Category Archives: politics

Media manipulation – the tail wags the dog

The Integrity Initiative logo. Don’t be fooled by the words”democracy”: and “disinformation” – they often come out of the mouths of scoundrels these days.

Recent exposure of a shady organisation, the Integrity Initiative, has exposed how media, “think tanks” and politicians are mobilised in campaigns to manipulate public opinion and achieve political objectives. leaked documents show how this is funded by states (in this case the UK) as well as private interests.

Set up in 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft, the Integrity Initiative Describes itself as:

“a network of people and organizations from across Europe dedicated to revealing and combating propaganda and disinformation.”

And it describes its purpose as:

“To counter Russian disinformation and malign influence, and associated weapons of “Hybrid warfare”, in Europe and North America by: expanding the knowledge base; harnessing existing expertise, and; establishing a network of networks of experts, opinion formers and policy makers, to educate national audiences in the threat and to help build national capacities to counter it.”

Don’t be fooled by the term “Russian disinformation.” This really means any information the NATO states want to keep hidden or information with a different spin to that preferred by the NATO establishment.

The documents show the mechanism the Integrity Initiative uses to influence public and political opinions. This uses “clusters” of journalists, politicians, the staff of “think tanks” and state bodies like the Ministry of Defence. And no doubt intelligence agents will be in there somewhere.

They say:

“Members of Integrity Initiative clusters actively engage with policy-makers, and the wider public in their own countries to show them the damage which can be done to their societies by disinformation.”

The most public part of this “engagement” will be media campaigns.

An example of how these “clusters” work

Leaked documents from this groups give an example of one of their successful campaigns – the reversal of the planned appointment of Pedro Baños as Director of National Security in Spain.

First – this from the Wikipedia entry for Pedro Baños (machine translation from Spanish):

“[He] started working as an analyst at the General Secretariat of the Army Staff in 1999 and in 2001, for three years, he was Head of Counterintelligence and Security of the European Army in Strasbourg . 3 From 2004 to 2010 he served as Professor of Strategy and International Relations at the Higher School of the Armed Forces. From 2010 to 2012 he was assigned to the Strategic Affairs and Security Division of the General Secretariat for Defense Policy, as head of the Geopolitical Analysis Area, and in 2012 he moved to stand-by working later as an analyst and autonomous lecturer.

He has worked at the European Parliament’s headquarters in Brussels as a military adviser and has participated in three missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina ( UNPROFOR , SFOR and EUFOR ).

In 2017 he published the book Así se domina el mundo. Unveiling the keys to world power , a dissemination work on geopolitics, denouncing the “hypocrisy” of international politics in which it considers that “there are no good or bad” and that each country “seeks its interests”. 4

On June 7, 2018 it was announced that it would assume the National Security Directorate of Spain with responsibility for the secrecy of the Government’s communications, the coordination of the National Security, Maritime Security and Cybersecurity councils, as well as the management of migratory crises and energetics 6 days later he transpired that finally the President of Government Pedro Sanchez opted by the General Miguel Angel Ballesteros for the position.”

The news report Sanchez dismisses Pedro Baños as director of National Security and finally opts for General Ballesterosdescribes the event in the last sentence above.

Apparently, the decision reversal arose from a “barren polemic for his media profile and his opinions on international politics.” This polemic accused him of “having sympathy for the Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

See the problem? Because Pedro Baños recognised that in international relations “each country seeks its interests” he gets labeled as a supporter of Vladimir Putin and hence guilty of promoting Russian Disinformation.”

This documents from the Integrity Initiative reveals how this “barren polemic” was carried out:

Funding for the Integrity Initiative campaigns

This outfit claims private funding for the early years but is now funded by the UK government to the tune of over 2 million pounds per year. This is acknowledged by the outfit itself – a bit hard to deny as the leaked documents come largely from their funding applications.

The network revealed by cluster members

The leaked documents contain information for cluster groups in a number of European countries. I will just list one example here – the members of the UK cluster in its subgroups. The cluster is led by Keith Sargent – a member of The Institute for Statecraft according to his email address. (The leaked documents contain email address but I have not included them in the post as I hesitate to show personal information. However, readers can access the leaked document with these addresses here –392195849-UK-Cluster).

Office Core Team

This contains 15 staff and 3 fellows so gives some idea of the financial backing and size of the UK cluster.

I have provided names for members of the other clusters as readers will no doubt recognise some of these people.

UK General – Inner Core – Russia

William Browder
Mungo Melvin
Ben Nimmo
Ed Lucas
Anne Applebaum
Charles Dick
Euan Grant
Bobo Lo
John Lough
Vadim Kleiner
Drew Foxall
Vladimir Ashurkov
James Nixey
Craig Oliphant
James Sherr
Keir Giles
Kadri Liik
Igor Sutyagin
Andrew Wood
Peter Pomerantsev
Ian Bond
Nina Jancowicz

How many names do you recognise? William Bowder is a very active campaigner for Russian sanctions and promoter of the Magnitsky Act. Anne Applebaum can be relied on for frequent and rather naive anti-Russian media articles and books. Ben Nimmo works for the Atlantic Council in its Digital Forensic Research Lab and is well know for outing real live humans as automatic “Russian Bots.” The Digital Forensic Research Lab is contracted to work with Facebook to censor accounts and “fake news.”

UK General – Inner Core – Military & Defence

John Ardis
Rob Dover
Robert Hall
Dr David Ryall
Neil Logan Brown
Ahmed Dassu
Anonymous
Duncan Allen
Catherine Crozier
David Fields
Alex Finnen
Giles Harris
Charlie Hornick
Paul Kitching
Alan Parfitt
Andy Pryce
Arron Rahaman
Rob Sandford
Richard Slack
Nick Smith
Joanna Szostek
Nick Washer
Joe Green
Adrian Bradshaw
Jeremy Blackham
Andrew

The email addresses show a number of members of the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence in this sub-cluster.

