EDITED AND HOSTED BY THE GREANVILLE POST
By Ben Norton • The Grayzone
As political censorship escalates on social media, American spy agencies accuse Russia of running a fake left-wing news website called PeaceData. But there is no evidence for the FBI’s claims, and many questions remain unanswered.
US government intelligence agencies have initiated a series of smear campaigns relying on false innuendo to suggest that independent left-wing American media outlets are connected to Russia.
The broad-based, longstanding operation to imply links between foreign governments and alternative news websites through deceptive guilt-by-association tactics appears to be aimed at justifying the censorship of the outlets and their removal from major social media platforms.
In 2018, former US government analysts hired by the Senate Intelligence Committee to produce reports on supposed Russian interference in American politics were exposed for having overseen what they admitted was a “false flag operation” to smear political rivals in the 2018 Alabama Senate race as unwitting tools of the Kremlin.
There are new questions now about whether private contractors and US intelligence agencies have recycled these deceptive tactics, exploiting liberal paranoia about supposed foreign meddling in the November presidential election to silence alternative news websites that report critically on Washington’s foreign policy.
At the center of the intrigue is a suspicious website called PeaceData. The FBI and a Pentagon-backed private intelligence firm called Graphika claim the page is a Russian government vehicle for pushing disinformation in English, but there is no tangible evidence to support the claim — only a statement posted in comically broken English that sounds much more like someone trying to impersonate a Russian than sophisticated Kremlin operatives.
PeaceData was completely unknown before it was identified by the FBI as the heart of a supposed Russian disinformation scheme. The website had next to no following, with just 197 likes on Facebook, and negligible web traffic.
PeaceData published articles from a left-wing perspective, the majority of which criticized US military interventions and Western imperialism. Most of these posts were reprinted without permission from real, independent progressive news outlets.
In fact the list of the websites whose reporting was lifted by PeaceData is a veritable who’s who of independent media outlets that the US government would not be favorably disposed to. They comprise the very few platforms that provide an alternative, factual and highly critical perspective on US foreign policy. Among them is this outlet, The Grayzone.
Every aspect of PeaceData’s existence and online behavior appears suspicious. The only third party that had access to the website’s social media data is a Pentagon contractor called Graphika. This US government-backed tech firm prepared a lengthy report on PeaceData, but offered absolutely no proof that Moscow was behind it.
Facebook, Twitter, and major Western corporate media outlets eagerly bit at the FBI’s bait, amplifying the unsubstantiated narrative that PeaceData was part of a dangerous Kremlin operation to help Donald Trump win the US presidential election by turning progressives away from the Democratic Party and its candidate Joe Biden.
The narrative was contradicted in several glaring ways. For one, a mere 5 percent of PeaceData’s total articles were about the US election, representing just around 35 posts.
Those allegedly recruited by PeaceData to write as freelancers were highly suspect as well. The most high-profile former contributor to the website, who was interviewed by the New York Times after the supposed Russian active measure was exposed, happens to be an actor for hire who strongly supports Joe Biden, has admitted to severe mental illness, and has previously collaborated with the FBI. He publicly claims to be “a black man trapped in a white man’s body” and writes about his visions of aliens.
Another former PeaceData writer who was given a large platform in The Guardian previously interned for conservative Democrat Congressman Don Beyer, wrote anti-Russian articles, and pushes Russiagate narratives on social media.
Why would dubious and apparently compromised figures like these have leapt at the opportunity to write for an unknown website whose editorial line was so clearly at odds with their stated views? And how did that previously unknown online operation find these obscure figures?
Naturally, the mainstream outlets that covered the supposed scandal of PeaceData did not entertain these salient questions. Instead, neoconservative tabloid The Daily Beast, a favorite online bulletin board for US intelligence agencies that deploy controlled leaks to advance their agenda, followed up on the PeaceData controversy with a story claiming, “Russian Trolls Tried to Infiltrate Left-Wing Media.”
The Daily Beast somehow obtained the private chat logs and emails of PeaceData – although it did not explain how it got access to these communications. It then claimed the alleged “Russians” behind the website attempted to get their posts republished at the media outlets Truthout, In These Times, and Jacobin Magazine.
This Daily Beast story was based on comically thin evidence: PeaceData apparently sent some unsolicited emails to these independent American media outlets, and received no reply.
