Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #858 The NED File

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This pro­gram was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment

Intro­duc­tion: Resum­ing a thread of analy­sis from FTR #857, this pro­gram exam­ines aspects of the most inap­pro­pri­ate­ly-named Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy. A direct exten­sion of the U.S. intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, NED has assumed many of the func­tions per­formed by CIA in the past, and is a tool for the use of “soft pow­er” to inter­fere in the affairs of oth­er nations.

The over­all goal and rai­son d’e­tre for the NED is regime change.

Since his spon­sor­ship of Cit­i­zen Green­wald’s lat­est jour­nal­is­tic efforts, EBay king­pin Pierre Omid­yar has enjoyed a lus­trous pub­lic per­sona. His polit­i­cal efforts not only belie his sup­posed altru­is­tic ori­en­ta­tion but are inex­tri­ca­bly linked with covert oper­a­tions and the pro­mo­tion of fas­cists of var­i­ous kinds.

A devo­tee of the Aus­tri­an school of eco­nom­ics, Omid­yar not only pro­mot­ed and has ben­e­fit­ed from the elec­tion of Hin­du Nationalist/fascist Naren­dra Modi in India, he oper­at­ed through NED and the Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment to help finance the Maid­an coup in Ukraine. That coup, a covert oper­a­tion that took advan­tage of pop­u­lar dis­sat­is­fac­tion result­ing from the endem­ic cor­rup­tion plagu­ing Ukraine, brought to pow­er the direct polit­i­cal heirs to the OUN/B.

Omid­yar is now part­ner­ing with the NED to estab­lish a fact-check­ing ser­vice, and is also help­ing to finance Ukrain­ian media. Omid­yar has also bought par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Ukrain­ian par­lia­ment.

Activ­i­ties of the sort that NED engages in have moved Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to crack down on its oper­a­tions in Rus­sia. NED exec­u­tive Carl Ger­sh­man open­ly called for the West to gain polit­i­cal con­trol over Ukraine, as prepa­ra­tion for effect­ing “regime change” in Rus­sia itself.

Next, the pro­gram excerpts AFA #36, detail­ing the pro­jec­tion of World War II-era fas­cist ele­ments into Lithua­nia by the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy.

The actions of the NED and the resul­tant re-emer­gence of Baltic Waf­fen SS units in places like Lithua­nia is to be seen against the back­ground of the Cru­sade For Free­dom, the same “op” that result­ed in the pro­jec­tion of the OUN/B fas­cists into Ukraine fol­low­ing the over­throw of Yanukovich.

An ille­gal domes­tic covert oper­a­tion, the CFF brought Nazi allies such as the OUN/B, the Croa­t­ian Ustachi, the Roman­ian Iron Guard, the Hun­gar­i­an Arrow Cross, the Bul­gar­i­an Nation­al Front and oth­ers into the Unit­ed States in order to dri­ve the polit­i­cal spec­trum to the right.

As of 1952, the  CFF became inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the GOP, with Arthur Bliss Lane play­ing a key role in the GOP’s 1952 cam­paign, as well as being cen­tral­ly involved in the CFF. The CFF spawned the GOP’s eth­nic out­reach orga­ni­za­tion, which was able to deliv­er the swing vote in five key states in Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion years. It even­tu­al­ly became a per­ma­nent part of the GOP.

Con­ceived by Allen Dulles, the CFF was over­seen by Richard Nixon. Its chief spokesper­son was Ronald Rea­gan. The State Depart­ment offi­cial respon­si­ble for bring­ing “fas­cist free­dom fight­ers” like the OUN/B into the Unit­ed States was William Casey (Ronald Rea­gan’s cam­paign man­ag­er in the 1980 Pres­i­den­tial race and lat­er Rea­gan’s CIA direc­tor.) The Nazi wing of the GOP was installed as a per­ma­nent branch of the Repub­li­can Part when George H.W. Bush was the head of the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee.

The OUN/B was a key ele­ment of the GOP’s eth­nic out­reach orga­ni­za­tion. It is note­wor­thy that the orga­ni­za­tions that were rep­re­sent­ed in the GOP sub­group were all affil­i­at­ed with the SS dur­ing World War II. They were also inex­tri­ca­bly linked with the Rein­hard Gehlen orga­ni­za­tion.

Per­haps the most impor­tant effect of the Gehlen orga­ni­za­tion was to intro­duce “roll­back” or “lib­er­a­tion the­o­ry” into Amer­i­can strate­gic think­ing. Roll­back was a polit­i­cal wafare and covert oper­a­tion strat­e­gy which had its gen­e­sis in the Third Reich Ost­min­is­teri­um head­ed by Alfred Rosen­berg. This strat­e­gy entailed enlist­ing the aid of dis­si­dent Sovi­et eth­nic minori­ties to over­throw the Sovi­et Union. In return, these minori­ties and their respec­tive republics were to be grant­ed nom­i­nal inde­pen­dence while serv­ing as satel­lite states of “Greater Ger­many.”

In its Amer­i­can incar­na­tion, lib­er­a­tion the­o­ry called for “rolling back” com­mu­nism out of East­ern Europe and the break-up of the Sovi­et Union into its con­stituent eth­nic Republics. Lip-ser­vice was giv­en to ini­ti­at­ing democ­ra­cy in the “lib­er­at­ed” coun­tries. Lib­er­a­tion the­o­ry was pro­ject­ed into main­stream Amer­i­can polit­i­cal con­scious­ness through the Cru­sade for Free­dom.

Pro­gram High­lights Include:

  • Omid­yar Ukrain­ian pro­tege Svit­lana Zalis­chuk’s polit­i­cal task of inte­grat­ing Ukraine into NATO.
  • Putin’s appli­ca­tion of the Amer­i­can law requir­ing polit­i­cal oper­a­tives fund­ed from abroad to reg­is­ter as for­eign agents.
  • The Wash­ing­ton Post’s lurch to the right, under the stew­ard­ship of own­er Jeff Bezos, the chief of Ama­zon.
  • How Omid­yar’s part­ner­ing with NED fits into the polit­i­cal gam­bit of com­bat­ting “Rus­si­a’s infor­ma­tion war.”
  • Review of Omid­yar’s part­ner­ing with a vet­er­an of the noto­ri­ous Phoenix pro­gram in Viet­nam.
  • One of the founders of NED was the late Allen Wein­stein, who served as George W. Bush’s head of the Nation­al Archives. Wein­stein also wrote a hatch­et job on Alger Hiss, who helped expose US indus­tri­al­ists’ rela­tion­ship to Nazi Ger­many. For more on Hiss, see AFA #1.

1. Mark Ames has a new update on the ever evolv­ing nature of Pierre Omidyar’s new media empire: First is now invest­ing in a new inter­na­tional “fact check­ing” ser­vice with the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy, which is inex­tri­ca­bly linked with U.S. intel­li­gence and fre­quent­ly func­tions as a front for covert oper­a­tions. He also invest­ed in a Ukrain­ian news ser­vice set up on the eve of the Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion. And it looks like there could be many more invest­ments in media orga­ni­za­tions yet to come because it now looks like the whole mod­el for First Look Media has changed: instead of set­ting up a con­stel­la­tion of sep­a­rate inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­is­tic out­lets, First Look is just going to start invest­ing in exist­ing media enter­prises.

Note that one of the founders of NED was the late Allen Wein­stein, who served as George W. Bush’s head of the Nation­al Archives.

“What Pierre Did Next” by Mark Ames; Pan­do Dai­ly; 7/31/2015.

The Guardian report­ed on Tues­day that the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy has just been banned from Rus­sia, under strict new laws reg­u­lat­ing NGOs act­ing as for­eign agents.

In that sto­ry, the Guardian cit­ed the fact that Inter­cept pub­lisher Pierre Omid­yar co-fund­ed Ukraine rev­o­lu­tion groups with USAID and the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy (NED).

If the Omid­yar con­nec­tion sounds famil­iar, that’s because it was Pan­do that first broke the sto­ry in Feb­ru­ary 2014 (the Guardian linked to our orig­i­nal scoop in its cov­er­age.)

In the 18 months since we broke the sto­ry, Ukraine has col­lapsed into war and despair, with up to 10,000 peo­ple killed and one and a half mil­lion inter­nal­ly-dis­placed refugees — and top US brass talk open­ly of a new Cold War with nuclear-armed Rus­sia, while US mil­i­tary advi­sors train and arm Ukraini­ans to wage war on Russ­ian-backed sep­a­ratists.

Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, one of the lead­ers of the Omid­yar-fund­ed NGO that helped orga­nize last year’s rev­o­lu­tion in Kiev, is now in pow­er as an MP in Ukraine’s par­lia­ment, a mem­ber of the new, pro-NATO president’s par­ty bloc. She’s gone from plucky Omid­yar-fund­ed adver­sar­ial activist, to head­ing a par­lia­men­tary sub­com­mit­tee tasked with inte­grat­ing Ukraine into NATO.

I can’t think of anoth­er media tycoon who co-fund­ed a pro-US regime change with Amer­i­can intel­li­gence cutouts like USAID and the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy. That Putin tar­geted the NED does not mean it’s either hero­ic or evil—the NED’s sto­ry speaks for itself: The brain­child of Reagan’s CIA direc­tor Bill Casey, the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy was set up as an intel­li­gence cutout to sup­port US geopo­lit­i­cal pow­er and under­mine unfriend­ly regimes. One of the NED co-founders, Allen Wein­stein, explained its pur­pose to the Wash­ing­ton Post:

“A lot of what we do today was done covert­ly 25 years ago by the CIA.”

Through­out its 30-year his­tory it’s been mired in very typ­i­cal CIA con­tro­ver­sies: In the 80s, the NED was caught fund­ing an out­lawed extreme-right French para­mil­i­tary gang dur­ing Social­ist pres­i­dent Mitterand’s rule; fund­ing a mil­i­tary leader’s vic­to­ri­ous elec­tion in Pana­ma against a more mod­er­ate civil­ian can­di­date; and financ­ing rightwing oppo­nents of Cos­ta Rica’s demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed Nobel Peace Prize-win­ning pres­i­dent, whose sin was oppos­ing Reagan’s dead­ly, dirty war in Nicaragua.

More recent­ly, the NED was caught fund­ing groups that orga­nized the 2002 coup against Venezuela’s demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly-elect­ed pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez; plant­ing a “free-lance jour­nal­ist”    in the AP and New York Times to report on Haiti while the NED was simul­ta­ne­ously fund­ing rightwing groups to under­mine Haiti’s rul­ing par­ty; and co-fund­ing Ukraine regime-change groups with Pierre Omid­yar.

This week, Omid­yar Net­work announced yet anoth­er part­ner­ship with the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­racy and the Poyn­ter Insti­tute to cre­ate an inter­na­tional online fact-check­ing hub. Giv­en the pow­er that a monop­oly on “objec­tive” fact-check­ing offers, the tie-up with the NED takes the Omid­yar alliance with the US empire and media to new­er, creepi­er lev­els. In yet anoth­er Omid­yar-as-pri­vate-arm invest­ment, Omid­yar invest­ed in the slick new Ukrain­ian media, Hromadske.tv, which was set up on the eve of the Maid­an rev­o­lu­tion with ini­tial seed fund­ing com­ing from the US Embassy in Kiev. Omidyar’s involve­ment in Ukraine media and “fact-check­ing” is all the more seri­ous giv­en that now Wash­ing­ton and NATO talk about “coun­ter­ing” Russia’s over­hyped “infor­ma­tion war” on the West and on Ukraine—this “infor­ma­tion war” which I cov­ered a bit in my piece on Peter Pomer­ant­sev, is con­sid­ered a top and urgent geostrate­gic pri­or­ity for NATO and the West.
...

And now in the last week, the lat­est twist to the far­ci­cal “jour­nal­ism par­adise” shit­show: Omid­yar is report­edly in talks with the king of online tabloid-sleaze, Nick Den­ton, to invest in the latter’s per­ma-sued orga­ni­za­tion. As Pando’s Paul Carr wrote ear­lier this week, the ground seems to be being pre­pared for a full-on merg­er of the Inter­cept and Gawk­er, backed by Omidyar’s cash.

As of yes­ter­day, Nick Den­ton appoint­ed John Cook — for­merly edi­tor of the Inter­cept — to be the “tem­po­rary” exec­u­tive edi­tor of Gawk­er. When Cook depart­ed the Inter­cept, he wrote that “Work­ing with my Inter­cept col­leagues has been one of the most ful­fill­ing things I’ve done in my career, and my deci­sion to leave was a painful one to make.”

At the same time, IBT report­ed that Chief Rev­enue Offi­cer, Michael Rosen, had resigned from First Look Media. Rosen’s depar­ture comes just a week after John Tem­ple, First Look’s “Pres­i­dent, Audi­ence and Prod­ucts,” stepped down from his job say­ing “There clear­ly is much excite­ment ahead for First Look, but I feel my con­tri­bu­tion is large­ly com­plete.”

Per­haps it’s a coin­ci­dence that both the guy who is in charge of build­ing an audi­ence for the Inter­cept and the guy tasked with mak­ing it prof­itable have left. Or per­haps not: IBT quotes a source explain­ing that “First Look would soon be mov­ing away from try­ing to cre­ate a con­stel­la­tion of mag­a­zines and begin to focus on empow­er­ing ‘con­tent cre­ators.’ That is, Omid­yar will be invest­ing cash in sites like Gawk­er, along­side his invest­ments in fact-check­ing sites and Ukraine rev­o­lu­tion­ary groups.

How will the Intercept’s audi­ence, which accept­ed Greenwald’s deci­sion to pri­va­tize the Snow­den secrets to Omid­yar, react if Omid­yar then sells jour­nal­ism par­adise to jour­nal­ism sleaze and the Snow­den secrets — our secrets, the public’s secrets — wind up as cap­i­tal assets in First Gawk­er Media?

Snow­den revealed that NSA spooks were spy­ing on their lovers online habits — how will that be mon­e­tized in First Gawk­er Media? Where will Denton’s 20% sleaze dis­count be applied?

2. Next, the pro­gram high­lights Russ­ian pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s shut­ting down of NED fronts in Rus­sia. To get an idea of the nature of the so-called “democ­rats” being pro­mot­ed by NED and relat­ed ele­ments, exam­ine the polit­i­cal career of Alex­ei Naval­ny.

“Why Rus­sia Shut Down NED Fronts” by Robert Par­ry; Con­sor­tium News; 7/30/2015.

The Wash­ing­ton Post’s descent into the depths of neo­con­ser­v­a­tive pro­pa­gan­da – will­ful­ly mis­lead­ing its read­ers on mat­ters of grave impor­tance – appar­ent­ly knows no bounds as was demon­strat­ed with two decep­tive arti­cles regard­ing Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and why his gov­ern­ment is crack­ing down on “for­eign agents.”

If you read the Post’s edi­to­r­i­al on Wednes­day and a com­pan­ion op-ed by Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy Pres­i­dent Carl Ger­sh­man, you would have been led to believe that Putin is delu­sion­al, para­noid and “pow­er mad” in his con­cern that out­side mon­ey fun­neled into non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions rep­re­sents a threat to Russ­ian sov­er­eign­ty.

The Post and Ger­sh­man were espe­cial­ly out­raged that the Rus­sians have enact­ed laws requir­ing NGOs financed from abroad and seek­ing to influ­ence Russ­ian poli­cies to reg­is­ter as “for­eign agents” – and that one of the first fund­ing oper­a­tions to fall prey to these tight­ened rules was Gershman’s NED.

The Post’s edi­tors wrote that Putin’s “lat­est move, announced Tues­day, is to declare the NED an ‘unde­sir­able’ orga­ni­za­tion under the terms of a law that Mr. Putin signed in May. The law bans groups from abroad who are deemed a ‘threat to the foun­da­tions of the con­sti­tu­tion­al sys­tem of the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion, its defense capa­bil­i­ties and its nation­al secu­ri­ty.’

“The charge against the NED is patent­ly ridicu­lous. The NED’s grantees in Rus­sia last year ran the gamut of civ­il soci­ety. They advo­cat­ed trans­paren­cy in pub­lic affairs, fought cor­rup­tion and pro­mot­ed human rights, free­dom of infor­ma­tion and free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion, among oth­er things. All these activ­i­ties make for a healthy democ­ra­cy but are seen as threat­en­ing from the Kremlin’s ram­parts. …

“The new law on ‘unde­sir­ables’ comes in addi­tion to one signed in 2012 that gave author­i­ties the pow­er to declare orga­ni­za­tions ‘for­eign agents’ if they engaged in any kind of pol­i­tics and receive mon­ey from abroad. The des­ig­na­tion, from the Stal­in era, implies espi­onage.”

