As the regular Revolver reader already knows, the slur “disinformation” has by now completely eclipsed “hate speech,” “racism” and even “white supremacy” as our Regime’s go-to censorship predicate. Whenever uppity citizens step out of line and engage in the sort of critical thinking that could undermine ruling class narratives, the Regime’s commissars in the media reliably invoke the term “disinformation” to shut them up.
A recent poll suggests that the Regime’s efforts to justify severe censorship under the guise of combatting disinformation has been remarkably successful:
This is what the crusade by corporate media & liberals for more online censorship has fostered: a population where 50% say *the government* should censor the internet in the name of stopping disinformation. They've trained people to be authoritarians, craving state censorship. https://t.co/9T6LQLNjQS
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) August 18, 2021
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Though the term “disinformation” entered mainstream political discourse alongside the Russia hoax, it now pops up in reference to just about any topic in which critical thinking needs to be shut down (and there are many these days). And right now, there is no topic where the Regime needs to exert more control more than that of Covid, particularly on the matter of vaccines.
Luckily for the Regime, The New York Times recently stepped in with a piece highlighting the dangers of “Russian disinformation” pertaining to the Covid vaccine. And luckily for all of us, this particular piece offers an unusually stark and comical glimpse of just what a scam the “disinformation” beat really is:
The cartoon posted on the far-right discussion forum showed police officers wearing Biden-Harris campaign logos on bulletproof vests and battering down a door with a large syringe. A caption read in part, “In Biden’s America.”
The cartoon appears to be an example of the latest effort in Russian-aligned disinformation: a campaign that taps into skepticism and fears of coronavirus vaccination to not just undermine the effort to immunize people but also try to falsely link the Biden-Harris administration to the idea of forced inoculations. The image was one of several spotted by Graphika, a company tracking disinformation campaigns. [New York Times]
Remarkably, the Times piece neither reprints nor links to the offending “Russian disinformation” meme “cartoon” which is the subject of its entire piece.
As the sloppiness of the Times‘s case emerges throughout the article, it will become clear why they may have wanted to maintain plausible deniability by not including the very cartoon they suggest is a work of Russian disinformation. Revolver was nonetheless able to identify a meme that matches the Times‘ description of police officers wearing Biden-Harris campaign logos on bulletproof vests battering down a door with a large syringe:
The title of the the New York Times piece mentioned above is “Russian Disinformation Targets Vaccines and the Biden Administration.” But just two paragraphs into the piece, we see the titular “Russian Disinformation” transform into “Russian-aligned disinformation.” What on earth is “Russian-aligned” disinformation? Is it Russian or isn’t it, and what’s the evidence? Lo and behold, a full twelve paragraphs later, the whole “disinformation” scam is revealed in its full absurdity:
Graphika has tracked disinformation that is probably spread by a group affiliated with people who used to work with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency, which propagated disinformation during the 2016 election. The group has posted cartoons on Patriots.win, a message board featuring far-right politics.
A recent spate of anti-vaccination cartoons appears to have been spread by the same people involved in a fake media outlet linked to veterans of the Internet Research Agency, said Jack Stubbs, Graphika’s director of investigation.
While the group advances Moscow’s strategic narratives, it is unclear what precise ties, if any, it has to the Russian government. [New York Times]
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Think about the chain of reasoning you just read. The New York Times based its whole story about “Russian Covid disinformation” on the word of a disinformation research firm called Graphika (more on them later). We learn that Graphika has tracked disinformation that is probably spread by a group affiliated with people who used to work for some group called the Internet Research Agency — a group whose ties, if any, to the Russian government are “unclear.”
Many recall the vaunted “Internet Research Agency” was tagged by US media and the Justice Department as a Russian intelligence arm that made viral Facebook memes during the 2016 election. With just $100,000 in Facebook ads, those dastardly Russian memes outperformed $1.2 billion ($1,200,000,000) in Hillary Clinton campaign expenditures.
In February 2018, just one year into Trump’s presidency, the Justice Department, citing the Mueller probe, charged 13 Russians from the “Internet Research Agency” with using “a sophisticated network designed to subvert the 2016 election and to support the Trump campaign” in order “to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy.” This indictment was announced to much media fanfare.
It was a purely symbolic prosecution. The Justice Department had no jurisdiction over the dastardly Russians, and looked forward to picking up the scalp of an uncontested summary judgment in US criminal court.
