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Censorship or saving grace? Academic Scholarship and Intelligence Vetting

Dr. Matthew Crosston



A new article by The Moscow Times revealed a mixed reaction to supposed FSB ‘vetting’ of academic scholarship.

The Times, which has largely become a holding repository of intense criticism of the Russian government (and no, the irony of a media organization sharply critical of the government for infringing on media freedom has apparently not sunken in yet in Moscow), is clearly siding high on the indignation side of this issue: for the most part the article is a not-so-thinly veiled accusation of Russian intelligence services trying to basically return the country’s academic community to a Soviet-era intellectual censorship system. And while it is true there are examples of Russian academics unfortunately being subjected to investigation and even arrest, there are aspects to this story that are importantly irresponsible and propagandistic.

The past is no help to the Russian Federation in this case. Older generation academics indeed remember all too well a time when literally all academic scholarship had to be ‘approved’ by the KGB. The article that the Moscow Times took from the prestigious journal Nature highlighted how scientists today need to seek ‘permission’ from their home university’s First Department, an entity that supposedly exists in all Russian universities and is meant to be ‘closely associated’ with the FSB. It is at this point that even the Times article gets a bit confusing. Administration officials in the powerful Moscow State University admit that faculty meetings had taken place discussing the need to have original scholarship reviewed, but that this process has long been in place as a source for improving the standards of quality and citation rate and in no way is associated with the FSB. In addition, even at MSU, the vanguard of Russian academic institutions, the practice of First Department vetting seems to be selectively engaged, where certain departments are required to submit scholarship while other departments are not. It is not readily clear, to the Times, Nature, or the faculty of MSU, what decision-making process is involved to determine which departments receive scrutiny. And as one might expect in this situation, wherever there is confusion or ambiguity, there goes suspicion and dread. Given the history of Soviet censorship and contemporary worries about academic freedom, it is not entirely shocking that academic and media groups in Russia would profess concern about the insidiousness of the overall process. But I cannot help but see some less sinister possibilities that explain this situation.

Anyone affiliated with university administration, ANY university administration, is well-acquainted with what can only be called an interminable and seemingly illogical bureaucracy that often eludes the principles of rationality and sanity. The idea that a huge institution like Moscow State University might make decisions that are not standardized or universal, that do not apply to all departments across the board, and even perhaps make decisions that seem contradictory and inexplicable to its faculty, is so commonplace all over the academic globe that it is almost not worth mentioning. The essence of academic bureaucracy often seems to be about good intentions badly performed. The inconsistency of First Department application across Russian universities could and likely is easily explained by this frustrating intellectual reality all scholars face, regardless of a country’s specific history with censorship. But even this is minor compared to the larger issue not being properly discussed in the Times article: standard procedures of oversight on scholarship that deals with sensitive topics and materials.

The Nature journal understandably focuses on the hard sciences, but this issue falls on all academics, even students, who produce material that engage national security interests. The idealistic utopia that some academics proclaim should be the standard for intellectual engagement has ALWAYS been a myth: there is no country and no university where professors and advanced students can simply ‘write whatever they want and go talk to whomever they want whenever they want,’ especially at institutions that have either a connection to government or have persons under their employ or guidance who are also affiliated with government agencies. This is not about Russia slowly creeping back into some weird form of Soviet revanchism. This is about all countries. For example, my own program has had issues with this challenge as it concerns the analytical commentary endeavor, The Caspian Project: given that I run an International Security and Intelligence Studies Program in the United States, it is not outrageous to learn that some of my students are already employed or were formerly employed by the US government or American military. Every single student in my program that has had this affiliation and wanted to contribute to The Caspian Project has had to submit their work ahead of time to ‘vetting services,’ either in the US government or the military, to simply ascertain that no classified information was accessed in order to write the pieces and no secret information was revealed in the pieces themselves. In America, some have derisively referred to this as a ‘post-Snowden reflex,’ implying the United States Intelligence Community still stings from the embarrassment of the theft and release of thousands of classified documents by Edward Snowden. While there may be a small bit of truth to that, the reality is this process has always existed in America and will exist in any other country that considers itself important on the global stage and having significant national security secrets to maintain (ie, every single country on earth, quite frankly). What the derision and suspicion of articles like the one in Nature or the commentary provided by The Moscow Times fail to understand or recognize is just how easy it is to unknowingly violate national security laws in a given country. That is the aspect sorely needed within this debate and what I provide here.