But there are sev­er­al salient facts that the Post’s edi­tors sure­ly know but don’t want you to know. The first is that NED is a U.S. gov­ern­ment-fund­ed orga­ni­za­tion cre­at­ed in 1983 to do what the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency pre­vi­ous­ly had done in financ­ing orga­ni­za­tions inside tar­get coun­tries to advance U.S. pol­i­cy inter­ests and, if need­ed, help in “regime change.”

The secret hand behind NED’s cre­ation was CIA Direc­tor William J. Casey who worked with senior CIA covert oper­a­tion spe­cial­ist Wal­ter Ray­mond Jr. to estab­lish NED in 1983. Casey – from the CIA – and Ray­mond – from his assign­ment inside Pres­i­dent Ronald Reagan’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil – focused on cre­at­ing a fund­ing mech­a­nism to sup­port groups inside for­eign coun­tries that would engage in pro­pa­gan­da and polit­i­cal action that the CIA had his­tor­i­cal­ly orga­nized and paid for covert­ly. To par­tial­ly replace that CIA role, the idea emerged for a con­gres­sion­al­ly fund­ed enti­ty that would serve as a con­duit for this mon­ey.

But Casey rec­og­nized the need to hide the strings being pulled by the CIA. “Obvi­ous­ly we here [at CIA] should not get out front in the devel­op­ment of such an orga­ni­za­tion, nor should we appear to be a spon­sor or advo­cate,” Casey said in one undat­ed let­ter to then-White House coun­selor Edwin Meese III – as Casey urged cre­ation of a “Nation­al Endow­ment.”

NED Is Born

The Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy took shape in late 1983 as Con­gress decid­ed to also set aside pots of mon­ey — with­in NED — for the Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties and for orga­nized labor, cre­at­ing enough bipar­ti­san largesse that pas­sage was assured. But some in Con­gress thought it was impor­tant to wall the NED off from any asso­ci­a­tion with the CIA, so a pro­vi­sion was includ­ed to bar the par­tic­i­pa­tion of any cur­rent or for­mer CIA offi­cial, accord­ing to one con­gres­sion­al aide who helped write the leg­is­la­tion.

This aide told me that one night late in the 1983 ses­sion, as the bill was about to go to the House floor, the CIA’s con­gres­sion­al liai­son came pound­ing at the door to the office of Rep. Dante Fas­cell, a senior Demo­c­rat on the House For­eign Affairs Com­mit­tee and a chief spon­sor of the bill. The fran­tic CIA offi­cial con­veyed a sin­gle mes­sage from CIA Direc­tor Casey: the lan­guage bar­ring the par­tic­i­pa­tion of CIA per­son­nel must be struck from the bill, the aide recalled, not­ing that Fas­cell con­sent­ed, not ful­ly rec­og­niz­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the demand.

The aide said Fas­cell also con­sent­ed to the Rea­gan administration’s choice of Carl Ger­sh­man to head the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy, again not rec­og­niz­ing how this deci­sion would affect the future of the new enti­ty and Amer­i­can for­eign pol­i­cy. Ger­sh­man, who had fol­lowed the clas­sic neo­con­ser­v­a­tive path from youth­ful social­ism to fierce anti­com­mu­nism, became NED’s first (and, to this day, only) pres­i­dent.

Though NED is tech­ni­cal­ly inde­pen­dent of U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy, Ger­sh­man in the ear­ly years coor­di­nat­ed deci­sions on grants with Ray­mond at the NSC. For instance, on Jan. 2, 1985, Ray­mond wrote to two NSC Asian experts that “Carl Ger­sh­man has called con­cern­ing a pos­si­ble grant to the Chi­nese Alliance for Democ­ra­cy (CAD). I am con­cerned about the polit­i­cal dimen­sion to this request. We should not find our­selves in a posi­tion where we have to respond to pres­sure, but this request pos­es a real prob­lem to Carl.”

Cur­rent­ly, Gershman’s NED dis­pens­es more than $100 mil­lion a year in U.S. gov­ern­ment funds to var­i­ous NGOs, media out­lets and activists around the world. The NED also has found itself in the mid­dle of polit­i­cal desta­bi­liza­tion cam­paigns against gov­ern­ments that have got­ten on the wrong side of U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy. For instance, pri­or to the Feb­ru­ary 2014 coup in Ukraine, over­throw­ing elect­ed Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych and installing an anti-Russ­ian regime in Kiev, NED was fund­ing scores of projects.

A sec­ond point left out of the Post’s edi­to­r­i­al was the fact that Ger­sh­man took a per­son­al hand in the Ukraine cri­sis and rec­og­nized it as an inter­im step toward regime change in Moscow. On Sept. 26, 2013, Ger­sh­man pub­lished an op-ed in the Wash­ing­ton Post that called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and explained how pulling it into the West­ern camp could con­tribute to the ulti­mate defeat of Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Putin.

“Ukraine’s choice to join Europe will accel­er­ate the demise of the ide­ol­o­gy of Russ­ian impe­ri­al­ism that Putin rep­re­sents,” Ger­sh­man wrote. “Rus­sians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find him­self on the los­ing end not just in the near abroad but with­in Rus­sia itself.” In oth­er words, NED is a U.S. gov­ern­ment-financed enti­ty that has set its sights on oust­ing Russia’s cur­rent gov­ern­ment.

A third point that the Post ignored is that the Russ­ian law requir­ing out­side-fund­ed polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions to reg­is­ter as “for­eign agents” was mod­eled on a U.S. law, the For­eign Agent Reg­is­tra­tion Act. In oth­er words, the U.S. gov­ern­ment also requires indi­vid­u­als and enti­ties work­ing for for­eign inter­ests and seek­ing to influ­ence U.S. poli­cies to dis­close those rela­tion­ships with the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment or face prison.

If the Post’s edi­tors had includ­ed any or all of these three rel­e­vant fac­tors, you would have come away with a more bal­anced under­stand­ing of why Rus­sia is act­ing as it is. You might still object but at least you would be aware of the full sto­ry. By con­ceal­ing all three points, the Post’s edi­tors were trick­ing you and oth­er read­ers into accept­ing a pro­pa­gan­dis­tic view­point – that the Russ­ian actions were crazy and that Putin was, accord­ing to the Post’s head­line, “pow­er mad.”

Gershman’s Op-Ed

But you might think that Ger­sh­man would at least acknowl­edge some of these points in his Post op-ed, sure­ly admit­ting that NED is financed by the U.S. gov­ern­ment. But Ger­sh­man didn’t. He sim­ply por­trayed Russia’s actions as despi­ca­ble and des­per­ate.

“Russia’s newest anti-NGO law, under which the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy on Tues­day was declared an “unde­sir­able orga­ni­za­tion” pro­hib­it­ed from oper­at­ing in Rus­sia, is the lat­est evi­dence that the regime of Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin faces a wors­en­ing cri­sis of polit­i­cal legit­i­ma­cy,” Ger­sh­man wrote, adding:

“This is the con­text in which Rus­sia has passed the law pro­hibit­ing Russ­ian democ­rats from get­ting any inter­na­tion­al assis­tance to pro­mote free­dom of expres­sion, the rule of law and a demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal sys­tem. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, democ­rats have not backed down. They have not been deterred by the crim­i­nal penal­ties con­tained in the ‘for­eign agents’ law and oth­er repres­sive laws. They know that these laws con­tra­dict inter­na­tion­al law, which allows for such aid, and that the laws are meant to block a bet­ter future for Rus­sia.”

The ref­er­ence to how a “for­eign agents” reg­is­tra­tion law con­flicts with inter­na­tion­al law might have been a good place for Ger­sh­man to explain why what is good for the goose in the Unit­ed States isn’t good for the gan­der in Rus­sia. But hypocrisy is a hard thing to ratio­nal­ize and would have under­mined the pro­pa­gan­dis­tic impact of the op-ed.

So would an acknowl­edge­ment of where NED’s mon­ey comes from. How many gov­ern­ments would allow a hos­tile for­eign pow­er to spon­sor politi­cians and civic orga­ni­za­tions whose mis­sion is to under­mine and over­throw the exist­ing gov­ern­ment and put in some­one who would be com­pli­ant to that for­eign pow­er?

Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Ger­sh­man couldn’t find the space to include any bal­ance in his op-ed – and the Post’s edi­tors didn’t insist on any.

3. Exem­pli­fy­ing the type of activ­i­ty in which the NED spe­cial­izes, we review infor­ma­tion about that orga­ni­za­tion’s suc­cess­ful pro­jec­tion of Lithuan­ian Nazi and fas­cist ele­ments into that for­mer Sovi­et Repub­lic. In FTR #848, we exam­ined how the seeds sown by NED took root and flow­ered.

“NED Med­dles in Lithua­nia: Nur­tur­ing Baltic Reac­tion” by Philip Bonosky; Covert Action Quar­ter­ly; Num­ber 25 (Fall 1990).

In April of 1990, the Sovi­et Repub­lic of Lithua­nia star­tled the world by declar­ing itself inde­pen­dent of the U.S.S.R. The U.S. has not yet rec­og­nized Lithua­nia as inde­pen­dent, and Bush’s pub­lic remarks have been mod­er­ate. But beneath this facade of calm state­craft there runs a famil­iar cur­rent of silent U.S. involve­ment in the polit­i­cal affairs of anoth­er coun­try.

The most vis­i­ble inter­ven­tion has been via the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy (NED), which has sup­plied funds, equip­ment, and advice to the prin­ci­pal nation­al­ist oppo­si­tion par­ty Sajud­is. NED has cho­sen to fun­nel its Lithuan­ian aid through one orga­ni­za­tion: the New York-based Lithuan­ian Catholic Reli­gious Aid (LCRA) and its pro­pa­gan­da arm, Lithuan­ian Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter (LIC).

These two orga­ni­za­tions are run by arch-con­ser­v­a­tive Catholic cler­gy. The founder, cur­rent board chair, and the man who has “presided over the steady growth and increas­ing effec­tive­ness of LCRA, Bish­op Vin­cen­tas Briz­gys, was alleged­ly a Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tor dur­ing World War II. [Raul Hilberg’s The Destruc­tion of the Euro­pean Jews (New York: 1961), and Charles R. Allen’s Nazi War Crim­i­nals Among Us (New York: Jew­ish Cur­rents Reprint, 1963), doc­u­ment Briz­gys’s back­ground. Allen repro­duced Nurem­berg Tri­bunal doc­u­ments relat­ing to the Bish­op.] Briz­gys vehe­ment­ly denies the charge. Sajud­is itself is linked in a vari­ety of ways to the sym­bols and sen­ti­ments of the fas­cist and Nazi peri­ods of Baltic his­to­ry.

The Coun­try in Ques­tion

Lithua­nia lies on the east­ern shore of the Baltic Sea, bor­dered on the south by Poland, on the north by the Lat­vian S.S.R., and on the east by the Byeloruss­ian S.S.R. [Sovi­et Social­ist Republic–a mem­ber of the for­mer U.S.S.R.] It is the west­ern­most extent of the Sovi­et Union, with a pop­u­la­tion (1980) of just over three mil­lion. In the 14th cen­tu­ry invad­ing Ger­mans con­quered the area and imposed the Catholic faith. In the mod­ern era, Lithua­nia has been repeat­ed­ly buf­fet­ed by the shift­ing polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary map of Europe.

Lithua­nia declared inde­pen­dence from Czarist Rus­sia in 1918, but in 1926, the nation­al­ist par­ty took pow­er through a mil­i­tary coup. Declar­ing him­self pres­i­dent Augus­tus Volde­mares and his pre­mier, Antanas Sme­t­ona shaped Lithua­nia into Europe’s sec­ond fas­cist state, based explic­it­ly on the exam­ple of Mus­solin­i’s Italy. Lithua­nia remained a dic­ta­tor­ship until 1939, when Sme­toma fled to the U.S. and a new par­lia­ment vot­ed unan­i­mous­ly to become a con­stituent repub­lic of the U.S.S.R. With the Ger­man inva­sion of the Sovi­et Union 1n 1941, Lithua­ni­a’s nation­al­ists returned briefly to pow­er and assist­ed the Nazis in the swift, sys­tem­at­ic slaugh­ter of more than 130,000 Lithuan­ian Jews, com­mu­nists and oth­er “unde­sir­ables.”

Enter NED

In April 1990, a 34-year-old Amer­i­can, William J.H. Hough III, was very  busy in Lithua­nia. Hough was sent to Lithuania–although he does­n’t speak Lithuanian–as legal advis­er to Vytau­tas Lands­ber­gis, the leader of the nation­al­ist par­ty. He was rec­om­mend­ed by LCRA/LIC, which the U.S. press has cit­ed as very enthu­si­as­tic about his work.

Coop­er­at­ing close­ly with Hough, LCRA/LIC has sup­plied Sajud­is with paper, pho­to­copy machines, com­put­ers, laser print­ers, FAX machines, and video cam­eras. With addi­tion­al polit­i­cal and tech­ni­cal exper­tise, Vil­nius quick­ly became a com­mu­ni­ca­tions hub for seces­sion­ist forces in Lithua­nia and oth­er Sovi­et republics.

Professionally,Hough is a lawyer. He was also an edi­tor of The New York Law School Jour­nal of Inter­na­tion­al and Com­par­a­tive Law, which pub­lished in its Win­ter 1985 issue his book-length arti­cle titled, “The Annex­a­tion of the Baltic States and its Effect on the Devel­op­ment of Law Pro­hibit­ing Forcible Seizure of Ter­ri­to­ry.” Hough describes the inter­war peri­od of Lithuan­ian his­to­ry [its fas­cist period–D.E.] as one of “polit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tion­al sta­bil­i­ty” and “progress toward the restora­tion of full democ­ra­cy.” He fails to men­tion the col­lab­o­ra­tion of nation­al­ists and Nazis. In his pub­lic jus­ti­fi­ca­tions of seces­sion, Lands­ber­gis has fre­quent­ly referred to Hough’s inter­pre­ta­tion of Lithuan­ian his­to­ry.

Hough’s his­to­ry of Lithua­nia must be reas­sur­ing to NED’s ide­o­logues and their Lithuan­ian clients, some of whom share a past they might rea­son­ably pre­fer to for­get.

Chan­nel­ing Endow­ment Dol­lars

Dur­ing the past two years, NED has grant­ed $70,000 to LCRA/LIC. They are not obvi­ous­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­ni­za­tions. Found­ed in 1961 to “pro­vide the Church under the Sovi­et oppres­sion with spir­i­tu­al and mate­r­i­al assis­tance . . . .,” LCA’s par­ent orga­ni­za­tion was the Lithuan­ian Roman Catholic Priests’ League. The qui­et obscu­ri­ty of this group belies the wel­come they receive in the halls of pow­er. LCRA exec­u­tive direc­tor Father Casimir Pugevi­cius served on an advi­so­ry com­mit­tee to Sen­a­tor Charles Per­cy (Rep.–Ill.), then a mem­ber of the Sen­ate For­eign Rela­tions Com­mit­tee. He was also wel­comed in the Rea­gan White House in 1986.

Accord­ing to LCRA/LIC, its 1990 grant appli­ca­tion to NED request­ed $618,300 and out­lined its ambi­tious pro­pos­al as fol­lows:

. . . . five sep­a­rate pro-demo­c­ra­t­ic orga­ni­za­tions would receive tech­ni­cal and mate­r­i­al aid. The first, a coali­tion of demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties enjoy­ing broad sup­port in Lithua­nia and capa­ble of assum­ing lead­ing roles in the new leg­is­la­ture would receive com­put­er and audio-visu­al equip­ment . . . . Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and video equip­ment will also be trans­port­ed to the Sajud­is Infor­ma­tion Agency . . . . [Accord­ing to NED, funds went only to  Sajud­is.]

The sec­ond part of the project would ensure a con­tin­u­ous sup­ply of much need­ed paper for inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ers and orga­ni­za­tions. The dra­mat­ic increase in the num­ber of demo­c­ra­t­ic groups in Lithua­nia in the past year has caused severe short­ages in the very lim­it­ed pool of resources. . . . Because of the greater degree of lib­er­al­iza­tion in Lithua­nia, this repub­lic has emerged as the pub­lish­ing cen­ter for the inde­pen­dent groups through­out the Sovi­et Union. . . .

With­in weeks of the arrival of these goods, tra­di­tion­al sources of infor­ma­tion in Lithua­nia were sup­pressed or tak­en over by Sajud­is. Nation­al­ist sym­pa­thiz­ers cut off broad­cast pro­gram­ming  from Moscow, and Lithua­nia was soon flood­ed with seces­sion­ist pro­pa­gan­da. In the ensu­ing elec­tion, Sajud­is man­aged to dom­i­nate the scene by rid­ing the crest of a wave of nation­al­ist sen­ti­ment. It won a major­i­ty in the Seim (par­lia­ment). In March, a hasti­ly con­vened ses­sion of par­lia­ment vot­ed for seces­sion (91–38) in a mat­ter of hours. Laws were passed curb­ing oppo­si­tion news­pa­pers and chang­ing the flag and nation­al anthem, revert­ing to ver­sions in use dur­ing the nation­al­ist peri­od. As to whether, or what, of real sub­stance should change, Sajud­is remained silent.

