Documents shared with MintPress reveal that Valent Projects – a shadowy communications firm that advises social media platforms such as Facebook on alleged state-backed online influence campaigns – has itself received $1.2 million from U.S. intelligence front USAID, for “counter disinformation and communications support.”

This relationship has hitherto never been publicly acknowledged, and the resulting income is not reflected in the company’s published accounts.

On Valent’s direction, Facebook has purged huge numbers of Sudanese accounts and pages critical of the Western-backed government, helping to keep a controversial civilian and military administration in power. There are also suspicions the company may have played a role in the mass suppression of Ethiopian voices online supporting the government of Abiy Ahmed, and opposing U.S. attempts to overthrow him.

Valent Projects is the creation of Amil Khan, a veteran BBC and Reuters journalist turned British intelligence-adjacent information warfare professional. For many years, Khan worked on secret Foreign Office projects in Syria. There, he ran covert psyops campaigns targeting domestic and international audiences, trained ostensibly independent opposition journalists and activists to communicate effectively with the media, and provided propaganda support to numerous armed groups trained, funded, and armed by London and Washington.


Perversely, but perhaps unsurprisingly given his professional history, Khan is now an influential and well-remunerated component of the international counter-disinformation industry. He and his company receive vast sums from an assortment of prominent clients – not all of whom are advertised – for a variety of dubious services, including managing online astroturf campaigns, and identifying alleged foreign-borne propaganda and enemy government-backed “information operations” online.

Khan bills Valent Projects as “an integrated digital agency that works with clients who want to do good in the world.” But internal company documents passed to this journalist anonymously reveal that his disinformation busting efforts amount to a deeply sinister arm’s length state censorship mechanism.


There is no indication that Khan apprised social networks of his commercial connections to USAID when making representations to them about purported “inauthentic behavior”, “coordinated activity” and troll and bot accounts on their platforms – representations that result in independent activists, journalists and others being permanently suspended, and dissent crushed online.

By definition, this activity poses a grave, unseen, and wholly unaccountable threat to the ability of independent journalists, academics, activists, and regular citizens the world over to be heard online, if their perspectives contravene established Western narratives. And it represents yet another ominous example of how major social media platforms have been insidiously coopted and corrupted by national security interests.


Valent’s active role in compelling major social media platforms to take action against “networks” of trolls and bots elsewhere has been well-publicized. In June 2021 for instance, 53 Facebook accounts, 51 pages, three groups, and 18 Instagram accounts in Sudan, with over 1.8 million followers “that targeted domestic audiences,” linked to individuals associated with a national opposition party, were summarily purged.

“We found this network after reviewing information about some of its activity shared by researchers at Valent Projects,” a Meta report on “inauthentic behavior” that month states.

This was one of many mass-defenestrations of social media users in Sudan carried out by Facebook in the period between the April 2019 coup that ousted long-time President Omar al-Bashir, and the military’s seizure of power in October 2021, to which Valent was either central or closely adjacent.

These accounts, usually associated with opposition elements in the country, were variously claimed to have engaged in “coordinated inauthentic behavior” by disseminating content critical of the country’s military and civilian power-sharing government, “[promoting] Russian interests,” and other malign activities.

While one would be forgiven for concluding from Meta’s “inauthentic behavior” report that Valent approached the social network in an independent capacity, the company was in fact acting on behalf of USAID’s Agency’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), which “provides fast, flexible, short-term assistance targeted at key political transition.”

This is an Orwellian euphemism for facilitating regime change. While never admitted in the mainstream, and strenuously denied by officials in Washington, USAID has since its 1961 inception served as a U.S. intelligence Trojan Horse, aiding the CIA and other agencies in undermining “enemy” governments.

The Agency’s penetration of Sudan following the 2019 coup was extensive. An official USAID explainer openly avows that the event represented a “historic” opportunity to “further U.S. interests” in the country and wider region, strongly hinting that the civilian and military power-sharing government was created by OTI.

The administration was then provided extensive financial and material support by USAID, its representatives coordinating closely with the Sudanese Prime Minister’s office to “counter mis- and disinformation.” The Agency also financed independent media outlets and NGOs, and supported “civilians advocating for democratic reforms,” in order to shore up its rule.

Numerous reports from leading human rights organizations published during the executive’s two years of operation documented rampant corruption and egregious abuses of power by authorities, including murderous crackdowns on protests, jailing of activists without charge or trial, and closure of opposition media outlets. By the time the administration disintegrated, it had failed to implement almost all of the institutional and legal reforms outlined in its founding constitutional charter.

