Deconstructing Russiagate, Part 8: Preparations for a New World War (Section C)

The Deep State

Enter the 2016 presidential campaign of one Donald J. Trump, a good, reliable “deep stater” who has never been afraid to put on a show. It has been discussed to death how Trump’s campaign was designed not only to appeal to the Baby Boomers who had accused Barack Obama, among other things, of being born in Kenya, but also the “Alt-Right”, an ostensibly “new” conservative subculture. The “Alt-Right” is said to be disproportionately composed of young Millennial males who had cut their teeth on a sort of Pat Buchanan style “paleoconservatism” and open advocacy of white chauvinist identity politics on websites like 4chan, reddit, and, later, 8chan. 

This influx of white nationalist identitarianism was partly the result of neo-Nazi groups on sites such as Stormfront coordinating organized agitation campaigns meant to disseminate their propaganda on these sites and partly the result of a “rightward drift” of such sites after events such as “GamerGate” (a full recounting of which is beyond the scope of this essay). While the “Alt-Right” often defined itself negatively against the mainstream conservative movement, particularly the neocons, it is an evolution of its ambitions and rhetoric. In fact, many figures in this movement, which numerous Russiagate liberals portrayed as a contrivance of Putin, are rather well-connected to the “cuckservatism” world.

An Esquire profile of Irving Kristol in 1979 features a fascinating genealogy of the then-emerging neoconservative movement which shows a clear ideological lineage between the neocons and the “libertarians” and/or “paleoconservatives.” Under a heading titled “The Libertarian Elders”, Milton Friedman, FA von Hayek, and Ayn Rand are all listed as influences on the development of neoconservative theory. Other portions of the chart namedrop prominent anarcho-capitalists such as Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick, and science fiction author Robert Heinlen. The Koch brothers (who had yet to build their massive network but had established themselves as “radicals” in neoliberal circles) are included, as are editors for the Koch-controlled Reason magazine. Another curious entry is William Simon, Nixon’s Treasury Secretary who then-worked for Booz Allen Hamilton, the establishment consultancy firm par excellence. 

Two years after this genealogy was published, a think tank known as the Council for National Policy (CNP) was created by three founding members of theReagan-era Moral Majority-Tim LaHaye, Howard Philips & Paul Weyrich. They received help from Nelson Bunker Hunt, the son of infamous oil tycoon and early financier of the organized American Right, HL Hunt. One prominent member was John K. Singlaub, who was also a founding member of the CIA a high level member of the OSS, a key manager of the Phoenix program in Vietnam, and a leader of the World Anti-Communist League, which was resonsible for the triumph of fascism throughout the periphery and semi-periphery (including returning the direct descendants of OUN-B to Ukraine). Another famous member was Pat Robertson, son of a segregationist Dixiecrat who was instrumental, along with Weyrich and Jerry Falwell, in the rise of the Christian Right and televangelism (Robertson has his own history with the intelligence community). Edwin Feulner, the founder of the Heritage Foundation and a member of the Mont Pelerin Society and Victims of Communism foundation, had a stint at CNP. Several members of the DeVos clan have also participated in CNP, including the mother of Betsy Devos and Blackwater founder Erik Prince. 

Several neocon intellectuals have worked for CNP, including Bill Kristol. Melvin Lasky, a liberal intellectual who played a major role in the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the CIA’s “Non-Communist Left” (alongside Irving Kristol, Bill’s father) was also a member. However, just as many “paleoconservatives” have participated in CNP, including Michael Peroutka, an open white supremacist and Confederate apologist. As fate would have it, Peroutka is currently running in Maryland’s Attorney General race as the official Republican nominee. In 2004, Peroutka ran for president on the National Constitution Party ticket, a campaign that was endorsed by none other than Alex Jones. Jones’ endorsement was followed by a campaign for Petroutka by the white nationalist League of the South, as well as Pat Buchanan teasing that he would vote for Petroutka.

Another “paleocon” member of the CNP is Jerome Corsi who, not unlike Steve Bannon, started his career as an investment banker and financial advisor in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1995, Corsi even co-created a mutual fund specifically to profit from the liberalization of Poland. Like many paleocons, Corsi criticized George W. Bush but not in the usual “anti-interventionist” sense. On the contrary, Corsi’s critique tended to fall in line with what the neocons would later say about Obama; that Bush didn’t go far enough regarding Iran and that Iran has a network of spies within both parties that pushes foreign policy in its favor. However, Bush Jr. gave a speech to the CNP in 1999 (which has never been released to the public) which is credited with making him a serious candidate for the GOP nomination. Seven years later, Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney, who nobody would consider “paleoconservative” by any measure, also spoke at CNP. According to the Deseret News, these talks were centered on “the strategy for a stronger America, and changing Washington.” Clearly the CNP, which is at any given time staffed by as many “dissident” right-wingers as mainstream conservatives, is a Republican kingmaker. 