UK General – Outer Core – Russia

Roderick Collins
Julian Moore
Alexander Hoare
Graham Geale
James Wilson
Sir Adam Thompson
Alastair Aitken
Chris Bell
Robin Ashcroft
Alistair Wood
Orsyia Lutsevych
Ben Bradshaw
Baiba Braze
Nick Childs
Alzbeta Chmelarova
Zach Harkenrider
David Nicholas
Maya Parmar
Ellie Scarnell
Asta Skaigiryte
Gintaras Stonys
Ian Williams
Carl Miller
Clement Daudy
Gabriel Daudy
Lucy Stafford
Diane Allen
Alexandros Papaioannou
Paddy Nicoll

This list contains several members of parliament and staff of government departments. Baiba Braze’s email address is for the UK embassy in Latvia.

UK General – Outer Core – Military & Defence

Patrick Mileham
Agnes Josa
Steve Jermy
Steve Tatham
Primavera Quantrill
Lorna Fitzsimons

Agnes Josa’s email address is for the Government of Catalonia.

UK Journalists

Deborah Haynes
David Aaronovitch
Dominic Kennedy
Natalie Nougayrede
Bruce Jones
Neil Buckley
Jonathan Marcus

These journalists work for The Times, The BBC and the Financial Times.

Conclusion

It is naive to think that the frequent political campaigns we see arise spontaneously. These leaked documents provide one illustration of how such campaigns can be launched and coordinated. How they are facilitated by links between think tanks, military, and state departments, politicians and journalists. It is logical that these networks will also contain intelligence agents.

Although this organisation and similar ones promote themselves as fighting “disinformation” readers would be naive to taker them at their word. They often promote disinformation or fake news themselves, or at least provide a spin on events and news promoting a state and ideologically approved narrative.

The mainstream media is clearly integrated into such networks – which should make readers think twice about the news this media presents. My advice is to always approach the media, all media, critically and intelligently. And to include alternative sources of information in one’s day-to-day reading.

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And you thought Russiagate could not get sillier.

It’s true – clouds do have silver linings. If it weren’t for the mindless hysteria of the Russiagate mythology promoted in the USA and UK I would never have heard about this delightful children’s animated video series – Masha and the Bear.

This isn’t the first silver lining I have come across. The mainstream media have now and then offered up lists of automated “Russian bots,” “Russian trolls,  social media accounts promoting “Russian propaganda,” and alternative media sources the mainstream media want us to steer clear of. These lists have given me, and others, media sources and social media accounts which often give information and news of a far higher quality than that promoted by the mainstream media.

In one of these lusts I even came across an amazing Ukrainian pianist, Valentina Lisitsa, who was described as an automated “Russian bot” by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. (The Digital Forensic Research Lab is currently helping Facebook remove “fake” and “inauthentic” accounts – so no wonder there are problems.)

Valentina Lisitsa plays a Rachmaninoff Prelude. She had been identified as n automated “Russian bot” by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

But now the mainstream media has brought Masha and the Bear to my attention (see UK Times: Children’s show is propaganda for Putin, say critics and The Daily Mail: Is Masha and the Bear a Putin stooge? Critics claim cartoon with 4.18m subscribers is made by Kremlin to subvert children). Apparently the child video series is simply another of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plots to spread discord in the West! Specifically by subverting our children! And not just our children – also our adults, according to The Times:

“A spoiled girl and a bear, which certainly symbolizes Russia, penetrate into the immature children’s mind and influence it, while adults obviously fall under the influence of ‘Russian propaganda channels’,”

The authors of these articles found quotable sources in countries bordering the Russian Federation to “prove” their point. They even found an intelligence expert from The University of Buckingham, Professor Anthony Glees, to give “expert” academic backing to their story.

Russia has a deserved reputation for high-quality animations so it is not surprising this series is very popular. It has received more than 30 billion views on YouTube (see How a goofy Russian cartoon bear is conquering the world‘MASHA AND THE BEAR’ TAKES ON THE WORLD and  ‘MASHA AND THE BEAR’ RISES TO THE TOP)

Judging from comments on these articles claiming the child videos are “Putinesque,” readers are laughing. Many comments are from parents whose children regularly watch and love Masha and the Bear.  One commenter attempted to start a rumour that Masha was sighted in Salisbury earlier this year. Another wondered if his son would develop the habit of riding bare-chested on his teddy bear.

Problem is that one should really be concerned when supposedly “reputable” news media publish this sort of rubbish. Perhaps even more concerned that a reputable academic, expert on intelligence and security matters and advisor to governments is promoting this sort of hysteria.

Oh well. At least I have discovered Masha and the Bear and I am looking forward to using these videos in my future babysitting tasks.

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Trump and the media – codependents wallowing in the mud

Now, this is what “doctoring” really looks like!

This whole Trump-Acosta issue got me thinking of an old warning: Don’t fight with pigs – you only end up getting dirty and the pig enjoys it anyway.

That certainly seems the case with Trump. He thrives on these conflicts – and truth be told it probably doesn’t harm his rating in any way. His supporters see these fights as him standing up to a biased press and doing a great job.

But, here’s the thing. Ever since the media and Trump got into a childish debate last year over the size of the crowds and TV audience for his inauguration I have thought that both sides were acting badly. The president was being unpresidential and the media unprofessional. The “alternative facts” story was played dishonestly – by both sides.

I think Trump loves such controversies and thinks they bring him support. And he is probably right. But what the hell are the media thinking?