South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, left, walks with Samantha Power outside the presidential compound in Juba, South Sudan, Sept. 4, 2016. Justin Lynch | AP

One would not know any of this from statements by U.S. officials, however. In September 2021, USAID chief and notorious war hawk Samantha Power hailed Khartoum’s “hopeful…progress” in “achieving a democratic, inclusive, and peaceful future benefiting all Sudanese.”

To say the least, USAID had a significant vested interest in maintaining this grossly distorted fiction, and silencing detractors of the power-sharing executive. It was no doubt calculated that Washington becoming openly involved in compelling social networks to deplatform the disreputable administration’s denigrators would even further undermine its legitimacy at home and abroad though.

Hence, the need to employ Valent Projects to achieve that objective, and lend a legitimizing imprimatur of ostensibly independent “expertise” to insidious state censorship.


Questions also abound on Valent’s role in the Ethiopian Civil War, which has raged since November 2020, and the mass online censorship that has accompanied the bitter fighting.

What began as a limited regional skirmish in which government forces responded to attacks on military infrastructure and atrocities perpetrated against civilians by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) eventually came to engulf much of the country. A political movement-cum-party which ruled the country between 1991 and 2018, the new government in Addis Ababa has designated the TPLF a terrorist group.

During its period in power, the U.S.-backed TPLF made Ethiopia the country “one of the most inhospitable places in the world,” carrying out vicious actions “bearing the hallmark of crimes against humanity”, according to Human Rights Watch. Untold billions provided in financial aid was embezzled by state officials and spirited out the country, and Ethiopia became the second-worst jailer of journalists on the continent.

This egregious track record is reflected in the TPLF’s conduct in the civil war. The group has committed countless atrocities, including gang rapes and multiple massacres of civilians, and used children extensively as human shields. Yet these abuses have barely been acknowledged by Western journalists.

The elected government’s efforts to quell the bloodshed, and time in office more generally, have not been without fault. But the administration evidently represents a welcome change for Ethiopian voters, who re-elected it in an overwhelming landslide in mid-2021, even as the TPLF-instigated carnage continued apace. However, corporate news outlets have consistently framed authorities’ prosecution of the war as a murderous, unprovoked assault on the general population, with charges of artificially manufactured famine, mass atrocities and ethnic cleansing, if not outright genocide repeatedly abounding – although never substantiated.

Officials in Washington have at regular intervals also openly and eagerly advocated for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ethiopia, if not U.S. boots on-the-ground. Such comments are commonplace in buildups to Western military intervention.


In November 2021, independent journalist Jeff Pearce released a leaked recording of a secret Zoom summit earlier in the month between high-ranking current and former U.S., U.K., and EU diplomats and a senior TPLF representative. During the meeting, the TPLF was actively encouraged to advance on Ethiopia’s capital and seize power via force, which only confirmed suspicions that Addis Ababa had been earmarked by Washington for regime change.

In response to this aggressive tubthumping, many Ethiopians, members of the country’s sizable diaspora, and independent reporters and researchers took to social media and began coordinating via messaging apps to counter the war propaganda perpetuated by Western politicians, journalists and think tanks, in furtherance of U.S. aggression and exploitation throughout the Horn of Africa.

Their collective struggle gave birth to the No More movement, its name a concise but powerful call to end “disinformation, division and war” in Addis Ababa and beyond – a corresponding hashtag spread like wildfire across social media platforms, and served as a rallying cry at many protests in key Western capitals, where Ethiopians and Eritreans defiantly marched side by side against conflict and imperial meddling.

Ethiopian and Eritrean protest against western intervention in their country in Washington, Dec. 10, 2021. Gemunu Amarasinghe | AP

These endeavors very effectively challenged mainstream consensus on the civil war, in the process amply underlining the potential power of independent media and social networks. Were it not for the crusading work of No More et al, it seems almost certain Washington would have staged some form of direct intervention to assist the TPLF in overthrowing the Ethiopian government.

This can only be considered a tremendous achievement for people power. But Valent Projects had very different ideas. Among the leaked papers reviewed by MintPress is a report on “inauthentic behavior” and “coordinated networks” online related to the Ethiopian civil war produced by the company in May 2022.

It frames the seismic upsurge of grassroots outcry over the past 18 months as a “complex and sophisticated online manipulation effort” on the part of Addis Ababa, with the Chinese and Russian governments “supporting if not directing” vast armies of troll and bot accounts to support that activity, and promulgating “anti-imperialist” narratives via social media to manipulate “specific audiences,” as part of an “orchestrated online influence campaign.”