There are two conclusions that could be drawn from the existence of the CNP and its mixture of neocon/”mainstream” Republicans and paleocons/”fringe” white nationalist activists. The first would be one that is often peddled by reactionaries themselves; that the “mainstream” conservative movement and even much of the “alternative” has been completely hollowed out and made into “controlled opposition.” And this idea that the opposition of reactionaries to the State is controlled by the State is not incorrect; what is incorrect is the idea that the opposition is controlled because it is a legitimate threat. That is, “the State” is the State apparatus of the American bourgeoisie and the capitalist mode of production, and, as the vast majority of the modern American Right defines itself as anticommunist and firmly in favor of institutional racism, it behooves the State to keep on retainer numerous organizations which are not afraid to get their hands dirty in combating “degenerates” at the street-level and supplementing police operations against uprisings of organized labor, oppressed and marginalized identitarian groups, the homeless, etc.

The second conclusion is implied by this criticism of the first; that the CNP represents the modern “American Right” as it actually is, a hegemonic bourgeois force which is the logical conclusion of capitalist development in America as such (whether intentionally “conservative” or otherwise). That is, whatever proclamations are made by “woke” institutions  like the World Economic Forum, no matter how tolerated a certain number of liberal civil society groups are, the fundamental balance of power is tilted in the United States towards a capitalist class and petit-bourgeois comprador class which is increasingly reactionary, decadent, and “on the defensive.” In turn, organizations such as CNP represent a spectrum of reactionary attitudes, some of which are at odds with each other on particular policy goals but all of which, in aggregate, depend upon the same set of general policies being reinforced and reproduced year after year.

For instance, the 2007 conference which Cheney and Romney attended was organized specifically to pressure the GOP not to nominate Rudy Giuliani for the 2008 Presidential election. This was not because Giuliani represented some particularly fascist “insurrection” but because the former Mayor of New York was not conservative enough. The CNP conference even seriously considered the possibility of supporting a third party candidate if Giuliani got the nomination. To ensure that the CNP did support the GOP, most of the candidates in the Republican primary (minus Giuliani) pledged to appear at the 2007 conference. And in the end, the CNP not only tolerated John McCain, but actively supported his campaign. 

As the New York Times reported in 2008: “Moments after Senator John McCain announced his running mate — Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, an outspoken abortion opponent — his campaign sprang into action to fan flames of enthusiasm among his party’s demoralized conservative supporters.” Phyllis Schlafly, one of the earliest members of the CNP, was allowed “to shape what many advocates say is the most conservative platform in the party’s history. At Ms. Schlafly’s behest, for example, the party approved an immigration plank calling for new laws to speed widespread deportations and other punitive measures at odds with Mr. McCain’s stance on one of his signature issues.” Tony Perkins, CNP’s then-president, told the Times: “I am now more confident about a John McCain presidency than I am about a George Bush presidency.”

A leaked 2014 membership directory shows that Steve Bannon had been a CNP member since 2013.. He was joined by longtime Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway, who served as Senior Counselor to Trump from 2017-2020. Previously, Conway lived in Trump Tower between 2001-2008 and worked with Trump in 2013 when he considered a run for Governor in New York. Yet again, Trump the “insurrectionary outsider” was already a small degree of separation away the mainstream conservative movement, and the mainstream conservative movement was, in turn, already a small step away from its “alternative.” Small wonder, then, that Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah have “contributed thousands of dollars” to the CNP.

In 2011-2012, around the same time that the Mercers and Bannon started working with the CNP, Peter Thiel experimented with the campaign of another “insurrectionary populist” in the GOP.. Thiel had previously endorsed Ron Paul’s 2008 primary campaign, but didn’t become a full fledged backer of Paul until December 2011, when he gave $50,000 to Paul’s Revolution PAC. The venture capitalist then created a pro-libertarian PAC of his own called Endorse Liberty, seeding it with over $2 million. “Men and women who want freedom and growth should take action,” Thiel said in a January 2012 public statement. “A good place to start is voting for Ron Paul.” One month later, Thiel changed his tune: “The campaign really is for 2016. I think we’re just trying to build a libertarian base for the next cycle…For the first time in perhaps 80 years, we have a chance to move the country in a more libertarian direction.” 

