By Neil Harris
THE UNITED States State Department and its subsidiary USAID, has a long record of destabilising governments America doesn’t like, with a range of techniques for stealing elections and fermenting demonstrations. Its successes range from toppling Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia through the various “colour” revolutions in the republics of the former Soviet Union. During the last year it has been increasing its propaganda attacks against governments it seeks to overthrow, this time making use of new media and social networking tools. While the technology may be new it has been recycling some familiar cold war methods and in some cases a few rather elderly cold war personnel too.
On 21st May 2012 tenders were invited for a “full-time, 24/7 service” from “global news coverage service providers”. This looks very like the old news agencies that were used to plant anti-Soviet stories in apparently independent newspapers around the world. This time, however; “on retrieving these packaged programmes, the State Department will distribute this video content to media organisations through an array of traditional and new media platforms”. www.sourcewatch has described these “video news releases” as “designed to be indistinguishable from independently produced news reports that are distributed and promoted to television newsrooms”. The State Department is looking to exploit these clips via “traditional fibre, terrestrial and satellite based as well as file based and internet delivery platforms”.
On 12th June, more tenders were invited for a contractor to provide “logistical, administrative and financial services to journalists, selected to travel to the US on two-week “TV Co-ops.” Again the intention is to insert pro-US video clips into foreign TV stations with the appearance that these came from non-US sources. The contractor will be using State Department money to pay for the journalists’ free flights and hotel rooms together with all TV production costs thrown in, “to communicate and promote US policies and American values”. All the same, the contractor “shall exercise the utmost discretion, in regard to all matters relating to their duties and functions”.
Meanwhile internet propaganda is being re-organised by Jared Cohen, who was a State Department advisor to both Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton and now works for Google as “Director of Ideas”. Cohen worked for Policy Planning at State from 2006-10 and during that time led technology delegations to Iraq, Russia, Mexico, Congo and Syria.
During the June 2009 protests in Iran, a country he knows well from when he lived there, he tried to persuade the founder of Twitter to reschedule routine maintenance of the site to keep the messages coming. At the start of the Egyptian “revolution”, he was in Egypt holding discussions with leading dissidents.
Condoleezza Rice’s view on his abilities is clear: “He would use his position at policy planning to begin to integrate social media into our diplomacy tool kit. That would pay off handsomely some years later, when Twitter and Facebook became accelerants of democratic change in the Middle East.”
Now Cohen, founder of Movements.org while at the State Department, has merged his internet activities with those of 89-year-old Robert L Bernstein, former president of Random House and publisher of Sakharov, Havel and Bonner amongst other Soviet and East European dissidents. He formed “Human Rights Watch” in 1978 but fell out with them when they criticised Israel’s appalling record on human rights.
His new organisation and website, “Advancing Human Rights”, is only directed against America’s enemies, and in particular those in the Middle East. “Cyber-dissident.com”, a Bernstein subsidiary has a strong supporter in Natan Sharansky, former Soviet dissident and now an Israeli politician. Amongst Bernstein’s other activities is being Emeritus Chair of “Human Rights in China”, which has well-funded offices in New York, Hong Kong and Brussels.
The new joint organisation will be providing “connections, technical advice and support to dissidents abroad”, as well as publishing a series of e-books.
What this means in practise was spelt out by State Department spokesperson Victoria Nubard, at a 6th January press briefing; “I’m not going to get into the specifics here – but I will tell you that we fund a range of programmes and initiatives that empower Iranians to access unfiltered information, to speak freely and to speak safely online. Yearly we spend nearly $70 million a year on these programmes both in Iran and around the world.”
She elaborated: “At the same time, we’re also developing and distributing new technologies – more than 20 of them – to empower activists around the globe to access unlicensed content on the internet and to communicate with each other and to tell their stories. And to date, we’ve funded the training of more than 7,500 activists around the world in these programmes.”
On 14th March, State Department spokespersons also revealed the extent of their activities in the Middle East: “In 2008 to 2011, State and USAID spent £76 million on internet freedom programming and will spend $25 million in 2012 to provide training and tools to civil society activists in the Middle East and throughout the world”.
They spelt out the nature of assistance: “Tools that have received support from State Department help provide unfettered internet access for hundreds of thousands of individuals in the Middle East. We also support development of mobile security software to provide safer ways for activists in repressive societies to communicate and technology to enable them to post their own content online and protect against cyber-attacks.”
We can get some idea of the likely targets of US attack, from the US Broadcasting Board of Governors who run the US funded Voice of America, as well as Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television in the Middle East. Last summer they put out an invitation for tender for a contractor: “to develop a new model capable of predicting internet usage and growth in 32 countries”.
The aim of this new programme is to provide weekly estimates of how many people are accessing the internet, which platforms they are using and how that is likely to grow. A technique of plotting net traffic and predicting its growth would be a valuable tool in spotting early trends indicating social disorder and upheaval. That would enable the US to help its friends by warning them of growing instability and enable it to exploit the same instability amongst its enemies, before those countries realise there is a problem.
The countries of interest to America, and which it estimates will be subjected to instability that it will need to influence over the next five years are: “Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Egypt, Georgia, Ghana, Indonesia, Iran, Sudan, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, Vietnam, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.”
With thanks to Sourcewatch and Spinwatch.