FBI Launches Open Attack on ‘Foreign’ Alternative Media Outlets Challenging US Foreign Policy

Under FBI orders, Facebook and Google removed or restricted ads for an alternative site that publishes U.S. and European writers critical of U.S. foreign policy, Gareth Porter reports.   

By Gareth Porter
The Grayzone

The FBI has publicly justified its suppression of dissenting online views about U.S. foreign policy if a media outlet can be somehow linked to one of its adversaries. The bureau’s justification followed a series of instances in which Silicon Valley social media platforms banned accounts following consultations with the FBI.

In a particularly notable case in 2018, the FBI encouraged Facebook, Instagram and Google to remove or restrict ads on The American Herald Tribune (AHT), an online journal that published critical opinion articles on U.S. policy toward Iran and the Middle East. The bureau has never offered a clear rationale, however, despite its private discussions with Facebook on the ban.

The FBI’s first step toward intervening against dissenting views on social media took place in October 2017 with the creation of a Foreign Influence Task Force (FTIF) in the bureau’s Counterintelligence Division. Next, the FBI defined any effort by states designated by the Department of Defense as major adversaries (Russia, China, Iran and North Korea) to influence American public opinion as a threat to U.S. national security.

In February 2020, the FBI defined that threat in much more specific terms and implied that it would act against any online media outlet that was found to fall within its ambit. At a conference on election security on Feb. 24, David K. Porter, who identified himself as assistant section chief of the Foreign Influence Task Force, defined what the FBI described as “malign foreign influence activity” as “actions by a foreign power to influence U.S. policy, distort political sentiment and public discourse.” 

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Porter described “information confrontation” as a force “designed to undermine public confidence in the credibility of free and independent news media.” Those who practice this dark craft, he said, seek to “push consumers to alternative news sources,” where “it’s much easier to introduce false narratives” and thus “sow doubt and confusion about the true narratives by exploiting the media landscape to introduce conflicting story lines.”

“Information confrontation,” however, is simply the literal Russian translation of the term “information warfare.” Its use by the FTIF appears to be aimed merely at justifying an FBI role in seeking to suppress what it calls “alternative news sources” under any set of circumstances it can justify.

While expressing his intention to target alternative media, Porter simultaneously denied that the FBI was concerned about censoring media. The FITF, he said “doesn’t go around chasing content. We don’t focus on what the actors say.” Instead, he insisted that “attribution is key,” suggesting that the FTIF was only interested in finding hidden foreign government actors at work.

Thus the question of “attribution” has become the FBI’s key lever for censoring alternative media that publishes critical content on U.S. foreign policy, or which attacks mainstream and corporate media narratives. If an outlet can be somehow linked to a foreign adversary, removing it from online platforms is fair game for the feds. 

The Strange Disappearance of American Herald Tribune

In 2018, Facebook deleted the Facebook page of The American Herald Tribune (AHT), a website that publishes commentary from an array of notable authors who are harshly critical of U.S. foreign policy. Gmail, which is run by Google, quickly followed suit by removing ads linked to the outlet, while the Facebook-owned Instagram scrubbed AHT’s account altogether.

Tribune editor Anthony Hall reported at the time that the removals occurred at the end of August 2018, but there was no announcement of the move by Facebook. Nor was it reported by the corporate news media until January 2020, when CNN elicited a confirmation from a Facebook spokesman that it had indeed done so in 2018. 

Furthermore, the FBI was advising Facebook on both Iranian and Russian sites that were banned during that same period of a few days.  As Facebook’s Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos noted on July 21, 2018, “We have proactively reported our technical findings to U.S. law enforcement, because they have much more information than we do, and may in time be in a position to provide public attribution.”

On Aug. 2, a few days following the removal of AHT and two weeks after hundreds of Russian and Iranian Pages had been removed by Facebook, FBI Director Christopher Wray told reporters at a White House briefing that FBI officials had “met with top social media and technology companies several times” during the year, “providing actionable intelligence to better enable them to address abuse of their platforms by foreign actors.”  He remarked that FBI officials had “shared specific threat indicators and account information so they can better monitor their own platforms.”

