Long time readers are well aware that when this whole “Russian information warfare” panic kicked off in 2014, I steadfastly insisted that the best remedy to this and other hostile state propaganda was for governments to focus on their own behavior and engage with their own citizens to address grievances and correct past wrongs. The reason for this is very simple. The US government, for example, cannot control what the Kremlin or its proxies such as the “Internet Research Agency” (better known as “the Troll Factory”) do. RT, Sputnik, and dozens of other pro-Kremlin propaganda sites are going to keep spinning their yarns and exporting them abroad. Sure, they can be made to register as foreign agents so they have to disclose their funding and Facebook or Twitter can try to crack down on fake pages and bots, respectively, but ultimately the only person who can stop this activity is Vladimir Putin or someone designated to do so by him, and I see no evidence to suggest this will happen anytime soon. Thus the only thing in the equation that the US government can actually control is its own behavior.
Extrapolating from this, we must admit that the interest in bullshit “alternative news,” whether it is produced in Russia or at home (and to be sure a lot of Russian propaganda is just rehashed, regurgitated American bullshit) is largely driven by actions carried out by the US government in recent decades. Actually it would be better to say it is a result of actions and inactions- actions like invading Iraq and inaction when it comes to helping ordinary Americans struggling with foreclosure, student loans, unemployment and underemployment, healthcare, etc. By addressing both of these issues, the US government could rebuild its credibility after so many foreign policy disasters and rebuild its trust with voters by addressing their needs as opposed to those of the top richest people in the country. But you already see the problem with this, right?
Put simply, it is not in the financial interest of the people who run this country to adopt this view when it comes to countering hostile propaganda. And it is their financial interest that matters above all. It is far easier to just throw a couple bucks at Molly McKew types, whose whole approach centers on loudly screaming about Russian influence and propaganda and producing no actual solutions apart from maybe censorship of certain internet platforms or useless symbolic actions that do nothing to stop the flow of propaganda or reduce its audience. Is there anything that could wake these decision makers up?
Well maybe this will.
It’s a story about a man who was enthusiastically willing to spy for the Russians and was caught by an undercover FBI agent posing as a Russian handler after turning over vital technical data about satellite technology. According to the report, suspect Gregory Allen Justice “was assigned to a team working to build and test U.S. military satellites, including projects for the Air Force, Navy, and NASA that involved satellites with communication, navigational, and observational technology. The trade secrets and other technical data he had access to as part of his job related to areas such as satellite operations testing, firmware installed on satellites, and anti-jamming technology.”
Gee that kind of looks like the thing you wouldn’t want a hostile state to get their hands on! Why would Mr. Justice do such a thing?!
Justice explained to his “handler” that his motivation for his activities was to pay his wife’s medical bills (and indeed, our investigation revealed that his wife was suffering from a variety of medical issues and he had told her she had to cancel some of her appointments). But our investigation also revealed that the $3,500 Justice received—plus approximately $20,000 of his own money—went toward gifts of cash and merchandise for an online girlfriend he had never met in person.
As we see here, Mr. Justice’s claim about paying for his wife’s medical bills was just a lie. But something like this could just as easily be true for many Americans. As I wrote in yesterday’s post, people do not simply give up and die most of the time. Desperation leads to desperate measures, and the next contractor who’s being crushed by medical bills, mortgage debt, or student loans might be inclined to do some work for a hostile foreign power in exchange for relief. In this case, the FBI was doubly lucky- that their undercover agent reached him first, and that the guy was apparently in love with some kind of cam girl or email scammer.
So if we’re looking at ways the US government can engage with citizens and prevent them from selling their services to hostile foreign powers in order to keep their heads above water, what could they possibly do to prevent a real case of espionage driven by medical bills. Yes…What is to be done? What could we possibly do about that?