Academics who do not have familiarity with or exposure to working with the government often have a ‘Hollywoodized’ vision of national security and what it means for information to be Top Secret and classified. The old American Supreme Court adage in the 1970s about pornography (what is porn? I’ll know it when I see it) does not apply here, though most academics unwisely think it does. Unfortunately, the process of classification and designation of Top Secret is not intuitively logical or easily surmised. An academic can easily be working on materials or topics that seem far-removed from issues of national security and yet the conclusions and originality devised from said sources end up pushing the work incredibly close if not beyond the standards under which the government works and is beholden to. This is why preemptive vetting is a much safer process for the academic: failing to get that formal approval exposes the scholar in question to the accusations seen in the Times article. It is not a question of how many times the material has been discussed in public or whether or not it has been published previously. The Times uses that fact to show the unjustness of the system, intimating that something was first ‘fine’ because it was presented previously and then later on the academic falls under the thumb of FSB suspicion. In my world, here in the United States, this is an area where it is most assuredly not better to ‘ask forgiveness rather than seek permission.’ Too many academics working in important areas of national security, whether directly or indirectly, cannot be so cavalier: put simply, asking forgiveness does not usually go over so well when dealing with a country’s intelligence community. I know for a fact that is the case for America. There is no reason it would be any different for the Russian Federation. The fact that information can go unnoticed at first just means it is a failure of bureaucracy, which is why academics in every country are usually charged with the responsibility of seeking the vetting themselves. Host governments are basically de facto admitting they do not believe in the efficacy of their own bureaucratic institutions. And rightly so.

This is what leads us to the final important point about academics in general: while on the whole wonderfully engaged and purely intentioned when tackling new scholarship, our naiveté as a group can get a bit overwhelming. When tackling scholarship that clearly cannot touch in any way national security interests, this trait can be endearing if also eccentric. When researching issues that do matter to national security, this trait makes us dangerous to ourselves. In such a way the existence of a First Department at a university (an organ that does not exist in American universities and thus makes the still required vetting process more labyrinthine and unknowable for scholars and students alike) can potentially speed up what no doubt will always be an excruciating example of bureaucracy run amok. But dealing with an inefficient, illogical, and sometimes inexplicable bureaucratic organ ahead of time is far superior to dealing with the unemotional, ruthless, and cutting professionalism of your country’s law enforcement. This reality should be considered when we read articles like the one in the Times. Is this censorship rearing its ugly head back into the world of the academy or is this a saving grace helping academics avoid their own worst habits? Bureaucracy can indeed often be dumb. But that doesn’t always automatically mean it is also a demon.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of He is Senior Doctoral Faculty in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Military University and was just named the future Co-Editor of the seminal International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. His work is catalogued at:

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Why America’s Torture-Chief Now Runs the CIA

Eric Zuesse



On May 17th, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted 10 to 5 to approve Gina Haspel as America’s new chief of the Cenral Intelligence Agency. Back in 2002, she had headed the CIA’s “black site” in Thailand where she ordered and oversaw the torturing of Abu Zubaydah, trying to force him to provide evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks, but Zubaydah had no such evidence and wasn’t even able credibly to concoct a story that President George W. Bush could use to ‘justify’ America’s invading Iraq in response to 9/11. Subsequently, Zubaydah has been held incommunicado in Guantanamo in order to prevent him from being able to be heard by the American public regarding what ‘our’ Government did to him (and possibly even in order to bring formal charges against the U.S. Government regarding its treatment of him), and (to the extent that he knows) why the U.S. Government did this. Even to the present day, the U.S. regime still has not brought any legal charges against Zubaydah, because it possesses no evidence that he was connected to the 9/11 attacks and hasn’t succeeded in fabricating such, but especially because it insists upon refusing to provide him a day in court in which the American public (and the world-at-large) might be able to hear the incriminating further evidence against itself, from him.

Haspel’s confirmation as Trump’s CIA Director is also confirmation that everything which candidate Trump had said on the campaign trail against America’s having invaded Iraq was lies from him, and that he is actually fully on board not only about that invasion, but about the continuing lies about it — and the cover-ups (which are, quite evidently, still ongoing).

If the U.S. regime is allowed to get away with this, then any pontifications from it about such things as “America is under attack” from Russia, and that there has been ”Russian election interference” involved in “this attack on the United States,” is preposterous, but is even worse than that: it is based on flagrant lies by, and on behalf of, a U.S. regime that tortures in order to obtain ‘evidence’ for its invasions, and that hides, for decades, the truth about this, from its own public.

A writer for the Brookings Institution and the Washington Post asserts that America’s Democratic Party’s “haste to brand President Trump a tool [of Russia]” is “unwittingly doing the Russians’ work for them: validating the notion that our democracy is a sham.” But perhaps the prominent publication, and think-tank promotion, of such writers as that, in the United States, is, itself, yet further evidence that “our democracy is a sham.” Only one scientific study has ever been published about whether America’s “democracy” is authentic or else a sham, and it found that this ‘democracy’ certainly is a sham, but the Washington Post and the Brookings Institution etc., don’t publish that information — they hide it, and you’ll see and hear about it only at ‘fake news’ sites such as this. (The real fake-news sites, in the English language, include all of the mainstream ‘news’media and almost all of the ‘alternative news’ ones — but not this site, which is one of the few that are in English and not fake ‘news’.)

