Joel Harding, one of the men behind the campaign to fight 'Russian propaganda', applies one standard of evidence to himself, and another to those whom he targets
For empires to rule, their agents must hang on to their monopoly of force, fraud and subversion, inside the home country as well as in its far flung dominions. Subversion means persuading people to believe what is true and good, when that’s false and bad for them. Propaganda, in short.
It was a close run thing in Russia during the time of Boris Yeltsin and the Clinton family. But nowadays on the Ukraine front and the Syria front, Russian force is prevailing. On all the other US war fronts Washington’s agents are losing; that includes small islands like Cyprus and big ones like the Philippines.
The British voted for Brexit; the French for François Fillon and Marine LePen; and the Americans for Donald Trump because the fraud enriching their ruling elites became too pervasive, too obvious for the subversion of public opinion to explain it away or cover it up.
The US and European sanctions against Russia have been a colossal miscalculation because they give Russians a rationale for the misery that has come, not only with rouble devaluation and the loss of oil and gas export income, but also from the inequality inflicted by the oligarch system which replaced the communist one. In cutting the Russian oligarchs and state banks off from the international capital they regularly stole and converted into offshore assets, the sanctions have forced self-sufficiency on a reluctant Kremlin, and neutralized, for the time being, the most powerful Russian lobby in favour of Americanization and — what amounted to the same thing, globalization. What’s left of the fraud and conversion lobby in Moscow – Anatoly Chubais, Alexei Kudrin, Alexei Ulyukaev – is now under one form of house arrest or another.
Whereas the first assault on Russia by western journalists, a quarter of a century ago, was the sign of the collapse of Russian resistance, this time it’s the reverse – the signs of US and Anglo-European collapse, and Russian revival. We’re going to have to live a long time to figure out which side turns out to be civilized, which barbarian. Uncertainty like this used to be called the Dark Ages.
The digital media model developed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the State Department for regime change in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Ukraine has more than failed – it has produced counter-revolution, civil war, anti-Americanism, terrorism, refugees, and chaos. The CIA’s only successes at subversion of public opinion, media, parties, parliaments – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Canada, Australia – are also failures. That’s because these are puppet states, too weak in arms, too small in capital, too inconsequential outside their borders.
In more serious places the digital business model for media like the Guardian, Financial Times, Washington Post, and New York Times is failing to sustain audience numbers or solvency, forcing them into becoming apps for telephone companies, internet merchants, and government budgets.
The collapse of the digital model in both politics and commerce hasn’t convinced the digital model peddlers that their model is at fault. Rather, they think their model has been outclassed or overwhelmed by a Russian version of it. Americans, according to the digital model peddlers, turn out to be more gullible than Egyptians — only Estonians and Australians are more gullible than that.
When the experts started to run away from his report for lack of evidence, the newspaper stuck to its (unloaded) guns. “I’m sorry”, the reporter emailed, “I can’t comment about stories I’ve written for the Post.”
Until the Washington Post claimed a brand-new website called Propornot.com was an expert on the war of civilizations – i.e., the US versus Russia – the audience for the site was too small to be recordable on the standard internet monitorting machines.
According to the Post, this nonentity was “a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds…showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.” First registered on August 21, 2016, with an internet provider (IP) trail leading to the headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona, of GoDaddy, the domain seller; and to Mountain View, California, where Google is based. Google is the server host.
Propornot first appeared on November 9 with what it called “An Initial Set of Sites That Reliably Echo Russian Propaganda”. The initial list contained exactly 200 names and links. There would have been 199 if IHaveThe Truth.com not been counted twice. What started on the homepage as a list of supporting “partners” was hastily renamed “related projects” because several of the names on the list denied knowing anything about Propornot.
The rationale for the top-200 listing was described not as evidence but as method: “a combination of manual and automated analysis, including analysis of content, timing, technical indicators, and other reporting.” So long as the method turned up a match between a Russian claim on a matter of fact and an American belief in the fact, the finding was unidirectional – from Russian propaganda to “distorting U.S. political and policy discussions”. Counterpunch, one of the matches on the 200-list, called the evidence against it “about as substantial as anonymous slurs scrawled on a bathroom stall”.