One way Thiel chose to aid Paul was by developing a campaign to appeal to cynical, downwardly mobile, middle class Millennials through meme-like campaign skits and more sincere ads with populist aesthetics.  As Max Chafkin writes in his biography of Thiel:

“Thiel’s Super PAC was just odd. It was run not by political types or stalwart libertarian activists, but by a group of political neophytes that included Stephen Oskoui, a Stanford-educated online marketer who was friends with Luke Nosek of Founders Fund, and Jeffrey Harmon, who was known as the guy who’d popularized the Orabrush, a $5 ‘tongue cleaner’ that supposedly combated bad breath…Harmon, who’d learned about the product while studying at Brigham Young University…would start a digital ad agency with several of his brothers that promoted other novelty products, including PooPourri (an anti-odor toilet spray) and the Squatty Potty. (‘Scientists say this popular bathroom accessory really does help you poop better.’)

Harmon’s specialty is in making the weird and unpalatable, palatable…and he used Thiel’s money to sell Paul the same way he sold bathroom products. The Thiel-funded PAC produced a series of low-budget parody videos under the banner ‘Fake Politicians Network,’ featuring impersonators of other candidates, as well as documentary-style short films promoting Paul as a true conservative who wouldn’t cave to Democrats, bankers, or the media.

The videos, some of which were ten minutes long or more, were unusual at the time for their length and their interactivity. Harmon had pioneered the use of a new Google advertising category that allowed marketers to pay to put links inside their videos. ‘Tribute to Our Troops,’ a documentary-style commercial, blamed 9/11 on U.S. military action and included testimonials from veterans who were voting for Paul. Viewers could click and immediately share the video on Facebook, a first for political advertisements.”

Around this time, Thiel received help from his longtime friend and business partner (some might say “toadie”) Jeff Giesea, a reactionary fed ghoul of the highest caliber, who worked with Thiel since the latter’s early days editing the Stanford Review (the campus equivalent of an “anti-PC” neocon rag like Bill Kristols’ Weekly Standard). Since then, Giesea has worked as a public relations manager for Koch Industries, and as the CEO of his own startup, which acquired its seed money from Thiel.

Giesea was also instrumental in manufacturing the “Alt-Right.” He reportedly donated $5,000-the maximum amount that didn’t require donor disclosure to the IRS-to “hipster fascist” Richard Spencer’s white nationalist think-tank, the National Policy Institute (NPI). Furthermore: “In a ‘How to Fund the Alt-Right’ guide posted online in 2016 under an alias, Giesea encouraged donors to give money to a litany of white nationalist and neofascist organizations. The guide stressed “the importance of anonymity and recommended donors use Bitcoin and PayPal, the online money transfer company founded by Thiel.”

Spencer received donations and other support from another source with even more prominent ties to the “mainstream” conservative movement, William H. Regnery II. Regenery’s grandfather was a founding member of the American Security Council which became an outsized influence on or direct progenitor of just about every modern conservative organization in the United States. This includes the Heritage Foundation (which itself harbored Holocaust deniers and neofascists) and Iran-Contra linked Western Goals Foundation, of which Singlaub and Trump’s good friend Roy Cohn were members. The elder Regenery was also a co-founder of the America First Committee, the “antiwar” front for an American fascist movement during World War 2 whose name was repurposed by Trump as a thought-terminating mantra. 

Thus, when reports such as this one characterize Regnery II as excommunicated from the “decent” Republican Party (and even his own family) it rings rather hollow, but we must unfortunately take what we can get, as there is very little information about Regnery II. As the linked article notes, Regenery II “discovered Richard Spencer, the mediagenic agitator who invented the term ‘alt-right.’ In 2011, Regnery made him the frontman for his white nationalist think tank, the National Policy Institute, providing Spencer the platform to launch the alt-right movement.” Previous, Regnery II led a secret group within the American bourgeoisie known as the Charles Martel Society:

“The Society publishes Occidental Observer, a magazine that describes itself as covering ‘White Identity, Interests and Culture.”’ It also publishes the academic-sounding journal Occidental Quarterly, which featured Regnery’s ‘For Our Children’s Children’ speech in its first issue and has articles such as ‘The Case for Eugenics in a Nutshell.’ In 2005, Regnery and a group of his close associates launched a white separatist think tank, the National Policy Institute.

NPI started with $596,000, according to its initial tax filings, $380,000 of which came from the Charles Martel Society. Regnery told BuzzFeed News that about half the money for NPI came from him, and that the rest came from ‘matching”’grants. Its very first press release, in December 2005, was a call for the deportation of all illegal immigrants. Back then, it fell on deaf ears.

