Staffed by NATO military officers and former government ministers and notorious for training the West’s top spies, the Department of War Studies at King’s College London is also providing the workforce for many of the largest social media companies. This includes Facebook, TikTok, Google, and Twitter.
A MintPress study of professional databases and employment websites reveals a wide network of War Studies alumni holding many of the most influential jobs in media, constituting a silent army of individuals who influence what the world sees (and does not see) in its social media feeds.
Set in an imposing building near the banks of the River Thames in Central London, the Department of War Studies is at the heart of the British establishment. Current staff includes the former Secretary General of NATO, former U.K. Minister of Defense, and a host of military officers from NATO and NATO-aligned countries.
It is also a favored training ground for the secret services. A 2009 report published by the CIA described how beneficial it is to “use universities as a means of intelligence training,” writing that “exposure to an academic environment, such as the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, can add several elements that may be harder to provide within the government system,” also mentioning that the department’s faculty have “extensive and well-rounded intelligence experience.”
In 2013, then-Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta gave a speech at the department. “I deeply appreciate the work that you do to train and to educate our future national security leaders, many of whom are in this audience,” he said, adding that expansion into tech, surveillance, and cyberwarfare was of critical importance.
Last year, MintPress investigated the department’s intelligence links more deeply.
Moreover, the university has freely admitted to having entered into a number of secret funding agreements with the U.K. Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense. However, it has refused to elaborate on these contracts, telling investigative news outlet Declassified U.K. that doing so could undermine national security.
While the Department of War Studies plays a key role in producing the West’s intelligence operatives, it also trains many of the world’s top journalists, as well as social media managers, whose task it is to protect us from the misinformation put out by the others. As such, it is a central part of the new high-tech information war being waged between Russia and the West, in which the national security state is increasingly taking control over the means of communication under the guise of protecting us from the Kremlin.
At any one time, the department educates around 1,000 students, many of whom have gone on to become top military commanders, intelligence chiefs, and government officials, both in the West and in countries as disparate as Jordan, Nigeria, and Singapore. But increasingly, large numbers of War Studies graduates are finding employment in the most influential media outlets on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Silicon Valley.
Chief amongst the social media companies where War Studies graduates hold considerable sway is Facebook (now rebranded as Meta). For example, while working at senior levels in the U.K. government, Mark Smith pursued a Master’s at the department, completing it in 2009. Between 2007 and 2017, he worked for the Ministry of Defense, the Foreign Office, and the National Security Secretariat. According to his own LinkedIn profile, he was deployed overseas three times as a political advisor to top NATO military commanders and was a key figure in strategizing responses to ISIS and other terrorist groups, as well as working on the Ministry of Defense’s response to the Scottish independence question.
In 2017, Smith moved straight from the government to Meta, where he is now the Global Director of Global Content Management, giving him considerable power to dictate what is allowed and what is censored from the world’s biggest news and media platform.
Facebook’s Global Director of Strategic Response is also a former War Studies student. After graduating, Caitlin Baker worked on Middle Eastern counterterrorism policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in Washington and as Director for Jordan and Lebanon at the National Security Council at the White House. Between 2015 and 2017, she was also VP Joe Biden’s Middle East Policy Advisor. During this time period, the administration rapidly expanded its drone program, coming to bomb seven countries simultaneously.
In October 2017, Baker moved seamlessly from the Defense Secretary’s office to work for Facebook’s strategic response team, rising to become a global director. The strategic response team decides how Facebook will react to global events like elections, wars and coups, determining what content will be permissible and which views will be banned or suppressed.
There are many more War Studies graduates in influential roles at Facebook, including:
- Louis Babington-Reynolds, Public Policy Manager for Dangerous Organizations;
- Monica Thurmond Allen, Director of Public Policy for Campaigns and Programs;
- Claire Akkaoui, Intelligence Lead for Europe, the Middle East and Africa;
- Olivia Minor, Intelligence Analyst for Europe, the Middle East and Africa;
- Évia Orlando, Imminent Risk Project Manager;
- Fiona Moodie, Lead Regulatory Litigation Counsel;
- Dane Roth, Design Program Manager;
- Kettianne Cadet, Program Manager, People Experience.
While this is certainly not to say that all those mentioned are government plants, or even that they are anything but model employees, this connection does come at a time when Facebook has rapidly begun intertwining itself with the national security state. In 2018, the company announced that, in a bid to combat fake news, it was partnering with NATO think tank, the Atlantic Council, in a deal that gave the latter significant influence on the platform’s content. Today, Facebook’s head of intelligence is NATO’s former press officer. And a MintPress study published last month detailed how the company has hired dozens of former CIA officials, many of whom now hold the most politically sensitive positions in the company and are in charge of deciding what billions of users see daily.
War Studies alumni also hold or held several influential positions on the video platform TikTok. These include Haniyyah Rahman-Shepherd, an intelligence analyst who works on threat detection and identifying hate speech, extremism, and mis- and disinformation; Michelle Caley, content strategy leader; Manish Gohil, a former risk analyst for TikTok; Alexandra Dinca, investigations lead; Jeanne Sun, safety program manager; and Tom Dudley, head of physical security.
