On February 7th, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a counter-terrorism bulletin warning of “a heightened threat environment,” supposedly “fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM).” This third term in the acronym, “mal-information,” was one I’ve never heard before, so I decided to check the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s website for a definition.
According to the CISA, mal-information is “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate” — in other words, information that is completely true but inconvenient to the National Security state’s preferred narratives. Don’t worry, concerned citizens! Those devious domestic terrorists who are sharing accurate information can expect to hear from the DHS’s new Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which has “established a new, dedicated domestic terrorism branch” and “expanded its evaluation of online activity” while “ensuring the protection of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties.” I’m sure our trustworthy federal government won’t abuse their new Powers.
This bulletin is, obviously, designed to shrink speech protected under the First Amendment, and it will have a chilling effect. One must’nt speak out, for the risk of being labeled a domestic terrorist (and probably a white supremacist, for good measure) will increase significantly.
It’s hard to ignore the absurdity of our intelligence community raising awareness about so-called disinformation. After all, there is no greater purveyor of “false or misleading narratives” than Washington’s permanent bureaucracy and their praetorian guard corporate media. The intelligence agencies, who have the veneer of authority, have consistently generated false realities with intelligence reports. More often than not, these reports are spuriously sourced or outright false. Regardless, they are laundered through their partners in the media industry, many of whom were previously members of these very agencies. There are far too many examples for a comprehensive list, but perhaps the most glaring one is James Clapper, the Former Director of National Intelligence who now works as a national security analyst on CNN. In this clip, he lies to Congress about the NSA’s domestic surveillance program, prior to Edward Snowden blowing the whistle on it. That’s a felony committed on television for which he suffered no consequences. Supposedly authoritative sources like him launder unverified intelligence reports as fact to the public. This informs public opinion at large and spurs action by policymakers now boxed in by the informational environment they find themselves in. Thus, a narrative borne in falsehoods is the basis for political action.
You don’t have to go back very far to find a pristine example of how the intelligence community and military-industrial complex work together to spread official disinformation through a compliant corporate media. In the summer of 2020, President Donald Trump was attempting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. This was unacceptable to the warmongers who rule America. Conveniently, the New York Times got its hands on an exclusive report: that “American intelligence officials” had concluded a “Russian military intelligence unit” was offering “bounties” to the Taliban in exchange for killing American troops in Afghanistan. There was no evidence offered to corroborate this. And yet, since the vaunted intelligence community said it was true, it was deemed true, unequivocally. The corporate media dutifully reported the story without skepticism and smeared anyone who dared to question it as a stooge of International Puppet-Master Vladimir Putin. Then, the House Armed Services Committee (led by neoconservative Liz Cheney and other pro-war members of the Republican and Democratic caucuses) used the bounties story as a pretext to approve a $740 billion military budget with amendments that barred troop withdrawals from Germany and Afghanistan. The Russian bounties story, in addition to being used as a bludgeon against Trump in the middle of the 2020 presidential election, had successfully been used to prolong a senseless war. But was it true?
Anyone with a working brain (i.e. anyone who hadn’t spent the Trump years watching MSNBC and CNN) knew to get suspicious about any unsourced claims or leaks having to do with Russia. It was hard not to, after four years of hearing journalists and national security “experts” hemming-and-hawing about imaginary Russian agents, pee-tapes, secret Trump Tower meetings, and other insane conspiracy theories that have since been memory-holed. Of course the bounties story was nonsense! In April 2021, after Trump had been successfully ousted from office, the intelligence community came out and said that, in fact, they only had “low to moderate” confidence in the reports, and declared that the story was “at best, unproved – and possibly untrue.” In other words, it was all BS. Where were the disinformation hawks then, given they are supposedly so concerned about the deleterious effect of fake stories? They were the ones who spread the story, so, naturally, they were nowhere to be found. Perpetuating a war and inflaming tensions with a rival nuclear power on false pretenses is far more dangerous than Joe Rogan talking to a cardiologist on his comedy podcast. But only the latter has the full attention of the self-appointed defenders of democracy.
The bounties story is only one of many spurious claims about Russia designed to further the domestic and foreign policy agenda of the permanent Washington bureaucracy. One infamous example from recent memory is the Steele Dossier. This was a salacious intelligence document laundered by British intelligence operative Christopher Steele through the US intelligence services to get a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on Carter Page, a Trump campaign associate. Using this fake intelligence as the sole evidence to acquire the warrants (and renew them multiple times!), the security state was able to wiretap Page, violating his civil liberties while spying on a rival presidential candidate’s campaign. Isn’t that dangerous? No, and could you please focus your attention on Joe Rogan? He’s the reason nobody believes official sources anymore.
The most nefarious case of official disinformation from the CIA and State Department is the Iraq WMDs debacle. As a pretext for invading Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein and increase American oil reserves, the Bush administration claimed the Iraqi leader was planning to provide terrorists with chemical and biological weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell infamously lied to the UN Security Council in February of 2003, claiming he had “sources, solid sources” about the existence of these weapons of mass destruction. What he was presenting, he said, were “not assertions” but “facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.” It was a bold-faced lie, but it didn’t matter. The disinformation had served its purpose: we were embroiled in another war on false pretenses.
There are many more examples I could cite (e.g., Border Patrol using “whips” that were just horse reins, the Hunter Biden laptop story being Russian disinformation, OPCW claims about chemical weapons attacks in Syria, etc.) but my point stands. This regime doesn’t care in the slightest about dis-information, mis-information, or mal-information in principle. They simply wish to reassert their monopoly on the dissemination of falsehoods. The good news: it isn’t working anymore.
When the only major sources of information were cable news, the New York Times, Washington Post, and other legacy media outlets, the intelligence community could easily manufacture consent. Now, with the advent of the Internet, their lies can be fact-checked in real time, and competing narratives can develop in place of the official disinformation. With their influence slipping, their narratives are becoming increasingly ridiculous. Joe Rogan, a stoner who hosted a game show where contestants ate boiled buffalo testicles, is now considered the most dangerous man in the country. This is because an average of 11 million people tune in to his show to listen to individuals who would never appear on corporate media. Compare that to CNN, which continues to experience a monstrous ratings collapse that coincides with its declining credibility in the eyes of the public.
Nobody believes a word the intelligence community and its mouthpieces in the corporate press say anymore, and for good reason. The only option left for them to reassert monopoly control over information in this country is to threaten dissenting voices with criminal offenses and public defamation, while enlisting Big Tech oligarchs to deplatform them. We are in the death throes of a decaying regime, lashing out as they lose the influence they once had. Unfortunately, this means their disinformation efforts are only just ramping up.
As long as the intelligence agencies continue to launder false realities to the public in pursuit of political gain, all politics will be fake and performative. These bureaucracies must be brought to heel. Let’s hope they don’t do too much damage before then.