Denigration of Conspiracy Theorists Is Right Out of the CIA’s Playbook
In January 2020, the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy inaugurated a new online peer reviewed academic journal titled Misinformation Review.
The journal’s co-founding editors were Matthew Baum, the Marvin Kalb Professor of Global Communications at the Shorenstein Center who co-wrote an article titled “The Role of Race, Religion, and Partisanship in Misperceptions About COVID-19,” and Irene Pasquetto, a scholar of information and communication science at the University of Michigan with a Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
Many of the journal’s contributors come from the new inter-disciplinary academic field of “misinformation and disinformation studies,” which was founded after the 2016 presidential election to better understand how Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S.
The term “misinformation” not coincidentally, is being used by Big Tech companies to justify censoring critical analysis that contradicts the official World Health Organization (WHO) narrative about Covid-19 and U.S. State Department propaganda about the Ukraine War.
An article in the Misinformation Review (May 2021) written by three political scientists at Virginia Commonwealth University advocated for instituting source alerts that would flag social media posts thought to be Russian propaganda.
In April 2022, the State Department unveiled a new Department of Homeland Security Disinformation Governance Board whose mission was to coordinate the federal government’s response to disinformation.
The director, Nina Jankowicz, a former adviser to the Ukrainian government, ironically promoted her own disinformation when she supported the idea that the Hunter Biden laptop story could be a Russian disinformation operation—which we know that it was not.
Jankowicz resigned from her position and the Disinformation Governance Board was dissolved—it existed for a mere 22 days—amidst the perception that it was a relic of the McCarthy era whose purpose was to police the internet and censor free speech.
The same criticism holds true of Harvard’s Misinformation Review. Its contributors embrace a paranoid and Russophobic worldview out of the 1950s that sees Russian trolls behind every social media post that is critical of U.S. policy.
Many Misinformation Review articles repeat U.S. State Department and CIA talking points. Conspiracy theories and disinformation are said to emanate from Russia, China and Trump supporters—but never from liberal politicians or media outlets, or from the State Department and CIA.
Yet we know that the latter have a long history of advancing disinformation—from the mythic WMD in Iraq to the domino theory in the Cold War to declaration that Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy acting as a lone wolf.
Misinformation Review has never once acknowledged the existence of this disinformation program by the CIA nor sought to analyze its impact.
The reason is not hard to discern: In the inaugural issue, Pasquetto specified that funding for Misinformation Review came from the Ford and Knight foundations.
The Ford Foundation was established in 1936 by pro-Nazi automaker Henry Ford and evolved during the Cold War into what one analyst termed a “philanthropic façade for the CIA.” A particular focus was on subventing magazines, scientific programs and non-communist left-wing organizations throughout Western Europe in the 1950s and 1960s in support of U.S. Cold War foreign policies.
The current director of the Foundation, Darren Walker, was previously vice-president of the CIA-linked Rockefeller Foundation, which long served as a conduit for CIA projects.
One of the Ford Foundation’s most famous employees was Ann Dunham, Barack Obama Jr.’s mother, who is suspected of developing a secret cover gathering data on villagers for a microfinance project in East Java province, a hotbed of the Indonesian Community Party (PKI), to help in the development of a PKI blacklst under the 1960s Operation Prosyms.
The Ford Foundations’ close ties to the CIA was apparent in its naming CIA officer Richard Bissell as its director in 1952, then John J. McCloy, an Assistant Secretary of War and Director of the Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank, and later Vietnam War architect McGeorge Bundy, who was close with Allen Dulles and the top CIA man during his time in the White House.
Bissell stated that the purpose of an international publishing house funded by the Ford Foundation in the 1950s was “not so much to defeat the leftist intellectuals in dialectical combat (sic) as to lure them away from their positions.”
Although there are not many real leftist intellectuals left, the same could be said for Ford Foundation programs today, which are designed is to coopt intellectuals like those writing for Misinformation Review and to get them to advance state propaganda under the veneer of objective academic analysis.
