[News] The NATO to TikTok Pipeline: Why is TikTok Employing So Many National Security Agents?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 4 11:44:00 EDT 2022

The NATO to TikTok Pipeline: Why is TikTok Employing So Many National
Security Agents?
by Alan Macleod - April 29, 2022

*CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA – *As the bloody conflict in Ukraine continues to
escalate, so does the online propaganda war between Russia and the West. A
prime example of this is the White House directly briefing influencers on
popular social media app TikTok about the war and how to cover it. As the
crisis spirals out of control, Americans have turned to TikTok to view real
time videos and analysis of the invasion. With the app estimated
<https://wallaroomedia.com/blog/social-media/tiktok-statistics/> to have
around 70 million U.S. users, the White House is keenly aware of its
impact. “We recognize this is a critically important avenue in the way the
American public is finding out about the latest … so we wanted to make sure
you had the latest information from an authoritative source,” President Joe
Biden’s director of digital strategy, Rob Flaherty, told
30 top TikTok influencers.

TikTok itself has taken steps to align itself with U.S. government policy,
more than 320,000 Russian accounts and removing at least 41,000 videos
peddling misinformation about the war. In addition to this, it has placed
warning labels marked “Russia state-controlled media” on 49 accounts linked
to the Russian government. Like other big social media platforms, it has
not done the same to Western state-owned outlets such as the *BBC*
<https://www.tiktok.com/@bbcnews?lang=en>, *RTÉ*
<https://www.tiktok.com/@rteone?lang=en>, or the *CBC*

All this is a far cry from 2020, when President Donald Trump signed an
order that would shut down TikTok within 45 days unless it was sold to an
American buyer. The Chinese-owned platform, the U.S. government alleged,
posed a severe national security threat to the United States. Although
TikTok is a Chinese company, it is, ironically, completely blocked inside
China, their domestic market being served by a sister app, Douyin, which
functions in a similar way but is separated by the Great Firewall
Thus, there is no contact or overlap between the two. After Douyin’s
success in China, its parent company ByteDance launched a global platform.

ByteDance first reached a deal
to sell TikTok to Microsoft, then to Oracle and Walmart. Yet the new Biden
administration, without explanation, quietly dropped
the sale requirement indefinitely in early 2021, saying in a court filing
that it had begun a review of security concerns cited by the Trump

That decision <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-58719674> left buyers
and onlookers alike perplexed. Yet studying the backgrounds of dozens of
key TikTok employees brought on since the 2020 scare suggests that, instead
of destroying TikTok, perhaps the U.S. national security state has co-opted
it instead.
High-placed NATO recruits

Since 2020, there has been a wave of former spooks, spies and mandarins
appointed to influential positions within TikTok, particularly around
content and policy – some of whom, on paper at least, appear unqualified
for such roles.

For example, while simultaneously being the Content Policy Lead for TikTok
Canada, Alexander Corbeil is also the vice president
<https://natoassociation.ca/about-us/alexander-corbeil/> of the NATO
Association of Canada, a NATO-funded
<https://natoassociation.ca/partners-sponsors/> organization chaired by
former Canadian Minister of Defense David Collenette. In order to join
TikTok, Corbeil left his job at the SecDev Foundation, a U.S. State
security think tank. Corbeil’s work
<https://natoassociation.ca/category/ncc-authors/alexandercorbeil/> focused
on Middle Eastern security and in particular on the war in Syria and what
NATO’s role should be.

Another NATO-linked new recruit is Ayse Koçak
<https://www.linkedin.com/in/ayse-k/>, a Global Product Policy manager at
the company. Before joining TikTok last year, she spent three years at
NATO. Like Corbeil, Koçak had special expertise in Middle Eastern politics,
including a year’s tour in Iraq as the organization’s deputy senior
civilian representative.

