White House as President Obama’s spokesperson.

Meta’s vice president of legal strategy is Rachel Carlson Lieber, who went straight from the CIA into Facebook. Her first role at the Silicon Valley giant was as head of the North America regulatory and strategic response, a department that continues to feature a number of former state officials. This includes head of strategic programs, Robert Flaim, who spent more than twenty years as an FBI, and Erin Clancy, who left a 16-year career at the State Department to become a manager of strategic response policy.

Clancy’s official work centered around U.S. policy in the Middle East. Her own bio boasts that she worked on the U.S. sanctions regime placed on Iraq and Sudan. She also worked at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus at the time of the Arab Spring and the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. It is known that she also coordinated closely with the White Helmets, a controversial aid organization that some have alleged is far too close to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Even after her Facebook appointment, Clancy moonlighted as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and as a fellow at the Atlantic Council, the hawkish body that serves as NATO’s brain trust.

Why are these national security state officials so attractive to Meta? One reason, Murray explained, is financial. “By snagging a CIA employee a company can save a considerable sum,” she said, explaining that, “The individual has likely undergone extensive professional training (at taxpayer expense) and probably has a security clearance,” something that is difficult, expensive and time-consuming to obtain in private sector work. Therefore, companies dealing with matters of state secrecy (such as defense contractors) have historically courted both current and former officers to fill their ranks, enticing them with much higher salaries than they can receive in government service.

What is new (or at least newly known to us!) is that now these professionals are being sought after by social media companies like Facebook, Google and others who are now heavily into monitoring, surveilling, and censoring content, and then sharing data about users with U.S. government entities,” Murray added.

Such is the need for these individuals in these fields that private companies often hire former national security agents to do the recruiting for them. For instance, John Papp, who spent 12 years at the CIA as a senior intelligence officer and 4 years as an imagery analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, went on to work as a recruiter for many of the largest defense contractors in Washington. These included Booz Allen Hamilton, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, IBM and Lockheed Martin. Today, he works as a recruiter for Meta.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Meta also employs former spooks for their internal security operations. The company’s vice president, chief security officer is Nick Lovrien, a former counterterrorism operations officer at the CIA, while its head of insider protection is ex-CIA operational psychologist and “undercover officerNicole Alford.

Meanwhile, Meta’s director of global security governance – the individual reportedly responsible for the personal safety of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg – is Jill Leavens Jones. Jones left her job as a U.S. Secret Service special agent to take the appointment. And director of global security operations Alexander Carrillo continued on as a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard for several months after his appointment at Facebook. The company also hires former feds to work directly with law enforcement on legal issues. One example of this is former FBI special agent Brian Kelley.

 

A long pattern of infiltration

45 years ago, legendary journalist Carl Bernstein released an investigation documenting how the CIA had managed to infiltrate U.S. and global media. The CIA had placed hundreds of agents into newsrooms and had convinced hundreds more reporters to collaborate with them. These included individuals at some of the most influential outlets, including The New York Times. The CIA needed to do this clandestinely because any attempt to do so openly would harm the effectiveness of the operation and provoke stiff public resistance. But by 2015, there was barely a murmur of disapproval when Reuters announced that it was hiring 33-year veteran CIA manager and director Dawn Scalici as a global director, even when the company announced that her primary responsibility was to “advanc[e] Thomson Reuters’ ability to meet the disparate needs of the U.S. government.”

Facebook, however, is vastly more influential than the New York Times or Reuters, reaching billions of people daily. In that sense, it stands to reason that it would be a prime target of any intelligence organization. It has become so big and ubiquitous that many consider it a de facto public commons and believe it should no longer be treated as a private company. Considering who is making many of the decisions on the platform, that distinction between public and private entities is even more blurry than many presume.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post Meet the Ex-CIA Agents Deciding Facebook’s Content Policy appeared first on MintPress News.

Cartoon: Elon Musk's freak speech spending spree

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/05/2022 - 7:50am in

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Cambridge Analytica Reborn? Private Spy Agency Weaponizes Facebook Again

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/05/2022 - 2:37pm in

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Facebook

DeMENLO PARK, CA — On April 4, plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit brought against Facebook over its data-sharing practices following the eruption of the Cambridge Analytica scandal filed a fresh motion, charging that the social media giant deliberately obstructed discovery of information revealing the scale of its malfeasance.