Miles Kampf-Lassin, the web editor at In These Times, tweeted that “the entirety of this attempt to ‘infiltrate and exploit’ @inthesetimesmag by Russian trolls consists of a single email sent from a random address to our general submission email that was never responded to. Just so everyone is clear on what’s actually going on here.”
Umm, the entirety of this attempt to “infiltrate and exploit” @inthesetimesmag by Russian trolls consists of a single email sent from a random address to our general submission email that was never responded to. Just so everyone is clear on what’s actually going on here. https://t.co/sMPcgCMY9S
— Miles Kampf-Lassin (@MilesKLassin) September 11, 2020
The media-manufactured PeaceData controversy also came just days after the US State Department of former CIA Director Mike Pompeo published a special report on supposed “Russian disinformation” efforts online. This document included an official blacklist of undesirable websites, which were unified by their harsh criticism of US foreign policy.
That report came on the heels of another wave of semi-official attacks on American independent media publications, including politically motivated smears of The Grayzone by US government-funded websites and the Republican leader of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The media pseudo-scandals generated by the US intelligence apparatus and its journalistic stenographers have triggered an escalating pattern of tangible censorship. In response to the FBI’s claims and the US State Department’s blacklist, Facebook and Twitter have placed warning notices discouraging users from visiting links to officially blacklisted independent media outlets.
Some alternative media websites have been banned altogether by social media platforms. Twitter, for instance, no longer permits users to post any links to some of the websites dubbed “Russian propaganda” by the US government.
Backdrop to government censorship of alternative media
Facebook (which owns Instagram), Twitter, and Google (which owns YouTube) have censored independent media under US government pressure on numerous occasions.
In October 2018, Facebook and Twitter oversaw a large crackdown on alternative news outlets, banning massively popular pages that reported critically on US police brutality and militarism.
A veteran neoconservative operative who works closely with US government-backed institutions, Jamie Fly, took credit for the 2018 social media purge. Fly boasted to The Grayzone contributor Jeb Sprague that that censorship of alternative media was “just the beginning.”
Soon after making these revealing remarks, Fly was promoted to the head of the US government’s media arm the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), an information weapon created by the CIA during the Cold War to spread propaganda against the Soviet Union and communist China.
A former advisor to neoconservative Senator Marco Rubio, Jamie Fly is also a top official at the powerful US government-funded think tank the German Marshall Fund, which helps oversee a campaign to discredit American independent media outlets by insinuating links to Russia and China that often do not exist.
In June, The Grayzone published a report by Gareth Porter showing how the FBI has launched a censorious attack on foreign media outlets that criticize US foreign policy. Under direct FBI orders, Facebook and Google agreed to remove accounts run by the alternative news website American Herald Tribune. US intelligence agencies claimed the publication was a propaganda operation purportedly run by Iran.
Given the growing apparatus of US government cutouts working full-time to shatter an already marginalized constellation of independent outlets that challenge Washington’s foreign policy imperatives, a question lingers: Were the deceptive tactics employed in the 2018 Alabama Senate false flag scheme repurposed to generate the PeaceData pseudo-scandal?
FBI claims ‘PeaceData’ is Russian, but where’s the proof?
On September 1, The New York Times published what appeared to be a bombshell story, declaring in a bold print headline, “Russians Again Targeting Americans With Disinformation, Facebook and Twitter Say.”
The report touched off a week-long corporate media freakout comprised of familiar political histrionics from Democratic Party apparatchiks accustomed to finding Russian bogeymen behind every narrative they dislike.
The Times claimed that an online troll farm allegedly supported by the Russian government called the Internet Research Agency (IRA) was behind “a network of fake accounts and a website set up to look like a left-wing news site.” The page was called PeaceData, and was located at peacedata.net.
The American newspaper of record emphasized that this evildoing website published articles criticizing capitalism and racism in the United States. Its supposed goal, according to the Times, was to “push voters away from the Democratic presidential candidate, Joseph R. Biden Jr., to help President Trump.”
The report failed to provide any tangible evidence linking PeaceData to Russia. Instead, the Times misleadingly attributed the accusation to Facebook and Twitter. But this was undermined by the article’s own subhead: “The companies said the F.B.I. had warned them that the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency set up a network of fake user accounts and a website.”
The newspaper noted toward the end of its lengthy report that “the influence operation was first detected by American intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency.” Its source consisted of several unnamed spooks.
