System Update #8: Plus, an interview with Lee Fang on his reporting of the Twitter Files
Note From Glenn Greenwald:The following is the full show transcript, for subscribers only, of a recent episodeof our System Update program, broadcast live on Rumble on Wednesday, January 18, 2023. Going forward, every new transcript will be sent out by email and posted to ourLocals page,where you'll find the transcripts for previous shows.
Watch SystemUpdate Episode #24 Hereon Rumble.
On the show for which we are posting the transcript below, we reported on and examined Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's live speech to the U.S. Congress to demand more and more and more U.S. money and weapons be sent to him. Zelensky spoke, and demanded more U.S. support, all as Congress was already preparing to approve yet another massive expenditure, this time $44 billion to fuel the War in Ukraine, bringing the total to about $100 billion in just ten months. Why? Are American citizens benefiting from any of this? And does that even matter anymore?
For our Interview segment, we spoke to one of the nation's premier investigative journalists, Lee Fang, who reported last week's installment of the Twitter Files showing that Twitter is actively partnering with the Pentagon to disseminate propaganda, fake news, and even fake profiles on its platform. We'll spoke to him about the implications of that story, as well as a blockbuster story he reported in late October about how Homeland Security has aggressively expanded its partnership with Big Tech to censor the Internet.
You can watch the shows live, or after they are posted, on our Rumble page. For those who prefer to read what is essentially an article – since I write out most of the show – enjoy the full transcript below.
Russia invaded its neighbor, Ukraine, almost ten months ago to this day. Since then, the United States government has spent more than $100 billion -- $100 billion -- on that war on the other side of the world, in a country that Washington has long stated contains no vital interest to the United States.
To put that amount into perspective, the amount the U.S. has spent in 10 months is almost double the entire Russian military budget for the year, which is $65 billion. The amount is more than double the average annual amount that the U.S. spent on its own war in Afghanistan, which we were told -- unlike what's happening in Ukraine -- was a war necessary to protect the security of American citizens. So, in just ten months, we're spending more than twice on the war in Ukraine what we spend each year on our own ostensible self-defense war in Afghanistan. And it's 17 times more than what the U.N. told Elon Musk it needed to spend in order to avert world famine in 2022, a claim that was then used to shame Musk for spending $44 billion to buy Twitter instead of feeding everyone on the brink of famine.
That amount is also close to one-eighth of the U.S. own military budget just approved by Congress this week. A sprawling oozing package, of record-breaking package waste in the amount of $858 billion, signaling the imminent arrival of the first-ever trillion dollars military budget. One-eighth of our overall military budget for Ukraine. This is all for a stalemate of a war that virtually every military analyst agrees has no end in sight, meaning the ultimate amount spent by the United States on this war will be far, far greater by the time it's over, whenever that might be.
Now, whatever else you might think about whether the U.S. government should be spending so much of your money on what it calls the “War in Ukraine”, which mostly means pouring money into the coffers of weapons manufacturers like Raytheon and Boeing, the CIA…
…along with some rebuilding efforts in Ukraine -- you might take some comfort, at least in the knowledge that the Ukrainian government is deeply grateful for your sacrifices.
Except they're not grateful -- at all. If anything, they're more bitter than grateful. Bitter that the U.S. hasn’t given them more of your money. The United States dispatched a U.S. military jet yesterday to pick up Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Poland to bring him to the United States, where he is scheduled to meet for hours today with President Joe Biden and then deliver a live address to the Congress starting in about 30 minutes. In his speech, reports made clear Zelensky will once again do what he's been doing all year, telling the U.S. government and the American people that while he sort of appreciates the billions upon billions of dollars of funds paid by American taxpayers that we've sent to that country, it is nowhere near enough. And he wants more and more and more and more.
As AP reports, using the tone of a Hollywood adventure film starring our brave and inspiring Ukrainian leader: “On Tuesday, Zelensky made a daring and dangerous trip to what he called the hottest spot on the 1,300-kilometer (800-mile) front line, the city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's contested Donetsk province. In a video released by his office and from the Bakhmut visit, Zelensky was handed a Ukrainian flag and alluded to delivering it to U.S. leaders”. “The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on”, Zelensky said in the video. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army. Our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the President of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough. It is a hint -- it is not enough.
Now I have several questions about all of that, but I'd like to begin with this one as I regard it as the most important question when it comes to the always profound debate of whether the United States government will involve itself in a war or, for that matter, it's the most important question when it comes to debates over whether the U.S. government will do anything. In what ways has your life or the lives of your families been improved, secured, or enhanced by the more than $100 billion sent by the U.S. government to fuel this war on the other side of the world?
Now, to be fair, there are some Americans whose lives have been materially improved by these expenditures. Those are the tiny sliver of Americans who own large amounts of shares of the leading weapons manufacturers. 2022 has been quite a poor year for the stock market in general. Stocks are down across the board. Here you can see the New York Stock Exchange performance for 2022 and it shows a loss overall of 13.3%. Fortunately, though, arms manufacturers have not succumbed to this down. This decline. And that's due almost entirely to the ongoing transfer of huge amounts of your money into the coffers of weapons manufacturers to send weapons to Ukraine and then to deplete our own depleted stocks. Here you see the stock trend of Northrop Grumman for this year, up almost 40%. And now you here have the stock of Lockheed, up over 25%. So, they're doing very well.