It’s the latest development in a wide-ranging controversy that began in the first months of 2017 and shows little sign of abating. In brief, Cambridge Analytica exploited a Facebook loophole to harvest the personal data of up to 50 million Americans, in order to manipulate voters on behalf of a number of right-wing candidates — potentially including Donald Trump — and political campaigns in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Since then, the company and its parent, SCL Group, have folded, with official investigations into their activities conducted in several countries, while Facebook has been fined a record $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for egregious breaches of user confidentiality. The entire dispute raised serious public concerns about online privacy and the malign influence of behavioral advertising and microtargeting, which endure to this day.

In September 2020, Cambridge Analytica’s former CEO, Alexander Nix, was disqualified from serving as a U.K. company director for seven years for offering unethical services, including “bribery or honey-trap stings, voter disengagement campaigns, obtaining information to discredit political opponents and spreading information anonymously in political campaigns.”

By contrast, one senior SCL staffer seemingly pivotal to many of those unethical practices – although they deny it — has been unaffected by the scandal’s fallout. In fact, they have profited and prospered immensely in its wake.

One week prior to Cambridge Analytica’s closure on May 1, 2018, Gaby van den Berg – who, among other things, created SCL’s patented, DARPA-approved “Behavioral Dynamics Methodology,” which analyzes and profiles particular target audiences in order to identify optimal strategies for influencing their perceptions and actions — founded a new company in London, Emic Consulting. Ever since, she has taught Cambridge Analytica-style information warfare techniques to militaries the world over.

Gaby van den Berg

This undated photo is one of the few published online believed to show Gaby van den Berg, center, in Muscat, Oman

For example, the Canadian armed forces spent vast sums on Emic’s services in 2019 and 2020. Its intelligence branch went on to be embroiled in a string of high-profile scandals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, harassing citizens with bizarre psychological operations and mining social media profiles for data without users’ approval, provoking outcry.

The findings of a subsequent inquiry into the unit’s cloak-and-dagger activities were absolutely damning. While Emic was unmentioned, it borders on inconceivable the tactics so contentiously deployed weren’t influenced by the firm’s tutelage.

 

“Advantage of positioning”

It appears that van den Berg is involved in other cloak-and-dagger efforts to surreptitiously influence unwitting target audiences. Leaked files reviewed by MintPress name her as a key staffer on a secret psychological warfare effort in Syria, funded by the British Foreign Office and delivered by shadowy communications firm Global Strategy Network.

The company was founded by MI6 veteran Richard Barrett, who led the agency’s counter-terror operations before and after 9/11, a period in which British intelligence became intimately implicated in Washington’s monstrous extraordinary-rendition program. Questions abound about his complicity in the CIA’s torture of terror suspects as a result.

According to its Foreign Office submissions, Global Strategy began operating in Syria from “the earliest days” of Western attempts to destabilize the government of Bashar al-Assad, by convincing Syrians, Western citizens and foreign states that the Free Syrian Army was a legitimate, moderate alternative, while flooding international media with pro-opposition propaganda.

The company boasted that its “wildly impactful” informational output had influenced perceptions the world over, having been seen by “many hundreds of millions of people and attracting comment as far as the UN Security Council.”

By Global Strategy’s reckoning, its success is attributable to “programming that is not designed on day one and delivered ‘come what may,’ but instead is rapidly iterated and re-deployed as the situation on-the-ground and our adversaries change.”

Referencing the military and intelligence concept of infiltrating an enemy’s “OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) Loop,” Global Strategy spoke of “getting inside” the decision-making processes of the Assad government and extremist groups in Syria, “to make good decisions faster” than their opponents did, “be strategically proactive and tactically reactive,” and “achieve an advantage of positioning.”

OODA

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Key to this process is Global Strategy’s extensive use of innovative in-house technology. For example, it has created “Daeshboard,” which provides analysis of terrorist group communications, and draws heavily on the company’s “historical and ongoing access” to “closed communication groups” on Telegram, Rocket.Chat and other ostensibly encrypted platforms.

By tracking these groups’ public statements and the manner in which their “themes change over time and geographically,” Global Strategy pinpoints “emerging trends” in extremist propaganda, “and how to stifle them.” A cited example of this capability was northeast Nigeria in September 2019, after Boko Haram’s private chat channels indicated the terror group intended to target Christians.

Daeshboard

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Daeshboard enabled Global Strategy “to identify and visualize how this threat was taking shape” before Boko Haram duly began executing Christians three months later, in turn altering its propaganda messaging “on a weekly basis” to promote religious tolerance, “thereby getting ahead of [Boko Haram’s] efforts to provoke sectarian conflict.”

