US National Security State Censoring Anti-imperialists
By Stansfield Smith
During the first cold war, the CIA poured money into funding and cultivating a pro-imperialist, anti-communist “compatible left.” Today, the US government uses social media to censor anti-war news outlets and activists. The oligarchic rulers of the United States use many tools to disrupt and disorganize the anti-war and anti-imperialist left.
This article addresses three tactics:
- corporate control of the news media, which gives the ruling class free reign to spread disinformation and fake news against foreign and domestic targets;
- foundations, which are financed by governments and corporations in order to fund and promote a “compatible left” to counter the anti-imperialist left;
- domination of social media and the internet to censor dissident voices.
Since 2016, US government-backed censorship of websites, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, Twitter profiles, and PayPal accounts has escalated alarmingly. Washington targets those who counter the narratives that the government and big business media feed us, whether it be about US intervention and attempted overthrow of other governments, Covid, or stories of Russian interference.
With the war in Ukraine, the immense propaganda power of the US government and corporate media has been directed against Russia and intensified on an overwhelming scale.
Soon after the end of World War Two, the US empire kicked off the First Cold War with McCarthyism – which predated Joe McCarthy himself. A campaign of news manipulation and suppression then was organized by the CIA in Operation Mockingbird.
The corporate media followed CIA directions in representing the interests of the US rulers. The CIA secretly funded and managed a wide range of front groups and individuals to counter what the US ruling class considered to be its enemies.
CIA Cultivates A ‘Compatible Left’
During the First Cold War, the CIA encouraged those on the left who were opposed to actually existing socialist governments. The spy agency sought to foster splits in the left, to undermine communists and anti-imperialists and build what it called a “compatible left.”
Significant liberal and left figures who worked with the CIA or its predecessor the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) include Gloria Steinem, a key liberal feminist leader; Herbert Marcuse, considered a Marxist intellectual; Walter Reuther, longtime president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union; and David Dubinsky, president of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
The CIA collaborated with Bayard Rustin, a civil rights activist and former leader of the Socialist Party and Social Democrats USA, who was a close associate of Martin Luther King.
The notorious spy agency also worked with Norman Thomas, another Socialist Party leader who was a father of the “third-campist” movement, which preached “neither Washington nor Moscow” while secretly receiving support from Washington.
Similarly, Carl Gershman served as executive director of Social Democrats, USA, before later helping to found CIA front the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which he led from 1984 until 2021.
Through the Congress for Cultural Freedom, the CIA underwrote the publishing of leftist critics, supporting books like “The New Class,” by Leszek Kolakowski and Milovan Djilas.
The spy agency cultivated the “Western Marxism” of the Frankfurt School, whose intellectuals Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, former director of New School of Social Research, are still revered as god-like figures in academia today, thanks in no small part to generous subsidies by the Rockefeller Foundation, another CIA cutout.
Corporate foundations, such as the Rockefeller, Ford, Open Society, and Tides foundations, among others, funneled CIA money to progressive, but anti-communist, causes.
The book “The Cultural Cold War,” by Frances Stonor Saunders, notes how, from 1963 to 1966, nearly half of the grants by 164 foundations in the field of international activities involved CIA money.
The Ford Foundation continues as one of the main financers of progressive groups in the United States. Both Ford and Open Society Foundations have poured money into Black Lives Matter, trying to co-opt the movement.
The CIA is seen as a ruthless organization that overthrows democratic governments that US corporations consider a threat to their profits. This view is correct, but it overlooks the CIA’s “gentler” work: underwriting and encouraging a “compatible left,” one which looks to the Democratic Party for political leadership.
The “third camp” left that the CIA has cultivated provides an alternative to an anti-imperialist or a communist left. It appears progressive, to lure in radical youth, activists, artists, and intellectuals.
This cunning CIA strategy has fostered confusion, dissension, and divisions among large sections of the population.
These secret US government and CIA operations have been detailed in books like “The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America,” “Finks: How the C.I.A. Tricked the World’s Best Writers,” and “AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?”
In 1977, journalist Carl Bernstein revealed deep CIA connections with the big business media. More than 400 reporters collaborated with the CIA, with the consent of their bosses.
Media outlets that worked in a propaganda alliance with the spy agency included CBS, ABC, NBC, Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Associated Press, Reuters, United Press International, the Miami Herald, the Saturday Evening Post, and the New York Herald Tribune.
The New York Times still sends some stories to US government for pre-publication approval, while CNN and other networks employ national security state officials as regular “analysts.”
Reuters, BBC, and Bellingcat operate similarly, participating in covert British government-funded disinformation programs to “weaken” Russia. This involves collaboration with the Counter Disinformation & Media Development section of the UK Foreign Office.
The CIA pays journalists in Germany, France, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand to plant fake news.
