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Disinfo Dictionary

A helpful guide to America’s new ministry of truth

by
The Editors
March 28, 2023
For a history of the creation and functioning of America’s disinformation complex, see here. Did we miss something? Submit your nomination for a term and its meanings here.
For a history of the creation and functioning of America’s disinformation complex, see here. Did we miss something? Submit your nomination for a term and its meanings here.

Jump to: A-F ㅤㅤAMAZON BENZ, MIKEBERENSON, ALEXBUSH, GEORGE W.CHAN, ELVISCOVIDCOUNTER-ELITE“DISINFORMATION DOZEN”DOMESTIC EXTREMISMTHE ELECTION INTEGRITY PROJECT (EIP)FACEBOOKFOREIGN INFLUENCE TASK FORCE ㅤㅤㅤG-L ㅤㅤㅤGLOBAL ENGAGEMENT CENTERGERTH, JEFFGOOGLEGREENWALD, GLENNGRENIER, ROBERTHAMILTON 68HAYDEN, MICHAELHYBRID WARFAREJANKOWICZ, NINAJOHNSON, JEHHUNTER BIDEN’S LAPTOPSHORNE, EMILYKREMLINKRISTOL, BILLLAB LEAK THEORYLUMPKIN, MICHAELㅤㅤㅤ M-R ㅤㅤㅤMCLUHAN, MARSHALLMEDIAMUSK, ELONNATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATIONOBAMA, BARACKPOPULISMPRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLEROGAN, JOEROTH, YOELRUSSIAGATEㅤㅤㅤ S-Z ㅤㅤㅤSCHIFF, ADAMSCHWAB, KLAUSSHORENSTEIN CENTER ON MEDIA POLITICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD UNIVERSITYSMITH, LEESOCIAL MEDIASRI INTERNATIONALSTANFORD INTERNET OBSERVATORYSTEELE DOSSIERTAIBBI, MATTTHIRD PARTY NONPROFITS AND NGOSTRUMP, DONALDTRUSTED NEWS INITIATIVETWITTERTWITTER FILESWAR ON TERRORWATCHDOGSWATTS, CLINTWHOLE-OF-SOCIETY PROBLEM

amazonAMAZON: Tech company founded by Jeff Bezos as a bookstore, now enmeshed with the federal government via Amazon Web Services, the cloud computing service with two separate top secret data regions that is used by 7,500 government agencies—or, as their own website states, “the trusted cloud for government.” Bezos bought the The Washington Post in 2013, making him both the guardian of the government’s secrets and the owner of the house publication of the DC political class. The Washington Post would go on to become a leading purveyor of the Russiagate conspiracy.

benzBENZ, MIKE: Whistleblower. A former deputy assistant at the State Department who witnessed the creation of the state-run censorship machine under the auspices of “fighting disinformation.” Benz, who now runs a free speech watchdog focused on exposing threats to digital liberties, has chronicled how the government officials at State and in the Department of Homeland Security took a weapon built to fight foreign threats and used it against its own citizens. “DHS insiders’ collective justification, without uttering a peep about the switch’s revolutionary implications, was that ‘domestic disinformation’ was now a greater ‘cyber threat to elections’ than falsehoods flowing from foreign interference,” Benz has noted, revealing that, without any public announcements or black helicopters flying in formation to announce the news, America developed its own ministry of truth.

berensonBERENSON, ALEX: Controversy-seeker who happened to be right about some important things and was punished as a result. Berenson was kicked off Twitter after writing on the site that mRNA vaccines don’t “stop infection. Or transmission.” As it turned out, that was a true statement (FDA adviser Dr. Patrick Moore in a meeting from December of 2020: “Pfizer has presented no evidence in its data today that the vaccine has any effect on virus carriage or shedding, which is the fundamental basis for herd immunity”), but saying so earned Berenson a spot on a list of people the White House sent to Twitter for banning.

bushBUSH, GEORGE W.: 43rd president, son of a former U.S. president and CIA chief. Bush Jr. pushed his father’s spook agenda beyond his wildest dreams by kicking off the War on Terror, which allowed for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act.

chanCHAN, ELVIS: The assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s cyber branch in San Francisco. Chan was one of the lead actors involved in putting the heavy on social media outlets like Twitter to make sure that posts and accounts that the FBI found objectionable were taken down—including requests that left Twitter’s Head of Safety Yoel Roth “frankly perplexed.”

