(The Grayzone) — A former employee of Facebook named Frances Haugen earned national renown after appearing before Congress on October 5, 2021 to accuse the company where she once worked of everything from poisoning the minds of young American women to aiding and abetting global evildoers.
While Haugen has presented herself as a “whistleblower” who risked it all to expose the secrets of the powerful, she was cultivated and legally represented by an organization led by former intelligence insiders with close ties to the US national security state.
Called Whistleblower Aid, the outfit was founded by a national security lawyer, Mark Zaid, who has been accused of ratting out his client, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, to his employers in Langley. Zaid is joined by a former State Department official and government-approved whistleblower, John Tye, ex-CIA and Pentagon official Andrew Bakaj, and veteran US government information warrior, Libby Liu, who has specialized in supporting color revolution-style operations against China.
John Kiriakou, the CIA whistleblower jailed for exposing the agency’s role in the serial torture of terror suspects, commented to The Grayzone, “Mark Zaid presents himself to the public as a whistleblower attorney, however, he is anything but. Instead, he has betrayed his clients and come down on the side of prosecutors in the intelligence community. He is not to be trusted.”
Kiriakou continued, “My own personal belief is that he is the intelligence community’s preferred ‘whistleblower’ attorney because he’s willing to place their interests over his clients.”
Tech billionaire and media mogul Pierre Omidyar has provided funding to Whistleblower Aid, as well as to a public relations firm assisting Haugen. Omidyar has played his own role in US foreign interventionism, sponsoring anti-government media outlets and activists alongside US government agencies in states where Washington seeks regime change.
Following the October 5 remarks by the “Facebook whistleblower,” Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection Chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal commended Haugen for her “courage” and “strength” in “standing up to one of the most powerful, implacable corporate giants in the history of the world.” For her part, Haugen claimed to have come forward with her testimony “at great personal risk.”
However, Haugen is now set to meet with the oversight board at Facebook, suggesting the supposed underdog whistleblower had never been a threat to her former employer, and may have been colluding in a mutually beneficial operation. Haugen emphasized in her testimony that she “doesn’t want to break up” Facebook; she was merely looking for increased “content moderation” to root out “extremism” and “(mis/dis)information.”
While the public has been led to believe that Haugen embarked on her censorious moral crusade all by herself, driven by nothing more than her own sense of indignation and desire to stamp out “misinformation,” her testimony tracked closely with a narrative that has emerged from the US national security state and which aims to prevent the flow of information from counter-hegemonic “bad actors.”
The agenda was laid bare by Haugen herself, who claimed she worked alongside intelligence assets at a previously unknown Facebook “threat intelligence unit,” and made repeated reference to supposed malign activities by designated US enemies including Ethiopia, Myanmar, Western China and Iran..
As this report will reveal, Haugen appears to be little more than a tool in a far-reaching plan to increase the US national security state’s control over one of the world’s most popular social media platforms.
The making of a phony Facebook whistleblower
Haugen first appeared in September 2021 as the supposed source of a leak called “The Facebook Files.” She was immediately hailed as a “modern US hero” in the media for secretly copying tens of thousands of internal Facebook documents and releasing them to the Wall Street Journal, which published a series of nine articles based on the documents.
The WSJ initially kept its source anonymous, rolling out the series two weeks before Haugen came forward in an October 3 interview with 60 Minutes. On camera, she complained that Facebook was “tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”
“Ethnic violence including Myanmar in 2018 when the military used Facebook,” narrated 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, to “launch a genocide.”
When pressed by 60 Minutes about what motivated her to leak the documents, Haugen answered vaguely: “at some point in 2021, I realized I’m going to have to do this in a systematic way and I have to get enough [so] that no one can question that this is real.”
Yet Haugen first divulged company information before 2021. In the final installment of the Journal’s series, the outlet revealed that Haugen first sent an encrypted text to one of their reporters on December 3, 2020.