Udo Ulfkotte, a former editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, one of the largest German newspapers, showed how the CIA controls German media in his book “Presstitutes: Embedded in the Pay of the CIA.” Ulfkotte said the CIA had him plant fake stories in his paper, such as the claim that Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi was building poison gas factories in 2011.
The CIA was deeply involved with the long defunct National Students Association and with trade union leadership.
The AFL-CIO’s American Institute of Free Labor Development received funding from the State Department and CIA cutouts USAID and the NED to undermine militant union movements overseas and help foment murderous coups, includes the murderous putsches in Chile in 1973 and Brazil in 1964, as well as defend the rule of their masters at home. This counter-insurgency work continues today with the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, which rakes in tens of millions of dollars from the NED.
The CIA created publishing houses, such as Praeger Press, and used other companies such as the John Wiley Publishing Company, Scribner’s, Ballantine Books, and Putnam to print books that served US interests.
The spy agency set up several political and literary journals, such as the influential Partisan Review.
The CIA helped publish more than 1,000 books, mostly geared to a liberal-left audience, seeking to bolster a “third camp” left and undermine solidarity with the once powerful world communist movement.
Today, the US national security state continues this work, to undermine the anti-imperialist left and build up a compatible left inclined towards the “lesser evil” of the Democratic Party.
US Government Uses Media to Spread Disinformation and Advance Imperialist Interests
The CIA use of corporate media to undermine perceived threats to US national security state escalated with President Barack Obama signing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in 2017. This legislation lifted formal restrictions on security state agencies feeding fake news directly to the US population.
The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, which was part of the NDAA and which went into effect in the early stages of the Russiagate conspiracy, created a central government propaganda organ. In its own words, this was created in order to:
“counter active measures by the Russian Federation to exert covert influence over peoples and governments (with the role of the Russian Federation hidden or not acknowledged publicly) through front groups, covert broadcasting, media manipulation, disinformation or forgeries, funding agents of influence, incitement, offensive counterintelligence, assassinations, or terrorist acts. The committee shall expose falsehoods, agents of influence, corruption, human rights abuses, terrorism, and assassinations carried out by the security services or political elites of the Russian Federation or their proxies.”
Journalist Glen Ford observed, “Every category listed [above], except assassinations and terror, is actually a code word for political speech that can, and will, be used to target those engaged in ‘undermining faith in American democracy’ — such as Black Agenda Report and other left publications defamed as ‘fake news’ outlets by the Washington Post [in its article on PropOrNot].”
This Disinformation and Propaganda Act created the innocuously named Global Engagement Center, which is backed by the State Department, Pentagon, USAID, US Agency for Global Media (formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors), Director of National Intelligence, and other spy agencies.
This Global Engagement Center oversees production of propaganda supporting US imperial interests, focused primarily against Russia and China (such as Russiagate and claims of “Uyghur genocide“), but also against Nicaragua, Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
Factual, evidence-based reports exposing US regime-change operations and disinformation are often outright censored or labeled “pro-Russian” or “pro-Chinese” propaganda.
The Global Engagement Center finances journalists, NGOs, think tanks, and media outlets in campaigns to vilify non-corporate media reporting as vehicles for foreign government disinformation.
This shows that there is significant US government support and substantial resources devoted to smearing opponents of US regime-change operations as “Putinists,” “Assadists,” “tankies,” or “Stalinists,” who are supposedly part of a “red-brown alliance.”
US national security state propaganda against Russia surged after it aided Syria in thwarting the regime-change war waged against the Assad government by the United States, Europe, apartheid Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and NATO member Turkey.
This US propaganda reached unforeseen levels of hysteria with the fabricated Russiagate stories, which portrayed Donald Trump as a supposed puppet of the Kremlin.
P ulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh revealed that widely covered claims of Russian hacking of DNC computers in 2016 was US national security state disinformation.
An example of this kind of neo-McCarthyite campaign that smears anti-imperialists as “useful idiots” of Russia appeared in The Daily Beast this April. It targeted comedian Lee Camp, journalist Danny Haiphong, Multipolarista editor Benjamin Norton, and others, defaming them as “propaganda peddlers [who] rake in cash and followers at the expense of the truth and oppressed people in Ukraine, Xinjiang, and Syria,” because of their accurate reporting that goes against the US propaganda line.
Other articles demonstrate that this “third camp” rhetoric that has long been promoted by the US national security state is still alive and well today.
The Guardian columnist George Monbiot claims to be a leftist, but always dutifully advances NATO’s propaganda line. In March, he declared, “We must confront Russian propaganda – even when it comes from those we respect – The grim truth is that for years, a small part of the ‘anti-imperialist’ left has been recycling Vladimir Putin’s falsehoods.”
Pro-imperialist writers who claim to be socialists, such as Louis Proyect, crusaded for regime change in Syria and slandered those opposing the US-led war on the country as being part of a “red-brown alliance.”
