In painting critical reporting on the Iowa caucuses debacle as a Russian plot, a Western government-backed information warfare shop smeared The Grayzone and independent reporter Jordan Chariton, falsely claiming both are “state-backed media accounts.”
By Alex Rubinstein
The Alliance for Securing Democracy, an online censorship initiative of the Western government-funded German Marshall Project, falsely and hypocritically characterized The Grayzone and independent journalist Jordan Chariton as “state-backed media,” smearing them for their factual reporting on the shadowy network behind the controversial app that undermined the integrity of the Iowa caucuses.
The Grayzone has exposed the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD) in a series of investigative reports as a neo-McCarthyite outfit prone to spreading disinformation, staffed by counter-terror cranks and national security hustlers.
The ASD’s parent organization also happens to be bankrolled by the US government, numerous European governments, and the European Union, at the tune of millions of dollars — making these false accusations against The Grayzone and Jordan Chariton actual state-backed smears.
Chariton, who founded the independent progressive news outlet Status Coup, hit back at the ASD’s outrageous claims. “The days of faux democracy gladiators defaming journalists – whose factual work they seek to discredit – as part of a Kremlin syndicate are over. It’s time to fight back,” he told The Grayzone.
On February 10, the ASD published a dubious analysis of a supposed Russian effort to spread conspiracies and disinformation around the Iowa caucuses. It honed in on the Russian-funded Sputnik News and three shows broadcast by RT. Those programs included “Going Underground,” which is hosted by British journalist Afshin Rattansi.
The post continued: “In addition, all the most popular tweets about Iowa retweeted in this time period by at least one monitored account pushed a narrative that the Democratic National Committee and/or the Democratic establishment more broadly seeks to undermine Sanders via nefarious means. Monitored accounts ‘Redacted Tonight’ (@redactedtonight) and ‘Watching the Hawks’ (@watchinghawks) are the primary accounts engaging directly with this material.”
On Twitter, state-backed media accounts spread various conspiracy theories about the Iowa caucus, many of which claimed the DNC, news media, and other candidates used “dirty tricks” to steal the victory from Sen. Bernie Sanders. pic.twitter.com/mQJcbaGKzd
— Securing Democracy (@SecureDemocracy) February 11, 2020
“Watching the Hawks” is hosted by American journalist and son of former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, Tyrel Ventura. “Redacted Tonight” is a political satire show hosted by American comedian Lee Camp. Camp opens each show by welcoming his live studio audience to “the comedy show where Americans in America covering American news are called foreign agents.”
The social media managers for both “Watching the Hawks” and “Redacted Tonight” are US citizens.
Nonetheless, the retweeting by these shows of factual reporting by The Grayzone and Jordan Chariton set off national security alarm bells among the disinformation warriors of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
The Grayzone article that the ASD took issue with exposed the role of pro-Israel billiionaire Seth Klarman in pouring his money into the Super PAC behind the faulty Iowa vote results app, while at the same time donating directly to candidate Pete Buttigieg – the candidate who benefited the most from the sabotage of the caucus results.
The Klarman Family Foundation also happens to be a major funder of the ASD.
On Twitter, the ASD muddled the distinction between The Grayzone, Chariton, and the RT-sponsored Twitter accounts that retweeted them. The outfit claimed that “state-backed media accounts spread various conspiracy theories about the Iowa caucuses, many of which claimed the DNC, news media, and other candidates used “dirty tricks” to steal the victory from Sen. Bernie Sanders.” Attached to the tweet was a screenshot of tweets by The Grayzone and Chariton, making no mention of either “Watching the Hawks” or “Redacted Tonight.”
The Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal responded to the smear with indignation: “Neither Jordan Chariton nor The Grayzone are state-backed media, unlike your fiscal parent. And our reporting is 100% factual, unlike yours,” Blumenthal wrote on Twitter. “We are currently exploring options for holding your McCarthyite operation fully accountable for spreading malicious disinformation.”
After enduring a withering barrage of online criticism for its malicious falsehood, the ASD issued a weasely “clarifying point.”
The Alliance for securing media citations and grants from oligarchs
The Alliance for Securing Democracy is the most prominent of an array of information warfare initiatives that exploited public hysteria over supposed Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections.