This missed the digital point which the Washington Post is amplifying. If a trail can be followed between a claim on the internet from a Russian source and a matching claim in a US outlet, then it’s Russian propaganda. Propornot has even drawn a diagram of what the matching method looks like:
The CIA has tested maps and trails like this in Egypt and Ukraine, so it knows a match when it makes it. The match is also an invisible, subliminal one, so that neither intention, nor truth, nor coincidence counts against it. “It does not matter,” Propornot and the Washington Post claim, “whether the sites listed here are being knowingly directed and paid by Russian intelligence officers, or whether they even knew they were echoing Russian propaganda at any particular point: If they meet these criteria [the match], they are at the very least acting as bona-fide ‘useful idiots’ of the Russian intelligence services, and are worthy of further scrutiny.”
Finding the match – they are the lines between the small black dots — is itself evidence of an “overall Russian effort…at least semi-centralized,” – they are the big pink dots – “with multiple Russian projects and influence operations working in parallel to manage the direct and outsourced production of propaganda across a wide range of outlets. It is data-driven, and rewards effective entrepreneurship and innovation with increased funding and other resources.” This seems to mean that the more facts claimed by Russians which are believed to be true by Americans, the more the big pink dot in the Kremlin pays out in bounties.
“Actual journalism”, as Propornot calls it, started with a man called Joel Harding. Exactly how he is connected to, or directs the website, is not yet clear. Between the Washington Post, Propornot, and Harding there is conviction in, if not yet guilt by, association. The conviction is: “We call on the American public to be aware that Russia is trying to supplant actual journalism (that has editors and fact checkers who impose accountability for mistakes), with fake-‘media’ online propaganda that Russia influences or controls. Spread the word: Russia is attempting to manipulate the American people through online propaganda.”
One of Propornot’s recommendations is to pay money to read the Washington Post’s advertising for Propornot. “Obtain news from actual reporters, who report to an editor and are professionally accountable for mistakes. We suggest NPR, the BBC, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post… Support them by subscribing, if you can!”
Harding lives with his wife Denise at a modest home in the Washington Post catchment area of Lorton, Virginia, not far from the Lorton Workhouse and Reformatory. That’s a heritage site now. It was a century-old prison for Washington, DC; and also a bunker for a Nike missile battery to intercept incoming Soviet missiles, as well as for emergency government communications in the event the Nikes missed, and the Soviet missiles struck their Washington targets.
Harding describes himself as a one-man Nike missile and emergency communications centre against the Kremlin’s current war operations. He is, he says, “an adviser and consultant for information operations, strategic communication and cyberwarfare. Joel spent the past 35 years working national security issues, beginning with a career as an enlisted soldier on a Special Forces Operational Detachment – Alpha, followed by a career as a military intelligence officer, and since the mid-1990s he has worked and supported information operations at all levels. He has worked in the department of defense, in the corporate world and as a subject matter expert at a not-for-profit professional trade association, the AOC. While at the AOC, he was the director of the IO Institute, editor of the IO Journal, the organizer of InfowarCon and spoke in Canada, Russia and China about information warfare and cyberwar.” Harding’s (pictured below) autobiography can be read here.
Source:Left, http://www.fincrime.net/in-english/meet-joel-harding-finlands-and-ukraines-king-troll-welcome-to-world-of-private-sector-io-information-operations/ ; right, http://uberuutiset.fi/2016/06/02/yhdysvaltain-informaatiosodankaynti-venajan-trollit-ja-yle/
These claims cannot be corroborated. That Harding has a Nike-sized incoming problem of his own, launched from Los Angeles, not from Moscow, is revealed by court papers filed in the US district court nearest his home. The significance of the case evidence is that the self-described expert on information warfare and the cyber soldier has turned out to be an easy target for a California internet lure and extortion racket. Harding has also made a record in court that he believes it his duty to save under-age Russian girls from being pressed into pornographic shows by unscrupulous Americans.