Foard Copeland <https://www.linkedin.com/in/foardcopeland/>, who works on
TikTok’s trust and safety policy, is also an ex-NATO man. Copeland
previously worked as a desk officer
for NATO, as well as for the Department of Defense. Between 2011 and 2021,
he also worked for U.S. contractor Development Alternatives Incorporated
(DAI), spending much of that time in Afghanistan. DAI has long been accused
<https://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/5000> of being a CIA front group,
perhaps with some justification. In 2009, for example, DAI agent Alan Gross
was arrested in Cuba and sentenced
to 15 years in prison for spying, espionage, and his part in efforts to
destabilize the government.

Perhaps the most worrying NATO alumnus, from a public perspective, is new
Feature Policy Manager Greg Andersen
According to his own LinkedIn profile, until 2019, Andersen worked on
“psychological operations” for NATO. This fact, according to *MintPress*
contributor Lowkey <https://www.mintpressnews.com/author/lowkey/>, was
removed after his tweet
<https://twitter.com/Lowkey0nline/status/1502630581775048720> raising
concerns about the relationship between big tech and the national security
state went viral. Lowkey wrote:

Andersen’s profile continues to identify him as a former NATO employee, but
there is no reference to “psychological operations” or “soldier-system
lethality.” Lowkey provided *MintPress* with a screenshot of what he said
was Andersen’s pre-tweet profile, which has been included below.
Not just NATO

NATO, however, is far from the only organization newly connected to TikTok.
The company’s new Global Lead of Integrity and Authenticity, Chris Roberts
is a former
senior director of Technology Policy at the Albright Stonebridge Group
(ASG), a powerhouse strategy and consulting firm started by late-Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright. The ASG has been perhaps the major staffing
source for President Biden’s administration, with at least 10 ASG employees
to key positions in national security, state and foreign policy positions.

Before ASG, Roberts worked, in his own words
on “special projects” for the National Democratic Institute (NDI). The NDI
was founded by the Reagan administration after a series of CIA scandals
necessitated the creation of a network of front groups to take the heat off
the agency. The NDI exists to channel U.S. government money, training and
support to political and social groups around the world. This could
charitably be described as “democracy promotion,” although cynics might
label it “overthrowing governments.” As Roberts himself said
“The nature of democracy promotion is that the most important countries to
work in are also the ones where the government may not want your ‘help.’”

At TikTok, Roberts’ role is to “Lead the Integrity and Authenticity policy
team. This team covers misinformation, synthetic and manipulated media,
covert influence activity, and spam and inauthentic engagement.”

One group infamous for peddling misinformation and carrying out covert
operations is the CIA. Yet rather than identifying operations, they might
be conducting, TikTok has instead recruited a former agent to serve in an
important position. Since January, Beau Patteson
<https://twitter.com/bopatteson> has been working as a threat analyst for
TikTok’s Trust and Safety Division. Between 2017 and 2020, however,
Patteson was a targeting analyst for the CIA, after which he joined the
State Department to become a foreign service officer. In addition to his
role at TikTok, Patteson is also, according to his social media profile
a military intelligence officer in the United States Army.

One step closer to the halls of power is Victoria McCullough
who previously worked for the Department of Homeland Security and for the White
House <https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/author/victoria-mccullough>
itself. Like Patteson, McCullough now works on trust and safety at TikTok.
Another trust-and-safety TikTok staff member, Christian Cardona
spent nearly 13 years in senior roles at the State Department across the
Middle East and Europe before seamlessly moving to the social media giant.

Virtually every former spook or state official this investigation found
works in very specific (and highly politically sensitive) fields such as
trust, safety and content moderation, rather than in banal areas like
marketing, customer service or sales. Yet TikTok’s new recruits come from
some of the least trustworthy organizations anywhere in the world –
organizations that should not be anywhere near the levers of power of such
a popular platform.

The national security state has been the source of some of the most
outlandish and damaging fake news claims in recent years. This includes
lurid allegations about so-called “Havana Syndrome
and the “BountyGate
hoax. Going further back, falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction or
an immiment genocide helped push the U.S. to war in Iraq and Libya,
respectively. Yet individuals from many of these institutions are now in
charge of deciding what is real and what is fake, and which content to
promote or suppress.