Soon, Regnery met a young man named Richard Spencer, who then worked at the American Conservative magazine. Other than coming from a privileged background, Spencer seemed everything Regnery wasn’t: academically successful, publicity-hungry, and youthful. The two men hit it off. At that time, Regnery together with his friend Gottfried, the right-wing author, helped set up a group called the Academy of Philosophy and Letters. Spencer, too, was an early member. But their obsession with race soon put them at odds with the organization they had helped build. Spurned by the academy, Spencer, Regnery, and Gottfried established a new group called The Mencken Club. That was the place where the phrase ‘alternative right’ was first used, according to Regnery, Spencer, and Gottfried. Spencer used it to title a speech by Gottfried: ‘The Decline and Rise of the Alternative Right.’”

Circling back to Giesea, he was also working with Andrew Aurenheimer, the neofascist troll and hacker better known as “weev.” Aurenheimer, whose main gig at the time was as acting webmaster of the Daily Stormer, described Giesea in a private Discord chat as a “major investor providing help to racists … a hugely connected dude … with lots of business interests who was supporting [T]rump stuff.” Another good friend and frequent collaborator of Giesea’s was Charles “Chuck” Johnson, a garden variety conservative provocateur who had important connections: “He’d filled his black book with the names of far more important people whose coattails he could ride: Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; xenophobic commentator Ann Coulter; Blackwater founder Erik Prince; high-profile attorney Alan Dershowitz.” 

The clique of Giesea, Johnson, and Thiel is known to have directly groomed “angry young white men” in at least one instance. During the spat between Thiel and the gossip website Gawker, Johnson used a channel he’d set up on the website Slack for his now defunct crowdfunding platform to mobilize 4chan trolls in the name of defending Thiel. Giesea, Mike Cernovich, and the “mysterious hacker” Ton-That all belonged to this Slack channel. In turn,  “the alt-right backed Thiel to the hilt.” 

At the same time, Giesea had a side-gig writing whitepapers on “memetic warfare” for NATO. In 2015, Giesea published a paper in NATO’s Defence Strategic Communications Journal. This paper, titled “It’s Time to Embrace Memetic Warfare” opens with a question: “Why aren’t we weaponizing trolling and memetics to fight ISIS and other enemies?” He goes on to propose “memetic warfare” as “a guerilla form of information operations that is needed in our rapidly evolving, social media-driven information environment.” According to Giesea, he first came up with this concept when he and Johnson met for drinks and the latter joked that, “The best way to counter ISIS is to unleash an army of trolls on them.”

As Giesea writes: “One could water down its recruiting propaganda using fake ‘sock puppet’ Daesh accounts, creating hall-of-mirrors confusion for sympathizers and recruits. One could expose and harass people in Daesh’s funding network, including their family members. One could even play on Daesh’s prejudices, fears, and hypocrisies, enlisting gay activists worldwide to start and spread a #ISISisgay hashtag, the idea being to denigrate and ridicule Daesh in a way that weakens its appeal to recruits.” Giesea concludes by saying that trolling is “the social media equivalent of guerrilla warfare, and memes are its currency of propaganda.” He even claims that the USA’s enemies beat it to the punch: “Daesh is conducting memetic warfare. The Kremlin is doing it. It is inexpensive. The capabilities exist. Why are we not we trying it?”

We should not take the publication of Giesea’s paper in the NATO journal as an indication that the State is now being successfully “taken over” by reactionary “outsiders.” On the contrary, we should see Giesea’s paper as the culmination of a preexisting development in the reactionary State apparatus which included people like Giesea and Thiel but did not emanate from them. In 2006, for instance, Michael B. Prosser, a major in the Marine Corps, published a paper similar to Giesea’s titled “Memetics-A Growth Industry in US Military Operations.”

Prosser noted that, at the time, memes were not “acknowledged or accepted components of either Information Operations or Strategic Communications.” He argued that “Tomorrow’s US military must approach warfighting with an alternate mindset that is prepared to leverage all elements of national power to influence the ideological spheres of future enemies by engaging them with alternate means—memes—to gain advantage” and sought to develop “a military application and construct using memes designed to understand and defeat an enemy ideology and win over the masses of undecided noncombatants.” In the conclusion of the paper, Prosser notes that “Cognitive scientists, cultural anthropologists, behavior scientists, and game theory experts are the new professional meme wielding gunfighters, who can be organized, trained and equipped for future battlefields.” 