In the end, the media should be reporting the news. Media personalities should stop thinking they are politicians and that it is their role to get into political debates. It isn’t.

Opponents of Trump may enjoy such confrontations but in the end, they just discredit the media.

If the media stuck with reporting the facts and opinions of the politicians they question, readers and viewers could make up their own minds. That is what being an adult is about – we don’t need the media to predigest our news or attack politician’s statements. We are not really interested in the biased opinions of the media personalities. Those media personalities may enjoy their grandstanding and minute of fame but this does not help the reader or viewer. In many cases it just turns them away from the mainstream media.

I can’t help feeling that both sides  Trump and the mainstream media are enjoying these fights.  But that just means both sides are getting dirty and both sides are failing at their jobs.

No wonder people are looking for alternatives – alternative politicians and alternative media.

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Julian Assange’s mother appeals for her son’s freedom

Despite many appeals for the freedom of incarcerated journalists throughout the world, our media remains largely silent about Julian Assange who has effectively been imprisoned in the London  Embassy of Ecuador for over 6 years and faces the possibility of draconian legal action if he is ever extradited to the US.

His current plight is extreme and this appears to have resulted from US pressure on Ecuador to break down Assange’s mental and physical health to the state where he will surrender to extradition.

I just wish our media could be more open-minded and direct some of their concern Assange’s way. And I wish all this rubbish about Latin America’s Troika of Terror and Axis of Evil would stop. Or perhaps our media should be more honest, recognise the evil done to those countries by the USA and apply some of this derogatory terminology to the USA itself.

After all, with the recent resounding UN General Assembly condemnation of the long-standing US sanctions against Cuba perhaps there is more justification to reverse this labeling and define the US (and it only allies in the UN vote – Ukraine and Israel) as “Rogue States.”

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Nuclear dangers if INF treaty abandoned could be worse than in the 1980s

Gorbachev and Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1987. Source: Wikipedia.

The 1980s were an eventful time in New Zealand. Older readers may remember the Springbok tour, the behaviour of Mr Muldoon, the National Party Prime minister in the early 80s, the snap election (over a proposed nuclear-free bill), the election of Labour in 1984, the French terrorist bombing of a ship in Auckland harbour, the local terrorist bombing of the Wellington trade union centre and murder of its caretaker Ernie Abbott, and New Zealand’s proud international stance opposing nuclear weapons.

An exciting time, but a very worrying time. Even in New Zealand, we were concerned about the nuclear arms race, and particularly the buildup of intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. These were extremely dangerous as they significantly shortened any warning time of a nuclear attack to mere minutes and produced a trigger-happy situation. “Use them or lose them” became a real military strategy – and this raised the potential of a worldwide nuclear conflagration.

So the signing of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) in 1987 was very welcome. This treaty banned the deployment of such destabilising weapons in Europe and European politicians have rightly described it as a foundation of European security ever since.

Now the US is threatening to pull out of this treaty. It clearly wants to develop and deploy these class of weapons again. The Russian Federation has replied with a pledge to respond with their own weapons development. Europeans are concerned, but seemingly not US politicians.

Perhaps because the immediate threat from this class of weapons is local (even though their use would most probably trigger a worldwide nuclear conflict). The US is not immediately threatened by such missiles close to their borders like European countries are.

But isn’t this very short-sighted? After all, abandonment of this treaty could encourage the Russian Federation to set up bases for these weapons closer to the US and to buildup deployment of nuclear-armed submarines close to the US coast. This would be the only way for Russians to achieve real parity with the USA with these weapons.

Remember the Cuban missile crisis? The US responded with appropriate fear to the threat of a Soviet missile base in Cub in 1992. They were so concerned that the world watched in horror during October 1962 as their response threatened world war. One would think with that history they should understand how Europeans, including Russians, view the current US stance.

But the current situation is more dangerous

The INF treaty has prevented any reoccurrence of situations like the Cuban missile crisis. But, I think the abandonment of the INF treaty could lead to a situation more dangerous than we saw in the 1980s. For two reasons:

1: These missiles will be stationed even closer to dangerous international borders. Previously the Soviet Union had the buffer territory of the Warsaw Pact countries, eastern Europe. Now the Russian Federation has no buffer. (As a telling Twitter comment said: “It’s really a bit much for Russia to set up a country for themselves on NATO’s very doorstep!”). These missiles could be based right on their border. And correspondingly, Russian missiles could be based on the borders of neighbouring NATO countries.

Reaction times will be even shorter than in the 1980s and nuclear strategy would become even more trigger happy.

2: The international climate is more tense than in the 1980s, and specifically the USA-Russian Federation relationship more problematic.

In the 1980s there were clear ideological and political differences but the situation was recognised by both sides and there seemed to be respect for each other. A recognition that the other side had their own legitimate interests which should be taken into account.  Negotiations were possible – and indeed fruitful when it came to controlling nuclear arms.

Today there seems to be no respect. Negotiations seem impossible. Indeed, the US president gets accused of treachery if he so much as talks with the Russian president. Despite the lack of obvious ideological and political divisions, the anti-Russian hysteria in the US is much greater than the anti-Soviet fears during the 1980s.

That in itself creates an extra danger. It inhibits the necessary contacts and negotiations at a time when such contact and negotiation have become extremely important.

Negotiations and contact the key

Of course, the very success and importance of the INF treaty do not mean it has no problems or that it should not be reviewed or renegotiated. After all, it is over 30 years old. Other countries now have such nuclear weapons and are deploying them. Israel, India, Pakistan and China for example.

Pakistani Intermediate-range ballistic missile. Image sourceMissile deterrence: Pakistan tests nuclear-capable ballistic missile.