In this light, the 2020 pandemonium about TikTok being a national security
threat looks increasingly like a power play from the national security
state. These dire warnings, and even the threat to completely shut down its
platform, subsided only after TikTok began appointing Western officials to
important positions within its organization, thereby giving the state
considerable influence over the content and direction of the app.
Serious business

Readers who consider TikTok little more than a fun app to watch short
videos of people dancing are behind the times. From a modest beginning, it
has exploded in popularity, growing
<https://www.businessofapps.com/data/tik-tok-statistics/> exponentially
from 85 million global users in early 2018 to 1.2 billion by late 2021
(with a similar monstrous growth in revenue to boot).

It is exceptionally popular among the younger generations. The 2021 Reuters
Institute Digital News Report found
that 9% of people aged between 18 and 24 worldwide had gone to TikTok to
get news over the past week, while 31% of that age group used the app in
that period (and therefore likely passively consumed news to some extent).
Furthermore, it has a very loyal user base, with the tens of millions of
U.S. TikTok users spending
<https://www.businessofapps.com/data/tik-tok-statistics/> an average of 68
minutes per day on the platform.

Thus, TikTok has become an enormously influential medium that reaches over
one billion people worldwide. Having control over its algorithm or content
moderation means the ability to set the terms of global debate and decide
what people see and do not see. *MintPress* invited TikTok to comment on
its relationship with the government, but has not received a response.
Surveillance Valley

This is far from the first time the national security state has pulled this
trick, however. In 2018, Facebook came under enormous pressure from the
U.S. government, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg himself being hauled in front of
both the House and the Senate to face hours of grilling over the platform’s
role in privacy, content moderation and spreading Russian disinformation.
Only weeks after this, Facebook announced
a new partnership with the Atlantic Council, whereby the group would serve
as Facebook’s “eyes and ears,” taking considerable control over its content
moderation, supposedly in an effort to weed out fake news and
disinformation. The Atlantic Council, however, is NATO’s think tank and
serves as its brain trust, with no fewer than seven former CIA directors on
its board. Since then, Facebook (or Meta, as it is officially known),
appointed former
NATO Press Officer and current
<https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/expert/ben-nimmo/> Atlantic Council Senior
Fellow Ben Nimmo to serve as its head of intelligence. In addition,
Facebook’s new global director of content policy, Mark Smith
<https://about.fb.com/news/2021/11/update-on-ethiopia/>, was formerly
by NATO as an advisor to its deputy commander.

The Atlantic Council has also found its way into Reddit’s management. In
2017, Jessica Ashooh went
straight from being deputy director of Middle East strategy at The Atlantic
Council to director of policy at the popular news aggregation service – an
unusual career move that drew
few remarks at the time. Like Corbeil, Koçak and others, Ashooh was a
Middle East specialist and was intimately involved in the West’s war in
Syria. For years, Reddit took a free-speech absolutist position, even
defending hosting
clearly illegal sexual content. However, Ashooh’s arrival coincided with a
new era of far more forceful moderation. Reddit recently took the decision
to not only ban
links from Russian state media outlets, but all websites with a Russian
(.ru) domain.

Likewise, a number of key Twitter personnel raise eyebrows. Chief among
them is Head of Editorial for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Gordon
who, in addition to his duties at Twitter, is an officer in the British
Army’s 77th Brigade – a notorious unit dedicated to online warfare and
psychological operations. Like Facebook, Twitter has partnered
with some highly questionable state-linked organizations, giving them
considerable influence over its content moderation.

Meanwhile, Google’s current global head of Developer Product Policy, Ben
Renda <https://www.cnas.org/people/ben-renda>, was formerly a strategic
planner and information management officer for NATO, before working for
both U.S. Cyber Command and the Department of Defense.
Big Tech a big weapon

The U.S. government, it appears, refuses to allow any competition to its
hegemony over the digital realm. Huawei has effectively been banned
throughout much of the West, with the United States refusing to allow the
Chinese giant to control the new network of 5G communications. U.S.
attempts to convince other nations to block Huawei have elicited
significant pushback in the Global South. “If you are ahead, I will ban
you, I will send warships to your country…That is not competition, that is
threatening people,” said
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, commenting on U.S. actions.
Decades earlier, the U.S. government effectively destroyed the Japanese
semiconductor industry, forcing
Japan to sign a one-sided trade deal while imposing a 100% tariff on
Japanese electronics – a power play that led to a decades-long recession
from which the island nation has never recovered.