From 2006-2008, a compendium of research papers was gathered by Robotics Technology Inc. on behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD). “The purpose of the following overview is to provide an indication of the prospective value of memetics to the U.S. military for conventional and asymmetric operations, including counterterrorism,” the introduction to the compendium, written by Robert Finkelstein, reads. Finkelstein notes potential military upsides in using memes for PSYOP (psychological operations) IOP (information operations) and even in recruitment drives: “Recruitment may be improved with memetics by influencing the motivation of prospective recruits, enhancing the image of the military, increasing service awareness (―branding), providing a national perspective and global situational context for serving one‘s country.” Likewise, “training can be improved by increasing trainee motivation, providing better explanations for the training, easing comprehension of the training components, enhancing retention of what is learned during training, and solidifying military culture for the trainees (traditions, customs, and mores).”

In 2007, legal scholar and Obama administration bureaucrat Cass Sunstein published a paper which notes that “Many companies, such as Google, Eli Lilly and Microsoft, have created internal prediction markets for product launches, office openings, sales levels and more. At Google, which has disclosed some of its data, the aggregation of dispersed information has yielded remarkably reliable forecasts.” In other words, private companies harvested troves of data from their user-base and adjusted trends in the data to form predictable patterns of behavior. One year later, in 2008, ambassador to Russia William J. Burns (who is currently the director of the CIA) issued a classified memo analyzing “Russia’s NATO enlargement redlines” which, in some instances, appears downright prophetic:

“NATO enlargement, particularly to Ukraine, remains ‘an emotional and neuralgic’ issue for Russia, but strategic policy considerations also underlie strong opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. In Ukraine, these include fears that the issue  could potentially split the country in two, leading to  violence or even, some claim, civil war, which would force Russia to decide whether to intervene. Additionally, the GOR and experts continue to claim that Ukrainian NATO membership would have a major impact on Russia’s defense industry,  Russian-Ukrainian family connections, and bilateral relations generally…

…Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch  a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region.  Not only does 

Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine  Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears  unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.  Experts tell us  that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the  ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a  major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war.  In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to  intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face.”

A 2010 article published in the Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin defines memes as “viruses of the mind” and frames memetic warfare as a process of cleansing populations of “pathogenic” ideas by developing new ideas and actively inculcating the “infected” social group with these ideas. Although the author insists this means a process of replacing “dangerous” memes with “more benign” ones, one can deduce how easy it is to apply “memetic warfare” in the opposite direction, particularly when it is combined with massive data collection. That is,  finding unguided but persistent patterns in the sentiments of different segments of populations and coalescing them into specific organizations, movements, and political actors. “There are a number of propagation techniques that can expedite the saturation of the target message,” the article notes. “Repetition breeds familiarity, and when combined with multiple media formats appeals to a wide range of personality types. Key leaders can quickly influence their followers to accept a message; and gaining their endorsement should be an integral part of any propagation plan. Finally placing someone in a state of cognitive dissonance can open a window of opportunity for changing that individual’s meme set.”

In 2011, Alec Ross, an “innovation advisor” for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, declared that digital networks were “the Che Guevara of the 21st Century.” For Ross, networks spawned leaderless movements and “devolve power from the nation state – from governments and large institutions – to individuals and small institutions. The overarching pattern is the redistribution of power from governments and large institutions to people and small institutions.” He insisted that networks had acted as an “accelerant” to the Arab Spring and, one year later, an article from the US Army JFK Special Warfare Center concurred:

“The 2011 Arab Spring revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East were engineered through citizen-centric computer and cellular-phone technologies that streamed web-enabled social exchanges. The Arab Spring has profound implications for the U.S. special-operations mission of unconventional warfare. This article posits that the study, practice and successful execution of future UW must deliberately account for and incorporate social mediaThe value in examining UW against the Arab Spring is twofold. First, the Arab Spring revolutions and uprisings contain the environmental complexities resident in UW environments. Studying these cases offers insight into the way UW environments might take shape in the future. Second, the aim of UW is to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an occupying power or government; precisely the aim of a revolutionary. The successes and failures of the resistance movements and the subsequent actions of the governments provide valuable information for informing future UW theory, doctrine and training principles.” 

The Army left out of its analysis that the Arab Spring, while being partially organic, was also managed by US-trained and funded experts: “key leaders of the movements having been trained by the Americans in campaigning, organizing through new media tools and monitoring elections. These programs were financed and organized by the International Republican Institute (affiliated with the GOP), the National Democratic Institute (affiliated with the Democratic Party) and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington. In turn, these organizations were supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (which receives about $100 million from Congress annually) and the State Department. In 2008, several Egyptian youth leaders attended a tech meeting in New York City where they learned how to “promote democracy” via social networks and new mobile technologies. According to the New York Times, the meeting was sponsored bythe US State Department, Facebook, Google, and MTV. In the words of one youth leader: “We learned how to organize and build coalitions. This certainly helped during the revolution.”

