Professional Neocon Russia-Basher Advances Saudi Sectarian Agenda
Neocon Michael D. Weiss and his buddies take a break from demonizing Russia to carry water for the Saudi invasion of Yemen – but what's in it for them?
Michael D. Weiss is a man who wears many hats and has held many titles in the think tank world. Like another blogger we’ve profiled in this space, Eliot Higgins aka Brown Moses aka the proprietor of Bellingcat, Weiss personifies the ease with which a person can be an instant expert for mainstream media on Syria one year and a go to guy for a sound bite on the Ukraine conflict in the next - even if he doesn’t appear to speak the languages of said countries or list them in his public CV (here’s Michael D. Weiss public LinkedIn profile - do you see Russian or Arabic listed there? As this article goes to press, we sure don't).
Climbing the Trans-Atlantic Neocon Career Ladder, Where Ideology, Not Expertise, Leads to Promotion
The 2002 Dartmouth grad landed a gig in Great Britain that would be very hard for any non-Brit, even an Ivy League graduate, to obtain a work permit in the UK for - at least without already having obtained British residency or citizenship. Some have implied, but not come right out and said, that Weiss had influential connections promoting his career.
Within a few years of arriving in the UK, according to the British Balkans specialist, Marko Attilla Hoare, Weiss had moved from a defunct pro-Israel advocacy group called Just Journalism into the Henry Jackson Society, a neoconservative-leaning think tank with which it shared London offices. The HJS was far better funded and contained, among its founding signatories, influential supporters like Richard Dearlove, KCMG, a former director of MI6. Back in 2012, Hoare wrote about Weiss's rapid rise in the organization co-founded by Dr. Alan Mendoza, with whom Hoare had a falling out once Hoare's was apparently no longer needed at HJS:
Weiss is not, be it remembered, an academic expert on Syria and the Middle East in the manner of someone like Daniel Pipes, but merely an activist with strong views who follows events there closely ... recently Weiss has reinvented himself also as an expert on Russia – about which he has no more academic expertise than he does about the Middle East – using as his launch-pad the HJS website. The latter now hosts a Potemkin-village ‘Russia Studies Centre’, which describes itself grandiloquently as a ‘research and advocacy centre’, but is really just a website where Weiss blogs about Russia. Such amateurism is now the norm....
Mr. Weiss’s choice of co-author recently caused him a fair bit of 'trolling' from an anonymous Twitter personality known as @LibertyLynx, who heckled Weiss over the United Arab Emirates based founder of the Delma Institute having some unpleasant tweets about Israel - a charge that theoretically could hurt Weiss’s reputation in the pro-Israel neoconservative circles that promote his work.
Weiss responded by accusing the female alt-appearing @LibertyLynx of being a ‘sock puppet’ for University of Houston business professor Craig Pirrong, an allegation Pirrong and identifiable figures claiming to be friends offline with both Pirrong and the woman who goes by @LibertyLynx, have dismissed as absurd. One publicaly identifiable person, who says he's spoken to both Pirrong and his female friend @LibertyLynx offline on the telephone, is published author Naveed Jamali.
Can Twitter Spats Reveal Anything About Hidden Funders or Motives for Online Propaganda?
This spat could be written off as one among many meaningless tussles that occur every day on Twitter, even between people who share anti-Kremlin if not anti-Russian worldviews, if it weren’t for the fact that Weiss recently came under criticism for an alleged pro-Persian Gulf Sunni Arab petro-state bias from another source.
On March 21, 2015 an Iraqi Shi’a, Haidar Sumeri, who tweets at @SumerRising, published an article at Medium.com titled “Anti-Shiism, Western media, the Islamic State, and blatant lies.” In the story, Sumeri - who makes no secret of his Iraqi origins or Shi’a beliefs, nor his sympathies for all groups fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with Iranian help - complains of a systematic pro-Sunni Persian Gulf US media bias that is purchased with petro-dollars recycled into neoconservative think tanks funded by a military industrial complex that's geared towards arms sales to the petro-autocracies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There are many samples that Sumeri didn’t present in the article that we can recall - the case of Emmy-award winning journalist Amber Lyon quitting CNN in disgust over thinly disguised infomercials and censorship she faced from the US 5th Fleet-hosting Bahraini-government comes to mind.