Echoes From the Past

To Lithua­ni­ans old enough to remem­ber the Sec­ond World War, the ener­getic activ­i­ties of Sajud­is, LCRA, and LIC must seem vague­ly famil­iar. Lands­ber­gis’s father was a mem­ber of the Savan­do­ri­ai (nation­al­ist mili­tia), who fought the Rus­sians (1918–1919), helped enforce the suc­ces­sive dic­ta­tor­ships of Volde­mares and Sme­t­ona, and col­lab­o­rat­ed with the Ger­man occu­pa­tion.

A reporter for Der Spiegel wrote in April 1990 that: “Every­body fears Sajud­is. Any­one who attacks Sajud­is is declared an an ene­my of the peo­ple by Lands­ber­gis, and that hap­pens very quick­ly.”  In addi­tion the Savan­do­ri­ai (ille­gal under Sovi­et law) have been revived under the lead­er­ship of retired army offi­cers.

Pri­or to the Ger­man inva­sion in June 1941, a Berlin-based “Lithuan­ian Infor­ma­tion Bureau,” the pro­pa­gan­da arm of the Lithuan­ian Activist Front, a nation­al­ist exile orga­ni­za­tion, sent the fol­low­ing mes­sage into Lithua­nia:

. . . . lib­er­a­tion is close at hand. . . . upris­ings must be start­ed in the cities, towns and vil­lages of Lithua­nia. . . . com­mu­nists and oth­er trai­tors. . . . must be arrest­ed at once. . . . (The trai­tor will be par­doned only pro­vid­ed beyond doubt that he has killed one Jew at least.)

In the book Blow­back, Christo­pher Simp­son crisply sum­ma­rizes part of the “lib­er­a­tion” that fol­lowed:

. . . . munic­i­pal killing squads employ­ing Lithuan­ian Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors elim­i­nat­ed 46,692 Jews in few­er than three months, accord­ing to their own reports, main­ly by com­bin­ing clock-like liq­ui­da­tions of 500 Jews per day in the cap­i­tal city of Vil­nius with mobile “clean-up” sweeps through the sur­round­ing coun­try­side.

Such squads were con­sis­tent­ly used by the Nazis for the dirty work that even the SS believed  to be beneath the dig­ni­ty of the Ger­man sol­dier. . . . .

On August 4, 1941, the Lithuan­ian Activist Front, installed a pro­vi­sion­al gov­ern­ment, tak­ing care to coop­er­ate ful­ly with the Nazis. The invaders let pres­i­dent Juozas Ambraze­vi­cius’s gov­ern­ment stand for three months, dur­ing which time the worst of the killings occurred. After the war, Ambraze­vi­cius fled to the U.S., where he changed his name to Brazaitis.

The crimes which prompt­ed the post-war flight of many Lithuan­ian nation­al­ists were stark­ly doc­u­ment­ed in the “Jaeger Report,” an offi­cial count by the SS offi­cer who super­vised the mas­sacres:

Ein­satzkom­man­do 3 Kovno, Decem­ber 1, 1941

Secret State Doc­u­ment

Sum­ma­ry of all exe­cu­tions car­ried out in the sphere of action of Ein­satzkom­man­do 3 up to Decem­ber 1, 1941.

Ein­satzko­man­do 3 took over its duties as secu­ri­ty police in Lithua­nia on the 2nd of July 1941. . . . In com­pli­ance with my direc­tives and on my order the Lithuan­ian par­ti­sans have car­ried out the fol­low­ing exe­cu­tions. . . .

What fol­lowed was a chrono­log­i­cal account­ing of the activ­i­ties of the killing squads. Vic­tims were neat­ly cat­e­go­rized: Jew­ish men, Jew­ish women, Jew­ish chil­dren, Poles, Lithuan­ian com­mu­nists, Russ­ian com­mu­nists, Intel­lec­tu­al Jews, Lunatics, Gyp­sies, Polit­i­cal Instruc­tors, Arme­ni­ans. . . .

After the first 3,000 deaths, Jaeger appar­ent­ly decid­ed that the Lithuan­ian nation­al­ists alone were equal to the task;

. . . . After orga­niz­ing a mobile unit under SS-Ober­s­tum­fuhrer Hamann and 8 to 10 tried men of EK 3 the fol­low­ing actions were car­ried out in coop­er­a­tion with the Lithuan­ian par­ti­sans. . . .

. . . . Before the EK 3 assumed secu­ri­ty duties, the par­ti­sans them­selves killed [4,000 ] Jews through pogroms and exe­cu­tions. . . .

. . . . I can state today that the goal of solv­ing the Jew­ish prob­lem in Lithua­nia has been reached by EK 3. There are no Jews in Lithua­nia any­more except the work Jews and their fam­i­lies. . . .The goal to clear Lithua­nia of Jews could be achieved only thanks to . . . men . . . . who adopt­ed my goal with­out any reser­va­tions and man­aged to secure the coop­er­a­tion of the Lithuan­ian par­ti­sans and and the respec­tive civ­il offices. . . .

The final tal­ly of those killed was 137, 346. As the report clear­ly indi­cates, the Nazis were assist­ed by both the para­mil­i­tary bands asso­ci­at­ed with the nation­al­ists, and by those in posi­tions of authority–including mem­bers of the Catholic cler­gy.

A Nazi Col­lab­o­ra­tor Pros­pers in Chica­go

As aux­il­iary Bish­op of Kau­nas, (Kovno) dur­ing the Ger­man occu­pa­tion, Bish­op Vin­cen­tas Briz­gys, founder of LCRA/LIC, lent his spir­i­tu­al author­i­ty to fas­cism. When the Nazis retreat­ed, so did he, first to Ger­many, then to Chica­go where he has lived, worked, and car­ried the nation­al­ist ban­ner for 25 years.

The cler­gy hat­ed social­ism or very clear rea­sons. The social­ist gov­ern­ment which came to pow­er in 1939 had sep­a­rat­ed church and state. Church prop­er­ty was con­fis­cat­ed, includ­ing large farms where peas­ants labored under semi-feu­dal con­di­tions elim­i­nat­ed else­where in Europe cen­turies before. Cler­gy were removed from gov­ern­ment and the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem, two insti­tu­tions where they had long wield­ed pow­er­ful influ­ence.

Arch­bish­op Skvireckas, Briz­gys’s supe­ri­or, doc­u­ment­ed the bish­op’s col­lab­o­ra­tionist activ­i­ties with evi­dent sat­is­fac­tion. The arch­bish­op’s diary for July 1, 1941, reveals that Briz­gys made con­tact:

. . . . with the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Ger­man gov­ern­ment for the Baltic sta­t­ics. [Dr. Groffe, for­mer­ly head of Gestapo in East Prus­sia who] . . . pro­posed . . . . that he [Briz­gys] should make an appeal to the peo­ple to behave qui­et­ly and pur­sue their dai­ly busi­ness with con­fi­dence, with­out any fear that they might be harmed. . . .

On June 30, 1941, the arch­bish­op had writ­ten: “The ideas in Mein Kampf on the ques­tion of the Bol­she­vik-Jew­ish con­ta­gion are splen­did . . . . they prove that Hitler is not only an ene­my of the Jews, but gen­er­al­ly speak­ing has the right ideas.”

An appeal to wel­come the Nazis was broad­cast by radio, ten pub­lished in a major Kau­nas news­pa­per, signed by Skviteckas, Briz­gys and Vic­ar Gen­er­al Saulys. Their sig­na­tures were also on a for­mal telegram of thanks to Hitler for “Lithua­ni­a’s Lib­er­a­tion,” sent in the mid­dle of July 1941.

As the Nazis and their col­lab­o­ra­tors imple­ment­ed the dia­bol­i­cal log­ic of Mein Kampf, Briz­gys “set an exam­ple for the entire pop­u­la­tion by for­bid­ding the cler­gy to aid the Jews in any way.” He also urged from his pul­pit, and via radio and news­pa­per, that Lithua­ni­ans coop­er­ate with the Nazis.

When the Sovi­et army, led by its 16th Lithuan­ian divi­sion, drove the Nazis out in 1944, Briz­gys fled to safe­ty in Ger­many, then to the U.S. Send to the arch­dio­cese of Chica­go, he helped launch Lithuan­ian Catholic Reli­gious Aid in 1961, and served as LCRA pres­i­dent until 1986. He is now chair of the board of direc­tors.

Oth­er Friends of Lithuan­ian Democ­ra­cy

  • Direc­tor of Spe­cial Projects for LCRA/LIC is Rasa Raz­gaitis, step­daugh­ter of accused war crim­i­nal Jur­gis Juodis. Because of his involve­ment as a nation­al­ist mil­i­tary offi­cer in the mas­sacres of 1941, Juodis became the sub­ject of a Jus­tice Depart­ment Office of Spe­cial Inves­ti­ga­tions (OSIS) inquiry in 1981. In addi­tion to her work with LCA, Raz­gaitis is head of “Amer­i­cans for Due Process,” an orga­ni­za­tion “formed sole­ly to chal­lenge the activ­i­ties of the Jus­tice Depart­men­t’s war crimes unit.” She is also a friend of Patrick Buchanan, through whom she gained access to the Rea­gan White House when Buchanan was Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor.
  • AFL-CIO pres­i­dent Lane Kirk­land is a long time mem­ber of the cold war­rior clique Com­mit­tee on the Present Dan­ger, and sup­ports CIA manip­u­la­tion of labor move­ments around the globe. Kirk­land has wel­comed Lands­ber­gis as a friend dur­ing his U.S. vis­its. Kirk­land’s name was on an open let­ter to Pres­i­dent Bush pub­lished in the April 22, 1990 New York Times call­ing for imme­di­ate recog­ni­tion of Lithuan­ian inde­pen­dence. Kirk­land is on the NED board.
  • Richard Ebel­ing, vice pres­i­dent of the Future Free­dom Foun­da­tion (FFF) of Den­ver, has been invit­ed by Sajud­is to lec­ture “in Lithua­nia, on the prin­ci­ples of free­dom.” In addi­tion, six Sajud­is econ­o­mists have met with lead­ers of FFF to dis­cuss “free mar­ket pro­pos­als . . . .  made as rad­i­cal as pos­si­ble.” Among oth­ers dis­cussed were the now-famil­iar calls for rapid dena­tion­al­iza­tion of all indus­tries and state pros­per­i­ty; decon­trol of all prices and wages, both in the con­sumer and pro­duc­tion mar­kets; and pri­va­ti­za­tion of social ser­vices includ­ing med­ical retire­ment pen­sions. . . . . .

Discussion

2 comments for “FTR #858 The NED File”

  1. Yasha Levine had a fas­ci­nat­ing piece back in March on the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors (BBG), a US gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tion with quite a num­ber of par­al­lels with the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy. It also hap­pens to be a gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tion that’s invest­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in devel­op­ing anti-sur­veil­lance tools devel­oped by anti-sur­veil­lance activist like Jacob Appel­baum so they could build tools like TOR:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    Inter­net pri­va­cy, fund­ed by spooks: A brief his­to­ry of the BBG

    By Yasha Levine
    March 1, 2015

    For the past few months I’ve been cov­er­ing U.S. gov­ern­ment fund­ing of pop­u­lar Inter­net pri­va­cy tools like Tor, Cryp­to­Cat and Open Whis­per Sys­tems. Dur­ing my report­ing, one agency in par­tic­u­lar keeps pop­ping up: An agency with one of those real­ly bland names that masks its wild, bizarre his­to­ry: the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors, or BBG.

    The BBG was formed in 1999 and runs on a $721 mil­lion annu­al bud­get. It reports direct­ly to Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry and oper­ates like a hold­ing com­pa­ny for a host of Cold War-era CIA spin­offs and old school “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” projects: Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Asia, Radio Martí, Voice of Amer­i­ca, Radio Lib­er­a­tion from Bol­she­vism (since renamed “Radio Lib­er­ty”) and a dozen oth­er gov­ern­ment-fund­ed radio sta­tions and media out­lets pump­ing out pro-Amer­i­can pro­pa­gan­da across the globe.

    Today, the Con­gres­sion­al­ly-fund­ed fed­er­al agency is also one of the biggest back­ers of grass­roots and open-source Inter­net pri­va­cy tech­nol­o­gy. These invest­ments start­ed in 2012, when the BBG launched the “Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund” (OTF) — an ini­tia­tive housed with­in and run by Radio Free Asia (RFA), a pre­mier BBG prop­er­ty that broad­casts into com­mu­nist coun­tries like North Korea, Viet­nam, Laos, Chi­na and Myan­mar. The BBG endowed Radio Free Asi­a’s Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund with a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar bud­get and a sin­gle task: “to ful­fill the U.S. Con­gres­sion­al glob­al man­date for Inter­net free­dom.”

    It’s already a mouth­ful of prover­bial Wash­ing­ton alpha­bet soup — Con­gress funds BBG to fund RFA to fund OTF — but, regard­less of which sub-group ulti­mate­ly writes the check, the impor­tant thing to under­stand is that all this fed­er­al gov­ern­ment mon­ey flows, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly, from the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors.

    Between 2012 and 2014, Radio Free Asi­a’s Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund poured more than $10 mil­lion into Inter­net pri­va­cy projects big and small: open-source encrypt­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion apps, next-gen­er­a­tion secure email ini­tia­tives, anti-cen­sor­ship mesh net­work­ing plat­forms, encryp­tion secu­ri­ty audits, secure cloud host­ing, a net­work of “high-capac­i­ty” Tor exit nodes and even an anony­mous Tor-based tool for leak­ers and whistle­blow­ers that com­pet­ed with Wik­ileaks.

    Though many of the apps and tech backed by Radio Free Asi­a’s OTF are unknown to the gen­er­al pub­lic, they are high­ly respect­ed and extreme­ly pop­u­lar among the anti-sur­veil­lance Inter­net activist crowd. OTF-fund­ed apps have been rec­om­mend­ed by Edward Snow­den, cov­ered favor­ably by ProP­ub­li­ca and The New York Times’ tech­nol­o­gy reporters, and repeat­ed­ly pro­mot­ed by the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. Every­one seems to agree that OTF-fund­ed pri­va­cy apps offer some of the best pro­tec­tion from gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance you can get. In fact, just about all the fea­tured open-source apps on EFF’s recent “Secure Mes­sag­ing Score­card” were fund­ed by OTF.

    Here’s a small sam­ple of what the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors fund­ed (through Radio Free Asia and then through the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund) between 2012 and 2014:

    * Open Whis­per Sys­tems, mak­er of free encrypt­ed text and voice mobile apps like TextSe­cure and Signal/RedPhone, got a gen­er­ous $1.35-million infu­sion. (Face­book recent­ly start­ed using Open Whis­per Sys­tems to secure its What­sApp mes­sages.)
    * Cryp­to­Cat, an encrypt­ed chat app made by Nadim Kobeis­si and pro­mot­ed by EFF, received $184,000.
    * LEAP, an email encryp­tion start­up, got just over $1 mil­lion. LEAP is cur­rent­ly being used to run secure VPN ser­vices at RiseUp.net, the rad­i­cal anar­chist com­mu­ni­ca­tion col­lec­tive.
    * A Wik­ileaks alter­na­tive called Glob­aLeaks (which was endorsed by the folks at Tor, includ­ing Jacob Appel­baum) received just under $350,000.
    * The Guardian Project — which makes an encrypt­ed chat app called Chat­Se­cure, as well a mobile ver­sion of Tor called Orbot — got $388,500.
    * The Tor Project received over $1 mil­lion from OTF to pay for secu­ri­ty audits, traf­fic analy­sis tools and set up fast Tor exit nodes in the Mid­dle East and South East Asia.

    In 2014, Con­gress mas­sive­ly upped the BBG’s “Inter­net free­dom” bud­get to $25 mil­lion, with half of that mon­ey flow­ing through RFA and into the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. This $12.75 mil­lion rep­re­sent­ed a three-fold increase in OTF’s bud­get from 2013 — a con­sid­er­able expan­sion for an out­fit that was just a few years old. Clear­ly, it’s doing some­thing that the gov­ern­ment likes. A lot.

    With those resources, the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund’s moth­er-agency, Radio Free Asia, plans to cre­ate a ver­ti­cal­ly inte­grat­ed incu­ba­tor for bud­ding pri­va­cy tech­nol­o­gists around the globe — pro­vid­ing every­thing from train­ing and men­tor­ship, to offer­ing them a secure glob­al cloud host­ing envi­ron­ment to run their apps, to legal assis­tance.