Sociologist James Petras noted that the coopted intellectuals writing for Ford Foundation/CIA funded journals in the Cold War era focused their criticism on “Soviet imperialism” and “Communist tyranny” and “leftist apologists of dictatorship”—despite the fact that it was an open secret that the U.S. intervened to overthrow the democratic Arbenz governments in Guatemala and the Mossadegh regime in Iran and human rights were massively violated by U.S. backed dictators in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and elsewhere.”
Today, the coopted intellectuals—who call critics of U.S. foreign policy “Putin” or “Assad apologists”—fixate on mythic Russian interference in the 2016 election and Russian disinformation when it is known that the U.S. has intervened massively in other countries elections, including Russia in 1996; and when it is known that that the U.S. spreads propaganda and disinformation worldwide through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and in many television series and Hollywood films.
The coopted intellegensia today in a new variant also attacks “anti-vaxxers” and alleged perpetrators of scientific misinformation who often draw on scientific studies that challenge the dominant paradigms advanced by Dr. Anthony Fauci and other corrupt representatives of the medical-pharmaceutical industrial complex.
In November 2020, Misinformation Review ran an article by Jon Roozenbeek and Sander Van der Linden of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge about an online game known as “Harmony Square” that aims to build “psychological resistance against manipulation techniques commonly used in political misinformation.”
Based on a model adopted by the Department of Homeland Security whose purpose was to help people combat Russian election interference, the game’s setting is Harmony Square, a peaceful place where residents have a healthy obsession with democracy.
At the start of the game, players are hired as Chief Disinformation Officer. Their job is to ruin the square’s idyllic state by fomenting internal divisions and pitting its residents against each other, causing the square to gradually go from a peaceful state to full-blown mayhem.
Roozenbeek and Van der Linden claim that by playing Harmony Square, players learn about five key manipulation techniques, including “creating and spreading conspiracy theories, i.e., blaming a small, secretive and nefarious organization for events going on in the world.”
Whether Roozenbeck and Van der Linden receive funding from the CIA or not, these comments indicate that they are doing the Agency’s bidding.
The CIA began conditioning the public in the 1960s to consider “conspiracy theorists” as psychologically disturbed individuals. They did so as part of a scheme to denigrate critics of the Warren Report, which falsely advanced the claim that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin of John F. Kennedy.
Entitled “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report,” a famous 1967 CIA memo provided guidance for countering “conspiracy theorists” by directing smears against them.
Roozenbeek and Van der Linden’s game in effect does the same thing in attempting to create a whole apparatus designed to inoculate players against these sinister conspiracy theorists who dare promote the belief that corrupt elites are secretly manipulating political events.
A Psychological Warfare Operation
During the early Cold War, the CIA and military intelligence were among the main sources of funding for the social sciences, having supported such institutions as the Columbia’s Russian Research Institute, Harvard’s Russian Research Center, and MIT’s Center for International Studies.
The field of political communications was transformed also by large-scale U.S. government funding, in which leading academics helped intelligence agencies to develop modern techniques of propaganda and psychological warfare.
History appears to be repeating itself in Cold War 2.0, with Misinformation Review and the field of disinformation studies bearing all the hallmarks of a psychological warfare operation.
The first issue of the journal in January 2020 included an article by Deen Freelon, a professor at the University of North Carolina, on how Russian twitter bots were allegedly exploiting racial identities to infiltrate African-American groups who supposedly had to rely on the facebook messages of Russians to understand that African-Americans had faced injustices in U.S. society, and to mobilize in protest.
The charges laid out in the article read right out of a State Department or CIA propaganda paper accusing Russia of interfering in the U.S. election through social media.
None of the articles published in Misinformation Review acknowledge the role played by liberal media outlets and politicians in advancing false narratives about Donald Trump being a Russian agent, nor the role that high ranking intelligence officials like John Brennan played in manufacturing the Russia Gate scandal.
The spread of disinformation about Russia—for over 100 years now—is also never acknowledged.