Scott O’Brien, meanwhile, worked for both Facebook and TikTok, first as an intelligence analyst for Facebook, where he specialized in “human rights investigations” in “at-risk countries,” according to his LinkedIn. He is now an influence operations intelligence and discovery analyst at TikTok. Before that, he worked for the infamous intelligence agency, Pinkerton.
In recent times, TikTok has been the recipient of significant amounts of government attention. From the Trump administration’s threats to ban the platform altogether to the news that President Biden was briefing TikTok stars on how they should cover the war in Ukraine, the U.S. government, it appears, performed a 180-degree turn on the app. This occurred at the same time as the company began employing large numbers of state functionaries in key positions, including individuals from NATO, the White House, and the CIA. A MintPress investigation detailing all this described it as a “NATO to TikTok pipeline.”
TWITTER AND GOOGLE
Twitter has comparatively fewer War Studies alumni. But some are in important positions. For instance, Global Program Manager Sean Ryan describes his role as “lead[ing] a global program team that drives a holistic understanding of Twitter’s dynamic risk and threat landscape while working across the cyber, physical, information, platform, policy, health, and reputation domains.” He notes that his analysis, “informs the decision-making of strategic leadership while supporting key policies across multiple teams.”
Twitter’s director of insider risk and investigations, Bruce A., is also a former KCL man. Bruce A. spent 23 years in the FBI, becoming a supervisory special agent, leaving the bureau in 2020 to directly transfer to Twitter.
Bruce is one of just dozens of FBI agents and analysts that Twitter has hired in the past few years – the majority of whom have been parachuted into highly politically sensitive fields, such as security, content moderation and trust and safety, thus effectively giving the bureau considerable influence over the platform’s content and outlook.
For a single department in one college of a university, it is remarkable the impact that the Department of War Studies has had on the field of journalism as well. The department punches vastly above its weight, with alumni in most of the world’s top media outlets, including CNN, NBC News, The New York Times, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as a host of individuals populating the ranks of the British state broadcaster, the BBC. Indeed, it appears that if breaking into the field of journalism is the goal, then a degree from the Department of War Studies is more helpful than one from King’s College London’s Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, its de facto journalism school.
Some of these journalists cut their teeth at investigative outlets Bellingcat and Graphika, both of whom are funded by the U.S. government and both of whom put out questionable reports demonizing official enemy nations. No fewer than six Bellingcat employees or contributors — including Cameron Colquhoun, Jacob Beeders, Lincoln Pigman, Aliaume Leroy, Christiaan Triebert and senior investigator Nick Waters — all pursued postgraduate studies within the department. Indeed, Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins joined the Department of War Studies in 2018 as a visiting research associate.
Graphika, meanwhile, is also inordinately staffed by KCL War Studies graduates. Together, these two groups pump out highly-publicized “intelligence” reports warning of nefarious actions committed by Russia or other official enemy states, all while quietly being funded by the U.S. national security state themselves.
The Department of War Studies publishes similar work to Graphika. Indeed, its faculty was crucial in propagating the idea of Russian interference in American elections, being the source of many of the most far-reaching claims about Moscow’s influence in American society. Reports published by the department accuse Russia of carrying out a campaign of “information-psychological warfare” and advise that military spending should be increased and that NATO must re-up its commitment to countering Russia. Professor Thomas Rid even testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the “dark art” of Russian meddling and condemned WikiLeaks and alternative media journalists as unwitting agents of disinformation.
Many of the organizations detailed above were also identified as proposed members of a Western government-aligned “counter”-propaganda nexus hoping to be established by the EXPOSE Network. EXPOSE was allegedly a secret U.K.-government-funded initiative that would have brought together journalists and state operatives in an alliance to shape public discourse in a manner more conducive to the priorities of Western governments.
The Department of War Studies’ Dr. Neville Bolt was on the organization’s preliminary advisory panel, alongside Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council (NATO’s think tank) and Ben Nimmo, former NATO press officer, and ex-director of investigations for Graphika, and Facebook’s current head of intelligence. Training support, meanwhile, would be provided by individuals from Bellingcat.
In the past year, MintPress has been detailing how much of the public sphere, from social media organizations like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok to big search engines such as Google, to think tanks and fact-checking organizations, are quietly much more closely linked to the national security state than first meets the eye. The Department of War Studies at King’s College London is an important part of this state-backed nexus. It is a one-stop shop for training many of the spies, think tank employees, journalists, and supposedly independent intelligence investigators who have been at the forefront of the new information war.
Put simply, one department staffed by former and current military officers is training the people producing the news (journalists), the ones manipulating it (intelligence officials), and the ones who are in charge of sorting fact from fiction and pinpointing disinformation (social media managers). It is quite the system. All the while, they continually warn of the threat of (foreign) state-backed influence operations.
To be clear, Kremlin propaganda is real, but its reach is decidedly minor in comparison to the massive disinformation campaigns being launched by the Western national security state. And the Department of War Studies is a key part of this information war.
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.org, The Guardian, Salon, The Grayzone, Jacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.