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Confessions of an Alleged ‘Russian Propagandist’: A Pentagon Hit?

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Photo by Jedimentat44 | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Jedimentat44 | CC BY 2.0

 

ThisCantBeHappening.net didn’t make the Washington Post’s list of 200 news sites that are “purveyors of Russian propaganda” designed to “undermine Americans’ faith in democracy,” but an article by yours truly published on our site on September 29 which was picked up by CounterPunch.org and run the following day was cited as “proof” that CounterPunch is just such a perfidious agent of Russian subversion of the US — which I guess supposedly “outs” me as one of those secret Russian agents in the US alternative media.

The article in question, headlined US Propaganda Campaign to Demonize Russia in Full Gear over One-Sided Dutch/Aussie Report on Flight 17 Downing, called out the Dutch “investigation” into that horrific shoot-down of a fully-loaded Malaysian jumbo jet over war-torn eastern Ukraine in 2013, pointing out that the prosecutors and investigators involved refused to accept any radar or transmission monitoring evidence offered by Russia or by separatist rebels in the region, using instead only evidence provided by the Ukrainian intelligence service and government — this despite the fact that both Ukraine and Russia possessed quantities of the BUK missile and mobile launchers that were known to have been involved in the downing of the plane, and should thus both be potential suspects in the case. I also noted that as reported by noted former AP investigative reporter Robert Parry on his own Consortium News site (also on the Washington Post’s hit list of Russian propaganda sites), and by retired CIA Senior Analyst Ray McGovern, the Dutch investigators never asked for nor received any satellite surveillance photos or NSA transcripts of relevant telecommunications concerning the shoot-down from the US, though such evidence certainly exists.

The Washington Post article, written by Craig Timberg — surely either one of the most credulous and lazy journalists working in a major US news organization (and that’s really an accomplishment!), or a duplicitous propagandist for the US government posing as a journalist at the Post — relied upon only two sources for his dramatic “exposé” purporting to prove that a massive Russian propaganda campaign had surreptitiously attempted to undermine (perhaps successfully!) the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and to throw the race to Donald Trump, at the same time undermining US foreign policy and faith in the US government while elevating the reputation of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both sources are falsely described by Timberg as being “two teams of independent researchers.” The assumption we clearly are meant to have is that these organizations have no institutional bias.

In fact, the first of these sources, the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), turns out to be a hoary relic of the Cold War founded in 1955 by Robert Strausz-Hupé, an Austrian emigré and passionate anti-Communist. It has continued its anti-Russian propaganda stance since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 2002 death of its founder and now boasts on its board of trustees jailbait like former Reagan National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, a key player in the Reagan-era Iran Contra scandal who pleaded guilty to four counts of lying to Congress but was pardoned by President Reagan, arch-neocon and Russia-phobe Robert Kagan, a key promoter of the the US invasion or Iraq in 2003, and a whole host of other right-wing anti-Russian fanatics.

At least FRPI is willing to let people know who it is and who is running the joint. In contrast, the other of Timberg’s sources, PropOrNot, an organization with a website, PropOrNot.com, founded only several months ago, remains totally secret, providing no information on its site about its origins, its funding, its leadership or its staff. And yet Timberg confidently claims its information about Russia’s alleged epic propaganda effort was the result of the painstaking analytical work of these “experts.” In fact Timberg says the organization’s executive director, whom he quotes, asked for and received anonymity along with all his staff because they wanted to “avoid being targeted by Russia’s legions of skilled hackers.”

And the Post’s editors allow him to get away with this gutlessness and lack of transparency.

To get the full picture of how credulous and unprofessional — or willfully biased — Timberg’s editors at the Washington Post (often still considered one of the nation’s top “newspapers of record”), were in not vetting his article, read the Intercept’s article Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist from a New, Hidden and Very Shady Group, which devastatingly eviscerates both PropOrNot and the Post.