covidCOVID: Jet fuel dumped into the engine of the counter-disinformation machine that had been built on Russiagate: “Due to both the pandemic and the disinformation about the election, there are increasing numbers of what extremism experts call ‘vulnerable individuals’ who could be radicalized,” warned Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary of Homeland Security for counterterrorism and threat reduction. The Department of Homeland Security produced a video in 2021 encouraging “children to report their own family members to Facebook for ‘disinformation’ if they challenge US government narratives on Covid-19.” The pandemic is now seen as an opportunity to implement a “Great Reset,” that could advance the cause of planetary information control (see under: Schwab, Klaus).

countereliteCOUNTER-ELITE: A group of private billionaires mostly concentrated in the tech sector whose figurehead is Elon Musk. They claim to view the state’s attempted capture of the shared communications and sense-making machinery as a social and cultural ill as well as a threat to their economic and political interests. On the other side of the skirmish line we have the forces of the bipartisan political establishment under the command of General Barack Obama. For more, read “Elon vs. Obama.”

dozen“DISINFORMATION DOZEN”: Twelve social media accounts identified in 2021 by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as “anti-vaxxers who play leading roles in spreading digital misinformation about Covid vaccines” who were accused of being responsible for 65% of all the “anti-vaccine content” and, according to the organization, needed to be deplatformed.

domesticextremismDOMESTIC EXTREMISM: An ever-expanding label that now refers to everything from “hate speech” to Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass. Often involves incidents in which FBI plants encourage Americans in disaffected groups to say or do things so that they can then be portrayed as examples of dangerous domestic terror. One good example: the “kidnapping plot” against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, which turned out to be riddled with FBI insiders who egged on the drunk and high “terrorists.”

eipTHE ELECTION INTEGRITY PROJECT (EIP): In the run-up to the 2020 election, according to reporting by Lee Fang and Ken Klippenstein for The Intercept, “tech companies including Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, Wikipedia, Microsoft, LinkedIn, and Verizon Media met on a monthly basis with the FBI, CISA, and other government representatives … to discuss how firms would handle misinformation during the election.” The way they handled it was by operating an industrial-scale censorship machine in which the government and NGOs sent tickets to the tech companies flagging objectionable content that they wanted scrubbed, via a supposedly nonpartisan consortium called the Election Integrity Project—which, as EIP head Alex Stamos explained, was a workaround for the problem that the government “lacked both kinda the funding and the legal authorizations.” The collective comprises four groups: the Stanford Internet Observatory; the private anti-disinformation company Graphika (which had formerly been employed by the Defense Department against groups like ISIS in the war on terror), University of Washington’s (UW) Center for an Informed Public, and The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab.

facebookFACEBOOK: Nerd dating platform that briefly took over the world. In the wake of 2020 election, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the charge that fake news posted on his platform had influenced the outcome as “pretty crazy.” But he was soon faced with a coordinated pressure campaign in which every sector of the American ruling class, including his own employees, blamed him for putting a Putin agent in the White House, effectively accusing him of high treason. The final straw came when Obama himself “publicly denounced the spread of fake news on Facebook.” Within two days, Zuckerberg folded: “Facebook announces new push against fake news after Obama comments.” As it turns out, the Russia smear was merely the pretext used by the intelligence agencies, working in concert with senior members of the Democratic Party, to seize control of the internet, which they viewed as the rightful property of a permanent ruling class with veto power over election results.

fitFOREIGN INFLUENCE TASK FORCE: FBI outfit created to monitor social media to flag accounts trying to spread disinformation, a category that expanded to encompass efforts to “discredit U.S. individuals and institutions”—in other words, any criticism of the government. The Department of Homeland Security took on a similar role.
gl

gecGLOBAL ENGAGEMENT CENTER: Also known as the GEC; the lead government agency coordinating the war against disinformation. Originally created as a counterterrorism agency, the GEC was rechartered by President Obama as a vehicle for effecting the national mobilization, bringing together the public and private sectors, Silicon Valley, and nonprofit groups, to eradicate (i.e., censor) supposedly dangerous disinformation. Evolved, along with the rest of the counter-disinformation complex, from defending against foreign threats to adopting an official focus on domestic disinformation, which allowed it to serve as a tool of censorship and political repression.

gerthGERTH, JEFF: Author of a very long CJR autopsy on the mainstream press’s fraudulent Russiagate coverage. Thorough and damming, but published too late for it to mean anything. (See also under: “Media.”)

