The Atlantic Council: Another Shadow Government of the United States?
When Facebook announced in mid-may it was partnering with the Atlantic Council to help keep disinformation off its website, two questions came up. Why would! Facebook! do! this, when! it has the resources! on !its !own? And who is this Atlantic Council?
It turns out answering the second question about who the Atlantic Council is and what it represents provides more than enough of an answer to why Facebook would partner with them.
Its own website at http://www.atlanticcouncil.org is organized more in terms of commentary and content, and! far less about mission and purpose. It does give hints of how it wants one to think about it on its “about” page, in which it says that, “The Council provides an essential forum for navigating the dramatic economic and political changes defining the twentyfirst century by informing and galvanizing its uniquely influential network of global leaders.” Unfortunately, that comes across as so much marketing-speak that it does not really tell one anything.
Its Wikipedia page at least provides some insight into how the organization came to be. This Washington, D.C. based think tank was founded in 1961 with, as it says, “a mission to encourage the continuation of cooperation between North America and Europe that began after World War II”. It did so initially by publishing policy papers and then later by sponsoring gatherings between groups of people. Later on, those gatherings, which include some of the major political power elite from both sides of the aisle in Congress and from countries around the world, started to take on more of a role in driving what the organization does.
Unfortunately, when one gets past the initial descriptions on the Wikipedia page, it becomes close to impossible to! parse it for anything other than glowing praise for the group. Even Wikipedia itself has a warning at the top of its page saying that “This article contains content that is written like an advertisement”, and asks for help from its readers to clean it up so the truth about it is easier to understand.
Follow the Money
To dig deeper, one of the best ways to understand the mission of this and any organization is to understand who is behind its funding for it. There one of the best
guides is the Atlantic Council website itself. In its list of Corporate Backers, it lists the following as major contributors:
Global Leadership Circle (with contributions of $100,000 and above):
Airbus, Baker Mckenzie, Blackstone, Calik Holding, Cheniere, Chevron, Dentons, Eni, Ford, Frontera Resources, general Atomics Aeronautical, Halkbank, HNA, Ihlas Holding, Kulczyk Investments, Limak, Lockheed Martin, MNG Ventures, Thomson Reuters, SAAB, The Scowcroft Group, Squire Patton Boggs, Thales, Total Wine & More, Turkish Airlines, United Technologies, and Zurich.
Chairman’s Circle ($50,000 - $99,999):
21st Century Fox, ANA Holdings, Inc., Arab Bank, Boeing, Chubb Limited/chubb Group, CIGNA Corporation, Coca-cola Company, DLA Piper LLP, Equinor, General Atomics, Hanesbrands, KraussMaffei Weggmann, Leonardo, Lennar Corporation, Raytheon, SAIC, S&P Global, Severstral Group, SICPA S.A., Total S.A., and Zurich Insurance Group Ltd.
President’s Circle ($25,000 - $49,999):
Accenture Federal Services, BP Plc, Children’s National Medical Center, Conocophilips, Ernst & Young LP, First Eastern (Holdings) Ltd., Leidos Holdings, Inc., Lexisnexis Legal & Professional, Mannheim LLC, Maroc Telematique, MBDA Incorporated, Mclarty Associates, Meridiam SAS, Metlife, Inc., Patriot Group International, Penguin Random House, Renaissance Strategic Advisors, Textron, United States Chamber of Commerce, Wal-mart Stores.
Reorganizing these by types of companies, the affiliations become clearer:
• A significant representation of major defense contractors (Blackstone, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, SAIC)
• Leading international consultancies and project management firms (Accenture Federal Services, Baker Mckenzie, Renaissance Strategic Advisors, The Scowcroft Group,
• Many of the world largest oil companies (BP, Chevron, Conocophillips, eni, Total)
• Major Aerospace Companies (including Boeing, SAAB, Thales, United Technologies)
• Major banking and financial organizations (including insurance organizations) (Arab Bank, Chubb Limited/chubb Group, Halkbank, Marsh & Mclennan, Metlife, Patriot Group International, Zurich, Zurich Insurance Group) Even more illuminating is what the Atlantic Council refers to as its Honor Roll of Contributors. It is this group which lays bare both the international and domestic political powers that have major influence on the Council’s work. These include:
At the $1,000,000 and above level:
Adrienne Arsht (a philanthropist who made her fortune in the Florida banking industry), Bahaa Hariri (a Lebanese-saudi billionaire and the brother of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri), United Arab Emirates.
$250,000 - $999,999:
This group includes a number of major oil companies, just as in the previous corporate donor list, plus several major corporate donors. It also shows (highlighted in bold) the membership by international military/defense organizations and foreign country representation.
Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Airbus Group SE, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Cheniere Energy, Inc., Chevron, Crescent Petroleum, Dentons, Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, Frontera Resources, Anis Haggar, Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation, MNG Group of Companies, NATO, OCP Foundation, QUALCOMM Incorporated, Royal Norwegian Ministry of Defence, Saab North America, Inc., SCM Holdings, SICPA Holding SA, Smith Richardson Foundation, Inc., Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zurich Insurance Group Ltd.
The next levels down in donations are so numerous it is not as important to list them all as it is to list specific categories of contributors who are always providing funding to the Council. These include:
• U.S. Defense Agencies: United States Air Force,! United States Army, United States Marine Corps,! United States Navy
• Foreign Countries or Affiliates: Ministry of Foreign! Affairs of the Republic of Finland, Korea Foundation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Republic! of Korea, Ministry of Defense of Latvia, Ministry of! Defense of the Republic of Lithuania, Ministry of! Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Montenegro, Moroccan-american Cultural Center Inc.,! Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Grand! Duchy of Luxembourg, Us-angola Chamber of! Commerce
• Banking and Finance: J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.,! Metlife
• Oil Companies: BP America Inc., Conocophillips,! Eni, Exxonmobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Sempra Energy,
Statoil ASA (Norway), Türkiye Petrolleri Anonim Ortaklığı §
All these funding lists, added to the many large corporations (such as Wal-mart and Intel) which are also represented in the! above, and one has a better feeling for what the council is about. This is nothing less than a funding body! made up of the established and settled power elite. This is a group dedicated to preserving the status quo of the ongoing war industry.. It includes many representatives of the NATO alliance. It includes strong representation of Arab influences, including two of the top donors on the Honor Roll coming from a Lebanese-saudi billionaire and the United Arab Emirates, plus! the Arab Bank, whose headquarters is in Amman, Jordan. It also includes representatives from some of the most powerful oil companies of the world. These organizations and their consolidated interests control what this extremely wealthy lobbying organization does, as! it! relates!to!shaping!policy!in!the!united!states.
If that were not proof enough, according to an article from The New York Times in August 2016, the Atlantic Council had over ten years earlier made announcements offering “access to United States and foreign government officials in exchange for contributions”. This policy was credited for! why the Council’s annual revenues had soared in the ten years before 2016 from $2 million to $21 million.
The Council’s Programs
The Council has major initiatives in many areas, dedicated to serving the interests of those who pay the bills. Several of the more influential of these are highlighted below.
The Global Energy Center. This appears to take a positive position towards elimination of greenhouse gases and the shift to renewable energy. A recent position paper in the Council’s website speaks of “Transforming the Power Sector in Developing Countries: The Critical Role of China in Post-paris Implementation” and discusses the importance of moving to cleaner energy sources. Yet other headlines in the same section are clearly walking both sides of the talk on the subject. One praises drilling in the East Mediterranean as “A Milestone in Turkish Energy History”, and another favorably reviews the “Inauguration of TANAP Natural Gas Pipeline”
The Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security. This group actively follows global geopolitical events and recommends policy actions which can be followed by the U.S. as well as other foreign governments who are part of this Council’s activities, along with defense contractors and the U.S. defense agencies. Recent topics the group works on as of this writing include: “The Possibility of a Trump-putin Summit”, “Trump’s ‘Grand Bargain’ with Russia is an Illusion”, and “The Aftermath of the Us-north Korea Summit”. Think of this function as the one which formulates the policies which it would like to whisper in the ear of the President, his cabinet, his staff, and the leaders of Congress.
The Digital Forensic Research Lab. This is the program which is partnering with Facebook to look at disinformation on its website and help keep stories truthful. Truth of course is defined here as what the Council would like to see go forward. So it will be understandable if the Faustian bargain Facebook has struck with the Atlantic Council tends to support the interests of the Military-industrial Complex, NATO, Big Business, and the Fossil Fuel Industry. Those are, after all, the groups funding the Council. It would be foolish to expect anything else from the organization.
Two Specific Examples from the News of What The Council Stands For
As a further illustration of what the Atlantic Council is all about, two news threads will help.
The Disinfo Portal
This new initiative, Disinfoportal.org, was launched by the Atlantic Council on June 6, 2018. According to the organization’s home website, this offers to provide “an interactive online guide to track the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns abroad”. Supported by “23 top organizations and more than 80 experts”, it is clearly a well-staffed and well-funded effort by the Council to make sure its opinion on what is Russian propaganda and what is the truth are well-documented.