All of which might be well and good, but as we shall soon see, the company has the avowed ability to do this with far less positive motivations in other contexts, and target innocent everyday people in the process.

Daeshboard operates in tandem with Murmurate, “social listening” software enabling Global Strategy to monitor online conversations “trending geographically,” which provides insight into how target audiences react to certain messaging, how responses and discussions diverge in different regions of a given country, and “how digital audiences are connected to each other.”

 

“Creative war approaches”

It would be entirely unsurprising if van den Berg played a role in the creation of these resources, and indeed ExTrac – a big data platform combining “real-time attack and communications data with artificial intelligence,” and providing “actionable insights” on the communications of violent extremist groups for use by counter-terror and “countering violent extremism” (CVE) “policymakers and practitioners” – launched by Global Strategy March 2021.

That same month, van den Berg was one of two “experts” who led an online discussion convened by NATO’s Riga-based Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Among the topics under consideration were, “What are the limitations of big data to understand [sic] our audiences?” and “Can social listening predict behaviors?”

Evidently, van den Berg has an intense professional interest in the precise disciplines Global Strategy has harnessed. The reference to social listening predicting behaviors is particularly tantalizing too, given this is precisely what Cambridge Analytica’s “psychographic” techniques attempted to achieve, although apparently with little success. Perhaps given the failure of the company’s methods, van den Berg is investigating new means of achieving the same intrusive objective.

In any event, what ExTrac’s classified client reports contain is anyone’s guess, although it’s likely highly sensitive: “Access is granted on a case-by-case basis via subscriptions,” its website’s footer notes, underlining the platform’s exclusivity and secrecy. Strikingly though, repeated reference to the Facebook activities of extremist actors, and their audiences, is made in ExTrac’s publicly-available threat assessments.

In one such report, extremist activity on the social network is mentioned in the same passage as private discussions conducted through Telegram and “illicit offline networks and covert communications,” strongly suggesting it’s not purely “open” Facebook content that ExTrac scrutinizes.

Furthering this interpretation, listed directly alongside van den Berg in the leaked Global Strategy files is Charlie Winter, ExTrac’s research director, who runs the initiative alongside nameless “former intelligence personnel.” A long-time academic investigator of extremist groups, his PhD – which examined how “contemporary militant groups cultivate creative approaches to governance and war” online – was directly funded by Facebook.

Charlie Winters bio

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The social network moreover financed his five-year spell as a research fellow at London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, through its Online Civil Courage Initiative, as did the U.K. Home Office and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Declassified emails reveal he has given in-person briefings on ISIS propaganda to representatives of the latter.

Winter’s tenure at the Centre led him to write a book, “The Terrorist Image,” which examined 20,000 images “collected from the Islamic State’s covert networks online.” Its content speaks to extensive knowledge of the internal workings of elite ISIS propaganda units and their private discussions via various chat platforms on the part of the author, including the Facebook-owned WhatsApp.

Charlie Winters

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All this raises the obvious question of whether Global Strategy directly or indirectly accesses Facebook user data, and weaponizes it in the exact manner of Cambridge Analytica, with the assistance of van den Berg, an individual centrally connected to that firm and its malicious methods of mass manipulation.

Notably, both companies, and Emic, have ignored repeated requests for clarity from MintPress.

 

“Aggressive commercial organization”

If private Facebook data is being exploited by Global Strategy for counter-terror purposes, one might argue the ends justify the means, as such intrusion undermines barbarous extremist groups, prevents further radicalization, and potentially averts future atrocities.

However, Global Strategy’s clandestine crosshairs aren’t solely trained on extremists and their supporters. Over the course of its Syrian operations, it avowedly used Murmurate to collect information on online discussions between target audiences in the U.K., including Syrian refugees, which was then fed back to the Foreign Office.

Such indiscriminate infringement highlights a wider failing of CVE programs: they are founded on the flawed, unsupported axiom that literally anyone exposed to extremist propaganda in any way represents a prospective terror threat, therefore effectively pre-criminalizing countless innocent people – overwhelmingly Muslims – and making them targets for manipulation and surveillance.

Given the ease and fluidity with which memes travel on social media, a great many users may inadvertently — and involuntarily — become part of an extremist group’s “audience,” and thus included in Global Strategy’s sweeping dragnet. Without elucidation on how ExTrac categorizes an extremist “audience”, or indeed even what constitutes “extremist”, we have no way of knowing how sweeping its data collection is.

