'Adversarial Actors, Home and Abroad'
Which non-foreign 'adversaries' do elites have in mind when they promote domestic censorship and news blockades?
I want to put three thoughts in front of you, drop three stones in the slipstream of your mind. Perhaps you’ll see the ripples as they cross, note their interaction, hear what their crossing says.
The future this article previews isn’t new, just newly forgot.
Domestic ‘Terror’ from the Activist Left
First, from ace investigator Lee Fang (parts of this piece are subscriber-only):
DHS and FBI Depict Vegan Activists as Potential Domestic Terrorists
Imagine a young woman named Jane who recently adopted a vegan lifestyle after learning about factory farming in college. She discusses animal welfare and begins attending protests.
For most, Jane’s experiences sound remarkably benign.
But for the Department of Homeland Security, the young woman is following a "path of potential radicalization," according to new documents released through a public records request.
The scenario was one of several depicted in a violence prevention workshop from the DHS Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention, a division of the agency that works to counter domestic terrorism.
Jane's supposed path towards violence — as featured in the DHS workshop — is composed of little more than everyday experiences that many Americans take as they embrace activism.
In the workshop scenario, Jane reacts with anger when discussing animal cruelty and mentions that she joined a group that has "a reputation for holding controversial protests." She had not only become "an animal lover," but had become "militant about food and animal rights, and other issues like testing."
Note the “workshop.” This is a report of a DHS workshop on domestic terrorism, where new threats may come from, and what to do. The source doc is here; you can probably guess the rest of what it says. If not, Fang lays it out.
Here’s the cover portion of the document and summary-first remarks:
Fang’s report includes the FBI component in defining the animal-rights “threat” to internal security:
Can you see where this is headed? If you do, you’re not alone.
The ‘Foreign-Domestic Switcheroo’
The second stone drops here. Does what you read above touch what's below?
Through a complicated set of leaks (described here), we find “that the Aspen Institute hosted a ‘Hack-and-Dump Working Group’ exercise in the summer of 2020 titled, ‘Burisma Leak,’ which predicted with uncanny accuracy an upcoming derogatory story in the New York Post about Hunter Biden's lost laptop.”
Here’s a link to the Aspen Institute document in question. In it we find the following. First, from the Executive Summary (emphasis mine):
Once a promise of free expression and the democratization of information, the Web and its many channels are now polluted with mis- and dis-information, bots, abuse, lies, and conspiracies - sometimes planned by adversarial actors from home and aboard.
Then, from the section about dealing with “Reporting and Promoting Hack-and-Dumps”:
As we countdown to election day, the risk of a major hack and dump of documents aimed at undermining a candidate or party grows more acute. How can news organizations put provenance front and center? What happens when fabricated documents are released alongside genuine (stolen) content? How can social feeds avoid serving as promoters of foreign or other adversarial entities? Aspen Digital is convening Platform Trust and Safety leaders, cybersecurity reporters, journalism ethicists and First Amendment attorneys to develop and adopt new norms guidelines for publication and coverage of hacked documents.
Note that the Aspen Institute is not just a think tank. It’s where the elites' 2020 discussion over moderation of hacked content was happening.
Now consider what “promoters of foreign or other adversarial entities” means? The only other adversarial entity that isn’t foreign is … domestic. Can you trust, given what’s above, that this designation — “other adversarial entities” — is reserved just for Proud Boy types?
About this, Matt Taibbi writes (emphasis mine):
First of all, this notion that there may be fabrications mixed in with real content is a suggestion that pops up somewhere in nearly every one of these leak stories, even if all the material proves to be real (old friend Malcolm Nance did the job in 2016 in suggesting the Podesta leaks were “riddled with forgeries”). More importantly however, that last line is a great example of what former cybersecurity official and Foundation for Freedom Online head Mike Benz calls the “foreign-domestic switcheroo.”
It’s the basic rhetorical trick of the censorship age: raise a fuss about a foreign threat, using it as a battering ram to get everyone from congress to the tech companies to submit to increased regulation and surveillance. Then, slowly, adjust your aim to domestic targets. You can see the subtlety: the original Stanford piece tries to stick to railing against “disinformation” and information from “foreign adversaries,” but the later paper circulated by Aspen slips in, ever so slightly, a new category of dubious source: “foreign or other adversarial entities.”
These rhetorical devices are essential. It would be preposterous to form (as Stanford did) an “Information Warfare Working Group” if readers knew the “war” being contemplated was against domestic voices. … But if you start by focusing on Russians and only later mention as an afterthought “other adversarial entities,” you can frame things however you want, from espionage to warfare. As reader O’Neill correctly pointed out, “they are now getting close to being explicit about the fact that their motivation for suppressing news is to fight domestic political adversaries.”
You don’t have to be a lover of these sources to hate what’s you’ve just found out. And I think it’s reasonable to fear, even if you fear Trump more than God herself, what our security agencies do with domestic power.
The last stone dropped in the pond is the oldest one. Before most of you were born, the halls of power fully understood that our security agencies, birthed in the Soviet threat, were fully capable — even tasked with the job — of making sure the global world was a safe American playground.
The list of American-led coups in other countries is long as your leg and both arms. Start here to see most of it. Do these agencies act domestically as they do abroad? The FBI sure does. But what about the CIA and the rest of the alphabet community?
Here’s what Robert Kennedy, the man who was murdered on his way to the 1968 nomination, thought of the murder that felled his brother Jack in 1963 (via The Hill, emphasis mine):
[Robert] Kennedy Jr. said the first call his father, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, made after learning his uncle had been shot was to a CIA desk officer.
“My father said to him, ‘Did your people do this?’” Kennedy Jr. told Fox News’s “Hannity” on Monday.
“His next call was to [Enrique Ruiz-Williams], who was one of the Cuban Bay of Pigs leaders who had remained very, very close to our family and to my father,” he continued. “My father asked him the same question.”
Kennedy Jr. said his father then called John McCone, the head of the CIA, and asked him to come to the family’s house.
“When I came home [from] Sidwell Friends School, my father was walking in the yard with John McCone, and my father was posing the same question to him, ‘Was it our people who did this to my brother?’” he said. “It was my father’s first instinct that the agency had killed his brother.”
The Hill later tags this story as a “conspiracy theory,” no doubt to distance itself from both charge and source. But the underlying report is nonetheless true, or RFK Jr. is lying.
Ripples In the Pond
What do these data points sum to? I’ll leave it to you. If you love the FBI as some today do, would you love them still if they thought their remit included squelching you and your kind, not just Trump and his, using control of media as their tool?
As I’ve said before, it’s appropriate to fear what a Trump, or worse, a DeSantis — who unlike Trump, who loves adoration and cash, truly loves power — would do if power were given them.
Is it therefore not also appropriate to fear these agencies?
After all, their goals won’t always align with what’s broadly called “the left.” Their goals have never aligned with ours in the past. And unlike Republicans, who are only halfway to their goal, these agencies have power now, and practice using it.