Originally published at almayadeen.net
The intelligence community’s “color revolution” playbook is simple: spur protests in foreign countries, make them appear organic and popular, and then use their momentum to advance your agenda. From Ukraine to the “Arab Spring“, the playbook has run its course across the globe, undermining the sovereignty of nation-states challenging or otherwise obstructing US hegemony.
A constant, yet lesser-known feature in color revolutions and other forms of foreign meddling, however, is Western-backed media groups’ operations in countries targeted by the West, which advance policy frameworks and manufacture movements in ways that make them appear genuine to locals and far-away spectators alike.
Flush with foreign money and likewise pushing for Western-aligned goals and perspectives, Western-backed media groups are a critical part of the “soft-power” intelligence infrastructure that makes color revolutions and other foreign interventions so successful, despite their frequent deployment on the world stage. To demonstrate how they operate and influence global affairs, I discuss critical examples of Western-backed press organizations driving public discourse and opinion, major policy proposals and frameworks, and even color revolutions, including Ukraine’s Hromadske, Georgia’s Rustavi-2, and the United States Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL, Inc.) and Radio Free Asia.
Western-backed media organizations’ influence around the world
Western-backed media groups frequently share distinct characteristics. First, they are often buoyed by suspected intelligence proxies, including the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Former NED Acting President Allen Weinstein openly spoke to the NED-CIA relationship in a 1991 admission, explaining that “a lot of what [the NED does] today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA… Openness is its own protection.” Second, Western-propped media organizations often center democratic values and the appearance of a grassroots background (i.e., “free speech”, “independence”, and “independent media”) in their messaging, using such appearances as a guise to drive public opinion and policy frameworks that often subject theoretically sovereign nations to the whims of the West.
The long-standing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) organization, which played a major role in communism’s collapse, for example, meets these descriptions in critical ways. As the words “free” and “liberty” in its organizational names suggest, the group paints itself as a beacon of democracy, with a mission “to promote democratic values by providing accurate, uncensored news and open debate in countries where a free press is threatened and disinformation is pervasive.” But the organization’s pro-democracy veneer does little to hide the group’s intelligence ties: the New York Times even called RFE/RL “a worldwide propaganda network built by the CIA” in 1977. Still, with Radio Free Europe’s 1949 launch and Radio Liberty’s first broadcast in 1953 as “Radio Liberation from Bolshevism,” the organization’s longevity elucidates Western-funded media groups’ success as a soft-power tactic.
Today, RFE/RL is one of several newsgroups facilitated by the United States Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which also oversees adjacent organizations Voice of America (VOA), Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks (MBN), and the Open Technology Fund.
The collective of USAGM organizations has a wide reach: in the Eastern hemisphere, for example, RFE/RL counterpart Radio Free Asia provides US-backed coverage of world events to counter China’s growing influence over global affairs. Radio Free Asia is especially infamous for spreading unsubstantiated claims about ongoing conditions for the Uyghur people in China’s autonomous Xinjiang region, which they and other researchers, groups, and governments hostile to China have disingenuously described as amounting to forced labor and even genocide.
The Florida-based Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB), further, runs organizations like Radio Martí, TV Martí, and Martí Noticias in efforts to reach nearby Cubans. Notably, panel experts conducting an independent audit on the organization in 2019 felt they were “peppered with bad journalism” during their review of OCB materials, which they deemed mediocre.
Altogether, the USAGM’s global network of media groups aims to dominate airwaves internationally, ensuring people everywhere are inundated with Western perspectives on global affairs. But while many are aware of Radio Free organizations’ long-term use as a soft-power tool, the US and other aligned countries and groups fund many other press organizations and publications elsewhere, especially in or for nations often considered resistant or obstructive to America’s bottom line.
Ukraine’s US-backed Euromaidan in late 2013 and early 2014, for example, where democratically elected Viktor Yanukovych was swapped for a NATO-inclined Petro Poroshenko, was successful in part due to the work of Western-backed and then-newly minted news publication Hromadske. The organization, as reporter Kit Klarenberg elucidates in his Substack, helped drive Euromaidan’s success by creating the appearance of popular support amongst Ukrainians, who were actually divided in their support for Euromaidan. Still a force in Ukrainian media almost ten years later, Hromadske now provides a Western slant on the current war in Ukraine.