The US itself may have intentions of deploying these sort of weapons in Asia (not covered by the INF treaty) as well as along the Russian border in Europe. Deployments in Asia and the Middle East bring a new set of problems and this is an argument for renegotiation of the existing treaty or new negotiations on new treaties involving Asia and Middle Eastern countries.

Difficult I know, but a hell of a lot safer than another intermediate-range nuclear arms race and deployment.

The US claims that the Russian Federation has violated the INF treaty with the development of new weapons. The Russian Federation has made similar claims about the US. While President Trump appeared to use this claim to justify their abandonment of the treaty this is disingenuous.

Like all such treaties, the INF contains provisions for inspection and investigation of complaints. Charges of treaty violations are simply political garbage if not accompanied by formally invoking the complaint and investigation procedures. In fact, I think when complaints like this are made and the formal procedures not followed we can be sure the claims are false.

However, the answer to all these problems is surely maintaining contact, using the existing treaty negotiation processes and embarking on any new negotiations where required. All this is infinitely preferable to the alternative of launching the world into a new dangerous and very destabilizing nuclear arms race.

Is Trump the problem?

Well, the guy is a buffoon, even if a legitimately elected buffoon, and makes unexpected and stupid decisions. But I think in this case he is simply following the record and policies of ultra-conservatives in the US and UK who really seem to be pulling his strings on such matters.

The USA has a record of withdrawing from important treaties predating Trump. The USA pulled out of the anti-ballistic missile treaty in 1992. There have been ongoing problems with US cooperation in the Open Skies Inspection Treaty which helps monitor adherence to treaties like the INF.

Trump is guilty of a lot of things – but I believe it wrong to blame him for the current US political hysteria which inhibits contact between the US and the Russian Federation and the negotiation or renegotiation of important agreements.

US anti-Russian hysteria is dangerous – for the world as well as the USA

It is easy to pass off the anti-Russian hysteria in the US as simply an US foible. Nothing for us to worry about it. Just a way fo a defeated presidential candidate to explain her failures.

The anti-Russia hysteria is out of control and dangerous. Image Source: AMID ‘RUSSIAGATE’ HYSTERIA, WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

But the hysteria is real. No matter there is no evidence to support the charges made against Russia this hysteria has developed its own legs. It has penetrated into the organs of state and severely limits the ability of top state officials to carry out their responsibilities at the international level. Specifically to carry out their responsibilities in their relations with the Russian Federation.

And that affects us all. Yes, there has been a political overflow so that this anti-Russian hysteria has even infected many of our politicians and media people in New Zealand. Relatively easily as it has built on a long-standing anti-communist and anti-soviet base. (In fact, I sometimes find current critics of the Russian Federation referring to that country as the Soviet Union, or describing it as a communist country).

More concerning for me is that this hysteria is making the world a more dangerous place. It inhibits the ability of major powers to cooperate in solving outstanding international problems like the war in Syria. And such US-Russian cooperation is vital to solving these problems.

The hysteria is also making the collapse of treaties like the INF treaty much more likely. It is making it harder to renegotiate these treaties or to negotiate new ones. That is destabilising.

It seems to me that the production and deployment of new intermediate nuclear missiles are very dangerous because it is destabilising. it will lead to a new “use them or lose them” military strategy and encourage trigger happiness. I can only hope that wiser heads will manage the situation until the US political hysteria disappears and sanity can be returned to international relations.

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Who is weaponising the vaccination debate?

Image credit: How To Win a Vaccination Debate

The  media are promoting a new scientific paper on the vaccination debate. Their interest is undoubtedly driven by the study’s conclusion that “Russian trolls” (and by implication the Russian state) are amplifying this debate to promote discord in the US. The title describes this as “Weaponization of Health Communication.”

I am very cynical. After all, the media loves to dramatise these matters – and scientists are not immune to the temptation of taking advantage of this and the current political environment. The data the authors present is weak and has a far more reasonable explanation than the one they assume.

Yes, I may well be called a “Russian troll” or one of “Putin’s Useful Idiots” (and it wouldn’t be the first time) for expressing these doubts. But I have read the paper and this was helpful as it provides sources enabling me to do my own checking.

The paper is:

Broniatowski, D. A., Jamison, A. M., Qi, S., AlKulaib, L., Chen, T., Benton, A., … Dredze, M. (2018). Weaponized Health Communication: Twitter Bots and Russian Trolls Amplify the Vaccine Debate. American Journal of Public Health.

That’s just the abstract but here is a link to the full text.

The paper summarises its main claim about “Russian trolls” as:

“Russian trolls and sophisticated Twitter bots post content about vaccination at significantly higher rates than does the average user. Content from these sources gives equal attention to pro- and antivaccination arguments. This is consistent with a strategy of promoting discord across a range of controversial topics—a known tactic employed by Russian troll accounts. Such strategies may undermine the public health: normalizing these debates may lead the public to question long-standing scientific consensus regarding vaccine efficacy.”

The sources

The analysis relies on subjective judgment for defining a twitter account as a bot, but it does use two publicly available lists of twitter accounts (and tweets from these accounts) defined as inauthentic or false “Russian trolls.”

These sources are:

  1. “Russian troll accounts identified by NBC news” which allegedly documented “Russian interference in the US political system” (see Twitter deleted 200,000 Russian troll tweets. Read them here), and
  2. “Accounts the US Congress identifies as Russian trolls” (see Twitter’s list of 2,752 Russian trolls).