So it was not Facebook and Twitter that independently determined that PeaceData was a vehicle for Russian disinformation; rather, the idea originated with the NSA and then the FBI, which tipped off the social media companies.
In other words, this entire narrative derived from US government spies and law enforcement.
These crucial facts were conveniently buried in other reports on PeaceData. BBC noted in passing that the “announcements by Facebook and Twitter came as the result of collaboration with the FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force over the PeaceData website.”
What the Times conveniently neglected to mention in its “bombshell” report was that PeaceData boasted an almost nonexistent following. The website apparently had two Facebook pages, one in English and the other in Arabic, but the English-language PeaceData page – the one that would supposedly “influence” the US election, which was its ostensible goal according to the FBI – had earned around 200 likes and followers.
Perhaps the US newspaper of record left out this inconvenient fact because readers might laugh at the absurd idea that Moscow could swing a US presidential election armed with a Facebook page with a mere 197 likes. (For context, the satirical presidential candidate Vermin Supreme, who wears a large boot on his head and promises a “free pony for all Americans,” has more than 100,000 likes on his official Facebook page.)
Twitter, for its part, suspended a whopping five accounts that were allegedly associated with PeaceData. The social media company explained, “The Tweets from the Russian-linked accounts were low quality and spammy, and most Tweets from these accounts received few, if any, Likes or Retweets. The accounts achieved little impact on Twitter.”
The accounts purported to be associated with a website called PeaceData, which publishes a range of content about global political issues. At least some of the content published on the website was created by real people who appear to have contributed to PeaceData as freelancers.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) September 1, 2020
The Tweets from the Russian-linked accounts were low quality and spammy, and most Tweets from these accounts received few, if any, Likes or Retweets.
The accounts achieved little impact on Twitter and were identified and removed quickly.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) September 1, 2020
Aside from US government agencies, Facebook, and Twitter, the New York Times report cited just two external sources accusing PeaceData of being a Russian operation.
One of these was a spokesman for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, Bill Russo, who took the unsubstantiated NSA/FBI allegations as “immutable” proof that “Russia is attempting to interfere in our elections on behalf of Donald Trump.”
The only other third party cited by the Times was the shadowy tech firm Graphika, which has been a key institutional force driving Russiagate conspiracies in the US and Western Europe.
US government-backed Graphika implies criticism of Western imperialism is Russian disinformation
Graphika has a history of weaponizing dubious tactics to smear left-wing politicians and journalists as tools of the Kremlin.
As The Grayzone previously reported, Graphika helped oversee a disinformation campaign to discredit Britain’s leftist former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by outlandishly linking him to Russia.
The firm publishes very little information about its internal workings, but it is closely linked to the US government. The “partners” Graphika lists on its website include the US Defense Department’s Minerva Initiative, the Pentagon’s tech arm the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the billionaire-funded regime-change lobby group the Syria Campaign.
This US government-backed intelligence cutout was the only other ostensibly independent organization the New York Times could find to demonstrate PeaceData’s role as Russian psy-op.
The Times quoted Graphika’s director of investigations, Ben Nimmo, who claimed, “The Russians are trying harder to hide” and made sure to emphasize that the supposed Kremlin trolls behind PeaceData “were clearly significantly left of the Biden-Harris campaign.”
With the help of corporate media, Nimmo has marketed himself as an expert on disinformation. But he has no actual technical expertise or scientific background. Nimmo’s qualifications consist of work as a press officer for NATO from 2011 to 2014, where he specialized in public relations on behalf of the US-led military cartel’s policies targeting Russia and Ukraine.
Nimmo is also a senior fellow at NATO’s de facto think tank, the Atlantic Council, which is funded by the governments of the US, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates, along with NATO and the European Union. And he helps lead the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab), another prominent NATO-backed group that has made its name challenging supposed Russian and Chinese “disinformation” on the internet – and helping to fuel the censorship campaign targeted at independent news outlets.
Nimmo co-authored an official Graphika report on the website, subtitled “Facebook Takes Down Small, Recently Created Network Linked to Internet Research Agency” (PDF).
Like the FBI, NSA, Facebook, and Twitter, Graphika did not provide any evidence that PeaceData was actually run by Moscow.
Publicly available WHOIS information on the domain name peacedata.net shows it was first created in February 2020, and was registered with the US company Namecheap. It received negligible web traffic in the following months.
