Story at a glance:
- The internet was likely not intended to remain free forever. The intention for it to be used as a totalitarian tool was baked in from the start.
- Google started as a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant and was part of the CIA’s and National Security Agency’s (NSA) digital data program, the purpose of which was to conduct “birds of a feather” mapping online so that certain groups could be neutralized.
- All of the early internet freedom technologies of the ‘90s were funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State. They were developed by the intelligence community as an insurgency tool — a means to help dissident groups in foreign countries to develop a pro-U.S. stance and evade state-controlled media. Now, these same technologies have been turned against the American public, and are used to control public discourse.
- In the past, censorship was a laborious task that could only be done after the fact. Artificial intelligence (AI) has radically altered the censorship industry. AI programs can now censor information en masse, based on the language used, and prevent it from being seen at all.
- One of the most effective strategies that would have an immediate effect would be to strip the censorship industry of its government funding. The House controls the purse strings of the federal government, so the House Appropriations Committee has the power to end the funding of government-sponsored censorship.
In the video below, I interview Mike Benz, executive director of the Foundation for Freedom Online.
Benz started off as a corporate lawyer representing tech and media companies before joining the Trump administration, where he worked as a speechwriter for Dr. Ben Carson, the former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and former President Trump.
He also advised on economic development policy. He then joined the State Department as deputy assistant secretary for International Communications and Information Technology. There, he ran the cyber desks at state, meaning all things having to do with the internet and foreign policy.
“This is toward the end of 2020, which was a really fascinating time to witness the merger, in many respects, of big government and Big Tech companies themselves. I had grown up, I think, like many Americans, with a belief that the First Amendment protected you against government censorship.
“The terms of engagement that we had enjoyed from 1991, when the worldwide web rolled out, until 2016, the election in the U.S. and Brexit in the U.K., which is, really, the first political event where the election was determined, in many respects, by momentum on the internet.
“There was that 25-year golden period where the idea of being censored by a private sector company, let alone the government, was considered something, to me, very deeply anathema to the American experience.
“What I witnessed at the State Department — because I was at the desk, basically, that Google and Facebook would call when they wanted favors abroad when they wanted American protection or American policies to preserve their dominance in Europe, or in Asia or in Latin America.
“And the U.S. government was doing favors for these tech companies while the tech companies were censoring the people who voted for the government. It was a complete betrayal of whatever social contract typically underlies the public-private partnership.”
The internet was founded by the national security state
Ostensibly, the rapid expansion of censorship started post-2016, but you can make a strong argument that the internet was never intended to remain free forever. Rather, the intention for it to be used as a totalitarian tool was likely baked in from the start when the national security state founded it in 1968.
The worldwide web, which is the user interface, was launched in 1991, and my suspicion is that the public internet was seeded and allowed to grow in order to capture and make the most of the population dependent upon it, knowing that it would be the most effective social engineering tool ever conceived.
“I totally agree … A lot of people, in trying to understand what’s happening with the net censorship, say ‘We had this free internet, and then suddenly there was this age of censorship and the national security state got involved at the censorship side.’
“But when you retrace the history, internet freedom itself was actually a national security state imperative. The internet itself is a product of a counterinsurgency necessity by the Pentagon to manage information during the 1960s, particularly to aggregate social science data. And then, it was privatized.
“Opening it up to all comers in the private sector, it was handed off from DARPA to the National Science Foundation, and then went through a series of universities on the infrastructure side.
“And then, right out of the gate in 1991, you had the Cold War coming to an end, and then simultaneously, you had this profusion of Pentagon-funded internet freedom technologies. You had things like VPNs [virtual private networks], encrypted chat and TOR [The Onion Router].
“All of the early internet freedom technologies of the ‘90s were funded by the Pentagon, the State Department, and developed by the intelligence community, primarily, as a way of using internet freedom as a means to help dissident groups in foreign countries be able to develop a pro-U.S. beachhead, because it was a way to evade state-controlled media.
“This was, basically, an insurgency tool for the U.S. government, in the same way that Voice of America and Radio Free Liberty, and Radio Free Europe were tools of the CIA in the Cold War, to beam in, basically, pro-U.S. content to populations in foreign countries in order to sway them towards U.S. interests. It was a way of managing the world empire.
“The internet served the same purpose, and it couldn’t be done if it was called a Pentagon operation, a State Department or CIA operation. But all of the tech companies themselves are products of that. Google started as a DARPA grant that was obtained at Stanford by Sergey Brin and Larry Page.
“In 1995, they were part of the CIA and NSA’s massive digital data program. They had their monthly meetings with their CIA and NSA advisers for that program, where the express stated purpose was for the CIA and NSA to be able to map so-called ‘Birds of a feather’ online … so that they could be neutralized.”
How it all began
As noted by Benz, the idea of having the intelligence community map political “Birds of a Feather” communities in order to either mobilize or neutralize them was (and still is) justified in the name of counterterrorism.
Nowadays, as we’ve seen during the pandemic, it’s used to control public discourse, suppress truth and promote propaganda angles.
The technology used to control public discourse is an AI technique called natural language processing. It’s a way of aggregating everyone who believes a certain thing online into community databases based on the words they use, the hashtags, the slogans and images.
“Emerging narratives, all manner of metadata affiliations, all that can be aggregated to create a topographical network map of what you believe in and who you’re associated with, so that it can all be turned down in a fast, precise and comprehensive manner by content moderation teams, because they’re all birds of the same feather,” Benz explains.
“The fact that this grew out of the U.S. National Security State, which is running the show, essentially, today, to me says that there’s a continuation between the internet freedom and internet censorship. They simply switched from one side of the chess board to the other.”
What is the National Security State?
For clarity, when Benz talks about the “National Security State,” what he’s referring to are the institutions that uphold the rules-based international order.
Domestically, that includes the Pentagon, State Department, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), certain aspects of the U.S. Department of Justice and the 17 intelligence agencies.
Of those, the Pentagon, State Department and the intelligence community (IC) are the three central ones that have managed the American world empire since the 1940s. None of them are supposed to be able to operate domestically, but in a sense their power has expanded so much that they essentially control domestic affairs.
As explained by Benz, the Pentagon, State Department and IC are not supposed to be able to operate domestically. “But in a sense, they really control domestic affairs, because their power has expanded so much that they’ve developed an extraordinary laundering apparatus to be able to fund international institutions that then boomerang back home and effectively control much of domestic political affairs, including discourse on the internet.”
As for the CIA, it was created in 1947 under the National Security Act. It was created as a cloak-and-dagger mechanism, to do things the State Department wanted done but couldn’t get caught doing due to the diplomatic repercussions — things like election rigging, assassinations, media control, bribery and other subversion tactics.
The birth of hybrid warfare
Benz continues his explanation of how and why internet censorship emerged when it did:…