The hypocrisy of American neocons and neoliberals who see human rights abuses everywhere in Russia, but cannot ever criticize feudal monarchies in the 21st century, is an old story and one frequently expressed on RT by hosts and guests such as Peter Lavelle and Pepe Ecobar. But until now, almost no one has asked to what degree Saudi Arabia and Qatar may be acting through think tanks, PR firms or media (Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal recently decreased his controversial holdings in Fox News parent corporation News Corp to 1% stock ownership) to mobilize Russia-bashing propaganda efforts coordinated between ‘ex’ spooks, former military and the State Department, including on social media platforms like Twitter. Nor has anyone, aside from perhaps veteran Moscow-based journalist John Helmer, asked why an event starring Michael D. Weiss and Peter Pomerantsev on “The Menace of Russian Unreality” was hosted last autumn by the Legatum Institute in London, at an organization underwritten by a Dubai-based billionaire from New Zealand, Christopher Chandler.
A Former US Navy Internal Security Officer’s Bizarre “Rejectionist” and “Haram” Language on Twitter
What makes Sumeri’s charge of Persian Gulf Sunni petro-state bias more troubling is the ugly, personal nature of it as expressed by Michael D. Weiss and his tweets on Twitter. In one disturbing sample, Sumeri points to a series of tweets by Robert Caruso, a former US Navy cryptologic technician (internal security specialist) who served in Afghanistan and who later consulted for the State Department, and who has been widely cited across the military or '.mil-blogosphere' and mainstream media alike:
While Caruso discusses and debates the United States’ policies towards Syria on MSNBC, Caruso - with his mask lifted - posts horrific tweets of how he will “enjoy” seeing a Syrian woman’s “beloved Syria torn apart with violence.” [note: Caruso later tweeted that his Twitter account had been hacked when it posted these lines].
Going back to 2013, Caruso’s tweets mentioned things such as how he does not care for the plight of the Syrian people, and how he believes the United States “should let them suffer.” Caruso’s tweets even included suggesting he is “at peace” with a situation where the people in someone’s hometown would be raped and the town pillaged. In one instance, against me specifically, he called me a “rejectionist” - an English translation of the Arabic anti-Shiite slur of rafidha used by groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda to demean and justify attacking Shiites - somewhat akin in usage to the word “apostate.” Reider Visser, a Norwegian historian and fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, mentioned that Caruso’s anti-Shiite language is alarming and emphasized that there is no other plausible English interpretation for Caruso’s remark of “rejectionist” other than rafida.
This form of anti-Shiite bullying even extended to telling me that Shiites are haram - or “sinful” - using the same nomenclature used by the Islamic State and Al Qaeda to justify their car bombs targeting civilians, detonating Mosques (with people in them), forced displacement, deportation and acts of murder on such a mass scale that they border - if not fulfill - the United Nations requirements for the classification of “genocide.” Caruso then continued on to detail how the United States is at war with Shiites - not just with countries such as Iran or groups like Hezbollah, but with all Shiites. This is the person discussing and debating foreign policy on American media, and acting as an expert for TV stations on American foreign policy.
What does any of this have to do with Michael D. Weiss, or other figures more ‘respectable’ than Caruso, particularly individuals who don’t have Caruso's history of cyber-bullying by, for example, hurling epithets such as ‘vapid c--t’ at female libertarians? A pattern of online thuggishness that his publishers at The Boston Globe, The Daily Beast perhaps have been unaware of? Sumeri explains:
Caruso is but a single name in a sea of anti-Shiite journalists, analysts and personalities who slowly reveal themselves on Twitter. Surprisingly, referencing the old adage of “birds of a feather,” it seems that most of these anti-Shiites tend to group themselves - and defend themselves - as a single unit. Another of these names is Michael Weiss, a writer for Foreign Policy, the Daily beast, NOW Lebanon and the editor and founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Interpreter. Reading through Michael Weiss’s Twitter feed you cannot help but get an anti-Shiite sentiment - mostly because almost all of his tweets revolve around how anything to do with Shiites is a problem.
A close associate of Caruso and often supporting and sharing Caruso’s articles, in the same tweet mentioned above where Caruso called Shiites “haram,” Weiss, rather than criticize his colleague for such a vile statement, began to attack users who felt that Caruso’s tweet was inappropriate. In one such incident, Weiss captured a screenshot of a user commenting on Caruso’s dehumanizing statement and began to attack that person’s character, completely ignoring that his colleague had just used language used by takfiris such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda.
In one instance, Weiss attacked Michael Knights, an analyst for the Washington Institute with almost 20 years of experience in Iraqi political analysis, for retweeting me being patriotic. After being attacked by the likes of Caruso and co for so long, I tweeted that “I have nothing to hide. I’m a passionate supporter of the [full-time] Iraqi armed forces [and volunteer soldiers]. No hidden agenda. They’re my people and I love them.” Innocent enough to most, however, Weiss captured a screenshot of Knights sharing my tweet and commented that it is “sad and alarming” that he shared the Tweet of a “champion” of “terrorist organizations.” Feeding into Caruso’s anti-Shiite remarks, after I expressed that I loved our [Iraqi] soldiers that are dying everyday to liberate our lands, Weiss suggests that I am actually a supporter of terrorism. Interestingly enough, on that same tweet, a Twitter user questioned Weiss for his retweeting of Caruso and received no response.
