One of the crowning freedoms that has always distinguished the United States from other countries surrounding the globe is the freedom of the press and individual expression as guaranteed in the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
But late on Friday, December 23rd, with a majority of the population in the United States embracing the upcoming holiday season and oblivious to a majority of news emerging from Washington, President Obama quietly signed into law the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which authorizes $611 billion for the military in 2017.
Embedded within this authorization act was the Portman-Murphy Counter-Propaganda Bill, sponsored by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) which purportedly is designed to help American allies counter foreign government propaganda from Russia, China, and other nations.
Introduced by the Senators in March, 2016, the bill essentially creates a ‘Ministry of Truth’ by establishing an interagency center housed at the State Department to coordinate and synchronize counter-propaganda efforts throughout the U.S. government. To support these efforts, the bill also creates a grant program for NGOs, think tanks, civil society and other ‘experts’ outside government who are engaged in counter-propaganda related work. This will supposedly better leverage existing expertise and empower local communities to defend themselves from foreign manipulation.
This bipartisan Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act is organized around two main priorities to allegedly help achieve the goal of combatting the perceived threat of foreign disinformation.
The first priority is to develop a whole-of-government strategy for countering foreign propaganda and disinformation by increasing the authority, resources, and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include state actors like Russia and China in addition to violent extremists.
The Center will be led by the State Department, but with the active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community, and other relevant agencies. The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations and proactively advance so-called fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
Second, the legislation seeks to leverage expertise from outside government to create more adaptive and responsive U.S. strategy options by establishing a fund to help train local journalists and provide grants and contracts to NGOs, civil society organizations, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations, and other experts outside the U.S. government with experience in identifying and analyzing the latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques.
War on the ‘Truth’
Long before the issue of "fake news" became a daily topic of extensive conversation from such mainstream news organizations as The Washington Post and CNN, this new ‘Central Clearing House for Analysis & Response’ was designed to pinpoint sources of disinformation, analyze data, and — in true dystopic manner — ‘develop and disseminate’ “fact-based narratives” to counter effrontery propaganda. But in layman’s terms, the Act gives a green light for the government to crack down with impunity against any media property it deems "propaganda", while also providing substantial amounts of money to fund an army of "local journalist" counterpropaganda, to make sure the government's own fake news drowns out that of the still free "fringes."
Packaged politely in a veneer of "countering disinformation and propaganda", this bill opens the door for our government to potentially punish, shut down, or otherwise prosecute new entities it deems offensive and a source of "foreign government propaganda from Russia, China or other nations." But absent any formal public release of pivotal information that actually proves whether or not there is indeed a foreign propaganda sponsor, what we basically now have with this new law is the government's word against that of the dissenting news organization. Seriously, can it get any more Orwellian than this?
While much has been made in the mainstream media about the ‘abridged’ U.S. Intelligence report asserting that Vladamir Putin & the Russian Government were responsible for the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta emails that WikiLeaks released in advance of the November presidential election, the most glaring omission that should be of paramount concern to every American is the fact that once again, this report fundamentally consists of unsupported conclusions by the CIA, FBI and NSA, using the phrase “we assess” 19 times, without a single fact to actually demonstrate and directly link Russian involvement.
The document made public on January 6th was an unclassified version of a 50-page “top secret” report delivered to President Obama the previous Thursday, and shown to congressional leaders and to President-elect Trump on Friday morning. However, two intelligence officers who spoke with NBC News and the Washington Post confirmed that the classified version (which the public has yet to see) contained “no bombshells” either. Indeed, the unclassified text does not even claim that there is evidence to support its conclusions that is withheld in the interests of security, but supplied in the un-redacted document. Consequently, one is left with the bare assertion: we, the intelligence community, have made a judgment, and you, the American people, must take it on faith.
The 25-page declassified version does, however, contain one revelation. Nearly half of this document is a reprint of a CIA report from December 2012, detailing the coverage provided by the Russian government-supported English-language broadcaster RT (Russia Today), which reported extensively on the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests and third-party campaigns in the 2012 US presidential election. And most disconcerting is the appendix, which essentially suggests that anyone who questions the two-party system or opposes “corporate greed” is acting as an agent of the Russian government - an assertion that is highly reminiscent of the tactics used by Senator Jospeh McCarthy during the height of the Cold War ‘Red Scare’.
Fundamentally, however, the intelligence report is completely silent about the actual content of what was revealed by those leaks into the DNC and Podesta emails, which ranged from influence peddling of the highest order, a cabal between 12 major news organizations to create a ‘pied-piper’ narrative to sabotage the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, and the transcripts of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street bankers, including Goldman Sachs, which in reality is what cost both Clinton & the Democrats the election.
The longer, classified version of the report was presented to President-elect Trump at a briefing delivered by the four top officials of the US intelligence establishment: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (the guy that assured us back during the Bush Administration that the United States was not engaging in broad domestic spying upon its citizenry), CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey, and Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the NSA.
Earlier on Saturday, President-elect Trump said that there is "no evidence" Russia's cyber activities affected the election outcome. "Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!" he wrote on Twitter.
Ironically, one thing I find most intriguing about all of this is that back in 2010 as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped Moscow develop a “Russian Silicon Valley” that may instead have drawn some of America’s biggest tech companies into “industrial espionage” – even advancing the country’s military and spying operations – information that again can be gleaned from WikiLeaks.
