Anyone with a cursory knowledge of American history knows the US intelligence services are not above targeting their own citizens for disinformation campaigns. In perhaps the most famous case, the CIA employed a cadre of journalists to spread disinformation during the Cold War under a program known as Operation Mockingbird.
The program was supervised at the time by the publisher of The Washington Post, the late Phil Graham, and included approximately 3,000 writers, editors, and publishers.
The network was not just large, but pervasive throughout the mainstream media. According to Carl Bernstein, the network included: CBS, Time Inc., The New York Times, NBC, the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, Hearst Newspapers, Scripps‑Howard, Newsweek magazine, the Mutual Broadcasting System, the Miami Herald and the New York Herald-Tribune.
The CIA reportedly valued its relationship with CBS, Time, and The New York Times the most. There was, according to Bernstein, lots of socializing and intermingling between the intelligence agencies and the media elite.
But what was the point of all this? A good case study for answering that question is the Reagan Administration’s attempts to crush “Vietnam Syndrome”— the reluctance many Americans felt in supporting imperial adventures abroad after the failed Vietnam War—through the use of state propaganda on the American people.
Vietnam Syndrome was considered a hindrance to Reagan’s Cold War policies in Latin America, especially his program of arming vicious terrorists known as the Contras in Nicaragua. Though the law at that time forbade direct propaganda efforts directed at the American people, President Reagan signed National Security Decision Directive 77, which created a propaganda unit within the National Security Council.
It’s policies would be implemented by the Office of Public Diplomacy for Latin America, that rested within and was staffed at the time by none other than neoconservative thought leader Robert Kagan, who was exhaustively profiled in the excellent film series A Very Heavy Agenda.
In a fun historical twist, documents appear to show Reagan operatives discussing getting additional funds for the disinformation campaign from Rupert Murdoch. The need for funds for the war—both the psychological and material—would prove to be a fatal problem and ultimately culminate in the Iran-Contra scandal that nearly brought down the Reagan government.
Cut to the present day and things don’t seem to have changed much. The foreign power being targeted by US intelligence is still Russia (minus the Communism) and it would appear the mainstream media is as willing as ever to play along. Welcome to the next Cold War.
Last week, The Washington Post ran a piece smearing journalists and publications that criticize the US government as agents of a Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Post story’s outrageous claims were based on “independent research” from an extremely shady group known as PropOrNot.
The Washington Post is still deeply connected to the CIA. The new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, is also the CEO of Amazon, which has a $600 million contract with the CIA for cloud computing services.
So, who is PropOrNot? According to Adrian Chen of The New Yorker, who was contacted by the group well before the Post story ran, the group includes former US State Department employees and includes Americans and individuals connected to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian connection is interesting. In a piece in Alternet, Mark Ames reveals that people running the PropOrNot Twitter account tweeted a Ukrainian fascist salute. The PropOrNot blacklist has all the hallmarks of the kind of media blacklist the post-coup government in Ukraine has implemented.
Again, who is PropOrNot? Is it a front group for US or Ukrainian intelligence, or just some group of trolls? Does The Washington Post know? Does the Washington Post care?
Or is the hunt for “fake news” and foreign propaganda really about silencing dissent and undercutting new media competitors? These questions need to be answered.