The stockholders are Americans who stock large amounts of stock in those countries. But for ordinary Americans, what is the benefit to them from these huge outlays of money for Ukraine? I'm asking that earnestly. I've yet to hear any politician who supports these expenditures even once articulate a reason why these expenditures could possibly improve the lives of American citizens, or why the U.S. role in Ukraine could do that. And that really leaves me wondering, does that question even matter anymore? Is that relevant to decision-makers in Washington? Does this policy that we are going to support and heavily fund have any real prospect of improving the lives of the people who voted for us to come to Washington with just one goal in mind to make their lives and their families’ lives better? I don't mean do they really have that motive? I know they don't. I mean, do they even pretend any longer to have that?
I pay very close attention to the debate in the U.S. over this war in Ukraine, from the very start. I was even placed on an official list of Russian propagandists by the Ukrainian government, alongside people like Sen. Rand Paul and former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard for the crime of questioning whether my government should be involved in that war. Apparently, along with believing he has a claim to stick his hands into our national treasury without limits, President Zelensky also clearly believes he has the right to maintain blacklists of American journalists and politicians who commit the crime of openly debating our government's war policies in our country. But the real point is, I have paid very close attention to the debate and from the beginning, those who have been urging, and demanding U.S. support for Ukraine without limits have not even bothered with this pretense that the war was necessary for or even relevant to improving the lives of American citizens.
Now, maybe you are someone who doesn't think that matters. One could mount a coherent argument why it shouldn't. One might argue, for instance, that all human beings have equal value and therefore the U.S. government should not prioritize the lives of Americans over the lives of Ukrainians or anyone else -- that American politicians should use your money not to help you and your family, but to help anyone in the world who needs it, even if it comes at your expense.
Or perhaps one might say that Americans benefit in some theoretical or remote way from having our government adopt a foreign policy that is designed to promote morality and democracy and human rights in the world, which would then, from that premise, it would follow that it's important that our government spend $100 billion and counting on the war in Ukraine. You may recall that that was a key argument defining the ideology of the Bush-Cheney neocons and also their ideological cousins, the liberal interventionists of the Clinton and Obama administrations, namely that Americans will somehow be better off if we go around the world using our military and CIA to overthrow repressive governments and then spend a decade or two or three or four building a thriving democracy in those countries to replace it.
Now, that the U.S. government is guided by morality and democracy in its foreign policy would be, or at least should be, an extremely hard sell, given that its closest allies are, and always have been, some of the world's most despotic and tyrannical regimes. Leaving aside the U.S.'s own wars and bombing campaigns in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and all the rest, it has always amazed me how many people are willing to believe American political leaders when they stand up and say that their motive in going to war or otherwise involving themselves in the internal wars of other countries is to vanquish tyranny and repression -- even as those same very same leaders, often days before or days after they say that go and visit Cairo or Riyadh and hug and embrace the most savage despots in the world and offer them more money and arms to prop up their regimes, as the U.S. has been doing for decades.
But some people for some reason do continue to believe in this admittedly feel-good fairy tale about U.S. foreign policy-- that our real motive is to go around the world vanquishing despotism and defending democracy. So perhaps it's coherent, even if it's not remotely truthful, to claim that this is the reason we should involve ourselves in the war in Ukraine: that somehow our lives will be better off theoretically if the government in Kyiv is more democratic and less authoritarian. Again, that's a strange argument to make on the facts, given that President Zelensky, even before Russia invaded his country, has shut down opposition television stations and this year has repeatedly closed even more, banned opposition parties, and last month even banned the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Not exactly the hallmarks of a Democratic leader.
But the idea that Americans have some direct, concrete, vital interest in who governs Ukraine or what the balance of power is between Ukraine and its neighbor in Russia has never held real sway among the mainstream Foreign Policy community in Washington. That's why there was so much indignation and bafflement in Washington when Bill Clinton and George W Bush began making gestures toward admitting Ukraine into NATO-- an alliance that was originally designed, you may recall, to defend Europe from attacks by a country that no longer exists, the Soviet Union. Why in the world would the U.S. pledge go to war in defense of Ukraine? And why would it be willing to risk conflict or even war with the country with the world's largest nuclear stockpile, Russia, over that country?
I have nothing against Ukraine. Genuinely. That country, like every country on the planet, has a lot of good and nice people in it, and I can genuinely understand and empathize with the desire of many of them, by no means all of them, but many of them to avoid living under the control of Moscow and wanting instead to have their own democratic autonomy, to choose their own leaders in elections. But that's true of almost every country in the world where you could find at least some people who would like the U.S. to involve itself in their internal affairs, either by having the U.S. vowed to treat an attack on that country as if it's an attack on our own country -- who wouldn't want the world's richest and most powerful country to pledge to protect you if you are attacked -- or by having the U.S. attempt to destabilize its leaders?
