On Friday, journalist Matt Taibbi reported that a Washington, D.C., think tank, the Alliance for Securing Democracy, co-opted by neoconservatives and neoliberals, was the source for "hundreds if not thousands" of mainstream media stories about "Russian bots" running psy-op campaigns in American politics. But, Taibbi pointed out, the think tank's "arbitrary" list of Russian bots was overwhelmingly neither Russian nor bots but often "ordinary people" branded as such.
"These people," Taibbi wrote, "never knew they were used for years to drive hundreds if not thousands of media headlines about supposed Russian bot infiltration of online discussions: about the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, Tulsi Gabbard's campaign, the #ReleaseTheMemo affair, the Parkland shooting, Donald Trump's election, the #WalkAway and #IStandWithLaura hashtags, U.S. missile strikes in Syria, the Bernie Sanders campaign, the 'Blexit' movement to peel Black voters away from Democrats, calls to fire National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, attacks on the Mueller investigation, and countless other issues."
Enter "Hamilton 68," the think tank's online "dashboard," ostensibly designed for reporters and academics to publish, under their reputable institutions' name, numerous and wide-reaching stories about "Russian disinformation" that the think tank itself knew was based on a contrived list.
Speaking on Hamilton 68's bogus methodology for tracking Russian misinformation, Taibbi said during his "America This Week" podcast that "there was only one group in the world that had the ability to crack what it was they were doing," and that was "Twitter," because the social media company was receiving from them what is known as "API requests." And that's exactly what they did.
Being initially skeptical of Hamilton 68, Twitter ran a forensic analysis of accounts on its platform and was able to reverse-engineer the think tank's list of the so-called Russian bot accounts, and what it found shocked it.
"At long last," Yoel Roth, Twitter's former head of trust and safety, wrote in October 2017, "I've been able to reverse-engineer the list of acounts behind the Hamilton 68 dashboard. The [Alliance for] Securing Democracy people have never been willing to release the list to anyone.
"Full list here: ...
"The dashboard includes 648 accounts [as opposed to the 600 they claim]. The selection of accounts is ... bizarre, and seemingly quite arbitrary. They appear to strongly preference pro-Trump accounts [which they use to assert that Russia is expressing a preference for Trump ... even though there's not good evidence that any of the accounts they selected are or are not actually Russian]."
The online dashboard the former Twitter executive speaks of was the brainchild of former FBI agent, now MSNBC "disinformation expert" Clint Watts and was backed by the German Marshall Fund and the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a think tank that holds in its ranks some powerful people such as former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul; neoconservatives such as Bill Kristol, founder and editor of "The Weekly Standard"; neoliberals such as longtime Hillary Clinton associate John Podesta; and a host of intelligence types from such agencies as the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Speaking on the disinformation campaign's impact on the American psyche, author Walter Kirn, Taibbi's podcast co-host, said, "The influence of these on the general discourse has been huge.
"One of the problems that this week I'm having talking — even with my friends — about what's about going on with Ukraine-Russia and our arming of them is that everyone now is trained unconsciously with this sort of dominatrix in the back of their head whipping them every time they depart from approved discourse ... So it's not just that a bunch of news organizations ran hundreds of news stories based on this spurious research, it's that it leaked out into the public mind and created a set of sensitivities, fears, apprehensions, and habits around discussing everything."
Today, Kirn continued, "we find ourselves with ... this new layer of calculation: 'Can I discuss this without being accused or laying myself open to the accusation of subversion, of [Vladimir] Putin-loving, of whatever it might be?' This is automated McCarthyism. I don't ever want to hear again about the 1950s until we've dealt with this."
On Saturday, Hamilton 68 lists as its "toplines" of disinformation, the war in Ukraine, the "amplification" of President Joe Biden's classified document scandal from "Kremlin-linked" accounts, and Davos or the World Economic Forum's open consortium of powerful world leaders.
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