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Consortium News Accuses Canadian Spy Agency Of Defaming Them As Part Of Russian Cyber Influence Campaign

Consortium News accused a Canadian foreign intelligence agency, along with Global News, a Canadian television network, of defaming the media organization as “part of a cyber influence campaign directed by Russia.”

Libel notices were sent to the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) and Global News. The notices demand a retraction of any mention of Consortium News as well as an apology.

“We’ve been targeted before, but never in this most overt way by a named powerful Five Eyes intelligence agency and a major television station,” Consortium News editor-in-chief Joe Lauria declared. He put this development in the context of Canada being a United States ally and a NATO country.

On December 10, 2019, Global News reported on “secret intelligence records” they obtained. They claimed the files showed Russia as a “hostile foreign state” that targeted Canada with “cyber influence” campaigns.

One file from the CSE said “the first attack was a February 2017 report in the ‘online Consortium News’ followed ‘in quick succession’ by pro-Russian English language and Russian-language online media.”

In other words, the mere fact that certain Russian media organizations took an interest in a report by Consortium News was considered an indication that the independent outlet was “involved” in a campaign directed by a foreign power.

Lauria told Shadowproof the article in question was about Chrystia Freeland, who is now Canada’s deputy prime minister. The Consortium News report revealed that Freeland’s grandfather was an editor for a Nazi newspaper in occupied Poland during World War II. She hid this family history from the public.

“When this article came out in February 2017, a few days later, Freeland was asked at a conference in Ottawa about it, and she gave a non-denial denial, just blaming people for what Russia had done in the United States in the 2016 election,” Lauria recalled.

A day later, the Globe and Mail ran the headline, “Freeland knew her grandfather was editor of Nazi newspaper.”

“A CSE report says the Consortium News was part of an attack from Russia on Chrystia Freeland’s reputation,” according to one of the captions in Global News’ coverage.

“We are not directed by anyone,” Lauria stated. “It’s absolute nonsense. We are funded only by our readers, not by any corporation, advertiser, or any government whatsoever, and we get no instructions from anybody.”

Yet, in a broader sense, Lauria contended this “takes agency from critical domestic dissent, as if it cannot exist on its own without it being linked to a foreign hostile power.”

Robert Parry, who founded Consortium News in 1995, was called a “Putin puppet” and a “Kremlin stooge” before he died in 2018. To a large extent, that occurred as a result of Parry’s coverage and analysis of the Ukrainian coup d’etat in 2014. This marked the “beginning of the new Cold War,” according to Lauria.

As the narrative of Russia “collusion” during the 2016 election dominated news media coverage, Parry, and several other writers, including Lauria, questioned reports from U.S. intelligence agencies and various sources. PropOrNot, a tool claiming to be able to detect Russian influence operations, singled out Consortium News, along with dozens of other websites.

But what CSE and Global News is much more alarming. They see the fact that they were highlighted in a security agency report as evidence of what happens when you challenge someone, who is a very powerful woman in the Canadian government.

“When you threaten the interests of these very powerful people, they will try to crush you in many different ways. One way is to smear you and to discredit in the eyes of the public as being ruled and directed from the Kremlin,” Lauria asserted. “This is as dirty as it gets, and it’s authoritarian. It has no place in a democratic society that pretends to have a free press.”

Lauria wrote a comprehensive article detailing many crucial details related to the libel notices. Former Senator Mike Gravel is a Quebec descendant and member of Consortium News’ Board of Directors.

“Gravel was close personal friends with former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Gravel vacationed with Trudeau at Christmas 1977 at a ski resort in Colorado,” the article notes.

As Lauria summarized, “We have the government of Justin Trudeau attacking a media organization on whose board sits a close friend of his late father.”

Consortium News is not the only target. Democratic Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a 2020 presidential candidate, sued Hillary Clinton for smearing her as a “Russian asset.” There is also WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who Lauria points out was “linked and smeared as somehow being a Russian agent, not a publisher and journalist who is in jail for publishing classified information.”

In Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government charged journalist Glenn Greenwald with a cyber-crime. The criminal complaint bears a great similarity to the leak prosecution the U.S. government intends to bring against Assange.

So many of the people who contribute to Consortium News were professionals in government, like Ray McGovern or John Kiriakou. They stepped out of the establishment to offer the public a viewpoint based on their own experiences.

“They’re providing something that corporate media, which is largely controlled by government, as we know, cannot provide,” Lauria concluded. “When that happens, when we give a point of view that’s not liked by leaders, they want to shut it down, marginalize us by smearing us as being directed by Russia.”

“It’s a complete outrage and that’s why we decided we had to stand up against this.”

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."