That same article, published the day the 60 Minutes interview aired, reported that Haugen “continued gathering material from inside Facebook through her last hour with access to the system. She reached out to lawyers at Whistleblower Aid, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that represents people reporting corporate and government misbehavior.”
Haugen’s resignation with Facebook was effective in March, but the precise day of her client-attorney relationship with Whistleblower Aid remains unknown. What is known is that it all came together quickly.
John Tye, a founder and the Chief Disclosure Officer at Whistleblower Aid, told the New York Times that he agreed to represent Haugen “within a few minutes” of speaking with her.
On October 5, Haugen testified at a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. But already she had “spoken to lawmakers in France and Britain, as well as a member of European Parliament,” according to the New York Times on October 3, the day her identity was revealed on 60 Minutes. The outlet added: “This month, she is scheduled to appear before a British parliamentary committee. That will be followed by stops at Web Summit, a technology conference in Lisbon, and in Brussels to meet with European policymakers in November,” citing Tye.
Alongside Haguen’s big reveal came the launch of a new website and a new Twitter account, which was immediately verified. Haugen’s old Twitter account was locked when she went public and has since been deleted, while her old blog is no longer online.
It is instructive to contrast Haugen’s overnight verification with the way Twitter has treated others who have furnished secret documents in order to expose wrongdoing by the elite – namely, the jailed Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange, who never received verification from Twitter.
During her opening remarks to Congress, Haugen weaved a narrative that tied the State Department’s interventionist agenda to the Democratic Party’s crusade for online censorship. She commented that “what we saw in Myanmar and are now seeing in Ethiopia are only the opening chapters of a story so terrifying no one wants to read the end of it.”
Later, Haugen nodded her head in agreement as Sen. Dan Sullivan called Iran the biggest state sponsor or terrorism in the world and China a “communist party dictatorship” that is the most serious competitor to the US in the 21st century. Oddly, she made no mention of malign activity by any US ally or country that was not currently sanctioned by the US Department of State.
At Facebook, Haugen claimed she worked as product manager on a “threat intelligence unit” at the company. “So I was a product manager supporting the counter-espionage team,” she claimed to Sen. Sullivan. Part of her job included “directly work[ing] on tracking Chinese participation on the platform,” she claimed. Further, she alleged that Iran used the platform to conduct “espionage” on the platform.
“I’m speaking to other members of Congress about that,” Haugen acknowledged. “I have strong national security concerns about how Facebook operates today.”
As journalist Kit Klarenberg reported, the little-known Facebook “threat intelligence unit” where Haugen claimed to have worked is staffed by former CIA, NSA, and Pentagon operatives. Those who work at the unit must have “5+ years of experience working in intelligence (either government or private sector), international geopolitical, cybersecurity, or human rights functions,” according to a job posting.
Yet Haugen’s now-deleted blog and Twitter account feature no political content, nor does her resume. On Twitter, she frequently discussed taking Ambien and flirting with boys, while on her blog she wrote about cycling through Europe. Apart from a lecture she delivered on “The Intersection of Product Management and Gender,” and donations to the Democratic Party, she has shown little discernible interest in politics. So how did a certifiable normie with jobs at Google, Pinterest, Yelp! become an expert on Iran and China?
The background of Haugen’s shady legal team suggests she has been cultivated, coached and deployed to complete Facebook’s transformation into a fully-controlled vehicle of US foreign policy imperatives, willing to de-rank or outright censor any views the US government deems “misinformation.”
The best whistleblower outfit Pierre Omidyar’s money could buy
Whistleblower Aid bills itself as “a pioneering, non-profit legal organization that helps patriotic government employees and brave, private-sector workers report and publicize their concerns — safely, lawfully, and responsibly.”
But is this group truly the whistleblower protection outfit it claims to be?
In fact, Whistleblower Aid appears to have been modeled as a sort of anti-Wikileaks organization. “Whistleblower Aid is not Wikileaks,” the “vision” page of the former organization insists. On another section of its website, it states, “No one should ever send classified information to Whistleblower Aid. Whistleblower Aid will never assist clients or prospective clients with leaking classified information.”