It may be incumbent to note though that the UK government has previously designated distrust of the mainstream media, and belief in “conspiracy theories” and criticism of the government, particularly in the field of foreign policy, as signifiers of potential extremist radicalization. The Department of Homeland Security has also published official guidance leveling much the same charges.

Even if ExTrac is merely hoovering up their public information and communications, law-abiding individuals are unlikely to acquiesce to such data being secretly collected and analyzed by a sinister state-funded propaganda merchant run by intelligence operatives, let alone the fruits of this research being sold on to unknown actors for profit, then used for uncertain ends.

That techniques originally honed for use in war to effect “behavior change” in enemy targets were trained on citizens was a core component of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. ExTrac unambiguously represents a tool influenced by military and intelligence techniques adapted for commercial purposes, with unsuspecting civilians in the firing line.

In March 2020, the domain Daeshboard.net was registered using WhoisGuard, which shields a registrant’s identity. It expired one year later, although today a Google search for the website turns up ExTrac’s customer login page, implying the two are either one and the same, or that the latter is a technologically evolved version of the former, now opened up for wider usage by the private sector and state entities.

On top of its record-breaking $5 billion FTC fine, Facebook still faces further major penalties elsewhere due to its lackadaisical approach to protecting user data. Once harvested by Cambridge Analytica – among a great many others – the company had no way of knowing where that data ended up or the purposes to which it was put.

There is little indication Facebook takes privacy any more seriously today, but a hitherto unexplored question is whether controls are in place to prevent individuals such as Charlie Winter from sharing sensitive insights into its platform and users with others.

Facebook spying

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Winter’s cloak-and-dagger operations in Syria, which placed him in such close quarters with van den Berg, were conducted concurrently to his researching extremists’ use of social media, at Facebook’s invitation and with its financial sponsorship. The social network is cited by Global Strategy as a key conduit for its anti-regime, anti-ISIS propaganda. During this time, Winter was also an “expert” adviser to another covert Foreign Office endeavor, which targeted Lebanon’s refugee camps with anti-extremist messaging.

Winter’s Facebook work, and resultant insider knowledge, may well have been one of the factors that led to his recruitment – particularly in the latter instance, given that one element of the campaign was the creation of a private Facebook group for camp inhabitants to discuss local issues, a group that was “closely monitored” by the contractor delivering the project, unbeknownst to those using it. At the very least, his multiple simultaneous roles represent a massive conflict of interest.

Both Foreign Office operations were conducted under the auspices of London’s Counter-Daesh Communications Cell. A scathing internal Whitehall review of the Cell’s efforts in Syria, not intended for public consumption, found they were “poorly planned, probably illegal and cost lives.”

Syrians employed by contractors, such as Global Strategy, were killed by the extremist groups they were targeting. The extent of the bloodshed was substantial. One operator “suffered losses of core staff that damaged the organization quite fundamentally.” Another was condemned as “an aggressive commercial organization,” which took “personal and political” risks, and endangered its employees by “[going] too far.”

It’s uncertain whether either description refers to Global Strategy, but that the firm was entangled at all in what was a clearly dangerous and possibly criminal conspiracy means it is particularly vital that Facebook clarify whether it was aware of Winter’s involvement in it, whether its relationship with him endures to this day, and of course whether their connection one way or another grants ExTrac admission to privileged private user information without user knowledge or consent.

What’s abundantly clear, though, is that – for all the public outcry, official probes and hearings, financial penalties, apologies and proposed regulation, Facebook remains the world’s foremost surveillance tool, weaponized in all manner of malevolent ways by any number of hostile elements, the extent of which the public will likely never know. And the same unaccountable individuals are using the same methods to do so, with the support and financial backing of Western governments, and the compliance of Facebook itself.

Feature photo | Noah Berger | AP

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg.

The post Cambridge Analytica Reborn? Private Spy Agency Weaponizes Facebook Again appeared first on MintPress News.

Palmer Puts In 45 Billion Dollar Bid For Myspace

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 28/04/2022 - 8:01am in

Australia’s most annoying billionaire Clive ‘National Treasure’ Palmer has taken a break from spamming the country to announce that he has bid 45 billion dollars to buy antiquated social media site Myspace.

”Who says you can’t buy friends?” Asked Mr Palmer. ”I mean once I own Myspace I will have all the friends in the World,including that Tom bloke.”

”Politicians will do my bidding in an effort to make my top 8 friends list.”