In May and June, whoever was behind PeaceData then apparently created 13 fake Facebook accounts and five Twitter profiles. This means that these accounts, which had close to zero followers, existed for just around three months before being removed.
When Facebook took down the 13 accounts and two pages associated with PeaceData, it gave all of their data privately to Graphika. So the materials that PeaceData published are not publicly available; only this US government-linked firm was allowed to sift through the information, and could use it to paint its own narrative.
Given Graphika’s monopoly on this questionable information, its own report can hardly be seen as credible. The US government contractor simply insisted PeaceData was backed by Moscow because it used an artificial intelligence technology to create fake photos of the ostensible PeaceData staff, and because they falsely claimed to be based in European countries. Beyond that, it offered the public nothing to prove its case.
Thus, all Graphika demonstrated was that the people behind the page lied about their identities. PeaceData could just as likely have been run by disinformation operatives working for the US government, or the UK government, or some private entity – perhaps some government contractor desperate to rustle up new contracts to combat disinformation.
Graphika acknowledged in its report that PeaceData “failed to gain significant traction, measured in likes, shares, and comments. Most of the network’s English-language posts achieved single-digit engagement figures; in Arabic, most posts achieved similar results.”
“Overall, PeaceData struggled to make a measurable impact,” Graphika concluded. “The web articles showed few reactions; the social media posts generally did not receive many engagements.”
In other words, almost no one saw PeaceData. It barely existed.
Most of PeaceData’s articles were reprinted from other websites. A smaller percentage of its posts were written by real-life freelancers, and the website apparently offered people a minimum of $75 to contribute an original piece. But the majority of its content was lifted from real media outlets.
Writer and former State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren pointed out that just 5 percent of the 700 articles English-language articles published by PeaceData related to the US election. That is a total of just 35 posts. This is striking, because the FBI and New York Times insisted the existence of PeaceData was supposed to serve as proof that the Russian government was trying to swing the 2020 US presidential election to Trump.
The tone of Graphika’s report, on the other hand, made it clear that this manufactured scandal was not about the US election, but rather about pesky alternative media outlets that criticize Western foreign policy.
Graphika emphasized that the majority of PeaceData’s posts “were marked by an anti-Western tone and accused Western countries, the EU, or NATO of imperialism or interference in other states.”
The US government-backed tech firm added that “a substantial number of articles also focused on the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, the suffering of Palestinians, and the rule of law in India, including the conflict in Kashmir,” while other “articles focused on Latin America, especially in the context of alleged U.S. ‘imperialism.'” (Graphika was careful to put the word imperialism in scare quotes.)
The implication of the report is clear: If journalists acknowledge US imperialism exists, report critically on Western foreign policy, or show sympathy toward Yemen, Palestine, and Kashmir, they are aiding and abetting the Kremlin.
Graphika also created a section titled “Partners and Sources,” which listed the alternative websites whose reporting was reprinted by PeaceData, apparently without permission. Among these were MintPress News, the World Socialist Web Site, Common Dreams, The Intercept, and The Grayzone.
The group is a who’s who of American left-wing websites that publish critical reporting on US foreign policy.
Graphika’s use of the term “partner” to describe the relationship between real media outlets and PeaceData is highly misleading. No one affiliated with The Grayzone had ever heard of PeaceData before the initial New York Times story, and the website did not have the consent of The Grayzone to republish its work. (PeaceData reprinted fewer than 10 of The Grayzone’s articles, comprising just around 1 percent of its roughly 700 English-language posts.)
Graphika also exposed its ulterior neoconservative motives by smearing The Grayzone, an absolutely independent outlet specializing in investigative journalism and featuring several award-winning reporters, as a “pro-Kremlin site based in the United States.”
Curiously, Graphika did not mention The Intercept in its report, although PeaceData copied nearly just as many articles from The Intercept as it did from The Grayzone. Having drifted over the years from its founding mission to challenge the opacity of the US national security state, The Intercept is owned by a billionaire Silicon Valley oligarch, Pierre Omidyar, who works closely with US government soft-power organizations and intelligence cutouts.
Graphika’s publication of the list revealed the apparent agenda behind its report on PeaceData: To falsely link independent left-wing American news websites to Russia through deceptive guilt-by-association tactics.
The US government-backed tech firm repeatedly emphasized in its report that PeaceData targeted “Democratic Socialists, environmentalists, and disgruntled Democrats in the United States,” as well as “left-leaning voters in the United States and United Kingdom who may be dissuaded from supporting the more centrist leadership of the Democratic and Labour parties.”