There really were many Iraqis -- especially some Kurds and some Shiites -- who did want the U.S. to invade and overthrow Saddam Hussein, whom they hated. One can find -- in countless countries -- a group of people here or there who hate their own government so much that they would love for the United States to risk the lives of our own people and spend our own treasure in overthrowing that government for them and replacing it with something better. But down that path lies, by definition, endless war, and more so, a complete abandonment by the U.S. government of what I thought was its primary responsibility -- improving the lives of American citizens. And down that path, we would instead devote ourselves to changing one country after the next on every continent, on the planet.
And that is why for decades, polling data has overwhelmingly shown that Americans do not want the U.S. government to play the role of imperial overlord or the world's policeman, but instead to prioritize their interests. And that's why George W Bush found success in 2000 in running on a pledge to restore what he called “humility” to American foreign policy, criticizing the Clinton-Gore administration for excessive use of military force in ways that had nothing to do with the interests of the American people, such as in Yugoslavia.
And after Bush, both Obama and Trump found success with similar messages, even if expressed differently, namely that the U.S. should stop involving itself in the internal affairs of other countries, especially in their wars, absent some direct threat to the American people or the American homeland.
And when it came to Ukraine specifically, one of the most eloquent and persuasive people who scoffed at the idea that the US should be willing to confront Russia over Ukraine was former President Obama. In 2016, his last year in office, he gave an extensive, wide-ranging interview to the neoconservative Jeffrey Goldberg, who had been rewarded for his service of lying continuously to get the U.S. to invade Iraq by becoming the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic.
In a lengthy interview on almost every aspect of Obama's foreign policy views, which the Atlantic suitably headlined “The Obama Doctrine”, Goldberg, being a neocon, was clearly angry at Obama's refusal to do more to aggressively confront Russia, both in Syria, where Obama allowed the CIA some latitude to overthrow Russia's ally, Bashar al Assad, but, in the view of bipartisan Washington, constrained the CIA way too much and also in Ukraine, where Obama repeatedly refused bipartisan pressure to send lethal arms to Ukraine on the ground, in Obama's view, that Ukraine was not important enough to United States to risk confrontation with Russia in order to defend it.
Goldberg summarized Obama's worldview when it came to Ukraine as follows -- this is Goldberg’s describing how Barack Obama thinks: “The fact is that Ukraine, which is a non-NATO country, is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do’, Obama said”. He went on: “ Now, if there's somebody in this town – Washington -- that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it. The idea that talking tough or engaging in some military action that is tangential to that particular area is somehow going to influence the decision-making of Russia or China is contrary to all the evidence we have seen over the last 50 years”. Goldberg went on: “I asked Obama whether his position on Ukraine was realistic or fatalistic: ‘It's realistic’, Obama said. ‘But this is an example of where we have to be very clear about what our core interests are and what we are willing to go to war for’”.
It was long the standard view of realists in Washington, D.C., that Ukraine has no vital interest in it to the United States. It is not geo-strategically vital. It has no vital interests such as oil. There's no reason that the U.S. should consider or has ever considered Ukraine a country worth fighting for, worth spending huge amounts of money to defend, worth risking confrontation with Russia, their neighbor, for whom Ukraine is, always will be, and always has been a vital interest.
And yet, despite that, the spigot of money immediately opened the minute Russia invaded Ukraine in the name of defending Ukraine, which Obama said was not of vital interest, and to this day, it has never stopped flowing and it continues to flow in insane amounts.
So, just yesterday in The New York Times, you see this headline that “Congress Proposes More Than $44 Billion for Ukraine” -- more $44 billion on top of the close to $60 billion the U.S. has already spent this year for that war and now wants to send another $44 billion to Ukraine. And the article reports:
The giant annual spending bill unveiled by Congress on Tuesday contains more than $44 billion in emergency aid for Ukraine, renewing the U.S. commitment to the country's defense as Russia’s invasion grinds towards a second year. […] “The new wave of aid for Ukraine -- billions more than President Biden requested in mid-November -- comes amid growing concerns among the country's backers about the depth of America's support. Some Republicans finally have questioned the massive spending, while some progressives have called for peace talks. […] The aid package consists mostly of military spending, including nearly $20 billion to arm and equip Ukraine's forces and to replenish Defense Department stockpiles from which weapons are being sent to Kyiv. Some of that money would also be used to bolster the defenses of America's NATO allies to protect against further Russian aggression.
Now, you'll note there that The New York Times said that the amount that Congress wants to allocate to Ukraine, $44 billion, is billions more than what the Biden administration even requested for the second time this year, the first time being in May. The Biden administration requested a gargantuan amount to spend on Ukraine and Congress decided to just arbitrarily pour billions of dollars on top of that and send even more.
From The New York Times last week, you see the headline, “The White House Requests nearly $40 billion from Congress for Military Aid and Pandemic Aid”. and the article reads: “The White House asked Congress on Tuesday to approve nearly $48 billion to prepare for a possible winter surge in Coronavirus infections and to direct additional support to Ukraine”. […] “The White House proposed sending $37.7 billion -- not $43 billion, but $37.7 billion -- to Ukraine, setting aside $21.7 billion for military equipment and to replace Pentagon weaponry that has been already sent to the country. It would also allocate 14.5 billion for humanitarian aid…”
So, we keep seeing the same pattern that it seems like the United States government has an open checkbook ready to send limitless amounts of money to this war that has no end in sight. Now, let's review how much the United States has spent so far and how this timeline has gone.
