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Obama Campaign's Multi-Million Dollar Propaganda Firm Deployed in Iraq to Advise on "New Media"

With Iraq in ruins, Obama sends a politically connected firm, along with reps from AT&T, Google, and Twitter to build 'smart power' in Baghdad.
 
 
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The U.S. State Department has announced it is sponsoring a "New Media Technology" delegation to Iraq to "explore new opportunities to support Iraqi government and non-government stakeholders in Iraq's emerging new media industry." Of all of the areas in Iraq in desperate need of attention, its "emerging new media industry" is not the one that pops to mind. Things like clean water, electricity, right of safe return for refugees and an end to the occupation seem more pressing than increasing Nouri al Maliki's Twitter followers. But unfortunately, that's how U.S. priorities in Iraq seem to work.

Anyway, the super star tech delegation, according to the State Department press release, includes "a mix of CEOs, Vice-Presidents and senior representatives" from "AT&T, Google, Twitter, Howcast, Meetup, You Tube and Automattic/Wordpress."

But the final company listed as participating in the delegation begs for some sort of special review: Blue State Digital, a firm which boasts its services were "Critically important to President Obama's victory" in the November election. Indeed, federal campaign spending records indicate that the Obama campaign paid the firm at least $2,864,138 in 2007-2008, including more than $700,000 on election day.

Blue State Digital (BSD) is a technology company founded by four former staffers from Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign: Clay A. Johnson, Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Joe Rospars and Ben Self. BSD, in large part, specializes in building Democratic Party campaign websites and online fundraising mechanisms, including the creation of Barack Obama's web presence for the 2008 presidential campaign and developing the my.barackobama.com concept. It has also worked for the Democratic National Committee, Bill Richardson for President, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid and Senator John Kerry, now chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The firm has also worked for billionaire George Soros. The BSD website features a quote from Sen. Ted Kennedy praising the firm's work for him and prominently displays the Obama campaign as a test case. Blue State Digital describes the work it did for Obama as such:

Obama retained BSD to manage the online fundraising, constituency-building, issue advocacy, and peer-to-peer online networking aspects of his 2008 Presidential primary campaign. Critically important to President Obama's victory in November 2008 was his campaign's use of the BSD Online Tools Suite. The campaign utilized BSD's tools to mobilize over 3 million individual donors to contribute over $500 million online, to motivate over 2 million social networking participants, and to create and promote more than 200,000 offline events across the country.

Press reports about BSD during the campaign indicated that the firm was likely to get contract work with the Obama White House. According to the State Department's opaque description of the Iraq trip, Blue State Digital and the other firms:

will provide conceptual input as well as ideas on how new technologies can be used to build local capacity, foster greater transparency and accountability, build upon anti-corruption efforts, promote critical thinking in the classroom, scale-up civil society, and further empower local entities and individuals by providing the tools for network building. As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite the American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis.

During the trip the delegation will meet with representatives from the Government of Iraq, the public and private education sectors, Iraqi technology companies, and groups active in Iraqi civil society.

Let's re-read one of the above lines: "As Iraqis think about how to integrate new technology as a tool for smart power, we view this as an opportunity to invite the American technology industry to be part of this creative genesis." Putting aside that this sounds like some crap-ass Tom Cruise movie description or a brochure for some Scientology ceremony, the State Department description is so kooky and vague that one is left to guess what the end game is here. Presumably, it will eventually mean contracts for U.S. companies either with the U.S. government in Iraq or the Iraqi government.

Just because Blue State Digital was used by Obama and now is heading to Iraq where it could potentially make substantial money down the line as a contractor doesn't mean there is necessarily any conflict outside of the normal way business is done in Washington. Similar concerns could be raised about the presence on the State Department delegation of (warrantless wiretap facilitator) AT&T, which was a major corporate sponsor of the Democratic National Convention in Denver last year. (AT&T has also worked with Blue State).

"We work with Democratic candidates," Blue State says on its Facebook Page, "We are partisan in the candidates we work with." Fair enough. But imagine if the Bush White House deployed a firm in Iraq that was a major player in the Bush campaign fundraising machinery that was "partisan in the candidates" it worked with and its name was Red State Digital -- it would surely be all over the blogosphere.

Oh, and here is one final, interesting tidbit from The Times of London:

Even Karl Rove, the Republican political adviser who masterminded George W. Bush's two election wins is an admirer [of Blue State Digital], saying that the company does "good things for the wrong people".

 

Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His writing and reporting is available at RebelReports.com.