The methods by which Valent reaches these sensational conclusions leave much to be desired. To put it bluntly, its report is a poorly woven patchwork of peculiar logical fallacies, paranoid conspiracy theorizing, dumbfounding non sequiturs, defamatory and false allegations, sweeping conspiratorial conjecture, unsupported and inexplicable value judgments, and amateurish analytical blunders.

For example, the company’s initial assumption – for reasons unstated – was the overwhelming majority of accounts tweeting #NoMore were automated. Its research team therefore analyzed 150 accounts that used the hashtag most frequently using Botometer to validate this hypothesis.

Just 20% were found to be “probable” bots, quite obviously indicating most of the users were real people. But Valent instead concluded that the Russian and Chinese “operation” was in fact quite so sophisticated, “many inauthentic accounts” simply escaped detection.

To reinforce this dubious, self-perpetuating conclusion, Valent “isolated” 49 of these accounts, which displayed location data, and found 30 had tweeted from six separate “identical locations, within and outside Ethiopia.” This is said to suggest they were all being run “by an individual or small group of actors,” in order to create the false impression that interactions between these accounts were “organic online conversation.”

One site purportedly linked to several accounts was the world famous Trafalgar Square. Valent cites this as “a clear sign of falsification,” although a far more logical explanation is that these users simply listed London as their location on their profiles.

Trafalgar Square marks the point from which all distances to Britain’s capital are measured, and thus represents the city’s epicenter. Searches for “London” via online maps invariably direct to the area as a result. As a native of the city and resident to this day, it is remarkable Khan was apparently unaware of this.


An accompanying Excel spreadsheet lists a large number of accounts that tweeted content related to the civil war, divided by Valent into “seeders” – “accounts that produce original content and introduce it into the discourse”; “superspreaders – “accounts that take that content and amplify it”; and “endorsers” – “accounts that interact with the content to give the appearance of organic engagement to the interactions.” Each user is also given a Botometer ranking out of five.

Among the accounts are dozens of Ethiopians, including academics and activists, and anti-imperialist Western journalists and researchers. Much of the Ethiopian contingent rate highly on the Botometer scale, although academic tests show the software to be “imprecise when it comes to estimating bots,” producing significant volumes of false positives and negatives alike, “especially” so when accounts tweet in a language other than English.

Underlining Botometer’s inaccuracy, the official account of independent media outlet Breakthrough News is ranked 3.3 on the inauthenticity scale, and highlighted in the spreadsheet in a menacing red.

Breakthrough and its founders Eugene Puryear and Rania Khalek crop up repeatedly in the report. In November 2021, they traveled to Addis Ababa to conduct on-the-ground reporting on the situation, which Valent outlandishly asserts was the start and core component of a dedicated “phase” of China and Russia’s “political influence operation” related to the civil war.

This is predicated on the bogus basis that the outlet – which receives no state or corporate funding, and is primarily financed via viewer donations and subscriptions – is in fact “Russia-backed”.

The existence of such a “phase” is buttressed by the observation that other figures bogusly accused of being “linked to Russian state interests” also became “more active in shaping discourse” on social media at this time, pushing an “anti-imperialist” narrative to “hard-left audiences.”

Again, an altogether saner explanation could be that the interest and output of anti-imperial, independent activists and journalists was spurred by ongoing developments in the crisis, and they reported on them accordingly. After all, November was when the aforementioned bombshell recording leaked and when the TPLF concurrently expressed a desire publicly to push on to Addis Ababa.


That was certainly the case in my regard. I feature prominently in the report as a result of having independently published a Substack newsletter on the leaked recording, and Valent levels a number of wild charges against me. For example, a series of tweets about the company and Khan posted in early December 2021 is framed as a “doxxing attack” that “demonstrated an awareness of Valent’s internal operations” and “suggested access to information obtained through espionage/security links.”

The “sophistication” of this “attack”, the report argues, “further reinforces the view” that Russia was managing a high-level “pro-Ethiopian operation” on social media, despite the tweets being completely unrelated to Ethiopia, and this journalist having not the slightest inkling the company was engaged in work related to the civil war at this time.

The report goes on to lament that despite Valent reporting these tweets to Twitter, the company took no action, which is said to suggest “a lack of commitment on the part of the platform to enforcing its stated policies.” In reality, Twitter’s failure to respond was likely due to the information included in the tweets being gleaned from internet search engines, and publicly-accessible resources such as LinkedIn, and therefore no rules actually being broken.