#WhistleblowerAid at work spreading message in DC for ppl to be lawful #patriots. Don't be @wikileaks & ruin career. Hold Govt accountable. pic.twitter.com/sIKTbkiGgz
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) September 19, 2017
Whistleblower Aid was launched with support from Ebay founder and billionaire media mogul Pierre Omidyar. Through his Luminate foundation, Omidyar lavished $150,000 on the organization, while funding a non-profit, the Center for Humane Technology, that works for the same PR firm that represents Haugen.
Politico has portrayed Omidyar as a “tech critic,” suggesting his support for Haugen is motivated by his disgust at Facebook’s propagation of toxic content. However, as this journalist and Max Blumenthal reported, Omidyar’s political empire has functioned for years as a force multiplier for interventionist US initiatives.
Over the past decade, Omidyar’s various non-profits have sponsored the establishment of a broadcast outlet, Hromadske, in Ukraine that drove the country’s 2014 coup, backed anti-government bloggers and activists in Zimbabwe, and funded anti-government media in the Philippines, including 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. In each case, Omidyar’s beneficiaries were simultaneously sponsored by US government entities dedicated to advancing regime change.
A further hint of Omidyar’s adjacency to US intelligence operations can be found in the 2018-2022 strategy plan of the billionaire’s Luminate foundation, which lists “counter[ing]” Russia and China & “provid[ing] critical support” to groups in “countries in transition” as top priorities.
The 2018-2022 strategic plan of @Pierre Omidyar's @luminategroup lists "counter[ing]" Russia and China & "provid[ing] critical support" to groups in "countries in transition" as top priorities.
That's code for supplementing US regime change operations. https://t.co/AXFBhAduCR pic.twitter.com/gwPmC9da2s
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) September 9, 2020
Whistleblower Aid rose to national prominence by representing the anonymous whistleblower who fueled the carefully confected Trump-Ukraine scandal that eventually led to former President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
But Whistleblower Aid is more than a mere law firm. It also “prep[s] clients in order to be focused on how to answer questions properly,” Mark Zaid, the organizations’ founding legal partner, told Gizmodo.
“We have media experts that we work with to guide folks with something as simple as, you know, where do you look when you’re talking to a camera or a host?” Zaid explained. “How do you best fluidly answer a question to come across in a positive way? Everything that might be connected to ensuring the individual’s image and substance are at their best.”
“The US government’s ideal whistleblower”
The rollout of the Frances Haugen story was methodical and lightning-paced, and clearly a collaborative effort. “I came forward at great personal risk because I believe we still have time to act,” Haugen told Congress. Sen. Blumenthal responded with a promise that Congress would protect her.
But was any risk truly present? In Haugen’s first conversations with Whistleblower Aid founder and Chief Disclosure Officer John Tye, she asked him for “legal protection and a path to releasing the confidential information.”
Zaid launched the group after serving as legal counsel for his co-founder, John Tye, when Tye supposedly “blew the whistle” on the State Department.
Tye was recruited to the State Department by former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael Posner. Now a prominent “human rights” lawyer, Posner was tasked with providing counsel to a group of seven Israeli generals accused by the United Nations of war crimes following Operation Cast Lead, a three-week long massacre of 1,400 Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, Wikileaks revealed in its release of US diplomatic cables. Ironically, Posner was also charged with overseeing the State Department’s review of those cable leaks.
Tye was named as the section chief for internet freedom under Posner at the State Department. But to understand Tye’s work at the State Department, it is necessary to revisit a speech from his former boss, ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, delivered a year prior to Tye’s appointment at State, but nonetheless a blueprint for the kind of work the department was doing; attacking countries like Iran and China for “erect[ing] electronic barriers.”
It was during Clinton’s campaign for “internet freedom,” which established Tye’s position, that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an arm of the State Department, developed ZunZuneo, a fake social media service marketed to Cubans. This information weapon was deployed by the US in a failed attempt to spur Cuban youths to launch street protests and destabilize Cuba’s socialist government.