When asked if this is a real thing or just another pie in the sky scheme like Titanic 2 or his many, many impossible election promises, Mr Palmer said: ”Titanic 2 is real and will be delivered at some stage in the next one or two hundred years.”

”As for Myspace, I shall be holding meetings and releasing press releases later this week.”

”Unless of course I think of something else more interesting to do before then.”

”Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I saw a dog down the road with a puffy tail, I might chase it, here puff, puff.”

Mark Williamson

@MWChatShow

You can follow The (un)Australian on twitter @TheUnOz or like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theunoz.

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The (un)Australian Live At The Newsagency Recorded live, to purchase click here:

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An Intellectual No-Fly Zone: Online Censorship of Ukraine Dissent Is Becoming the New Norm

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 26/04/2022 - 6:00am in

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA – Google has sent a warning shot across the world, ominously informing media outlets, bloggers, and content creators that it will no longer tolerate certain opinions when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Earlier this month, Google AdSense sent a message to a myriad of publishers, including MintPress News, informing us that, “Due to the war in Ukraine, we will pause monetization of content that exploits, dismisses, or condones the war.” This content, it went on to say, “includes, but is not limited to, claims that imply victims are responsible for their own tragedy or similar instances of victim-blaming, such as claims that Ukraine is committing genocide or deliberately attacking its own citizens.”

This builds on a similar message Google’s subsidiary YouTube released last month, stating, “Our Community Guidelines prohibit content denying, minimizing or trivializing well-documented violent events. We are now removing content about Russia’s invasion in Ukraine that violates this policy.” YouTube went on to say that it had already permanently banned more than a thousand channels and 15,000 videos on these grounds.

Journalist and filmmaker Abby Martin was deeply troubled by the news. “It is really disturbing that this is the trend that we are on,” she told MintPress, adding:

It is a preposterous declaration considering that the victim is whoever we are told by our foreign policy establishment. It really is outrageous to be told by these tech giants that taking the wrong side of a conflict that is quite complicated will now hurt your views, derank you on social media or limit your ability to fund your work. So you have to toe the line in order to survive as a journalist in alternative media today.”

The most prominent victim of the recent banning spate has been Russian state media such as RT America, whose entire catalog has been blocked throughout most of the world. RT America was also blocked from broadcasting across the U.S., leading to the network’s sudden closure.

“Censorship is the last resort of desperate and unpopular regimes. It magically appears to make a crisis go away. It comforts the powerful with the narrative they want to hear, one fed back to them by courtiers in the media, government agencies, think tanks, and academia,” wrote journalist Chris Hedges, adding:

YouTube disappeared six years of my RT show, “On Contact,” although not one episode dealt with Russia. It is not a secret as to why my show vanished. It gave a voice to writers and dissidents, including Noam Chomsky and Cornel West, as well as activists from Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter, third parties and the prison abolitionist movement.”

Smaller, independent creators have also been purged. “My stream last night on RBN was censored on Youtube after debunking the Bucha Massacre narrative… Unreal censorship going on right now,” wrote Nick from the Revolutionary Black Network. “My video ‘Bucha: More Lies’ has been deleted by YouTube’s censors. The Official Narrative is now: ‘Bucha was a Russian atrocity! No dissent allowed!’” Chilean-American journalist Gonzalo Lira added.

Other social media platforms have pursued similar policies. Twitter permanently suspended the account of former weapons inspector Scott Ritter over his comments on Bucha and journalist Pepe Escobar for his support for Russia’s invasion.

Googe Adsense Ukraine

A notice to MintPress from Google threatening demonetization

Those views are certainly currently in the minority, with testimonies from locals pointing the finger at Russian forces, who have carried out similar acts during other conflicts. Yet even the Pentagon has refused to categorically conclude Russian culpability without a full investigation.

Beyond Bucha, where the line is in terms of accepted speech is being kept vague, leading to confusion and consternation among independent media outlets and content creators. “This is going to limit reporting on the Ukraine crisis because people are going to be scared,” Martin said. “People [in alternative media] are going to opt to not publish or not report on something because of fear of retaliation. And once you start to get demonetized, the next fear is that your videos are going to get blanket banned,” she added.

While support for Russia has essentially been prohibited, glorification of even the most unsavory elements of Ukrainian society on social media is now all-but-promoted. In February, Facebook announced that it would not only reverse its ban on discussing the Azov Battalion, a Nazi paramilitary now formally incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard, but also allow content praising and promoting the group – as long as it was in the context of killing Russians.

