By: +David Herron; Date: December 6, 2017
When it comes to manipulating public opinion around the world, USA's Intelligence forces are just as active as Russia's. Over the last few years Russia's Troll Farms have gotten a lot of attention, and much whoop-de-doo is being made about how Russia hacked the 2016 election, and how Russia is behind a string of electoral problems in many countries ever since. The reality is that USA Intelligence forces are also doing it, and somehow the New York Times (and other news outlets) are ignoring this fact.
A NY Times op-ed by MICHAEL J. ABRAMOWITZ, President of the right-wing human rights group Freedom House makes the case that Russia and China has set up an army of social media manipulators, a Keyboard Army, to sway public opinion using fake news outlets and social media postings. We've covered a lot of news about this dating back to 2014, so it's completely clear that Russia and China has done those things. And there is evidence suggesting Russia has manipulated elections across Europe aiming to tilt the balance of power. For example, tipping the BREXIT election caused a result that benefits Russia, namely the exit of Great Britain from the EU, which in turn weakens the EU.
Thing is - Freedom House gets 86% of its funding from the US Government, primarily from the State Department's USAID program. Their 2016 financial statement describes a number of programs promoting Democracy around the world, and that a large portion of their money goes towards "Activities". An Alternet report (link below) claims that Freedom House itself engages in social media manipulation programs.
The sort of activity attributed to Russia - posting fake news articles - using article spinning techniques to post similar articles to multiple blogs - using automated social media accounts - etc - those techniques are unfortunately all-too-common. While a Government might use those techniques to encourage Political change, a soap company might use the same techniques to sell more soap.
( March 2011, The Guardian, and a companion op-ed by Journalism Professor Jeff Jarvis) This report describes how "The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda." United States Central Command (Centcom) has awarded a contract to an unnamed Silicon Valley company that will create fake online persona's. The contract stipulates "that each fake online persona must have a convincing background, history and supporting details, and that up to 50 US-based controllers should be able to operate false identities from their workstations without fear of being discovered by sophisticated adversaries." ( See the government solicitation)
In case you're not paying attention - that's exactly the same allegation as has been laid at the feet of Russia's intelligence services.
It's apparently illegal for such an operation to target Americans, and instead the intended target is Farsi speakers in Iran.
( April 2015, The Guardian) A USAID program launched ZunZuneo, slang for a Cuban hummingbird's tweet, a social media network that's targeting Cuba. Technologically it's built on SMS messaging on cell phones. The funding was done through a byzantine maze of offshore bank accounts and front corporations.
Documents show the US government planned to build a subscriber base through "non-controversial content": news messages on soccer, music, and hurricane updates. Later when the network reached a critical mass of subscribers, perhaps hundreds of thousands, operators would introduce political content aimed at inspiring Cubans to organize "smart mobs" — mass gatherings called at a moment's notice that might trigger a Cuban spring, or, as one USAid document put it, "renegotiate the balance of power between the state and society."
( March 2017, The Nation) In 2016 the National Defense Authorization Act included $160 Million earmarked to beef up the “Global Engagement Center.” The money is to be used to create "counter-propaganda" to combat propaganda from Russian organizations. This includes "social-media messaging, and original journalistic content." The public statements about the program are that of course it's being used to target folks in other countries (outside the USA). However, The Nation points out that in 2013, Congress repealed major sections of the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, which had previously instituted a ban on the State Department and related agencies from “propagandizing” directly to Americans. Post-2013, the State Department was now free to target USA citizens in the USA with messaging, and that it wasn't required to disclose that certain content was from government sources.