Such irrationality, ineptitude and rank incompetence would be amusing, except Valent’s framing of legitimate, organic online activity by genuine civil society actors as malign, orchestrated, counterfeit, enemy state-directed and in breach of established platform rules could well have influenced social media platforms to suppress if not outright ban a large number of users, distorting public perspectives and damaging reputations and livelihoods in the process.

Independent journalists named in Valent documents, such as Sputnik contributor Wyatt Reed, have told MintPress that their online reach collapsed after they reported on the civil war. Many of the accounts flagged by Valent as bots – likely wrongly – have been permanently suspended. Other prominent pro-Ethiopian activists unnamed in the report, including No More cofounder Simon Tesfamariam, have likewise been banned without warning, explanation or recourse. Meanwhile, prominent figures have engaged in outright hate speech about Ethiopians and no action has been taken.


Rania Khalek likewise alleges there was a “huge dip” in views of Breakthrough videos related to Ethiopia after they traveled to Addis Ababa, despite their initial output on the crisis generating vast numbers. Jeff Pearce, who is listed in the spreadsheet as “historian/propaganda [sic]”, believes his Twitter account to now be shadowbanned. Pearce told MintPress that,

I’m volcanically pissed that Valent has the gall to smear myself and my colleagues as Kremlin assets, or part of some info op run by Moscow. It’s beyond ridiculous and insulting. I’ve publicly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on several occasions – you can watch a speech I made on the war earlier this year on my YouTube channel.”

“We’ve traveled to Ethiopia multiple times, interviewed witnesses, investigated massacres, seen hospitals, universities and museums vandalized and looted by the TPLF,” he added. “I’ve published documents proving UN officials ignored war crimes and did nothing to help their own staff when they were assaulted and kidnapped. You can make up what you like, but you can’t transform the reality of over 100 million people.”


Whether Valent’s work on Ethiopia was also conducted for USAID is an open question, but the parallels with its Sudanese operations are clear and cohering. It may be significant that Samantha Power was one of the most prominent voices agitating for U.S. intervention in the civil war, declaring in August 2021 that “every option is on the table” for dealing with the crisis.

Moreover, the Valent report on “inauthentic behavior” states the company has identified “information operations in the Middle East and Africa,” while other leaked documents refer to Valent helping “supporting newly democratising governments” deal with “disinformation” for USAID – suggesting several other countries, and their populations, in the Agency’s crosshairs have likewise been in the firing line of Khan’s warped insight.


There is quite clearly an urgent need for social media platforms to review any and all suspensions that have been motivated by information provided by Valent Projects. It is inevitable that untold numbers of journalists, activists, academics and authentic civil society voices will have been purged on the most preposterous, unjust grounds imaginable as a result of Khan’s interventions. The only question is who was targeted, and where.


On June 7, it was revealed that Khan was also working closely with British journalist Paul Mason in an effort to deplatform The Grayzone, as part of a wider personal crusade against the anti-war, anti-imperialist left over the matter of Ukraine.

Leaked emails between the pair exposed how Mason suggested subjecting The Grayzone – which he baselessly and bizarrely believed to be a Chinese and Russian intelligence operation – to “relentless deplatforming” via “full nuclear legal” attacks, official probes by government bodies, and cutting the website and its contributors off from online donation sources such as PayPal.

This was a fate MintPress News, its founder Mnar Adley and senior staff writer Alan MacLeod suffered in May this year – an egregious development Mason spoke of approvingly in the leaked emails. In reality, MintPress does not support the Russian government, and staff such as MacLeod have publicly condemned Vladimir Putin for his actions.

Nevertheless, the conflict in Ukraine has grown the power of Western governments to directly dictate what is and is not true, and what their populations are and are not allowed to know, exponentially. Yet, their ability to distort and censor overseas is limited, if not outright waning – and that’s where Valent Projects comes in.


As such, the leaked documents reviewed by MintPress illuminate a hitherto unexplored purpose of online suppression and deplatforming: regime change. By filtering out troublesome viewpoints and inconvenient facts in target countries, governments can be destabilized, and who or what replaces them entrenched in power, with domestic and foreign audiences deprived of access to any and all critical viewpoints.

As the New Cold War grows considerably hotter every day, Khan’s services will surely become ever-increasingly in demand. Neither he nor his state and quasi-state sponsors can be allowed to succeed.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Kit Klarenberg is an investigative journalist and MintPresss News contributor exploring the role of intelligence services in shaping politics and perceptions. His work has previously appeared in The Cradle, Declassified UK, and Grayzone. Follow him on Twitter @KitKlarenberg.

