On a recent episode of his show ‘System Update,’ journalist Glenn Greenwald explained how the ‘censorship-industrial complex’ merges corporate media, big tech and the security state to crack down on dissent.
Former security state operatives occupy the highest positions at Big Tech internet platforms, and are responsible for censoring political content and limiting public debate, Glenn Greenwald reported on Tuesday.
Americans have been aware of security state efforts to control media narratives since the 1970s, when the Senate’s Church Committee exposed the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, Greenwald told listeners of his podcast, “System Update.”
Under that program, CIA agents covertly infiltrated and influenced the nation’s largest news organizations.
Project Mockingbird’s exposure greatly embarrassed the media and the government, as the CIA is forbidden from targeting the American public, Greenwald said.
Over the past decade, a series of whistleblowers revealed the U.S. security state has again amped up its covert targeting of American citizens, particularly since the start of the post-9/11 War on Terror.
News that intelligence agencies spied on Americans or infiltrated the news media was considered scandalous just over a decade ago.
But today, things have changed, Greenwald said. In fact, it has become common for top news outlets to openly hire former U.S. security state agents to report and comment on the news.
The U.S. government, in part, dictates what content social media platforms ought to allow on their sites, Greenwald said. But, he added:
“There’s another element, another layer to it, which is they’ve infiltrated these Big Tech companies — these ex-CIA agents have — exactly like they’ve infiltrated corporate news outlets. They’re all over these censorship regimes.”
Greenwald said top positions at the tech firms are now held by people coming directly from intelligence agencies.
For example James Baker, who the Twitter Files revealed was involved in most censorship decisions prior to Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform, worked as general counsel for the FBI before he became deputy counsel for Twitter.
“So the FBI sent its top lawyer to go work in the part of Twitter that censored political content,” Greenwald said. “Do you understand? That’s the FBI controlling our domestic political discourse and the limits of it.”
MintPress News profiled a number of former CIA agents who now manage and develop misinformation policies for Facebook in a July 2022 article that Greenwald shared.
According to the article, the problem isn’t that these people are incompetent. “The problem is that having so many former CIA employees running the world’s most important information and news platforms is only one small step removed from the agency itself deciding what you see and what you do not see online — and all with essentially no public oversight.”
Greenwald said this allows the intelligence agencies to maintain significant influence over news and information flows, while maintaining “some veneer of plausible deniability.”
The U.S. government doesn’t need to tell the platforms what to do because the people making the decisions rose in the ranks of the National Security State first — “meaning their outlooks match those of Washington’s,” Greenwald said, quoting MintPress News.
Greenwald said this is evidence of a multi-pronged effort, where on the one side, former security state operatives propagandize the American people on corporate media and on the other side, they control what can be said on the largest Big Tech platforms.
As a result, he said, the entire range of dissenting views is “simply banned.”
The ‘censorship-industrial complex’
The Twitter account @NameRedacted247 tracks the movement of security state operatives into social media corporations where they work on misinformation and disinformation.
The account provided a thread, which Greenwald’s team confirmed, reporting that as of December 2022, Google employed at least 165 people in high-ranking positions from the intelligence community.
Across the company there were 27 former CIA agents, 52 former FBI agents, 30 people who came from the National Security Agency (NSA), 50 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and six from the Director of National Intelligence.
Facebook had at least 115 former security state operatives in high-ranking positions — 17 from the CIA, 37 from the FBI, 23 from the NSA and 38 from DHS.
Google’s “trust and safety team,” which manages what content is allowed on the platform, is managed by three former CIA agents who control misinformation and hate speech.
One of them, Nick Rossman, referred to “anti-vaxxers” on Twitter as “Nazis” and “Confederates,” Greenwald said, asking:
“Do you think these people are objective arbiters of misinformation? Or do you think they’re using their censorship power inside Big Tech for this in the same way that people inside corporate media are using it to advance the propaganda games of these agencies against their own citizens?”
Greenwald presented a series of online profiles of people who worked in intelligence for years or decades before recently moving into their new roles in Big Tech.
Matt Taibbi reported that the companies began hiring former intelligence agents after the 2016 election when the FBI established its social media-focused task force, The Foreign Influence Task Force or FITF.
Since then, a massive “censorship-industrial complex” has grown up, Greenwald said, that includes the U.S. state, philanthropic foundations, “fact-checking” organizations, Big Tech, universities, think tanks, nonprofits and private contractors.
The ‘hallmark of totalitarianism’
But the most amazing part of this story, Greewnald said, is the lack of pushback by liberals, who used to be the primary critics of the security state. “Central to left liberal politics was the view that these agencies are nefarious,” he said. But that all changed with the Trump presidency:
“…in 2015, in 2016, the US Security state aligned itself against Donald Trump and devoted itself to sabotaging first the Trump campaign and then the Trump presidency.
“That’s where Russiagate came from. That’s where all of those scams came from, including the lie in 2020 if the Hunter Biden laptop was misinformation.”
And because there are now very few media outlets reporting critically on these agencies, he said, they are at “the peak of their power, more powerful than ever.”
Because of that, he said they are embedded in the biggest corporations that control information and propaganda in the U.S. — corporate media and Big Tech.
“This is why they’re so obsessed with destroying the few outposts of independent media, the few places they cannot control, because without those, they really do have a fully closed information system.
“And a fully closed information system is the hallmark of totalitarianism. If you can control how people think and prevent them from hearing dissent, you can control all of their actions because their actions are based in what their thoughts are.
“And if you can control their thoughts, you don’t even need to control their actions. And that is the system that is being created.”
Brenda Baletti Ph.D. is a reporter for The Defender. She wrote and taught about capitalism and politics for 10 years in the writing program at Duke University. She holds a Ph.D. in human geography from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a master's from the University of Texas at Austin.
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