The group’s Hamilton 68 Dashboard claimed to have tracked 600 Twitter accounts supposedly “linked to Russian influence operations.” In the mainstream press, that dubious claim was stretched even further as the dashboard was touted as a tool for keeping tabs on “Russian bots.”
Among the widely cited claims of Russian covert influence campaigns was the #taketheknee trend inspired by blacklisted NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s high-profile protest of police brutality. The ASD’s cynical accusation, that a domestic protest movement against racism was being manipulated by the Kremlin, was reported uncritically by the New York Times.
As @BenjaminNorton reported, Alliance for Securing Democracy is co-directed by neocon Jamie Fly, who currently serves as the president and CEO of the US government's media propaganda arm, RFE/RL.
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) January 24, 2020
The ASD has even claimed that Stars and Stripes, a military publication operated out of the Department of Defense, was an outlet “relevant to Russian messaging themes.” It has made similar accusations against The Intercept.
Oddly enough, the sole proprietor of The Intercept is billionaire Pierre Omidyar, whose Democracy Fund is a major financial backer of the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
An ASD fellow who helped design its bogus bot tracker, Andrew Weisburd, has publicly fantasized about the murder of Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald, whom he branded a “traitor.”
Aside from Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, the ASD is backed by Craig Newmark, the namesake of Craigslist, and the Klarman Family Foundation. As The Grayzone recently reported, Seth Klarman is a major funder of pro-settler Israel lobby organizations. He is also a prominent debt vulture strangling Puerto Rico with austerity. And, again, Klarman is a top donor to Buttigieg, the self-declared winner of the Iowa caucuses.
Ascertaining a full picture of just who is backing the ASD is not possible, however, as the organization’s public list of funders “does not include any donors who do not wish to disclose their charitable giving.”
But besides the centrist billionaires that fund it, the group’s fiscal parent rakes in money from Western governments, including the US State Department.
Meet the real state-backed disinfo shop
While the Alliance for Securing Democracy claims to be independently funded, it shares major backers with the German Marshall Fund (GMF), including the Sandler Foundation.
Likewise, Omidyar’s Democracy Fund gave somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million to the GMF, while Klarman Family Foundation chipped in between $250,000 and $499,999.
According to the ASD website, the group is “housed at the German Marshall Fund.”
Unlike The Grayzone and Jordan Chariton, the GMF is a state-backed entity that faithfully pursues the agenda of its government funders.
In the 2019 fiscal year, the German Marshall Fund received $1 million or more from both the German and Swedish foreign offices, at least $1 million from the US State Department, and $1 million or more from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a primary arm of the US government for fomenting regime change abroad.
The European Commission — which is the executive branch of the European Union — supported the German Marshall Fund to the tune of between $500,000 and $999,999.
The German Marshall Fund is a state-funded propaganda org that works with Facebook censor pages is complaining about what exactly? Oh that’s right! China! https://t.co/aY2M5qwZBs
— Yasha Levine (@yashalevine) March 23, 2019
Additional supporters of the German Marshall Fund include branches of the German and US government, anti-communist billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, NATO, internet giants like Google, the European Parliament, oil companies like Exxon, big agro companies like Bayer, large banks, and an array of global arms dealers such as Raytheon and Boeing.
The Theranos nanotainer of Russiagate online initiatives
The Alliance for Security Democracy’s bogus dashboard was undoubtedly the most-cited authority on Russian bot activity in the media. But its credibility suffered a major blow following a series of revealing remarks by founder Clint Watts, who confessed to Buzzfeed, “We don’t even think [all the accounts we monitor are] all commanded in Russia — at all. We think some of them are legitimately passionate people that are just really into promoting Russia.”
Having banked his credibility on fighting the supposedly pernicious presence of Russian bots, Watts went on to concede, “I’m not convinced on this bot thing.”
The ASD’s faulty methodology was developed by J.M. Berger and Jonathon Morgan. The latter was involved in orchestrating a false flag influence campaign targeting Alabama’s Senate elections, and was banned from Facebook after it was exposed. New York Times reporter Scott Shane, who reported on the disinformation campaign, was also responsible for hyping up the ASD’s supposed findings on the “take the knee” hashtag.
