Propaganda


The CIA is not supposed to do domestic propaganda, because we’re the good guys. That’s how we can tell ourselves from the Russians: they use propaganda.

We use Twitter. When we use Twitter, it’s not propaganda, it’s outreach. When they use Twitter, it’s troll-farms and propaganda.

The CIA’s Twitter feed has 2.4 million followers who, I’m sure we all believe, are all real people. There is nobody who “likes” and “retweets” CIA stories to help “amplify” the “message.”

The New York Times and The Intercept are both reporting on this story, which is nice – I’m surprised that The New York Times wasn’t asked to hold off on saying anything critical, as they have so many times, before. You should listen to the amazing interview with James Risen, in which he describes how the CIA spiked NYT stories because they were too near the elections and might influence voters, at the CIA’s request. Risen summarizes it here: [inter]

Remember, influencing voters by manipulating their perceptions of events: we don’t do that. That is what Russians do. That is why Russians are Bad.

To promote a more positive view of Ms. Haspel, the agency has declassified secrets about her life as a globe-trotting spy and encouraged former clandestine officers – typically expected to remain quiet even in retirement – to grant interviews. It sought to generate favorable news coverage by providing selective biographical details about Ms. Haspel to reporters, then sent a news release to highlight the resulting stories.

The secrets they have declassified are not, of course, the ones that Haspel ordered destroyed* – this is not “a campaign of leaks” because the leaks have been conveniently un-leaked for political reasons. Remember: Scooter Libby was sent to prison for leaking stuff about a CIA officer. He should have said he was doing marketing outreach.

The New York Times‘ reporting is still watered-down:

As for her role of running the prison when a suspect was waterboarded, Ms. Haspel is seen inside the C.I.A. as having loyally followed lawful orders.

Look, the CIA even had a hard look at itself in the mirror, and exonerated itself:

The Intercept‘s coverage of the propaganda campaign has a completely different spin [audio episode here] – Scahill makes an oblique reference to the CIA using astroturfing/sockpuppet software to amplify the Twitter “outreach” – you know, like Russians do. Except Russians are Bad. I know for a fact that sockpuppeting software exists and is used (various versions) by intelligence agencies worldwide.

So, if the CIA cleared Haspel of the destruction of the waterboarding tapes, that must mean they know who actually ordered and implemented their destruction. What the CIA is doing is playing along with Obama’s “we need to look forward” hand: what happened is somehow not even a crime, so the evidence wasn’t “evidence” because there was no “crime” – none of that reasoning would survive 10 seconds in front of a prosecutor or a judge.

Isn’t the CIA going to even bother finding some useful idiot that they can fling under a bus? It appears not: Haspel was just following orders. They don’t even respect the law enough to find a fall guy. Stalin would have at least identified someone and had them taken out and shot: problem solved.

I can understand even if I don’t sympathize: it must be terrifying for the CIA to be contemplating another Pompeo situation, with an ignorant blow-hard political appointee who doesn’t know how things are done. People who don’t know how things are done are horribly dangerous when you’re engaged in criminal conspiracies to violate federal and international law.

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*They are not really destroyed. They’re still somewhere; they’re just hidden very very deep for a while. Sadists don’t delete their porn. It’s one of the crucial characteristics of sadists and serial killers: they keep videos, and they’re always hidden somewhere nearby. Have you noticed that nobody has ever asked any of the senior officers of the CIA or FBI if they saw the tapes? I.e.: were complicit? Even the journalists don’t ask. Because, if they do, they’ll lose all access.

Comments

  1. komarov says

    what happened is somehow not even a crime, so the evidence wasn’t “evidence” because there was no “crime” – none of that reasoning would survive 10 seconds in front of a prosecutor or a judge.

    In that case your legal system is severely flawed, almost to the point of uselessness. I’m talking about your failure to appoint sufficiently patriotic judges and prosecutors, of course.

  2. says

    komarov@#1:
    In that case your legal system is severely flawed, almost to the point of uselessness. I’m talking about your failure to appoint sufficiently patriotic judges and prosecutors, of course.

    “We determine that the jury has made the defendant: GREAT AGAIN”

  3. says

    Remember, influencing voters by manipulating their perceptions of events: we don’t do that. That is what Russians do.

    Well, they do that as well, but by now Putin has started openly using simpler and more foolproof methods. Effective propaganda campaigns require effort and aren’t guaranteed to give the desired results. There are simpler ways how you can win any election—prevent opposition candidates from participating in the elections + stuff the ballot boxes = guaranteed victory.

    The March 18 Russian presidential election was a fucking joke. Youtube is full with videos showing polling station workers stuffing the ballot boxes with countless ballots. There is definite proof that the election was rigged, because of the rampant and widespread fraud.

    Yet nobody seems to be taking any action. The world has come to the point where fake elections seem perfectly normal. Over the years watching news about what’s going on in Russia has become more and more surreal and frightening for me. It’s gradually and slowly getting worse and worse.

