Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal

by Glenn Greenwald for Salon:

“In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, [current Obama administration official Cass] Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.”

Initially, note how similar Sunstein’s proposal is to multiple, controversial stealth efforts by the Bush administration to secretly influence and shape our political debates. The Bush Pentagon employed teams of former Generals to pose as “independent analysts” in the media while secretly coordinating their talking points and messaging about wars and detention policies with the Pentagon (see this). Bush officials secretly paid supposedly “independent” voices, such as Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher, to advocate pro-Bush policies while failing to disclose their contracts. In Iraq, the Bush Pentagon hired a company, Lincoln Park, which paid newspapers to plant pro-U.S. articles while pretending it came from Iraqi citizens (see this). In response to all of this, Democrats typically accused the Bush administration of engaging in government-sponsored propaganda — and when it was done domestically, suggested this was illegal propaganda (see this). Indeed, there is a very strong case to make that what Sunstein is advocating is itself illegal under long-standing statutes prohibiting government “propaganda” within the U.S., aimed at American citizens (see this):

As explained in a March 21, 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service, “publicity or propaganda” is defined by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to mean either (1) self-aggrandizement by public officials, (2) purely partisan activity, or (3) “covert propaganda.” By covert propaganda, GAO means information which originates from the government but is unattributed and made to appear as though it came from a third party.

Covert government propaganda is exactly what Sunstein craves. His mentality is indistinguishable from the Bush mindset that led to these abuses, and he hardly tries to claim otherwise.

Sunstein apparently believes, according to Greenwald, that “such powers are warranted only when wielded by truly well-intentioned government officials who want to spread The Truth and Do Good — i.e., when used by people like Cass Sunstein and Barack Obama. In Sunstein’s words:

Throughout, we assume a well-motivated government that aims to eliminate conspiracy theories, or draw their poison, if and only if social welfare is improved by doing so.

“But it’s precisely because the Government is so often not ‘well-motivated’ that such powers are so dangerous. Advocating them on the ground that “we will use them well” is every authoritarian’s claim. More than anything else, this is the toxic mentality that consumes our political culture: when our side does X, X is Good, because we’re Good and are working for Good outcomes. That was what led hordes of Bush followers to endorse the same large-government surveillance programs they long claimed to oppose, and what leads so many Obama supporters now to justify actions that they spent the last eight years opposing.”

The entire article is chilling.

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