Facebook and Instagram also instituted a change in policy that allows users to call for harm or even the death of Russian and Belarussian soldiers and politicians. This rare allowance was also given in 2021 to those calling for the death of Iranian leaders. Needless to say, violent content directed at governments friendly to the U.S., such as Ukraine, is still strictly forbidden.

 

The media demands more censorship

Leading the campaign for more intense censorship has been corporate media itself. The Financial Times successfully lobbied Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch to delete a number of pro-Russian streamers. The Daily Beast attacked Gonzalo Lira, going so far as to contact the Ukrainian government to make them aware of Lira’s work. Lira confirmed that, after The Daily Beast’s article, he was arrested by the Ukrainian secret police.

Meanwhile, The New York Times published a hit piece on anti-war journalist Ben Norton, accusing him of spreading a “conspiracy theory” that the U.S. was involved in a coup in Ukraine in 2014, while claiming that he was helping promulgate Russian disinformation. This, despite the fact that the Times itself reported on the 2014 coup at the time in a not-too-dissimilar fashion, thereby incriminating its own previous reporting as Russian propaganda. If referencing The New York Times’s own previous reporting becomes grounds for suppression, then meaningful online discourse is under threat. As journalist Matt Taibbi wrote last week, the West is in danger of establishing an “intellectual no-fly zone,” where deviating from orthodoxy will no longer be tolerated.

An image shared in the NYT hit against Norton

An image shared in the NYT hit against Norton. Credit | Multipolarista

The invasion of Ukraine has also raised a number of troubling questions for Western anti-war figures: How to oppose Russian aggression without providing more political ammunition to NATO governments to further escalate the conflict? And how to critique and highlight our own governments’ roles in creating the crisis without appearing to justify the Kremlin’s actions? Yet this new perilous media environment raises a further quandary: How to express views online without being censored?

Google’s new updated rules are vaguely worded and open to interpretation. What constitutes “exploiting” or “condoning” the war? Does discussing NATO’s eastward expansion or Ukraine’s aggressive campaign against Russian-speaking minorities constitute victim blaming? And is referencing the seven-year-long civil war in the Donbas region, where the UN estimates that over 14,000 people have been killed, now illegal under Google’s policy of not allowing content about Ukraine attacking its own citizens?

For some, the answer to at least some of these questions should be an emphatic “yes.” On Thursday, journalist Hubert Smeets attacked longtime anti-war activist Noam Chomsky, explicitly accusing him of blaming President Zelensky and Ukraine for its fate. Chomsky has previously described Russian actions as incontestably “a major war crime, ranking alongside the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Hitler-Stalin invasion of Poland in September 1939.” Yet he has also for years warned that NATO actions in the region were likely to provoke a Russian response. If Google and other big-tech monopolies decide an intellectual giant like Chomsky’s voice must be suppressed, it will mark a new era of official censorship not seen since the decline of McCarthyism.

 

Old propaganda, new Cold War

The United States was allied with the Soviet Union during World War II. However, as the Cold War began to set in, so did attacks on dissenting voices. The postwar anti-communist push began in earnest in 1947, after President Harry S. Truman mandated a loyalty oath for all federal employees. As a result, the political beliefs of two million people were investigated, with authorities attempting to ascertain whether they belonged to any “subversive” political organizations.

Those in positions of influence were most aggressively vetted, leading to purges of academics, educators, and journalists. Many of the most celebrated individuals from the world of entertainment – including actor Charlie Chaplain, singer Paul Robeson, and writer Orson Welles – had their careers destroyed because of their political beliefs. “Socialism was canceled, dissent was canceled after World War Two,” Breakthrough News host Brian Becker recently said, warning that this new Cold War with Russia and China could usher in a new McCarthyist era.

The old Cold War against Russia ended in 1991. However, the new Cold War arguably started 25 years later with the electoral victory of Donald Trump. On November 8, 2016, the Clinton campaign alleged that the Kremlin had used social media to spread fake news and misleading information, leading to Trump’s victory. Despite the lack of hard evidence, corporate media immediately took up Clinton’s message. Only two weeks after the election, The Washington Post published a report claiming that hundreds of fake news websites had pushed Trump over the line and that a credible group of nonpartisan expert researchers had created an organization called “PropOrNot” to track this effort.

