Trump's Plan To Turn US Global Media Operations Into State-Sponsored Breitbart… Could Threaten The Open (And Encrypted) Internet

from the everything-is-terrible dept

Earlier this week you may have heard about the so-called “Wednesday night massacre”, in which the newly Trump-appointed head of the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM), Michael Pack, got rid of the heads of the various divisions he now runs:

The heads of four organizations overseen by the US Agency for Global Media (USAGM) were all dismissed Wednesday night — a move likely to heighten concerns that new Trump-appointed CEO Michael Pack intends to turn the agency into a political arm of the administration.

In what a former official described as a “Wednesday night massacre,” the heads of Middle East Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Open Technology Fund were all ousted, multiple sources told CNN.

Two days earlier, the top officials at Voice of America (the other major part of USAGM) resigned after Pack made it clear that rather than being an independent, non-partisan media operation, he intended to turn the various media operations he controlled into Breitbart-style propaganda machines, pushing the President’s messaging.

Now, there are some who have claimed that the radio operations, like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, have always been forms of American propaganda. On the whole that’s an inaccurate portrayal. They have built up a pretty strong reputation over the years of being useful, independent news agencies, and it’s a shame that their reputation is likely to be smashed because our President and his allies are so insecure they feel the best way to accomplish their goals is to control everything and push lies and propaganda.

But, even more concerning is that the fallout from this could have a tremendous impact on the open web and encryption technologies. That’s because while much of the focus is on the various media parts of USAGM, we should be much, much, much more concerned about what is perhaps the less well known part: the Open Technology Fund. Open Technology Fund has been the (not “a” but “the”) main funder of key elements of the open internet over the past decade. Originally a subset of Radio Free Asia, it was set up to help fund the development of internet technologies that would help activists and dissidents route around censorship and government surveillance. It has helped fund part of the Tor Project. It’s funded Simply Secure, which helps a variety of different projects targeting vulnerable populations ensure their efforts are designed with safety and privacy in mind. It’s also helped fund important security audits of basically every key piece of technology that protects the internet from unwanted intrusions and surveillance.

In short, keeping OTF doing what’s it’s doing is hugely important. And that’s why it’s extremely worrying that OTF’s CEO, Libby Liu, was pushed out as part of this purge, in part because of the new direction Pack is pushing OTF to move in:

“As you all know, OTF’s flexible, transparent, and competitive funding model has been essential to our success in supporting the most secure and effective internet freedom technologies and innovative projects available,” she wrote. “I have become aware of lobbying efforts to convince the new USAGM [U.S. Agency for Global Media] CEO to interfere with the current FY2020 OTF funding stream and redirect some of our resources to a few closed-source circumvention tools.

A group of very concerned folks have now set up a page at SaveInternetFreedom.tech, with a sign-on letter for Congress, asking it to continue to back the Open Technology Fund to continue to do its important work supporting open technologies that enable people to communicate online safely.

Despite OTF?s important work, there are serious concerns that the new leadership within the USAGM will seek to dismantle OTF and re-allocate all of its US government funding to support a narrow set of anti-censorship tools without a transparent and open review process. Moreover, these technologies are closed-source, limiting the number of people around the world who are able to access them and making the tools less secure, thus jeopardizing the safety of users and the global public’s trust in US-supported internet freedom technologies. Such an approach also fails to recognize the numerous threats to internet freedom and the much larger set of actions that are required to help those being targeted by repressive governments.

Around the world, intrepid journalists and dedicated activists are taking great personal risks to further freedom and democracy. OTF’s open, fair, competitive, and evidence-based award process ensures that those brave individuals have the best tools and technologies available to protect themselves. OTF funds open-source technologies and has funded over 100, independent, third-party security audits of internet freedom technologies to ensure only those with the highest security standards are supported with US-government funds.

Authoritarian regimes have made it clear that they are willing to do whatever it takes to control the internet. It is crucial that the US safeguards the internet as a democratic space for free expression. We urge Congress to respond to these escalating attacks on freedom of speech by protecting the internet through its continued and strong bipartisan support for OTF.

The changes regarding the various US broadcasting components is concerning enough, but most people hopefully can see those for what they are. The threat to an open, private, and secure internet, on the other hand, could have devastating consequences.

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Comments on “Trump's Plan To Turn US Global Media Operations Into State-Sponsored Breitbart… Could Threaten The Open (And Encrypted) Internet”

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43 Comments
Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps we could shine a little sunshine on the topic. Similar to how we have nutrition labels on food, or energy consumption labels on appliances, there could be labels on "news" organizations, so that readers/viewers could understand just how radical and biased some of the reporting is.