One problem with the initiative is that instead of structuring an open dialog on the topic of disinformation, the Council’s website dives right in with its own form of propaganda to tilt the scales in its direction. As an example of that, the landing page opens with giant words saying that, “In 2014, Putin invaded Ukraine in the first annexation of territory in Europe since World War II”. Graphic icons for tanks roll across the screen as further words come up speaking of how Moscow has lied about it. The entry into Ukraine is one thing, but the content is misleading at best. Turkey’s annexation of Northern Cyprus in 1974 was actually the first such annexation of territory in Europe since World War II. That in itself may be a minor point with the website, but the overblown graphics and way-too-over-the-top presentation are a bit much.
Another problem with the portal is its choice of “experts”
staffing the project. They include a number of individuals with dubious credentials and reported biases. All appear to represent primarily the interests of the NATO Alliance and the defense industry, with few genuine deep thinkers or skilled policy analysts to guide their work.
The Connections to the Corrupt and Dictatorial Power Elite
Although this comes from earlier events, the issues involved are still relevant and do illustrate how some of the Council’s work proceeds and what kind of people they back.
In 2012, the Atlantic Council found itself in trouble when it held a party for Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime. Kazakhstan’s leadership has for some time been criticized for corruption and human rights abuses within the country. That should have been enough to cause the Council, which supposedly represents nonpartisan positions on international issues, to do anything but back the country’s leadership. But then something else leaked that made the situation even worse. It turns out that Alexander V. Mirtchev, both then and now a member of the Atlantic Council’s Board of Directors and its Executive Committee, was at least at the time of the party someone who was also a consultant for that regime.
The Council’s ability to be influenced by money and representation at the top was also illustrated when not long after Bahrain became one of the then top public donors to the organization. Shortly after that, despite the country’s leadership having spent over five years brutally blocking pro-democracy activists on a daily basis, the Council showed its true values. In one of the documents published at the time, the Council said about Bahrain that “no country in the Gulf region and perhaps in the broader Arab world has thought about and experimented with reform more than the Kingdom of Bahrain”. Large amounts of money clearly can cover over even the darkest of deeds by a country’s leadership –!at least in this case.
Yet another example of this approach came with the Atlantic Council’s past support of yet another dictatorial regime. The country, sometimes referred to as the “North Korea of Africa”, is ruled by dictator Isaias Afwerki. During Afwerki’s decades of control he has used an iron hand to control the country. Part of the means he uses to keep those who might speak against him in check is to send dissidents to prisons on tiny islands in the Red Sea. The United Nations has taken note of all Afwerki has done, with accusations several years ago which included crimes against humanity, with details of Afwerki’s approach to enslavement, rape and torture.
When the opportunity came for the Council to speak up against that regime, the Council’s deputy Africa director Bronwyn Bruton wrote in the New York Times in June 2016 that “it’s bad in Eritrea, but not that bad”. What she didn’t say – and which might have influenced how she said what she said – was that Canada-based Nevsun Resources, which at the time had major mining interests in Eritrea, was a six-figure Atlantic Council donor.
A more recent example of the same conflicts of interest happened in 2016. Then Atlantic Council CEO Frederick Kempe and his staff chose to honor Ali Bongo Mbonimpa, the dictator of Gabon, with a “Global Citizen Award”. Bongo, whose background includes a career of corruption and violent repression of dissidents, was going to be given the award for “his life of public service and efforts to improve the lives of the people of Gabon”. The Award Gala scheduled for September 19, 2016, never happened. That was in part because the Human Rights Foundation issued a public statement condemning the Council for celebrating someone with a long list of human rights violations, election fraud and kleptocracy. Eventually Kempe’s staff announced that “due to overriding priorities he has in his country”, Bongo would not be coming to New York as scheduled to accept his award.
After All That, What Is The Atlantic Council?
Although it clearly could use better control of its messaging and avoid publicly offering to give out humanitarian awards to brutal dictators, the Atlantic Council clearly has the backing, connections and access to expertise to influence many governments and their policy. It can have a major influence on the United States in a behind-the-scenes role, while protecting the interests of the international military establishment, the oil industry, and pockets of power such as the Middle East.
Further, with its new initiatives such as the Disinfo Portal and what it is doing to help Facebook cleanse itself of any news items which act counter to its interests, the Atlantic Council appears to be well on track to act as a puppeteer of sorts to political power sources throughout the world. It may not yet be a full “shadow government” of the United States in the 21st century, but it certainly has the potential to take that role in the not-to-distant future. This is an organization that bears watching and exposing in the years to come.