'Bay Of Tweets Invasion' Legitimizes Nearly Every Crackpot Anti-US Claim From Dictators Around The Globe

from the a-complete-disaster dept

Last week, we wrote about the Associated Press’s Hollywood script-like story of how USAID, who is not supposed to be engaged in intelligence activities, apparently set up a Cuban version of Twitter, called ZunZuneo, designed to give more Cubans a way to communicate with each other — but also to foment a pro-democracy movement and spy on certain Cubans. While the concept of encouraging democracy and open communications may be good, the fact that it was done via a series of secretive shell companies and that it was used for spying and subversive anti-government efforts is just incredibly stupid. As we noted in our original piece on it, this would likely create huge headaches around the globe for legitimate US humanitarian efforts, because foreign governments will now point to this story as a reason to distrust USAID and pretty much any other US activities.

In fact, the impact is being seen already. Remember how we’d just been discussing Turkey’s latest attempt to ban Twitter? Zeynep Tufecki explains how this latest news has played right into the hands of Turkey’s Prime Minister, noting that the Twitter ban was actually a calculated strategy to appeal to the fears of lower- and middle-class Turks that Twitter was part of an American plot to foment unrest. To have the ZunZuneo story come out days later simply serves to better confirm that plot:

Until now, though, in trying to paint their online critics as “foreign agents,” these governments were grasping at straws. For example, lacking a better model, Ankara’s AKP mayor, Melih Gokcek, who became the Turkish government’s most vocal spokesperson during the Gezi protests, kept referring to OTPOR — the small, insignificant and defunct Serbian activist organization that received USAID funding in the 1990s — as supposedly the power behind all global protests, including Gezi.

I suspect there will be no more grasping at straws after ZunZeneo. Secretly funded by the U.S. government? Check. Aimed for regime change? Check. Collected information from unsuspecting users for political purposes? Check. Tried clumsily to hide its tracks? Check. The “Cuban Twitter” was a dictator’s fever dream made real.

Meanwhile, what seemed like wacky conspiracy theories a month ago concerning USAID’s efforts in Ukraine to overthrow the government there, suddenly seem more legitimate. In fact, most of the claims do appear to be nothing more than crazy conspiracy theories, but prior to the ZunZuneo story coming out, most people would have assumed that that, too, was a crazy conspiracy theory. And that’s the huge problem here. Even if most of what USAID does is really important and valuable work for truly noble purposes, the ZunZuneo story undermines all of that, by making any conspiracy story seem legit. Last year, people thought Bolivian President Evo Morales was crazy for expelling USAID, claiming that it was seeking to “conspire against” the Bolivian government. Suddenly it’s tough to assume that his claims weren’t accurate. Similarly, with this story, there are suddenly additional stories coming out of highly questionable activities by USAID, which often look quite a lot like intelligence activities to undermine foreign governments.

In fact, Glenn Greenwald is reporting that the ZunZuneo story is just a drop in the bucket of US propaganda efforts around the globe.

These ideas–discussions of how to exploit the internet, specifically social media, to surreptitiously disseminate viewpoints friendly to western interests and spread false or damaging information about targets–appear repeatedly throughout the archive of materials provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Documents prepared by NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ–and previously published by The Intercept as well as some by NBC News–detailed several of those programs, including a unit devoted in part to “discrediting” the agency’s enemies with false information spread online.

And, once again, even if the actual impact of these programs is limited, the mere perception that the US government is engaged in these kinds of practices helps push along pretty much any conspiracy theory about US government involvement, no matter how wacky or ridiculous. So, in a bumbling effort to spread a pro-US, pro-democracy message, USAID appears to have done the exact opposite, and handed crackpot authoritarian dictators ever more ammunition to crack down on actual American humanitarian aid and tools for communication.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “'Bay Of Tweets Invasion' Legitimizes Nearly Every Crackpot Anti-US Claim From Dictators Around The Globe”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Combined with the Snowden leaks...

Obama is in a position to do something about it. He’s been in that position for more than 5 years. So even if he didn’t start all the abuses, he certainly didn’t stop them either. So now it all falls at his feet.

There is a reasonable chance that Obama will go down in history as the worst president the United States has ever had. If he does, it will be because of his unwillingness to reign in the three letter agencies. Not because of any of his legislative agendas.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Combined with the Snowden leaks...

“Obama is in a position to do something about it.”

Absolutely, and he deserves condemnation for it. However, the exact same thing can be said of the presidents that came before him as well. To single Obama out special is to focus on the wrong target. Obama is not the root cause of the problem.

“There is a reasonable chance that Obama will go down in history as the worst president the United States has ever had.”

Not even close. For all his faults, we have had much, much worse presidents than Obama.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Combined with the Snowden leaks...

a recurrent theme that occurs with every cycle of the ‘revelations’ (after X number of cycles, it starts to become difficult to hold on to the ‘rogue operation’ / ‘lone nut’ theory of his story) about the alphabet spooks not only listening in on joe nobodie’s phone, but also running a campaign of dirty ‘tricks’ against joe nobody, if he should get out of line…

further, former spooks, and reporters and academics who study the boys in black, will maintain that -with some exceptions- these clandestine forces and operations are done at the behest of the president/executive branch: they aren’t -generally- going off on their own initiative, they are being pointed at some target by the president, and they obey…
they are a tool the president chooses to use, rather than a rogue agency blackmailing every president to do their bidding…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Combined with the Snowden leaks...

