Reporters joke that the easiest job in Washington is CIA spokesman. You need only listen carefully to questions, say, “No comment,” and head to happy hour. The joke, however, is on us. The reporters pretend to see only one side of the CIA, the passive hiding of information. They meanwhile profit from the other side of the equation, active information operations designed to influence events in America. It is 2021 and the CIA is running an op against the American people.
Leon Panetta, once director of CIA, explained bluntly that the agency influenced foreign media outlets ahead of elections in order to “change attitudes within the country.” The method was to “acquire media within a country or within a region that could very well be used for being able to deliver a specific message or work to influence those that may own elements of the media to be able to cooperate, work with you in delivering that message.” The CIA has been running such ops to influence foreign elections continuously since the end of WWII.
A more effective strategy is to become a source for legitimate media such that your (dis)information inherits their credibility. Most effective is when one CIA plant is the initial source while a second CIA plant acts seemingly independently as a confirming source. You can push information to the mainstream media, who can then “independently” confirm it, sometimes unknowingly, through your secondary agents. You can basically write tomorrow’s headlines.
Other techniques include exclusive true information mixed with disinformation to establish credibility, using official sources like embassy spokesmen “inadvertently” confirm sub details, and covert funding of research and side gigs to promote academics and experts who can discredit counter-narratives.
From the end of WWII to the Church Committee in 1976, this was all dismissed as a conspiracy theory. Of course the U.S. would not use the CIA to influence elections, especially in fellow democracies. Except it did. Real-time reporting on intelligence is by nature based on limited information, albeit marked with the unambiguous fingerprints of established tradecraft. Always give time a chance to explain.
Through Operation Mockingbird the CIA ran over 400 American journalists as direct assets. Almost none have ever discussed their work publicly. Journalists performed these tasks for the CIA with the consent of America’s leading news organizations. The New York Times alone willingly provided cover for ten CIA officers over decades and kept quiet about it.
Long term relationships are a powerful tool, so feeding a true big story to a young reporter to get him promoted is part of the game. Don’t forget the anonymous source who drove the Watergate story was an FBI official who through his actions made the careers of cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein went on to champion Russiagate. Woodward became a Washington hagiographer. Ken Dilanian, formerly with the Associated Press and now working for NBC, still maintains a “collaborative relationship” with the CIA.
That’s the tradecraft. The problem for America is once again the tools of war abroad have come home, just the same as when post-9/11 the NSA turned its antennas inward. The intelligence community is currently operating against the American people using established media.
Some of it can’t be more obvious. The CIA always planted stories abroad for American outlets to pick up. To influence public opinion they lied to journalists in the run up to the 2003 Iraq war. The agency works directly with Hollywood to control movies about itself.
Turn on any of the advocacy media outlets and you see panels of former CIA officials. None however is more egregious than John Brennan, former director, who for years touted Russiagate when he knew from information gathered while he was still in office that it was all fake. Brennan probably leaked the foundational lie alleging Trump was dirty with Russia to the press in January of 2017 as the kickoff event to the info op still running today.
Brennan’s role is more than speculation. John Durham, the U.S. attorney leading the ongoing “how it happened” Russiagate investigation into the intelligence community, has requested Brennan’s emails and call logs from CIA. Durham is also examining whether Brennan changed his story between his public comments (not under oath: say anything) and his May 2017 testimony to Congress (under oath: watch out for perjury) about the dossier. Reporter Aaron Mate is less delicate, laying out the evidence Brennan was “a central architect and promoter of the conspiracy theory from its inception.” Even blunter is Senator Rand Paul, who directly accuses Brennan of trying “to bring down a sitting president.”
How that worked helps show how info ops intertwine with covert ops. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report shows the FBI unleashed a full-spectrum spying campaign with the primary document of the information op, the Steele Dossier, as an excuse. Dossier author and ex-British intel officer Christopher Steele also created a textbook information loop to publicize his work, secretly becoming his own corroborating source.
The Horowitz report also shows it was a 5 Eyes team effort; Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, a man with ties to his nation’s intel services, arranged a meeting with Trump staffer George Papadopoulos to set in motion FISA surveillance. British GCHQ monitored Trump officials and passed info to the NSA. The op used CIA assets, shadowy academics Stefan Halper and Joseph Mifsud, as dangles. There was even a honey trap with a female FBI undercover agent inserted into Israeli-arranged social situations with a Trump staffer.