From rehabilitating Nazis to running data-based counterinsurgency campaigns against the American left

The life of a true American hero!

“Huh? Are you talkin’ to me? I don’t see any other Nazis rehabilitators here. So you must be talkin’ to me.” Colonel Yarborough looking tough as the sheriff of the American Zone.

Jared McBride — an amazing historian of nationalism and nationalist identity warfare in 20th century Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe — was kind enough to send me the US Army Counter Intelligence Corps’ declassified file on Mykola Lebed.

Lebed is not well known outside a small circle of historians and journalists. But he was an influential Ukrainian fascist and Nazi collaborator — a sadist and a mass murderer who after World War II was rehabilitated and weaponized by the United States. He’s an interesting case and I’ve been trying to work up a short biography of him.

I was looking through his US Army file when a document from December 1947 caught my attention. It had to do with Lebed but was faded and mostly illegible. One thing stood out clearly, though. A stamp at the bottom that featured a familiar name: Col W.P. YARBOROUGH.

From 1945 to 1947, Colonel William P. Yarborough was the Provost Marshal of American forces in Vienna — basically, he was the top military cop of America’s slice of a city that was divided between Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The place, like Berlin, was a spook fest and Yarborough was clearly involved in all sorts covert ops.

Why do I know his name?

Turns out Yarborough a tangential but very important figure in the history of the early Internet. I wrote a whole section about him and his work in my book Surveillance Valley.

By the time the 1960s rolled around, Yarborough was regarded as an expert on anti-guerrilla and counterinsurgency warfare. In 1967, while in charge of the U.S. Army’s Intelligence Command, he initiated a massive, illegal domestic counterinsurgency surveillance program inside America that targeted civil rights activists, antiwar protesters, leftwing student groups, and anyone who sympathized with to the oppressed.

It was called CONUS Intel.

From my book, Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet.

Millions of Americans got swept up in his paranoid counterinsurgency program. Sitting senators, progressive clergy, leftist organizers of youth ski clubs, antiwar protesters, people who simply attended Martin Luther King’s funeral — all were spied on and tracked. The scheme exploded into a national scandal when it was exposed in 1971.

Ultimately, the data and surveillance files that were collected by Yarborough’s program would be digitized and shared through the ARPANET between the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the White House — as part of an ARPA initiative to develop digital counterinsurgency tools. We know this happened thanks to the incredible reporting of a NBC journalist named Ford Rowan.

So Yarborough is connected to a big historical moment: the first known case of the early Internet being used to spy on American civilians.

It was funny to see his name on a document connected to a Ukrainian fascist intelligence asset like Mykola Lebed. From weaponizing Nazi collaborators to running computer-based counterinsurgency campaigns against the American left — Yarborough sure lived the life of a true American hero. A lot to be proud of!

It just goes to show how much all of this is linked. The development of counterinsurgency tech that birthed the Internet, the covert rehabilitation and use of Eastern European fascists, even the weaponization of Soviet Jews like me — all are part of a larger, contiguous program of anti-communism and American empire expansion.

—Yasha Levine

PS: If you haven’t already, read this: “Weaponizing Fascism for Democracy: The Beginning.”

Immigrants as a Weapon is a new investigative newsletter that looks at the weaponization of nationalism and immigrant communities. Check out this introductory post