A.B. Abrams wrote an entire book on the topic of atrocity fabrications and false flag attacks that are never covered in Misinformation Review.
In the buildup to the Operation Odyssey Dawn over Libya, the Obama administration reported falsely that Muammar Qaddafi gave his troops viagra to commit rape, while it claimed without substantiation that Syrian leader, Bashir al-Assad, carried out chemical weapons attacks on his own people.
Obama is never depicted in the pages of Misinformation Review as a “conspiracy theorist,” however, who threatened democracy by making false claims designed to engender support for illegal military interventions.
An August 2021 article in Misinformation Review by Professors Rachel Kuo and Alice Warwick of the Communications Department at the University of North Carolina tried to make the argument that disinformation promoted by Trump helped uphold white supremacy, though lamely gave as a major example of disinformation Fox News host Sean Hannity’s “repeating the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton’s campaign murdered Democratic staffer Seth Rich.”
While we do not know exactly what happened to Rich, there is reason to doubt the official story about why he was killed.
Rich was a disaffected Democratic Party staffer supportive of Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic Primary campaign who is believed to have been the one to leak damning emails to Wikileaks (Julian Assange said he was the source) that exposed the machinations of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in undermining Sanders.
Rich died under mysterious circumstances in the wee hours of the morning on July 10, 2016 in what officials claimed was a robbery in the Bloomingdale area of Washington, D.C. though his wallet, watch, cell phone, and credit cards were never taken from him and he was found shot in the back. The FBI first denied it had any knowledge of his death, but then disclosed that it had his laptop, which raises another red flag.
By denouncing Hannity for bringing up conspiracy theories about Rich’s murder, Kuo and Warwick are following the CIA’s playbook outlined in the January 24, 1967 CIA “Countering Criticism of the Warren Report” document cited previously and helping to keep the truth suppressed.
Their double standards are apparent in their failure to call out former DNC Chairman Donna Brazile for insinuating in her book Hacks that Russia was behind Rich’s killing—a claim with real political implications for which there is absolutely no evidence.
They also fail to brand Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News as a disinformation artist even though he claimed baselessly that “Russian intelligence agents” planted the story that Rich was the source of leaked emails.
Misinformation Review ultimately is a sham that exposes the phoniness of the modern-day academy and cooptation of a large number of its professors.
Having read over a half dozen articles on Misinformation Review’s website, I learned absolutely nothing insightful or new. I found fancy looking graphs trying to quantify the impact of alleged “misinformation” on twitter feeds, and an author ridiculing Chinese people for thinking that Americans may have been behind the manufacture of the cornavirus through gain-of-function research along with denunciations of Putin and Radio Sputnik, but nothing of value. In a couple of articles Q-anon is identified correctly as a purveyor of disinformation, however, the phenomenon and where it originated from is never analyzed in any depth.
When I went to college twenty years ago at McGill and Brandeis Universities, I learned a great deal studying the history of different countries and regions of the world and taking courses in fields like American history and criminology. If I was studying under the professors publishing in Misinformation Review and forced to hear or read their bullshit that masquerades as scholarship, I would have dropped out and pursued a vocational degree.
The foundations that fund journals like Misinformation Review clearly do not want bright young people to become worldly and cultured. What they want instead is a conditioned populace that is on the lookout for “conspiracy theories” and any and all signs of independent thinking, which they want stamped out.