The evidence supporting their main claim is given in their Figure 1: Bots’ Likelihood of Tweeting About Vaccines Compared With Average Twitter Users: July 14, 2014–September 26, 2017. See below:

Tweets from the “NBC Russian Trolls” contain a higher incidence of vaccination keywords than tweets from the average twitter user. To be clear – this is not evidence of promotion of an anti-vaccine message (“Content from these sources gives equal attention to pro- and antivaccination arguments”). It simply shows these collection of tweets contained a higher than average reference to this polarizing subject.

I suspect a similar analysis of this collection of tweets would also show a higher than average incidence for other polarizing subjects in this collection. It is the nature of the tweet selection not evidence of a specific motive.

In fact this claim of “promoting discord” is so commonly used nowadays that it seems to have lost any meaning. Politicians now attribute this motive to much of the Russian social media – and to Russian mainstream media (eg., RT and Sputnik) news reports.

We should note that the authors did not attempt to justify the highly political allegation. They simply aligned themselves with the political message, but the senior author Broniatoski admits “we cannot say that with 100% certainty, because we’re not inside their head.”

Unfortunately, they did not consider for one moment other possible explanations for their results (that is highly unscientific and reveals a bias). I think this illustrates the power of the controlling or prominent political narrative. Anti-Russian hysteria is widespread in the US at the moment.

But there are more innocent motives for such tweets which a more objective analysis would have considered (see below).

The “guilty” tweets

I have looked through the database listing the tweets identified as from“Russian troll accounts identified by NBC news.” The incidence of reference to vaccination in the tweets from“Accounts the US Congress identifies as Russian trolls” was not much different to that for the “average user” so I did not consider them.

There were 203,451 tweets in this collection and I found about 100 (about 0.05%) included a vaccine keyword (vacc*). The paper gives examples of both pro and anti-vaccine tweets from this collection and mine were similar. These were hardly remarkable – indeed most of them were retweets. For example:

  • RT @HealthRanger: Don’t miss this: #autism-vaccine link explained by doctors!   https://t.co/L9ziemow6o  #antivax #vaccines #adhd
  • RT @ActivistPost: States are rushing to pass vaccine mandates before everyone realizes that they’re completely unnecessary at best, harmful…
  • RT @HealthRanger: Danish #documentary exposes widespread damage caused by HPV vaccine https://t.co/nuQqQ1u0XZ  #health #vaccines #antivax #…
  • RT @HealthRanger: Never inject them. #antivax #vaccines #natural #health https://t.co/oY0XLqRkdH
  • RT @pakalert: The Scary TRUTH About Vaccines (Satanic illuminati Vaccines Agenda Exposed Full Documentary) https://t.co/fxs8zOwVnV
  • RT @WorldTruthTV: Robert De Niro To Produce Film Proving Vaccines Cause Autism | World https://t.co/telXZBWPRi https://t.co/VrApvqn62s
  • RT @CobraCommans: Canadian scientists to test promising HIV vaccine on 600 volunteers @ANCParliament @My_AfricanUnion @AfricaHealthFor
  • RT @GStein269: Perry talking about Drugs and Vaccines? https://t.co/lsxJN2Udcy
  • RT @SanJosePost: #politics California’s vaccine bill passes Assembly, next hurdle: Gov. Jerry Brown
  • RT @varadmehta: Having a vaccine truther chair a commission on vaccine safety is something that merits actual outrage. But media only has o…
  • RT @blicqer: Major HIV Vaccine Trial Set to Begin in South Africa  https://t.co/fPkW3XYV32 @TheRoot https://t.co/I5iRgU42Yn

The #VaccinateUS hashtag

The paper describes the #VaccinateUS hashtag as:

“designed to promote discord using vaccination as a political wedge issue. #VaccinateUS tweets were uniquely identified with Russian troll accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency—a company backed by the Russian government specializing in online influence operations.”

Again, it did not provide any evidence to support this allegation.

The authors claim these tweets “contain a combination of grammatical errors, unnatural word choices, and irregular phrasing.” I did not see this myself – the grammar in these tweets appeared to me to be far better than the average tweets I see. The authors did acknowledge that these “messages contain fewer spelling and punctuation errors than do comparable tweets from the general vaccine stream.”

Tweets with this hashtag are about evenly divided between pro- and anti-vaccination potions (“43% were provaccine, 38% were anti vaccine, and the remaining 19% were neutral”). It occurred rarely in the quarter million tweets.

While they appear to have been specifically written by the account holders or staff at the organisation behind them, rather than simple retweets, they hardly provide evidence for a motive of “sowing discord.”

Here are some examples:

  • what will you fill when you get a disease that you could’ve been protected from? #VaccinateUS
  • if we don’t have regular chek ups and get #vaccines-what’s the point of doctors’ work? #VaccinateUS
  • open your eyes, people! It’s all government conspiracy plan  #VaccinateUS
  • our government cares only about money so it’s profitable for them to say that #vaccination is necessary #VaccinateUS
  • the production of a #vaccine is disgusting #VaccinateUS
  • #VaccinateUS FDA  state that #vaccines are safe
  • #VaccinateUS For sure #vaccines work!
  • God bless big pharma. You fools #VaccinateUS

Amplification of the anti-Russian hysteria

Ironically the charge laid at the supposed “Russian trolls” (that they seek to sow discord by amplifying existing electoral or polarizing debates) is actually typical of much of the reaction in our media to stories like this. In fact these media reports are aimed at sowing discord and promoting Russophobia. And, unfortunately, such anti-Russian amplification, or weaponization to use the language of the paper, comes from people I would have thought should know better.

This example from March for Science – a social media group formed after Trump’s election and aimed at mobilising scientists against anti-science policies of the new administration.

They are reposting an article from the Guardian (which these days leaps onto any anti-Russian argument they find). But in doing so they add their own claim:
” Study finds that 93% of tweets about vaccines between 2014 and 2017 were planted by bots and Russian trolls with the aim of sowing division.”

