Does The CIA Spread Fake News?

In January 2017 US President Trump made a shocking accusation against outgoing CIA Director John Brennan

Trump claimed Brennan had been secretly poisoning the mass media with politically motivated lies In a Tweet to his 20 million followers he questioned Brennan’s leadership, asking “Was this the leaker of fake news?” Trump was referring to a dossier of salacious information the Kremlin is purportedly keeping in order to blackmail and control the President When the CIA indicated they trusted the source of the dossier, the story made international headlines Yet, despite all the press attention, the dossier contained a number of blatant errors, and could not be verified Soon cries of foul play arose

Conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney is convinced the CIA put the dossier together to “subvert the Trump presidency” Trump himself has claimed that he is the victim of an intelligence community witch hunt, at one point even likening the CIA to “Nazi Germany” But he is not the only senior political figure with such concerns High profile diplomats are also convinced that the CIA is spreading fake news This includes former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray

When asked about the dossier, he said, “They plainly have no knowledge whatsoever They are absolutely making it up” Murray believes the CIA invented this particular story to turn the American public against Russia Before his inauguration, Trump repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, and discussed his intentions to strengthen the bilateral relationship This manoeuvring was widely described by journalists like Luke Harding as “the new special relationship”

This is worrying because the countries have a historically frosty relationship Today, Russia remains under US sanctions for breaking international law by annexing Crimea Murray argues the CIA created the dossier to stop Trump getting any closer to Putin’s government

Murray says this also explains the CIA’s failure to find and punish the source of the dossier In the last decade whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning were persecuted for leaking classified information about high profile individuals Yet suspiciously in this case, despite the CIA claiming to “know the individuals involved” they have not taken action If these claims are true it would certainly not be a first for the CIA The agency has a long history of controlling the media to shape public opinion

Between the 1950s and 70s, the agency ran Operation Mockingbird This covert operation recruited a propaganda network of over 3,000 leading journalists to disseminate fake news across media outlets including NBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times and CBS One participant was Udo Ulfkotte, the editor of German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung He described being paid by the CIA to spread anti-Communist news: “I was bribed by the Americans to tellnot exactly the truth” Critically, this included high profile propaganda campaigns to remove political leaders It famously led to the 1954 deposition of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz The CIA orchestrated a media blackout of any news that was sympathetic to the President, as well as preventing left-wing journalists from entering the country

This turned the public against him Today, the CIA may well be spreading fake news to affect political change within American borders Social critic Grant Kidney suggests such a plan would be in keeping with the agency’s character, writing “The CIA lies, cheats and steals They’ve hurt millions of people all over the world through political sabotage” In 1962 the CIA planned an even more audacious fake news operation, this time involving the actual murder of American citizens to sell the illusion

Known as Operation Northwoods, they masterminded a series of bloody terrorist plots against US civilian targets Planned attacks included blowing up ships, bombing Washington DC and Florida, plane hijackings and sinking boats of escaping Cuban refugees The CIA intended to blame Cuba for these events, and disseminate this “knowledge” throughout the media

It was believed this would galvanise public opinion in favour of going to war It was only stopped from going ahead at the last minute by President Kennedy Importantly, these are not just relics of a different era In September 2016 the Department of Justice made it legal for FBI agents to impersonate journalists, prompting many to wonder why such legislation was necessary if they were not planning to use it Indeed, it has given rise to fears that Operation Mockingbird never ended

After the ruling, journalist Claire Bernish wrote “Mockingbird endures to this day — and whatever premise the government claims as reason to become the American media — the public remains, for the large part, its oblivious, captive audience” The new FBI legislation is alarming, but there is no proof that it has been enacted Of course, as espionage, it may be taking place undetected However, there is no proof that the CIA has been spreading fake news recently Importantly, in the week after the dossier was leaked the source was revealed as British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who lives in England

Hours before his identity was made public, Steele fled his home and went into hiding, apparently for fear of Russian reprisals Therefore, while the intelligence agency may have encouraged the spread of this news by refusing to discredit it, they were not responsible for its creation Equally, while the dossier claims have not been verified, they have not been completely disproven Until this happens, we cannot convincingly say whether the agency is controlling the media The CIA has a long and dark history of infiltrating the media

Yet, there is limited evidence that the agency is responsible for recent headlines Its reaction to the Trump dossier is deeply suspicious and suggests the CIA is more involved in propaganda than the public is aware However, until more evidence comes to light, we cannot know for sure if the CIA is spreading fake news

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