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21.01.2023 Author: Viktor Mikhin

West Asia in a tangled web of lies and deceit due to US propaganda

The leadership of the social media giant Twitter (access to this social network is prohibited in the Russian Federation on the basis of Article 15.3 of the Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection”) stated before the New Year that it had long adhered to clear positions on the spread of American influence abroad, and in this regard, it works shoulder to shoulder with the Pentagon. The revelation was made in the latest round of “Twitter files” released simultaneously by several American journalists. Screenshots, emails and chat logs show how Twitter helped the US government run its covert propaganda and disinformation campaign. The sole purpose was to influence public opinion, in friendly and unfriendly countries alike, and amongst such targets, Iran and the war in Yemen were in the center of attention.

The spread of anti-Iranian propaganda consistently by many US government officials has been well documented for decades.  Recently, media reports have talked about the use of social networks to spread anti-Iranian propaganda and form the public opinion Washington needs in West Asia against Tehran. The US military and intelligence community has long used the politics of fake online personas and third parties to “amplify” US narratives in West Asia. For example, using an authentic message in Persian may have more impact and appeal than an official Pentagon press release. Moreover, no one is responsible for the veracity of such messages, and often their content is far from the truth.

For years, senior Twitter executives have said they had been working very hard and making a “concerted effort” to stop accounts backed by foreign governments from spreading their propaganda on the social media platform. In 2020, Twitter spokesman Nick Pickles testified before the House Intelligence Committee and stated that the company was making “aggressive efforts” to end “coordinated platform manipulation efforts” attributed to foreign government agencies. And this is despite the fact that foreign governments have repeatedly denied such accusations and called on the leadership of the social network to be genuine and truthful.

It has now been revealed that the government agencies spreading the state propaganda referenced by Twitter was the US government itself.  New internal documents show how the social media giant “whitewashed” a network of US military-linked accounts to influence public opinion in West Asia. And even though the social media platform executives knew about these accounts, they didn’t shut them down. Instead, they allowed them to remain active for many years. The leaked documents also show that some of them are still active, sowing discord and confusion in the West Asia region.

Twitter, for example, places a visible blue checkmark next to accounts that the company trusts to be authentic, and these accounts enjoy additional privileges. The “whitelist” essentially granted Pentagon accounts the same verification privileges without the visible blue status on Twitter. This raises serious questions about Twitter’s decision-making and malicious manipulation practices before the company was sold to billionaire Elon Musk. It has now been revealed that the secretive collaboration between Twitter and the Pentagon goes back at least five years, and maybe even more.

One account operated by Twitter and CENTCOM, the US Central Command, operating in West Asia, under the username @yemencurrent (now deleted), promoted crude American propaganda and fake news about the war in Yemen, actively supported by the Pentagon and Saudi Arabia. Other posts have focused on advertising and promoting US-backed bandits in Syria who brazenly violate the country’s sovereignty and plunder Syrian oil. Other reports have contributed to false anti-Iranian propaganda in Iraq, fueling hatred between the two neighboring states. The Pentagon used Arabic-language accounts to post its propaganda material on Twitter. Coincidentally, this is when violent, deadly riots began in Iraq, sparked by a group of thugs who killed and set fire to the offices of the anti-terrorist forces after they defeated Daesh (this terrorist group is banned in the Russian Federation) with the help of military advisers from Tehran.

Another CENTCOM account, @althughur, publishes rude and shameless anti-Iranian propaganda messages, aimed also at the Iraqi public. It even changed its Twitter name from CENTCOM affiliation to an Arabic name – “Pulse of the Euphrates.” American propagandists believe that under this name this account will be mistaken for an Iraqi one, which would be more trustworthy than a clumsy and tasteless American one that sows only hatred and enmity.  Iraqi officials have repeatedly complained about suspicious social media accounts spreading misinformation, directly blaming the US embassy in Baghdad. Now this shows just how widespread the Pentagon’s anti-Iranian propaganda campaign was in the Iraqi media.

