“Russian-spy hookers” and other Silicon Valley xenophobic national security propaganda

Silicon Valley is entering into a new phase of development: coming back into the fold, to the regressive and paranoid national security apparatus that spawned it.

San Jose’s Mercury News asking the hard questions.

To follow up on my last post about Silicon Valley and the possibility of a xenophobic national security panic…

Silicon Valley is a full of immigrants and foreigners. They occupy every strata of the business. Some studies put the number of foreign-born tech workers to be way over 50 percent. The place simply wouldn’t run without them. With so many immigrants and such an internationalist no-borders ideology, it’s hard to imagine that a nativist and xenophobic panic would ever take hold in Silicon Valley. I’ve had people tell me that it simply isn’t possible here.

But it’s already happening — particularly towards Chinese and Chinese-American tech workers and academics.

It’s not just because of Trump’s War on China. There’s a growing paranoid bipartisan consensus that sees China as the biggest threat to America — a consensus that has sucked in a huge number of left-liberals and progressives. They’re totally onboard with the FBI — an agency that now considers China a “whole-of-society threat” and which has been aggressively sweeping innocent Chinese-Americans into its paranoid net.

The ease with which well-meaning people project our domestic political problems onto a foreign target — an “enemy” that our ruling elite helped create and build up by outsourcing much of America’s industrial and high tech manufacturing — is really disturbing. But this anti-Chinese xenophobic panic is only growing.

There’s something else, too.

Since the dot-com bubble, Silicon Valley had been at the forefront of pushing for a new (American-led) global world order — a borderless society with global platforms, global supply chains, and global capitalism. But that’s over. The mood’s changing. Ever since Trump won in 2016, the industry has gotten more nihilistic and militaristic and much more patriotic. It’s part of this new liberal belief that America is an embattled society being attacked through the Internet by hostile foreign forces. The Internet is central to America’s defense, or so the thinking goes. So there’s been a concerted push to integrate Silicon Valley much closer into America’s traditional political and security establishment structures. In short: Silicon Valley companies have fully matured into strategic National Security Sate Megacorps — closer to Lockheed and Raytheon than the spunky startups of the 2000s. And that’s not the kind of place you’d want unaccompanied foreigners just roaming the hallways.

From my conversations with friends and family in Silicon Valley, it doesn’t seem like there’s any real discernible backlash against Soviet immigrants just yet. But it doesn’t mean that America’s nativist security apparatus — happily aided by our embedded journalist and media class — isn’t trying to whip up some good ol’ racist propaganda about sneaky and dangerous asiatic thugs and seductresses operating in Silicon Valley. You know, just to keep the flame alive!

And why not? Stoking fear about Russian infiltration is only natural. After all, we’re in year four of a liberal xenophobic panic that puts “Russia” and “the Russians” at the heart of America’s political problems — a vast shadowy conspiracy in which the Internet and Silicon Valley play a central role.

Watch out for those dangerous Russians, says Vanity Fair!

With Russian spies, the agent told me, it’s much more sinister. “Sometimes, Russians can try and turn someone to make them work for them, but when that doesn’t work, they switch to physical threats, even offering ultimatums to family members still living back in Russia,” the agent told me.

Fear Russian-looking women, says Politico, channeling an anonymous “former official.”

Sex workers targeting executives at high-end bars and nightclubs such as the Rosewood Sand Hill, an ultra-luxury hotel located near many of Silicon Valley’s top financial firms — infamous for its raucous, hook-up oriented Thursday nights — the Redwood Room, a tony bar located in the Clift Hotel in downtown San Francisco, and other spots have been identified as potentially reporting back to Russian intel officers, said another former official. 

There’s a lot of gross racist propaganda being pumped out by our media. But my sense is that this xenophobic panic in Silicon Valley will only go into full overdrive — the kind with blacklists and arrests — only if tech workers start getting political in ways that our crusty ruling elite sees as a threat. And with the timid and privileged position of these workers today, it’s clear that this isn’t going to happen — not soon and maybe not ever.