    Radio Free Asi­a’s OTF oper­ates its own “secure cloud” infra­struc­ture, which grantees can use to safe­ly deploy their anti-sur­veil­lance apps — with serv­er nodes in Turkey, Cam­bo­dia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Ams­ter­dam and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It also runs a “legal lab” which pro­vides free legal ser­vices to projects with OTF fund­ing. The Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund even runs a “Rapid Response Fund” pro­vid­ing “emer­gency sup­port” (includ­ing fund­ing and tech­ni­cal help) to pri­va­cy projects, pro­tect­ing pri­va­cy ser­vices against DDoS attacks and oth­er mali­cious assaults by hack­ers and hos­tile gov­ern­ments.

    And then there are the many aca­d­e­m­ic pro­grams under­writ­ten by the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund, includ­ing six month fel­low­ships that pay a $4,000 stipend at the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, Harvard’s Berk­man Cen­ter for Inter­net & Soci­ety, and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Cit­i­zen Lab.

    Sil­i­con Val­ley has opened its doors to the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. In 2014, OTF launched a coor­di­nat­ed project with Drop­box and Google to make free, easy-to-use pri­va­cy tools, and Face­book announced it was incor­po­rat­ing the under­ly­ing encryp­tion tech­nol­o­gy of one of OTF’s flag­ship projects — Open­Whis­per Sys­tems — into its What­sApp text mes­sag­ing ser­vice.

    Equal­ly impor­tant is the cul­tur­al affin­i­ty: Radio Free Asia and OTF seemed to real­ly get the hack­tivists and the open-source cryp­to com­mu­ni­ty. Its day-to-day oper­a­tions are run by Dan Mered­ith, a young guy who used to work at Al-Jazeera in Qatar as a “tech­nol­o­gist” and who is an alum­nus of aca­d­e­m­ic and think-tank pri­va­cy-activist cir­cles. Mered­ith isn’t your typ­i­cal stuffy State Depart­ment suit, he’s a depar­ture from the pic­ture in most peo­ple’s heads of the sort of per­son who’d lead a US gov­ern­ment project with major for­eign pol­i­cy impli­ca­tions. He’s flu­ent in the cryp­to/open-source techie lin­go that those in the grass­roots com­mu­ni­ty can iden­ti­fy with. Under Mered­ith’s watch, the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund pass­es itself off as a grass­roots out­fit with a lo-fi look and feel. Its home­page even fea­tures a cute 8‑bit YouTube video out­lin­ing its do-good­er mis­sion of using “pub­lic funds to sup­port Inter­net free­dom projects” which pro­mote “human rights and open soci­eties.”

    Read­ers might find it odd that a US gov­ern­ment agency estab­lished as a way to laun­der the image of var­i­ous shady pro­pa­gan­da out­fits (more on that soon) is now keen to fund tech­nolo­gies designed to pro­tect us from the US gov­ern­ment. More­over, it might seem curi­ous that its mon­ey would be so warm­ly wel­comed by some of the Inter­net’s fiercest antigov­ern­ment activists.

    But, as folks in the open-source pri­va­cy com­mu­ni­ty will tell you, fund­ing for open-source encryp­tion/an­ti-sur­veil­lance tech has been hard to come by. So they’ve wel­comed mon­ey from Radio Free Asi­a’s Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund with open pock­ets. Devel­op­ers and groups sub­mit­ted their projects for fund­ing, while lib­er­tar­i­ans and anti-gov­ern­men­t/an­ti-sur­veil­lance activists enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly joined OTF’s advi­so­ry coun­cil, sit­ting along­side rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Google and the US State Depart­ment, tech lob­by­ists, and mil­i­tary con­sul­tants.

    But why is a fed­er­al­ly-fund­ed CIA spin­off with decades of expe­ri­ence in “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” sud­den­ly blow­ing tens of mil­lions in gov­ern­ment funds on pri­va­cy tools meant to pro­tect peo­ple from being sur­veilled by anoth­er arm of the very same gov­ern­ment? To answer that ques­tion, we have to pull the cam­era back and exam­ine how all of those Cold War pro­pa­gan­da out­lets begat the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors begat Radio Free Asia begat the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. The sto­ry begins in the late 1940’s.

    The ori­gins of the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors

    The Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors traces its begin­nings to the ear­ly Cold War years, as a covert pro­pa­gan­da project of the new­ly-cre­at­ed Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency to wage “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” against Com­mu­nist regimes and oth­ers deemed a threat to US inter­ests.

    George Ken­nan — the key archi­tect of post-WWII for­eign pol­i­cy — pushed for expand­ing the role of covert peace­time pro­grams. And so, in 1948,Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Direc­tive 10/2 offi­cial­ly autho­rized the CIA to engage in “covert oper­a­tions” against the Com­mu­nist Men­ace. Clause 5 of the direc­tive defined “covert oper­a­tions” as “pro­pa­gan­da, eco­nom­ic war­fare; pre­ven­tive direct action, includ­ing sab­o­tage, anti-sab­o­tage, demo­li­tion and evac­u­a­tion mea­sures; sub­ver­sion against hos­tile states, includ­ing assis­tance to under­ground resis­tance move­ments, guer­ril­las and refugee lib­er­a­tion groups, and sup­port of indige­nous anti-com­mu­nist ele­ments in threat­ened coun­tries of the free world.”

    Pro­pa­gan­da quick­ly became one of the key weapons in the CIA’s covert oper­a­tions arse­nal. The agency estab­lished and fund­ed radio sta­tions, news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, his­tor­i­cal soci­eties, emi­gre “research insti­tutes,” and cul­tur­al pro­grams all over Europe. In many cas­es, it fun­neled mon­ey to out­fits run and staffed by known World War II war crim­i­nals and Nazi col­lab­o­ra­tors, both in Europe and here in the Unit­ed States.

    Christo­pher Simp­son, author of “Blow­back: Amer­i­ca’s Recruit­ment of Nazis and Its Destruc­tive Impact on Our Domes­tic and For­eign Pol­i­cy”, details the extent of these “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare projects”:

    CIA-fund­ed psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare projects employ­ing East­ern Euro­pean émi­grés became major oper­a­tions dur­ing the 1950s, con­sum­ing tens and even hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. . . .This includ­ed under­writ­ing most of the French Paix et Lib­erté move­ment, pay­ing the bills of the Ger­man League for Strug­gle Against Inhu­man­i­ty , and financ­ing a half dozen free jurists asso­ci­a­tions, a vari­ety of Euro­pean fed­er­al­ist groups, the Con­gress for Cul­tur­al Free­dom, mag­a­zines, news ser­vices, book pub­lish­ers, and much more. These were very broad pro­grams designed to influ­ence world pub­lic opin­ion at vir­tu­al­ly every lev­el, from illit­er­ate peas­ants in the fields to the most sophis­ti­cat­ed schol­ars in pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties. They drew on a wide range of resources: labor unions, adver­tis­ing agen­cies, col­lege pro­fes­sors, jour­nal­ists, and stu­dent lead­ers, to name a few. [empha­sis added]

    In Europe, the CIA set up “Radio Free Europe” and “Radio Lib­er­a­tion From Bol­she­vism” (lat­er renamed “Radio Lib­er­ty”), which beamed pro­pa­gan­da in sev­er­al lan­guages into the Sovi­et Union and Sovi­et satel­lite states of East­ern Europe. The CIA lat­er expand­ed its radio pro­pa­gan­da oper­a­tions into Asia, tar­get­ing com­mu­nist Chi­na, North Korea and Viet­nam. The spy agency also fund­ed sev­er­al radio projects aimed at sub­vert­ing left­ist gov­ern­ments in Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca, includ­ing Radio Free Cuba and Radio Swan — which was run by the CIA and employed some of the same Cuban exiles that took part in the failed Bay of Pigs inva­sion. Even today, the CIA boasts that these ear­ly “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” projects “would become one of the longest run­ning and suc­cess­ful covert action cam­paigns ever mount­ed by the Unit­ed States.”

    Offi­cial­ly, the CIA’s direct role in this glob­al “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” project dimin­ished in the 1970s, after the spy agen­cy’s ties to Cold War pro­pa­gan­da arms like Radio Free Europe were exposed. Con­gress agreed to take over fund­ing of these projects from the CIA, and even­tu­al­ly Wash­ing­ton expand­ed them into a mas­sive fed­er­al­ly-fund­ed pro­pa­gan­da appa­ra­tus.

    The names of the var­i­ous CIA spin­offs and non­prof­its changed over the years, cul­mi­nat­ing in a 1999 reor­ga­ni­za­tion under Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton which cre­at­ed the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors, a par­ent hold­ing com­pa­ny to group new broad­cast­ing oper­a­tions around the world togeth­er with Cold War-era pro­pa­gan­da out­fits with spooky pasts—including Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­er­ty, Voice of Amer­i­ca and Radio Free Asia.

    Today, the BBG has a $721 mil­lion bud­get pro­vid­ed by Con­gress, reports to the Sec­re­tary of State and is man­aged by a revolv­ing crew of neo­cons and mil­i­tary think-tank experts. Among them: Ken­neth Wein­stein, head of the Hud­son Insti­tute, the arch-con­ser­v­a­tive Cold War-era mil­i­tary think tank; and Ryan C. Crock­er, for­mer ambas­sador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syr­ia.

    Although today’s BBG is no longer covert­ly fund­ed via the CIA’s black bud­get, its role as a soft pow­er “psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare” oper­a­tion hasn’t real­ly changed since its incep­tion. The BBG and its sub­sidiaries still engage in pro­pa­gan­da war­fare, sub­ver­sion and soft-pow­er pro­jec­tion against coun­tries and for­eign polit­i­cal move­ments deemed hos­tile to US inter­ests. And it is still deeply inter­twined with the same mil­i­tary and CIA-con­nect­ed intel­li­gence orga­ni­za­tions — from USAID to DARPA to the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy.

    Today, the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors runs a pro­pa­gan­da net­work that blan­kets the globe: Radio Martí (aimed at Cuba), Radio Far­da (aimed at Iran), Radio Sawa (which broad­casts in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Moroc­co, and Sudan), Radio Aza­di (tar­get­ing Afghanistan), Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­er­ty (which has tai­lored broad­casts in over a dozen lan­guages into Rus­sia, Ukraine, Ser­bia, Azer­bai­jan, Ukraine, Belarus, Geor­gia, and Arme­nia), and Radio Free Asia (which tar­gets Chi­na, North Korea, Laos, and Viet­nam).

    The BBG is also involved in the tech­nol­o­gy of post-Cold War, Inter­net-era pro­pa­gan­da. It has bankrolled satel­lite Inter­net access in Iran and con­tin­ues to fund an SMS-based social net­work in Cuba called Piramideo — which is dif­fer­ent from the failed covert Twit­ter clone fund­ed by USAID that tried to spark a Cuban Spring rev­o­lu­tion. It has con­tract­ed with an anonymi­ty Inter­net proxy called SafeWeb, which had been fund­ed by the CIA’s ven­ture cap­i­tal firm In-Q-Tel. It worked with tech out­fits run by prac­ti­tion­ers of the con­tro­ver­sial Chi­nese right-wing cult, Falun Gong — whose leader believes that humans are being cor­rupt­ed by invad­ing aliens from oth­er planets/dimensions. These com­pa­nies — Dynaweb and Ultra­reach — pro­vide anti-cen­sor­ship tools to Chi­nese Inter­net users. As of 2012, the BBG con­tin­ued to fund them to the tune of $1.5 mil­lion a year.

    As the BBG proud­ly out­lined in a 2013 fact sheet for its “Inter­net Anti-Cen­sor­ship” unit:

    The BBG col­lab­o­rates with oth­er Inter­net free­dom projects and orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing RFA’s Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund, the State Depart­ment, USAID, and DARPAs SAFER Warfight­er Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Pro­gram. IAC is also reach­ing out to oth­er groups inter­est­ed in Inter­net free­dom such as Google, Free­dom House and the Nation­al Endow­ment for Democ­ra­cy’s Cen­ter for Inter­na­tion­al Media Assis­tance.

    BBG is also one of the Tor Pro­jec­t’s biggest fun­ders, pay­ing out about $3.5 mil­lion from 2008 through 2013. BBG’s lat­est pub­licly-known Tor con­tract was final­ized in mid-2012. The BBG gave Tor at least $1.2 mil­lion to improve secu­ri­ty and dras­ti­cal­ly boost the band­width of the Tor net­work by fund­ing over a hun­dred Tor nodes across the world — all part of the US gov­ern­men­t’s effort to find an effec­tive soft-pow­er weapon that can under­mine Inter­net cen­sor­ship and con­trol in coun­tries hos­tile to US inter­ests. (We only know about the BBG’s lucra­tive fund­ing of Tor thanks to the dogged efforts of the Elec­tron­ic Pri­va­cy Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter, which had to sue to get its FOIA requests ful­filled.)

    As men­tioned, last year Con­gress decid­ed the BBG was doing such a good job advanc­ing Amer­i­ca’s inter­ests abroad that it boost­ed the agen­cy’s “Inter­net free­dom” annu­al bud­get from just $1.6 mil­lion in 2011 to a whop­ping $25 mil­lion this year. The BBG fun­neled half of this tax­pay­er mon­ey through its Radio Free Asia sub­sidiary, into the “Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund” — the “non­prof­it” respon­si­ble for bankrolling many of today’s pop­u­lar open-source pri­va­cy and encryp­tion apps.

    Which brings me to the next star­ring agency in this recov­ered his­to­ry of Wash­ing­ton DC’s pri­va­cy tech­nol­o­gy invest­ments: Radio Free Asia.

    Radio Free Asia

    The CIA launched Radio Free Asia (RFA) in 1951 as an exten­sion of its glob­al anti-Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da radio net­work. RFA beamed its sig­nal into main­land Chi­na from a trans­mit­ter in Mani­la, and its oper­a­tions were based on the ear­li­er Radio Free Europe/Radio Lib­er­a­tion From Bol­she­vism mod­el.

    ...

    Radio Free Asia got bust­ed in a wide­spread cor­rup­tion scan­dal in the late 1970s, when the South Kore­an gov­ern­ment was inves­ti­gat­ed for using the Moonie cult to influ­ence US pub­lic opin­ion in order to keep the US mil­i­tary engaged against North Korea. Back in the 1970s, the Moonies were the most noto­ri­ous cult in the Unit­ed States, accused of abduct­ing and “brain­wash­ing” count­less Amer­i­can youths. How it was that the CIA’s Radio Free Asia was hand­ed off to the Moonies was nev­er quite explained, but giv­en laws ban­ning the CIA (or the KCIA) from engag­ing in psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare in the US, the obvi­ous thing to do was to bury Radio Free Asia long enough for every­one to for­get about it.

    No soon­er had Radio Free Asia van­ished amid scan­dal than it reap­peared again, Ter­mi­na­tor-like, in the 1990s — this time as a legit “inde­pen­dent” non­prof­it whol­ly con­trolled by the BBG and fund­ed by Con­gress.

    Although this lat­est ver­sion of Radio Free Asia was sup­posed to be a com­plete­ly new orga­ni­za­tion and was no longer as covert and B‑movie spooky, its objec­tives and tac­tics remained exact­ly the same: To this day it beams pro­pa­gan­da into the same Com­mu­nist coun­tries, includ­ing North Korea, Viet­nam, Laos, Cam­bo­dia, Chi­na, and Bur­ma, and fid­dles around in the same sorts of spooky adven­tures.

    ...

    Radio Free Asia and Anti-gov­ern­ment Hack­tivists

    Which brings us up to the present, when the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors, Radio Free Asia and its off­shoot, the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund, find them­selves in bed with many of the very same pri­va­cy activist fig­ures whom the pub­lic regards as the pri­ma­ry adver­saries of out­fits like Radio Free Asia and the BBG. And it’s tech­nol­o­gy that brings togeth­er these sup­posed adver­saries — the US Nation­al Secu­ri­ty State on the one hand, and “hack­tivist”, “anti-gov­ern­ment” lib­er­tar­i­an pri­va­cy activists on the oth­er:

    “I’m proud to be a vol­un­teer OTF advi­sor,” declared Cory Doc­torow, edi­tor of Boing­Bo­ing and a well-known lib­er­tar­i­an anti-sur­veil­lance activist/author.

    “Hap­py to have joined the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund’s new advi­so­ry coun­cil,” tweet­ed Jil­lian York, the Direc­tor for Inter­na­tion­al Free­dom of Expres­sion at the Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion. (York recent­ly admit­ted that the OTF’s “Inter­net free­dom” agen­da is, at its core, about regime change, but bizarrely argued that it did­n’t mat­ter.)