The first authorization to send billions of dollars to Ukraine was in March of 2022 -- just two weeks or so after Russia crossed over the border and sent large numbers of troops into Ukraine -- there you see from the Associated Press, “The United House OKs 13.6B for Ukraine in Huge Spending Bill”. The AP called $13.6 billion a ‘huge spending bill for Ukraine’. And at the time, there were all kinds of talk about how the U.S. wouldn't do all sorts of things because it didn't want to end up risking escalation that it ended up doing – including, this week, sending the Patriot air defense missiles system over to Ukraine.
But at the time, $13.6 billion was considered, as the AP called it, a huge spending bill. The Biden administration ran through that in less than two months and that's why just less than two months later, on March 10th, this time, the House passes a $40 billion military aid package to address Ukraine. And what happened there was that the Biden administration had requested $33 billion -- almost three times what the AP, just six weeks earlier, called ‘the huge spending’ package -- and Congress decided, “you know what, $33 billion is just not enough. Let's just throw $7 billion on top of it”. And they did. And it passed very quickly.
There are a couple of notes about what happened when it passed that are really important to remember. Number one, all of the no votes in both the House and the Senate came from Republicans: 57 House Republicans, primarily the right-wing populists, the harder core MAGA supporters -- who believed Donald Trump, when he pledged, in 2016, that Americans shouldn't involve themselves in wars that don't have a direct threat to the American homeland or the American people. Those types voted no, 57, and 11 more Senate Republicans.
So, a total of 68. House Republicans and Senate Republicans voted no on this bill. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of the Republican caucus in the House and the Senate voted for Biden's war policies, but at least a substantial minority of Republicans did not. The total number of Democrats who voted no on this $40 billion war package for Ukraine, $7 billion more than even the Biden White House requested was zero. Zero.
Every Democrat, including the “Independent” Bernie Sanders and AOC, and every member of the Squad and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the rest of them, every last Democrat and both houses of Congress united unanimously to send $40 billion of your money to Ukraine without a single one of them uttering a peep of opposition. On top of that, Sen. Rand Paul attempted to add an amendment to this $40 billion that would have said ‘we should create oversight provisions on how this money is actually spent’.
By this point, CNN had already reported that the United States government has almost no idea where these very sophisticated weapons were ending up. They send them over to Ukraine, a country notorious for the last decade for being the most corrupt country in Europe, and have no idea where these weapons are ending up. In five or 10 or 15 years, it's likely your children will be asked to go to war against a terrorist group or a country because they have these weapons that somehow got to those countries from Ukraine. They have no idea where these weapons are going and no one has any idea where this money is going.
I wouldn't say that Raytheon and General Dynamics and Boeing, let alone the CIA, where this money is going, are world renowned for keeping great track of how money is spent. And the Ukrainians, to put it mildly, know better. But even the idea that there should be some safeguards put on where this money is going in, how it's being spent, created indignation from the establishment wings of both parties, united as usual when it comes to these kinds of questions.
Rand Paul, as I mentioned earlier, got put on the official list aside alongside me and Tulsi Gabbard being a Russian agent or propagandist by the Ukrainian government, in part because he just wanted some safeguards on how your money was going to be spent. Even that was too much dissent from Washington. Mitch McConnell viciously attacked Rand Paul, as did his counterpart in the other party, which we're told can never agree on anything, Chuck Schumer. So that's how that $40 billion got passed in less than six weeks. They burned through that 13.6 billion and then they passed it without any sense of transparency or safeguards or accounting.
Now, two months later or three months later, in September of 2022, there was a new stopgap spending bill for another $12.3 billion in aid to Ukraine. So that's almost $14 billion to start with, plus another $40, which is $54 billion. Added to this $12 billion, which is now $60 billion. That's just in September. And then we have other $44 billion sent today for a total of $100 billion.
Now, I don't think it's controversial to note that many Americans here at home are not doing very well. You can pick whatever problem you think is the gravest: lack of wage increases and wage stagnation; the need to work multiple jobs if you have children, especially even if you're a married couple -- the fact that one parent, if they want, can't stay home and take care of their children any longer, what was a foundational attribute in property of American life for decades and that no longer is the case. It's gone.
There aren't enough good jobs, so people have to work two jobs just to sustain their family, to pay other people to raise their kids, and to pay other people to take care of their elderly parents. Huge numbers of people are without health care. Some of those people without health care got Medicaid benefits during the COVID pandemic on the grounds that, ‘look, if we're going to have this pandemic with a very serious disease that can kill a lot of people, then we ought to give people Medicaid’. Those people, however, are about to lose their Medicaid by the millions -- not Ukrainian citizens, but American citizens.