Using what it called sophisticated “internet analytics tools,” PropOrNot published a list of over 200 websites that they claimed were “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” Included on the list were publisher WikiLeaks, Trump-supporting websites like The Drudge Report, libertarian ventures such as The Ron Paul Institute and Antiwar.com, as well as a host of left-wing websites like Truthout, Truthdig, and The Black Agenda Report. MintPress News was also featured on the list. While there were some obviously fake-news websites included, the political orientation of the list was obvious for all to see: this was a catalog of outlets – right- and left-wing – that was consistently critical of the centrist Washington establishment.

A sure sign that you are reading Russian propaganda, PropOrNot claimed, was if the source criticizes Obama, Clinton, NATO, the “mainstream media,” or expresses worry about a nuclear war with Russia. As PropOrNot explained, “Russian propaganda never suggests [conflict with Russia] would just result in a Cold War 2 and Russia’s eventual peaceful defeat, like the last time.”

Despite the blatantly shoddy list, one that even included the websites of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, The Washington Post’s article went viral, being shared millions of times. PropOrNot’s list was subsequently signal-boosted by hundreds of other outlets. And despite calling for McCarthyist investigation into and suppression of hundreds of outlets, PropOrNot categorically refused to reveal who they were, how they were funded, or any methodology whatsoever.

It is now almost certain that it was not a neutral, well-meaning independent organization but the creation of Michael Weiss, a non-resident senior fellow of NATO think tank The Atlantic Council. A scan of PropOrNot’s website showed that it was controlled by The Interpreter, a magazine of which Weiss is editor-in-chief. Furthermore, one investigator found dozens of examples of the Twitter accounts of PropOrNot and Weiss using the identical and very unusual turn of phrase, strongly suggesting they were one and the same. Thus, claims of a huge [foreign] state propaganda campaign were themselves state propaganda.

The reaction to this crude “propaganda about propaganda” campaign was both swift and wide-ranging. In early 2017, Google launched Project Owl, a massive overhaul of its algorithm. It claimed that it was purely a measure to stop foreign fake news from taking over the internet. The main outcome, however, was a catastrophic, overnight collapse in search traffic to high-quality alternative media outlets – drops from which they have never recovered. MintPress News lost nearly 90% of its organic Google search traffic and Truthout lost 25%. Websites that were not on PropOrNot’s list also suffered devastating losses. AlterNet experienced a 63% reduction, Common Dreams 37% and Democracy Now! 36%. Even liberal sources only moderately critical of the status quo, such as The Nation and Mother Jones, were penalized by the algorithm. Google search traffic to alternative media has never recovered and has, in many cases, gotten worse.


Credit | WSWS

This, for Martin, is a sign of the increasingly close relationship between Silicon Valley and the national security state. “Google willingly changed their algorithm to backpage all alternative media without even a law in place to mandate them to do so,” she said. Other social media juggernauts, such as Facebook and YouTube rolled out similar changes. All penalized alternative media and drove people back towards establishment sources like The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News.

The consequence of all this was to retighten the elite’s grip over the means of communication, a grip that had slipped owing to the rise of the internet as an alternative model.

 

The “nationalization” of social media

Since 2016, a number of other measures have been taken to bring social media under the wing of the national security state. This was foreseen by Google executives Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, who wrote in 2013, “What Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies will be to the twenty-first.” Since then, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have become integral parts of the state apparatus, signing multibillion-dollar contracts with the CIA and other organizations to provide them with intelligence, logistics and computing services. Schmidt himself was chairman of both the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and the Defense Innovation Advisory Board, bodies created to help Silicon Valley assist the U.S. military with cyberweapons, further blurring the lines between big tech and big government.

Google’s current Global Head of Developer Product Policy, Ben Renda, has an even closer relationship with the national security state. From being a strategic planner and information management officer for NATO, he then moved to Google in 2008. In 2013, he began working for U.S. Cybercommand and in 2015 for the Defense Innovation Unit (both divisions of the Department of Defense). At the same time, he became a YouTube executive, rising to the rank of Director of Operations.

Defense Secretary James Mattis chats with Amazon founder and Washington Post owner, Jeff Bezos , during a visit to west coast tech and defense companies. Jeff Bezos | Twitter

Jeff Bezo meets with Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis during a visit to west coast tech and defense companies. Jeff Bezos | Twitter

Other platforms have similar relationships with Washington. In 2018, Facebook announced that it had entered a partnership with The Atlantic Council whereby the latter would help curate the news feeds of billions of users worldwide, deciding what was credible, trustworthy information, and what was fake news. As noted previously, The Atlantic Council is NATO’s brain-trust and is directly funded by the military alliance. Last year, Facebook also hired Atlantic Council senior fellow and former NATO spokesperson Ben Nimmo as its head of intelligence, thereby giving an enormous amount of control over its empire to current and former national security state officials.

