By Kit Klarenberg, an investigative journalist exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg
Before we take Frances Haugen’s testimony at face value, it would be useful to know more about her career history – in particular her time working alongside former elite US spies in Facebook’s Threat Intelligence division.
Ever since Haugen testified to the Senate, the media and social media have been abuzz with praise for the Facebook “whistleblower”, endlessly repeating her words and allegations without critique, and enthusiastically endorsing her proposals for greater surveillance, censorship and control of social media and the internet more widely by the US government.
Haugen, who offered ostensible first-hand testimony about her time working for and with Facebook’s counterterrorism and counterespionage teams, has almost universally been taken at face value by journalists, pundits, politicians, and average citizens. Some have nonetheless been surprised to learn that Facebook maintains dedicated units of that kind at all.Also on rt.com How Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft wage a domestic War on Terror, and make billions
Many would likely be similarly shocked to learn that these units form part of the social network giant’s Threat Intelligence division, which is staffed by former Pentagon, CIA and NSA spies.
Little information on the division can be found on the web, although its strategy is known to be led by Ben Nimmo, a former NATO propagandist and alumnus of Integrity Initiative, a secret UK Foreign Office information warfare operation itself staffed by military intelligence veterans.
A paywalled report by elite industry outlet Intelligence Online nonetheless names David Agranovich, ex-Pentagon analyst and intelligence director for the White House National Security Council; Nathaniel Gleicher, former Council cybersecurity chief and Justice Department senior counsel for computer crime and intellectual property; and Mike Torrey, previously NSA and CIA cyber analyst, as occupying senior positions in Threat Intelligence.
Agranovich and Torrey were key authors of Facebook’s State of Influence Operations 2017-2020 report, published in May. The document repeatedly alleged that China, Iran and Russia sought to weaponize the social network for malign purposes. Western cyber warfare operations known to target social media, such as the British Army’s 77th Brigade and Washington’s Operation Earnest Voice, were unmentioned, which is entirely unsurprising when one considers who wrote it.
Job listings for positions in Threat Intelligence make abundantly clear that an extensive espionage background is mandatory for all employees. An ad for an analyst role, posted mere days before Haugen testified to the Senate, states “5+ years of experience working in intelligence (either government or private sector), international geopolitical, cybersecurity, or human rights functions,” and “experience prioritizing tasks, projects, and analytical or investigative needs…with minimal direction or oversight” are absolute “minimum qualifications” for anyone wishing to apply.
A university qualification in “computer science, information systems, intelligence studies [or] cybersecurity,” and “regional knowledge and/or language skills, especially East or Southeast Asia,” are listed as “preferred qualifications”, the latter indicating precisely where the unit’s crosshairs are, and aren’t, trained.
It’s somewhat puzzling, then, that Haugen came to work for this elite, spy-dominated unit. While an extensive clean-up of her web history was conducted prior to going public, her still-extant LinkedIn profile – which somewhat amazingly reveals she helped found dating app Hinge, and served as its Chief Technical Officer – makes no mention of any experience remotely relevant to counterespionage.
Incongruously, though, the listing for Haugen’s Facebook role, unlike all other entries on her CV, offers no details on her responsibilities or achievements, and only the vague job title of ‘Product Manager’. Then again, a cumulative seven years spent at Google may have been sufficient to impress her recruiters.
The search engine monopoly’s own origins trace back to a US intelligence program in the 1990s, under which academics were financed to create a system whereby vast quantities of data on private citizens could be monitored, collected and stored, and individual users identified and tracked.
Throughout the search engine’s development, company cofounder Sergey Brin met regularly with research and development representatives of defense contractors and the CIA – one has since recalled how he would “rush in on roller blades, give his presentation and rush out.” Moreover, Pentagon, CIA and NSA contracts have been absolutely pivotal to transforming Google and other tech giants from small start-ups, literally operating from basements, into the global behemoths they are today.
Still, the composition of Threat Intelligence raises serious questions about Haugen’s narrative – first and foremost, how can Facebook be said to not be doing enough to act against alleged foreign-borne threats? It’s somewhat inconceivable that the best intelligence veterans money can buy, who have a clear and demonstrable bias against Western state-mandated “enemy” countries, are asleep at the wheel.
At the very least, it’s indisputably a strange situation indeed when an individual spends two and a half years in extremely close quarters with former high-ranking spies with an avowed focus on China, Iran and Russia, then very publicly declares that the US government needs greater censorship and surveillance powers – which the very agencies from which her co-workers hail have similarly demanded for years – in order to battle the threat to democracy posed by these countries.
One can’t help but be reminded of 15-year-old Kuwaiti citizen Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥa tearfully addressing the US Congress’ Human Rights Caucus in the lead up to the Gulf War.
“I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital… While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where… babies were in incubators,” she attested. “They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”
Her words travelled the world over, were repeated endlessly on all major Western news networks, endorsed by Amnesty International, and cited repeatedly by US lawmakers and President George H. W. Bush as a rationale for waging war on Iraq, which occurred three months later.Also on rt.com The revelation that Facebook puts profit before public good is no surprise, but the reality is it’s more fragile than ever
It would not be until 1992 that Nayirah was revealed to be the daughter of Saud Al-Sabah, the Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington, and her story to be completely untrue. Her Congressional appearance was a publicity stunt organized as part of the Citizens for a Free Kuwait public relations campaign, run by US propaganda merchants Hill & Knowlton on behalf of the Kuwaiti government.
It’s been said that if Nayirah’s lies had been exposed for what they were at the time, it might’ve prompted the public, journalists and politicians to consider whether they were being manipulated into supporting military action. Given the degree to which Haugen is preaching to the converted, even such a discrediting, debilitating exposure surely won’t hamper the US national security state’s inexorable push to take over the internet for good.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.