Here you can see, from AP this week, “Millions to Lose Medicaid Coverage Under Congress's Plan”. The AP reports: “Millions of people who enrolled in Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic could start to lose their coverage on April 1 if Congress passes the $1.7 trillion spending package leaders unveiled Tuesday”. It has money for Ukraine, but not for your fellow citizens to have health care. “The legislation will sunset a requirement that the COVID-19 public health emergency that prohibited states from booting people off Medicaid”-- they're now free to:
The Biden administration has been under mounting pressure to declare the public health emergency over with 25 Republican governors asking the president to end it in a letter on Monday, which cited growing concerns about bloated Medicaid enrollment. Millions are expected to be bumped from the program, which grants healthcare coverage to nearly 80 million low-income people throughout the country. The federal government will also wind down extra funds given to states for the added enrollees over the next year under this proposal.
I really just want anyone to explain to me in clear language how it's justifiable that the United States is spending $100 billion on a war on the other side of the world where there are no vital U.S. interests, while people at home are suffering in all sorts of ways -- whether it's this for Medicaid coverage or all the other ways that Americans are suffering -- because the U.S. government claims it has insufficient funds in order to improve their lives.
It is amazing -- isn't it? -- that no matter what you propose to do for the American people, in Washington people will stand up, lobbyists, the establishment linked to those parties, and say, we can't do that, we can't afford it. And yet, when it comes to fueling wars that have no theoretical relationship to the lives of the American people, no one ever asked that question “How are we going to pay for it?”. We just borrow and borrow and borrow more from the Chinese become more and more and more into debt. And that's how America's imperial wars are funded. Now, as I noted, you would think this would be an argument that progressive members of Congress and Democrats would be making. And yet they don't. They voted for the $40 billion unanimously.
But let me show you one person who has made this argument from the very start of the war. This is somebody whom we're all supposed to agree is crazy and insane, and maybe she is if you want to think that. But if you watch this clip, she certainly seems a lot less insane than most other people in Washington who somehow believe it's justifiable to send enormous sums of money to the war in Ukraine while people at home suffer from fentanyl overdoses and the industrialized towns, and lack of health care, and stagnating wages. Listen to what the Republican congresswoman from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, said during a debate over whether to send that $40 billion to Ukraine. She was talking in May 10th of this year.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene: Thank you. I rise an opposition to the Ukrainian supplemental bill: $40 billion, but there's no baby formula for American mothers and babies. An unknown amount of money to the CIA in the Ukraine supplemental bill but there's no formula for American babies and mothers. If this is about claiming that it's about saving lives, let's be real. Then we would care about war-torn countries like Ethiopia. So that's a bunch of hypocrisy because I never hear Ethiopia brought up here. Totally ignoring, completely ignoring our own border crisis, our own baby formula crisis, and brutal inflation skyrocketing gas prices that no one can afford. But $40 billion for Ukraine? Stop funding regime change and money laundering scams and U.S. politicians’ cover-ups of their crimes in countries like Ukraine. The American people do not support paying for constant U.S. involvement in foreign affairs while our own government fails our own country.
Now, if that's insane and hateful and bigoted, I'd like a little bit of more insanity, hatred, and bigotry in our politics in Washington, because that is purely rational. And if you are somebody who believes the U.S. should continue to involve itself in this war in Ukraine – which, from the start to me at least, was clear, their real objective was not to save Ukraine but to sacrifice it -- in order to destroy and erode a country which, for some reason, the United States has decided to regard as an enemy, Russia, -- even though it spends 1/13 on its military what we spend on ours and could never directly threaten our country, nor is it trying to. But for some reason, we've decided to insist that they're enemies and we're willing to sacrifice Ukraine in order to weaken it in a war that is depleting both countries but destroying Ukraine. But if you're somebody who does that part you, I think, have the obligation to answer a question, which, as I said, I've never heard answered, the one that Marjorie Taylor Greene and a few others in the Republican Party are asking, which is how is it that the lives of the American people are being improved or enhanced or defended by continuing with that policy?
So, as I indicated at the start of the show, one of the nation's best and most dogged investigative journalists, Lee Fang, one of the hires I made at The Intercept, of which I'm proudest, used the so-called Twitter Files to publish a true bombshell story uncovering the vast online psychological influence operations run by the Pentagon to shape global attitudes and opinions about foreign countries and U.S. foreign policy, as well as Twitter's in hand-in-hand, cooperation to support these deceitful propaganda operations.
His report detailed the extent to which the U.S. military has for years been setting up and operating fake news portals, online personalities, and memes to manipulate public opinion. And how Twitter, despite pledging to crack down on state-backed influence operations of other countries, not only allowed these U.S. operations to continue but granted them special privileges.
On October 31st, Lee, along with a colleague, published an equally vital story on the intense cooperation between the U.S. Security State and Big Tech. Using secret documents he obtained from Homeland Security, he reported the invasive plans of DHS and other agencies to integrate themselves further into Big Tech to further control the flow of information over the Internet. As one of the few American journalists left and American media practicing true adversarial investigative reporting, I'm thrilled to have Lee tonight in our Interview segment.
The Interview: Lee Fang
G.G.: Hello. So good to see you. First of all, thanks so much for your taking the time for your first appearance on our show and for your new Substack, which you should take a little time and talk about if you want.