In neighboring Georgia, a recent wave of protests crushed foreign agents’ bills slated to require foreign-backed groups, including media organizations receiving Western support, to register as foreign agents, as is standard in countries like the United States. As I previously noted in Al Mayadeen English, active promoters of the protests (including on social media) and a larger pro-European sentiment often belonged to Western-backed groups, such as media groups like Open Caucasus Media (OC Media) and the US-backed Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.
While stopping short of a color revolution, Georgia’s recent protests appeared within the context of decades of foreign meddling in the country, where a slew of Western-backed organizations, including media groups and publications, has been involved in the country’s affairs — and government changes. One example is the Georgian-based television channel Rustavi-2, which, with Western financial and developmental support, contributed greatly toward the success of the US-backed Rose Revolution of the early 2000s as an opposition mouthpiece. Addressing the impact of foreign interference in Georgia’s political affairs — in which foreign-supported media groups like Rustavi-2 certainly played a role — former Georgian Foreign Minister and current Georgian President Salomé Zourabichvili wrote in the French journal Herodote in 2008 that Western and elite-supported efforts to realize the Rose Revolution led to their subsequent “integrat[ion] into power.”
Reporters Ajit Singh and Roscoe Palm, likewise, elucidate the US penetration of African media groups for Monthly Review Online in an August 2022 article. They point out, for example, that CIA-front National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has repeatedly supported the South African publication Mail & Guardian via the Adamela Trust, including grants to the Mail & Guardian’s The Continent project. A digital newspaper “by Africans, for Africans,” The Continent’s designed for use on WhatsApp due to the messaging app’s popularity in Africa. Despite the publication’s efforts to cater to regional audience needs, The Continent’s NED funds, and especially NED monies targeted toward covering “disinformation trends,” give pause to Singh and Palm, who raise concerns as to “whether Washington is wielding influence over editorial decisions at the outlet to target political adversaries in the region.”
In their Monthly Review Online article, Singh and Palm also highlight that billionaires George Soros’ Open Society Foundation and Pierre Omidyar’s Luminate financially support the South African Media Innovation Program, a program supporting 24 media groups with plans to expand to other countries. As both billionaires have track records of buoying questionable media groups — Soros, for example, has supported the National Endowment for Democracy’s (NED) Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA), and previous funder for The Intercept, Omidyar, has funded or otherwise partnered with pro-regime change networks and CIA cutouts in the past — the move forces speculation as to how their funds may sway the output of a multitude of African-based publications, especially in ways that favor the West’s bottom line.
Meanwhile, other US- and intelligence-backed organizations take on elaborate appearances to disseminate information to the populace on their terms. Intelligence proxy Bellingcat, for example, portrays itself as an independent, open-source investigative hub to bolster mainstream news narratives about current events, including the wars in Syria and Ukraine. The public’s growing skepticism of Bellingcat, such as from mainstream public figures like Elon Musk, however, perhaps reveals deepening cracks in the intelligence community’s media strategies.
Ultimately, press organizations like the ones I’ve described ensure the US and aligned powers have a media framework well-suited to their interests and needs around the world. Even if their reporting carries little weight under scrutiny, the sheer amount of resources, personnel, and time used to create and operate such media systems and groups means they are often successful, either in driving certain policy agendas or by convincing the public that Western intervention in other countries is somehow about democracy or advancing human rights.
Western-backed media organizations like Rustavi-2, the Mail & Guardian, and Hromadske have driven public opinion, Western-favored policy frameworks, and even regime change in countries resistant to or otherwise obstructing American hegemony for decades, shaping international relations as we know them today. While such press organizations influence affairs around the world, they also help ensure public opinion at home favors the United States and aligned powers by crafting and propagating a picture of a West that acts righteously.
Influence over the minds and hearts of the people is everything: that’s why the intelligence community allocates millions each year to developing and maintaining a Western-friendly media infrastructure across the globe. If color revolutions and other Western infringements on nations’ affairs are to be derailed, these compromised media organizations must be recognized and called out for what they are: Western propaganda machines.