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Interview: Gabe Kaminsky On Secret Censorship Campaigns

Corporations are outsourcing their “disinformation” blacklists to spooky three-letter organizations, and this reporter is taking them on.

Marshall McLuhan warned that World War III would be a global information conflict where the line between civilian and combatant is totally blurred away. For at least some influential elites in the West, that means using cyber, defense, and intelligence power to wage clandestine, round-the-clock media war against designated political foes at home. Ostensibly non-governmental organizations with an activist axe to grind are all too happy to join in. But as the effort grows, so does its exposure—and now, Washington Examiner investigative reporter Gabe Kaminsky has switched on the blacklight. We emailed him to discuss the creepy details.  

RETURN: So, to catch up—you broke the news in the Washington Examiner that one organization most people have never heard of, the Global Disinformation Index, has played an outsized role in suppressing online speech by contracting with ad companies to tell them which sites to blacklist. Before we talk about what impact your report has already had, how can people understand how extensive and pervasive GDI’s activity is and that of related organizations?

KAMINSKY: The Global Disinformation Index and similar organizations have been secretly compiling blacklists of conservative websites and feeding them to advertising companies, like the Microsoft-owned Xandr. GDI has gained major influence in this way, shaping the ad space behind the scenes with the intent of defunding and deplatforming disfavored speech. This means both news and opinion articles are being flagged as “disinformation” and outlets are in the dark about, not only how they are being classified, but how they can, hypothetically, perhaps improve standards to align with GDI preferences.

Such agreements between ‘disinformation’ trackers and ad companies have likely led to conservative outlets losing key advertising dollars, while left-leaning outlets, like HuffPost or BuzzFeed, have been labeled by GDI as the “least riskiest” and given the opportunity to profit immensely. Both of these left-leaning outlets promoted the Steele Dossier and the erroneous notion that Hunter Biden’s laptop was “Russian disinformation.”

RETURN: That brings us to your report’s impact. Microsoft’s ad company, Xandr, has now distanced itself from its relationship with GDI. What’s the latest on that front and what do you think it augurs for the industry?

KAMINSKY: Microsoft told the Washington Examiner on Saturday that it is conducting an internal review and suspending its relationship with GDI. As the Washington Examiner reported on Monday, Microsoft’s Xandr has also removed negative flags for conservative outlets. This means Townhall is, as of this moment, for instance, not being flagged as “reprehensible/offensive.”

Should Microsoft entirely cut ties with GDI, this could have a major influence on the advertising space, as a direct result of our reporting, according to ad industry experts. Conservative outlets previously blacklisted and shielded from ad dollars could begin to gain access to revenue channels, experts say. We will continue to track Microsoft’s review and update the public as more information becomes available. This is a developing story. 

RETURN: Let’s dig a little deeper into GDI. In your report, you name the organization’s CEO, Clare Medford, and Executive Director Daniel Rogers. Notably, Melford, a Brit, previously worked under George Soros’s Open Society Foundation to spin off its European Council on Foreign Relations, while Rogers, who has launched what’s described as the premier dark web intelligence company, also previously supported the US Intelligence Community on cyber operations. Given that, as you’ve reported, the State Department funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into GDI, how concerned should Americans be that GDI is, in effect, itself an intelligence operation supported by at least two of the Five Eyes?

KAMINSKY: I cannot comment on the idea of GDI being a potential intelligence operation. What I can comment on is the extent to which Americans have questioned why the Department of State provided taxpayer dollars to an entity, in this case GDI, that seeks to defund the free and independent press. First Amendment lawyers have raised concerns over this arrangement and so have members of Congress, like Congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

It’s important to remember that Elise Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman, sits on the board of the National Endowment for Democracy, one State Department-backed entity that has funded GDI. However, Stefanik has decried censorship of the Hunter Biden laptop story in the New York Post, an outlet GDI has targeted.

RETURN: Are there any reliable indications of how much sympathetic elected officials understand the seriousness and sweep of this globalized public-private partnership to stop large numbers of Americans from interacting freely on the internet and profitably pursuing shared cultural and economic ventures?

KAMINSKY: As mentioned, Mr. McCaul has raised concerns over the State Department funding GDI. Another lawmaker we spoke with was Jim Banks, who said he intends to haul certain federal officials and private actors before Congress. 

The Twitter Files have revealed a lot about how the government has coordinated with private organizations to fight alleged disinformation. Our hope with the Disinformation Inc., series is to hold power to account and shed light on how self-styled disinformation trackers, like GDI, play a prominent role in targeting disfavored speech. Certainly, State Department grants going to GDI may fairly appear to present a First Amendment issue, according to lawyers. 

It would seem that members of Congress should properly investigate public-private partnerships, as the public becomes increasingly concerned about taxpayer dollars being weaponized. House Republicans, particularly on the Oversight and Judiciary Committees, have appeared most interested in probing this. The new “weaponization” committee could be a place to investigate such partnerships. 

RETURN: What can we expect next from your investigation? Any hints of future shoes to drop?

KAMINSKY: We intend to continue reporting on the disinformation tracking space. I can’t comment on ongoing investigations but can say that our stories, so far, are only the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned and subscribe to the Washington Examiner

Lots more where that came from.