Sumeri notes that a Norwegian historian and think tank scholar found Caruso’s statement very odd. Another heated Twitter exchange between Caruso and Sumeri resulted in the former US Navy officer flat out declaring that America is at war with the Shi’a and has been for many years, dating back to the suicide bombing of a Beirut US Marine barracks by Shi’a Arab militants in 1983 - an attack that prompted President Ronald Reagan to withdraw US forces from Lebanon. Caruso’s claim that Shi’a militants tried to kill him in 2006 during his Navy tour in Afghanistan doesn’t appear to match with any publicized Iranian-sponsored terror plot or attack on Bagram Air Force Base or the US Embassy in Kabul. For this, @LibertyLynx apparently heckled Caruso as a liar, implying that Caruso simply made the Iranian or Shi'a threats on his life up.
When challenged by an Arab man if the United States is also at war with Sunni Muslims according to the logic that Sunni Arabs (15 of them Saudi citizens) hijacked airplanes on 9/11, Caruso shoots back that his questioner is endangering the lives of British and American servicemen in the Middle East. This is consistent with a motto interestingly enough posted back in 2012 by John R. Schindler on his XX Committee blog: “Admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-accusations.” Which is the trained ‘ex’ spook’s way of shouting, “Look over there! A squirrel!” or “Have you stopped beating your wife lately?”whenever confronted on any particularly embarrassing point.
One of the interesting things about Twitter, as noticed by media consultant and contributor to RT.com, Phillip Butler, is that it allows people to track ‘social media trails,' including those social media activists at the intersection of government, intelligence agencies, the military, and psychological operations or propaganda in support of Washington's investment in post-Maidan coup Ukraine. As Butler writes, the first accounts that a newly set up Twitter feed follows are often proxies for intent. While Twitter’s influence over the general public has been vastly exaggerated and largely consists of mindless tweets about sports or celebrities, the audience for tweets pushed by Weiss, Caruso and others criticized by Sumeri, such as the University of Maryland ‘Jihadology’ researcher Phillip Smyth, are representatives of government, journalism and even the US military. Weiss makes this clear on his LinkedIn bio where he boasts of over 4,000 Twitter followers “many in government policy and media.”
Weiss also boasts of having “worked closely with US politicians and aides on campaigning on behalf of the human-rights focused Magnitsky Act, recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama.” The reason this line is very relevant is that if US think tanks are collecting funds from foreign sources and pushing legislation to specifically benefit or target foreign persons, that could constitute lobbying under the 1930s era Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). When questioned by The New York Times or Washington Post for stories published last year, scholars from Washington think tanks that have received Qatari or UAE funding, like the Brookings Doha Center or Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), disavowed advocating for any specific legislation, precisely for this legal reason. The Brookings Institute and its director, former Bill Clinton confidante turned State Dept. 'Russia Hand' Strobe Talbott, also claim to have established firewalls between funders and academics they employ, allegedly ensuring no undue foreign influence over think tanks that have the ear of the White House and Congress.
In Caruso’s case, he continues to push for the United States to let Israel attack Iran if negotiations between the Obama Administration and the Islamic Republic fail. In Weiss’ case, the public knows that Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former Yukos oligarch released from a Siberian prison early in 2014, is the principal donor to the New Jersey registered non-profit Institute of Modern Russia, which employs Weiss and publishes the Interpreter Mag, primarily edited by Boston-based James Miller and New York City and Second Life resident, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. Mikhail’s son, Pavel, sits on the IMT’s board. But without a detailed, up to date Guidestar report, it’s impossible to say whether IMT has other foreign funders besides the Khodorkovskys and the London-based Herzen Foundation.
We at Russia Insider hope Pando, The Intercept, Mint Press, or some other investigative journalist team will investigate. (We don't expect Business Insider, Buzzfeed, The Daily Beast, or other media that often turn to Weiss and company for a neocon interventionist quote or article to care). Considering that Weiss this week is accusing the US government and Obama Administration of routinely lying about tacit or direct air support for Shi'a militias fighting ISIS, we certainly think some scrutiny of Weiss and his organization's funders is long overdue. As is the general question of whether the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) petro-state tail is wagging the American dog when it comes to foreign policy, both in the Middle East and versus Russia.