You may not have heard of Hamilton 68, which hasn’t been in business for very long. Named for Federalist Paper Number 68 – thought to have been penned by Alexander Hamilton – the media watchdog effort is a project of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which in turn is sponsored by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
There are reasons for paying attention to this new effort, so I urge you to hang on to the end.
Last week, Hamilton 68’s “Disinformation Dashboard” opened for business and started bringing us a daily tracker of the activities of (what it says are) some 600 Twitter accounts that retail Russian information themes.
The Hamilton 68 site doesn’t provide a list of these miscreants. But it does provide a regularly updated display of their top and trending topics and URLs.
At midday on 9 August, for example, the top five topics are Trump, North Korea, US, Russia, and Syria. The top five trending topics are Guam, fury, Manafort, Glen, and Campbell.
The top five URLs are:
- David Brock’s memo on how to take Trump down, hosted at Scribd.com
- Something at pscp.tv (Periscope)
- A Russia-insider.com post on a poll in which the U.S. is considered the greatest global threat
- Something at Reddit’s fxn.ws news feed (I had to look that one up. I’m not a Reddit-head)
There are top domains too, which include those of True Pundit, Gateway Pundit, Zero Hedge, the link shortener for Al-Masdar (aml.ink – yep, had to look that one up), and Fox News. In the last 24 hours, these are among the top 10 domains referenced by our Twitter 600.
There’s also a display of trending domains, where the usual suspects are on top – rusnext.ru, tsarizm.com – but alternet.org, original.antiwar, and the nefarious CBS local affiliate in Philadelphia are currently on a good run.
You may ask yourself, “What exactly am I being told by the displays at this site?”
The “About” page for Hamilton 68 seems intended to provide a clue. It’s an elliptical but oddly emphatic clue, to my eye, but judge for yourself (boldface in original):
In 2016, American democracy came under unprecedented attack.
The government of the Russian Federation attempted to weaken the pillars of our democracy and undermine faith and confidence in our society’s most fundamental right — the ability to choose our own leaders.
This effort was only the latest of Russia’s repeated and ongoing efforts to undermine democratic institutions and influence free and democratic elections throughout Europe. Its success has led Vladimir Putin to conclude that disruption is effective, and comes with little consequence.
These assaults employ offensive weapons to attack and weaken democracy. Putin’s Russia is seeking to harm the national security of the United States and our democratic allies and weaken us as nations by striking at our core strength — the strength that enables us to protect and advance our interests and prosperity. These efforts are particularly insidious because they seek to use our greatest strength — our openness — against us in order to undermine our democracy.
Finding out what happened in the United States in 2016 and the impact it had is important. But that is not enough. The U.S. intelligence community assessed in January 2017 that “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.” Russia’s efforts are also ongoing across Europe — and we also need to prepare for other state actors to replicate Putin’s tactics. Moreover, Putin does not distinguish between political parties, but rather seeks to sow and exploit divisions. When our democratic institutions are weakened, every party and democratic nation is at risk.
Comprehensive, if vague. Now, there’s something interesting in the opening sentence of that fifth paragraph:
Finding out what happened in the United States in 2016 and the impact it had is important.
See, I would call it essential, in the sense that we need to be sure something did happen, and that there was some meaningful impact, before we run off half-cocked sorting Twitter tweets, and linking them, their topics, their sources, and their evanescent popularity obliquely to “Russia.”
Eventually we can talk about what it’s supposed to mean to me that 600 Twitter accounts whose connection to Russia I have no means of verifying tweet links to content from CBS Philadelphia, and tweet about – shock – North Korea and Paul Manafort, on the same day those are the lead stories at every major news outlet.
But first you have to convince me that Russia did something particular in 2016 that might actually have “weaken[ed] the pillars of our democracy and undermine[d] faith and confidence in our society’s most fundamental right — the ability to choose our own leaders.”
From what I can tell, Russia did in 2016 what Russia has been doing for many years, in whatever technological form suits the time. Maybe you have to be of a certain vintage to understand this, but the completely substance-free terrors expressed in the “About” posting for Hamilton 68 sound like nothing so much as the conspiracist rantings of the John Birch Society circa 1964.
I didn’t doubt during the Cold War that the Soviet Union sought to exercise influence over U.S. media, and in some cases actually did. Nor do I doubt now that Russia runs influence operations intended to influence U.S. media.
But I also know how hard other actors are working to influence U.S. media – the Democracy Alliance, David Brock, George Soros (here, here and here as well) and other deep-pocket left-wing donors. And it’s often ridiculously obvious how much success they’re having in the mainstream media (as opposed to the new media where the “Russian influence” is said to flourish), when you see the exact same talking points blasted out from 20 major outlets in the space of two hours.