The making-Director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, was a bipartisan action by this regime, this fake ‘democracy’, by two fascist political Parties; and, yet, the American public see and hear, in this nation’s leading ’news’ media, such drivel — accusations that Russia is doing, what the U.S. has actually been doing, for decades.

However, this isn’t to say that Russia has actually been doing these things, but only that the U.S. has definitely been doing it — and is set to continue doing it in the future.

Measuring American ‘democracy’ by how uniformly the U.S. Government carries out its “Cold War” against Russia — a ‘Cold War’ that never really was about communism at all but only pretended to be — isn’t just fraudulent, but it is downright stupid, and it seems now to be the established norm, in the United States. A dictatorship can fool its public like that; and, if it doesn’t, it won’t continue to rule.

So, in America and its satellites, Gina Haspel is a ‘patriot’ who wins a top post of power, while Julian Assange is not only an ‘enemy of America’ but one whom the U.S. and its satellites have silenced and are slowly killing. On 14 December 2011, the Washiington Post bannered, “Poll: Americans say WikiLeaks harmed public interest; most want Assange arrested”, and reported that “68 percent say the WikiLeaks’ exposure of government documents about the State Department and U.S. diplomacy harms the public interest. Nearly as many — 59 percent — say the U.S. government should arrest Assange and charge him with a crime for releasing the diplomatic cables.” The American people have been fooled to favor the regime in this, just as they were fooled in 2003,during the lead-up to the regime’s invasion of Iraq.

The reason why America’s torture-chief now runs the CIA, is that this is the way a dictatorship has to act in order to stay in power. And they need a gullible public, in order to be able to continue scamming the public, from one invasion to the next. That’s the unvarnished, and empirically proven, nauseating, truth. Gina Haspel and her promoters hide it from the public, but they can’t reverse it; and they are, in fact, dependent upon its continuation.

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The secret dream of all propagandists

Dr. Andrea Galli



Not even a month after Mark Zuckerberg’s grilling at the US House of Representatives, Facebook is announcing a partnership with NATO’s social media propaganda organization: The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab). The organization claims to be the guarantor in defending the public from fake news. In its arsenal of topics to be defended, there are, of course, the usual favorite arguments of NATO. Above all, there is a strong predilection to influence the public perception about governments opposing NATO’s great design and hegemonic ambitions: such as Russia, Iran, Syria, China, Palestine…

The press release of the organizations says: “Today DFRLab announced that we are partnering with Facebook to expand our #ElectionWatch program to identify, expose, and explain disinformation during elections around the world. The effort is part of a broader initiative to provide independent and credible research about the role of social media in elections, as well as democracy more generally”.

For the uninitiated, the DFRLab serves the American-led alliance’s chief advocacy group known as the Atlantic Council. Its methods are rather simple: it grants generous stipends and fantastic academic qualifications to various activists that align with NATO’s agenda. Just look at who funds the Atlantic Council: donors include military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, all of whom directly profit from tensions with Russia, China, Syria… Meanwhile, in addition to NATO itself, there are also payments made by the US State Department, along with payments from the US Defense Department. Other major paymasters include the government of the United Arab Emirates, which is, of course, an absolute monarchy and other absolute monarchies in the region.

Facebook has partnered an organization funded by weapons manufacturers, the US military, and Middle-Eastern monarchies to safeguard the democratic process?  If Facebook truly wanted to “protect democracy and elections worldwide,” it would build a broad coalition of experts from a wide and disparate range of the countries it serves. Instead, it has outsourced the task to NATO’s propaganda wing.

This is a perfect situation for NATO and those who depend on it for their source of revenues and status. Because the NATO is now positioned to be the master of the Facebook servility in the information war on the social network battlefield. By marry a clearly biased actor to police “misinformation and foreign interference” and to “help educate citizens as well as civil society,” Mark Zuckerberg’s team has essentially made their company a tool of the US’s military agenda.

This is the dream of every propagandist: to infiltrate in an communication infrastructure present on every smartphone and home computer and used with addiction by the great majority of the population; to channel disinformations to the addicted public and to control “the truth”. The goal is always the same: to obtain popular support for financing the military apparatus and in the end, obtain popular support for a war. We wonder what this dream of propagandists has to do with the defense of democracy. It would come as no surprise that Facebook will be soon proclaimed a defender of freedom and human rights.

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Pathology of a soft war with Iran in cyberspace

Sajad Abedi



The soft -war against Iran is a fact that all the scholars acknowledge. In fact, the main and hidden purpose of the soft -war is to disrupt the information system of the countries and to influence the public opinion of the countries. Cybercrime is today in the cyberspace community. With this regard, what is the position of cyber space in this media and cyber campaign?

