The propagation of anti-Russian fever is weirdly reminiscent of the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq. That Vladimir Putin is "hacking" our crumbling democracy is as much an article of faith as Saddam Hussein's cache of weapons of mass destruction. The methods by which this faith is being propagated to the American public become especially obvious when you notice that some of the same Iraq War cheerleaders are involved in this latest neocon effort.
The initial public acceptance of the invasion of Iraq, as well as the "belief" of the majority of polled subjects in Russian meddling in the presidential election stays alive thanks largely to the process of amplification.
The first part of the conflict-creation recipe involves bellicose think tanks and defense industry-beholden politicians planting scary stories in the mainstream media, whose stenographers graciously grant the planters anonymity due to the "sensitivity" of the situation and fears that national security will be threatened if the public gets too much information. The second step is for the warmongers to then point to these planted stories as proof positive that they are full of facts, the actual details of which must unfortunately be withheld to protect the interests of the planters. These two steps are like yeast. They make the disinformation cake rise and rise.
This is what former Vice President Dick Cheney did in 2002. His office fed New York Times reporters Judith Miller and Michael Gordon the "scoop" that Saddam Hussein was buying uranium from Africa and using it to build nuclear weapons. Then Cheney went on Meet the Press and pointed to the New York Times as his proof that Saddam did indeed plan to attack the US. To give the disinformation an added dose of verisimilitude, "investigative" reporter Miller even went to jail for a time to protect the powerful sources of the false information. Rather than out herself as a stenographer, she made herself a martyr - until the whole scam fell apart, and she lost her job at the Times.
Where one neocon bit the dust, however, there are plenty more to take her place. Take, for example, one Molly K. McKew, a self-described "information warfare expert" who got her start in propaganda at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, and went on to lobby Congress on behalf of some of the former Soviet satellite countries whose billionaire leaders she also personally advised, before reinventing herself as a Russophobic pundit on cable TV shows and penning articles for such mainstream organs as Politico and the Washington Post.
At least McKew, unlike Judith Miller, is honest enough not to pose as an actual investigative journalist. Instead, she modestly gives herself the Orwellian title "narrative architect."
How does an architect construct a narrative? To get the recipe, just read her latest lengthy, convoluted and alarmist Politico effort, entitled "How Twitter Bots and Trump Fans made #ReleasetheMemo Go Viral." The main secret ingredient of McKew's concoction is, paradoxically, the exact same process of amplification that she accuses the TrumPutin trolls of employing on Twitter. It takes one to know one, I guess. She liberally links to articles and data that she either dreamed up herself, or that come from like-minded Neocon think tanks, or that are anonymously-sourced articles in the establishment press planted by these same think tanks and revolving-door politicians.
The proof is in the pudding if not in the cake, McKew gloats. You see, Trump decided to release the Nunes memo before he even read it, thanks to the thousands and thousands of #ReleasetheMemo tweets arriving at his desk and those of the "Trumpiest of congressmen" in the past few weeks. It is such a terrible thing when mere trolls have the power to influence such powerful Establishment Influencers.
McKew further amplifies her Politico message by pointing out that since the mighty Washington Post also agrees that Trump and the GOP have been unduly influenced by Russian trolls, it has got to be true. Another term for this propaganda technique is affinity bias, which supplements the endless repetition of boilerplate talking points through the use of an echo chamber.
Since Molly McKew can't blame the twitter campaign directly on Russian trolls, she points to Russian bots who retweeted the messages of actual human Americans, thereby infecting the minds of many other Americans. If this sounds confusing, it is meant to be confusing. She therefore blames the nefarious use of computational propaganda, which she defines as
“the use of information and communication technologies to manipulate perceptions, affect cognition, and influence behavior”—has been used, successfully, to manipulate the perceptions of the American public and the actions of elected officials. The analysis below, conducted by our team from the social media intelligence group New Media Frontier, shows that the #releasethememo campaign was fueled by, and likely originated from, computational propaganda. It is critical that we understand how this was done and what it means for the future of American democracy.Molly McKew then refers to a number of computational charts of Twitter feeds which derive directly from computerized analyses allegedly conducted both by herself and by former Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff's new neocon think tank, Alliance for Securing Democracy. (I previously wrote about this war consortium's bogus Hamilton68 Dashboard, which purports to have the Big Brother ability to figure out who is tweeting, what they're tweeting, when they're tweeting, and where they're tweeting it from. Naturally, McKew seizes upon the Dashboard propaganda to further amplify her own argument. Chertoff's organization itself amplified the #ReleasetheMemo amplification frenzy when it planted an article in HuffPo complaining that the hashtag had lost a bit of its oomph during the manufactured government shutdown scare. This piece was where I myself first learned about #ReleasetheMemo.)
McKew ultimately undermines her own analysis of "Russian interference" when she is forced to admit that her research revealed that real American human tweeters actually started the memo campaign. What difference does the truth really make at this point? So she is nobly respecting the privacy of the US humans involved. For now, anyway. The implicit message is that you American humans best be careful what you write, lest Putin appropriate your words and you become fair game for eventual unwanted exposure by the Molly McKews of this enterprise.