    In 2012, just a few months after Radio Free Asi­a’s 24/7 pro­pa­gan­da blitz into North Korea failed to trig­ger regime change, RFA sent folks from the Tor Project — includ­ing core devel­op­er Jacob Appel­baum (pic­tured above) — into Bur­ma, just as the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship was final­ly agree­ing to hand polit­i­cal pow­er over to US-backed pro-democ­ra­cy politi­cians. The stat­ed pur­pose of Appel­baum’s RFA-fund­ed expe­di­tion was to probe Burma’s Inter­net sys­tem from with­in and col­lect infor­ma­tion on its telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­ture — which was then used to com­pile a report for West­ern politi­cians and “inter­na­tion­al investors” inter­est­ed in pen­e­trat­ing Burma’s recent­ly opened mar­kets. Here you can see Appelbaum’s visa — pub­lished in the report as evi­dence of what you need­ed to do to buy a SIM card in Bur­ma.

    Bur­ma is a curi­ous place for Amer­i­can anti-sur­veil­lance activists fund­ed by Radio Free Asia to trav­el to, con­sid­er­ing that it has long been a tar­get of US regime-change cam­paigns. In fact, the guru of pro-West­ern “col­or rev­o­lu­tions,” Gene Sharp, wrote his famous guide to non-vio­lent rev­o­lu­tions, “From Dic­ta­tor­ship to Democ­ra­cy”, ini­tial­ly as a guide for Burma’s oppo­si­tion move­ment, in order to help it over­throw the mil­i­tary jun­ta in the late 1980s. Sharp had crossed into Bur­ma ille­gal­ly to train oppo­si­tion activists there — all under the pro­tec­tion and spon­sor­ship of the US gov­ern­ment and one Col. Robert Helvey, a mil­i­tary intel­li­gence offi­cer.

    Jacob Appel­baum’s will­ing­ness to work direct­ly for an old CIA cutout like Radio Free Asia in a nation long tar­get­ed for regime-change is cer­tain­ly odd, to say the least. Par­tic­u­lar­ly since Appel­baum made a big pub­lic show recent­ly claim­ing that, though it pains him that Tor takes so much mon­ey from the US mil­i­tary, he would nev­er take mon­ey from some­thing as evil as the CIA.

    Igno­rance is bliss.

    Appel­baum’s finan­cial rela­tion­ships with var­i­ous CIA spin­offs like Radio Free Asia and the BBG go fur­ther. From 2012 through 2013, Radio Free Asia trans­ferred about $1.1 mil­lion to Tor in the form of grants and con­tracts. This mil­lion dol­lars comes on top of anoth­er $3.4 mil­lion Tor received from Radio Free Asi­a’s par­ent agency, the BBG, start­ing from 2007.

    But Tor and Appel­baum are not the only ones hap­py to take mon­ey from the BBG/RFA.

    Take com­put­er researcher/privacy activist Har­ry Halpin, for exam­ple. Back in Novem­ber of 2014, Halpin smeared me as a con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist, and then false­ly accused me and Pan­do of being fund­ed by the CIA — sim­ply because I report­ed on Tor’s gov­ern­ment fund­ing. Turns out that Halpin’s next-gen­er­a­tion secure com­mu­ni­ca­tions out­fit, called LEAP, took more than $1 mil­lion from Radio Free Asia’s Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. Some­what iron­i­cal­ly, LEAP’s tech­nol­o­gy pow­ers the VPN ser­vices of RiseUp.Net, the rad­i­cal anar­chist tech col­lec­tive that pro­vides activists with email and secure com­mu­ni­ca­tions tools (and forces you to sign a thin­ly veiled anti-Com­mu­nist pledge before giv­ing you an account).

    Then there’s the ACLU’s Christo­pher Soghoian. A few months ago, he had vicious­ly attacked me and Pan­do for report­ing on Tor’s US gov­ern­ment fund­ing. But just the oth­er day, Soghoian went on Democ­ra­cy Now, and in the mid­dle of a seg­ment crit­i­ciz­ing the U.S. gov­ern­men­t’s run­away hack­ing and sur­veil­lance pro­grams, rec­om­mend­ed that peo­ple use a suite of encrypt­ed text and voice apps fund­ed by the very same intel­li­gence-con­nect­ed U.S. gov­ern­ment appa­ra­tus he was denounc­ing. Specif­i­cal­ly, Soghoian rec­om­mend­ed apps made by Open Whis­per Sys­tems, which got $1.35 mil­lion from Radio Free Asi­a’s Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund from 2013 through 2014.

    He told Amy Good­man:

    “These are best-of-breed free appli­ca­tions made by top secu­ri­ty researchers, and actu­al­ly sub­si­dized by the State Depart­ment and by the U.S. tax­pay­er. You can down­load these tools today. You can make encrypt­ed tele­phone calls. You can send encrypt­ed text mes­sages. You can real­ly up your game and pro­tect your com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

    When Good­man won­dered why the U.S. gov­ern­ment would fund pri­va­cy apps, he acknowl­edged that this tech­nol­o­gy is a soft-pow­er weapon of U.S. empire but then gave a very mud­dled and naive answer:

    CHRISTOPHER SOGHOIAN: Because they’re tools of for­eign pol­i­cy. You know, the U.S. gov­ern­ment isn’t this one machine with one per­son, you know, dic­tat­ing all of its poli­cies. You have these dif­fer­ent agen­cies squab­bling, some­times doing con­tra­dic­to­ry things. The U.S. gov­ern­ment, the State Depart­ment has spent mil­lions of dol­lars over the last 10 years to fund the cre­ation and the deploy­ment and improve­ment to secure com­mu­ni­ca­tions and secure com­put­ing tools that were intend­ed to allow activists in Chi­na and Iran to com­mu­ni­cate, that are intend­ed to allow jour­nal­ists to do their thing and spread news about democ­ra­cy with­out fear of inter­cep­tion and sur­veil­lance by the Chi­nese and oth­er gov­ern­ments.

    AMY GOODMAN: But maybe the U.S. gov­ern­ment has a way to break in.

    CHRISTOPHER SOGHOIAN: Well, you know, it’s pos­si­ble that they’ve dis­cov­ered flaws, but, you know, they have—the U.S. gov­ern­ment hasn’t been writ­ing the soft­ware. They’ve been giv­ing grants to high­ly respect­ed research teams, secu­ri­ty researchers and aca­d­e­mics, and these tools are about the best that we have. You know, I agree. I think it’s a lit­tle bit odd that, you know, the State Department’s fund­ing this, but these tools aren’t get­ting a lot of fund­ing from oth­er places. And so, as long as the State Depart­ment is will­ing to write them checks, I’m hap­py that the Tor Project and Whis­per Sys­tems and these oth­er orga­ni­za­tions are cash­ing them. They are cre­at­ing great tools and great tech­nol­o­gy that can real­ly improve our secu­ri­ty. And I hope that they’ll get more mon­ey in the future. It’s con­ve­nient and nice to believe that one hand of the U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty State does­n’t know what the oth­er hand is doing — espe­cial­ly when the liveli­hoods of you and your col­leagues depends on it. But as the long and dark covert intel­li­gence his­to­ry of the Broad­cast­ers Board of Gov­er­nors and Radio Free Asia so clear­ly shows, this think­ing is naive and wrong. It also shows just how effec­tive­ly the U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty State brought its oppo­si­tion into the fold.

    You’d think that anti-sur­veil­lance activists like Chris Soghoian, Jacob Appel­baum, Cory Doc­torow and Jil­lian York would be staunch­ly against out­fits like BBG and Radio Free Asia, and the role they have played — and con­tin­ue to play — in work­ing with defense and cor­po­rate inter­ests to project and impose U.S. pow­er abroad. Instead, these rad­i­cal activists have know­ing­ly joined the club, and in doing so, have become will­ing pitch­men for a wing of the very same U.S. Nation­al Secu­ri­ty State they so adamant­ly oppose.

    Wow. Take a moment to digest all that (and there’s a lot more in the full arti­cle). And take extra time, if need­ed, to digest this:

    ...
    Here’s a small sam­ple of what the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors fund­ed (through Radio Free Asia and then through the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund) between 2012 and 2014:

    * Open Whis­per Sys­tems, mak­er of free encrypt­ed text and voice mobile apps like TextSe­cure and Signal/RedPhone, got a gen­er­ous $1.35-million infu­sion. (Face­book recent­ly start­ed using Open Whis­per Sys­tems to secure its What­sApp mes­sages.)
    * Cryp­to­Cat, an encrypt­ed chat app made by Nadim Kobeis­si and pro­mot­ed by EFF, received $184,000.
    * LEAP, an email encryp­tion start­up, got just over $1 mil­lion. LEAP is cur­rent­ly being used to run secure VPN ser­vices at RiseUp.net, the rad­i­cal anar­chist com­mu­ni­ca­tion col­lec­tive.
    * A Wik­ileaks alter­na­tive called Glob­aLeaks (which was endorsed by the folks at Tor, includ­ing Jacob Appel­baum) received just under $350,000.
    * The Guardian Project — which makes an encrypt­ed chat app called Chat­Se­cure, as well a mobile ver­sion of Tor called Orbot — got $388,500.
    * The Tor Project received over $1 mil­lion from OTF to pay for secu­ri­ty audits, traf­fic analy­sis tools and set up fast Tor exit nodes in the Mid­dle East and South East Asia.

    In 2014, Con­gress mas­sive­ly upped the BBG’s “Inter­net free­dom” bud­get to $25 mil­lion, with half of that mon­ey flow­ing through RFA and into the Open Tech­nol­o­gy Fund. This $12.75 mil­lion rep­re­sent­ed a three-fold increase in OTF’s bud­get from 2013 — a con­sid­er­able expan­sion for an out­fit that was just a few years old. Clear­ly, it’s doing some­thing that the gov­ern­ment likes. A lot.
    ...

    Yes, the US gov­ern­ment helped devel­op things like TOR and an Wik­ileaks alter­na­tive by giv­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to anti-sur­veil­lance activist like Jacob Appel­baum.

    Giv­en all that, and giv­en the fact that TOR is an acronym for “the onion router”, it’s almost lit­tle sur­pris­ing that The Onion has appar­ent­ly nev­er writ­ten a TOR-relat­ed arti­cle. It seems like that arti­cle would write itself!

    Oh well, we’ll just have to set­tle for non-satir­i­cal arti­cles that mere­ly seem like they’re writ­ten for The Onion:

    Pan­do Dai­ly
    For­mer TOR head now work­ing for intel­li­gence con­trac­tor that pro­tects com­pa­nies against TOR

    By Mark Ames

    August 18, 2015

    About a year ago, Pando’s Yasha Levine pub­lished an exposé on the Tor project’s deeply con­flict­ed rela­tion­ship with a num­ber of US nation­al secu­ri­ty state agen­cies, includ­ing branch­es of the Pen­ta­gon, the State Depart­ment, and some old CIA cutouts.

    As we sub­se­quent­ly report­ed, one of Tor’s own senior devel­op­ers respond­ed to that arti­cle with a vicious, bizarre and relent­less online harass­ment cam­paign in which she and oth­ers repeat­ed­ly libeled and threat­ened Levine and oth­er staffers at Pan­do. By Decem­ber of last year, the online harass­ment cam­paign had reached new lev­els of crazi­ness, includ­ing plant­i­ng defam­a­to­ry arti­cles about Levine in the Guardian and the Los Ange­les Review of Books, both of which had to be retract­ed.

    For­tu­nate­ly there was one per­son at Tor who claimed to want no part of the harass­ment cam­paign: exec­u­tive direc­tor, Andrew Lew­man. After we report­ed on the behav­ior of Tor devel­op­ers, Lew­man con­tact­ed Pan­do edi­tor Paul Carr to try to bring some san­i­ty to the debate over Tor’s con­flict­ed finan­cial rela­tion­ship with the US gov­ern­ment mil­i­tary-intel­li­gence com­plex. Lew­man told Carr that, while he dis­agreed with Pando’s arti­cles crit­i­cal of Tor’s gov­ern­ment financ­ing, Tor respect­ed the val­ue of crit­i­cal inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism. Most impor­tant­ly, Lew­man told Carr that Tor’s senior lead­er­ship in no way sup­port­ed smear cam­paigns against jour­nal­ists.

    Sure enough, Lew­man lat­er con­firmed he was per­son­al­ly over­see­ing an inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into the Tor devel­op­er who had led the cam­paign against Levine. A cam­paign that was most like­ly ille­gal under US laws that ban orga­ni­za­tions fund­ed by the US State Depart­ment and CIA from being used to influ­ence domes­tic Amer­i­can opin­ion and domes­tic jour­nal­ism. Specif­i­cal­ly, the law still states that “no funds” from the US State Depart­ment and the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors “shall be used to influ­ence pub­lic opin­ion in the Unit­ed States.” Tor receives mil­lions of dol­lars in fund­ing from both the State Depart­ment and the BBG, which start­ed out as a Cold War CIA pro­pa­gan­da cutout.

    Lew­man con­clud­ed his inves­ti­ga­tion but before he could make the results pub­lic, the Tor Project sud­den­ly announced that Andrew Lew­man had resigned to join an unnamed “inter­net ser­vices com­pa­ny.” Around the same time, Tor announced it had hired a lead­ing pub­lic rela­tions firm, Thom­son Communications—whose clients include NSA part­ner Verizon—to han­dle Tor’s PR prob­lems. The inter­nal inves­ti­ga­tion was quick­ly buried.

    Ear­li­er this month, we final­ly learned the name of this mys­te­ri­ous “inter­net ser­vices com­pa­ny” that Lew­man has joined: San Mateo-based Norse, which describes itself as “the glob­al leader in live attack intel­li­gence.”

    Actu­al­ly, it goes fur­ther than that. Accord­ing to Norse’s about page:

    WE’RE KIND OF SPOOKY

    A bunch of our folks cut their teeth at one or anoth­er of those three-let­ter gov­ern­ment agen­cies, or proud­ly served in the armed forces. We know this busi­ness, from the front-lines appli­ca­tion of human coun­ter­in­tel, to sig­nals intel­li­gence to the van­guard of cyber intel­li­gence col­lec­tion from the dark­est cor­ners of the Inter­net.

    That’s right, after object­ing to Pando’s report­ing on Tor’s ties to US gov­ern­ment spooks, exec­u­tive direc­tor Andrew Lew­man quit to join a pri­vate intel­li­gence con­trac­tor that boasts of its ties to “three-let­ter gov­ern­ment agen­cies.”

    Among the spook­i­est of Norse’s top team mem­bers is board direc­tor Robert Lentz, for­mer Chief Infor­ma­tion Secu­ri­ty Office for the US Depart­ment of Defense where he head­ed the Pentagon’s cyber­se­cu­ri­ty pro­gram. Accord­ing to his Norse bio, Lentz’s 34-year career includ­ed stints in top DoD agen­cies as well as the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency. Norse co-founder Tom­my Stiansen boasts that he served as a Home­land Secu­ri­ty cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­sul­tant dur­ing the Bush years, while the company’s Chief Secu­ri­ty Strate­gist, Bri­an Con­tos, boasts of his work for the Defense Infor­ma­tion Sys­tems Agency (DISA)—which han­dles com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the exec­u­tive branch and mil­i­tary. Con­tos also co-authored a book with the for­mer deputy direc­tor of the NSA, William Crow­ell.

    Lewman’s move from Tor — anoth­er gov­ern­ment fund­ed three let­ter agency — to Norse is even more pecu­liar when you con­sid­er the com­pa­ny boasts of being the lead­ing mon­i­tor of and defense against attacks from the Dark Net. The very same Dark Net that runs in large part on Tor.

    In oth­er words, the US gov­ern­ment funds Tor which, while head­ed by Andrew Lew­man, helps cre­ate and exac­er­bate the Dark Net crime prob­lem; which Norse then offers to solve, count­ing sev­er­al US gov­ern­ment agen­cies among its clients. What a great busi­ness that is: where you cre­ate the prob­lem via a gov­ern­ment-fund­ed non-prof­it, and then also cre­ate the for-prof­it solu­tion, pock­et­ing prof­its off gov­ern­ment con­tracts on the oth­er end.

    ...

    Well, it looks like onions have a whole new way to make us cry (not that they need­ed more options).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 18, 2015, 6:13 pm
  2. The era of Big Data has undoubt­ed­ly been a spy’s par­adise in many ways. From social media to facial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­o­gy, more infor­ma­tion about vir­tu­al­ly every­one is being gen­er­at­ed at greater vol­umes than ever before. Every­one includ­ing the spies them­selves, along with all of the peo­ple who work in intel­li­gence-relat­ed work. That’s the catch to this spy par­adise: even the spies them­selves are being spied on. By default. That’s just how our Big Data infra­struc­ture works. The cam­eras com­par­ing your face to a data­base of peo­ple does­n’t care if you work for the CIA or not. It rais­es the ques­tion of how the glob­al intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty can man­age to oper­ate while keep­ing its own agents and oper­a­tives out­side of that glob­al Big Data net­work of data­base.

