Some of you already know who Cass Sunstein is. He's a close friend of the President and currently the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where he is responsible for "overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality and statistical programs."
WTF is "information quality," you might ask. Sounds a bit Orwellian, but surely that term must date back to Bush. No appointee of this Administration would be up to something nefarious.
If you thought that, you would probably be wrong.
More after the break.
Glenn Greenwald posted about this in Salon on January 15. I came across Greenwald's article in the comments on "Naked Capitalism," and couldn't believe it when I did a search here and found nothing. Here's the crux of it:
In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-"independent" advocates to "cognitively infiltrate" online groups and websites -- as well as other activist groups -- which advocate views that Sunstein deems "false conspiracy theories" about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens' faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper's abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.
Now let's step back a minute. Before we start making a list of Kossacks who might be on a mission from Sunstein, we should apply a little skepticism. After all, Greenwald is one of those "Obama-haters," isn't he? (I forget who it was that told me that.) Just because a guy wrote a paper while he taught at some fancy-schmanzy law school doesn't mean that he's implementing those policies. He wrote that paper a long, long time ago--er, 18 months ago--and I'm sure he's grown tremendously as a lawyer and a person since then.
It is just a little troubling, though, when we consider something else that Mr. Sunstein wrote in that paper. Greenwald reports that he proposed "that the Government make secret payments to so-called "independent" credible voices to bolster the Government's messaging (on the ground that those who don't believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). Mr. Sunstein thought what the government had done to pay generals to spout pro-war stuff before and during Iraq was a cool idea. He liked those payments to Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher. His only criticism was that the Bush Administration had been ham-handed about the whole thing so it had been easy to catch them at it. See, \Democrats take pride in being more competent at fighting wars, spying on Americans and disseminating propaganda than Republicans.
It turned out, however, that it was harder than Sunstein thought to keep it secret that you were buying "independent" experts to promote your talking points. A few weeks ago, it came out that one of the "independent experts" who had been promoting the Administration's approach to reforming healthcare, Jonathan Gruber, was not disclosing that he was receiving substantial money from HHS. It was also embarrassing that the Administration itself repeatedly cited Dr. Gruber as an "independent" voice who supported their plan without making any disclosures. Oops.
So let's review. Cass Sunstein wrote a paper 18 months ago advocating that the government do some pretty nasty things to get people to agree with them. It turns out that the government was actually doing at least one of those things--paying "independents" to spout the Administration line.
So is it relevant that he also advocated sending out government-paid astroturfers to websites? If you've been feeling "cognitively infiltrated" lately, does this explain a lot?