In 2012, Hillary Clinton’s State Department started several “TechCamps” in Kiev as part of a larger Clinton-led project known as “Civil Society 2.0.” This is “an initiative which builds the digital literacy of civil society organizations around the world” by joining “leaders in the technology community with civil society organizations to provide training, resources, and support that enable civil society organizations to harness the latest connection technologies to build capacity and advance missions.” As a document from the US Embassy in Kiev reveals:

“Civil society leaders received hands-on training in a variety of areas including using Facebook for social media engagement, increasing outreach through online collaborative learning, filming low cost video for outreach and engagement, creating effective websites for NGOs, making use of mapping data to advocate for change, and encouraging transparent governance to improve education…TechCamp participants first brainstormed and then identified the specific problems that they faced and wanted to tackle. The formulations of these problems included such questions as: ‘How do you generate public interest in the activities of NGOs in Ukraine and Belarus?’”

In 2011, The Atlantic published an article detailing the CIA and Pentagon’s “meme trackers” online: 

“…the CIA maintains a social-media tracking center operated out of a nondescript building in a Virginia industrial park… tasked with sifting through millions of tweets, Facebook messages, online chat logs, and other public data on the World Wide Web to glean insights into the collective moods of regions or groups abroad…The CIA facility wasn’t built specifically to track the ebb and flow of social media: The program was established in response to a recommendation by the 9/11 Commission with the initial mandate to focus on counterterrorism and counterproliferation…the center shifted gears and started focusing on social media after watching thousands of Iranian protesters turn to Twitter during the Iranian election protests of 2009, challenging the results of the elections that put Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in power.

In the past few years, sentiment and mood analysis have become mainstays in the defense and intelligence communities. Last October, an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit revealed how the Department of Homeland Security has carefully monitored a variety of public online sources, from social networks to highly popular blogs like Daily Kos for years, alleging that ‘leading up to President Obama’s January 2009 inauguration, DHS established a Social Networking Monitoring Center (SNMC) to monitor social-networking sites for ‘items of interest.’…In August, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), invited analysts to submit proposals on the research applications of social media to strategic communication. DARPA planned on shelling out $42 million in funding for ‘memetrackers’ to develop ‘innovative approaches that enable revolutionary advances in science, devices, or systems.’”

Another article from 2011, this one from Wired, declared that, “DARPA Wants to Master the Science of Propaganda.” The article details the development of so-called Narrative Networks: “By understanding how stories have shaped your mind, the Pentagon hopes to sniff out who has fallen prey to dangerous ideas…With this knowledge, the military can also target groups vulnerable to terrorists’ recruiting tactics with its own counter-messaging.” This goes beyond simple public relations techniques: “Once scientists have perfected the science of how stories affect our neurochemistry, they will develop tools to ‘detect narrative influence.’ These tools will enable ‘prevention of negative behavioral outcomes … and generation of positive behavioral outcomes, such as building trust.’ In other words, the tools will be used to detect who’s been controlled by subversive ideologies, better allowing the military to drown out that message and win people onto their side.”

In 2012, a team working at Eglin Air Force Base issued several research papers having to do with social media campaigns intended to influence real-world actions. One such paper specifically aimed “to investigate how peer pressure from social leaders affects consensus beliefs (e.g., opinions, emotional states, purchasing decisions, political affiliation, etc.) within a social network, and how an interaction algorithm can be developed such that the group social behavior can be driven to a desired end.” Coincidentally, three years after the publication of this study, Eglin Air Force Base was outed as the most “Reddit addicted” city in the world

In the ruins of the Arab Spring, US-backed regime-change operations were unleashed on Libya and Syria. As Western imperialists geared up for a similar operation in Ukraine, Michael Flynn, leader of the Obama-era Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), promoted a whitepaper written by fStephen Cambone, a former assistant to Donald Rumsfeld. Echoing the Army and Alec Ross’s arguments, Cambone emphasizes the importance of “social intelligence” to America’s 21st Century national security complex. Cambone describes social intelligence as “open sources of info that contain or reflect the sentiments, intents, & actions of non-governmental actors.” According to Cambone, “the lack of government control over the development of crises highlights one of the critical ‘lessons learned’ over the last decade and can be applied in the post-pivot environment.” 