    And that brings us to a remark­able exclu­sive piece pub­lished a Newsweek last month that gives us a glimpse into the efforts under­way by the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty and mil­i­tary over the last decade to do exact­ly that and keep its army of spies, spe­cial forces oper­a­tives, and sen­si­tive con­trac­tors off the Bid Data glob­al ‘grid’. The piece describes a kind of shad­ow army that not only obscures the iden­ti­ties and lives of spies, but also the lives of the peo­ple work­ing in the indus­tries that pro­vide the ‘sig­na­ture reduc­tion’ ser­vices need­ed to keep this shad­ow army in the shad­ows. An army so secret even the mem­bers them­selves don’t know the exact size or scope of it, although we are told it com­pris­es a force 10 times the size of the CIA’s clan­des­tine ser­vices or rough­ly 60,000 peo­ple.

    What falls under the cat­e­go­ry of ‘sig­na­ture reduc­tion’? There isn’t a for­mal def­i­n­i­tion but it sounds like it’s every­thing that helps agents main­tain a secret iden­ti­ty while poten­tial­ly tra­vers­ing the world. So A LOT goes into sig­na­ture reduc­tion. It can range from James Bond-like cos­tumes and dis­guis­es or spe­cial hid­den encrypt­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions tools to devel­op­ing the hack­er-like abil­i­ty to manip­u­late pub­lic data­bas­es as need­ed or even involve inter­fere with facial recog­ni­tion soft­ware on the fly. Remem­ber that May 2014 Ger­man arti­cle describ­ing a BND pro­gram that could real-time manip­u­late bio­met­rics and image data­bas­es? As we should have expect­ed, the BND clear­ly was­n’t the only agency work­ing on that kind of capa­bil­i­ty. Some 130 com­pa­nies are secret­ly pro­vid­ing sig­na­ture reduc­tion ser­vices for the US accord­ing to this report.

    It sounds like online sock-pup­petry is anoth­er major area of focus for this secret army, with “cyber fight­ers” assum­ing false online per­sonas and either set­ting out to col­lect infor­ma­tion or engage in influ­ence cam­paigns. While we don’t know how large this ‘key­board army’ is, we’re told hun­dreds work for the NSA in this man­ner and every mil­i­tary intel­li­gence and spe­cial oper­a­tions unit has devel­oped some kind of web oper­a­tions cell over the past five years. Recall that we got reports back in 2011 of the Air Force devel­op­ing soft­ware what would allow indi­vid­u­als to man­age dozens of sock pup­pet online accounts that could appear to be post­ed from any­where in the world. So what we are learn­ing about now is pre­sum­ably a more advanced, and secret, ver­sion of that effort.

    Part of the pur­pose of the sig­na­ture reduc­tion work is described as pro­tect­ing US oper­a­tives and their fam­i­lies from being doxxed and fac­ing harass­ment or worse from ter­ror­ist groups. But per­haps the most omi­nous part of this report is the descrip­tion of sig­na­ture reduc­tion as being at the cen­ter of not just counter-ter­ror­ism but also the Pen­tagon’s shift towards pow­er com­pe­ti­tion with Rus­sia and Chi­na. A great pow­er con­flict described as com­pe­ti­tion, influ­ence, and dis­rup­tion “below the lev­el of armed con­flict,” or what the mil­i­tary calls war­fare in the “Gray Zone,” a space “in the peace-con­flict con­tin­u­um.” In oth­er words, the nation­al desta­bi­liza­tion cam­paigns that con­sti­tute much of 21st cen­tu­ry war­fare.

    So we appear to have received a sort of ‘heads up’ from this secret army about its exis­tence. We don’t get to know much more than that, by def­i­n­i­tion. But as this report makes clear, the under­ly­ing con­di­tions that made the cre­ation of this mas­sive sig­na­ture reduc­tion force a neces­si­ty — our Big Data future — isn’t going away. The dynam­ics at work ensure that this secret army is only going to get larg­er and more secre­tive:

    Newsweek

    Exclu­sive: Inside the Mil­i­tary’s Secret Under­cov­er Army

    By William M. Arkin On 5/17/21 at 5:30 AM EDT

    The largest under­cov­er force the world has ever known is the one cre­at­ed by the Pen­ta­gon over the past decade. Some 60,000 peo­ple now belong to this secret army, many work­ing under masked iden­ti­ties and in low pro­file, all part of a broad pro­gram called “sig­na­ture reduc­tion.” The force, more than ten times the size of the clan­des­tine ele­ments of the CIA, car­ries out domes­tic and for­eign assign­ments, both in mil­i­tary uni­forms and under civil­ian cov­er, in real life and online, some­times hid­ing in pri­vate busi­ness­es and con­sul­tan­cies, some of them house­hold name com­pa­nies.

    The unprece­dent­ed shift has placed an ever greater num­ber of sol­diers, civil­ians, and con­trac­tors work­ing under false iden­ti­ties, part­ly as a nat­ur­al result in the growth of secret spe­cial forces but also as an inten­tion­al response to the chal­lenges of trav­el­ing and oper­at­ing in an increas­ing­ly trans­par­ent world. The explo­sion of Pen­ta­gon cyber war­fare, more­over, has led to thou­sands of spies who car­ry out their day-to-day work in var­i­ous made-up per­sonas, the very type of nefar­i­ous oper­a­tions the Unit­ed States decries when Russ­ian and Chi­nese spies do the same.

    Newsweek’s exclu­sive report on this secret world is the result of a two-year inves­ti­ga­tion involv­ing the exam­i­na­tion of over 600 resumes and 1,000 job post­ings, dozens of Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act requests, and scores of inter­views with par­tic­i­pants and defense deci­sion-mak­ers. What emerges is a win­dow into not just a lit­tle-known sec­tor of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary, but also a com­plete­ly unreg­u­lat­ed prac­tice. No one knows the pro­gram’s total size, and the explo­sion of sig­na­ture reduc­tion has nev­er been exam­ined for its impact on mil­i­tary poli­cies and cul­ture. Con­gress has nev­er held a hear­ing on the sub­ject. And yet the mil­i­tary devel­op­ing this gigan­tic clan­des­tine force chal­lenges U.S. laws, the Gene­va Con­ven­tions, the code of mil­i­tary con­duct and basic account­abil­i­ty.

    The sig­na­ture reduc­tion effort engages some 130 pri­vate com­pa­nies to admin­is­ter the new clan­des­tine world. Dozens of lit­tle known and secret gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tions sup­port the pro­gram, dol­ing out clas­si­fied con­tracts and over­see­ing pub­licly unac­knowl­edged oper­a­tions. Alto­geth­er the com­pa­nies pull in over $900 mil­lion annu­al­ly to ser­vice the clan­des­tine force—doing every­thing from cre­at­ing false doc­u­men­ta­tion and pay­ing the bills (and tax­es) of indi­vid­u­als oper­at­ing under assumed names, to man­u­fac­tur­ing dis­guis­es and oth­er devices to thwart detec­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, to build­ing invis­i­ble devices to pho­to­graph and lis­ten in on activ­i­ty in the most remote cor­ners of the Mid­dle East and Africa.

    Spe­cial oper­a­tions forces con­sti­tute over half the entire sig­na­ture reduc­tion force, the shad­ow war­riors who pur­sue ter­ror­ists in war zones from Pak­istan to West Africa but also increas­ing­ly work in unac­knowl­edged hot spots, includ­ing behind ene­my lines in places like North Korea and Iran. Mil­i­tary intel­li­gence specialists—collectors, counter-intel­li­gence agents, even linguists—make up the sec­ond largest ele­ment: thou­sands deployed at any one time with some degree of “cov­er” to pro­tect their true iden­ti­ties.

    The newest and fastest grow­ing group is the clan­des­tine army that nev­er leaves their key­boards. These are the cut­ting-edge cyber fight­ers and intel­li­gence col­lec­tors who assume false per­sonas online, employ­ing “nonat­tri­bu­tion” and “mis­at­tri­bu­tion” tech­niques to hide the who and the where of their online pres­ence while they search for high-val­ue tar­gets and col­lect what is called “pub­licly acces­si­ble information”—or even engage in cam­paigns to influ­ence and manip­u­late social media. Hun­dreds work in and for the NSA, but over the past five years, every mil­i­tary intel­li­gence and spe­cial oper­a­tions unit has devel­oped some kind of “web” oper­a­tions cell that both col­lects intel­li­gence and tends to the oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty of its very activ­i­ties.

    In the elec­tron­ic era, a major task of sig­na­ture reduc­tion is keep­ing all of the orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple, even the auto­mo­biles and air­craft involved in the clan­des­tine oper­a­tions, masked. This pro­tec­tive effort entails every­thing from scrub­bing the Inter­net of tell­tale signs of true iden­ti­ties to plant­i­ng false infor­ma­tion to pro­tect mis­sions and peo­ple. As stan­dard unfor­get­table iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and bio­met­rics have become world­wide norms, the sig­na­ture reduc­tion indus­try also works to fig­ure out ways of spoof­ing and defeat­ing every­thing from fin­ger­print­ing and facial recog­ni­tion at bor­der cross­ings, to ensur­ing that under­cov­er oper­a­tives can enter and oper­ate in the Unit­ed States, manip­u­lat­ing offi­cial records to ensure that false iden­ti­ties match up.

    Just as bio­met­rics and “Real ID” are the ene­mies of clan­des­tine work, so too is the “dig­i­tal exhaust” of online life. One major con­cern of counter-ter­ror­ism work in the ISIS age is that mil­i­tary fam­i­lies are also vulnerable—another rea­son, par­tic­i­pants say, to oper­ate under false iden­ti­ties. The abun­dance of online infor­ma­tion about indi­vid­u­als (togeth­er with some spec­tac­u­lar for­eign hacks) has enabled for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vices to bet­ter unmask fake iden­ti­ties of Amer­i­can spies. Sig­na­ture reduc­tion is thus at the cen­ter of not only counter-ter­ror­ism but is part of the Pen­tagon’s shift towards great pow­er com­pe­ti­tion with Rus­sia and China—competition, influ­ence, and dis­rup­tion “below the lev­el of armed con­flict,” or what the mil­i­tary calls war­fare in the “Gray Zone,” a space “in the peace-con­flict con­tin­u­um.”

    One recent­ly retired senior offi­cer respon­si­ble for over­see­ing sig­na­ture reduc­tion and super-secret “spe­cial access pro­grams” that shield them from scruti­ny and com­pro­mise says that no one is ful­ly aware of the extent of the pro­gram, nor has much con­sid­er­a­tion been giv­en to the impli­ca­tions for the mil­i­tary insti­tu­tion. “Every­thing from the sta­tus of the Gene­va Conventions—were a sol­dier oper­at­ing under false iden­ti­ty to be cap­tured by an enemy—to Con­gres­sion­al over­sight is prob­lem­at­ic,” he says. He wor­ries that the desire to become more invis­i­ble to the ene­my not just obscures what the Unit­ed States is doing around the world but also makes it more dif­fi­cult to bring con­flicts to a close. “Most peo­ple haven’t even heard of the term sig­na­ture reduc­tion let alone what it cre­ates,” he says. The offi­cer spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because he is dis­cussing high­ly clas­si­fied mat­ters.

    The secret life of Jonathan Dar­by

    Every morn­ing at 10:00 a.m., Jonathan Dar­by embarks on his week­ly rounds of mail call. Dar­by is not his real name, but it is also not the fake name on his Mis­souri dri­ver’s license that he uses to con­duct his work. And the gov­ern­ment car he dri­ves, one of a fleet of over 200,000 fed­er­al vehi­cles owned by the Gen­er­al Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion, is also not reg­is­tered in his real or his fake name, and nor are his mag­net­i­cal­ly attached Mary­land state license plates real­ly for his car, nor are they trace­able back to him or his orga­ni­za­tion. Where Dar­by works and the loca­tions he vis­its are also clas­si­fied.

    Dar­by’s retired from the Army, and he asks that nei­ther his real nor his cov­er name be used. He served for 20 years in coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence, includ­ing two African assign­ments where he oper­at­ed in low pro­file in Ethiopia and Sudan, mas­querad­ing as an expat busi­ness­man. Now he works for a Mary­land-based sig­na­ture reduc­tion con­trac­tor that he asked Newsweek not to iden­ti­fy.

    As Dar­by makes his rounds to some 40 or so post offices and store­front mail­box stores in the DC Met­ro­pol­i­tan area, he picks up a trunk full of let­ters and pack­ages, mail­ing a sim­i­lar num­ber from rur­al address­es. Back at the office, he sorts through the take, deliv­er­ing bills to the finance peo­ple and pro­cess­ing dozens of per­son­al and busi­ness let­ters mailed from scores of over­seas loca­tions. But his main task is log­ging and for­ward­ing the sig­na­ture reduc­tion “mech­a­nisms” as they are called, pass­ports and State dri­ver’s licens­es for peo­ple who don’t exist, and oth­er papers—bills, tax doc­u­ments, orga­ni­za­tion mem­ber­ship cards—that form the foun­da­tion of fake iden­ti­ties.

    To reg­is­ter and dou­ble-check the authen­tic­i­ty of his dai­ly take, Dar­by logs into two data­bas­es, one the Trav­el and Iden­ti­ty Doc­u­ment data­base, the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty’s repos­i­to­ry of exam­ples of 300,000 gen­uine, coun­ter­feit and altered for­eign pass­ports and visas; and the oth­er the Cov­er Acqui­si­tion Man­age­ment Sys­tem, a super-secret reg­is­ter of false iden­ti­ties where the “mech­a­nisms” used by clan­des­tine oper­a­tors are logged. For false iden­ti­ties trav­el­ing over­seas, Dar­by and his col­leagues also have to alter data­bas­es of U.S. immi­gra­tion and cus­toms to ensure that those per­form­ing illic­it activ­i­ties can return to the Unit­ed States unmo­lest­ed.

    For iden­ti­ty ver­i­fi­ca­tion, Dar­by’s unit works with secret offices at Home­land Secu­ri­ty and the State Depart­ment as well as almost all 50 states in enrolling authen­tic “mech­a­nisms” under false names. A rare pic­ture into this world came in April 2013 when an enter­pris­ing reporter at North­west Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing did a sto­ry sug­gest­ing the scale of this secret pro­gram. His report revealed that the state of Wash­ing­ton alone had pro­vid­ed hun­dreds of valid state dri­ver licens­es in fic­ti­tious names to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. The exis­tence of the “con­fi­den­tial dri­ver license pro­gram,” as it was called, was unknown even to the gov­er­nor.

    Before the Inter­net, Dar­by says—before a local cop or a bor­der guard was con­nect­ed to cen­tral data­bas­es in real time—all an oper­a­tive need­ed to be “under­cov­er” was an ID with a gen­uine pho­to. These days, how­ev­er, espe­cial­ly for those oper­at­ing under deep cov­er, the so-called “leg­end” behind an iden­ti­ty has to match more than just a made-up name. Dar­by calls it “due dili­gence”: the cre­ation of this trail of fake exis­tence. Fake birth­places and home address­es have to be care­ful­ly researched, fake email lives and social media accounts have to be cre­at­ed. And those exis­tences need to have cor­re­spond­ing “friends.” Almost every indi­vid­ual unit that oper­ates clandestinely—special oper­a­tions, intel­li­gence col­lec­tions, or cyber—has a sig­na­ture reduc­tion sec­tion, most­ly oper­at­ed by small con­trac­tors, con­duct­ing due dili­gence. There they adhere to what Dar­by calls the six prin­ci­ples of sig­na­ture reduc­tion: cred­i­bil­i­ty, com­pat­i­bil­i­ty, real­ism, sup­port­a­bil­i­ty, ver­i­ty and com­pli­ance.

    Com­pli­ance is a big one, Dar­by says, espe­cial­ly because of the world that 9/11 cre­at­ed, where check­points are com­mon and nefar­i­ous activ­i­ty is more close­ly scru­ti­nized. To keep some­one covert for real, and to do so for any peri­od of time, requires a time con­sum­ing dance that not only has to tend to some­one’s oper­a­tional iden­ti­ty but also main­tain their real life back home. As Dar­by explains it, this includes clan­des­tine bill pay­ing but also work­ing with banks and cred­it card secu­ri­ty depart­ments to look the oth­er way as they search for iden­ti­ty fraud or mon­ey laun­der­ing. And then, sig­na­ture reduc­tion tech­ni­cians need to ensure that real cred­it scores are maintained—and even real tax­es and Social Secu­ri­ty pay­ments are kept up to date—so that peo­ple can go back to their dor­mant lives when their sig­na­ture reduc­tion assign­ments cease.