Lee Fang: Hey, thanks, Glenn, and congratulations on your show. Appreciate you having me. Yeah, I launched a Substack yesterday just to kind of provide additional analysis and documentation to my reporting so readers can stay up to date with what I'm doing. And I want to provide more context and explanation. You know, my normal reporting, I kind of just do by the books, regular journalism, but the Substack kind of provides a different format. I can give a little bit of an extended explanation. I can talk about how I do my work. I can talk a little bit about analysis and you know, the way that I kind of observe politics and society. So, I appreciate you plugging that.
G.G.: Yeah, I'll probably regret saying this, but I do consider myself, even if you don't, the godfather of your Substack page since I've been badgering you for at least two years to just start. Well, I'm glad you finally relented. So, before we talk about your story of yesterday from the Twitter Files, I want to ask you to revisit the story that you published at the end of October, along with Ken Klippenstein, that reported on Homeland Security's increasing relationship with Big Tech, and specifically, its intention to use that to better sense of the Internet from its perspective. I think people have forgotten that story because of the latest revelations in the Twitter Files. So, remind us of what that story showed and what its key revelations were.
Lee Fang: That story took a look at the evolution of the Department of Homeland Security, which has really refashioned itself from focusing on a kind of global jihadism and threats from al-Qaida -- you know, security at airports and that type of thing, to looking more and more at supposed dangers from speech on social media. And this is a focus that kind of began in 2016 after the, you know, the Russian hacking and the Russian Facebook pages and meme pages on Twitter. There was a huge reaction to that, as you know, and you've covered it so much, where Washington said “We want answers. We can't have foreign meddling in our election. That's the greatest threat we face”.
So, the Department of Homeland Security, as the kind of War on Terror was winding down, was looking for a new focus for its multibillion-dollar budget, and they started creating new divisions within the agency focused on social media companies. They started creating roundtables, information-sharing meetings, and weekly kind of check-ins. It kind of had a mission creep for their role, where they see themselves as guardians of democracy by putting themselves as the kind of stewards of what we can say online and what's information and what's misinformation. There is a lot of alarming kind of issues presented by this new agenda by the DHS, but the biggest and most obvious one is how is the government going to tell us what is true and what is not on contentious political issues. We talked to a whistleblower who shared an image with us showing that the DHS planners, as it were, folks who were kind of setting the agenda for the next four years, said that they hoped to expand the misinformation/disinformation team to police, supposed misinformation around racial justice, around the origins of COVID-19, around the effectiveness of vaccines, around the war and other… the withdrawal from Afghanistan…
So, you know, these are issues where we have a spirited public debate, where the government really has no appropriate role telling us what's true and what's not -- especially since I don't think anyone knows, you know, the origins of COVID or what is the kind of correct answer around racial justice. I mean, these are inherently subjective, politicized issues and why the government should be weighing in and telling us what's true and what's not true, what's misinformation, what's disinformation. It's clearly not it's not appropriate and is clearly an effort to censor and stifle First Amendment-protected speech.
G.G.: Yeah. I mean, I think it should be intuitively obvious why we don't want the government to be the final arbiter of truth and falsity. Just, in theory, that should be obvious. But if you want an example that should close the debate forever, for the first year of the COVID pandemic, people were actually banned from those social media platforms for opining that, it was debatable what the origins of COVID actually were. A very consequential question, obviously, how this worldwide pandemic began, and it turned out that even the U.S. government admitted, but a year later, that that is an open question. And yet for a year, it was declared a closed question to the point it couldn't be debated on the Internet because the government said it shouldn't.
But let me ask you about the kind of argument that's made to justify these policies, which is kind of done it out in the open. Homeland Security, which is only created in 2002, this sprawling new bureaucracy has long identified what it claims are the greatest threats to the American homeland. And as you said, typically it's al-Qaida or ISIS or foreign countries. And during the Trump years, they started explicitly saying, look, the greatest threat to the American homeland does not come from outside our borders, but from within. It comes from white right-wing extremism and white supremacist ideology, especially people willing to take out violence in the name of that cause. And so, it's a legitimate function of us to protect the country by focusing our attention inward, because that's where the real threat is. Why isn't that a legitimate way for the U.S. Security State to see its role?
Lee Fang.: Well, any of these terms, you know, calling anyone a terrorist, whether you're saying that, you know, there's kind of right-wing, white supremacist, you know, nationalism, that type of thing, or ISIS or Islamic Jihad, you know, these are inherently political terms. It's very easy if you're a bureaucrat in Washington or a politician to inflate the fear and the danger of these groups, to use them as a convenient boogeyman for expanding your bureaucratic power. If you just look at the numbers, you know, these are threats that can quickly mobilize public opinion, but, you know, we live already in a violent country. You know, something like 16-17,000-gun homicides a year.
The number of actual whether that's foreign terror organizations or domestic, you know, right-wing or left-wing terror groups is minuscule. It really is. So just from my perspective as a kind of utilitarian, the actual threat and danger are constantly overhyped. It's constantly, you know, used as a cudgel for these politicians and policymakers to demand more resources, to demand more of an encroachment on civil liberties, to call for greater surveillance, to call for more restrictions on our daily lives, whether that's at airports or on social media. They're constantly seeking to expand their role.