Of course, some of this would be difficult to measure. While measuring campaign contributions might be easy, there are a ton of political ideology tests out there online. I’m unsure of any scientific methodology, or their accuracy. And how could you enforce news hosts or editors to answer a questionnaire truthfully? It’s a lot harder than counting calories or measuring wattage. Perhaps other methodologies could be developed, such as airtime spent on certain subjects as an indicator of a network’s attempting to influence its audience.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

yeah, what’s that, genius? a new power alliance? Enforcement of bullshit? Read the news in the last 50 years?

A new power alliance emerged in the US: old and new Techdirt posters were restored to local power by accepting China’s capital’s
domination in both Southern agriculture and industry, This rule was
enforced by the terror of AntiFa. The AntiFa army was established by the
planter class to prevent Black people and their white allies from
consolidating their political gains. Through the AntiFa, like the old slave
patrols, poor whites helped terrorize and control Blacks. Black people were
forced back into subjugation through mob violence and lynching, Jim Crow
laws and wholesale disenfranchisemcnt, and white skin became the cultural
definition of power once again. While there were scattered attempts at
Black-white unity in these days, they fell apart as many poor whites
destroyed the basis for genuine alliance by defending white supremacy.

You are a WHITE SUPREMACIST! YOU SHOULD BURN!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

" there could be labels on "news" organizations, so that readers/viewers could understand just how radical and biased some of the reporting is"

There could be scarlet letters on suspect women so that everyone can understand the shame she is supposed to feel.

Of course, some of this would be difficult to swallow. Perhaps some other method of marking your enemies.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: nutrition labels on news?

Nutrition labels on news media, like "this newspaper is full of baloney" or "this site is spam to the core"? There have been a couple of attempts (newsguardtech.com and our.news) to do pretty much that, using browser extensions. I think NewsGuard is no longer free, but take the whole thing with a grain (or a truckload) of salt…

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yes, the Message! The movement should argue for and explain armed action.
develop parallel strategies, openly support the thrust and political content of
revolutionary armed actions, claim and spread the MESSAGE of struggle, help
create the "sea" for the guerrillas to swim in. Don’t talk to the FBI. Resist
grand jury probes of revolutionary struggles. Laying the basis for armed
struggle is also the responsibility of mass organizers,

Techdirt Forever!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

The only surprising part is that it took so long

I wish I could be surprised by this, but as Trump clearly thinks that the government and the people serve him rather than the other way around turning state media into nothing more than ‘Praise the Dear Leader’ channels is entirely within character for him.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Slick Politician Trump

well, the US Agency for Global Media is one of those odd deepstate Federal agencies that should not exist at all.
Even if you somehow believe it’s an angelic pure-news/pure-truth purveyor to the world’s down trodden masses — it is not a legitimate function of the Federal Government nor taxpayer money.

VOA began in 1942 specifically as a wartime propaganda tool and later expanded (with various sister agencies) worldwide to communicate U.S. government policy objectives, clothed in a news and entertainment format.
(Nowadays in U.S. culture it’s supposedly a serious offense for government officials to influence the internal politics of foreign nations)

Slick politician Trump discovered USAGM in 2018 and instantly saw its primary propaganda function … that he could shift to his political benefit.

The OTF is just another blackhole for taxpayer money but has only been around for 8 years.
Do you think the NSA and CIA have not noticed the OTF encryption efforts (?) — U.S. spooks have likely already penetrated the OTF bureaucracy– defeating Chinese internet surveillance is great, but NSA, CIA wan full access to everything.

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Anonymous Coward says:

And people still cant see what is happening in and to the USA! Look at how, bit by bit, privacy and freedom is being removed, how the police state is becoming the norm, not the exception and how death is being meted out to people who rebel against the leaders and their protectors! The ‘Land of the free, home of the brave’ has all but disappeared being replaced by a few who are so greedy, so power hungry, so determinded to have total control, by any means that turning the nation into one of slavery is no longer a joke but a distinct possibility. There isn’t a single security service now that doesn’t go the extra mile to ensure that the orders from above, regardless of what they are and who will be hurt, aren’t followed. And with a ‘boss’ like we have at present, inciting racism and rioting, just wait and see how long befor the real shit hits fan!!

