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Part 2: The Belly of The Daily Beast and Its Perceptible Ties to the CIA

The Daily Knight


Part 2 of a two-part series takes a deep dive into the history of the CIA’s central role in orchestrating news and editorial coverage in America’s most influential liberal national media outlets — and its continued hold today.


Editor’s note: This is part 2 (read part 1) of a two-part series into the history of the CIA’s central role in orchestrating news and editorial coverage in America’s most influential liberal national media outlets — and its continued hold today.


On Oct. 14, 2016, The Daily Beast published a surprisingly candid retrospective on the CIA’s historic recruitment of media assets.


“Other journalists were threatened and blackmailed into cooperating with Mockingbird,” the article noted, “and many were given falsified or fabricated information about their actions in order to engender their support for the CIA’s mission. The program has never been officially discontinued.”


At the time, the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast was John Phillips Avlon. Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown had launched the popular online news site in 2008. By the time she exited five years later, a soured merger with Newsweek had left The Daily Beast whimpering rather than roaring. Avlon’s arrival changed all that.


Avlon has all the credentials of the CIA’s iconic gentleman spy, including an old moneyed family with military pedigrees, a Yale education, and a missionary globalist zeal toward foreign policy and international affairs.


John Avlon, Sr. was chairman of a New York real estate company and a trustee of the George S. Patton Museum Foundation. Born in 1973, young John attended Milton Academy prep school in Massachusetts before earning his B.A. from Yale and an MBA from Columbia.


Curiously, both Avlon’s Wikipedia page and that of his best friend, the aristocratic spook Matthew Pottinger, note that the two are childhood best friends and Milton schoolmates, as if this lifelong partnership is an essential fact in evaluating both men’s lives.


Writing for the New York Sun in 2005, Avlon describes Pottinger — one of America’s top spies — as “like a brother to me.” Pottinger made his bones as a journalist — and, probably, as an espionage operative and propagandist — while working as a lead reporter for Reuters and the Wall Street Journal in China before serving as a U.S. Marines intelligence officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.


In 2010, Pottinger co-authored an intelligence analysis with Michael Flynn — “Fixing Intel: a Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan” — published through the Center for a New American Security, a front group for Pentagon and intelligence agencies and military contractors that critics have branded “the military-industrial think tank complex.”


Rising through the ranks, Pottinger by 2017 became a member of the National Security Council under Donald Trump. Flynn, by then Trump’s National Security Advisor, appointed Pottinger as NSC’s Asia director.


Advocating a tough stance on China, Pottinger became Deputy National Security Advisor under globalist John Bolton on Sept. 20, 2019 — eight days after, according to current National Security Agency estimates, the Wuhan virus began circulating in China.


Pottinger’s wife, Dr. Yen Pottinger, is a virologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was one of the first public advocates for social distancing.


After Trump left office, Pottinger joined yet another intelligence agency-linked think tank, the Hoover Institute, as a Distinguished Fellow. Coincidentally, Avlon is married to Margaret Hoover, who sits on the board of overseers of the Hoover Institute at Stanford. Margaret Hoover is a right-wing globalist advocate with a litany of foreign policy and intelligence agency credentials, including as former adviser to the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.


Avlon began his own rise to prominence with hawkish foreign policy, security state sympathies, and some obscure counterterrorism credentials of mysterious pedigree. His claims as a security and intelligence expert won him a job as speechwriter for New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.


After the 9/11 attacks, Avlon prepared the mayor’s testimony to Congress on Homeland Security and Giuliani’s address on counter-terrorism to the UN General Assembly. Avlon served as Giuliani’s chief speechwriter and deputy director of policy during his 2007-08 presidential campaign. Mayor Giuliani was by then CEO of a private security and intelligence consulting firm. Giuliani credited the Manhattan Institute with masterminding a substantial part of his platform.


When Avlon joined The Daily Beast a month after its inception in 2008, he was simultaneously a senior fellow at the right-wing intelligence agency-linked think tank Manhattan Institute which advocates for interventionist foreign policies to achieve U.S. global hegemony. By the way, Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey, founded the Manhattan Institute in 1977 — three years before he began orchestrating the CIA’s “War on the Poor” in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.


The Manhattan Institute received funding primarily from conservative foundations and major corporations — including Pfizer, Philip Morris and the Koch brothers — to advocate for deregulation of multinational corporations, and expanded power for intelligence agencies and the national security state.


After the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, the Institute formed a Center for Tactical Counterterrorism at the request of the NYPD. Later renamed the Center for Policing Terrorism, its goal was to train law enforcement and intelligence officers to become “first preventers” of future mass-casualty attacks by blending intelligence gathering/analysis with traditional policing methods.