    Dar­by’s unit, orig­i­nal­ly called the Oper­a­tional Plan­ning and Trav­el Intel­li­gence Cen­ter, is respon­si­ble for over­see­ing much of this (and to do so it oper­ates the Pen­tagon’s largest mil­i­tary finance office), but documentation—as impor­tant as it is—is only one piece of the puz­zle. Oth­er orga­ni­za­tions are respon­si­ble for design­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing the cus­tom dis­guis­es and “bio­met­ric defeat” ele­ments to facil­i­tate trav­el. Dar­by says this is where all the Spe­cial Access Pro­grams are. SAPs, the most secret cat­e­go­ry of gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion, pro­tect the meth­ods used—and the clan­des­tine capa­bil­i­ties that exist—to manip­u­late for­eign sys­tems to get around seem­ing­ly fool­proof safe­guards includ­ing fin­ger­print­ing and facial recog­ni­tion.

    ‘Sig­na­ture reduc­tion’ is a term of art

    Numer­ous sig­na­ture reduc­tion SAPs, pro­grams with names like Hur­ri­cane Fan, Island Hop­per and Peanut Choco­late, are admin­is­tered by a shad­owy world of secret orga­ni­za­tions that ser­vice the clan­des­tine army—the Defense Pro­grams Sup­port Activ­i­ty, Joint Field Sup­port Cen­ter, Army Field Sup­port Cen­ter, Per­son­nel Resources Devel­op­ment Office, Office of Mil­i­tary Sup­port, Project Car­di­nals, and the Spe­cial Pro­gram Office.

    Befit­ting how secret this world is, there is no unclas­si­fied def­i­n­i­tion of sig­na­ture reduc­tion. The Defense Intel­li­gence Agency—which oper­ates the Defense Clan­des­tine Ser­vice and the Defense Cov­er Office—says that sig­na­ture reduc­tion is a term of art, one that “indi­vid­u­als might use to ... describe oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty (OPSEC) mea­sures for a vari­ety of activ­i­ties and oper­a­tions.” In response to Newsweek queries that point out that dozens of peo­ple have used the term to refer to this world, DIA sug­gests that per­haps the Pen­ta­gon can help. But the respon­si­ble per­son there, iden­ti­fied as a DOD spokesper­son, says only that “as it relates to HUMINT operations”—meaning human intel­li­gence— sig­na­ture reduc­tion “is not an offi­cial term” and that it is used to describe “mea­sures tak­en to pro­tect oper­a­tions.”

    Anoth­er senior for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cial, some­one who ran an entire agency and asks not to be named because he is not autho­rized to speak about clan­des­tine oper­a­tions, says that sig­na­ture reduc­tion exists in a “twi­light” between covert and under­cov­er. The for­mer, defined in law, is sub­ject to pres­i­den­tial approval and offi­cial­ly belongs to the CIA’s Nation­al Clan­des­tine Ser­vice. The lat­ter con­notes strict­ly law enforce­ment efforts under­tak­en by peo­ple with a badge. And then there is the Wit­ness Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram, admin­is­tered by the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, which tends to the fake iden­ti­ties and lives of peo­ple who have been reset­tled in exchange for their coop­er­a­tion with pros­e­cu­tors and intel­li­gence agen­cies.

    The mil­i­tary does­n’t con­duct covert oper­a­tions, the senior for­mer offi­cial says, and mil­i­tary per­son­nel don’t fight under­cov­er. That is, except when they do, either because indi­vid­u­als are assigned—“sheep dipped”—to the CIA, or because cer­tain mil­i­tary orga­ni­za­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly those of the Joint Spe­cial Oper­a­tions Com­mand, oper­ate like the CIA, often along­side them in covert sta­tus, where peo­ple who depend on each oth­er for their lives don’t know each oth­er’s real names. Then there are an increas­ing num­ber of gov­ern­ment investigators—military, FBI, home­land secu­ri­ty and even state officials—who are not under­cov­er per se but who avail them­selves of sig­na­ture reduc­tion sta­tus like fake IDs and fake license plates when they work domes­ti­cal­ly, par­tic­u­lar­ly when they are engaged in extreme vet­ting of Amer­i­can cit­i­zens of Arab, South Asian, and increas­ing­ly African back­ground, who have applied for secu­ri­ty clear­ances.

    ‘Get Smart’?

    In May 2013, in an almost com­i­cal inci­dent more rem­i­nis­cent of “Get Smart” than skilled spy­ing, Moscow ordered a U.S. embassy “third sec­re­tary” by the name of Ryan Fogle to leave the coun­try, releas­ing pho­tos of Fogle wear­ing an ill-fit­ting blond wig and car­ry­ing an odd col­lec­tion of seem­ing­ly ama­teur­ish paraphernalia—four pairs of sun­glass­es, a street map, a com­pass, a flash­light, a Swiss Army knife and a cell phone—so old, one arti­cle said, it looked like it had “been on this earth for at least a decade.”

    The inter­na­tion­al news media had a field day, many retired CIA peo­ple decry­ing the decline of trade­craft, most of the com­men­tary opin­ing how we’d moved on from the old world of wigs and fake rocks, a ref­er­ence to Great Britain admit­ting just a year ear­li­er that indeed it was the own­er of a fake rock and its hid­den com­mu­ni­ca­tions device, anoth­er dis­cov­ery of Russ­ian intel­li­gence in Moscow.

    Six years lat­er, anoth­er espi­onage case hit the news, this time when a jury sent for­mer Amer­i­can mil­i­tary intel­li­gence offi­cer Kevin Patrick Mal­lo­ry to 20 years in prison for con­spir­ing to sell secrets to Chi­na. There was noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly unique about the Mal­lo­ry case, the pros­e­cu­tion mak­ing its own show of pre­sent­ing the jury with a col­lec­tion of wigs and fake mus­tach­es look­ing like Hal­loween cos­tumes, the whole thing seem­ing­ly anoth­er fun­ny episode of clum­sy dis­guise.

    And yet, says Bren­da Con­nol­ly (not her real name), one would be naïve to laugh too hard, for both cas­es pro­vide a peek into the new tricks of the trade and the extreme secre­cy that hides them. Con­nol­ly start­ed her engi­neer­ing career at the Direc­torate of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy at the CIA and now works for a small defense con­trac­tor that pro­duces the gizmos—think “Q” in the James Bond movies, she says—for sig­na­ture reduc­tion oper­a­tions.

    That “ancient” Nokia phone car­ried by Ryan Fogle, she says, was noth­ing of the sort, the innocu­ous out­sides con­ceal­ing what she calls a “covert com­mu­ni­ca­tions” device inside. Sim­i­lar­ly, entered in evi­dence in Mal­lo­ry case was a Sam­sung phone giv­en to him by Chi­nese intel­li­gence that was so sophis­ti­cat­ed that even when the FBI cloned it elec­tron­i­cal­ly, they could not find a hid­den par­ti­tion used to store secrets and one that Mal­lo­ry ulti­mate­ly had to reveal to them.

    Lost in the spy-vs-spy the­ater of both cas­es were oth­er clues of mod­ern sig­na­ture reduc­tion, Con­nol­ly says. Fogle also car­ried an RFID shield, a radio fre­quen­cy iden­ti­fi­ca­tion block­ing pouch intend­ed to pre­vent elec­tron­ic track­ing. And Mal­lo­ry had vials of fake blood pro­vid­ed by Chi­na; Con­nol­ly would not reveal what it would be used for.

    Like many peo­ple in this world, Con­nol­ly is a con­nois­seur and cura­tor. She can talk for hours about the broad­casts that used to go out from the Sovi­et Union—but also were trans­mit­ted from War­ren­ton, Virginia—female voic­es recit­ing ran­dom num­bers and pas­sages from books that agents around the world would pick up on their short­wave radios and match to pre­arranged codes.

    But then Inter­net cafes and online back­doors became the clan­des­tine chan­nels of choice for covert com­mu­ni­ca­tions, large­ly replac­ing shortwave—until the sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies (espe­cial­ly in auto­crat­ic coun­tries) caught up and intel­li­gence agen­cies acquired an abil­i­ty not only to detect and inter­cept inter­net activ­i­ty but also to inter­cept every key­stroke of activ­i­ty on a remote key­board. That ush­ered in today’s world of covert com­mu­ni­ca­tions or COVCOMM, as insid­ers call it. These are very spe­cial encryp­tion devices seen in the Fogle and Mal­lo­ry cas­es, but also dozens of dif­fer­ent “burst mode” trans­mit­ters and receivers secret­ed in every­day objects like fake rocks. All an agent or oper­a­tor needs to acti­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions with these COV­COMMs in some cas­es is to sim­ply walk by a tar­get receiv­er (a build­ing or fake rock) and the clan­des­tine mes­sages are encrypt­ed and trans­mit­ted back to spe­cial watch cen­ters.

    “And who do you think implants those devices?” Con­nol­ly asks rhetor­i­cal­ly. “Mil­i­tary guys, spe­cial ops guys work­ing to sup­port even more secre­tive oper­a­tions.” Con­nol­ly talks about heat­ed fab­rics that make sol­diers invis­i­ble to ther­mal detec­tion, elec­tric motor­cy­cles that can silent­ly oper­ate in the rough­est ter­rain, even how tens of feet of wires are sown into “native” cloth­ing, the South Asian shal­war kameez, the sol­diers them­selves then becom­ing walk­ing receivers, able to inter­cept near­by low-pow­er radios and even cell phone sig­nals.

    Fake hands, fake faces

    Wigs. Covert com­mu­ni­ca­tions devices. Fake rocks. In our world of elec­tron­ic every­thing, where every­thing becomes a mat­ter of record, where you can’t enter a park­ing garage with­out the license plate being record­ed, where you can’t check in for a flight or a hotel with­out a gov­ern­ment issued ID, where you can’t use a cred­it card with­out the loca­tion being cap­tured, how can bio­met­rics can be defeat­ed? How can some­one get past fin­ger­print read­ers?

    In 99 out of 100 cas­es, the answer is: there is no need to. Most sig­na­ture reduc­tion sol­diers trav­el under real names, exchang­ing oper­a­tional iden­ti­ties only once on the ground where they oper­ate. Or they infil­trate across bor­ders in places like Pak­istan and Yemen, con­duct­ing the most dan­ger­ous mis­sions. These sig­na­ture reduc­tion mis­sions are the most high­ly sen­si­tive and involve “close in” intel­li­gence col­lec­tion or the use of minia­tur­ized ene­my track­ing devices, each exist­ing in their own spe­cial access programs—missions that are so sen­si­tive they have to be per­son­al­ly approved by the Sec­re­tary of Defense.

    For the one per­cent, though, for those who have to make it through pass­port con­trol under false iden­ti­ties, there are var­i­ous bio­met­rics defeat sys­tems, some phys­i­cal and some elec­tron­ic. One such pro­gram was allud­ed to in a lit­tle noticed doc­u­ment dump pub­lished by Wik­ileaks in ear­ly 2017 and called “Vault 7”: over 8,000 clas­si­fied CIA tools used in the covert world of elec­tron­ic spy­ing and hack­ing. It is called Express­Lane, where U.S. intel­li­gence has embed­ded mal­ware into for­eign bio­met­rics and watch­list sys­tems, allow­ing Amer­i­can cyber spies to steal for­eign data.

    An IT wiz­ard work­ing for Wik­ileaks in Berlin says the code with Express­Lane sug­gests that the Unit­ed States can manip­u­late these data­bas­es. “Imag­ine for a moment that some­one is going through pass­port con­trol,” he says, hes­i­tant to use his real name because of fear of indict­ment in the Unit­ed States. “NSA or the CIA is tasked to corrupt—change—the data on the day the covert asset goes through. And then switch it back. It’s not impos­si­ble.”

    Anoth­er source point­ed to a small rur­al North Car­oli­na com­pa­ny in the sig­na­ture reduc­tion indus­try, most­ly in the clan­des­tine col­lec­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions field. In the work­shop and train­ing facil­i­ty where they teach oper­a­tors how to fab­ri­cate secret lis­ten­ing devices into every­day objects, they are at the cut­ting edge, or so their pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als say, a repos­i­to­ry for mold­ing and cast­ing, spe­cial paint­ing, and sophis­ti­cat­ed aging tech­niques.

    This qui­et com­pa­ny can trans­form any object, includ­ing a per­son, as they do in Hol­ly­wood, a “sil­i­con face appli­ance” sculpt­ed to per­fect­ly alter some­one’s looks. They can age, change gen­der, and “increase body mass,” as one clas­si­fied con­tract says. And they can change fin­ger­prints using a sil­i­con sleeve that so snug­ly fits over a real hand it can’t be detect­ed, embed­ding altered fin­ger­prints and even impreg­nat­ed with the oils found in real skin. Asked whether the appli­ance is effec­tive, one source, who has gone through the train­ing, laughs. “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”

    In real life, iden­ti­ty theft (most­ly by crim­i­nals’ intent on prof­it) remains an epi­dem­ic that affects every­one, but for those in the intel­li­gence and counter-ter­ror­ism worlds, the ene­my is also active­ly engaged in efforts to com­pro­mise per­son­al infor­ma­tion. In 2015, the Islam­ic State post­ed the names, pho­tos and address­es of over 1,300 U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel, instruct­ing sup­port­ers to tar­get and kill the iden­ti­fied indi­vid­u­als. The FBI said that the release was fol­lowed by sus­pect­ed Russ­ian hack­ers who mas­quer­ad­ed as mem­bers of ISIS and threat­ened mil­i­tary fam­i­lies through Face­book. “We know every­thing about you, your hus­band and your chil­dren,” one men­ac­ing mes­sage said.

    ...

    It was revealed that mil­i­tary per­son­nel shar­ing loca­tion infor­ma­tion in their fit­ness devices were appar­ent­ly reveal­ing the loca­tions of sen­si­tive oper­a­tions mere­ly by jog­ging and shar­ing their data. “The rapid devel­op­ment of new and inno­v­a­tive infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies enhances the qual­i­ty of our lives but also pos­es poten­tial chal­lenges to oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty and force pro­tec­tion,” U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand said in a state­ment at the time to the Wash­ing­ton Post.

    Then came the DNA scare, when Adm. John Richard­son, then chief of naval oper­a­tions, warned mil­i­tary per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies to stop using at-home ances­try DNA test kits. “Be care­ful who you send your DNA to,” Richard­son said, warn­ing that sci­en­tif­ic advance­ments would be able to exploit the infor­ma­tion, cre­at­ing more and more tar­get­ed bio­log­i­cal weapons in the future. And indeed in 2019, the Pen­ta­gon offi­cial­ly advised mil­i­tary per­son­nel to steer clear of pop­u­lar DNA ser­vices. “Expos­ing sen­si­tive genet­ic infor­ma­tion to out­side par­ties pos­es per­son­al and oper­a­tional risks to Ser­vice mem­bers,” said the memo, first report­ed by Yahoo news.

    “We’re still in the infan­cy of our trans­par­ent world,” says the retired senior offi­cer, cau­tion­ing against imag­in­ing that there is some “iden­ti­ty gap” sim­i­lar to the “bomber gap” of the Cold War. “We’re win­ning this war, includ­ing on the cyber side, even if secre­cy about what we are doing makes the media por­tray­al of the Rus­sians again look like they are ten feet tall.”

    He admits that pro­cess­ing big data in the future will like­ly fur­ther impinge on every­one’s clan­des­tine oper­a­tions, but he says the ben­e­fits to soci­ety, even nar­row­ly in just mak­ing ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty and trav­el that much more dif­fi­cult, out­weigh the dif­fi­cul­ties cre­at­ed for mil­i­tary oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty. The offi­cer calls the secre­cy legit­i­mate but says that the Defense Depart­ment lead­er­ship has dropped the ball in rec­og­niz­ing the big pic­ture. The mil­i­tary ser­vices should be ask­ing more ques­tions about the ethics, pro­pri­ety and even legal­i­ty of sol­diers being turned into spies and assas­sins, and what this means for the future.

    Still, the world of sig­na­ture reduc­tion keeps grow­ing: evi­dence, says the retired offi­cer, that mod­ern life is not as trans­par­ent as most of us think.