—Yasha Levine

PS: Read the previous post: The Next Freakout: Foreign Spies in Surveillance Valley! — “The nativist panic is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Immigrants as a Weapon is a new investigative newsletter that looks at how America weaponizes nationalism and immigrant communities. Sign up to get subscriber-only stuff in your inbox!

Forgot to catch up on your reading?

October (and a bit of September) Round-Up

In case you want to catch up on what you might have missed — or if you just signed up and never got the letters in the first place.

Seems like a long time ago, but it’s only been about a month and a half since I launched Immigrants as a Weapon. A lot of you have signed up and subscribed since then. And I want to sincerely thank you. Independent journalism — and good, honest journalism in general — has been gutted and has gone the way of Detroit. Your support really makes a difference.

Despite — or more accurately, because of — the collapse of journalism, our news cycle resembles a meth-fueled reality TV war zone these days. We barely have time to process what just happened before a new disjointed scandal or outrage takes over and we’re all expected to drop everything and rush the enemy’s trenches like it’s our last chance at survival, only to be told to pivot again just a few days later and rush some other outrage target. It’s nonstop. Day after day after day. It’s disorienting and psychologically debilitating. I have no idea how people handle it all. My guess is that some get hooked on it, while many others simply shutdown and stop paying attention. That’s certainly my own gut reaction to what’s going on: retreat and withdraw.

I know we’re all inundated with information and constantly pressed for time. There’s just no way all of you have been able to read all the letters that I sent out. But in case you want to catch up on what you might have missed — or if you just signed up and never got the letters in the first place — here’s a recap of all the things I wrote over the previous month or so.


—Yasha Levine

PS: Here’s a Russian killer crow I spotted next to our place in Moscow this autumn.

Weaponizing Venezuela’s ex-ruling elite

When we think “immigrants in America” we rarely consider those who are privileged and weaponized in service of American Empire.

When we think “immigrants in America” we rarely consider those who are privileged and weaponized in service of American Empire. The attack on Max Blumenthal by Venezuela’s ex-ruling elite diaspora — which has been key to pushing regime change in Venezuela — is such a clear example of that: the use of a rightwing emigre as a legal/physical weapon against a journalist. It’s a weapon designed to intimidate and silence him and his colleagues at The Grayzone — especially Anya Parampil, who has been doing amazing work on this issue.

As the Lawyer’s Guild pointed out, Max Blumenthal’s “arrest took place hours after The Grayzone issued a report on USAID funding to lobbyists for the Venezuelan opposition.”

I’ll be writing more on this. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of what happened:

Max Blumenthal, the editor of the news site The Grayzone, was arrested on the morning of October 25 on a fabricated charge related to the siege of the Venezuelan embassy in Washington, DC that took place between April and May.

A team of DC police officers appeared at Blumenthal’s door at just after 9 AM, demanding entry and threatening to break his door down. A number of officers had taken positions on the side of his home as though they were prepared for a SWAT-style raid.

Blumenthal was hauled into a police van and ultimately taken to DC central jail, where he was held for two days in various cells and cages. He was shackled by his hands and ankles for over five hours in one such cage along with other inmates. His request for a phone call was denied by DC police and corrections officers, effectively denying him access to the outside world.

Blumenthal was informed that he was accused of simple assault by a Venezuelan opposition member. He declared the charge completely baseless.

Court documents indicate the false charge of simple assault stems from Blumenthal’s participation in a delivery of food and sanitary supplies to peace activists and journalists inside the Venezuelan embassy on May 8, 2019.

The charge was manufactured by a Venezuelan opposition member who was among those laying siege to the embassy in a sustained bid to starve out the activists inside.

“I was not party to any violent actions around the Venezuelan embassy,” Blumenthal reiterated. “This ginned up claim of simple assault is simply false.”

—Yasha Levine

Immigrants as a Weapon is a new investigative newsletter that looks at how America weaponizes nationalism and immigrant communities. Sign up to get subscriber-only stuff in your inbox!

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