The center has an overseas liaison program that places NYPD intelligence officers in foreign countries to gather intelligence and share information with officials in the host country. The Center published white papers on intelligence fusion centers, local counterterrorism strategies, and intelligence-led policing. (In 2008, it was absorbed into a National Consortium for Advanced Policing.)


Dick Cheney chose the Manhattan Institute as his venue to deliver a major foreign policy speech justifying the Iraq War in 2006. That same year, President Bush also selected the institute for a speech advocating dramatic expansion of executive powers, and praised the organization for supporting “pro-growth economic policies that really sent a clear signal.”


The Manhattan Institute’s City Journal listed Judith Miller as a contributing editor. You might recall Miller as the hawkish New York Times journalist known for her deep CIA connections and for peddling false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction in support of the CIA’s expansionist warmongering. (Miller went to jail for her role in illegally outing undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame in revenge for Plame’s husband’s opposition to the Iraq war.)


The Manhattan Institute maintained a “health policy” team focused on dismantling the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — a bugaboo, back then, to Big Pharma. (Today, Big Pharma considers the thoroughly captured FDA an indispensable subsidiary.) Manhattan Institute’s “Project FDA,” was assigned to transform the agency into a bridge for innovative medicines “on the cusp of a radical transformation,” aimed at getting “new scientific advances” to patients more quickly. Manhattan Institute’s aggressive advocacy of the biosecurity agenda coincided with Bill Gates announcing the “Decade of Vaccines,” and the founding of Moderna and its novel mRNA approach to medicine.


This was the right-wing, corporatist, imperialist, war-mongering, pharma-friendly think tank that served as Avlon’s base as he worked himself up to political editor, executive editor and then managing editor of the supposedly liberal The Daily Beast, and then built the online paper into a powerful ideological agent of 21st-century recasting of liberalism.


In 2013, President Barack Obama quietly signed a bill that neutralized the 1948 Smith-Mundt Act, thereby lifting the bans that formerly prohibited the CIA from propagandizing Americans. That repeal, according to journalist Leah Anaya, legalized “government-regulated news” in our country, and unleashed the CIA to use “legalized psychological war ops being run on the American people.”


The change in the law, Anaya says, “allowed the government to gain assistance [for] not-so-popular policies, ushering in a whole new world of government freedom to serve up propaganda to Americans on a silver platter.” For the first time in the CIA’s history, Operation Mockingbird was suddenly legal.


After President Trump’s election, The Daily Beast amped up the CIA’s anti-Russia agenda — and the need for censorship — as the key tenets of the emerging liberal ideology with a series of articles exposing how the Russians had used Facebook to promote Trump rallies in 17 American cities.


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. met with Avlon in 2018 after The Daily Beast made a series of attacks on him over his skeptical stance on certain vaccines. Kennedy argued that The Daily Beast articles were error-ridden and unfair. Avlon refused to allow Kennedy the traditional “right to reply” that formerly applied across the publishing spectrum when a newspaper attacks a well-known individual by name.


Kennedy described Avlon as congenial but immovable. Kennedy recalls:


“He had a photo of my father in his office and was very friendly, but refused to allow me to publish a letter or any other response to the various slanders, or to correct multiple factual errors. Avlon’s stubborn refusal to grant this standard gesture of basic journalistic decency suggested to me a hidden agenda. I assumed Daily Beast was probably receiving some stream of advertising revenue from Pharma. It never occurred to me, back then, that this might be an intelligence agency agenda.”


In May 2018, Avlon announced he was leaving The Daily Beast to become a senior political analyst and anchor at CNN. There he would join another famous media Yalie, Anderson Cooper, who offers a slightly more plausible explanation than Markos Moulitsas (see part 1) for his early-career decision to leave the CIA: “It was less James Bond than I hoped it would be.”




The danger room


In January 2014, shortly after Avlon took The Daily Beast’s helm, he recruited Noah Shachtman as his executive editor. Upon Avlon’s departure, Shachtman succeeded him as The Daily Beast’s editor-in-chief.


Shachtman graduated from Georgetown University before matriculating to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After working as a staffer for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign, Shachtman turned to freelance journalism.

Of his beginnings, Shachtman recalls:


“I’d been a tech reporter for a while. After Sept. 11, 2001, I got more interested in the defense beat and was writing more stories on that topic. And I just noticed there was a real dearth of information out there for regular people that weren’t in the military-industrial complex.”


In January 2003, Shachtman founded a blogging website called DefenseTech.org, which quickly emerged as one of the web’s chief resources on military hardware. In November 2004, Shachtman sold his blog operation for an undisclosed sum to Military Advantage Inc., operator of the Military.com website specializing in military career services.