Cybersecurity firm FireEye, which boasts that it has contracts to support “nearly every department in the United States government,” and which has been used by Department of Homeland Security as a primary source of “threat intelligence,” also influenced Facebook’s crackdown on the Tribune. CNN cited an unnamed official of FireEye stating that the company had “assessed” with “moderate confidence” that the AHT’s website was founded in Iran and was “part of a larger influence operation.”

The CNN author was evidently unaware that in U.S. intelligence parlance “moderate confidence” suggests a near-total absence of genuine conviction. As the 2011 official “consumer’s guide” to U.S. intelligence explained, the term “moderate confidence” generally indicates that either there are still differences of view in the intelligence community on the issue or that the judgment ”is credible and plausible but not sufficiently corroborated to warrant higher level of confidence.” 

CNN also quoted FireEye official Lee Foster’s claim that “indicators, both technical and behavioral” showed that American Herald Tribune was part of the larger influence operation. The CNN story linked to a study published by FireEye featuring a “map” showing how Iranian-related media were allegedly linked to one another, primarily by similarities in content.  But CNN apparently hadn’t bothered to read the study, which did not once mention The American Herald Tribune.

Finally, the CNN piece cited a 2018 tweet by Daily Beast contributor Josh Russell which it said provided “further evidence supporting American Herald Tribune’s alleged links to Iran.” In fact, his tweet merely documented the AHT’s sharing of an internet hosting service with another pro-Iran site “at some point in time.”  Investigators familiar with the problem know that two websites using the same hosting service, especially over a period of years, is not a reliable indicator of a coherent organizational connection.

CNN did find evidence of deception over the registration of the AHT. The outlet’s editor, Anthony Hall, continues to give the false impression that a large number of journalists and others (including this writer), are contributors, despite the fact that their articles have been republished from other sources without permission.

However, AHT has one characteristic that differentiates it from the others that have been kicked off Facebook: The American and European authors who have appeared in its pages are all real and are advancing their own authentic views. Some are sympathetic to the Islamic Republic, but others are simply angry about U.S. policies: Some are Libertarian anti-interventionists; others are supporters of the 9/11 Truth movement or other conspiracy theories.

One notable independent contributor to AHT is Philip Giraldi, an 18-year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service and and an articulate critic of U.S. wars in the Middle East and of Israeli influence on American policy and politics. From its inception in 2015, the AHT has been edited by Hall, professor emeritus at University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada.

In announcing yet another takedown of Iranian pages in October 2018, Facebook’s Gleicher declared that “coordinated inauthentic behavior” occurs when “people or organizations create networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are and what they’re doing.” That certainly doesn’t apply to those who provided the content for the American Herald Tribune.

Thus the takedown of the publication by Facebook, with FBI and FireEye encouragement, represents a disturbing precedent for future actions against individuals who criticize U.S. foreign policy and outlets that attack corporate media narratives.

Shelby Pierson, the CIA official appointed by the then-director of national intelligence in July 2019 to chair the inter-agency “Election Executive and Leadership Board,” appeared to hint at differences in the criteria employed by his agency and the FBI on foreign and alternative media.

In an interview with former acting CIA Director Michael Morrell in February, Pierson said, “[P]articularly on the [foreign] influence side of the house, when you’re talking about blended content with First Amendment-protected speech…against the backdrop of a political paradigm, and you’re involving yourself in those activities, I think that makes it more complicated” (emphasis added).

Further emphasizing the uncertainty surrounding the FBI’s methods of online media suppression, she added that the position in question “doesn’t have the same unanimity that we have in the counterterrorism context.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist who has covered national security policy since 2005 and was the recipient of Gellhorn Prize for Journalism in 2012.  His most recent book is “The CIA Insider’s Guide to the Iran Crisis” co-authored with John Kiriakou, just published in February.

This article is from The Grayzone.