Graphika then concluded without a shred of evidence that these supposed Russian chaos agents aimed to “build a left-wing audience and steer it away from Biden’s campaign, in the same way that the original IRA (allegedly) tried to depress progressive and minority support for Hillary Clinton in 2016.” (There is no evidence for this latter claim either.)
The clear implication of the report is, if you are a leftist, if you reject the politics of neoliberal centrists like Joe Biden and Keir Starmer, and if you act through democratic means to challenge imperialism and regime-change wars, you are, wittingly or not, helping to spread so-called Russian “disinformation.”
Pro-Biden actor-for-hire recruited by PeaceData: “my Dementia may be making me go mad-crazy”
The backgrounds of the freelancers who were allegedly contracted to contribute original articles to PeaceData was perhaps the most suspicious aspect of the operation.
Less than 24 hours after its original scoop on PeaceData, the New York Times published a follow-up article titled, “A Freelance Writer Learns He Was Working for the Russians.” The piece was based on an interview with a little-known 50-year-old actor in Binghamton, New York named Colin Munro Wood, who claimed he was contacted by PeaceData and asked to write for the website.
The Times presented communications between PeaceData and Wood as irrefutable proof that the website was secretly backed by Moscow. But Wood’s background raises serious questions about the official narrative on PeaceData.
First, Wood is a staunch supporter of Joe Biden. Second, the New York Times’ source has openly admitted to serious mental illness and struggles with hallucinatory ideations. Most revealingly, Wood has acknowledged collaborating with the FBI.
Kremlin-backed operatives pushed American freelancers to write pro-Trump articles for "peace" new site https://t.co/a4Mh3DK0gb
— Borzou Daragahi ???????? (@borzou) September 3, 2020
Wood stated on Facebook that he contributed three articles to PeaceData, for no pay. Apparently he volunteered to write for the website for free – an odd detail that was not explained by the Times.
Wood provided the newspaper with 48 emails he compiled during correspondences with PeaceData. According to the Times, these apparently showed a PeaceData editor expressing support for Bernie Sanders and instructing Wood that he was forbidden from writing anti-Trump or pro-Biden articles.
The Times emphasized that many of the messages between Wood and PeaceData “had obvious mistakes in grammar and strange syntax.” The newspaper took this as proof that the shadowy forces behind the outlet were Russian.
But the narrative immediately begins to fall apart after a look at Colin Munro Wood’s social media presence. He is not a leftist who criticizes Joe Biden; on the contrary, he is a centrist liberal who strongly supports Biden’s presidential campaign.
On his publicly available Facebook profile, Wood broadcasts his political loud and clear. Since July, his Facebook profile photo has prominently displayed the banner “Joe 2020.” And his bio on Facebook clearly states his enthusiasm for Biden/Harris 2020.
Wood proudly describes himself as “a true American Patriot,” endorsed liberal interventionist Susan Rise for vice president, and shares posts on Facebook criticizing Trump nonstop, from pages like the Democratic Coalition Against Trump to the Never Trump Lincoln Project.
In a Facebook post on September 4 announcing an MSNBC interview, Wood wrote, “Understand, none of this is about me, but about truth, and governmental institutions destroying our world, in Russia, China, and America. I LOVE America, for what it is supposed to be, and for those who make America great!”
Later that same day, after writing “If you hate truth, you might be a Trumpian!”, Wood took credit for what he called the “Russian IRA” shutting down the PeaceData website.
“Glad to be of help, #FBI,” Wood said.
Then on September 10, Wood said he met with a “former senior FBI agent” in his hometown of Binghamton.
Colin Munro Wood is the polar opposite of the anti-imperialist leftist that PeaceData was supposedly trying to recruit. So if this alleged Russian operation was trying to hurt Biden and the Democratic Party, why would it solicit the services of a writer who is a moderate Democrat who publicly campaigns for Biden? The narrative makes little sense.
How PeaceData might have found Wood is unknown. However, it could have encountered Wood advertising himself as an actor for hire who has been actively – and apparently not very successfully – seeking out gigs. Or it could be because of a small blog he maintains on the website Medium.
A quick browse of Wood’s Medium profile raise troubling questions about the reliability of this New York Times source, demonstrating that he suffers from a range of serious mental health problems.