The 93% is the invention of March for Science as neither the paper or The Guardian provided this figure. And the study did not “find” that Russian trolls were sowing divisions – that was the prevailing assumption they started with. March for Science is simply crudely (very crudely considering their invention of 93%) amplifying the anti-Russian narrative and contributing to weaponization of social media against the Russian Federation.

Bringing this home, the NZ Facebook page Science Community New Zealand reposted the March for Science claim. Here we have social media accounts claiming to be pro-science amplifying an outright lie on social media.

Update: Science Community New Zealand has now removed the offending post – a good sign perhaps.

I am disappointed at such a naively political falsification from organisations which is meant to be promoting science. It does show how persuasive the current anti-Russian hysteria is – but it is especially disappointing to see people who should know better succumbing to it. Or, perhaps, I have been fooled and the real motives of March for Science and Science Community New Zealand have been far more questionable right from the start.

A more realistic motive for these tweets

The motive given by the study’s authors, and usually promoted in the current mainstream media narrative (sowing discord to weaken US society), really does not hold water. That strategy could more legitimately be attributed to ordinary US twitter users who indulge in tweeting on controversial subjects in far larger numbers. Anything  added by these Russian trolls is minuscule. If the Kremlin genuinely has such a strategy it should be judged a pitiful failure.

But what about this shady company Internet Research Agency based in St Petersburg? I have no doubt it exists and that it is planting material in social media like Facebook and Twitter. Presumably it is also setting up non-authentic or fake accounts for this purpose.

However, the paper’s claim that it is “a company backed by the Russian government” is not supported by any evidence at all and is typical of the way our media continually falsely claims that Russian individuals and entities are connected to the Kremlin or “close to Putin” – simply because of their ethnicity.

While the company (and many similar companies indulged in similar activity) have no credible results in “sowing discord” (compared with the ordinary, authenticated users of Twitter and Facebook in the US) they do seem to be doing this for commercial purposes. These appear to be similar to the activity of the Cambridge Analytica company which acquired personal data from social media users which they then marketed to political users.

Using fake or inauthentic accounts to retweet messages, or plant original messages, in a polarizing political or health debates is one way of mining personal data. Authentic users who retweet, “like” or repost such messages reveal a preference or bias which is of interest to companies involved in marketing products and ideas. Even seeding social media with pictures and videos of cats and dogs which attract likes, retweets and reposts can help obtain information of use to commercial and political entities.

Hell, Google, Facebook and Twitter themselves are involved in mining account holder’s personal information and selling it to advertisers.

How else do we end up getting social media messages related to topics we have searched for information on, or have commented  on in social media. On the surface this appears harmless, even useful (although the continual  messages I still get offering travel insurance just because I researched the topic several months ago are rather tiring – and counter-productive as they turn me off the advertiser).

Conclusions

My main objection to this paper is its uncritical and unthinking acceptance of the prevailing political narrative. I think it shocking that a scientific study makes no attempt to question or validate the narrative it relies on.

The data is extremely weak – only someone intoxicated by the political narrative will seriously see the extremely small number of tweets and retweets they found as evidence of a “strategy of sowing discord.”

Finally, the authors make no effort to consider other more reasonable explanations for their data. That is a pity as mining personal data by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Cambridge Analytica, the Internet Research Agency and other commercial companies should concern us all. Targeted advertising is very intrusive and annoying. Targeted political influence is also no doubt occurring and should concern us.

But the old trick of blaming the Russians for these problems is diverting our attention away from the real culprits.

I guess this shows how a bad political climate and destructive prevailing narrative can influence even the most scientific researcher.

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Another BUK accident in Ukraine

Ukrainian BUK transport misses corner and ploughs into a building in the centre of Kiev. Image credit: Hromadske

It seems the Ukrainians do have problems with some of their military equipment. In particular their BUK missile systems (A BUK missile was implicated in the Malaysian MH17 tragedy in July 14 – see But will it stand up in court?).

A Ukrainian BUK missile destroyed a passenger airline (Siberia Airlines Flight 1812) in 2001 with the loss of 78 passengers and crew. Apparently as a result of an accidental firing during military exercises in the Black Sea. Now one of these systems has had an accident in the heart of Kiev during rehearsals for an independence day parade due August 24th.

‘Vlad Vash’, an eyewitness, wrote on Facebook:

“Well, there is your parade for you! First a tank nearly mowed me down, but stopped just in time. Then the very next vehicle drove into a wall.”

This just illustrates to me a huge flaw in the official investigation of the MH17 tragedy. The Joint Investigation Team seemed to start with a preconceived scenario (“the Russians did it”) and were sufficiently blinkered not to investigate alternative scenarios (see But will it stand up in court?). I have always been amazed that the investigation did not look at the BUK missiles systems held in the conflict area by both the Ukrainian army and the Donbass rebels (see my article Political interference prevents investigators from considering the “bleeding obvious”).

Accidents do happen and the Ukrainian army has a recoird of such accidents. There were also reports of poor maintenance and drunkenness among military personnel at the time. In fact, the situation in the Ukraineian army was so bad theat many soldiers defected to the rebels and the Kiev regime set up National Guard brigades manned by ultranationalist and neo-fascist groups involved in the February 24 coup. These brigades have been responsible for most of the fighting against the Donbass forces since.

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Policing social media – who is coming next and who is behind it?

Free speech and the problems of deplatforming and censorship are in the public mind at the moment. The banning of the conspiracy theorist outlet Infowars by a number of social media networks is just the latest example concerning many people – most of who, like me, do not support Infowars or Alex Jones in any way. Mind you, that does not stop supporters of this censoring claiming that we do – a claim Glen Greenwald described as “utterly obnoxious & disingenuous”

A slippery slope

The Real News video discussion with Max Blumenthal above warns that this censorship is a slippery slope – a slope along which we have already slipped well past Infowars. Blumenthal gives examples where his own media presence has been censored.