Suffice to say that besides allowing Timberg to use as the key source of his article and dramatic media blacklist an anonymous and clearly partisan group, PropOrNot, the Post’s editors also never required their supposedly crack “technology reporter” to even attempt to contact a single editor or journalist at any of the named alleged purveyors or “useful idiots” he was accusing of secretly spreading Russian-sourced “false news.” There’s not even a perfunctory: “Efforts to contact the editors at Counterpunch were unsuccessful” in the entire piece. Timberg and the editors of a paper that once gave us the Watergate story that brought down President Richard Nixon clearly didn’t even consider such basics of journalism important!

As we will see, there may be more than meets the eye to the hiding of PropOrNot’s secret personnel list, though. Bear with me.

I can vouchpersonally for Timberg’s lack of journalistic principle and reportorial effort.CounterPunch is listed on PropOrNot’s home page as number nine on the PropOrNot.org blacklist, under the headline: “Russian Propaganda Targets All Americans.” PropOrNot conveniently included two links to CounterPunch articles which it indicates make its case for including the site on their list. The first, under the heading “Review Article,” takes the reader to a page of a very similar looking site called ToInformistoInfluence.com and an article headlined: “Russia Useful Idiots Proliferate Russian Propaganda.” Below that snarky headline, the analyst Joel Harding gives a bylined analysis of the article, in which he questions the author’s qualifications to be a self-described part of the American left, since he identifies himself as a socialist, which Harding then tells the reader “isn’t exactly the normal American ‘left’, but the ‘remnants of the Soviet’ left.” Comically, Harding fails to notice that actually the CounterPunch author in this case isn’t even a US resident, but describes himself as a “retired aerospace worker living in British Columbia.”

Clearly this is not someone given to sober expert analysis as characterized by the Post’s Timberg, yet Harding is being cited here as the one declaring CounterPunch to be a Russian propaganda vehicle.

In any event, the reprint that follows Harding’s introduction, written by the Canadian CounterPunch contributor Robert Annis, and headlined “Western Media Propaganda Threatens Peace and Prolongs the Deadly Conflict in Eastern Ukraine,” which ran Sept. 2, reports quite factually, quoting such Western sources as Reuters and the New York Times, that a plurality of Swedes and Finns oppose their respective conservative government’s efforts to join NATO. Annis then goes on to quite accurately write that US reporting on the civil war in eastern Ukraine fails to note that it is Ukrainian forces that are taking aggressive actions towards the separatist regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, not separatists (or Russians) invading the or threatening regions of Ukraine to the west of those two breakaway ethnic-Russian majority provinces.

Nothing in Annis’s article sources Russian information, and there is no evidence that Annis, who clearly identifies himself in his accompanying CounterPunch bio, as a Canadian socialist and as editor of the website The New Cold War: Ukraine and Beyond.

Think about it a moment. If that kind of open identification of the politics of its authors is how CounterPunch operates (and it is), it’s pretty hard to see how anyone, except for the incredibly credulous or disingenuous Timberg and his pathetic sources for his scare story could perceive the magazine as being a secret vehicle for promoting subversive Russian propaganda!

The second link in PropOrNot’s CounterPunch listing is under the heading “Absurd Pro-Russia Content.” This link leads directly to my article! Apparently in the view of the “experts” at PropOrNot, my piece is such blatant propaganda that no introduction and analysis by someone as skilled at detecting hidden bias and Russian perfidy as Harding is even required. I’m guessing it’s my lead, which refers ironically enough to the Pentagon’s own all-too real propaganda campaign aimed at Americans designed to convince them that Russia is an aggressive and existential threat to the United States.

And in fact, while our corporate media don’t talk about it, the US does run a vast propaganda operation, which includes the spawning and spreading of, guess what?, fake news stories! This kind of thing has gone on for years abroad, but since 2001, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, both the Pentagon and the US Information Agency have done away with an earlier ban on spreading such lies posing as news inside the US. Now we’re all fair game for US propaganda, which by the way the mainstream media routinely parrot. (Of course, we were already massively fed false stories by our mainstream media, from WMDs in Hussein’s Iraq to Assad’s chlorine gas attacks in Damascus, from only “moderate” Jihadi rebels being armed and trained in Syria to US hospital bombings like the one in Kunduz, Afghanistan being “accidents,” not deliberate targeting.)