In a Medium article he published on August 9, Wood confessed, “my Dementia may be making me go mad-crazy.” In another Medium article from September 7, Wood claimed, “I am a black man trapped in a white man’s body.”
Wood also wrote about aliens.
Then there was a strange Facebook post on September 1, in which Wood wrote, “DON’T EVER SAY I LIED ABOUT THE FBI BEING IN MY PHONE A MONTH OR TWO AGO… THIS IS WHY I GOT A NEW PHONE AND HAVE CHANGED MY NUMBER TWICE IN THE PAST TWO MONTHS… THE FBI DID VIOLATE MY 1ST AND 4TH AMENDMENT RIGHTS, BUT IT’S ALL GOOD FOR ‘NATIONAL SECURITY.'”
In an ironic twist, Wood also complained that he was being censored on Facebook.
These obvious, gigantic, bright red flags did not stop the BBC and its “specialist reporter covering disinformation” from holding a serious, un-skeptical interview with Wood to discuss his work with PeaceData.
What’s it like to be tricked into taking part in a Russian foreign interference campaign?
I took part in this discussion on @bbc5live with @annaefoster and Colin Munro Wood - who was writing for the site PeaceData, a front for a Russian influence operation! pic.twitter.com/T8dodmJtoi
— Marianna Spring (@mariannaspring) September 10, 2020
Another former PeaceData contributor’s background raised questions as well. Just three days after the story broke, CNN published a video interview with a little-known blogger named Jack Delaney, claiming “This American was tricked into working with a Russian disinformation campaign.”
The Russian PeaceData operation was a disinfo pyramid scheme. It tried to attract freelance writers, and once it had them, their output was its cover to try and attract more. @donie interviews one of the victims here. https://t.co/9ihLIhKaBA
— Ben Nimmo (@benimmo) September 4, 2020
Delaney immediately landed an op-ed in The Guardian, another favorite dumping site for British intelligence agencies that was used to spread Russiagate disinformation to sabotage the campaign of leftist former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“I’m a freelance writer. A Russian media operation targeted and used me,” he claimed.
Delaney has maintained a low profile on the internet, and has only ever published a small handful of articles. Despite his obscurity, he claimed PeaceData sought out his services through a direct message on Twitter, and asked for him to write paid columns.
If PeaceData were truly a Russian operation, it would make little sense for the website to recruit a character like Delaney. His published writing shows he has harshly criticized Russia, even attacking President Vladimir Putin as “far-right” and “neofascist.”
Delaney repeated these views in The Guardian, criticizing Moscow as an “authoritarian regime” and writing, “It’s even quite ironic for a progressive anti-authoritarian committed to transparency who has argued that Trump and Putin are cut from the same reactionary cloth.”
Sometime after the PeaceData scandal broke, Delaney took down his LinkedIn account, erasing his professional history from the internet.
However, Delaney did reveal that he once interned for center-right Democratic Congressman Don Beyer. He said the uninspiring experience pushed him toward “democratic socialism.”
A photo from his publicly available Instagram page shows Delaney with another center-right Democrat, Senator Tim Kaine, in March 2017, apparently when he was an intern for Rep. Beyer.
The question of why the “Russians” behind PeaceData would recruit a practically unknown writer with a hardline anti-Russian perspective was never entertained by the FBI, Graphika, and New York Times.
A third and equally peculiar PeaceData contributor surfaced through an anonymous interview fed to neoconservative blogger Charles Davis at Business Insider.
In his article, Davis echoed a US Senate Intelligence Committee report on supposed Russian meddling along with the unsubstantiated claims of the Pentagon contractor Graphika. The unnamed former PeaceData contributor told him that he strongly condemned Russia, insisting, “I’m obviously no fan of Putin — I think he’s close to being a fascist, if not openly a fascist.”
The anonymous contributor also echoed standard fare Russiagate narratives, emphasizing, “there’s no doubt that Trump has ties to Russian oligarchs and business interests over there — that’s indisputable.”
If the website truly were a Kremlin operation covertly supporting Trump, why had it consistently recruited such harsh critics of Moscow who loathed Trump and supported the Democratic Party? So much for Putin’s three dimensional chess!
With the help of US government-backed neoconservative operatives with sinecures in mainstream corporate media, such as Michael Weiss, the blogger Charles Davis has carved a niche for himself as a professionalimperial attack dog, dedicating his life to obsessively smearing anti-war leftists in conspiratorial error-filled hatchet jobs, while pushing regime-change propaganda against Syria and Venezuela in opposition mouthpieces funded by the US government and European Union.