googleGOOGLE: The savviest of the major tech companies, largely flying under the radar despite playing a lead role in the state censorship machine—allowing junior players like Facebook to take the anti-tech heat while maintaining much closer working relationships with the governments of both the U.S. and China. Google collects so much data on their users’ behaviors, it creates the illusion of knowing their thoughts and seems to possess the technological means to change people’s thinking without taking any action at all. The company began to function as a shadow branch of the U.S. government during the Obama presidency. From 2009-15, White House and Google employees were meeting, on average, more than once a week.

greenwaldGREENWALD, GLENN: Left-wing journalist who risked life and citizenship to publish inside information on the NSA’s surveillance of U.S. citizens provided to him by former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor Edward Snowden. Greenwald has been one of the loudest voices against the mainstream media’s willingness to parrot White House and CIA talking points. For this, Greenwald is smeared as having turned into a dangerous attack dog of the right. His positions haven’t moved.

grenierGRENIER, ROBERT: Former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Grenier wrote in The New York Times, a few weeks after Trump supporters rioted in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that the U.S. should wage a “comprehensive counterinsurgency program” against its own citizens—not just violent extremists but any “native” who seemed vulnerable to supporting Trump.

hamilton68HAMILTON 68: Hoax. An initiative spearheaded by a consortium of big names—including senior Democratic Party officials like Jake Sullivan and Michael McFaul, as well as neoconservative never-Trumpers like Bill Kristol—that claimed to have the names of hundreds of Russian affiliated accounts that had infiltrated Twitter in order to sow chaos and help Donald Trump win the election. None of it was true. After reviewing Hamilton 68’s secret list, Twitter’s safety officer privately admitted that his company was allowing “real people” to be “unilaterally labeled Russian stooges without evidence or recourse.”

haydenHAYDEN, MICHAEL. Spook of spooks. Former Air Force general, CIA and NSA spy chief, Hayden ranks among the most senior intelligence officers the U.S. has ever produced, and was a principal architect of the post-9/11 surveillance system. Championed Clint Watts, the former FBI agent, who became a leading exponent of the idea that Russia had “hacked” the U.S. electoral system.

hybridwarfareHYBRID WARFARE: An approach that combines military and nonmilitary means to confuse and weaken a target while avoiding direct, full-scale conventional war. A notoriously vague theory of warfare favored by professional defense “experts,” but not very useful for building strong armies that can win wars. Laid the foundation for the idea that millions of Americans expressing ideas about politics might unwittingly be aiding in Russia’s master war plans.

jankowiczJANKOWICZ, NINA: Show tunes fan and short-lived head of the Department of Homeland Security’s “Disinformation Governance Board.” The former adviser to Ukraine’s State Department-installed President Petro Poroshenko composed a ditty about disinfo, which she sang to the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”: “Information laundering is really quite ferocious. It’s when a huckster takes some lies and makes them sound precocious, by saying them in Congress or in mainstream outlets so, disinformation’s origins are slightly less atrocious. It’s how you hide a little lie, little lie. It’s how you hide a little lie, little lie. It’s how you hide a little, hide a little lie. Rudy Giuliani shared bad intel from Ukraine. Or when TikTok influencers said COVID can’t cause pain. They’re laundering disinfo and we really should take note, and not support their lies with our wallet, voice or throat.” Now affiliated with a nonprofit called the Centre for Information Resilience.

johnsonJOHNSON, JEH. As Obama’s secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Johnson labored for months to put U.S. election systems under DHS control, but initially the reaction “ranged from neutral to negative” from local stakeholders who told him “that running elections in this country was the sovereign and exclusive responsibility of the states, and they did not want federal intrusion, a federal takeover, or federal regulation of that process.” In his final days in office, Johnson managed to override them, unilaterally rushing through the measure.

laptopsHUNTER BIDEN’S LAPTOPS: Real and authentic, as the FBI has known at least since 2019, when it first took possession of them, and even Biden’s lawyers have now publicly admitted. When the New York Post attempted to report on this, dozens of the most senior national security officials in the U.S. lied to the public—calling the laptops “disinformation”—a lie that was endorsed on multiple occasions by now-President Joe Biden. Twitter, Facebook, and Google, operating as fully integrated branches of the state security infrastructure, carried out the government’s censorship orders based on that lie. The press cheered on the censorship. The story of the laptops has been framed as many things, but the most fundamental truth about it is that it was the successful culmination of the yearslong effort to create a shadow regulatory bureaucracy built specifically to prevent a repeat of Trump’s 2016 victory.