The Harding pornography case and the Propornot propaganda case turn out to be opposite sides of the same coin. They demonstrate that when it comes to defending himself from false and unjust allegations, Harding employs the opposite standard from the one he claims the US media should be following. In court Harding testified that he had been victimized by a digital map. He told the judge truth was his defence.
The court papers on file at the US District Court at Alexandria, Virginia, charge Harding with downloading girlie pornography without paying for it, then redistributing it in violation of the copyright laws. The case started on April 5 of this year, when Harding was still a John Doe, with an internet provider (IP) number for the computer he allegedly used. Harding was identified by name and address in the amended complaint, filed on July 19, 2016 . Read the file here.
In the court exhibits, there is a list of 13 films Harding was accused of downloading unlawfully – two on the Sunday after Christmas 2015, and several on Tuesdays in the months of February and March of this year. The film titles include “Go Fish”, “Model Couple on Vacation”, “Sexy Summer Camp”, and “Hot Winter Fox” (pictured below).
The nationality of the fox has been independently verified to be Russian, from the Primorsk region of eastern Siberia. The glass contains a liquid with a digital track to Scotland. The nationality of the girl has not been verified, and there may be no match.
The films can be found on the X-Art.com website and at several other internet outlets. Malibu Media, the complainant against Harding, is a well-known specialist in a form of internet shakedown and extortion. It is a corporate shell which provides the X-Art filmmaking business with an identity to lodge court claims for alleged copyright infringement. Thousands of such claims have been lodged in courts all over the US charging downloaders, who think they are watching the pornography for free, with up to $20,000 in penalties, plus legal costs. Litigating for copyright infringement was at first a sideline of X-Art.com’s business. It may be its principal revenue-maker.
In the Harding case file, Malibu Media and X-Art.com claimed they employed a German firm to trace Harding’s downloads to his personal IP address. It then took the Germans three months to match the IP address to Harding’s house.
Harding filed his answer to the claim on August 22, 2016. He didn’t exactly say the IP address wasn’t his. Instead, he said “no factual allegations” had been made “with respect to Defendant”. Because there was no evidence tying the IP download to Harding, he told the court “Defendant has insufficient knowledge to admit or deny the allegations.” In legal lingo — no evidence, no case. As for who should prove what, Harding was emphatic: “Defendant does not concede that he bears the burden of proof with respect to any such defense and does not intend to alter the burden of proof on such matters to the extent the burden rests on Plaintiff.”
Harding also argued that even if he had downloaded and looked at the films, the use “was (i) non-commercial, and (ii) nominal in relation to some or all copyrighted works as a whole; and the pornographic works are of a kind that are routinely shared for free by many producers of such pornographic films, including potentially the Plaintiff.” In addition, Harding claimed that Malibu and Art.com were the real criminals. They were operating a German front company for the purpose of “seeding its clients’ content onto BitTorrent, i.e., operating a honey pot…. initially seeding some or all of Plaintiff’s content onto BitTorrent in the first place and for facilitating infringing downloads by BitTorrent users.”
The bigger crime than entrapment, according to Harding and his lawyer, was that instead of filming regulated American models to perform pornographic acts, Malibu and X-Art were employing “unscrupulous agents, managers, talent scouts and sometimes the performers themselves providing incomplete, insufficient or even fake identity documents [which] is particularly acute with female performers from former Soviet-bloc countries, among other problem areas…. many of the models performing sex acts in Plaintiff’s copyrighted movies on X-Art.com appear to be young females, some of whom are marketed as ‘teens’, and a substantial number of whom hail from former-Soviet-bloc countries, such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia, Hungary, and Romania.”
Harding, the court papers make clear, considers it his duty to rescue under-age Russian females from exploitation by Americans. The Russians have been sought out for filming sex shows, Harding told the court, because as Russians, no matter how young, they were beyond the reach of the US statute, 18 U.S. Code § 2257A – Record keeping requirements for simulated sexual conduct. As the title suggests, this is aimed to protect children under the age of 18 from being forced into public performances of sex acts by making it a felony for filmmakers not to record the verifiable age of their sex actors.