Blumenthal also warns that those doing this policing of social media are hardly humanitarians attempting to prevent hate speech. They have deep political and military origins which are driving this activity.

I find very disturbing that Facebook and the Atlantic Council are now cooperating in policing of Facebook content and in directing social media users to “approved” and “official” news sources (see Atlantic Council press release: Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab Partners with Facebook to Combat Disinformation in Democratic Elections). So we will now have a NATO-aligned “think tank” controlling information US voters, and the rest of us, get via social media. An organisation which is also strongly linked to outfits like the terrorist aligned White Helmets in Syria, the nationalist regime in Ukraine and conspiracy theorist “open sources” like Bellingcat.

Hopefully, readers will watch this video and its follow-up. I know some readers will see this as just another conspiracy theory. Apparently, they believe I am prone to such theories and urge me to wear blinkers and restrict my news sources to just the approved “official” sources.

Perhaps, instead of their outright rejection of the video above, they should critically consider the conspiracy theories they adhere to. The “official” conspiracy theories promoted by their “approved,” “official,” mainstream media sources. The conspiracy theories that get the blessing of outfits like The Atlantic Council, the Ukrainian regime and Bellingcat.

The “official” conspiracy theory promoted by the mainstream media

The video below is satirical – but really – how different is its content to the “official” “Russiagate,” conspiracy theory our mainstream media is bombarding us with every day.

Apparently, US society is really utopian – it has no problems. All the conflicts we read about are caused by those pesky Russians and their president, Putin.

Also, the video below from Syriana Analysis raises warnings about the slippery slope organisations like the Atlantic Council, are moving us down. Many people like me rely on multiple sources for information. The mainstream media (which never seems to be censored by these social media or the Atlantic Council) inevitably follows the official narrative on many issues (consider Syria, Russia, etc.). They often give fake news or misrepresent information (see, for example, Blatant misreporting of latest OPCW report on chemical weapons in Syria and The “heart of the Syrian chemical weapons programme” destroyed?). A wise person uses multiple sources, including independent or alternative media, to avoid this sort of control on information.

Hassling alternative and independent media

Syriana Analysis is one of the many sources I often check out for information on Syria. Independent sources like this rely heavily on social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get out their message and to get financial support for their work.

Its spokesperson describes some of the hassles his organisation faces from social media bans and censorship. Many other independent or alternative media sources describe similar problems.

Some people object to using the word “censorship” to describe this problem. They point out that even big corporations like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have a perfect right to decide how their businesses operate. That the government is not involved.

However, this is naive.

Politicians driving the censorship

Let’s not forget that the US Senate Judiciary Committee subjected these corporations to strong pressure aimed at forcing them into the role of censors. This is how Caitlan Johnson, a very wise woman, described this in her article Social Media Censorship Is Vastly More Dangerous Than The Censored Material:

“A few months ago the Senate Judiciary Committee spoke with top legal and security officials for Facebook, Twitter and Google in a very disturbing way about the need to silence dissenting voices. Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii demanded that the companies adopt a “mission statement” declaring their commitment “to prevent the fomenting of discord.” Former FBI agent and deep state lackey Clint Watts kicked it up even further, saying, “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

This happened on the Senate floor, right out in the open.”

I don’t think attempts to censor social media and close down independent and alternative media sources are going to succeed, at least permanently. The internet has let the genie out of the bottle. Official mainstream media and the political establishment can no longer control the information available to those who look for it.

At least I hope that genie is out of the bottle.

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Political interference prevents investigators from considering the “bleeding obvious”

Official investigations contaminated by political pressure are hardly likely to be transparent or give reasonable and rational answers to problems. Once politics is in the driving seat the political aims become the driving force behind any conclusions.

The “novichok” poisonings

Many people see this as the basic problem with the investigation of the nerve agent poisonings in Salisbury and Amesbury, UK. Political forces took this over in the very early days and used the incidents to precipitate a very serious international crisis. Claims were made without evidence – and now it is hard to see how the investigation can ever recover from such a high-level interference.

Right at the beginning, many people drew attention to the fact that these accidents occurred only kilometres away from a government defence laboratory which holds stocks of nerve agents. I did myself – see Where could you get a nerve agent in Salisbury? and Time for a serious auditing of Porton Down’s nerve agent stocks?

Surely one of the first lines of enquiry in these investigations should have been an audit of nerve agent stocks held at the Porton Down Laboratory and investigation of possible scenarios for their accidental loss or even purposeful stealing. Not to do so, and instead launch an international crisis could at best be interpreted as missing the “bleeding obvious.” At worst it could be seen as an intentional promotion of an international crisis.

Yes, I know, there will be people who claim there was no need for such an audit. That we should just trust the professionalism of the staff and security procedures in force.

Well, I am not that easily fooled. People who use this argument should read the latest Annual Report and Accounts (2017/208) from this Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Here is a pdf copy for you.

On Page 55 a section Incident investigations  reports (my emphasis):

“We actively promote the reporting of near misses and incidents. We investigate incidents proportionately based on the potential the incident could have had as well as in balance with the actual harm or damage caused. The responsible business unit investigates all incidents classified as ‘medium’. Incidents classified as ‘high’ are subject to an independent, corporate investigation.

During the year, we had 53 incidents reported of which 42 were investigated as high potential/actual incidents19 safety, seven business, 12 HR, two whistle-blowing and two security. Six of the safety incidents were reportable to the Health and Safety Executive under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). Of the 11 incidents not investigated: eight were reclassified as ‘medium’ and investigated within the Division or Function; two HR allegations were dropped as on review there was no case to answer; and, the final incident was investigated by an external partner.”

