from MintPress News:
To [Omidyar] it’s … about … integrating things together to give technocrats, business executives and government officials a God’s-eye view of the world — to manage and control society more efficiently.” — Yasha Levine, author of “Surveillance Valley: The Military History of the Internet”
As we have seen in part one of this investigation, billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar has partnered closely with many of the U.S.-funded outfits that fulfill the role the CIA used to play during the Cold War in backing opposition media and civil society in countries targeted for regime change. However, Omidyar has also sought state-of-the-art design solutions from a shady U.S. government national security consulting firm with a myriad of ties to the hawkish D.C. foreign policy establishment.
In February of last year, USAID’s Global Development Lab published a series of reports furnished for it by a small, Arlington, Virginia-based company focused on design solutions for national security problems, with a mere 10 employees listed on its website and eight on its LinkedIn page. Those reports caught the attention of journalist Michael Igoe at Devex on Tuesday.
The company, Frontier Design Group, analyzed the feasibility of essentially militarizing USAID. The report proposals like “Rapid Expeditionary Development” (RED) teams. Those teams would be embedded with U.S. Special Forces, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration outside of typical USAID areas of operation.
They would be “trained and authorized to conduct themselves as a force-multiplier able to contribute a full suite of security skills as needed,” the documents suggested. RED team officers would also be trained for “survival, evasion, resistance, and escape,” negotiations, civil reconnaissance, “and weapons qualification courses.”
The report also analyzed the possibility of creating a “Civilian Response Groups” — an organization that sounds like the White Helmets if they were directly controlled by Washington.
Frontier interviewed 36 experts for its report, including a 15-year USAID veteran who told them, “we have to be involved in national security or USAID will not be relevant.” The issue identified by many in the report was that USAID was losing its cutting edge and was hamstrung because it was not allowed to operate in conflict zones.
USAID told Devex that it is “still working on the details in formulating the Rapid Expeditionary Development Teams initiative.”
Another Frontier Design Group client is the Omidyar Group, further demonstrating the eBay founder’s proximity to shady government contractors.
Frontier Design Group touts its work with the Omidyar Group on a number of its posts on Instagram. It also lists Omidyar Group second in its portfolio. Other Frontier Design Group clients include the Council on Foreign Relations think tank and U.S. Army Special Forces.
Karen Grattan — a senior advisor at Frontier Design Group, with a background in “conduct[ing] study and analysis within the Operations Analysis Division of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command” — has even more extensive ties to Omidyar. She is the founder and CEO of Engaging Inquiry, a Fairfax, Virginia-based firm that has enjoyed the Omidyar Group as a client since 2015. Alsoon its client roster are Omidyar’s Democracy Fund and Humanity United, as well as USAID and the Department of Defense.
The Omidyar Group’s liaison to Frontier Design Solutions appears to be Systems Complexity Coach Robert Ricigliano, a founder of the Alliance for Peacebuilding. This network has previously hostedGrattan for a panel that tackled issues such as “can online bots build peace?”
Omidyar’s cultural Cold War
While quietly partnering with USAID and a firm at the forefront of the fight to keep the agency “relevant,” Omidyar, along with a select group of fellow billionaires, is also performing a critical service by providing a private funding channel for cultural vehicles that advance the agenda of Western foreign policy.
At the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, a short buddy comedy called The Climb generated a minor buzz. Weeks later, it was snapped up by a studio called Topic through its “digital storytelling platform.” The studio turned out to be a for-profit arm of Omidyar’s First Look Media, which invests heavily in filmmaking and documentary production. The film festival also happened to be a beneficiary of Omidyar’s spending, with Luminate donating to the Sundance Institute for creation of films “used strategically to articulate pressing public issues and movement-building campaigns.”
Among the films cited by Omidyar’s Luminate as a strategic success was The Last Men in Aleppo, an Oscar-nominated propaganda vehicle for the Syrian White Helmets that was produced by the Sundance Institute. The White Helmets are a Syrian insurgent-aligned “civil rescue” group founded in Turkey by a British former military intelligence officer. Operating exclusively in rebel-held territory, including in the al Qaeda-controlled Idlib province, the White Helmets have been funded by USAID, the U.K. Foreign Office and the Qatari monarchy.
Through its U.K.-based public-relations arm, the Syria Campaign, the White Helmets were at the forefront of a public-relations push for U.S. airstrikes and sanctions against the state of Syria. Omidyar’s The Intercept served as a vehicle for that PR campaign, featuring a piece by staff writer Murtaza Hussain that read like a press release for the White Helmets.
Through Topic and another film studio that Omidyar funds – First Look’s Field of Vision “documentary unit” – the billionaire has overseen two productions on the Panama Papers, named after the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, whose internal documents were leaked to a German newspaper. The document trove exposed the internal data of 214,000 offshore companies, revealing financial corruption on a global scale.
Alongside Topic’s forthcoming “The Laundromat,” a thriller starring Meryl Streep and Antonio Banderas, First Look produced the 2018 “Panama Papers” documentary. The latter film starred Luke Harding, the longtime Moscow correspondent for the Guardian, a liberal British newspaper that Omidyar also funds through his Humanity United. “If you find money tied to Bashar al-Assad and to Putin, maybe it’s not such a good idea that only I know,” one journalist featured in the documentary trailer intoned.
In 2017, the year after the Panama Papers were leaked, and the same year a similar document trove called the Paradise Papers was released, Omidyar ponied up $100 million to fund media groups like the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). According to an Omidyar Group press release, the massive injection of funding to ICIJ was aimed at “address[ing the] trust deficit” by helping the group host the Panama and Paradise Papers.