In 2020, the U.S. government even forced
Chinese-owned Grindr to be sold to a U.S. company, deeming
the LGBT dating app to be a “national security threat.”

In every accusation, it is said, there is a confession. That Washington
considers even frivolous hookup apps to be too important to be outside of
U.S. control, lest they be used to influence the public, suggests they know
exactly what they are doing, infiltrating big tech companies. Indeed, this
was more or less confirmed earlier this month by a letter
written by a host of top natsec officials, including former CIA Directors
Michael Morell and Leon Panetta, and former Assistant to the President for
Counterterrorism and Homeland Security Frances Townsend (all of whom also
sit on the Atlantic Council’s board of directors

The officials advised that breaking up Silicon Valley giants, as many have
advocated, would “inadvertently hamper the ability of U.S. technology
platforms to … push back on the Kremlin.” “The United States will need to
rely on the power of its technology sector to ensure [that] the narrative
of events” globally is shaped by the U.S. and “not by foreign adversaries,”
they explain, concluding that Google, Facebook, Twitter are “increasingly
integral to U.S. diplomatic and national security efforts.” In other words,
they see big-tech as a key weapon of the U.S. empire.
Mockingbird 2.0

In the 1970s, the Church Committee unearthed the existence of Operation
Mockingbird, a secret CIA project to infiltrate newsrooms across America
and place agents masquerading as journalists inside. Investigative reporter
Carl Bernstein’s work found
that the CIA had cultivated a network of over 400 individuals it considered
assets, including the owner of *The New York Times*.

Today, it appears that the links between big media and big government are,
if anything, closer than they were in the 1970s. The monopolistic power of
big social media platforms gives them – whether they like it or not –
extraordinary influence over public opinion. And within their opaque
Silicon Valley offices, a small cadre of individuals set the algorithms and
decide the moderation policies that shape what billions of us see every
day. With a host of former officials taking positions in these companies,
the U.S. national security state is acquiring some measure of influence
over the means of communication. It’s Operation Mockingbird for the 21st
century – and on a global scale.

It is not normal for NATO officials or CIA agents to suddenly be put in
charge of TikTok content policy. This did not happen purely by accident,
just as it did not occur by chance at the other big tech platforms. One
might reasonably argue that some of the only people who have the skills to
highlight, spot and counter disinformation campaigns are those who have
done similar work in the military or secret services. However, these
organizations are the last ones that many would want in control of big-tech
platforms, given their history of subterfuge and deceit.

Put another way, if these were Russian-based social media companies filled
to the brim with former FSB, KGB or Kremlin officials, we would immediately
recognize them as blatant government-controlled platforms. Yet many of the
most popular apps are heading in the same way.

There is certainly a huge problem with fake news and disinformation online.
And a fair chunk of it emanates from Russia. But while some might argue
that poachers can become gamekeepers and use their skills for good, this
situation feels far more like foxes being in charge of the digital henhouse.

Feature photo | MintPress News

*Alan MacLeod <https://twitter.com/AlanRMacLeod> is Senior Staff Writer
for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two
books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting
and Propaganda
in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent
well as a
<https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/blar.12940> academic
<https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fcomm.2018.00064/full> articles
<https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0896920518820934>. He has
also contributed to FAIR.org <https://fair.org/author/alan-macleod/>, The
Guardian <https://www.theguardian.com/profile/alan-macleod>, Salon
<https://www.salon.com/writer/alan-macleod>, The Grayzone
<https://thegrayzone.com/author/alan-macleod/>, Jacobin Magazine
<https://jacobinmag.com/author/alan-macleod>, and Common Dreams

* Republish our stories! * MintPress News is licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.
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