The program was pitched as a partnership involving U.S. and Russian government entities and major U.S. corporations like Boeing, Google, General Electric, Cisco and Microsoft – also generous donors to the Clinton’s family foundation – were solicited by Clinton to invest more than a billion dollars in the Skolkovo Tech Park outside Moscow, formally called the Skolkovo Innovation Center.
The goal, Clinton said in speeches and to Russian media, was to “break down barriers with Russia,” create “more free flow of people and information” between the two countries, and ultimately strengthen Russia. Apparently $35 million was donated by Russian entities to The Clinton Foundation.
Question of the day: Is this being investigated by the CIA and Congress?
The New ‘Red Scare’ • Becoming What We Hated
At the outset let me state that while I vigorously oppose many of the policies, platforms, and cabinet selections of our new President-elect; regardless of what you may think about Donald Trump, this dangerous fear-mongering that is going on with un-documented allegations that Russia hacked the election; and this latest move in Congress to control and suppress so called 'fake news' is the biggest threat currently facing our democracy.
In a nutshell, nowadays when you hear the term “credible sources” in reality this translates into “establishment sources”. That is the truth of the “fake news” meme. You are not to read anything unless it is officially approved by the corporate elite.
Sadly, the worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including, of course, bigger budgets for the CIA. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and yet goes on and on.
From the days of the Bay of Pigs invasion up through Vietnam and the deposing of Salvador Allende in South America, up through the fabrications about WMD's in Iraq, the American Left have always known the CIA is in the business of fabrication. And apparently the CIA has learned nothing from its blatant involvement in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the 1972 set-up of President Richard Nixon in the Watergate break-in and cover-up, the 1980 October Surprise that resulted in President Jimmy Carter’s re-election loss, and the 1980s Iran-contra scandal that almost forced President Ronald Reagan from office through impeachment and his replacement by the former CIA director, Vice President George H. W. Bush.
Interestingly enough, the CIA began their current campaign of blaming the Russians for the exposes contained in WikiLeaks to The Washington Post, the owner of which has a $600 million contract with the CIA to provide cloud computing.
Something rarely mentioned in this debate over ‘fake news’ is that within a -/+ 4% accuracy, Americans that possess a ‘great deal’ of trust in the media amounts to 8%, meaning it could be as low as 4%; and if you include those that have a 'fair' amount of trust, it comes to only 32% - an all-time low since Gallup has been these statistics.
We first had a clearer glimpse of this during the Bush years, as the media become another branch of the government. Government press releases and talking points were reported as facts, "patriotism" was described as not questioning the government's motives; and of course the media claimed they would never do it again.
Here's an important quote from Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton & New York State Universities: "We’re shut out now. There hasn’t been an op-ed in The New York Times or Washington Post editorial pages arguing that the United States is at least equally to blame for this new Cold War crisis. They simply will not accept those articles…So this is the problem. In a democracy we fight through discourse. If you can’t get to the mainstream media and make the argument, then there’s no way of slowing the drift toward catastrophe." And sadly, once again, in this battle of blame versus accountability for something that Clinton and the DNC did to themselves, the price we are now paying is our freedom of thought and expression.
Even in the lauded New York Times and Washington Post, news reports, editorials and commentaries no longer adhere rigorously to traditional journalistic standards, often failing to provide essential facts and context; to make a clear distinction between reporting and analysis; to require at least two different political or “expert” views on major developments; or to publish opposing opinions on their op-ed pages.
As a result, American media on Russia today are less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War. Perhaps we have Reagan getting rid of the 'Fairness Doctrine' to thank in part for that; but in reality, I believe it to be more diabolical.
In response to Freedom of Information Act litigation, the Director of Central Intelligence declassified the total intelligence budget for the first time: $26.6 billion in fiscal year 1997. On February 9, 2016, the Obama Administration submitted its Fiscal Year 2017 budget request, including a request of $53.5 billion for the National Intelligence Program (NIP). The Department of Defense requested $16.8 billion for the Military Intelligence Program (MIP) in fiscal year 2017. However, when I recently posted a pdf file of this report on facebook, it received not a single like nor share, leading me to question whether anybody even saw it, or whether the post was flagged and blocked.
Obviously, we are now through the looking glass where up is down and wrong seems right. But I never thought in a million years I would live to see the day when McCarthyism would return full force through the aegis of the Democratic Party. I can just hear it now: 'Have you ever been a member of, or have you ever known anybody associated with the Communist Party?' That's the irony. The government will now decide what is Russian and/or other foreign propaganda and what is ‘fake news’; and while this cannot be constitutional, that doesn’t mean the Supremes will overrule it.
The Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 marks a further curtailment of press freedom and another avenue to stultify avenues of accurate information; and what all of this apparently means is that the only ‘fake news’ the government wants to banish is conservative news and Wikileaks. If you look at the case of Geert Wilders, a journalist who was recently convicted of using his free speech in The Netherlands, you can see where we are headed.
Equally disturbing is how hardcore Democrats & Republicans now criticize Russia for alleged election interference and then as a solution vote to adopt a centralized clearing house for information. Isn't state controlled media vis-a-vis the influence of the KGB one of the pivotal things that President Truman cited as a reason to form NATO and the CIA in order to combat upon the world stage in the first place?
It all reminds me of the lyrics from a great Aimee Mann song entitled It Takes All Kinds:
“As we were speaking of the devil
You walked right in
Wearing hubris like a medal
You revel in
But it’s me at whom you’ll level your javelin
Throwing your weight around the sun
Happier now that you’ve become
What you hated.”