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13 comments for “FBI Launches Open Attack on ‘Foreign’ Alternative Media Outlets Challenging US Foreign Policy

  1. elmerfudzie
    June 11, 2020 at 16:23

    From elmerfudzie, a second response to SamF. As I discussed previous to this article, along the same lines of your summary about pirating. MIT’s Mike Orcutt argues that block-chain technology (applied towards a secure non-state crytpo) is now subject to hacking, security holes, smart contract bugs, fraudulent transactions, histories of transactions under noticeable attack. The professional hacker can now rewrite these so called “very secure” transaction histories. Several Crypto exchanges such as Coinbase, Etherium Classic, Vertcoin and Gate.io were hacked by “small trades” or invaded by a “double-spend” strategy. State and non state criminal enterprises will, forgive the pun, be hacking away at private servers no matter where the server is transplanted to.

  2. Robert Emmett
    June 10, 2020 at 08:48

    So the naifs at globe-spanning multi-zillion $ platforms are mere pawns in the proof of plausibility, eh? What a steaming hunk of FIBBY bunk, Mr. Porter reveals. Thank you, Gareth.

    Doesn’t the time practically scream for the need to dismantle and remove more & more authoritarian rules welded onto the Law since 9-11, while fully restoring once-held, taken-for-granted rights? Beginning with the Patriot Act and including the AUMFs used in the early 2000’s for now widely discredited invasions that could still be used by Obama to justify continuous bombing anywhere the president deems fit to bomb. (see Matthew Hoh’s article of 11-22-19 at Antiwar.com for disclosure of costs)

    I get the feeling the sorts of the bogus PTB maneuvers described herein are meant as a sort of sap to the back of the neck, while eyeballs are mostly glued elsewhere (to those very same platforms? oh no, say it ain’t so!).

  3. Jeff Harrison
    June 10, 2020 at 02:30

    The US thinks it’s going to win with narrative and information control.

  4. elmerfudzie
    June 9, 2020 at 21:05

    The FBI is a late comer to this very old story that began with the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird. All this article served to do was to stir a well of emotion in me that began with the Dorothy Kilgallen and Mary Pinchot Meyer murders. No, some of us will never forget, or forgive.

  5. June 9, 2020 at 20:52

    Suppressing alternative sources of information shows a lack of confidence in our own society by our leaders and that they just can’t trust our citizenry to act in a way it wants it to act.

    I am surprised I can still read RT, something I appreciate as an American. One of my granddaughters told me I shouldn’t believe anything in it because it government owned. She just graduated from Georgetown with her study emphasis foreign policy. Point well taken except the article was by an Irishman and she has the relative merits of a government owned media versus a corporate owned media to consider. I kept silent.

  6. June 9, 2020 at 11:19

    There is a conceivable legal opening against CIA and FBI efforts to repress foreign publishers. The First Amendment protects not only our domestic right to publish but also our right to receive information:

    “It is now well established that the Constitution protects the right to receive information and ideas. ‘This freedom [of speech and press] … necessarily protects the right to receive … .’ Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U. S. 141, 143 (1943); see Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U. S. 479, 482 (1965); Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U. S. 301, 307-308 (1965) (BRENNAN, J., concurring); cf. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510 (1925). This right to receive information and ideas, regardless of their social worth, see Winters v. New York, 333 U. S. 507, 510 (1948), is fundamental to our free society.”

    Stanley v. Georgia, 394 US 557, 565 (1969). There is no case on all fours with the present facts, but the principle would seem to compel a ruling against the government on the issue if the intent is to deny information to the American public.

  7. Skip Scott
    June 9, 2020 at 08:23

    So now it is official US policy that the public should be shielded from hearing the other side of the argument on any topic related to US based global hegemony. The thought police have arrived. Now instead of just relying on maximum volume from the “Mighty Wurlitzer,” they are coming after the publishers of dissent. Soon they will come for CN, probably by manufacturing some kind of “proof” (or at least moderate confidence) of foreign government meddling. Why shouldn’t Americans hear what the Russians and Iranians think? Could it be that they have truth and logic on their side? Obviously it is much easier to just silence these voices than it is to engage them in debate. That would get too complicated, and risk getting the proles to thinking about the justification for the “Forever War”. The same reasoning has been applied to the persecution of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Controlling the narrative is the name of the game so as to be able to continue to manufacture consent. The message to the citizenry is “don’t think, just consume”.

