Where Americans turn for news, U.S. intelligence agencies follow. And infiltrate. And monitor.
MINNEAPOLIS — With all of the establishment media owned by just a handful of corporations, six to be exact, it’s never been easier for the U.S. government to manipulate the news. A diversity of outlets, from websites to traditional newspapers, repeat the same stories to create an illusion of choice that allows propaganda to take root in the American imagination.
Infiltration of the media by intelligence agencies has been standard practice since at least the 1950s, as exposed by watchdog journalist Carl Bernstein in a landmark 1977 report for Rolling Stone.
“The use of journalists has been among the most productive means of intelligence‑gathering employed by the CIA,” wrote Bernstein.
Although the public pressure created by reports like these forced the CIA to scale back its infiltration program temporarily, the heightened push for national security in post-9/11 America, combined with the consolidation of the media, allowed the government to regain what control it might have lost. Monitoring mainstream, alternative and even social media has been a mandate of the Department of Homeland Security since its creation. A 2013 report by Martin Michaels, writing for MintPress News, details how the CIA made use of intelligence from foreign correspondents during U.S. wars in Iraq and how government agencies have repeatedly sought to suppress information on drone warfare.
Also in 2013, Glenn Greenwald complained about the ways that the U.S. media conceals secrets and opposes transparency on behalf of the government. He wrote in The Guardian:
“What this media concealment actually accomplishes is enabling the dissemination of significant government falsehoods without challenge, and permitting the continuation of government deceit and even illegality.”
More recently, the U.S. government has sought to accuse RT, an English-language news funded by the Russian government, of distributing propaganda in the United States. Simultaneously, the U.S. mainstream media has been eager to broadcast a pro-European, anti-Russian message on events in Ukraine, where U.S. and NATO forces backed the rise to power of a brutal regime with ties to neo-nazis.
Another example of the mainstream media repeating the government’s message came late last year, when a mysterious hacker group called the Guardians of Peace infiltrated Sony’s servers and stole files, emails, and even unreleased films that were later leaked onto the Internet. Despite many computer experts casting doubt on the story, the government blamed North Korean hackers, angry at the depiction of the country’s supreme leader Kim Jong-Un in the comedy film “The Interview.” This media-supported narrative in turn built support for sanctions against North Korea and increased prison sentences for computer hackers.
With almost all major media outlets owned by fewer than six corporations, Americans have less trust than ever in the mainstream press, leading more to turn to social media for their news. But the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring these channels, too. As MintPress’ Michaels detailed in 2013:
“[DHS] plans to create an application that can search Twitter and other social media for breaking stories and unconfirmed reports. All of this will be carried out in order to gather information regarding matters of national security, terrorism, immigration and border control and cybersecurity, among 14 categories that will ‘increase the situational awareness of the DHS Secretary.’”
In 2011, the Guardian revealed how the U.S. military was using an army of fake “sock puppet” accounts to spread propaganda, and there’s every indication that such efforts have grown since then. Congress spent the last two years debating a special DHS Social Media Working Group, which “would provide guidance for the use of social media during terrorist attacks and other emergency situations,” according to Zach Noble, writing in May for FCW, an outlet that tracks federal technology policy. Noble explained: “The group would also seek and develop best practices, offer training, and study the flow of information through social media networks in crises.”
Meanwhile, in June the White House requested $106 million in additional funding for the U.S. Digital Service. Originally created in response to the technological failures of the HealthCare.gov insurance marketplace, the department would also assist DHS with immigration enforcement and “modernization.”
Indeed, as more and more readers go online for their news, intelligence agencies are turning attention toward the digital realm, as well.