horneHORNE, EMILY. Twitter executive who advised against calling out the Hamilton 68 scam. Horne previously worked at the State Department handling the “digital media and think tank outreach” portfolio. According to her LinkedIn, she “worked closely with foreign policy reporters covering ISIL [an abbreviation for the Islamic State - ed.] … and executed communications plans relating to Counter-ISIL Coalition activities.” From there she moved on to a role in the Obama National Security Council as the director for strategic communications, a job she left to join Twitter in June 2017. Conveniently, she moved to Twitter one month before the launch of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, the powerful neoliberal think tank behind the Hamilton 68 initiative. Horne pushed the social media site not to make the revelations public. “We have to be careful in how much we push back on ASD publicly,” she wrote in February 2018.

kremlinKREMLIN: The Russian parliament. On these shores, serves as boogeyman for merged new team of neo-liberals and neo-cons, who assert that the Russians are plotting constant disinformation campaigns against the United States in order to undermine our democracy. Interestingly, the same charge is rarely leveled at the still extremely communist and eminently more powerful Chinese Communist Party, which is actually involved in making all of our communication devices.

kristolKRISTOL, BILL: Right-wing royalty turned resistance darling, Kristol transferred his advocacy for a famously disastrous global war on terrorism into a domestic one. (Why let the Iraqis have all the fun?)

lableakLAB LEAK THEORY: A once-unspeakable assertion that a coronavirus may have been manipulated in a laboratory to gain properties never before seen in nature that make it especially efficient at transmitting between humans. Google, Facebook, and Twitter all censored references to the lab leak on the grounds that it was misinformation, despite the fact that numerous esteemed scientists had declared in the early days of the pandemic that it might be man-made. Facts were treated as dangerous, racist conspiracy theories by U.S. government health authorities and their minions in the press for roughly two years before the party line abruptly changed and government agencies began to acknowledge the truth.

lumpkinLUMPKIN, MICHAEL: A leading advocate for the position that laws protecting the privacy of American citizens jeopardize national security. Former Navy SEAL with a counterterrorism background, Lumpkin headed the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), the agency Obama picked to run the new U.S. war against disinformation.
mr

mcluhanMCLUHAN, MARSHALL. Predicted everything in 1970 when he wrote: “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.”

mediaMEDIA: Convenient fall guy—by far the weakest player in the counter-disinformation complex. The American press, once the guardian of democracy, is a hollow and toothless shell that got worn like a hand puppet by the U.S. security agencies and party operatives.

muskMUSK, ELON: Genius inventor slash loopy transhumanist, whose wild man tactics are often mistaken for strategic master-planning. If he had not decided to purchase Twitter, crucial details in the history of American politics in the Trump era may have remained a mystery.

nsfNATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION: Cooly named outfit that funds a dozen automated disinformation detection technologies explicitly designed to monitor constitutionally protected speech on issues like “vaccine hesitancy and electoral skepticism.”

obamaOBAMA, BARACK: 44th president. Signed into law the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act, which launched an open-ended information war targeting Americans.

populismPOPULISM: An inherently unstable but recurring kind of political movement that organizes broad popular dissatisfaction with elites and which, when it appeared in the U.S. and Europe starting in 2015, inspired a pathological freakout within the political establishment who treated it as the return of Nazism. Those movements relied on figureheads—Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the U.S.—because average voters, even when they were tens of thousands strong, were too cut off from the levers of power located inside institutional centers to pose any long-term challenge to the American ruling class.

princePRINCE HARRY AND MEGHAN MARKLE: Failed podcast hosts who pivoted into a new career by joining the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder. Such initiatives flourished in the years after Trump and Brexit, like fantasy sports leagues for the idle rich to play at joining in the great cause of the deep state.

roganROGAN, JOE: Former UFC commentator and comedian, and one of the biggest podcasters in the world. For his interrogation of experimental vaccines and potential alternative approaches to treatment, Rogan was denounced as “an enormous threat to public health” in a public letter that mainstream media outlets reported was written by “270 doctors,” but was actually a hodgepodge of some doctors as well as a majority of nonmedical professionals, including a group of... podcasters.

rothROTH, YOEL: Twitter’s former head of trust and safety. Knew all the Russian disinfo stuff was a fraud—even suggested in an October 2017 email that the company take action to expose the Hamilton 68 hoax and “call this out on the bullshit it is”—but in the end did nothing.