In his articles, Proyect often relied on Bellingcat, which is funded by the US and British governments. He claimed, “The Bellingcat website is perhaps the only place where you can find fact-based reporting on chemical attacks in Syria.”
Another example is so-called “socialist” Anand Gopal, who pushed Washington’s line on the so-called “Syrian revolution” as a fellow of the International Security Program at the New America Foundation, which is funded by the US State Department and corporate foundations and run by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a neoconservative former State Department official.
Democracy Now, which relies on State Department “socialists” like Gopal as regular commentators, has long received the bulk of its funding from foundations. We see the self-censoring effect this has had. The outlet that was once celebrated for its anti-war journalism has degenerated into compatible leftism.
Another example of this pro-imperialist compatible left can be seen at the NGO NACLA, which has published evidence-free articles smearing Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
The chair of the board of directors and program director of NACLA is Thomas Kruse, of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a longtime CIA front.
During a brutally violent US-backed coup attempt in Nicaragua in 2018, NACLA, New York DSA, and Haymarket Books hosted anti-Sandinista youth activists, who were in the United States on a propaganda tour funded by Washington’s right-wing Freedom House.
In These Times, which receives hundreds of thousands in foundation money, ran similar articles smearing socialist Cuba. It claimed Cuba was “the Western Hemisphere’s most undemocratic government” – not Jair Bolsonaro’s fascistic Brazil; not billionaire Sabastian Piñera’s Chile, with its police who blinded pro-democracy protesters; not Colombia’s death squad-supporting government; not Honduras’ former coup regime; not Haiti’s hated rulers.
Haymarket Books, which advocates for a “third camp” perspective, receives money from think tank and NGOs closely linked to the Democratic Party, through its Center for Economic Research and Social Change.
Haymarket, Jacobin Magazine, and the DSA sponsored a Socialism conference in 2019 that featured multiple regime-change activists from organizations funded by the NED and State Department.
The editor and publisher of Jacobin is Bhaskar Sunkara, former vice-chair of the DSA. In 2017, the Jacobin Foundation received a $100,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation, which was set up by billionaire media mogul Walter Annenberg, Richard Nixon’s ambassador to Britain.
Also included in this milieu is the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, which is underwritten by the German government. These are but a few examples of questionable financing of anti-anti-imperialist leftists.
Turning on and off the faucet of foundation funding is an effective means to channel and organize the left into an opposition that poses no real threat to ruling-class control.
An essential characteristic of this network has been to look to the Democratic Party as an ally, or at least a “lesser evil.”
Journalist Alexander Cockburn pointed out the dangers of this financing back in 2010:
the financial clout of the “non-profit” foundations, tax-exempt bodies formed by rich people to dispense their wealth according to political taste… Much of the “progressive sector” in America owes its financial survival – salaries, office accommodation etc. — to the annual disbursements of these foundations which cease abruptly at the first manifestation of radical heterodoxy. In the other words, most of the progressive sector is an extrusion of the dominant corporate world, just as are the academies, similarly dependent on corporate endowments.
Following Donald Trump’s surprise 2016 election win, the Washington Post (owned by hundred-billionaire oligarch Jeff Bezos) cranked up the anti-Russia McCarthyism by introducing the shady organization PropOrNot.
PropOrNot accused independent media outlets of secretly being backed by Vladimir Putin, seeking to resurrect the witch hunts of the Second Red Scare, when 6.6 million people were investigated just between 1947 and 1952.
The PropOrNot blacklist included some of the most important anti-war news sites on the web, including Consortium News, Black Agenda Report, Naked Capitalism, Antiwar.com, Truthdig, Truthout, and many others.
PropOrNot claimed 200 websites were “Russian propaganda outlets,” without offering a shred of evidence. PropOrNot refused to reveal who they were or where their funding came from.
Journalist Alan MacLeod found that PropOrNot’s website is controlled by The Interpreter, a fanatically anti-Russian magazine edited by neoconservative activist Michael Weiss, a senior fellow at NATO’s The Atlantic Council.
The Atlantic Council is funded by the United States, other Western governments, Gulf monarchies, weapons corporations, big banks, and massive corporations.
MacLeod noted ironically that “claims of a huge [foreign] state propaganda campaign were themselves [US] state propaganda.”
Soon after PropOrNot, the German Marshall Fund, which is financed by the US government, concocted Hamilton 68, which it called a “Tool to Track Russian Disinformation on Twitter.”
This neo-McCarthyite project created another blacklist of “accounts that are involved in promoting Russian influence and disinformation goals.” It provided zero evidence linking these profiles to the Kremlin. Instead, it aimed to censor alternative viewpoints by claiming they are “Russian.”