But then, a funny thing happened. In March 2020, two Russian shell companies charged by the Justice Department with financing the “Internet Research Agency’s” schemes decided to show up in court to fight and litigate the case, even though they didn’t have to. The Justice Department responded by immediately collapsing its case, dropping all charges against the “Russian disinformation” schemers. Their reason? In essence, “Having to actually prove our case would threaten national security”:
The Justice Department moved on Monday to drop charges against two Russian shell companies accused of financing schemes to interfere in the 2016 election, saying that they were exploiting the case to gain access to delicate information that Russia could weaponize.
The companies, Concord Management and Concord Consulting, were charged in 2018 in an indictment secured by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, along with 13 Russians and another company, the Internet Research Agency. Prosecutors said they operated a sophisticated scheme to use social media to spread disinformation, exploit American social divisions and try to subvert the 2016 election.
Unlike the others under indictment, Concord fought the charges in court. But instead of trying to defend itself, Concord seized on the case to obtain confidential information from prosecutors, then mount a campaign of information warfare, a senior Justice Department official said.
At one point, prosecutors complained that a cache of documents that could potentially be shared with the defendants included details about the government’s sources and methods for investigation, among its most important secrets. Prosecutors feared Concord might publish them online.
With the case set to go to trial next month, prosecutors recommended that the Justice Department drop the charges to preserve national security interests and prevent Russia from weaponizing delicate American law enforcement information, according to the official. The prosecutors also weighed the benefits of securing a guilty verdict against the companies, which cannot be meaningfully punished in the United States, against the risk of exposing national security secrets in order to win in court. [New York Times]
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Given that this very “Internet Research Agency” — which the Justice Department says it knows but cannot reveal how it knows is involved in a sophisticated pro-Trump meme war — posted on a pro-Trump message board called Patriots.win, and given that the offending anti-vaxx anti-Biden cartoon also appeared on the same pro-Trump site, the Times concludes that the cartoon must be Russian disinformation.
The Times’s disinformation narrative goes from “smoking gun” to complete smoke and mirrors in the space of twelve paragraphs:
By now you may be thinking, “This can’t be the extent of the evidence; there must be more than this.” After all, The New York Times is the nation’s paper of record. Surely they wouldn’t run a headline claiming an anti-vaxx cartoon is Russian Disinformation™ based on one third-party organization’s claim about another group being “affiliated with” people who “used to work for” another group with “unclear” ties to Moscow. Surely the Times, even in its much-decayed 2021 state, can’t be that reckless?
Fear not: the Times does have more evidence to present. The paper’s esteemed third-party source, Graphika, offers this compelling additional evidence of the offending cartoon’s Russian provenance: Bad grammar! The Times explains:
The grammatical errors in the cartoon, according to Graphika, are similar to those sometimes made by native Russian speakers writing in English. And the technique of targeting audiences with inflammatory messages around existing social tensions and rifts has long been a hallmark of groups linked to the Internet Research Agency.“That’s exactly again what they appear to be doing around Covid,” Mr. Stubbs said. “Rather than promote the Russian vaccine or denigrate a Western vaccine, they’re using this as an opportunity to criticize Biden, primarily, and say the Biden administration has been failing and they haven’t been managing the pandemic properly.”
And there we have it folks. The New York Times calls an anti-Biden anti-vaxx cartoon Russian disinformation because a third-party “disinformation group” declares the meme uses bad grammar.
Perhaps in a future installment The New York Times can lend its journalistic gravitas to outing this higher profile Russian agent:
Another story idea for the Times would be to expose how Russian agents have infiltrated America’s illustrious debate competitions:
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The entire basis of the Times’s “Russian disinformation” headline was that a hoax-for-hire firm, Graphika, found memes about vaccines that contained grammatical errors. Oh, and also that the cartoon pushes “inflammatory messages” around “existing social tensions.” If that’s enough to prove Russian disinformation, then shouldn’t the Times itself be investigated as a Russian op? (Actually, that’s not a bad idea).
This entire affair would be comical if the consequences for free speech, free expression, and open debate weren’t so serious. While the term “disinformation” lacks the emotional valence of other smear terms like “racism” and “white supremacy,” it has a certain advantage that these other favored terms lack. To call a thing “disinformation,” especially “Russian disinformation,” is not merely to say that the thing in question is mistaken, or even evil — it is to say that the thing poses a national security threat. And once something poses a national security threat, it no longer exists within the arena of fair deliberation and argument. To call something a national security threat not only means that the discussion is over — it invites the intervention of the full weight and force of the national security apparatus of the United States to ensure the discussion is over.
It is no accident, then, that “disinformation” has become the censorship predicate of choice just as our ruling class repurposes our national security apparatus domestically in order to frame critics (mostly Trump supporters or those adjacent) as domestic terrorist threats.