The pivot referred to is Obama’s forgotten “Pivot to Asia”, wherein US military personnel were strategically withdrawn from the numerous theaters of war in the Middle East and North Africa and redeployed to areas encircling China. Additionally, US warships were moved into the South China Sea, where they still reside.. For Cambone, the “call for a pivot, is not an occasion to substitute one highly specific and geographically constrained theater [Middle East/Southwest Asia] for another [East Asia].” Instead, the pivot represented, “an opportunity for the national security community to step back from its intense focus on combatting terrorism and conducting combat operations in Southwest Asia and the Middle East to broaden its perspectives and approaches regarding US national security in the coming decades.” 

Flynn believed Cambone’s assessment was “spot-on”, incorporating elements of the whitepaper into the DIA’s official multi-year plan. According to Flynn the 5,000 combat veterans the DIA employs in Washington and in 140 countries around the world as “global scouts” have become “the new normal.” Flynn’s vision for the DIA was to “decentralize decision making to the closest edge” of those who “get a fingertip feel of the environment.” In Flynn’s words, in the new, network-driven warfare “Everything is under attack. Everything is challenged.” The Cambone paper agrees:

“Given the ubiquity, speed, and penetration of communications and the velocity at which events can escalate to crises, one of the great challenges to the broader security and defense strategy of the United States is surprise…Managing national security affairs in a way that avoids the worst of surprises requires a broad knowledge of evolving circumstances, an acute situational awareness of those developments that bear the hallmarks of risk and strategic warning, and an understanding of the potential effects of possible events.” 

To do this, the intelligence community would have to “monitor, observe, overhear & measure what is taking place within the vast & evolving social networks…Social media analysts call it ‘trending’ & ‘sentiment analysis’.” Sentiment analysis “identifies what a population of interest is focused on at a particular moment…whose attitudes are being promulgated to whom and how are those in receipt of messages reacting.” This information can then be used “to call potential interest groups to action.”

As it happens, starting in late 2011, the NSA started construction on a massive data-collection center in Bluffdale, Utah. Two years later, this data center came under scrutiny from the publlic, with the tone of most media coverage being justified paranoia. However, by zooming in specifically on the NSA’s Bluffdale complex, the media did little to cover the general rise of data centers, which has mostly taken place in the “private” sector. Ever since a company named Snap built its SuperNAP facility using infrastructure built by Enron,investment from massive private equity firms into the data center market has exploded: “In 2019 alone, private equity firms accounted for 80% of all data center acquisitions. In total, there were 105 deals that involved private equity firms purchasing data centers. This more than doubled the number of similar deals that were closed in 2017 and was four times as many deals that were closed in 2016. This upward trend has resulted in the value of acquisition deals reaching an all-time high.”

According to researchers at DLA Piper:

“Deal activity in data centre infrastructure has reached unprecedented levels. The total value of data centre infrastructure transactions in 2021 more than doubled from the previous year to USD59.5 billion. The total number of data centre transactions increased by 64% in the same period, up from 69 in 2020 to 117 in 2021. And this extraordinary growth is expected to continue – in the first half of 2022 alone, we have already seen 41 transactions worth USD21.3 billion, double the USD10.6 billion total over the same period in 2021…”

As Gregg Miller, a Senior Technology Analyst at Trefis, wrote about the exploding data center market in 2015:  “Utilizing mega data centers is better for cloud computing because these centers are often directly wired to each other, separate from the public internet. In fact, many of these centers specialize in cloud computing.” Miller also points out that, “inter-connection among mega data centers and their ability to purchase high-speed communications hardware is highly valued and increases a network’s speed. Indeed, most of the United States’ outbound internet traffic already originates at one of these mega centers and is connected directly to ISPs, without ever touching the “old” network that people think about when they imagine the Internet.” 

In other words, private equity and massive corporations are pouring billions into data collection centers, which are then utilized by firms as a means of high-speed, covert communication and storage. This is remarkably similar to the phenomena which created “Dark Fiber”-unused fiber optic cables mostly laid during the dotcom and telecom booms of the 1990s and early 2000s which have since been bought and sold as a commodity. As Brian McCullough explains “All of the money poured into tech companies in the first half decade of the Internet Era built out the infrastructure and economic foundation that would allow the internet to mature in a tangible, physical way.” And when the dotcom bubble burst, wiping out trillions in wealth over night, the Internet as a whole grew stronger:

“…telecom companies raised $1.6 trillion on Wall Street and floated $600 billion in bonds to crisscross the country in digital infrastructure. These 80.2 million miles of fiber optic cable represented fully 76 percent of the total base digital wiring installed in the United States up to that point in history and would allow for the maturation of the internet. And because of a resulting glut of fiber in the years after the dot-com bubble burst, there was a severe overcapacity in bandwidth for internet usage that allowed the next wave of companies to deliver sophisticated new internet services on the cheap. By 2004, the cost of bandwidth had fallen by more than 90 percent, despite internet usage doubling every few years. As late as 2005, as much as 85 percent of broadband capacity in the United States was still going unused. That meant as soon as new “killer apps” were developed, there was plenty of cheap capacity allowing them to roll out to the masses. The tracks, as it were, had already been laid…

…When the bubble burst in 2000, there were only around 400 million people online worldwide. Ten years later, there would be more than 2 billion (best estimates peg the current number of internet users at 3.4 billion). In the year 2000, there were approximately 17 million websites. By 2010, there were an estimated 200 million (today, that number is over a billion). Far from being a fad, the habits we acquired during the bubble era ingrained themselves into the rhythms of everyday life. The dot-coms from that time, the training wheels for the internet, taught us to live online.”

As 2youngbadazz (who I don’t always agree with but who is absolutely on point here) noted in a brilliant twitter thread “in addition to a glut of cheap infrastructure, the bursting of the bubble meant that winners and losers could be picked and bought for cheap and indeed many former tele and dotcom companies were absorbed into military production.” An LA Times piece published in March 23, 2003, about five days after the United States officially started its war on Iraq, reflects this:

“Military spending has grown from $261 billion in fiscal 1999 to $361 billion in fiscal 2003, according to Defense Department figures. For generations, technology developed by or for the military has been adapted for widespread civilian use. The helicopter, the Internet and the Global Positioning System satellite network all spawned mass commercial applications.

Now — with the telecom and dot-com industries staggering and much of the rest of the economy just getting by — the military seems to be returning the favor.

U.S. defense and security officials are rapidly buying up commercial technology and modifying it to suit their needs. ‘Companies all over the country are reorienting their marketing people to look at the federal government — even small and mid-sized companies that never did business with the government before,’ said John Palafoutas, senior vice president of the American Electronics Assn. ‘The government is the only customer with money’…

A recent shift in the Defense Department’s procurement philosophy has made it far easier to sell to the military, said Stephen Forte, chief executive of Ascendent Telecommunications Inc. The Pentagon is demanding fewer extensive product redesigns, instead settling for the best already available.”

Unsurprisingly, dark fiber has become a key part of data center networks

“The world is relying on network capacity to deliver data more and more. Because of this, the data center industry is looking at different ways to keep up with the demand. Dark fiber is becoming one of the commodities data centers are looking towards to develop its operations…Over the past year, investment firms with data center holdings have been acquiring dark fiber experts, and companies are also targeting the cables themselves. These acquisitions are pointing to the strategic importance of how the industry is looking to take advantage of this opportunity. These dark fibers, if in the proper location, can connect major data center hubs. It also shows where investors are looking to invest. The entire range of digital infrastructure assets will all be a focus for investors. This includes data centers, wireless antennas and fiber, and telecom towers.

Because we are using more data than ever before, data centers managers need to ensure their facilities and operations are keeping up with the growing need for faster speeds and greater bandwidth. Dark fiber can give data centers an advantage in the future. Dark fiber has a fixed cost. Internet service providers may not be able to offer the same fixed rate. You can use it in the future to extend the life of your existing cables. With all of these benefits, it makes sense that investors and companies are looking to capitalize on the opportunity found in dark fiber cables.” 

A study from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer center found that, “Since 9/11, the Intelligence Community has relied heavily on private contractors for many different types of support…According to some press reports, 51% of Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) staff currently are contractors.” In 2007, “the DIA was preparing to pay private firms up to $1 billion to conduct ‘core intelligence tasks of analysis and collection’ over the next several years….” One report even suggested that private firms make up 70% of the intelligence community’s budget.

After Michael Flynn left the DIA in 2014, he started a private consulting and intelligence firm called Flynn Intel Group, which had a board of directors assembled entirely from the intelligence community. This included James Woolsey, the former CIA director and ur-neocon who has appeared throughout this story. When Peter Thiel went hunting for investors in Palantir, he turned to his own spooky neocon buddies, George Tenet and John Poindexter. Presumably this is where Flynn himself became interested in Palantir, which, just one year after leaving the DIA, he lobbied the US Army to adopt as an alternative to updating its internally-developed data analytics software.

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