Indeed, that talking point about “undermining our faith and confidence in democracy” is one that gets repeated mindlessly in stories on the “Russia” theme, no matter how little sense it makes to include it, and no matter how little it has to do with the hook-of-the-day topic.
Hamilton 68 speaks in MSM talking-point-ese
Which brings me to the headline point for this post. Hamilton 68 took a dive in a really deep end today. It offered up the two top-trending stories in “Russian influence networks” from 8 August: (1) a claim by Iran-backed militia that the U.S. had attacked them in Syria, and (2) the firing of the Google engineer who wrote a memo criticizing Google’s “diversity” programs.
The Iran-backed militia claim might reasonably be assessed as a peculiar concern of Russian influence operations. The topic hardly penetrated the MSM, for one thing (if it did at all). Russia, meanwhile, wants to promote the themes of her own interests in Syria, and make the U.S. look bad. Fine; no need to split hairs on this one.
But when the topic of the Google engineer is mentioned – seeming to suggest that discussing it has some sort of link to or meaning for Russian influence ops – we have to wonder what we’re being sold here. The Google engineer’s memo is a freighted topic for both sides of the political spectrum in the U.S., for reasons entirely unrelated to Russian plotting. It really might as well be Glen Campbell and his much-mourned passing, for all it has to do with “Russia” trying to undermine our faith and belief and you know all that bad stuff and whatever.
A better-managed watchdog for Russian propaganda would filter out trending topics that obviously were trending for reasons other than a Russian anti-democracy conspiracy. It’s the opposite of convincing, to assure me you know who’s in the Russian influence network, and what they’re doing, and then prove it by telling me they talked a whole lot on Tuesday, 8 August 2017, about the Google engineer.
But — and this is what matters — Hamilton 68 did more than just include the topic of the Google engineer, James Damore. It deployed a drive-by reference linking concern about him and his firing to the “far-right.”
And that’s a big red flag. On 8 August, the MSM flabbergasted ordinary, long-time conservatives with a sudden flash-meme: that the noisy questioning of Google’s rationale for firing Damore, and the defense of his memo’s thesis, were being done by the “alt-right.”
Run a search, and you’ll see how many outlets pushed this theme, all at the same time. Yet its absurdity is manifest. The situation of James Damore and Google is of concern to the mainstream, legacy right: the far larger contingent that has voted for conventional GOP candidates for years, and opposes the “diversity” shakedown industry on the grounds of constitutionalism, genuine equality before the law, and basic sanity.
Indeed, many of the legacy conservatives who criticize the Damore situation are Never Trumpers, and are pretty sure alt-righters couldn’t reason their way out of a paper bag to defend Damore.
I venture to suspect Bill Kristol is an example of the latter. So the question arises: why is he on the advisory council of the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which has perpetrated Hamilton 68 and its gratuitous left-wing/MSM talking point?
Why is Republican former congressman Mike Rogers on the council, for that matter, along with McCain-Palin campaign advisor Kori Schake?
These are questions we may want to get to the bottom of, considering that Toomas Ilves, former president of Estonia (until the end of 2016) and a very close friend of George Soros, is also on the council, along with Obama administration graduates Michael McFaul, Julie Smith, Jake Sullivan, and Nicole Wong.
The money angle
Probably the biggest reason for getting to the bottom of it, however, is that the parent NGO, the German Marshall Fund, receives regular funding from the U.S. taxpayer. Alongside a group of big foreign donors that advocate open borders and similar progressive themes (e.g., the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Stiftung Mercator, Robert Bosch Stiftung, and of course the Open Society Foundation), the U.S. State Department and USAID are major partners.
Why is the U.S. taxpayer funding this thinly justified, impressionistic, tendentious nonsense? That’s one good question. Another is why U.S. funding for the German Marshall Fund spiked in 2016, after two low-level years, and resulted in an award of $999,996 posted on 29 September 2016; i.e., one day before the 2016 fiscal year ended. A separate award of $117,000 brought the total to $1,116,996. Basically, the Obama administration handed the German Marshall Fund an outsize chunk of taxpayer money on its way out the door.*
Make of that what you will. For me, the foremost point is that American “foreign aid” money is going to an NGO that proposes to “secure democracy” by tracking tweets from an undisclosed list of Twitter accounts, and uses the dubiously organized output from this enterprise to bolster left-wing talking points on unrelated topics.
If I want to see James Damore’s defenders smeared as “alt-right,” “far-right,” or “white nationalist,” I certainly don’t need to pay an NGO to arrange that for me under the guise of tracking Russian propaganda. Newsweek, Vox, the Guardian, and the New York Times are doing it at no cost to the taxpayer. I’d like to keep it that way.
* For that matter, someone may want to look into why the single federal grant to the German Marshall Fund in 2017 has come – for some reason – from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (where as far as I know, Secretary Ben Carson is still the only Senate-confirmed appointee in the entire agency). Just what is going on here?