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JULY 12TH, 2022

In this new MintPress investigation, journalist Alan MacLeod finds that Facebook has recruited dozens of individuals from the CIA, as well as many more from the FBI and Department of Defense (DoD). These hires are primarily in highly politically sensitive sectors such as trust, security and content moderation, to the point where some might feel it becomes difficult to see where the U.S. national security state ends and Facebook begins. 

It is an uncomfortable job for anyone trying to draw the line between “harmful content and protecting freedom of speech. It’s a balance”, Aaron says. In this official Facebook video, Aaron identifies himself as the manager of “the team that writes the rules for Facebook”, determining “what is acceptable and what is not.” Thus, he and his team effectively decide what content the platform’s 2.9 billion active users see and what they don’t see.

Aaron is being interviewed in a bright warehouse-turned-studio. He is wearing a purple sweater and blue jeans. He comes across as a very likable, smiley person. It is not an easy job, of course, but someone has to make those calls. “Transparency is incredibly important in the work that I do,” he says.

Aaron is CIA. Or at least he was until July 2019, when he left his job as a senior analytic manager at the agency to become senior product policy manager for misinformation at Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. In his 15-year career, Aaron Berman rose to become a highly influential part of the CIA. For years, he prepared and edited the president of the United States’ daily brief, “wr[iting] and overs[eeing] intelligence analysis to enable the President and senior U.S. officials to make decisions on the most critical national security issues,” especially on “the impact of influence operations on social movements, security, and democracy,” his LinkedIn profile reads. None of this is mentioned in the Facebook video.

Berman’s case is far from unique, however. Studying Meta’s reports, as well as employment websites and databases, MintPress has found that Facebook has recruited dozens of individuals from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as many more from other agencies like the FBI and Department of Defense (DoD). These hires are primarily in highly politically sensitive sectors such as trust, security and content moderation, to the point where some might feel it becomes difficult to see where the U.S. national security state ends and Facebook begins.

In previous investigations, this author has detailed how TikTok is flooded with NATO officials, how former FBI agents abound at Twitter, and how Reddit is led by a former war planner for the NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council. But the sheer scale of infiltration of Facebook blows these away. Facebook, in short, is utterly swarming with spooks.


In a political sense, trust, safety and misinformation are the most sensitive parts of Meta’s operation. It is here where decisions about what content is allowed, what will be promoted and who or what will be suppressed are made. These decisions affect what news and information billions of people across the world see every day. Therefore, those in charge of the algorithms hold far more power and influence over the public sphere than even editors at the largest news outlets.

There are a number of other ex-CIA agents working in these fields. Deborah Berman, for example, spent 10 years as a data and intelligence analyst at the CIA before recently being brought on as a trust and safety project manager for Meta. Little is known about what she did at the agency, but her pre-agency publications indicate she was a specialist on Syria.

Between 2006 and 2010, Bryan Weisbard was a CIA intelligence officer, his job entailing, in his own words, leading “global teams to conduct counter-terrorism and digital cyber investigations,” and “Identif[ying] online social media misinformation propaganda and covert influence campaigns”. Directly after that, he became a diplomat (underlining how close the line is between those two professions), and is currently a director of trust and safety, security and data privacy for Meta.

Meanwhile, the LinkedIn profile of Cameron Harris – a CIA analyst until 2019 – notes that he is now a Meta trust and safety project manager.

Harris Embed

Individuals from other state institutions abound as well. Emily Vacher was an FBI employee between 2001 and 2011, rising to the rank of supervisory special agent. From there she was headhunted by Facebook/Meta, and is now a director of trust and safety. Between 2010 and 2020, Mike Bradow worked for USAID, eventually becoming deputy director of policy for the organization. USAID is a U.S. government-funded influence organization which has bankrolled or stage managed multiple regime change operations abroad, including in Venezuela in 2002, Cuba in 2021, and ongoing attempts in Nicaragua. Since 2020, Meta has employed Bradow as a misinformation policy manager. 

Others have similar pasts. Neil Potts, a former intelligence officer with the U.S. Marine Corps, is vice president of trust and safety at Facebook. In 2020, Sherif Kamal left his job as a program manager at the Pentagon to take up the post of Meta trust and safety program manager.

Joey Chan currently holds the same trust and safety post as Kamal. Until last year, Chan was a U.S. Army officer commanding a company of over 100 troops in the Asia Pacific region.