    Being born in 1992, I never experienced the joy of participating in Soviet elections. I only know stories told by my family members and friends. They actually had elections in the Soviet Union. Of course, there was only a single party to vote for—the Communist Party. Why bother holding an election if there’s only one party? The idea was that, by going to the polling stations, citizens demonstrate their support for the party. They even made advertisements and election posters telling people to go to the polling stations and vote. I particularly remember one Soviet election poster with Stalin’s picture on it and words, “Our elections are the only truly free and democratic elections in the whole world.” Of course, there was a catch—going to vote was obligatory. Any citizen who got caught not going to vote got punished. Usually the punishment was getting publicly shamed by your boss at work or something like that. In a society where each person’s job and career prospects could be influenced by the party this kind of punishment was much more severe than in the kind of societies we now live in. This is why all citizens went to the polling stations. Except when they didn’t. In the countryside, where everybody knew each other, it was customary for people to vote for each other. You could go to the polling station and say, “I’m here to vote for myself, for my wife, my sister and both my parents. Oh, and my neighbor Vladimir, he couldn’t come, because he was busy planting food crops in his garden, this is why I’m also voting for him.” And the employee in charge of running the polling station would write it all down and mark that all of these people have voted. That’s how you run elections!

    Speaking of fake elections. In USA you have two candidates, which both support approximately the same policies. Where the hell is the choice?

  4. komarov says

    Re: Ieva Skrebele (#3):

    Speaking of fake elections. In USA you have two candidates, which both support approximately the same policies. Where the hell is the choice?

    As an outsider to US poltiics myself, I think this time the choice between professional politician who’d dismantle everything worthwhile in a calm, methodical manner, and an enraged buffoon doing the same, but with big helpings of pandemonium on top of everything else. Some people prefer to embrace oblivion with quiet dignity while others go out screaming. These, presumably, are the two categories catered for. On the local scale it looks to be much the same, but I’m (even) less familiar with those politics.

    This is also why nominally I’d prefer to vote on issues rather than candidates. No matter how many parties you have, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have to vote for a party that may mostly hit the right notes – in one’s own opinion – but ruins it with one or two major issues where they get it wrong. It’s ultimately the same lesser-evilism you get the in the US two-party system. And it still leaves a bitter in your mouth when you see [party] go off on a crusade on that one bloody thing you didn’t vote them in for (and maybe dropping everything else in the name of political realism).

    Re: Marcus Ranum (#2):

    Any court of law that hinders the brave heroes of the secret service and has them waste their time defending the indefensible is simply not patriotic enough. High time for the 952nd amendment, “AMERICA, FLUP YEAH!!!”*, which can be cited to dismiss any such cases before they even go to trial.

    *As the founding fathers would have put it.

  5. says

    Ieva Skrebele@#3:
    Yet nobody seems to be taking any action

    Autocrats around the world have been demonstrating that they are prepared to repress people who complain too loudly. And, behind them are: more autocrats. It seems that people would just risk getting their heads smashed or their families bombed, to replace one autocrat with another.

  6. says

    komarov @#4

    This is also why nominally I’d prefer to vote on issues rather than candidates. No matter how many parties you have, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have to vote for a party that may mostly hit the right notes – in one’s own opinion – but ruins it with one or two major issues where they get it wrong.

    Of course. Unfortunately, we are generally not given the chance to vote on issues. Politicians don’t want all those pesky citizens meddling in their smoothly oiled business; hence, they won’t even consider giving us the option.

    Marcus @#5

    Autocrats around the world have been demonstrating that they are prepared to repress people who complain too loudly.

    Yes, Putin has been wise enough to also pass laws that enable him to crack down on press freedom and even the free speech of individual Russian citizens. By now, people who say online anything disliked by Putin face jail time. So, yeah, I understand why Russians don’t say anything. But Putin cannot do anything to foreigners who criticize his regime. There’s no reason why people who don’t live on Russian soil should also abstain from opening their mouths.

    And, behind them are: more autocrats. It seems that people would just risk getting their heads smashed or their families bombed, to replace one autocrat with another.

    Some regimes are better than others. In fact, some years ago things were significantly better in Russia.

  7. komarov says

    There’s no reason why people who don’t live on Russian soil should also abstain from opening their mouths.

    While I’m not terribly well-informed about the matter Turkey seems to be doing a “good” job initimidating foreigners or citizens critical of Erdogan’s regmie the Turkish Democracy who have fled moved abroad. Foreign journalists spring to mind, who found themselves imprisoned after being accused of supporting terrorism or doing [?!?!]. Usually just accused, not tried, because you can’t try people based on evidence that has been described as “ridiculous” in some reports. Or instances of Turkey going after expats, trying to get whatever country they live in to arrest and extradite them.

    As for Putin, eyebrows do go up when, every once in a while, someone he might have reason to dislike inexplicably turns up dead.

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