The Atlantic Council has also worked its way into Reddit’s management. Jessica Ashooh went straight from being Deputy Director of Middle East Strategy at The Atlantic Council to Director of Policy at the popular news aggregation service – a surprising career move that drew few remarks at the time.

Also eliciting little comment was the unmasking of a senior Twitter executive as an active-duty officer in the British Army’s notorious 77th Brigade – a unit dedicated to online warfare and psychological operations. Twitter has since partnered with the U.S. government and weapons manufacturer-sponsored think tank ASPI to help police its platform. On ASPI’s orders, the social media platform has purged hundreds of thousands of accounts based out of China, Russia, and other countries that draw Washington’s ire.

Last year, Twitter also announced that it had deleted hundreds of user accounts for “undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability” – a statement that drew widespread incredulity from those not closely following the company’s progression from one that championed open discussion to one closely controlled by the government.

 

The first casualty

Those in the halls of power well understand how important a weapon big-tech is in a global information war. This can be seen in a letter published last Monday written by a host of national security state officials, including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA directors Michael Morell and Leon Panetta, and former director of the NSA Admiral Michael Rogers.

Together, they warn that regulating or breaking up the big-tech monopolies would “inadvertently hamper the ability of U.S. technology platforms to … push back on the Kremlin.” “The United States will need to rely on the power of its technology sector to ensure” that “the narrative of events” globally is shaped by the U.S. and “not by foreign adversaries,” they explain, concluding that Google, Facebook, Twitter are “increasingly integral to U.S. diplomatic and national security efforts.”

Commenting on the letter, journalist Glenn Greenwald wrote:

[B]y maintaining all power in the hands of the small coterie of tech monopolies which control the internet and which have long proven their loyalty to the U.S. security state, the ability of the U.S. national security state to maintain a closed propaganda system around questions of war and militarism is guaranteed.”

The U.S. has frequently leaned on social media in order to control the message and promote regime change in target countries. Just days before the Nicaraguan presidential election in November, Facebook deleted the accounts of hundreds of the country’s top news outlets, journalists and activists, all of whom supported the left-wing Sandinista government.

When those figures poured onto Twitter to protest the ban, recording videos of themselves and proving that they were not bots or “inauthentic” accounts, as Facebook Intelligence Chief Nimmo had claimed, their Twitter accounts were systematically banned as well, in what observers coined as a “double-tap strike.”

Meanwhile, in 2009, Twitter acquiesced to a U.S. request to delay scheduled maintenance of its app (which would have required taking it offline) because pro-U.S. activists in Iran were using the platform to foment anti-government demonstrations.

More than 10 years later, Facebook announced that it would be deleting all praise of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani from its many platforms, including Instagram and WhatsApp. Soleimani – the most popular political figure in Iran – had recently been assassinated in a U.S. drone strike. The event sparked uproar and massive protests across the region. Yet because the Trump administration had declared Soleimani and his military group to be terrorists, Facebook explained, “We operate under U.S. sanctions laws, including those related to the U.S. government’s designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and its leadership.” This meant that Iranians could not share a majority viewpoint inside their own country – even in their own language – because of a decision made in Washington by a hostile government.

In this light, then, Google’s message to creators about victim-blaming Ukraine or trivializing and condoning violence is a threat: toe the line or face the consequences. While we continue to consider tech monopolies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook to be private companies, their overwhelming size and their increasing proximity to the national security state means that their actions are tantamount to state censorship.

While fake news – including that emanating from Russia – continues to be a genuine problem, these new actions have far less to do with combatting disinformation or denial of war crimes and far more to do with reestablishing elite control over the field of communication. These new rules will not be applied to corporate media downplaying or justifying U.S. aggression abroad, denying American war crimes, or blaming oppressed peoples – such as Palestinians or Yemenis – for their own condition, but instead will be used as excuses to derank, demote, delist or even delete voices critical of war and imperialism. In war, they say, truth is always the first casualty.

Feature photo | Image by MintPresss News

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

The post An Intellectual No-Fly Zone: Online Censorship of Ukraine Dissent Is Becoming the New Norm appeared first on MintPress News.

Facebook Launches ‘Social Good Team’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2015 - 11:38am in

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