It was Tye’s job to travel around the world and push for “the open use of the internet, free from government interference and monitoring.”
However, following Edward Snowden’s exposure of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency, Tye began working explicitly against the open exchange of information by collaborating with the agency on tactics to undermine the leaker.
Around the same time, Tye learned about Executive Order 12333, which allows the NSA to collect information on American citizens outside of US borders. Tye “blew the whistle” in an op-ed at the Washington Post, allowing both the NSA and the State Department to review his disclosures before publishing. Neither made any changes to the policy.
Prior to speaking with reporters about his disclosure, Tye made sure he had a witness present and promised that he would not be revealing any classified information. “If you hear something that sounds like I am talking about classified activities or NSA activities, I want to tell you right now you misheard what I said,” his disclaimer went.
“The only reason why I ever got an NSA briefing was because we had to develop a response to Snowden’s leaks,” Tye told Ars Technica. “I never would have found out enough to file a complaint if it hadn’t been for those leaks.”
He also enlisted the help of Mark Zaid “to help him navigate the lawful reporting process.”
Despite being indebted to Snowden, and Snowden having actually been the first to expose how EO 12333 was “the wellspring of NSA’s collection of information,” Tye’s attorney, Zaid has repeatedly maligned Snowden.
“Unlike Snowden, Tye will not offer up any examples of actual unlawful surveillance he learned about while working at the State Department. He’s honoring his secrecy agreements,” Zaid has said.
Zaid, who has falsely accused Snowden of refusing to attempt to go through proper channels, argues that the best way to seek policy change is through official processes. And he has painted Tye as “a shining example of how a national security whistleblower should raise his concerns lawfully and give the system and public time to debate the concerns, rather than decide unilaterally as Snowden did…”
Tye quickly emerged as a model for disclosing government secrets, with corporate media headlines describing him as “the US Government’s Ideal New Whistleblower” and “the kinder, gentler, and by-the-book whistleblower.”
Just Security, a Democratic Party-oriented national security blog funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations and featuring a board of insiders including Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, hailed Tye at the time as a “hero” on par with the late Senator John McCain. However, the site noted that “the jury is still out on whether Tye’s whistleblowing will lead to meaningful reforms.”
At the time, Tye claimed he hoped to “see a public response to my complaint that describes what changes have been made.”
Flash forward to September 16, 2021, and Just Security is still calling for reform to EO 12333. Indeed, Tye’s milquetoast brand of whistleblowing failed to result in any meaningful policy changes, though he did get some presidential lip service, commenting that “even President Obama has acknowledged that the issues raised since those disclosures have been important for our democracy.”
Coincidentally, days before leaving office, Obama expanded Executive Order 12333, allowing the NSA to share the data it warrantlessly collected with other intelligence agencies without the requirement of a court order. It was this executive order which enabled the NSA to wiretap Trump’s incoming National Security Director Michael Flynn, and leak the contents of his phone call with Russia’s then-Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak to the media.
Despite the abject failure of Zaid’s preferred “lawful” method of whistleblowing, he and Tye would go on to form Whistleblower Aid, but not before leaving the State Department to work for another shady outfit that was knee deep in NATO interventionist operations.
From July 2014 to July 2015, Tye served as the Legal Director and Campaign Director of Avaaz, a digital activist group and PR firm that helped drum up support for a no-fly zone in Libya, as Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal has reported.
During Tye’s time with Avaaz, which received early financial backing from Soros’ Open Society Foundation, the organization pushed for a no-fly zone again, this time in Syria. Further, Avaaz helped spawn a PR organization called Purpose, which handled public relations for the USAID-funded and al-Qaeda-linked White Helmets organization in Syria.
During the Arab Spring, Avaaz ponied up $1.5 million to “provide pro-democracy movements with ‘high-tech phones and satellite internet modems, connect them to the world’s top media outlets, and provide communications advice,’” according to the BBC.