russiagateRUSSIAGATE: The false claim that Russia hacked the 2016 U.S. presidential election with “disinformation,” which provided a pretext—just like the claims about weapons of mass destruction that triggered the Iraq war—to plunge America into a wartime state of exception. With the normal rules of constitutional democracy suspended, federal agencies were now allowed to install a massive censorship machinery on the back end of the internet’s biggest platforms under the pretext of ensuring “election integrity.” (See also: Google, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter.) Though there was never a public order given, the U.S. government began enforcing martial law online. Russiagate created the conditions in which people who express constitutionally protected (and often true) opinions about the 2016 election (and later about issues like the origins of COVID-19) are smeared as un-American, racists, conspiracists, stooges of Vladimir Putin and systematically removed from the digital public square to prevent their ideas from spreading.

schiffSCHIFF, ADAM: Los Angeles congressman, former head of the House Intelligence Committee, and No. 1 political purveyor of Russiagate-related misinformation, including that the now-discredited Steele dossier was proof that the Trump campaign was actively colluding with the Russian government in the 2016 election. You’ve gotten emails from him.

schwabSCHWAB, KLAUS: Head of the World Economic Forum and capo di tutti capi of the global expert class. Schwab encourages seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to implement a “Great Reset” that could advance the cause of planetary information control. Bald and tall like an Austin Powers villain, the son of parents who moved from Switzerland to Germany during the Third Reich so his father could assume the role of director at Escher Wyss AG, an industrial company and contractor for then Nazi Germany; central casting went a little overboard with this one.

shorensteinSHORENSTEIN CENTER ON MEDIA POLITICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: Key node in a complex of philanthropic funded nonprofit organizations enmeshed with the government. (See also: The NGO Borg.)

smithSMITH, LEE: Tablet columnist and the earliest chronicler of the Russiagate conspiracy, often eliciting hysterical reactions from mainstream critics. Smith’s investigative work on the Steele dossier, corruption of the press, and collusion between the intelligence agencies and Democratic Party operatives explained how familiar-seeming institutions had been radically transformed from the inside and effected a coup against a sitting president.

socialSOCIAL MEDIA: Once promoted as a revolutionary technology for spreading democracy and human freedom. Crediting Twitter with playing an important role in the Arab Spring movement, Hillary Clinton’s State Department senior adviser Alec Ross declared that social media-enabled digital networking was the “Che Guevara of the 21st Century,” which he meant as praise. Clinton herself said that she wanted to “promote online communications as a tool for opening up closed societies.” But all of that changed when Trump got elected and people in the Clinton and Obama orbits blamed “the internet companies” and especially Facebook for allowing Trump to win by failing to impose more censorship. The lesson that leading Democrats took from Trump’s victory was that Facebook and Twitter—more than Michigan or New Hampshire or Florida—were the critical battlegrounds where future political contests would be won or lost. “Many of us are beginning to talk about what a big problem this is,” Clinton’s chief digital strategist Teddy Goff told Politico the week after the election, referring to Facebook’s alleged role in boosting Russian disinformation that helped Trump. “Both from the campaign and from the administration, and just sort of broader Obama orbit … this is one of the things we would like to take on post-election.”

sriSRI INTERNATIONAL: A company with close ties to the Pentagon that split off from Stanford University in the 1970s. Now the recipient of one of the two largest contracts related to disinformation from the Department of Defense and a key developer of the next generation of automated information control technologies.

stanfordSTANFORD INTERNET OBSERVATORY: Uses appearance of scholarly objectivity to credential and legitimize an explicitly partisan and ideologically driven campaign to ban certain ideas. Also serves as a primary conduit connecting the defense sector, Silicon Valley, and academia. Led by Alex Stamos, former chief security officer at Facebook through 2018 who went on to head the Election Integrity Project (see: EIP) and in 2021 founded a cybersecurity company with Chris Krebs, the DHS official primarily responsible for creating the massive, government-directed censorship machine ahead of the 2020 election.

steeleSTEELE DOSSIER: A partisan hatchet job paid for by Hillary Clinton’s team that consisted of provably false reports alleging a working relationship between Donald Trump and the Russian government. While a powerful short-term weapon against Trump, the dossier was also obvious bullshit, which suggested it might become a liability.

taibbiTAIBBI, MATT: Independent journalist who made his name slaying those involved in the 2008 financial crisis, now the lead purveyor of the Twitter Files. For the crime of challenging the Democrats as much as he challenges Republicans, he is now forced to sit online all day while hundreds of random strangers tweet at him “What happened to you?!”