Our ruling regime loves to hold up our supposed “democracy” as an emblem of pride at home and mark of superiority over allegedly “authoritarian” regimes abroad. In theory, a democracy is a system of government in which the people choose their leaders. Citizens of a democracy must have the capacity and freedom to persuade and be persuaded, to deliberate, and to weigh information and arguments that would inform their choice. Since the Times argues that “Russian disinformation” poses a threat to our democracy, they apparently assume that the American people’s ability to weigh information, opinions, and propaganda is uniquely suspended when the source of information happens to be overseas. Democratic judgment stops at the border — a bizarre proposition for the Internet age, to say the least.
So this entire censorship drive would be repugnant enough if the information were actually, provably Russian in origin. But as we see from the New York Times piece under consideration, this isn’t even the case. The following sentence from the Times piece is worth analyzing in more detail:
While the group advances Moscow’s strategic narratives, it is unclear what precise ties, if any, it has to the Russian government.
What this sentence suggests is that for something to be treated as foreign disinformation (and thus a national security threat) it need not actually come from a foreign government. The only necessity is that our ruling class commissars deem the information to somehow advance the objectives of some foreign power. If a piece of content serves the strategic interests of Russia, it evidently counts as Russian disinformation even if it has nothing to do with Russia. But who gets to decide what serves the strategic interests of Russia, or some other country? How do we even know what the strategic interests of Russia or China or any other country actually are?
Indeed, there are significant internal disagreements within those countries about what their interests are, just as there are internal disagreements about American interests within the United States. Furthermore, framing everything through the lens of “Russian strategic interest” invites absurdity. Russia supported the Assad regime in Syria and waged war against ISIS. So would anti-ISIS content count as “Russia disinformation” online?
Given evolving alliances and strategic circumstances, a nation’s strategic interests might change from month to month, and therefore content that counted as “disinformation” one month could become acceptable information in another, or vice versa. The only fixed factor in this floating, subjective definition is the authority that gets to determine what is disinformation, what isn’t, and when. It follows that the obsession with “disinformation” is simply a war against critical thinking — requiring complete deference to designated authorities upholding Regime Narratives. The war on “disinformation” is ultimately just a war on critical thinking itself.
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The “war on disinformation” is about nothing more than encouraging the public to outsource its critical thinking capacities to Regime-approved mouthpieces. But let us probe the matter further. It will be instructive to take a quick look at Graphika, the “disinformation research firm” the Times relies upon exclusively as its authority.
One can get a sense of what this firm is all about by looking at its Director of Investigations — a man called Ben Nimmo:
As the Graphika team continues to attract world-class talent across technology, marketing and insights, we are thrilled to welcome a new, noteworthy hire to our leadership team. This month, Ben Nimmo joins our team as our first-ever Director of Investigations.
Ben was a natural choice to join the team. Over the past five years, he has built a reputation as an expert commentator in online forums, trusted media outlets and high-profile onstage events helping to decipher the disinformation landscape.
As we continue on Graphika’s mission of mapping the disinformation landscape on a global basis, Ben’s expertise will be essential to identifying and analyzing the world’s greatest threats, adding structure to our approach and maintaining both consistency and clarity to the work we deliver.
So who is Ben Nimmo, the “world-class talent” Graphika chose to lead investigations assisting Graphika’s mission of “deciphering and mapping” the “disinformation landscape?”
One of Nimmo’s claims to fame in the disinformation field is a long report, #PutinAtWar: Trolls on Twitter, that he wrote while working for the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab. The DFR Lab is yet another shady NGO purporting to uncover “disinformation” behind anything that contradicts the current narratives of the US and UK intelligence communities. In the lengthy and ominous report, Nimmo identifies one “troll” in particular for spreading “Kremlin-aligned disinformation.” This alleged Russian troll account goes by the handle “Ian 56.”
Nimmo offers us a glimpse of his sophisticated “digital forensics” techniques to out said suspected Russian troll agent on Twitter:
Several features of this account were questionable. Its name and bio give away no verifiable personal information; its avatar image is a photo of male model David Gandy, as a reverse search revealed.
But it gets worse. The suspect account that dares not give away “verifiable personal information” engaged with a twitter account that identifies itself (ironically or not?) as “pro-Kremlin.” Obviously, this engagment confirms that Ian56 as an active member of an evil, sophisticated pro-Kremlin group! Nimmo explains:
It regularly engaged with @malinka1102 and @ValLisitsa, and with self-declared “pro-Kremlin media sniper” @marcelsardo, marking it as a member of an active pro-Kremlin group.