In any event, no effort is made by either PropOrNot or Timberg to show how my article, which is based upon my own opinions and analysis, my own reporting, plus the excellent work of crack investigative journalists like Bob Parry, and experts like Ray McGovern, is either a piece of Russian propaganda, or a parroting of other articles that might be, in Timberg’s view, Russian propaganda.

I wrote an email to Timberg offering to explain to him how as a veteran, award-winning journalist and investigative reporter of 44 year’s experience with four critically reviewed books to my name and five years’ experience as a foreign correspondent for BusinessWeek in Hong Kong and China, I select my stories to report on and to write, so that he might get the proverbial “other side” of his story out to readers. So far, Timberg hasn’t replied to that offer. I’m sure editors at some of the sites expressly named on Timberg’s PropOrNot list — none of whom he apparently bothered to try and contact while cobbling together his article — have done the same.

What it appears we really have here courtesy of Timberg and the Washington Post is a classic piece of McCarthyite red-baiting propaganda, complete with a call for the FBI and US Justice Department to investigate those on the list for possible violation of the US Espionage Act, the Foreign Agent Registration Act “and other related laws.” Any site that is critical of US foreign policy, who says anything favorable about Russia, or who was critical of Hillary Clinton, is suspected of being a Russian propagandist.

Where things get really serious is that if this Harding character — the guy whose byline appears in the introduction on PropOrNot’s first page of evidence against CounterPunch magazine — is what he appears to be, PropOrNot could actually be a Pentagon funded operation, which would make Timberg’s Washington Post hit piece on alternative news sites particularly outrageous, and his and the Post editors’ keeping of the site’s members and owners names secret a scandal of enormous proportions. Harding, I have discovered through some research on Google, while perhaps not a high-wattage secret propagandist spotter, does appear to be a major figure in PropOrNot — perhaps even its mysterious executive director? He describes himself on his own website as having this interesting background: 35 years “working national security issues,” including enlisted soldier in a Special Forces detachment, followed by a career as a military intel officer, at information operations at the Department of Defense, and organizer of InfowarCon, which hosts meetings on cyberwarfare.

And while some might take some pause at the source, Russia Insider, which describes itself as a media criticism site put out by a “group of expats living in Russia,” the site reports that Joel Harding, a current or retired brigadier general in the US Army and a self-described NATO advisor, heads a “team of dedicated internet trolls,” allegedly on the Pentagon payroll, who “openly libel and harass” journalists and authors whom the ever-vigilent Harding perceives to be Kremlin agents. No wonder PropOrNot wants its members’ identities kept secret!

If any of this stuff is correct, it means that this whole effort to tar the country’s leading alternative news sites and leading independent journalists on left and right as Russian agents working as part of a propaganda conspiracy is really just a gigantic “fake news” story perpetrated by the government, and worse perhaps, the military — with the willing connivance of one of the country’s leading newspapers — an idea that should turn the stomach and infuriate any real American.

And remember, this is happening not because of the election of Donald Trump — the guy the Russians supposedly manipulated gullible American voters into putting into the White House. Rather, pretty evidently, it’s happening because some leading Democratic Party hacks, and the very clearly pro-Hillary Clinton Washington Post, are trying to divert the blame for Clinton’s stunning loss to Trump not on the Democratic Party’s and Clinton’s epic failure to connect with the working class voters they both long since abandoned, but on the alternative media that helped expose not just Clinton’s and the Democratic Establishment’s corruption, but the ugly reality of US militarism and foreign policy that both Clinton and the Democratic Party so enthusiastically back.

And while I’m certainly no purveyor of or “useful idiot” transmitter of “Russian propaganda,” I do plead guilty to being part of that alternative media, which is in the best traditions of American journalism going back to Tom Paine and John Peter Zenger.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

CounterPunch Magazine

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