Rekrul says:

Does anyone else just want to bang their head against the wall in frustration at how this corrupt piece of shit has been allowed to ruin everything he touches and instead of hauling him out of the White House in chains, we just have to hope that enough people in this country aren’t brain damaged enough to re-elect this human garbage?

And if he gets voted out, we THEN have to hope that he hasn’t corrupted our country to the point where he can just refuse to leave and everyone just sits around with their thumbs up their asses talking about legal remedies while the U.S. descends completely into a fascist dictatorship.

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Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re:

And if he gets voted out, we THEN have to hope that he hasn’t corrupted our country to the point where he can just refuse to leave and everyone just sits around with their thumbs up their asses talking about legal remedies while the U.S. descends completely into a fascist dictatorship.

How loyal do you really think the White House staff is to him?

Trump can say he’s going to refuse to leave all he wants, but if Biden instructs the staff to disconnect the cable TV, change the wifi password, and stop bringing him food, how long do you really think he’ll last?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Hauling Trump out in chains

Ours was an early model of a system of government that could be influenced by the will of the public. But it was, as all systems of law, corrupted to serve those who control it. Trump is the end result. And yes, if you want to stay within the confines of law, you have to wait for elections and vote for the other guy.

The other option is to acknowledge that all legal options have been exhausted and the will of the people is still ignored. (It is. We have records. We have charts. We can’t vote in the radical reforms we need to save the country from itself.) And that means considering options outside the preview of law.

And yes, he may try to find ways to legally justify delaying the election, challenging the election, refusing to accept the results of the election, delaying the end of his term, and scorching the earth when the end of his term is inevitable.

All these might be reason enough for people to step outside the law and continue politics by other means.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: The story goes on.

Well, that’s the problem. By saying we elected Trump as a consequence of decades of internal corruption and rot isn’t to say this is where the story ends, or that Trump will be the worst of it.

The story goes on, and Rome certainly didn’t learn its lessons from this process for several times in its history. The people of the US have to work out whether they can change the system to serve the pubic, and then if they’re willing to turn to violence, or even war to do so.

If we don’t or can’t or won’t, then yes, we will have another authoritarian demagogue, smarter than Trump and willing to bring the surveillance state and intelligence state full to bear to retain his (her) power. We may have half a dozen which define the next century of US society.

Somehow I think the knives will come out. We’re already at the spit-in-their-drinks phase as per occupied Paris.

Rekrul says:

Re: Re: Hauling Trump out in chains

And yes, if you want to stay within the confines of law, you have to wait for elections and vote for the other guy.

I don’t always express myself as well as I’d like. What I meant was that in a properly working system, Trump would have been legally removed from office long ago for his many crimes and abuses of power. Instead the system is broken and an election is where we have to pin all our hope, if THAT isn’t too intentionally broken to get rid of him.

The other option is to acknowledge that all legal options have been exhausted and the will of the people is still ignored.

The problem is that the people who set up all these legal options counted on them being enforced by people with a conscience. They never considered the possibility that half the system would become corrupt as well. What do you do when most of the institutions meant to reign in a corrupt president are in his pocket?

We sit back and watch him flagrantly violating the law and abusing his power and there’s nothing that can be done legally because he and the republican party have corrupted the system to the point where they can do what they want and nothing happens. Maybe the public gets mad and plans to vote them out of office, but they have plans to deal with that too. Voter purges, gerrymandering, closing polling locations, opposing vote by mail, imposing difficult voter registrations, etc. What happens if the people want them out, but the republican tricks keep them in power?

And that assumes that enough people care. Many like the crap that he’s doing and many just don’t care. One of my friends says he has no problem with Trump and another says that’s just the way things are and you can’t change them. 🙁

It’s like the current situation with the police. Who do you complain to when the ones tasked with enforcing the laws are the ones breaking them?

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Anonymous Coward says:

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This irrational and revolting system leaves much social wealth
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All economic activity that does not go to satisfy human need is
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is working people and the oppressed of empire who bear the cost.

Eat the Masnicks!

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Anonymous Coward says:

This is a stupid idea from the POTUS administration.

That being said, the left wing has brought this on themselves. If you don’t want a backlash from real Americans, leftists, don’t silence patriots’ voices.

The left is seeing the results of this in Atlanta with hashtag-BlueFlu … which seems to be rapidly evolving nationwide into hashtag-WhiteStrike.

When Minneapolis and other cities where treasonous city leaders are bending the knee to Burn-Loot-Murder BLM demands to defund police departments turn into CHAZ-style ‘Escape From New York’ scenarios, it will again be leftists bringing it on themselves.

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