The Fog of Information War in Ukraine
The Western intelligence apparatus has been busy in Ukraine. With financing and collaboration through various non-governmental organizations, it won the information war with the help of Ukrainian media before Russia ever fired a shot in February. Even the country’s newest publications, like the Kyiv Independent, have received support and funding from institutions associated with the Central Intelligence Agency.
In most cases, these outlets have propagandized to the beat of the West’s war drums rather than inform the public.
Since the Independent launched last November, it has amassed nearly two million Twitter followers and become a main artery of information in the war. Far from being objective, its writers tend to snap at those who contradict their narratives. Illia Ponomarenko, the Independent’s defense reporter, even declared himself “brothers in arms” with Azov Battalion, a unit known for committing war crimes against civilians in eastern Ukraine. According to journalist Michael Tracey, Ponomarenko amassed almost a million followers in less than two weeks.
That kind of growth is hard and impressive. But the Independent also has some special connections.
The publication has a growing subscriber base today, but according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, it was created with an “emergency grant from the European Endowment for Democracy,” a spinoff of the National Endowment for Democracy. What is the NED? On the surface, it’s an NGO that promotes civil society worldwide by, among other things, sponsoring and providing training for journalists and activists directly or indirectly. The reality, however, is different.
Here’s ProPublica’s characterization: “The National Endowment for Democracy was established by Congress, in effect, to take over the CIA’s covert propaganda efforts. But, unlike the CIA, the NED promotes U.S. policy and interests openly.” The NED’s co-founder, Allen Weinstein, admitted as much. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post entitled, “Innocence Abroad: The New World of Spyless Coups.”
“The biggest difference is that when such activities are done overtly, the flap potential [i.e., embarrass or embroil the CIA in controversy] is close to zero,” Weinstein said. Recall that in 1967, Ramparts magazine humiliated the agency by exposing that it had turned the National Student Association’s international activities into “an arm of United States foreign policy” through undercover financing and secret collaboration. Now, “Openness is its own protection,” as Weinstein put it.
Put simply, the NED uses democracy movements to bring foreign governments into harmony with Washington’s interests. How that looks in practice takes different forms, including regime change. But a constant is formulating and managing narratives, which is why the NED has long funded media and activist groups. A recent report published by Declassified UK noted that the NED paid out more than $3 million between 2016 and 2021 to outlets like Bellingcat and the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Echoing Weinstein, a former CIA officer told Declassified that the NED is a “vehicle” for U.S. government “propaganda.”
The EED’s Facebook page refers to the Independent as a “partner,” and shows a close relationship with the NED.
In September 2021, a profile of the Independent’s chief editor, Olga Rudenko, appeared in ProMarket, a publication of the Stigler Center at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Rudenko was visiting the school for a journalism development program. According to ProMarket, she is also a board member at the Media Development Foundation, an NGO that has received at least $225,140 from the NED. You won’t find that without a digital archive because the NED’s records of funding projects in Ukraine was either moved or deleted recently. The archived page shows that from 2014 to the present, the NED has granted $22,394,281 through 334 awards to Ukraine. However, since the change, the NED only allows users to search back to 2017.
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