On October 14, Harding and Malibu Media announced they didn’t want to argue the evidence for their cases for a jury to decide the truth. Instead, they agreed that if Harding admitted to being the man behind the IP address of the porno downloader, Malibu Media would drop its copyright infringement claims and demand for money. They agreed the court would “enter an order dismissing with prejudice all Plaintiff’s and Defendant Joel Harding’s claims against each other, with each party to bear its own attorneys’ fees and costs.”
The Harding case illustrates the legal standards to which he believes he was entitled for defence against his accusers. They are standards of evidence, burden of proof beyond reasonable, conflict of interest, entrapment, and the rules of the Criminal Code. The jury didn’t decide whether Harding was right, because the case was settled out of court. The terms Harding conceded allow X-Art to go on filming under-age Russian girls for felonious Americans to perv at.
The Harding case is an unremarkable one in the history of petty extortion. He wasn’t exonerated from the charge of watching children perform sex acts. He was obliged to pay the considerable cost of his lawyer. But the legal defences Harding employed were enough to protect his pocket from Malibu Media’s raid; and to protect his right in future not to be tracked digitally when he wants to get a rise out of his pants.
These are not, however, the legal defences Harding proposes as the self-appointed protector of American boys and girls from Russian propaganda makers. Just as it wasn’t certain until Harding admitted it in court that he and his IP address were one and the same internet user, it isn’t certain that Harding is one of the cyber soldiers running the Propornot website in its, er maiden report:
Media like the Washington Post and the Financial Times have adopted digital media models for their reporters, readers, and business plan because they have been lossmaking for their legacy owners, shareholders and investors. The digital media model promises to deliver growth, sensation, novelty; but so far there’s been no sustainable profitability. Digital publication has offset loss of print audience and profitability, as advertising shrinks. But the rate of growth is decelerating, indicating there are limits to audience expansion for the website versions of the so-called serious newspapers, also known as mainstream media (MSM).
The biggest growth in the digital market for the English-language MSM is in the internet and telephone-delivered segment for digital news. This is why telephone companies and internet salesmen are buying news outlets. The commercial calculation is that even if the news is loss-making to produce, charging for transmitting information is where the profit lies, plus links to advertising of other internet products. This is the digital model for media: it requires high frequency of data transmission, so high frequency of reporting of very short stories which can be read on a mobile telephone screen. It’s the reason Jeff Bezos (below, right), the Amazon.com merchant, paid $250 million to buy the Washington Post in 2013.
As telephone calls become Skyped or FreedomPopped and free of charge, the commerce of communication is in data transmission. In this business, Harding’s pornography is equal to Washington Post and Propornot news, so long as both can be produced often and downloaded frequently. This is driving the changes in the data transmission technology from computers to smartphones and tablets. And this shift triggers a reduction in news sources consumed.
The case for this business model is the also case against investigative reporting; that’s to say, what Propornot calls actual journalism.
This is how Business Insider, a Wall Street aggregator and syndicator bought last year by the German Axel Springer group, views media market demand: “lengthy investigative pieces are rare on all-digital platforms. They are expensive to produce and, given a readership that has an average of four minutes to spare, not likely to attract a large audience. As economically beleaguered newspapers invest less in long-form reporting, digital publications are unlikely to invest more."
As the digital audience becomes the majority of traditional newspaper readers, and growth in this part of the audience tails off, marketing news and diversifying information products become a commercial necessity. This is why mainstream media like the Washington Post are employing a growing force of marketers and salesmen, a diminishing group of journalists. In the present phase, the “novelty products” must meet the quick-click, telephone app marketing criteria.
That is exactly what Propornot claims to be mapping back to the big pink spots in Russia. It is exactly what Harding believes a patriotic American cyber soldier must combat. This is not, however, the fight to verify the evidence on which Harding depended in the US District Court to protect himself from a criminal attacker. In August, truth was Harding’s defence. In November, a map of black lines to pink dots was Propornot’s evidence, and against that, truth is no defence at all. Not unless one of Harding’s er Propornot’s victims takes him, er them, into a US District Court.
Source: Dances with Bears