G.G.: So, let's turn to the story from yesterday that you're about to do with your access to the Twitter Files that obviously has a lot of relevance to the story you reported in late October we just discussed. But before delving into this substance, there's been a lot of attempts to denigrate this reporting by suggesting there's something nefarious about the relationship between Elon Musk and the reporters who have been reporting it, that there are conditions he imposed on what you can and can't say, that he's paid you to say what he wanted. Is any of that true? Were there conditions imposed on the access that you had to this material in terms of what you were allowed to report or couldn't?
Lee Fang: No. No conditions. I signed nothing. I agreed to nothing. You know, I'm happy to have the opportunity to come in and do some reporting on these files, but, you know, to be perfectly candid, I simply came to the Twitter offices last week and for three days without any editorial input, no one told me what to look for or asked me what I was doing. I came in and I made some requests to a Twitter attorney who would go to another room and then try to kind of fulfill those requests using some research tools on various documents that I asked for. And another Twitter engineer helped fulfill other requests because I also asked about certain tools that they use to manage people's Twitter profiles. That's about it. They did not kind of pressure me or reach out in any way.
There's actually no money exchanged and nothing like that. You know, I never met Elon Musk, but, you know, this is an interesting opportunity, so I seized it and hope to do more public interest-focused reporting using these documents. If there's stuff in those documents that helps us understand the world better, understand this company better, understand how public life, whether it's social media or interactions with the government can be kind of elevated or illustrated with journalism. I'm happy to do it.
G.G.: Yeah, you used to be kind of uncontroversial that if you were a journalist and someone offered you the opportunity to get information that helped the world understand powerful actors, and important decisions better, you immediately say yes without regard to who that source is or what their motives are, but that seems to have changed quite a bit in at least some sectors of journalism. So, you're the third person I've spoken with… Go ahead. You want to say something about that?
Lee Fang: Well, I should just say, you know, I've reported on dozens and dozens of stories with kind of unusual sources, you know, there are legend Qatari hackers that I have obtained documents from, Algerian hackers, Russian sources, FBI, law enforcement, leakers, you know, people of various motives. And I get that Elon Musk is an unusual, controversial source, but I've done so many stories with other kinds of unusual sources. What matters is, you know, is it a public interest story? Do the documents of the story actually tell something that serves the public interest? And here that's clearly the case. But, you know, of course, people obsess over Elon Musk because he is a kind of a polarizing figure, I get that. But it doesn't reflect the journalism.
G.G.: Yeah. I mean, you know, in Watergate, what we're all taught in childhood is like the pinnacle of journalistic excellence, the main source, they called Deep Throat, turned out to be an FBI official, bitter that he was passed over for the position of FBI director by Nixon. And his leaks were designed to get vengeance on Nixon for that what he took as a personal affront.
So, you're the third journalist that I've interviewed who has reported on these files after Matt Taibbi, then Michael Shellenberger, last night, with whom I spoke. There is a lot of kind of complex documents being tossed around, and a lot of important revelations being divulged at once. I think sometimes the public has a hard time processing that when that's the case. So, talk about what you regard as, say, the two or three most significant findings from the first installment of reporting that you did.
Lee Fang.: Well, this is kind of two simultaneous stories that I reported yesterday. One, you know, as you described at the top of the segment, you know, we're looking at the kind of hypocritical policies of Twitter that, you know -- this is a company that promised, in 2016, that they rapidly identify and thwart and shut down all state-backed influence operations, you know, covert government efforts to manipulate their platform using fake aliases, fake identities to shape public opinion in a foreign country or to place military or intelligence propaganda. They've said -- they testify to Congress -- that they're against it and they're going to shut down all government action.
And this story also looks at the U.S. military and their sprawling effort and their interactions with Twitter. Twitter gave essentially a concierge service to CENTCOM, U.S. Central Command, which has really been kind of orchestrating this influence and psychological operations throughout the Middle East, using these Arab language accounts to create what looks like authentic interactions, authentic people and news sources, news portals.
I'm talking about the accuracy of the U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, you know, success in wars and military engagement with U.S. enemies like al-Qaida and ISIS; promoting anti-Iran and anti-Russia narratives in the Middle East; promoting the Saudi-led coalition that's fighting a war in Yemen, you know. This kind of relationship between Twitter and the military goes back at least until 2017. That's the earliest I found documents where you have officials from CENTCOM sending an email to Twitter with a list of their Twitter accounts that they control or asking for special privileges for those accounts.
And I can see in the Twitter documents that, as soon as they sent that request, that same day, Twitter officials went to the back-end of their tools and provided a special tag to those accounts that were requested by CENTCOM, and they gave a special wireless tag that's basically giving the privileges of a blue check verification without the visible blue check. So, what does the verification do beyond being a status marker, I guess?
It was even without the blue checked and the Twitter back end that blocks accounts from being flagged as spam or for abuse or for interacting with accounts that might be, you know, promoting terrorist content that helps them be more likely to trend or be indexed by hashtags and more visible, basically on the Twitter timeline. So, they're providing very close support. And, you know, initially, some of these CENTCOM accounts were publicly identified as affiliated with the military. But for a very long period, they shed that affiliation and that disclosure. And Twitter was well aware. We can see in the emails that they were talking about these kinds of cloak-and-dagger Twitter accounts and not sure what to do with them.