    • Sam F
      June 9, 2020 at 15:38

      A critical point that “it is much easier to just silence these voices than it is to engage them in debate” which the oligarchy knows they cannot win, and would “risk getting the proles to thinking” so we mustn’t have that.

    June 9, 2020 at 07:45

    It’s very sad. Using state power this way.

    But it is also a kind of public display of failure and, yes, weakness.

    As the US continues its relative decline in the world, I would expect to see more of this kind of behavior.

  9. Moi
    June 9, 2020 at 03:08

    GP: “actions by a foreign power to influence U.S. policy, distort political sentiment and public discourse.”

    Israel does that openly.

    Otherwise the FBI seems to reserve the power to “distort political sentiment and public discourse” for the US government. I mean, according to AntiWar.com the White House is trying to blame Venezuela for the BLM movement (because someone wore a pro-Maduro t-shirt to a protest).

    Don’t need an alternative media as the MSM in general does a fantastic job of undermining “public confidence in the credibility of free and independent news media.” Unless that means the MSM are neither free nor independent.

    So of course I believe the FBI that they aren’t into censorship of critical writers. It’s just down to mistranslation.

  10. Sam F
    June 8, 2020 at 19:47

    US federal agencies are directly involved in exactly that organized suppression of information that they pretend to oppose.

    The “networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are” describes the racketeering operations I investigated. They give away copyrighted digital materials to subscribers, who then do not buy them from their producers, forcing them out of business. That treatment appears to be politically motivated.

    The thieves hide behind networks of sales websites registered to layers of shell corporations concealing the owners, who are more layers of shell corporations with fake offices in venues like Panama and Cayman Islands that do not permit prosecution. One pretended to be Russian but was traced to Texas; another to LA; several were traced to Tel Aviv. I compiled hundreds of pages of detailed evidence showing two large complex operations of pirates. All I needed was proof of international cashflows, which only certain agencies can get (FBI, DOJ, IRS. and Homeland Security).

    The federal agencies were offered all of the evidence: all repeatedly refused to investigate or even reply, and the US judiciary refused to request that they investigate, or to allow private investigation under seal, and illegally published the sealed evidence to notify the thieves to destroy evidence and move assets out of the country. When I sued the US for collaborating in theft of copyrighted material, the judges made outrageous perjuries about the facts and the law and their responsibilities, broke every law, and refused to prosecute, all the way to the Supreme Court twice.

    So obviously the US is not at all concerned to prevent organized crime via internet, and is in fact using these piracy networks to steal revenues for copyrighted publications that it disagrees with. The US is the “narrative control” rogue.

    • elmerfudzie
      June 10, 2020 at 11:13

      There seems to be an entirely new financial paradigm on the horizon that has nothing to do with negotiating a new reserve paper note, with a basket of currencies. The rich are on the run, they subconsciously have come to realize that digital and crypto currencies will replace all fiat transactions and bring to full visibility, various hidden assets, during any transaction except for simple bartering. This global reboot must occur in order to liquidate a fiat currency debt crises, now well past one hundred trillion dollars incurred by derivative instruments and wild speculations with real estate values. This adjustment in turn spells an end to the almost meaningless gestures such as selling naked gold shorts, hording commodities like precious stones, art works, rare coins …it doesn’t matter anymore ,QE 2, 3, 4.They will all have fist fulls of fiat paper but will suddenly become an nontransferable instrument not unlike possessing pallets of greenback dollars. One question remains, will the oligarchs decide to prefer global war, fiat pretense, just to protect anonymity and wealth disparity? Goodbye glitz and glam?

    • Sam F
      June 11, 2020 at 07:19

      Elmer, I imagine that state cryptocurrency could provide visibility of hidden assets if so transacted, but those could be hidden by going through exchange layers of commodities or other currencies. Non-state cryptocurrency would prevent visibility unless states can intercept and decrypt transactions, but it may not be trusted or trustworthy.

      The transactions in copyright piracy are done by payment websites for website subscriptions. The transactions in political corruption appear to be via political party, shell corporations of party operatives, and other disguised intermediaries. But both require federal investigative resources, and they refuse to investigate political corruption. So it remains invisible until after massive federal reform.

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