Avaaz has set up proxy servers in Iran to support the Iran’s Green Movement and orchestrated a “three mile human chain handshake from the Dalai Lama to the doors of the Chinese Embassy in London.” More recently, the organization sponsored a rally demanding an investigation on Capitol Hill in response to the Wall Street Journal’s “Facebook Files” series, which featured Haugen as its source.
Time and time again, we’ve seen Facebook fail to address the rampant disinformation, extremism, discrimination, and hate on their platforms. Join us on Thursday as we rally on Capitol Hill to demand Congress #InvestigateFB: https://t.co/AoFpqSN75Q pic.twitter.com/LyvapuDIOw
— Avaaz (@Avaaz) September 29, 2021
Shortly before leaving Avaaz, Tye responded to criticism of the billionaire-backed group’s advocacy for a no-fly zone, writing “thousands and thousands of people will die, for years to come, if we turn away and wring our hands.”
Like his former client-turned-legal partner, Mark Zaid has clamored for ramped up US intervention in Syria, tweeting to then-President Trump “what are you going to do about Syria? It’s your problem now, We can’t stand by and let innocent people continue to be slaughtered.”
Whistleblower Aid, or whistleblowers played?
Early in Zaid’s legal career, he “helped lobby Congress to change the law so the Libyan government could be sued for its secret plot to blow up Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988.” Since then, he has built a reputation around representing whistleblowers, though he is now “representing many of the federal officials who have been afflicted with the mysterious symptoms known as Havana syndrome.”
While Mark Zaid may earn the most corporate media ink of any lawyer specializing in supposed whistleblower cases in the US, he is also one of the most vitriolic antagonists of those who blew the whistle without official consent. Regarding Edward Snowden, Zaid has tweeted that the exiled whistleblower “in no way deserves a pardon.”
Zaid believes that only those who have exposed wrongdoing dutifully within an organizational infrastructure deserve to be designated as whistleblowers. If they have attempted to do so but found themselves stonewalled, and took their information to the media, in his view, that action classifies them as a traitor guilty of espionage.
Thus according to Zaid, Snowden is not a whistleblower, nor is Julian Assange a journalist. Zaid celebrated the June 2020 superseding indictment of Assange by the Department of Justice as “a message to those who want to undermine US national security that you will be pursued.”
Even Reality Winner, whose leak of classified information was spun by the media to advance the discredited narrative of Russian collusion with President Donald Trump – whom Zaid has attacked and even sued – is also not a whistleblower, Zaid argued in the Washington Post.
While Zaid has made his feelings clear towards those who leak classified information through “improper” channels, he has faced harsh criticism for his handling of the case of one of his former clients, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling.
“WikiLeaks is aware, from those directly involved, of serious allegations that Mark S. Zaid revealed one of his clients to the CIA. The client was later imprisoned,” WikiLeaks has tweeted. CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou has written of Zaid: “Any friend or advocate of rats and snitches is no friend of whistleblowers.”
You are 100 percent correct. @MarkSZaidEsq is not a whistleblower attorney, his protestations notwithstanding. Any friend or advocate of rats and snitches is no friend of whistleblowers. Just ask #JeffreySterling.
— John Kiriakou (@JohnKiriakou) December 4, 2018
Whistleblower Thomas Drake has raised similar concerns, pointing in 2015 to transcripts detailing FBI special agent Ashley Hunt’s comments during the trial of Jeffrey Sterling.
“The CIA advised that on February 24, 2003, it was contacted by Mark Zaid and Roy Krieger,” Hunt told the court. “They told the CIA on February 24 that a client of theirs had contacted them on February 21, 2003, and that that client, that unnamed client at the time, voiced his concerns about an operation that was nuclear in nature, and he threatened to go to the media.”
Additionally, the FBI served Zaid with a subpoena compelling him to testify in the case of his former client, Sterling. Zaid has claimed that he did not breach attorney-client privilege at any time and called FBI agent Ashley Hunt’s testimony “hearsay.”
