Google and Facebook in the MENA Region*
How two tech-giants helped destabilize the entire MENA region, and how they are far from finished.
By Ulson Gunnar
During the 2011 Arab Spring, it was clear to those who bothered to look, that the U.S. State Department and the various arms of soft power attached to it were directly responsible for what was otherwise initially passed off as a spontaneous, region-wide uprising.
Eventually, what was dismissed as “conspiracy theory” regarding the U.S.-backed nature of the uprising, was finally admitted to by the New York Times in an April 2011 article titled, “U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Uprisings,” which admitted that:
“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a non-profit human rights organization based in Washington, according to interviews in recent weeks and American diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.
The New York Times would go on to admit direct ties between the above-mentioned organizations and both the U.S. Congress and the U.S. State Department.
The article would also admit:
“Some Egyptian youth leaders attended a 2008 technology meeting in New York, where they were taught to use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy. Among those sponsoring the meeting were Facebook, Google, MTV, Columbia Law School and the State Department.”
The 2008 meeting wasn’t the only one. And, as it would turn out, Facebook and Google’s role in preparing the ground for the Arab Spring, quite literally years before the “spontaneous” protests erupted, was much more complicated than merely being sponsors of a single event in New York.
Hillary Clinton was serving as U.S. Secretary of State both during and in the lead up to the Arab Spring. She even attended via teleconference one of these “technology meetings” briefly mentioned by the New York Times.
Also attending the meetings were actually staff from the U.S. State Department and various staff from both Google and Facebook. Also in attendance were members of the U.S. media. In other words, the event was not sponsored by the U.S. government and these two tech-giants, it was organized and conducted by them as well. Their event program (PDF) makes this abundantly clear.
The purpose was clearly to create a unified network combining the U.S. State Department’s direction, the tech-giant’s technical capabilities, and influence of the U.S. media together to overwhelm the information space when finally the time came for the Arab Spring to unfold. And overwhelm it did. The governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya fell, with violence and even war breaking out in the latter three, while Syria to this day remains engulfed in violence that began in the wake of the 2011 operation.
More recently, e-mails leaked from then U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reveal further details on just how close the tech-giants work with the government. Some could even say they are an extension of the government.
A CBS article titled, “Clinton Emails Show State Department’s Close Relationship With Google,” revealed that:
“The latest release of emails sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server reveals a close relationship between Google and the State Department.
A 2012 email recently uploaded onto Wikileaks’ searchable archive came from Google Ideas director Jared Cohen, who formerly worked as an advisor to Secretary Clinton, indicates that Google wanted to help bolster support for those who defected from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military.
It also showed that before launching a “defection tracker” Cohen wanted the State Department to weigh in on the idea and potentially provide feedback.”
Not only does the leak expose what appears to be a revolving door between the tech-giant and the U.S. State Department, but it exposes the fact that regardless of who is working where, Google was working in tandem with the State Department. Cohen was actually listed in the above cited event program as Policy Planning Staff of the Office of the Secretary of State meaning that before moving to Google he was working with Google to undermine various foreign governments, and continued to do so after he moved from government to the private sector.
Just Warming Up
Google and Facebook are still very much engaged in information warfare for the U.S. government and the special interests that it serves. Likewise, the U.S. State Department is still very much in the business of subverting foreign nations by recruiting, training, equipping and directing collaborators from targeted nations.
Facebook, for example, has expressed plans to get everyone on the planet on the Internet. The seemingly humanitarian mission is in all actuality an attempt to get the world on Facebook, which through its algorithms and ability to censor, ban and delete accounts at will, would virtually control what the world saw and didn’t see.
More forward-thinking states like Russia and China have noted this reality of the 21st century battlefield and have responded by creating their own domestic versions of Google and Facebook. An arms race of sorts has begun between these competing services both in terms of reach and capabilities for everything from artificial intelligence deep learning algorithms to the ability to control and influence the flow of information over and within borders.
Tech-centric U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations have begun to spring up alongside their traditional U.S.-funded collaborators in nations around the world, specializing in doing many of the sort of workshops initially conducted by the U.S. State Department, Google and Facebook before the Arab Spring. For nations either not aware of this or incapable of responding to this threat, it could be comparable to a new weapon of war taking to the battlefield one has no defence to or anything which to strike back with.
This threat will only increase, with the “information war” becoming more and more literal as advances are made in information technology. The U.S. is openly using information technology to augment its hegmonic ambitions around the world, with e-mail leaks confirming what many have already suspected all along. What is more worrisome is the collaborations and technologies being used now that are not being disclosed or “leaked.”
For nations around the world, raising literacy in terms of information technology and the threat it poses can help inoculate their populations from the overwhelming nature of foreign-backed operations like the Arab Spring. By creating and cultivating a domestic information technology sector and recruiting talent before the U.S. does, creating competitive services like Russia’s VK and China’s Baidu not only serves as a means of improving and diversifying one’s economy, but can also serve as an important pillar of national security in the 21st century.