The soft -war is a kind of conflict between countries, which is dominated by content, programs and software, mainly from the media. In fact, any confrontation between countries or groups those are rival or hostile to each other, in which media, cyber and software tools are used is regarded as a “soft- war” in the world. In the soft- war space, the subject of rockets, guns, tanks, ships and aircraft is not the subject of satellite, Internet, newspapers, news agencies, books, movies, and cinema. Naturally, the soldiers involved in this soft -war are no longer generals, officers and military, but journalists, cinemas, artists and media actors.

Naturally, satellite TVs and radio programs within the framework of the soft -war debate are the continuation of the domination of the capitalist system and seek to secure their own interests and interests in other countries. The main purpose of these types of networks is to influence the public opinion of their target countries and to disrupt the internal information system of the countries concerned. They use several technological tools to reach their predetermined plans, goals, and scenarios. These goals can be faced with various shapes and shapes.

Soft -War has existed throughout history. Even when technological tools such as radio, television, and satellite were not available, there was a soft- war in the context of the war of thought and psychological warfare. But what’s happening now in the world is that hardware or hard-core wars have multiple implications for the invading countries. Therefore, they are trying to achieve their goals by adopting a soft war strategy alongside their hard wars either independently and only within the framework of soft- war. As time goes by, with the growth of technology and media techniques, the working methods of these networks become more complex. Naturally, the layers of the soft -war become more complex, more complete, and the recognition of these tricks becomes even harder.

In his book Soft Power, Joseph Nye introduces elements as soft power pillars, some of which are music and art. That’s also the basis of the soft warfare. In fact, music, art, university, sports, tourism, ancient artifacts, culture and lifestyle of a nation are soft power.

On this basis, there are weaknesses and weaknesses in the internal dimension. One of the most important problems and weaknesses is the inability to use all of its software capabilities in cyber warfare and public diplomacy. In the soft -war of the other faction, the group, the person, the group, the cult, and so on, does not matter. Soft- war does not know the border. Accordingly, all internal groups in this field must be activated in accordance with the guidelines of the Supreme Leader, we must have in the internal arena and in all cultural fields and “infrastructure elements” the soft- war of maximum absorption and minimal elimination, that is, from all the capacities of the system for Cultural confrontation with hostile countries.

The most basic element of soft power is the people. Social capital, public trust, public participation, public culture, public education, and finally all the things that exist in people, localism, nativeism, subcultures, and traditional cultures come from people. In fact, this is something that should be given the most concentration and attention. Using the capacity of the people to cope with these external pressures will have the greatest success.

But how should these capacities, potentials and capital of people is used? The first is used in the media. The national identity in the world is characterized by the national image, that is, the look, the imagination and the imagination that a nation makes for itself. What image do you have in your mind when you hear German or German people? When do you hear the image of the people of Afghanistan, China, Japan, or Arab countries? This is an image that is powerful in the world and talks. Inside Iran, there was a weakness in drawing this image. To create a good image of Iran, one should use the simplest tools, including practical suggestions that media like Voice and Television Organization are capable of demonstrating to the ordinary people of the community. When a tourist arrives for the first time in the country, he is surprised at the first step in entering the airport. Because he faces scenes he did not expect or in the sense of another image of Iran.

In fact, we are now in a soft- war space. Satellite, radio and television tools, along with cyber-tools, have created a full-blown war against the Islamic Republic of Iran. With the growth of technology and media techniques, the working methods of media networks become more complicated, and more complicated, more complete, and harder to know than the soft warfare. Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a good news country, but the country is not news. That is, all countries of the world receive Iran-related news on most issues and topics from countries other than us about the country. Once it has come to an end, as we resolve many of the problems in the framework of Article 44, policymakers will take steps to improve media and cyber media activities.

The following strategies can be put forward to combat soft war against Iran in cyberspace and media:

First, the establishment of the National Center for the Coordination of Soft- War is indispensable. This center is responsible for coordinating the various internal institutions in the field of countering the enemy’s soft- war and controlling, monitoring and monitoring media imaging from Iran.

Second, the launch of new media networks under the overall supervision of the audio and video, and with the production and management of the private sector is essential. These networks can informally meet the needs of people’s entertainment and information and restore the people’s confidence in the domestic media.

Third, support for the production of healthy content in cyberspace, especially native social networks, should be supported in order to defend the national interests of the country within the framework of the software movement.

Fourth, attention to the basics of soft power in the country is necessary for maximum absorption and minimal elimination. No artist should be defeated on the pretext of political orientation, the destruction of art and music and national honors, and bringing national issues into line with internal political challenges, will undermine Iran’s soft power.

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