By Patrick Armstrong, August 17, 2020
He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.
The other day the U.S. State Department published “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem“. The report should have a disclaimer like this:
Everything you read in the NYT or hear Rachel Maddow say about Russia is true: Putin is a murderer, a thief and a thug, he shot down MH17, poisoned the Skripals, elected Trump, invaded Georgia and stole Crimea. If you question any part of this, you are controlled and directed by Russian Disinformation HQ.
Freedom of speech does not entitle you to doubt The Truth.
The methodology of all of these things – this is one of several – is uncomplicated. Paul Robinson has commented on the dependence of so much comment about Russia, and this report in particular, on the myth of central control.
- Anything anywhere on Russian social media, whether sensible or crazy, was personally put there by Putin to sow discord and weaken us. All social media or websites based in Russia are 100% controlled by Putin.
- The Truth about Russia is found in the West’s official statements and in the “trusted source media”. Anyone who questions it benefits Putin, who wants to bring us down, and is therefore acting as a servant of Russian Disinformation HQ.
The argument really is that simple and can be found in its baldest (and stupidest) version on the EU vs DiSiNFO site, The NATO Centre of Excellence is pretty bad while The Integrity Initiative seems to have been embarrassed into silence. Note the “disinfo”, “excellence” and “integrity” bits – that’s called gaslighting. Who funds these selfless truth seekers? The EU, NATO and the British government. But they’re good and truthful, unlike those tricky Russians.
In this particular effusion they look at seven websites, six of which are registered in Russia and one in Canada. The report declares that they are in an ecosystem directed from Russian Disinformation HQ. In reality they are sites in which publish writers who – to take one example – think that it is a bit unusual that a deadly nerve agent smeared on a door handle requires the roof of the house to be replaced. But doubt, these days, is the outward sign of an inward Putinism.
Yeah, OK, but why the roof?
One of the websites mentioned in the report is the one you’re reading now – Strategic Culture Foundation.
Could these be the officials who told the NYT about the bounties? Or gave it the photos it had to walk back a few days later? Or said their sources had “mysteriously gone quiet?” Or told it all 17? Or said it was probably microwave weapons? Or gave us years of scoops about how Mueller was just about to lock him up? Or told the NYT that Russia’s “economy suffers from flat growth and shrinking incomes“? Probably, but you’re not supposed to ask these questions.
The report has a good deal of speculation about who backs Strategic Culture Foundation (p 15). Personally I don’t much care who runs it (and I very much doubt that the Kremlin understands the point of running an opinion website). I’ve been in the USSR/Russia business for some time and what I think hasn’t changed much since 1986 or so. I’ve written for a number of sites which have faded away and I will not permit having what I write changed; the one time it happened twelve years ago, I immediately switched my operations elsewhere. Strategic Culture Foundation has never changed anything I’ve submitted and only twice suggested a topic – this one and Putin’s weaponised crickets. (And the warning is still up at the U.S. State Department site!) The other writers on the site whom I know haven’t changed their views either. Strategic Culture Foundation hasn’t created something that didn’t exist before, it’s collected something that already existed. What do we writers have in common? Well, Dear Reader, look around you. Certainly we question The Truth. Or maybe SCF is a place where people “baffled by the hysterical Russophobia of the MSM and the Democratic Party since the 2016 election” can find something else? Or maybe it’s part of Madison’s “general intercourse of sentiments”?
There was a theory in the Cold War that the two sides would eventually converge. I often think that they met and then kept on going and passed each other. In those days the Soviets did their best to block what they considered to be – dare I suggest it? – disinformation. And so RFE/RL, BBC, Radio Canada and so on were jammed. We, on our side, didn’t care who listened to Radio Moscow or read Soviet publications. Today it’s the other way round. Which fact prompts the easy deduction that the side that’s confident that it has a better connection to reality and truth doesn’t waste effort trying to block the other. In a fascinating essay, the Saker describes Russian propaganda for its home audience: “give as much air time to the most rabid anti-Kremlin critiques as possible, especially on Russian TV talkshows”. They even took the trouble to dub Morgan Freeman’s absurd “we are at war” video. That’s brilliant – we won’t tell you they hate you, we’ll let them tell you they hate you.
The report talks as if this “ecosystem” were big and influential. But it’s a tiny mouse next to a whale. Total followers on Twitter of all seven sites are 156 thousand (p65). That’s nothing: the NYT has 47.1 million Twitter followers, BBC Breaking News 44.8, WaPo 16.1. Why even Rachel Maddow has ten million followers eager to hear her explain how Russia is going to turn off your furnace next winter. So the rational observer has a choice to make after reading this report: either the report ludicrously over-exaggerates the influence of this “ecosystem” or 156,000 website followers are astonishingly influential and I, with my Strategic Culture Foundation pieces, personally control several Electoral College votes.
The real message of “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem“, to someone who isn’t invested in spinning – ahem – theories about a Kremlin disinformation conspiracy, is that the “pillars” are feeble and the “ecosystem” small: Maddow alone has three times the followers of these seven plus the RT (3 million) the “all 17” report spent nearly half its space irrelevantly ranting about. Or maybe it’s saying that American voters are so easily influenced that “the Lilliputian Russians, spending a pittance compared to the Goliaths of the Clinton and Trump campaigns, was the deciding factor in 2016“.
Ironically this thing appeared at the same time as two that suggest Washington’s view of Moscow needs some work: It’s Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy and The Problem With Putinology: We need a new kind of writing about Russia. Good to see titles like that but they aren’t really rethinking anything: they still agree that Putin’s guilty of everything that Maddow says he is. Real re-thinking might get a toehold, for example, were people to contemplate why it is imbecilic to say that Moscow holds military exercises close to NATO’s borders. But you’ll only see that sort of thing on Strategic Culture Foundation and the others.
But now the abyss gazes back
Clinton loses an election, blames Russia, the intelligence agencies pile on, the media shrieks away. Americans are told patriotic Americans don’t doubt. And now we arrive at the next stage of insanity. William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, informs us that “Russia is backing Donald Trump, China is supporting Joe Biden and Iran is seeking to sow chaos in the U.S. presidential election…”. I guess that means that Russia and China will cancel each other out and that he’s telling us that Iran will choose the next POTUS. Who would have thought that the fate of the “greatest nation in earth” (as Presidents Trump, Obama, Bush Jr, Clinton, Bush Sr and Reagan like to call it) would be hidden under a turban somewhere in Iran?
So, American, know this: your “trusted sources” are telling you not to bother to vote in November – it’s not your decision.