It is computational propaganda—meaning artificially amplified and targeted for a specific purpose—and it dominated political discussions in the United States for days. The #releasethememo campaign came out of nowhere. Its movement from social media to fringe/far-right media to mainstream media so swift that both the speed and the story itself became impossible to ignore. The frenzy of activity spurred lawmakers and the White House to release the Nunes memo, which critics say is a purposeful misrepresentation of classified intelligence meant to discredit the Russia probe and protect the president.McKew further amplifies her own neocon message when she links to the warmongering paranoia of the Atlantic Council, another pro-war think tank at the forefront of fomenting Cold War 2.0 for greatly amplified profits to the weapons manufacturers who own it and operate it.
We ordinary people are not supposed to know all this, though, because otherwise how could the neocons manufacture our mindless consent for perpetual war and help us to overcome our "sickly inhibitions" against death and destruction on the epic scale that a hot war with Russia would entail? What matters is that we allow the "right" people to manipulate us and make us believe that our leaders really, really care about us. The "Russians," McKew and her fellow disinformation specialists warn us, would have us believe we're all on our own, without a hope and without a prayer.
"And yes," she concludes, "that also reinforces the narrative the Russians have been pushing since 2015: You’re on your own; be angry, and burn things down. Would that a leader would step into this breech, and challenge the advancing victory of the bots and the cynical people behind them."
It takes a professional Narrative Architect like McKew to construct a Potemkin Village made out of Mom and apple pie, with the American flag being the only drapery you'll ever need to protect your privacy and your lives.
A prolific tweeter herself, McKew amplified her message even more today by plugging her own appearances on both NPR and MSNBC to further warn Americans about the dangers of unsanctioned amplification. For super-duper amplification, the New York Times' David Leonhardt graciously plugged her piece in his column. She'll even be appearing at SXSW in Austin next month to amplify her paranoid brand to music fans.
Meanwhile, the Republicans' cynical can of worms which I wrote about in my previous post is already on its way to being pried open thanks to Donald Trump's "unprecedented" attack on the surveillance state. The Times has filed suit, demanding that the entire transcript of the FISA matter regarding Carter Page be opened to public scrutiny. In ordering the cherry-picked Nunes memo declassified, Trump probably unwittingly opened a legal door toward more transparency. This is likely the real reason that the Neocon alliance was gnashing its teeth over a nonexistent threat to national security.
Further reading on Molly McKew and her Manichean mindset and possible grift:
Meet Molly McKew, War Lobbyist and Hero of #TheResistance, Washington Babylon.
A New Cold War Against Russia is a Terrible Idea, New Republic.
American Says She Was Hounded Out of Moldova by Pro-Russian Politician, Buzzfeed
I've been reading Robert Coover's brilliant but underappreciated, maligned, and even repressed account (The Public Burning) of Cold War 1.0 and the Rosenberg executions. One passage in particular struck me, because it so perfectly captures the "zeitgeist" of RussiaGate, and why so many otherwise intelligent people are falling for the "narrative architecture" being amplified by Molly McKew and her compatriots in government and media.
Speaking as an imaginary Richard Nixon, Coover writes that there was
"... an almost Wagnerian scope to the prosecution's presentation, incorporating many of the major issues of our times, whether or not relevant to the crime charged; the sense throughout that this was clearly a struggle between the forces of good and evil... and a lot of pretty fair spy stories to the bargain, if the prosecution was to be believed: secret codenames, recognition signals, covert drop sites, escape plans, cover stories, payoffs, cat-and-mouse games with FBI surveillance teams, border intrigues. But there was more to it than that. Not only was everybody on this case from the Judge on down - indeed, just about everyone in the nation, in and out of government myself included - behaving like actors caught up in a play, but we all seemed moreover to be aware of just what we were doing and at the same time of our inability, committed as we were to some higher purpose, some larger script as it were, to do otherwise. Even the Rosenbergs seemed to be swept up in this sense of an embracing and compelling drama."And further,
"And then what if, I wondered, there were no spy ring at all? What if all these characters believed there was and acted out their parts on this assumption, a whole courtroom full of fantasists? Certainly most of them had a gift for inventing themselves - or as they'd say in the CIA and KGB, for elaborating their covers - maybe, helplessly, they just dreamed it all up. Whereupon the Rosenbergs, thinking everybody was crazy, nevertheless fell for it, moving ineluctably into the martyr roles they'd been waiting for all along, eager to be admired and their heroism and their loyalty to the cause of their friends, some of whom, they were certain (the FBI said there was a spy ring, there had to be one) were members of the alleged conspiracy"RussiaGate hysteria will live on until war breaks out, or until a Democratic-Neocon majority again takes over Congress and the White House and things can can get back to a semblance of normal: in other words, respectful bipartisanship and fairness and collegiality in love and secret war and tons of money. Nobody wants to give up his place on the stage at this point, because doing so would be both heresy and an admission of fraud, not to mention a career-buster. It's all a show. We are either complicit actors, unwilling spectators, or outright traitors to the Narrative Cause if we refuse to become properly cowed and afraid. We are simply not allowed to despise Donald Trump if we don't also firmly believe that he is a Putin puppet. We must pledge allegiance to the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA, if only because Trump is treating them so nastily. His insulting Tweets are deemed by the Miss Manners crowd to be so much worse than his real crimes, such as extrajudicial drone assassinations of civilians, which have now already overtaken those of his predecessor.
The one weapon we do still have is to relentlessly expose "consultants" like Molly McKew for exactly who they are: war profiteers. As ever, simply follow the money.