None of this is to say that any of those named are not conscientious, that they are bad people or bad at their job. Vacher, for example, helped design Facebook’s amber alert program, notifying people to missing children in their area. But hiring so many ex-U.S. state officials to run Facebook’s most politically sensitive operations raises troubling questions about the company’s impartiality and its proximity to government power. Meta is so full of national security state agents that at some point, it almost becomes more difficult to find individuals in trust and safety who were not formerly agents of the state.

Despite its efforts to brand itself as a progressive, “woke” organization, the Central Intelligence Agency remains deeply controversial. It has been charged with overthrowing or attempting to overthrow numerous foreign governments (some of them democratically elected), helping prominent Nazis escape punishment after World War Two, funnelling large quantities of drugs and weapons around the world, penetrating domestic media outlets, routinely spreading false information and operating a global network of “black sites” where prisoners are repeatedly tortured. Therefore, critics argue that putting operatives from this organization in control of our news feeds is deeply inappropriate.

One of these critics is Elizabeth Murray, who, in 2010, retired from a 27-year career at the CIA and other U.S. intelligence organizations. “This is insidious,” Murray told MintPress, adding,

I see it as part of the gradual and sinister migration of ambitious young professionals originally trained (with CIA’s virtually unlimited, U.S.-taxpayer funded pot of resources) to surveil and target ‘the bad guys’ during the so-called Global War on Terror of the post-9-11 era.”

MintPress also contacted Facebook/Meta for comment but has not received a response.



Some may ask what the big fuss is. There is a limited pool of individuals with the necessary skills and experience in these new tech and cybersecurity fields, and many of them come from government institutions. Casinos, after all, regularly hire card sharks to protect themselves. But there is little evidence that this is a poacher-turned-gamekeeper scenario; Facebook is certainly not hiring whistleblowers. The problem is not that these individuals are incompetant. The problem is that having so many former CIA employees running the world’s most important information and news platform is only one small step removed from the agency itself deciding what you see and what we do not see online – and all with essentially no public oversight.

In this sense, this arrangement constitutes the best of both worlds for Washington. They can exert significant influence over global news and information flows but maintain some veneer of plausible deniability. The U.S. government does not need to directly tell Facebook what policies to enact. This is because the people in decision-making positions are inordinately those who rose through the ranks of the national security state beforehand, meaning their outlooks match those of Washington’s. And if Facebook does not play ball, quiet threats about regulation or breaking up the company’s enormous monopoly can also achieve the desired outcomes.

Again, this article is not claiming that any of the named individuals are nefarious actors, or even that they are anything but model employees. This is a structural problem. Put another way, if Facebook were hiring dozens of managers from Russian intelligence agencies like the FSB or GRU, everybody would recognize the inherent dangers. It should be little different when it hires individuals from the CIA, an organization responsible for some of the worst crimes of the modern era.



Facebook has also hired a plethora of ex-national security state officers to run its intelligence and online security operations. Until 2013, Scott Stern was a targeting officer at the CIA, rising to become chief of targeting. In this role, he helped select the targets for U.S. drone strikes across South and West Asia. Today, however, as a senior manager of risk intelligence for Meta, “misinformation” and “malicious actors” are his targets. Hopefully he is more accurate at Facebook than at the CIA, where the government’s own internal assessments show that at least 90% of Afghans killed in drone strikes were innocent civilians.

Other former CIA men at Facebook include Mike Torrey, who left his job as a senior analyst at the agency to become Meta’s technical lead of detection, investigations and disruptions of complex information operations threats, and former CIA contractor Hagan Barnett, who is now head of harmful content operations at the Silicon Valley giant.


Meta’s intelligence and online security team includes individuals from virtually every government agency imaginable. In 2015, Department of Defense intelligence officer Suzanna Morrow left her post to become director of global security intelligence for Meta. The FBI is represented by threat investigations manager Ellen Nixon and head of cyber espionage investigations Mike Dvilyanski. Facebook’s influence operations policy manager Olga Belogolova had stints at the State Department and the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Before Meta, David Agranovich and Nathaniel Gleicher both worked for the National Security Council. Agranovich is director of global threat disruption at Facebook while Gleicher is head of security policy. Hayley Chang, director and associate general counsel for cybersecurity and investigations, worked formerly for both the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. And Meta’s global head of interaction operations, David Hansell, was once an Air Force and Defense Intelligence Agency man.