Of course, such annual reports are hardly transparent. They are more likely to cover up problems than be honest about them, And the bureaucratic language helps such cover-ups.

But, if nothing else, this report shows that serious”incidents” are possible, even likely, for such a laboratory. Only a fool, or a politically directed investigator would miss out this obvious first step – checking out a local source.

Mind you, I have not seen anything official (who has?) and a final report may actually detail such an audit. Maybe investigators have been able to resist the political pressure to the extent that they did not miss this obvious first step.

Malaysian airline MH17 tragedy report

The same provision cannot be made for the “official” investigation of the Malaysian MH17 tragedy in eastern Ukraine where a commercial airliner was shot down in July 2014 with the death of all 298 crew and passengers on board. The “official” reports have been published.

I have written about the Final Technical Report in the article  MH17: Final technical report.

Readers are no doubt aware of the scenario the investigators have “gone with.” In my view, they “went with ” this scenario form early on – to the extent they put all their efforts into “proving” their favourite scenario and not objectively considering all the evidence. This for political reasons.

Investigators in the Russian Federation have complained that the official investigation team have refused to consider the information they provided on raw radar data and declassified data on the possible missile used. However, I think the negligence of the investigators was even more fundamental.

They missed completely the first obvious step, the “bleeding obvious” step of actually auditing and checking the BUK missile systems known to be on the ground in eastern Ukraine at the time. I do not argue they should not have considered other scenarios, even one as wild as a system being purposely brought across the border and returned after the tragedy all within a day. But the negligence in making the first obvious checks is so blatant one can only assume political interference.

The fact is that BUK missile systems were in the hands of both sides in this conflict at the time. The “rebel” forces had acquired these from the Ukrainian army because of capture of equipment and personnel defections (Ukrainian President Poroshenko claimed a 30% defection rate and his estimate will be low). The missiles on these systems were of an older style still in use in Ukraine but which had been replaced by modern versions in the Russian Federation.

So, an obvious first step – audit the existing BUK systems (yes, I know this would mean the investigation team would need to interact with rebel forces – but come on. This is basic – how could an independent investigator object?). Rebel territory was being mercilessly bombed from the air at the time so those forces certainly had a motive to use such a weapon. (Although the fact that Dutch intelligence had already determined the BUK system in rebel hands was inoperative may explain some of this negligence see Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know?)

The Ukrainian armed forces had more of these systems and it is likely that at least some of these were operative. Given that the Kiev government was promoting an argument that the Russian armed forces may have been attempting to operate a “no-fly zone” in eastern Ukraine at the time it is easy to see how the pro-Kiev military could also have mistakenly identified a high-flying commercial airliner as a Russian military plane.

But a big problem with this investigation is that the Ukraine government was part of the investigation team. They had veto rights on the publication of findings and could easily have prevented investigation of any scenario which implicated their forces.

We should all learn to be sceptical about politically driven investigations. At least critically read the reports and not rely on media coverage – well-known for distortion and political agendas. And especially look for examples where investigators purposely ignore the “bleeding obvious.”

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Mainstream media “mob violence” over Helsinki summit

Professor Cohen is always good value and we should take these comments of his seriously. After all, there is nothing more serious today than the threat of war between the US and the Russian Federation. Yet we have politicians and the mainstream media preferring to promote this threat. They seem to want to prevent any step towards relaxing international tension and divert attention by waving their dirty domestic laundry on the international scene.

Yes I know, I will probably be attacked (again) for using a clip from Tucker Carlson and Fox. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to ignore or reject serious arguments because they appear on a “non-approved,” “non-official,” or alternative media. But be honest – that reaction, and the fact it is a knee-jerk one, simply demonstrates the self-censorship which people have had imposed on them.

Particularly in this case where Professor Cohen is not given any space on the “liberal-approved” mainstream media to present his highly sensible views.

The worst aspect of all this is the diversion of public opinion from what should be the substance of such summits.

What is this media hysteria and bullying, and self-censorship, doing? It is preventing consideration of the real content of this important international summit.

No discussion of real issues

Where is the media discussion on questions (and possible moves towards agreement on these questions) like a return to the Start Nuclear Treaty, the danger presented by stationing anti-ballistic missile systems in Europe, problems created by US withdrawal from the Iran Treaty and the Paris climate change agreements, provision of security for Israel, settlement of the war in Syria, humanitarian aid to the victims of that war, the fight against terrorism, a treaty on cyberwar, etc., etc? Things that really matter and affect the future of this planet and its people.

Why is it that US journalists at the Summit press conference showed absolutely no interest in these substantive issues? They were simply there to fight out their non-acceptance of the 2016 election result.

I think this is disgusting. Instead of attempting to prevent war and to do something substantial to reduce international tension the US establishment is carrying out their dirty domestic partisan warfare in public. We have a media-intelligence agency coalition fighting with a President who (maybe wisely) refuses to take the fight head on. A strong president might be expected to take on an intelligence establishment which has become partisan and is actively constricting his actions. Instead, he appears to mumble and backtrack like a coward.

No sensible person would ever claim to have full confidence in the US intelligence establishment – come on, look at their record.

A media created smokescreen

But meanwhile the real interests of people in the US, and indeed the world, get ignored by a compliant media.

And groups and commenters on social media get sucked in by this circus like easy fools.

Come on, there are real problems in the world – the Trump circus is a diversion imposed on you by the US media-political-intelligence establishment. An establishment which still works, behind the smokescreen they have created, to impose their diktat on the world.

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