The difference between Obama and everyone that has come before is that Obama cannot deny he knows this is going on. W can claim that he was never briefed on the full extent of the programs and that he would have pardoned Snowden and put a stop to it all, if only he had known.

Obama can’t do that. Obama knows. There is no way to deny it. So Obama has become the first president to wipe his butt with the constitution and get called out for it. Nixon came close, and had he had the technology that Obama has, he may have been worse. But he didn’t have the opportunity.

Whoever follows Obama will also be unable to deny knowledge of the programs as well. They may even be worse. However we won’t know that until it happens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Combined with the Snowden leaks...

Pretty much. The difference is we know Obama is trying to destroy the US with all of this spying. He cannot deny he knows about it. He cannot deny he knows the constitution. The best he can do is make lame excuses.

A thorough investigation might reveal that every president since FDR was really a traitor to the US. It probably wouldn’t be good for the country to do a thorough investigation.

But Obama was in office when it hit the fan. So it falls at his feet. His lack of action when it mattered is what will define his presidency.

I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if his successor was worse. But history will record that Obama fiddled while America burned. If the US turns into an obvious totalitarian police state, Obama’s presidency will mark the turning point in the history books.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Combined with the Snowden leaks...

The difference is we know Obama is trying to destroy the US with all of this spying.

That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it?

The truth is, the spying is being driven by corporate interests working with the 3-letter agencies to increase power and profits.

Obama seems to believe the crap he’s being told. They might have some dirt on him or have information that could bring his administration down. They can certainly go after the other Congressmen and women.

Worst case scenario, he’s in love with the idea of being at the head of an almighty spy machine and has begun to drink the neocon koolaid – believing he can create reality. If that is true, God help us all.

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Combined with the Snowden leaks...

Nein! Nein, nein, nein, nein! It’s all Obama’s fault. The US intelligence agencies had a spotless record until Obama got in and started bowing to the ayatollahs.

And Obama isn’t even patriotic enough to have these foreign dictators assassinated, like the One True Leader, Ronald Reagan would have.

He wants to Twitter them instead, which as we all know, is like assassination TIMES TEN!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Combined with the Snowden leaks...

I’ve been tempted to try to write a story where Snowden is really a US agent in deep cover. His mission is to try to save the US from the evil organization that has infiltrated the government at the highest levels and is taking over. The release of all the documents was just a smoke screen to help not cause panic when phase 2 begins.

Maybe I should call it something like, Captain American: Winter Soldier.

pankocrums says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Combined with the Snowden leaks...

I know u know this but I just needed to remind u that snowdem was a publicity stunt pulled by the CIA to get assange known more publicly. Do u have any idea how many whistle blowing agents have been assassinated since Co.tactinh assange for help? ?? Nice little round em up operation that’s catching em everywhere ….now as for bildenbetgs corporation wikileaks……..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Combined with the Snowden leaks...

These “theories” have been becoming increasing legitimate for several decades now. In my mind Bush holds just as much accountability as Obama does, and even Clinton (and beyond) isn’t without blame.

In fact, I remember in the early days of Bush’s presidency, someone posted in a newsgroup I was running at the time about the exposure of one of Bush’s early serveillence programs from a more liberal minded US news source. The story kind of struck me because I’d literally just finished reading a similar story from a more moderate, middle-ground (Non-US based) news source that pointed out a few details the liberal media source left out. Namely that the program had actually been created under the Clinton administration, and simply widened and expanded under Bush.

More than that, though, I blame Congress, many of whom are entering not just their second, but often third and even fourth decades in office (in one seat or another). These are the people who need to be held most accountable, but are really given the least oversight.

Despite catering to vastly different demographics, I’ve seen little practical difference between George Bush and Barrack Obama, and between Mike Roger and Dianne Feinstein (or conversly, on the other end of the spectrum, between a Ron Paul and a Ron Wyden).

PopeRatzo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nah. The US has been doing stupid stuff in regard to Cuba for more than half a century.

Remember trying to assassinate Castro by sending him exploding cigars? Or trying to make his beard fall out?

Seriously. For the US, Cuba is like that one old girlfriend, who isn’t even all that hot, who can push your buttons to the point that if you run into her at a coffee shop, within 48 hours you’ll end up faced down naked on her front lawn crying your eyes out. Drunk and pleading with her to come back to you or you’ll jump in front of a speeding semi.

Anonymous Coward says:

the very worrying thing about this and similar ‘escapades’ from the USA is that no one ever seems to look at the consequences once some sort of screw up is brought out into the open! i mean, has anyone who works for these various agencies got a fucking brain or do they all rely totally on their ability to just ruin lives, arrest people, scare the living crap out of them or simply dispose of anyone who happens to get in the way?