This April, the Department of Homeland Security announced a new censorship and disinformation organ, allegedly to combat Russian propaganda, called the Disinformation Governance Board. (Faced with a large public outcry, however, the Joe Biden administration was forced to quickly shut down the authoritarian institution.)
As seen with Washington’s Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act and PropOrNot, any narratives that challenge the interests of the US national security state are labeled “Russian disinformation.”
US spy agencies, lied about Russiagate, lied about the NSA’s 24/7 spying on the US population, and lied about “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. But it reserves itself the right to decide what is true and false, and enforce that on the media.
Thus, the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, devoted to encouraging hostility to actually existing socialism on the left, has morphed into official US government agencies, which aim to shut down or smear media outlets and activists who oppose the US empire and its wars.
What Corporate Social Media Instruments Are Targeting Which Anti-War Outlets?
This censorship of anti-imperialists by the US government and media corporations has become an increasingly open attack.
PayPal allied itself with Anti-Defamation League, a notorious pro-Israel group that spied on activists organizing against apartheid South Africa, ostensibly in order to “fight extremism and hate through the financial industry and across at-risk communities… with policymakers and law enforcement.”
Twitter has shut down many political accounts. It even possessed the power to suspend the president of the United States.
In 2020, Twitter deleted 170,000 accounts it accused of “spreading geopolitical narratives favorable to the Communist Party of China.” In 2021, it purged hundreds of accounts for “undermining faith in the NATO alliance and its stability.”
Twitter has hired a number of FBI officers for this censorship work. The Twitter executive overseeing Middle East-related content is a British Army psyops soldier, Gordon MacMillan of the UK’s 77th Brigade, which uses social media platforms to conduct “information warfare.”
Google and YouTube executives team up with US government spy agencies to censor anti-imperialist voices. Google’s “Project Owl,” designed to eradicate “fake news,” employed “algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative [compatible] content” and downgrade “offensive” material. As a result, traffic dropped off to anti-war websites such as MintPress News, AlterNet, Consortium News, Common Dreams, and Truthout.
Wikipedia has been exposed for blatant bias and conflicts of interest as well, with editing done by the CIA, FBI, New York Police Department, and large corporations.
A group called NewsGuard “partners” with the State Department and Pentagon to tag websites that deviate from the establishment narrative.
Facebook relies on NATO’s Atlantic Council, which is funded by the State Department, to combat reporting contrary to the US government line.
Facebook also announced it would fight “fake news” by partnering with two more propaganda organizations sponsored by the US government: the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI). The NDI was chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, while Senator John McCain was the longtime IRI chair.
Books like “The Mighty Wurlitzer” and “The Cultural Cold War,” as well as Bernstein’s report “The CIA and the Media,” showed how the spy agency played the big business print media. We are now witnessing an integration of social media companies into the US national security state.
Who have been censored by this corporate media and social media integration with the national security state?
Like with any censored book list, national security state targets provide a Who’s Who of what we should be reading and watching: Consortium News, MintPress News, Venezuelanalysis, Lee Camp, Abby Martin, Chris Hedges, By Any Means Necessary, the Syria Solidarity Movement, TeleSUR, CGTN and other Chinese media, George Galloway, Pepe Escobar, Scott Ritter, ASB Military News, SouthFront, the Revolutionary Black Network, and many more.
YouTube warns us against watching the documentary “Ukraine on Fire,” which was produced by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Oliver Stone.
Any journalists who have collaborated with a Russian media outlet can now be dubbed “affiliated with the Russian government.”
The FBI directly shut down American Herald Tribune and Iran’s PressTV. RT and Sputnik are already shut down in Europe and censored on YouTube everywhere on Earth.
PropOrNot’s blacklist of 200 media websites catalogs for us what the US national security state doesn’t want us to read, listen to, know, or think.
Since the First Cold War began, there has been a continuous operation by the national security state to neutralize, marginalize, and create disunity among its opponents, often with the collaboration of the left that consider the Democratic Party a lesser evil. This strategy includes extensive foundation financing of left-wing media outlets and NGOs in order to tame them.
Given this situation, it is mistaken to fault the US left for its weakness. The CIA and its foundations have been key players in covertly manipulating opposition to US imperial rule, in part by strengthening the left that is soft on the Democrats in order to undermine any working class or anti-US empire challenge.
To date, this national security state mission has also shown considerable success.
The extreme difficulties in building a working-class, left-wing is partly results of the US rulers’ decades-long campaign to disrupt the movement.
This repression has involved not just imprisoning and killing activists, such as Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, or the Black Panthers, but also big business media marketing disinformation as news, spy agencies and their cutouts funding a “compatible left,” and the ever-worsening social media and internet censorship of anti-imperialist voices.
Rebuilding an anti-war and working-class movement requires us to directly address and navigate this circuitous maze, which was created by the ruling class to sabotage the left.