The fact that such an obsessively anti-Russian neoconservative operative like Davis was immediately fed an interview on PeaceData raised yet another bright red flag about the operation.
Supposed ‘Russian agents’ can’t find a proper English speaker?
Many mainstream media outlets followed up on the New York Times’ initial story and the Graphika report, but none provided a shred of proof that PeaceData was a Russia-run operation.
Their narrative became even more suspicious when the people allegedly behind PeaceData published a statement denying involvement with Russia that was composed in comically broken English. It read like a script for a third-rate late night comedian impersonating a stereotypical Russian hacker.
“We’re assured that Peace Data became a victim of a collaborated provocative effort from Facebook and FBI who want to shut up independent leftwing voices prior to the presidential elections and to disguise it with the fight against made up Russian threat,” PeaceData wrote in response to the September 1 reports accusing of it being a Moscow-based IRA operation.
Many Western media outlets took this grammatically disastrous statement to be the conclusive proof that PeaceData was run by the evil Ruskies. Mainstream reporters who make careers out of serving as stenographers for Western intelligence agencies credulously asserted the terrible English was a smoking gun.
Not a scientific analysis but: Those who have worked in copy editing roles with native Russian speakers (????♀️) will be able to spot the trail of misplaced definite/indefinite articles like breadcrumbs through the #PeaceData 'Editorial Team Response'(Twitter won't let me link to it)
— Rosanna Lockwood (@Roolockwood) September 3, 2020
So why do the Russian correspondents, hosts and staffers for real Russian-backed English language news outlets like RT and Sputnik not make the same obvious language mistakes as the anonymous figures behind PeaceData? Why couldn’t Putin’s expert chaos agents find a few proficient English speakers to handle this advanced active measures operation? Once again, these questions were never entertained by the US media outlets amplifying the official narrative about PeaceData.
It is certainly possible that PeaceData was a Kremlin operation. But so far, there is no evidence to prove it.
Therefore the possibility must be considered that private contractors for US intelligence agencies borrowed the same tactics they employed during the scandalous 2018 Alabama Senate false flag operation, creating the PeaceData network themselves and falsely posing as Russians in order to smear authentic American independent media outlets as Kremlin-linked disinformation operations, to build the case for ultimately censoring them, and to justify their own paychecks.
In fact, in its report on the PeaceData controversy, the Washington Post quoted a figure who was directly involved in that Alabama false flag operation.
The Post cited Renée DiResta as a putative expert who “tracked the strategy” of how alleged Russian “disinformation operatives” like those supposedly behind PeaceData recruit “unwitting locals.”
What the Post failed to acknowledge was that DiResta was not a mere observer of the strategy; she participated in the Alabama disinformation operation while working as director of research of the US government contractor, New Knowledge (now Yonder).
New Knowledge internal report: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation" in the 2017 Alabama senate race https://t.co/M1mnuaKrUC
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) August 8, 2019
A former Wall Street trader who spent years at the Thiel Foundation of the eponymous right-wing oligarch, DiResta later transformed herself into a dedicated information warrior in the new Cold War on Russia and China.
DiResta boasts on her website that she advised the US State Department and Congress, and she is closely linked to the Democratic foreign policy establishment in Washington. DiResta is a member of the US government-linked Council on Foreign Relations and currently serves as a national security fellow at the neoconservative think tank the Truman National Security Project.
The Grayzone tried to contact DiResta with a request for comment, but she blocked both The Grayzone and this reporter, Ben Norton, on Twitter.
So much of the Russian interference coverage focused on the Jesus memes, but *infiltrating communities* and *manipulating real Americans* into writing, running ads, creating content, hosting protests, etc has always been a core part of the operation. The indictments showed this. https://t.co/s22MtDNOwM
— Renee DiResta (@noUpside) September 7, 2020
PeaceData’s Wikipedia page created by same neocon editors that censored The Grayzone
Twitter immediately announced on September 1 that it was blocking links to any posts on the peacedata.net website.
Twitter added, “We wish to express our gratitude to the @FBI’s Foreign Influence Task Force for their close collaboration and continued support of our work to protect the public conversation at this critical time.”