    ———–

    “Exclu­sive: Inside the Mil­i­tary’s Secret Under­cov­er Army” by William M. Arkin; Newsweek; 05/17/2021

    Newsweek’s exclu­sive report on this secret world is the result of a two-year inves­ti­ga­tion involv­ing the exam­i­na­tion of over 600 resumes and 1,000 job post­ings, dozens of Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act requests, and scores of inter­views with par­tic­i­pants and defense deci­sion-mak­ers. What emerges is a win­dow into not just a lit­tle-known sec­tor of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary, but also a com­plete­ly unreg­u­lat­ed prac­tice. No one knows the pro­gram’s total size, and the explo­sion of sig­na­ture reduc­tion has nev­er been exam­ined for its impact on mil­i­tary poli­cies and cul­ture. Con­gress has nev­er held a hear­ing on the sub­ject. And yet the mil­i­tary devel­op­ing this gigan­tic clan­des­tine force chal­lenges U.S. laws, the Gene­va Con­ven­tions, the code of mil­i­tary con­duct and basic account­abil­i­ty.”

    The US has cre­at­ed a secret army so well hid­den it’s nev­er been exam­ined before. Sure, there US has long had a vast nation­al secu­ri­ty state with plen­ty of secre­cy. The Man­hat­tan Project was­n’t exact­ly a high pro­file endeav­or. But it sounds like it’s just in the last decade or so when this army for ‘sig­na­ture reduc­tion’ real­ly explod­ed to the point where there are 130 pri­vate com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing these sig­na­ture reduc­tion ser­vices. From spe­cial forces to ‘key­board com­man­dos’, the range of actors in the 21st cen­tu­ry in need of sig­na­ture reduc­tion ser­vices just keeps grow­ing:

    ...
    The sig­na­ture reduc­tion effort engages some 130 pri­vate com­pa­nies to admin­is­ter the new clan­des­tine world. Dozens of lit­tle known and secret gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tions sup­port the pro­gram, dol­ing out clas­si­fied con­tracts and over­see­ing pub­licly unac­knowl­edged oper­a­tions. Alto­geth­er the com­pa­nies pull in over $900 mil­lion annu­al­ly to ser­vice the clan­des­tine force—doing every­thing from cre­at­ing false doc­u­men­ta­tion and pay­ing the bills (and tax­es) of indi­vid­u­als oper­at­ing under assumed names, to man­u­fac­tur­ing dis­guis­es and oth­er devices to thwart detec­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, to build­ing invis­i­ble devices to pho­to­graph and lis­ten in on activ­i­ty in the most remote cor­ners of the Mid­dle East and Africa.

    Spe­cial oper­a­tions forces con­sti­tute over half the entire sig­na­ture reduc­tion force, the shad­ow war­riors who pur­sue ter­ror­ists in war zones from Pak­istan to West Africa but also increas­ing­ly work in unac­knowl­edged hot spots, includ­ing behind ene­my lines in places like North Korea and Iran. Mil­i­tary intel­li­gence specialists—collectors, counter-intel­li­gence agents, even linguists—make up the sec­ond largest ele­ment: thou­sands deployed at any one time with some degree of “cov­er” to pro­tect their true iden­ti­ties.

    The newest and fastest grow­ing group is the clan­des­tine army that nev­er leaves their key­boards. These are the cut­ting-edge cyber fight­ers and intel­li­gence col­lec­tors who assume false per­sonas online, employ­ing “nonat­tri­bu­tion” and “mis­at­tri­bu­tion” tech­niques to hide the who and the where of their online pres­ence while they search for high-val­ue tar­gets and col­lect what is called “pub­licly acces­si­ble infor­ma­tion”—or even engage in cam­paigns to influ­ence and manip­u­late social media. Hun­dreds work in and for the NSA, but over the past five years, every mil­i­tary intel­li­gence and spe­cial oper­a­tions unit has devel­oped some kind of “web” oper­a­tions cell that both col­lects intel­li­gence and tends to the oper­a­tional secu­ri­ty of its very activ­i­ties.
    ...

    Note how meta is all is: ‘Jonathan Dar­by’ works under a false iden­ti­ty mak­ing false iden­ti­ties for a sig­na­ture reduc­tion com­pa­ny that is pre­sum­ably also oper­at­ing under a false iden­ti­ty. Even the gov­er­nor of the state ‘John Dar­by’ is work­ing in does­n’t real­ize he’s work­ing for a pro­gram that secret­ly manip­u­lates state data­bas­es. The high­est elect­ed pub­lic offi­cial in the state does­n’t even know about this secret army:

    ...
    Every morn­ing at 10:00 a.m., Jonathan Dar­by embarks on his week­ly rounds of mail call. Dar­by is not his real name, but it is also not the fake name on his Mis­souri dri­ver’s license that he uses to con­duct his work. And the gov­ern­ment car he dri­ves, one of a fleet of over 200,000 fed­er­al vehi­cles owned by the Gen­er­al Ser­vices Admin­is­tra­tion, is also not reg­is­tered in his real or his fake name, and nor are his mag­net­i­cal­ly attached Mary­land state license plates real­ly for his car, nor are they trace­able back to him or his orga­ni­za­tion. Where Dar­by works and the loca­tions he vis­its are also clas­si­fied.

    Dar­by’s retired from the Army, and he asks that nei­ther his real nor his cov­er name be used. He served for 20 years in coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence, includ­ing two African assign­ments where he oper­at­ed in low pro­file in Ethiopia and Sudan, mas­querad­ing as an expat busi­ness­man. Now he works for a Mary­land-based sig­na­ture reduc­tion con­trac­tor that he asked Newsweek not to iden­ti­fy.

    As Dar­by makes his rounds to some 40 or so post offices and store­front mail­box stores in the DC Met­ro­pol­i­tan area, he picks up a trunk full of let­ters and pack­ages, mail­ing a sim­i­lar num­ber from rur­al address­es. Back at the office, he sorts through the take, deliv­er­ing bills to the finance peo­ple and pro­cess­ing dozens of per­son­al and busi­ness let­ters mailed from scores of over­seas loca­tions. But his main task is log­ging and for­ward­ing the sig­na­ture reduc­tion “mech­a­nisms” as they are called, pass­ports and State dri­ver’s licens­es for peo­ple who don’t exist, and oth­er papers—bills, tax doc­u­ments, orga­ni­za­tion mem­ber­ship cards—that form the foun­da­tion of fake iden­ti­ties.

    To reg­is­ter and dou­ble-check the authen­tic­i­ty of his dai­ly take, Dar­by logs into two data­bas­es, one the Trav­el and Iden­ti­ty Doc­u­ment data­base, the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty’s repos­i­to­ry of exam­ples of 300,000 gen­uine, coun­ter­feit and altered for­eign pass­ports and visas; and the oth­er the Cov­er Acqui­si­tion Man­age­ment Sys­tem, a super-secret reg­is­ter of false iden­ti­ties where the “mech­a­nisms” used by clan­des­tine oper­a­tors are logged. For false iden­ti­ties trav­el­ing over­seas, Dar­by and his col­leagues also have to alter data­bas­es of U.S. immi­gra­tion and cus­toms to ensure that thos per­form­ing illic­it activ­i­ties can return to the Unit­ed States unmo­lest­ed.

    For iden­ti­ty ver­i­fi­ca­tion, Dar­by’s unit works with secret offices at Home­land Secu­ri­ty and the State Depart­ment as well as almost all 50 states in enrolling authen­tic “mech­a­nisms” under false names. A rare pic­ture into this world came in April 2013 when an enter­pris­ing reporter at North­west Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing did a sto­ry sug­gest­ing the scale of this secret pro­gram. His report revealed that the state of Wash­ing­ton alone had pro­vid­ed hun­dreds of valid state dri­ver licens­es in fic­ti­tious names to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. The exis­tence of the “con­fi­den­tial dri­ver license pro­gram,” as it was called, was unknown even to the gov­er­nor.
    ...

    And these sig­na­ture reduc­tion efforts aren’t just tar­get­ing US data­bas­es and bio­met­ric iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tems. As revealed in the “Vault 7” leaks, the NSA and CIA have the capac­i­ty to manip­u­late for­eign data­bas­es. It under­scores one of the rea­sons this secret army is such big secret: the capa­bil­i­ties of this sys­tem are wild­ly pow­er­ful:

    ...
    In the elec­tron­ic era, a major task of sig­na­ture reduc­tion is keep­ing all of the orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple, even the auto­mo­biles and air­craft involved in the clan­des­tine oper­a­tions, masked. This pro­tec­tive effort entails every­thing from scrub­bing the Inter­net of tell­tale signs of true iden­ti­ties to plant­i­ng false infor­ma­tion to pro­tect mis­sions and peo­ple. As stan­dard unfor­get­table iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and bio­met­rics have become world­wide norms, the sig­na­ture reduc­tion indus­try also works to fig­ure out ways of spoof­ing and defeat­ing every­thing from fin­ger­print­ing and facial recog­ni­tion at bor­der cross­ings, to ensur­ing that under­cov­er oper­a­tives can enter and oper­ate in the Unit­ed States, manip­u­lat­ing offi­cial records to ensure that false iden­ti­ties match up.

    ...

    Dar­by’s unit, orig­i­nal­ly called the Oper­a­tional Plan­ning and Trav­el Intel­li­gence Cen­ter, is respon­si­ble for over­see­ing much of this (and to do so it oper­ates the Pen­tagon’s largest mil­i­tary finance office), but documentation—as impor­tant as it is—is only one piece of the puz­zle. Oth­er orga­ni­za­tions are respon­si­ble for design­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing the cus­tom dis­guis­es and “bio­met­ric defeat” ele­ments to facil­i­tate trav­el. Dar­by says this is where all the Spe­cial Access Pro­grams are. SAPs, the most secret cat­e­go­ry of gov­ern­ment infor­ma­tion, pro­tect the meth­ods used—and the clan­des­tine capa­bil­i­ties that exist—to manip­u­late for­eign sys­tems to get around seem­ing­ly fool­proof safe­guards includ­ing fin­ger­print­ing and facial recog­ni­tion.

    ...

    Wigs. Covert com­mu­ni­ca­tions devices. Fake rocks. In our world of elec­tron­ic every­thing, where every­thing becomes a mat­ter of record, where you can’t enter a park­ing garage with­out the license plate being record­ed, where you can’t check in for a flight or a hotel with­out a gov­ern­ment issued ID, where you can’t use a cred­it card with­out the loca­tion being cap­tured, how can bio­met­rics can be defeat­ed? How can some­one get past fin­ger­print read­ers?

    In 99 out of 100 cas­es, the answer is: there is no need to. Most sig­na­ture reduc­tion sol­diers trav­el under real names, exchang­ing oper­a­tional iden­ti­ties only once on the ground where they oper­ate. Or they infil­trate across bor­ders in places like Pak­istan and Yemen, con­duct­ing the most dan­ger­ous mis­sions. These sig­na­ture reduc­tion mis­sions are the most high­ly sen­si­tive and involve “close in” intel­li­gence col­lec­tion or the use of minia­tur­ized ene­my track­ing devices, each exist­ing in their own spe­cial access programs—missions that are so sen­si­tive they have to be per­son­al­ly approved by the Sec­re­tary of Defense.

    For the one per­cent, though, for those who have to make it through pass­port con­trol under false iden­ti­ties, there are var­i­ous bio­met­rics defeat sys­tems, some phys­i­cal and some elec­tron­ic. One such pro­gram was allud­ed to in a lit­tle noticed doc­u­ment dump pub­lished by Wik­ileaks in ear­ly 2017 and called “Vault 7”: over 8,000 clas­si­fied CIA tools used in the covert world of elec­tron­ic spy­ing and hack­ing. It is called Express­Lane, where U.S. intel­li­gence has embed­ded mal­ware into for­eign bio­met­rics and watch­list sys­tems, allow­ing Amer­i­can cyber spies to steal for­eign data.

    An IT wiz­ard work­ing for Wik­ileaks in Berlin says the code with Express­Lane sug­gests that the Unit­ed States can manip­u­late these data­bas­es. “Imag­ine for a moment that some­one is going through pass­port con­trol,” he says, hes­i­tant to use his real name because of fear of indict­ment in the Unit­ed States. “NSA or the CIA is tasked to corrupt—change—the data on the day the covert asset goes through. And then switch it back. It’s not impos­si­ble.”
    ...

    And note the alarm­ing warn­ing about the future of DNA con­cerns in sig­na­ture reduc­tion efforts: the expec­ta­tion that DNA infor­ma­tion will be used for “more and more tar­get­ed bio­log­i­cal weapons in the future”. So pro­tect­ing against per­son­al­ized bio­log­i­cal attacks, in part through manip­u­la­tion of DNA data­bas­es, are pre­sum­ably going to be part of the future efforts to pro­tect this secret army:

    ...
    Then came the DNA scare, when Adm. John Richard­son, then chief of naval oper­a­tions, warned mil­i­tary per­son­nel and their fam­i­lies to stop using at-home ances­try DNA test kits. “Be care­ful who you send your DNA to,” Richard­son said, warn­ing that sci­en­tif­ic advance­ments would be able to exploit the infor­ma­tion, cre­at­ing more and more tar­get­ed bio­log­i­cal weapons in the future. And indeed in 2019, the Pen­ta­gon offi­cial­ly advised mil­i­tary per­son­nel to steer clear of pop­u­lar DNA ser­vices. “Expos­ing sen­si­tive genet­ic infor­ma­tion to out­side par­ties pos­es per­son­al and oper­a­tional risks to Ser­vice mem­bers,” said the memo, first report­ed by Yahoo news.
    ...

    Final­ly, and per­haps most impor­tant­ly, is the glob­al con­text this is all tak­ing place in: with the US con­tin­u­ing to ramp up its ‘great pow­er’ com­pe­ti­tion with Rus­sia and Chi­na. A com­pe­ti­tion that involves obscur­ing all of these capa­bil­i­ties, even if it “makes the media por­tray­al of the Rus­sians again look like they are ten feet tall”:

    ...
    Just as bio­met­rics and “Real ID” are the ene­mies of clan­des­tine work, so too is the “dig­i­tal exhaust” of online life. One major con­cern of counter-ter­ror­ism work in the ISIS age is that mil­i­tary fam­i­lies are also vulnerable—another rea­son, par­tic­i­pants say, to oper­ate under false iden­ti­ties. The abun­dance of online infor­ma­tion about indi­vid­u­als (togeth­er with some spec­tac­u­lar for­eign hacks) has enabled for­eign intel­li­gence ser­vices to bet­ter unmask fake iden­ti­ties of Amer­i­can spies. Sig­na­ture reduc­tion is thus at the cen­ter of not only counter-ter­ror­ism but is part of the Pen­tagon’s shift towards great pow­er com­pe­ti­tion with Rus­sia and China—competition, influ­ence, and dis­rup­tion “below the lev­el of armed con­flict,” or what the mil­i­tary calls war­fare in the “Gray Zone,” a space “in the peace-con­flict con­tin­u­um.”

    ...

    “We’re still in the infan­cy of our trans­par­ent world,” says the retired senior offi­cer, cau­tion­ing against imag­in­ing that there is some “iden­ti­ty gap” sim­i­lar to the “bomber gap” of the Cold War. “We’re win­ning this war, includ­ing on the cyber side, even if secre­cy about what we are doing makes the media por­tray­al of the Rus­sians again look like they are ten feet tall.”
    ...

    And that’s part of what makes this exclu­sive report by Newsweek so intrigu­ing. Why was this report­ed at all? On one lev­el, it’s not hard to imag­ine that some of the peo­ple involved in this are con­cerned about the impli­ca­tions of grow­ing secret army that spe­cial­izes in obscur­ing its own exis­tence. At the same time, as the peo­ple who anony­mous­ly talked to Newsweek described, the very exis­tence of this secret army is the secret army’s great­est secret. And that secret was just exposed to the world. Why? Is this whis­tle-blow­ing or some sort of lim­it­ed-hang­out?

    Also note that if this secret army was effec­tive­ly just built in the last decade, that means much of that growth took place under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. So when we’re scratch­ing our heads won­der­ing why this report came out now, it’s worth keep­ing in mind that the last four years of this secret army’s devel­op­ment was con­duct­ed under a fas­cist pres­i­dent who foment­ed an insur­rec­tion to cling to pow­er and con­tin­ues to hint at being rein­stalled as pres­i­dent in the com­ing months. And this exclu­sive Newsweek report came out at the same time we have a group of retired gen­er­als claim­ing Joe Biden is not the right­ful pres­i­dent and the elec­tion was stolen from Trump and Michael Fly­nn renew­ing his calls for a mil­i­tary coup. It’s hard to think of a time when talk of mil­i­tary coups weren’t as pop­u­lar as they are today with the Amer­i­can pub­lic. The point being that we had bet­ter hope the peo­ple in this secret army — an army per­fect­ly sit­u­a­tion to exe­cute desta­bi­liza­tion cam­paigns — aren’t tak­ing their orders from the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple at war with Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 4, 2021, 3:26 pm

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