G.G.: So, one of the reasons, I think, that I was so contemptuous of the kind of faux indignation in 2016 over the idea that Russia would interfere in our sacred Iraq, just because obviously the U.S. government has been interfering in the message politics of virtually every country, including Russia -- in ways far more significant than a few fake Facebook ads or Twitter bots or even hacking operations that Russia was accused of doing. The United States actually created an entirely new fake Twitter in order to destabilize the Cuban government by learning young Cubans.
And there are all these stories like that of the U.S. government doing similar things on the Internet. I suppose some people might defend this on the grounds that Twitter is an American company, and therefore we want Twitter to stop other governments, especially enemy governments, from being able to disseminate their propaganda over Twitter. But why shouldn't we as Americans want our own government to have the power to use the Internet to promote its own propaganda and destabilizing operations and propaganda operations throughout the world? Why shouldn't Twitter be working with the U.S. government this way?
Lee Fang: Well, you know, I would just make a few comments around that. One is that I think, you know, the U.S. has a much higher moral high ground. You know, if it can conduct itself in a way that's truthful and ethical, if they expect other countries to treat us in a certain way, we should reject that same kind of behavior abroad, not act hypocritically. And the other kind of dynamic here is that this is the Internet. You know, we've seen in the past many scandals with the U.S. military using its psychological operations, teams and resources, to illegally, and unethically, influence American policymakers. You know, Michael Hastings at Rolling Stone has a great story showing that U.S. forces in Afghanistan had used their psychological influence operations to influence American policymakers, and members of Congress, who were going to go visit the U.S. war effort.
You know, we've seen Donald Rumsfeld with his scandal, where he was kind of organizing efforts around us -- retired military generals to appear on CNN and other major networks to help sell the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, the surge or what have you. So, you know, for these kinds of social media accounts, what's interesting here is that although they were targeted in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, Kuwait, and other places in the Middle East, this is the Internet. You know, I was kind of tracing the influence of these social media and these social media accounts that were set up by CENTCOM and kind of allowed by Twitter.
They trickled back to U.S. politics. A lot of U.S. media outlets covering issues in Yemen and Syria would end up citing these accounts without realizing that they were actually, you know, part of a military psyops campaign. So, you know, even if you're targeting a certain Arab or local population in the Middle East, this kind of propaganda trickles back and we end up kind of seeing a U.S. military psyop campaign and potentially misinforming even American voters and the American population. So, you know, this stuff has blowback in many ways.
G.G.: So, last question. We only have a couple of minutes left -- in part because I have to be on Tucker’s show and they're already obnoxiously calling, even though they know we're not off the air until 8:00. But I do need to be done, just if you could, in a couple of minutes. One of the things that struck me as you were talking about all these different propaganda operations that the Pentagon does in these far-flung parts of the world -- including helping the Saudis in their war in Yemen -- it's the same point I was making, we were talking about just now: Presidents Zelensky’s address right now as we speak before congress demanding to get more billions on top of $100 billion, we already sent… What does any of this have to do with the lives of the American people? How does any of what you just talked about in terms of the Pentagon's propaganda and information operations, in terms of Yemen and Syria and all these places, in what way does it even affect, let alone improve, the lives of American citizens? Is that question something that occurred to you as you were reviewing all this?
Lee Fang: Yeah, absolutely. I think this is actually most acute for the war in Yemen or, at least for the war in Ukraine, we're having some debate, I mean, there isn't a very vocal peace lobby fighting for a diplomatic end or resolution to this conflict. For the war in Yemen has raged since 2015. There are over, I believe, 1.5 million displaced people in Yemen, it is the poorest country in the Arab world. Thousands upon thousands of children were killed in this conflict and we have no debate about this in the U.S. We have no one who, that I know, who's voted for this conflict. You know this is something that's happened in the background that it appears to just be a proxy effort between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Yet the U.S., because of our ironclad alliance with Saudi Arabia and our need for their oil, provide lots and lots of military support and apparently social media support for this military conflict. There's no debate about it in Washington and there's no serious discussion, even though it clearly affects millions of lives.
G.G.: Absolutely. So, Lee, first of all, again, congratulations on your Substack. I hope people go and follow you in our aftershow especially. We'll put the address where people can do that. I do have to run and I really appreciate your taking the time. I'm going to be pursuing you to appear on our show very shortly again in the future.
Lee Fang: Congrats again on your show. Thanks for having me.
G.G.: Thank you. Have a great night. Yeah.
Well, so that is our show for this evening. As I said, as usual, we go and do our aftershow immediately on Locals. But tonight -- because I will just in a couple of minutes be on Tucker Carlson’s show, soon as I'm done -- we will have a little bit of a delayed start to our aftershow. But I'll be right on Locals to start as soon as I'm done, probably in about 15 to 20 minutes.
Thank you as always, for watching. I hope you'll join us tonight and tomorrow night and every night here at 7 p.m. Eastern, live, only on Rumble.