Leaked texts from internal logs show that Twitter had “special trust” for CENTCOM accounts. Twitter researchers have determined that one Pentagon account, under the username @mktashif was using a fake photo to hide its real identity. Thшы account initially identified itself as a US government account associated with CENTCOM. Later on, this information changed to what non-Twitter researchers identified as a “deepfake.” The new Twitter narrative claims that the account was an impartial source of opinion and information, loosely translated from Arabic as “dedicated to serving Iraqis and Arabs.” The account regularly posted false propaganda against Iran and the people’s revolution in Yemen. Now that it has become known who is behind this account, it has been deleted. But in its place, about a dozen new accounts appeared, which continued the false claims against friendly relations between Iraq and Iran.

Erik Sperling, executive director of Just Foreign Policy, a non-profit organization dedicated to the diplomatic resolution of foreign conflicts, was cited as saying: “It is a matter of deep concern if the Pentagon is working to shape public opinion about the role of our military abroad, and even worse, if private companies help cover it up.” This may be of deep concern, but it is certainly not a surprise. “Congress and social media companies should investigate and take action to ensure that at the very least our citizens are fully informed when their tax money is being spent on putting a positive spin on our endless wars,” added Sperling.

Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries have long accused Washington of using social media platforms to wage dual warfare against sovereign states opposed to American foreign policy and wars. This is especially true in Latin America, where the Pentagon routinely seeks regime change in its favor throughout the region. A 2020 Washington Post report revealed that Facebook officials (access to this social network is restricted in the Russian Federation based on Article 15.3 of the Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection”) had identified several fake accounts attributed to whitewashing CENTCOM’s influence on the social media platform.

The leaked Twitter emails claim that in 2020, senior Pentagon lawyers invited Facebook and Twitter executives to attend secret briefings at a covert information facility, also known as SCIF, used for high-profile meetings. During these, apparently, the executives of the social networks were called upon not only to actively help the military in their false dissemination of information, but also threatened to bring them to justice if these executives refused to be good soldiers and obey the orders of the Pentagon.

On July 26, 2017, Nathaniel Kahler, then a CENTCOM employee, sent an email to Twitter asking for approval to review one account and whitelist accounts in Arabic “that we use to amplify certain messages.” Stacia Cardille, then a lawyer on Twitter, noted in an email to her colleagues that the Pentagon might want to change its previous practices by classifying its use of social media “to avoid exposure.”

The latest leaks are consistent with a major report released in August by the Stanford Internet Observatory that focused on thousands of accounts they suspected were part of a state-backed US disinformation operation.  Many of them used photorealistic human faces created by artificial intelligence, a practice also known as “deepfake” technology. Researchers linked these accounts to a vast online ecosystem that included “fake news” sites, meme accounts on other social media platforms such as Telegram and Facebook, and online personalities who repeated Pentagon messages without disclosing any military affiliation.

Some reports claimed that Iran was “threatening Iraq’s water security and flooding the country with crystal methamphetamine,” while others promoted claims that Iran was trafficking human organs from Afghan refugees. But the truth is that it was the US military, which in every possible way encouraged the Afghan peasants to increase poppy crops, and then the raw materials processed into drugs were exported to Europe and the USA on its planes under the patronage of the CIA. In Kabul and some other cities, there were American military hospitals where Afghans, mostly children, were allegedly operated on. And if Washington started talking about human organ trafficking from Afghans, how can one not recall the proverb about an experienced thief who runs ahead of the crowd pursued by him and also shouts “Stop the thief!” During the 20-year US aggression in Kabul, there were rumors that the US military personnel allegedly adopted children, but before that they had to be examined in American hospitals by surgeons for some reason. No one saw these children again, and their parents received large, by Afghan standards, monetary compensations.

The revelations of Twitter, as well as the statements of former German Chancellor Merkel about the Minsk agreements, confirm the same simple truth that lies in the statements and propaganda of the West and, above all, the United States – lies, lies, lies, and nothing but lies, deceit and falsehoods.

Viktor Mikhin, Corresponding Member of the RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”


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