Going forward, links to content from PeaceData’s site will be blocked from being shared on our service. Existing links will be de-amplified across the service in accordance with our policies detailed here: https://t.co/wB72boTAfR
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) September 1, 2020
Fewer than 24 hours after the New York Times broke the story, a Wikipedia page focused on Peacedata suddenly appeared which stated conclusively that it was a Russian government-linked fake news operation.
A look at the edit history of the PeaceData Wikipedia page shows it was created by some of the key members of a small group of pro-interventionist editors that vandalize the pages of prominent anti-imperialists to discredit and denigrate their work. In fact, some of the same anonymous editors who participated in a politically motivated campaign to censor and blacklist The Grayzone’s factual reporting on Wikipedia helped to create the new PeaceData page.
One of the main editors of the new PeaceData page happens to be Philip Cross, a notorious neocon account that spends hours per day, every single day, removing any anti-war perspectives on Wikipedia, censoring facts inconvenient to NATO members, and spreading pro-US propaganda.
The FBI targets counter-hegemonic outlets, triggering Twitter censorship labels
The PeaceData controversy followed a larger trend of US government-initiated censorship of alternative media outlets dubbed “Russian propaganda” by Washington.
In April, top US military officials accused Russia, China, and Iran of “using the coronavirus pandemic to spread disinformation to further their goals.” The Pentagon said it was working with the US State Department and allied Western governments to push back.
Then on August 5, the Mike Pompeo State Department published a special report titled “Pillars of Russia’s Disinformation and Propaganda Ecosystem” (PDF). Prepared by the department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), the document singled out several websites as putative tools in “Russia’s broader disinformation and propaganda ecosystem.”
Among the alternative media outlets targeted by the State Department were Global Research, a Canada-based publication; and SouthFront, which reports largely on the wars in Syria and Libya from a pro-Russian perspective.
The State Department provided no evidence proving Global Research is backed by the Russian government. Instead, the US government claimed Global Research is dangerous because the articles it publishes are useful to Moscow’s narratives.
Soon after the Pompeo State Department published this blacklist of undesirable outlets, social media giants cracked down harshly.
Twitter put an automatic warning label on all links to Global Research articles on its platform.
Following a dubious State Dept Global Engagement Center report on “Eurasianist” media, Twitter now hits users with a misleading warning page every time they visit a link from Global Research (@CRG_CRM). With US guidance, Silicon Valley is suppressing counter-hegemonic media. pic.twitter.com/hzYQzyFEGn
— Max Blumenthal (@MaxBlumenthal) September 15, 2020
At the same time, Twitter blocked anyone from linking to the website SouthFront. All posts on the page are now banned on the social media platform.
WTF Twitter has blocked SouthFront again? pic.twitter.com/tjNN4xESMH
— ⏳ Julien Benda (@canthavepudding) September 11, 2020
On July 24, the New York Times published an article claiming that Russia, China, and Iran sought to manipulate the US election. It cited no evidence, other than accusations by American spies.
Four days later, the Times published another article that included a blacklist of websites that US intelligence agencies accused of being vehicles for “Russian propaganda“: OneWorld.Press, the Strategic Culture Foundation, TheDuran.com, and GlobalResearch.ca.
What united all of these publications was their harsh criticism of US foreign policy and interest in promoting a Eurasianist perspective on international politics that stands at complete odds with the ideological standpoint familiar to US media coverage of international issues.
In response to these US government and New York Times reports, Facebook and Twitter widened their censorship dragnet.
In addition to putting a warning notice on links to Global Research and banning any posts from SouthFront, Twitter also restricted all users from sharing a link to any material on the OneWorld.Press website.
Twitter just fully blocked One World on its platform. I'm not even able to redirect to the site using shortened URLs. They previously took users to a "warning" page before asking them to confirm whether they wanted to go back or continue at their own risk, but now they don’t. pic.twitter.com/A3MSVIsYTb
— Andrew Korybko (@AKorybko) September 7, 2020
All of these actions appear to be the latest escalation in a coordinated censorship campaign initiated and directed by the US government, and willingly enacted by social media corporations.
The extremely dubious PeaceData scandal, coupled with attempts by US government-backed neoconservative outfits like the Alliance for Securing Democracy to falsely accuse independent news websites like The Grayzone of being linked to foreign governments, suggest a nefarious operation is afoot.
While major questions surrounding PeaceData remain unanswered, it is clear that US intelligence agencies and their private contractors have independent anti-imperialist media in their crosshairs.
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