Sterling declined to comment to The Grayzone about Zaid’s performance as his lawyer, and whether he played a role in his prosecution.
“With no intention of stating an opinion one way or another, I will not comment on Mr. Zaid or his representation,” Sterling stated.
“All the Disney one needs and wants to be”
While Zaid maintains utmost hostility towards those who leak classified information, even refusing to work with them, he has no moral qualms about getting security clearances for “guys who had child porn issues.”
I've gotten clearances for guys who had child porn issues
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) February 11, 2018
Zaid also has a special place in his heart for Disney and potentially “Disney girls.” An archived version of a YouTube channel which appears to belong to him shows that he ‘liked’ videos including “Top 10 prettiest disney channel stars” and “Top 10 Disney Girls.”
One does not need kids to be all the Disney one needs and wants to be pic.twitter.com/3Fymj86zKG
— Mark S. Zaid (@MarkSZaidEsq) February 11, 2018
While Tye and Zaid’s records raise serious questions about their commitment to protecting whistleblowers at genuine risk of high-level retaliation, they are not the only staffers at Whistleblower Aid with close ties to the US national security state.
The spooks at Whistleblower Aid’s door
At almost the same time that Haugen began working with Whistleblower Aid in the Spring of this year, the organization took on a new CEO named Libby Liu. Liu previously served as CEO of Open Technology Fund (OTF), which was established by the CIA-founded propaganda outlet Radio Free Asia as part of Hillary Clinton’s “internet freedom” campaign.
Prior to her role at OTF, Liu served as President of Radio Free Asia for over 14 years. The Radio Free Asia website credits Liu herself with creating the Open Technology Fund.
In addition to pumping millions of dollars into projects like Tor and Signal, the Open Technology Fund boasts that “more than two-thirds of all mobile users globally have technology incubated by OTF on their device.”
Moreover, OTF claims it “has investigated and exposed apps used for repressive surveillance throughout China, including tools used by the government to target religious minority Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province.”
OTF helped fund the 2019 protests and riots in Hong Kong “to provide fast relief for civil society groups, protesters, journalists and human rights defenders who have come under digital attack.”
Having helped rioters who invaded and ransacked Hong Kong’s parliament to evade censorship, Liu is now working with a legal firm representing a client that will meet with the Congressional committee investigating the January 6 “insurrection” – undoubtedly to bolster the case for more internet censorship.
Another key figure at Whistleblower Aid is Andrew Bakaj. Like John Tye and Mark Zaid, Bakaj is not only representing Haugen, but promoting her in the media as well.
Bakaj also happens to be a former CIA officer and criminal investigator at the Department of Defense. Since leaving the agency, he has teamed up with his former attorney, Mark Zaid, and taken on similar cases including the “Ukraine whistleblower” and “State Department officials impacted by ‘Havana Syndrome.’”
#JulianAssange will finally be brought to justice. He is complicit in the deliberate leak of classified information that has jeopardized our national security and directly placed our sources and assets in grave harm. Perhaps one day @Snowden will see the same fate. pic.twitter.com/nFkvqvZKOC
— Andrew P. Bakaj (@AndrewBakaj) April 11, 2019
On Twitter, Bakaj mocked Julian Assange as he took refuge inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, taunting him to “step outside” and get some Vitamin D.
Behind the carefully confected image of Frances Haugen as a courageous whistleblower, the stated views and questionable record of her legal team at Whistleblower Aid suggest she is little more than pawn in a much more far-reaching game aimed at enhancing the national security state’s already substantial power over social media.
Feature photo | Former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen speaks during a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2021, in Washington. Matt McClain | The Washington Post via AP, Pool
Alex Rubinstein is an independent reporter on Substack. You can subscribe to get free articles from him delivered to your inbox here, and if you want to support his journalism, which is never put behind a paywall, you can give a one-time donation to him through PayPal here or sustain his reporting through Patreon here.