One of Meta’s most outwardly-facing employees is its global threat intelligence lead for influence operations, Ben Nimmo, a character MintPress has covered before. Between 2011 and 2014, he served as NATO’s press officer, moving the next year to the Institute for Statecraft, a U.K. government-funded propaganda operation aimed at spreading misleading information about enemies of the British state. He was also a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, NATO’s semi-official think tank.

Perhaps then, it is not surprising that Facebook never seems to find U.S. government influence operations online – they are part of one!



While Meta has not unmasked any nefarious U.S. government action, it regularly uncovers what it claims are foreign disinformation campaigns. According to a recent Facebook report, the top five locations of coordinated inauthentic behavior between 2017 and 2020 on its platform are Russia, Iran, Myanmar, the United States and Ukraine. However, it was at pains to note that American operations were driven by fringe far-right elements, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists, and not the government.

This is despite the fact that it is now well-established that the Pentagon fields a clandestine army of at least 60,000 people whose job is to influence public opinion, the majority of them doing so from their keyboards. A Newsweek exposé from last year called it “The largest undercover force the world has ever known,” adding,

The explosion of Pentagon cyber warfare, moreover, has led to thousands of spies who carry out their day-to-day work in various made-up personas, the very type of nefarious operations the United States decries when Russian and Chinese spies do the same.”

Newsweek warned that this army was likely breaking both U.S. and international law by doing so, explaining that,

These are the cutting-edge cyber fighters and intelligence collectors who assume false personas online, employing ‘nonattribution’ and ‘misattribution’ techniques to hide the who and the where of their online presence while they search for high-value targets and collect what is called ‘publicly accessible information’—or even engage in campaigns to influence and manipulate social media.”

As far back as 2011, The Guardian was reporting on this enormous cyber force, whose job it was to “secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.” Yet the ex-military and ex-CIA officials Facebook employs do not seem to have found any trace of their former colleagues’ at work on the platform.



Since its beginnings in 2004, Facebook has grown to become a massive global empire and by far the most important news distributor the planet has ever known. The company boasts almost 3 billion active users, meaning that nearly 2 in 5 people worldwide use the platform. A recent 12-country study suggested that around 30% of the entire world gets its news via their Facebook feeds. This gives whoever is in charge of curating those feeds and controlling those algorithms inestimable power. It also represents a serious national security threat for all other countries, especially those that might wish to take a path independent from the United States. That those people are in large part former spooks makes this threat all the more perilous.

This is far from a hypothetical quandary. In November, less than a week before the country’s election, Facebook took the decision to delete hundreds of pages and accounts belonging to individuals and groups that supported the Nicaraguan Sandinista party – a longtime U.S. target for regime change. These included many of the nation’s most influential journalists and media outlets. Considering that around half of the country uses the platform for news and entertainment, the decision could barely have been more intrusive, and was likely designed to try to swing the election towards the pro-U.S. candidate.

Facebook claims that those accounts were bots engaged in “inauthentic behavior.” When those individuals migrated on to Twitter, recording videos identifying who they were to show they were not bots, Twitter immediately deleted those accounts too, in what was dubbed a coordinated attempt at suppression.

The individual behind this attempt was the aforementioned Ben Nimmo, who co-authored an unconvincing report, full of questionable assumptions and allegations. This included an insinuation that accounts following a pattern of activity whereby their Facebook usage levels peaked in the morning and afternoon and dwindled to almost nothing after midnight Nicaragua time suggested they were bots.

Facebook was also used by right-wing Cubans to attempt a U.S.-backed color revolution against the ruling Communist government last year.

Giving any individual or group that much control over the airwaves of communication raises huge questions about national security and sovereignty – doubly so when those individuals are so intimately connected to the U.S. national security state.


When asked what the public’s reaction would be to the news of such an intimate connection between Facebook her former employer, Murray stated that she was unsure whether many would be bothered:

I would like to think that the American public would strenuously object. However the CIA and other agencies have worked over many decades to cultivate a positive – indeed almost glamorous – image in the eyes of the vast majority of the public, mostly through TV series, Hollywood films, and favorable media coverage – so sadly my guess is that the vast majority of the public probably believes that these are the folks who should be in charge.”

However, she said, the news would likely land a very different way in countries that have been the target of Washington’s ire. “As you’re no doubt aware, the CIA has an atrocious public reputation in most parts of the world,” she added.