Oz says:


Greenwald has no room to talk. His boss, Pierre Omidiyar along with USAID, funded the Ukraine revolutions. It was NEVER a conspiracy theory! Pando had all the proof they needed in these two articles: http://pando.com/2014/02/28/pierre-omidyar-co-funded-ukraine-revolution-groups-with-us-government-documents-show/ / http://pando.com/2014/03/23/revealed-visitor-logs-show-full-extent-of-pierre-and-pamela-omidyars-cozy-white-house-ties/

Anonymous Coward says:

A minor correction

” These ideas?discussions of how to exploit the internet, specifically social media, to surreptitiously disseminate viewpoints friendly to western interests and spread false or damaging information about targets?appear repeatedly throughout the archive of materials provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.” (Greenwald)

There is no such thing as “social media”. It’s just a buzzword made up to wallpaper over the underlying scams.

Anonymous Coward says:

Looking at such leaks, they can easily lead to opportunistic conspiracy theories and one-sidedness gaining traction where no reason for it exists. Not spreading any proof of one side in the multi-sided meddling in other countries is the better idea given the geo-political situation.

Russia, China and several other countries are using USAs internet exploits to legitimize strenghtening their governments information dissemination monopolies. If the US government wants to spread democratic values, these programs and the use of torture hurt that effort more than you can imagine…

nonanymous says:

Actually, this fits rather well with what’s going on in Ukraine.

It’s already been shown that the far right groups like Svoboda have received money from both US directly and from people like Ebay’s co-founder Pierre Omidyar. Perfect combo, US government’s influences and tech giants’ connections.

So impact on US personnel elsewhere in the world will be very negative and I would not be too surprised if some lives are lost when some aid worker is taken out as a “spy”. No wonder so much effort is spent on Snowden, just to divert the attention.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ukraine is such a hellhole because both US and Russia have stakes invested in it. Russia has been shown to support rebels in eastern Ukraine for many years, they have agents in high levels of basically all of Ukraines public services and they have several times shown how they have SIGINT from basically everything going on in Ukraine (leaked “fuck the EU” and “sniper-gate”).

Untill now, Ukraine were been playing both sides. However, with Putins plans for Eurasian Economic Community (the expansion of CIS) to include Ukraine and EU wanting Eastern Partnership things got tense between Russia and EU and none of the sides were willing to give up on their extended trade agreements. The tension created a situation where Ukraine was forced to choose and Yanukovych was unable to handle the situation to either sides satisfaction. (contrary to russian medias reports the start of the demonstrations were relatively peaceful from both sides. The actual escalation came as a result of some rather questionable moves in the ukrainian parliament january 16 after which Right Sector started making things very unpleasant).

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t trust my government, do you? I would not use an American (United States) manufactured Internet Security Suite or cloud storage. It used to be I feared Eastern Europe, China, and Russia, now they are the ones I turn to for software, online storage, etcetera. When even the U.S. Supreme Court is unwilling to do anything about our governments unconstitutional activities on line and elsewhere, we have finally reached a breaking point. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people? I don’t think so. You can blame it on me saying I did’t vote, but there was no place on the ballot marked “no confidence”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Unless their are no other candidates, you could vote for the other candidate that best represents your views, or seems most likely to listen to the electorate before acting. A significant vote for, and a few successes for alternative politicians sends a stronger message than not voting.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

By “All” I presume you mean the “dem/repub” coin, there is a libertarian party, a green party, a communist party, and maybe even a pirate party (in the US, I am not certain)I just wish there was “None of the above” Party, they could win by a landslide………

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You can also write in Mickey Mouse, or anyone else. It doesn’t matter who you write in. It’s far better than not voting.

If you don’t vote, then the politicians will assume you don’t vote and are not going to care what you want. You have nothing to offer them. If enough people vote for a write in, the politicians will start to try to convince the people that voted for write in to vote for them instead. That means they may start paying attention to the issues you care about.

So my advice about voting in the US is:

1) If you really support one of the two major party candidates, vote for that candidate.
2) If one of the two major party candidates scares you too much, vote for the other major party candidate.
3) If there is a third party candidate running that may get any significant number of votes, vote for that candidate. The goal is to get the attention of the two major parties.
4) If there is no reasonable third party candidate, write someone in.

In the last election, I voted for Homer, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie Simpson. While still a long shot, voting for a write in candidate is far more likely to cause change than not voting.

Chris Rhodes (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Saying that “voting for a write in candidate is far more likely to cause change than not voting” is like saying “buying a lottery ticket is far more likely to win you the lottery than not buying one”.

It’s trivially true, but it ignores opportunity costs and expected ROI. Voting is one of the least productive uses of your time. If you want to improve your life, you’d be better off searching your couch cushions for pennies.

Mark Pugner says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

It’s as ineffective/effective as voting on a selection of candidates that have already been picked for you by the few hundred financial backers who funded their campaign, and who the candidates will have to fulfil promises to way before they get to looking at anything the public want.

The only problem is that voting “none of the above”, or for a write in, helps legitimise this pantomime.

Refusing to vote is the only ethical option.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...