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As if this weren’t enough proof that the dastardly anonymous account Ian56 were a Kremlin agent, our intrepid hero Nimmo also spots a repeated pattern of the account pushing “pro-Kremlin” messages concerning the Mueller investigation. After all, only a Russian agent could possibly object to such a pristine, thorough, and politically unbiased proceeding! More Nimmo:
It regularly posted pro-Kremlin messages on issues including MH17, the White Helmets, the U.S. investigation into Russian interference led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, NATO, and Bellingcat.
As if to remove any trace of doubt, Ben “Sherlock” Nimmo delivers the coup de grace. The Ian56 account in question linked to a blog that trafficked in anti-globalization narratives, thus definitely betraying his Russian pedigree:
It also linked to a blogspot page, which featured a variety of anti-Western, pro-Kremlin, and anti-globalization messaging.
And so we see that all of the ominous insinuation about the infamous Ian56 account being a Kremlin operation amounts to the account being pseudonymous, engaging with other accounts that may or may not be Russian, objecting to the Mueller investigation, and linking to a blog that traffics in “anti-globalization narratives.” And, just as in the New York Times piece discussed above, as the Nimmo article continues ominous certitude gives way to cover-your-ass ambiguity and qualification:
It remains unclear whether it is merely a pro-Kremlin troll, linked in an informal network with like-minded accounts, or whether it was part of a more organized effort, such as the “troll factory” in St. Petersburg; the post on Nemtsov suggested the latter. What is clear is that its profile picture was not its own, its biographical claims are inconsistent and its content systematically promoted Russian government narratives.
Ben Nimmo’s laughable digital forensic research skills ultimately prove irrelevant. What matters is not whether the account and information actually come from Russia — all that matters is whether Ben Nimmo and his friends in the intelligence community believe the information advances Russian narratives. If it does, it is “Russian disinformation” — a national security threat! — and we need to marshal the full weight of the national security state to censor it. Amazing how that works.
As it so happens, the Ian56 account in question wasn’t Russian at all. Far from it, as was subsequently revealed in this remarkable appearance on UK television:
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It would be one thing if Ben Nimmo were just an incompetent researcher — and he is certainly that. But a deeper look into his history suggests something far more duplicitous and sinister. Sure enough, Ben Nimmo’s name appears in the Integrity Initiative leak of 2018.
For the uninitiated, the Integrity Initiative leaks revealed a joint U.S.-U.K.-NATO covert action operation in which a cabal of counterintelligence operatives organized a global propaganda bullhorn to amplify the Ruling Party Conspiracy Theory of Russiagate. These civil society intermediaries, functioning as undercover intelligence cut-outs, were secretly organized into clusters by countries, such as a U.S. Cluster, a U.K. Cluster, a France Cluster, a Spain Cluster, and so on.
These US-UK-NATO intelligence-backed cluster cells went to extraordinary lengths to prevent public knowledge of their operations:
The leak of internal Integrity Initiative documents revealed Ben Nimmo as a member of the UK Cluster (third name from the top).
And so what have we learned? We’ve learned that the chief investigator of the Times’s esteemed “disinformation research” firm belonged to a UK-intelligence cutout organization dedicated to information warfare operations against Russia. We’ve learned that he has an actual history of accusing ordinary British Internet users of being “Russian bots” spewing “misinformation.”
Ben Nimmo no longer works with Graphika, but his senior role at the company reveals the sinister absurdity of the Times using such a hoax-for-hire outlet to launder articles with titles like “Russian Disinformation Targets Vaccines.” Where is Ben Nimmo now? Well, naturally, he’s gotten another promotion: he is now the Head of Global Threat Intelligence Strategy at Facebook. Yes, the pipeline from NATO press office to CIA cut-out to “disinformation” consulting firm to leading the nest of intelligence spies at the world’s largest social media site and one of the top 5 biggest companies in America is real.
But the ultimate scam here isn’t the way the New York Times uses Graphika to launder ridiculous “disinformation” narratives insinuating that opponents of Biden or mandatory vaccines are Russian agents. No, the real scam about the war on “Russian disinformation” is that it can mean anything, so long as mouthpieces for our Regime and intel community deem it so. As long as our Regime’s information authorities think some piece of content, at a particular moment, advances the strategic interests of a foreign adversary, it qualifies as disinformation. Accepting this definition of “disinformation” is tantamount to signing a blank check to our corrupt Regime to decide what types of speech they have the right to censor by leveraging the full weight of the national security apparatus and the world’s biggest tech giants.
The disinformation scam is part and parcel of the American national security state’s escalating war on its own citizens, which we see most dramatically in our government institutions framing Trump supporters as de facto domestic terrorists. The first step toward getting out of this predicament is understanding it. Revolver News has been and will continue to be at the forefront of exposing, analyzing, and fighting this phony fight against “disinformation.” Stay tuned. There is much more to come.