MintPress has found former representatives of the U.S. national security state in virtually every politically sensitive department at Facebook. This includes even higher levels. Between 2020 and 2021, Kris Rose was a member of Meta’s governance oversight board – the group responsible for the overall direction of the platform. He left his job at the Director of National Intelligence as the president’s daily brief writer to take up the role. Before that, he had spent six years at the CIA as a political and counterterrorism analyst. Meanwhile, Gina Kim Sumilas, Facebook’s director and associate general counsel for the Asia Pacific region, spent nearly twelve years in the CIA before moving into the tech private sector.

There is also considerable overlap with the U.S. government in the company’s front facing staff. Kadia Koroma, for instance, was plucked from her position as an FBI spokesperson in January 2020 to become media relations manager at Facebook. Jeffrey Gelman, policy communications manager for Facebook’s oversight board, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and held influential roles in both the State Department and the National Security Council. And executive communications spokesman Kevin Lewis spent many years in the White House as President Obama’s spokesperson.

Meta’s vice president of legal strategy is Rachel Carlson Lieber, who went straight from the CIA into Facebook. Her first role at the Silicon Valley giant was as head of the North America regulatory and strategic response, a department that continues to feature a number of former state officials. This includes head of strategic programs, Robert Flaim, who spent more than twenty years as an FBI, and Erin Clancy, who left a 16-year career at the State Department to become a manager of strategic response policy.

Clancy’s official work centered around U.S. policy in the Middle East. Her own bio boasts that she worked on the U.S. sanctions regime placed on Iraq and Sudan. She also worked at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus at the time of the Arab Spring and the beginning of the Syrian Civil War. It is known that she also coordinated closely with the White Helmets, a controversial aid organization that some have alleged is far too close to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Even after her Facebook appointment, Clancy moonlighted as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and as a fellow at the Atlantic Council, the hawkish body that serves as NATO’s brain trust.

Why are these national security state officials so attractive to Meta? One reason, Murray explained, is financial. “By snagging a CIA employee a company can save a considerable sum,” she said, explaining that, “The individual has likely undergone extensive professional training (at taxpayer expense) and probably has a security clearance,” something that is difficult, expensive and time-consuming to obtain in private sector work. Therefore, companies dealing with matters of state secrecy (such as defense contractors) have historically courted both current and former officers to fill their ranks, enticing them with much higher salaries than they can receive in government service.

What is new (or at least newly known to us!) is that now these professionals are being sought after by social media companies like Facebook, Google and others who are now heavily into monitoring, surveilling, and censoring content, and then sharing data about users with U.S. government entities,” Murray added.

Such is the need for these individuals in these fields that private companies often hire former national security agents to do the recruiting for them. For instance, John Papp, who spent 12 years at the CIA as a senior intelligence officer and 4 years as an imagery analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, went on to work as a recruiter for many of the largest defense contractors in Washington. These included Booz Allen Hamilton, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, IBM and Lockheed Martin. Today, he works as a recruiter for Meta.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Meta also employs former spooks for their internal security operations. The company’s vice president, chief security officer is Nick Lovrien, a former counterterrorism operations officer at the CIA, while its head of insider protection is ex-CIA operational psychologist and “undercover officer” Nicole Alford.

Meanwhile, Meta’s director of global security governance – the individual reportedly responsible for the personal safety of Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg – is Jill Leavens Jones. Jones left her job as a U.S. Secret Service special agent to take the appointment. And director of global security operations Alexander Carrillo continued on as a lieutenant commander in the Coast Guard for several months after his appointment at Facebook. The company also hires former feds to work directly with law enforcement on legal issues. One example of this is former FBI special agent Brian Kelley.


45 years ago, legendary journalist Carl Bernstein released an investigation documenting how the CIA had managed to infiltrate U.S. and global media. The CIA had placed hundreds of agents into newsrooms and had convinced hundreds more reporters to collaborate with them. These included individuals at some of the most influential outlets, including The New York Times. The CIA needed to do this clandestinely because any attempt to do so openly would harm the effectiveness of the operation and provoke stiff public resistance. But by 2015, there was barely a murmur of disapproval when Reuters announced that it was hiring 33-year veteran CIA manager and director Dawn Scalici as a global director, even when the company announced that her primary responsibility was to “advanc[e] Thomson Reuters’ ability to meet the disparate needs of the U.S. government.”

Facebook, however, is vastly more influential than the New York Times or Reuters, reaching billions of people daily. In that sense, it stands to reason that it would be a prime target of any intelligence organization. It has become so big and ubiquitous that many consider it a de facto public commons and believe it should no longer be treated as a private company. Considering who is making many of the decisions on the platform, that distinction between public and private entities is even more blurry than many presume.

Feature photo | Graphic by MintPress News

Alan MacLeod 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, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.


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