ngosTHIRD PARTY NONPROFITS AND NGOS: A label applied to organizations funded by private sector billionaires, who use them to advance their own agendas, and from the U.S. government, which uses them to launder and lobby for its preferred policies. An internal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo, first made public by the journalist Lee Fang, describes a DHS official’s comment during an internal strategy discussion, that the agency should use third party nonprofits as a “clearing house for information to avoid the appearance of government propaganda.” This mandate opened up thousands of new jobs at a moment when traditional journalism was collapsing amid a broader problem of too few jobs for too many postgraduate elites.

trumpTRUMP, DONALD: 45th U.S. president, ogre. Horrified millions of ordinary people who viewed as a personal betrayal the possibility that he would occupy the same office held by Washington and Lincoln. Also threatened the business interests of the most powerful sectors of society. It was the latter offense, rather than his putative racism or flagrant un-presidentialness, that sent the ruling class into a state of apoplexy.

tniTRUSTED NEWS INITIATIVE: Launched by the BBC in the summer of 2019 to “discover disinformation which threatens human life or disrupts democracy during elections” the members have promised, “This is entirely separate from and does not in any way affect the editorial stance of any partner organization.” They also state—with zero guile—that when “disinformation” is found, they will move “quickly and collectively” to “undermine [it] before it can take hold.” Including “ensure[ing] legitimate concerns about future vaccinations are heard, whilst harmful disinformation myths are stopped in their tracks.” By July 2020, members included the AP, AFP, BBC, CBC/Radio-Canada, European Broadcasting Union (EBU), Facebook, Financial Times, First Draft, Google/YouTube, The Hindu, Microsoft, Reuters, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Twitter, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

twitterTWITTER: A popular social media platform with journalists and members of the political class. From 2016-22, it was operated as a subsidiary of the U.S. security establishment. It is now evolving, under new ownership (see also: Musk, Elon, “the counter-elite”), into … something else.

twitterfilesTWITTER FILES: Elon Musk’s effort to give Americans an inside look at the degree to which the government worked directly with Twitter to shape public discourse. To this end, Musk gave access to the company’s internal files to a set of journalists, including Bari Weiss, Michael Shellenberger, but most prominently and long-lasting has been Matt Taibbi.

wotWAR ON TERROR: Perhaps the single most destructive policy in over two centuries of American statesmanship: A recipe for permanent war, as it replaced traditional standards of military victory with an open-ended project to remake far flung countries in America’s image.

Two decades of fighting the War on Terror fueled the growth of a massive bureaucracy of counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterrorism (CT) experts spread across the military, intelligence agencies, nonprofits, academia, and the private sector, a substantial number of whom were able to seamlessly transition into becoming experts in the war on disinformation.

watchdogsWATCHDOGS: Formerly the press and certain civic organizations, like the ACLU; no longer active. It was never unusual for a government agency like the CIA or FBI to want to work with private corporations and civil society groups, but in the past 10 years their successes in creating these partnerships have been comprehensive—and the result has been to break the independence of organizations that should have been critically investigating the government’s efforts. All of the institutions that once acted as prominent watchdogs are now renting themselves out as vehicles for manufacturing consensus.

wattsWATTS, CLINT: Celebrated by retired CIA chief Michael Hayden as “the one man, who more than any other was trying to ring the alarm more than two years before the 2016 elections.” A former FBI officer and counterterrorism analyst, when Trump came to power Watts became the media’s go-to expert on Russian trolls and Kremlin disinformation campaigns—the leading voice promoting the claim that a hidden Russian hand was puppeteering political developments in the U.S. Also credited by many with the earliest understanding that Twitter makes falsehoods seem more believable through sheer repetition and volume—which he labeled “computational propaganda”—and that Twitter in turn drives mainstream media.

wholeWHOLE-OF-SOCIETY PROBLEM: In a 2018 statement, the State Department noted that achieving its “mission to counter propaganda and disinformation will require leveraging expertise from across government, tech and marketing sectors, academia, and NGOs.” CIA officers at Langley came to share an overriding moral crusade with celebrities, hip young journalists in Brooklyn, progressive nonprofits in D.C., NATO think tanks in Prague, racial equity consultants, private equity consultants, Pentagon planners, tech company staffers in Silicon Valley, Ivy League researchers, and failed British royals. Never-Trump Republicans joined forces with the Democratic National Committee, which declared online disinformation “a whole-of-society problem that requires a whole-of-society response” in a set of recommendations for fighting the scourge that was published months before the 2020 election.







From the editors of Tablet Magazine.

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