This position was supported by professors writing for Misinformation Review. ↑
CIA critic David W. Conde wrote in his 1970 book CIA—Core of the Cancer that the Rockefellers represented “the core of American imperialism” who “created the American empire,” and “remain[ed] the most reactionary, suave and corrupting force within the U.S. and throughout the world.” ↑
See Wayne Madsen, The Manufacturing of a President: The CIA’s Insertion of Barack H. Obama Jr. Into the White House (self-published, 2012). Operation Prosyms was Indonesia’s counerpart to the CIA-run Phoenix Operation in Vietnam in which CIA blacklists were used to kidnap and kill political dissidents. In the Indonesian case, it resulted in the slaughter of over one million civilians and long-term incarceration of tens of thousands more after a CIA coup in Indonesia in 1965, which Obama claimed falsely in his memoir that his mother did not know about. ↑
- See James Petras, “The Ford Foundation and the CIA: A Documented Case of Philanthropic Collaboration With the Secret Police,” Rebellion, December 15, 2001, https://ratical.org/ratville/CAH/FordFandCIA.html; and also Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Meet a Forgotten CIA Critic Who Presciently Characterized the Agency as a Cancer in 1970 Book,” CovertAction Magazine, April 17, 2023, https://covertactionmagazine.com/2023/04/17/meet-a-forgotten-cia-critic-who-presciently-characterized-the-agency-as-a-cancer-in-1970-book/
See Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano, The Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018). ↑
See Robert F. Kennedy Jr., The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma and the Global War on Democracy and Health (New York: Skyhorse, 2021) which was ridiculed as a conspiracy tract despite drawing on significant scientific research while also detailing the CIA’s historical involvement in biowarfare. ↑
Roozenbeek has written articles, based on his dissertation, on the alleged failings of Russian propaganda in Donetsk and Luhansk and what he calls the myth of Novorossyia, or “New Russia” by which the Putin regime has attempted to conjure up feelings of a restored Russian empire and righting a historical “wrong” of assigning Russians lands to Ukrainian jurisdiction. But Roozenbeck’s credibility is put into question by the fact that other more seasoned scholars found considerable support for the Novorossyia concept among ethnic Russians living in Eastern Ukraine, residents of the oblasts of Kharkiv and Odessa, older and poorer residents, and especially those who retained a nostalgic positive opinion about the Soviet Union. Ranked as one of the top social scientists in the world, Van Der Linden was billed as “the man trying to save the world from conspiracy theories” in The London Telegraph. He recently wrote a book, Foolproof: Why We Fall for Misinformation and How To Build Immunity, which explores the psychology behind what he calls “the virus” of misinformation and conspiracy theories—how they spread, why they are believed—and outlines strategies that he argues can “inoculate” people against them, like in the Harmony Square game. ↑
See David N. Gibbs, “The CIA is Back on Campus,” Counterpunch, April 7, 2003, https://www.counterpunch.org/2003/04/07/the-cia-is-back-on-campus/. In the early 1960s, MIT’s Center for International Studies was headed by Walt W. Rostow, an anti-communist ideologue who characterized the liberation of colonial areas as “communist aggression.” CIA critic David W. Conde wrote in a 1970 book called CIA—Core of the Cancer, that, given all the human suffering that resulted from Rostow’s ideas about Vietnam, “Rostow lies someplace above Dr. Joseph Goebbels in history’s annals and is a peer of Heinrich Himmler.” ↑
On the spread of disinformation about Russia since the Bolshevik revolution, see Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano, The Russians are Coming, Again: The First Cold Wr as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018). ↑
See Madsen, The Manufacturing of a President; Jeremy Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019). Obama is also never admonished for fabricating aspects of his family history in his obviously ghost-written memoir, Dreams From My Father. ↑
“Trump derangement” is a syndrome in which people lose their critical thinking capability when it comes to any other politician besides Trump and attribute all evil in U.S. politics to Trump. ↑
Kuo is now a professor at the University of Illinois. ↑
Journalist Sy Hersh cited an FBI report confirming Assange’s claim. A private investigator hired by Mr Rich’s family following his murder told Fox News there is “tangible evidence” that there was information on Rich’s laptop that would confirm that he was in contact with WikiLeaks before his murder. ↑
The culprit in the robbrty/murder was never fingered and the case is unsolved. ↑
Issikoff was the journalist who first promoted the fraudulent Steele dossier, which claimed falsely that Trump had been blackmailed by the Russians because he had cavorted with Russian prostitutes and had them pee on him. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of five books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019), The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018), and Warmonger. How Clinton’s Malign Foreign Policy Launched the U.S. Trajectory From Bush II to Biden (Clarity Press, 2023).
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.