But among the ASD’s cadre of national security hacks, Clint Watts is perhaps the most shameless hustler. As The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal previously reported, “Watts appears to speak no Russian, has no record of reporting or scholarship from inside Russia, and has produced little to no work of any discernible academic value on Russian affairs.”
In his published work, Watts has not only called for the US to “befriend” the “al-Qaeda linked group” Ahrar al-Sham; he also urged Washington to support “jihadi[s]” in order to deliver “payback” to Russia.
Did you write this bro? pic.twitter.com/gIniO000xj
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) October 16, 2019
In testimony to Congress in 2017, Watts claimed Russia organized a massive bot attack on his Twitter account after his article urging support for al-Qaeda was published. The tale was not just hyperbole; it appeared to have been a fabrication. He also regaled Congress with a story about RT’s and Sputnik’s coverage of a stand-off at Turkey’s Incirlik Airbase that was completely false.
Clint Watts has admitted to running an influence operation for 15 years aimed at improving approval for US foreign policy in the Middle East, which he has said “had almost no success,” and came at a cost of “billions a year in tax dollars.”
While he hypes his work for the FBI, where he spent at most one year, Watts has spent much of his career at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a hardline neoconservative think tank founded by an open white supremacist.
And left unmentioned in Watts’ bio is his affiliation with the Central Intelligence Agency: the Agency has published an article he co-authored with former CIA director and current CNN contributor John Brennan.
Besides producing dubious analysis, Clint Watts has exhibited a tendency for paranoid Cold War fantasies. In 2017, he warned an audience that Russia was “trying to knock us down and take us over,” then claimed that his colleagues had seen their computers “burned up by malware” after they criticized Russia.
In response to supposed Russian meddling, Watts has called for interfering in Russia’s elections, “but do[ing] it in line with the founding principles of democracy and America.”
He has also called for a government-imposed censorship campaign inside the United States, demanding it “quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”
Even as the Alliance for Securing Democracy was exposed by The Grayzone and others as the Russiagate version of the phony Theranos nanotainer – with Clint Watts playing the Cold Warrior analog to Elizabeth Holmes – the state-backed neo-McCarthyite operation has forged ahead, rebranding its dashboard as “Hamilton 2.0” and rolling out an “Authoritarian Interference Tracker.”
Currently, the ASD is hyping up claims by NATO vassal state Estonia about Russian interference in their country, according to its “Authoritarian Interference Tracker.” Coincidentally, former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves sits on ASD’s advisory council.
He is joined on the ASD board by Michael Chertoff, the notoriously self-dealing former Department of Homeland Security chief; and by John Podesta, who workshopped ways to “stick the knife” into Bernie Sanders while leading Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. Podesta was recently nominated to the 2020 Democratic Convention Rules Committee.
Also on the ASD advisory council is neoconservative extraordinaire turned liberal media’s favorite Never-Trumper Bill Kristol, who is widely acknowledged as the leading media and think tank influencer behind the US invasion of Iraq. Kristol has called for a deep state coup to depose Trump, and is rolling out a wave of ads to undermine Bernie Sanders.
Former CIA director Michael Morell, who offered unsolicited advice on killing Russians and Iranians in Syria during a televised interview, and the obsessively anti-Russian former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul also occupy seats on the council.
While the ASD couches its work as an attempt to counter Russian disinformation, a clear pattern has emerged of efforts to suppress domestic reporting in the US that doesn’t conform to the imperial foreign policy consensus.
As The Grayzone previously reported, senior German Marshall Fund fellow and neocon movement veteran Jamie Fly appeared to take credit for a purge of popular Facebook accounts of alternative media outlets including The Free Thought Project, Anti-Media, and Cop Block. He promised it was “just the beginning.”
Now, the Alliance for Securing Democracy has trained its guns on The Grayzone. And with its latest falsehood, this malign organization has targeted an independent journalistic organization that has done more than any other to hold it accountable.
Alexander Rubinstein has covered foreign policy, police, prisons, and protests for a variety of publications including The Grayzone and Mint Press News. Follow him on Twitter at @RealAlexRubi.