I get an email newsletter everyday from THE SOURCE, produced by something called The Intelligence Community, LLC, which markets itself as "the largest LinkedIn group for National Security professionals" and is building a business based upon nonpartisan expertise and insight. Yesterday's piece screaming ISIS just eight miles from Texas caught my eye, because this "community" of current and former government intelligence people must know something—my membership fee told me. And yet when I dug deeper, what I discovered was just an ecosystem of viral idiocy, of which Gawker is often criticized as being a part. And I learned another lesson: how the fight for eyeballs drives stupid stories, makes us all dumber and just increases the power of the permanocracy.
Here's what came in:
|Daily Terrorism Brief||Issue: Apr 15, 2015|
Today's DTB reports that an ISIS recruiting camp is eight miles from the U.S. border, near El Paso, Texas, according to DTB sources, a Mexican Army field grade officer and a Mexican Federal Police Inspector. Mexican law enforcement, military and intelligence are unable to control the area because three cartels control the territory. Until this point, Government officials have denied the claims.
"Until this point, Government officials have denied the claims" sounds like Daily Terrorism Brief (DTB)/THE SOURCE is endorsing the story, citing a bunch of interesting potential people, but no original "source" was listed for the information. So I went to the website—"An Exclusive Unclassified Professional Network for Intelligence and National Security Professionals"—to check, only to learn that the story came from the Washington Times, which I would label of the conservative/Moonie bent.
The Washington Times picked up its story from Judicial Watch, which I would label right wing, which cited the same exact list of DTB sources to claim that the news was confirmed by Mexican authorities. It made some sense that the simpatico Washington Times would pick up the story, though to the Times' credit, it did say that
Mexican authorities ... disputed the Judicial Watch findings. 'The government of Mexico dismissed and categorically denies each of the statements made today by the organization Judicial Watch on the alleged presence of ISIS...
The denial wasn't enough for an editor to say to the Times reporter don't do the story if it's wrong, or at least get a second source to confirm if you insist, but at least it's there in the fine print.
But the propagator, my fee-based Intelligence Community, LLC, (former and current intelligence experts and even reserve officers), didn't cite The Washington Times or Judicial Watch, in which case I might have just ignored the "news." So, I thought: DTB must have confirmed this independently.
I went to the website to look at their member's only discussion groups and found further amplification, quoting Fox Latin America—who knew!—but not much more. So I wrote to Intelligence Community, LLC, and got an answer from Craig S. Byrnes, Vice President for Business Development, Media & Technology:
Hi Mr. Arkin
Thank you for sending your feedback about our product, and thank you for your business. I wanted to respond personally to give you a little insight on the decision to include a mention of this article in today's DTB. The Source WORLDBEAT is driven by a collection system that harvests content from 806 reputable news outlets, and references and collates with a separate collection system which harvests from 11,000 sources bringing in 50,000 articles an hour. Our intent is to monitor the world's heartbeat so to say. We have formulas in place that red flag issues that are "trending" or "relevant" based on information I am not at liberty to discuss. At the time of publishing this particular article had been published by in excess of 42 news outlets and had millions of social media mentions. We do not endorse what is said by sources we simply convey to you our reader what is being discussed in the realm.
I personally made the decision to not cut that paragraph from DTB based on these factors:
a-our analyst properly attributed statements made in the report and did not provide any bias or opinion in regard to its validity.
b-The sources of the information cited by the author of the original report were included in our summary.
c-I personally reached out to confidential informants and was able to unofficially confirm the facts.
d-this is not the first mention of these camps....similar reporting occurred from August 2014 until October 2014.
e-location is key because this region is a red zone of vulnerability and a "watched" area. Even if the article had not been published it is a potential futures scenario that is monitored and war-gamed.
By making a mention of this we have at least allowed for the concept to be considered by a wider audience such as yourself allowing for heightened alert and awareness of issues affecting our US Southwest border region. We maintain a neutral objective political stance and are concerned with making sense of the noise for national security purposes. If we were doctors monitoring a human heart beat and we heard a threatening abnormality, and did not mention it, and then later a heart-attack occurs as a result of that abnormality, we would be doing a disservice because if we shared that information the patient could arguably still be alive. So, in order to sustain our validity as a "competent OSINT newsletter" to use your words, I opted to mention the abnormality because no one wants to have a surprise heart-attack that could have been prevented.
He made the decision? A Starbucks-trained nobody?
And that "abnormality" Mr. Byrnes refers to? These "doctors" monitoring the heart are not actually listening to the heartbeat in Juarez. They are listening to the heartbeat in Crazyville and reporting as if it is the heartbeat in Juarez. So for everyone else with a heart, they say there is an irregular beat, pretending it's in Juarez when in fact it's an irregular beat on the Internet.
And those "42 news outlets" that have reported this, as if that means it's a story worth reporting? A search on Google News shows a cavalcade of liberty- and patriotic-appealing sites, not one "mainstream." And Media Matters in America, the anti-Judicial Watch, also got into the fray, condemning the rumor-mongering.
In the end, this story on ISIS being eight miles from the border is a pile of shit, so much so that the local congressman—Beto O'Rourke of the 16th district of Texas (covering El Paso)—felt he had to respond to the social media hype and his constituents in a Facebook post:
"Today I reached out to the Mexican government, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Northern Command.
None of them have found any evidence, credible or otherwise, that Isis is in Juárez....
As a member of the House Homeland Security committee in the 113th Congress, I asked the director of the FBI, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center and the Secretary of Homeland Security if there was currently any terrorist threat on the Southern border. They answered that there was not, nor had there ever been, any terrorist, terrorist plot, or terrorist organization that was able to exploit our border with Mexico."
My new favorite congressman.
Now here's what's really screwed up: I'm guessing you read this story because of the headline about Gawker. Like all of the other upstarts/startups competing for attention, Gawker is part of this same ecosystem, fighting to get out there, to make money, which means headlines. I'm impressed with the editing here, but I also feel the tyranny of the headline, of the need for snark, irreverence that is ever more needed when it comes to taking on our fucked-up government, but more often than not directed at other news media organizations or preening celebrities.
I think this ISIS story on Mexico has an impact, contributing to the government's over-selling of the threat and making "intelligence" more about the atmospherics of an issue than the facts. If the Intelligence Community, LLC, were a real organization, it would have reported on the ridiculous ISIS story and asked why it was circulating in the first place.
The snark I will get back from the Gawkersphere will, I predict, be: Fuck them all. How can we believe anyone, why trust the military or the Department of Homeland Security, lying Congressman, too complicated, they are all liars; I'll just make up my own mind... Oh, great ones: Prove me wrong. The facts matter.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow us at @gawkerphasezero. If you are into the theater of being underground, you can anonymously deliver tips through the Gawker Media SecureDrop. I've got a book on drones coming out in July called Unmanned: Drones, Data and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare. I'm open to your input and your questions, tough questions.