Interview: Yasha Levine talks about the internet's counterinsurgency origins on This Is Hell!
I was on This Is Hell! with Chuck Mertz talking about the forgotten history of the internet as a counterinsurgency weapon: "a weapon that could search through reams of data...to find the radical needle in the complacent haystack — to find the radical needle and eradicate it." We also discuss the politics of technology — how the internet is a representation of our oligarchic world.
I talked to Chuck by phone from a hotel room in Washington DC on the second day of my book tour.
Listen to the interview and buy the book!
Chuck: The internet is a government plot, no, make that a military plan, to watch all of us all of the time in order to keep us in line. To control us. But come on, that can't ever happen, can it? Here to scare the hell out of us, returning to This is Hell, investigative journalist, Yasha Levine, author of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet.
Chuck: Welcome back to This is Hell, Yasha.
Yasha Levine: Hey Chuck, how's it going?
Chuck: Good. It's great to have you back on the show. You can follow Yasha on Twitter, @YashaLevine. That's L-E-V-I-N-E. Where he describes himself as "Soviet American" and "Nefarious Russian." I love that description of you sir. I'm glad that you put it right out there.
Yasha Levine: Yeah. I mean look, it's important because I think in this age of Russian influence and Russian meddling, we have to be very upfront about our own, Russian ties or possible Russian ties. So, I took the liberty to self-investigate myself. For the public's benefit.
Chuck: I'm glad that you're doing that. How much have we democratically allowed the surveillance system that does watch us today, did we choose this surveillance state? How much are we responsible, as consumers of the internet, how much are we responsible for the surveillance state we live within?
Yasha Levine: Well, I mean, we're as responsible for it as we are responsible for, I don't know, the nuclear weapons and all the other great things that our military has produced. I mean, in reality, we haven't really had much of a say, right? You know the internet came out of a counterinsurgency project in the 1970s, during the era of the Vietnam War. Back then, America was dealing with a bunch of insurgencies all around the world, right? Vietnam War, but also insurgencies all over the world. From Southeast Asia to Latin America. And of course, it was also facing an increasingly volatile domestic environment with anti-war protestors, militant black activism, powerful left-wing organizations that were taking over campuses, trying to shut down military research on campus in America.
Yasha Levine: And the military saw these foreign insurgencies and a domestic insurgency, what they thought was an insurgency, as part of a bigger Communist plot to not only expand power abroad and internationally but also undermine America from within. And in certain rarefied military circles at the time, it was believed that America was dealing with a new kind of war. A war that you could not fight with traditional armies. A war that you couldn't just drop a nuke on, or send a tank division into because the enemy was part of the civilian population. It's very hard to isolate and to figure out who they were, why they were rebelling, things like that.
Yasha Levine: And so the idea was to fight kind of new war, you needed a new kind of weapon, an information weapon. And so some people were thinking about the need to develop computer technology that could help sift through the reams of data about society, about populations, about people. And help military commanders, analysts, generals, find the radical needle in the complacent haystack. And to find that needle and eradicate it. So whether it's here in America, or in Vietnam, or in Latin America.
Yasha Levine: And so the internet came out of this general movement to create systems of surveillance. Management systems for society that you could ingest data on. Populations, you could look at criminal histories, you could look at welfare rolls, you could look at intelligence data that you collect, surveillance data that you collect on radical movements, on protestors. Ingest that all into a computer system, things like that didn't exist back then. Ingest that as the databases. And able to perform sophisticated analysis on that data and potentially run even predictive models, that could help predict what would happen in the future, or who would rebel in the future?
Yasha Levine: The internet, which was created by ARPA, beginning in the early 1960s through the 70s came out of a counterinsurgency idea for the world. And it's a kind of a information-based counterinsurgency weapon. I mean, how much of a sated Americans at the time having it? Not much. But people did protest against it at the time, even in the 60s, people knew that the ARPANET, which became the internet, was a tool of surveillance and if it was gonna go and expand unchecked, it would create a system of surveillance and control. So people did understand it almost half a century ago and protested it. But of course, that got kind of washed away in the 80s with kind of a surge of cyber-libertarianism that took over America.
Chuck: How much do we lack an understanding of what the internet was meant to be, and is when we don't have a realization as you were just pointing, that the 1960s activism was about anti-militarization? I don't think that if you asked people, "What were the 1960s riots about?" They'd probably say "Hippies having fun." Or, "Being against the Vietnam War." Or, "For Civil Rights." I don't think that they would have this bigger, over-arching umbrella-like idea that they were all anti-militarization activities.
Chuck: So what do we miss in our understanding of what the internet is, what the internet was supposed to be, what it is today when we don't realize that in the 1960s what people were standing up against was militarization?
Yasha Levine: Yeah. No, we don't understand much about the internet today. I mean, I think one of the surprising things that I discovered, surprising and a bit depressing, to be honest. Is that I discovered while researching this book is that the real history of the internet has never really been told. What we've gotten is the sort of bits and pieces of it and some really good histories, some really good profiles of people who were instrumental in sort of laying the groundwork for this networking and technology, brilliant people. But the true history of it, the kind of the uncomfortable stuff, the stuff that doesn't really square right with our current cultural understanding of the internet. And there's sort of these ideas that it is a democratic and utopian technology, which is so embedded really into our society and to our culture. I mean, democracy and the internet are almost synonyms at this point, right?
Yasha Levine: The true history of the internet and this idea that it was a very militarized technology that was at its root, conceived as a surveillance network. I mean, surveillance in the biggest sense of the word, not just to surveil just people, but a kind of a management system. A command and control system for human societies, for militaries, but also for human societies.
Yasha Levine: And so, we don't really have a good sense of the internet. And of course, when you go back and look at the history, you see that there was a lot of like you said, the 1960s and the 1970s were really about protesting the militarization of society, and the militarization of academic life, and the militarization of campus-life. There were protests in almost every major university at the time. Some of them got really violent, buildings were burned, occupied sometimes for weeks. And what you realize when you actually look at it from the point of view of the internet, was that a lot of those protests were specifically targeting ARPA programs.
Yasha Levine: So ARPA is the Pentagon defense, R&D arm of the Pentagon, right? And that we know now as DARPA. They were targeting ARPA, but also they were specifically targeting the ARPANET and programs associated with the ARPANET. So people at the time were protesting the ARPANET and understood what it was, and saw it as a surveillance network.
Yasha Levine: And going back to 1969, there was a protest at MIT. 1969 that was the year that ARPANET was launched. That was the year that first node was connected. Connecting Stanford to UCLA. So the first year that it went online, there was already a protest against it at MIT. And that has been completely lost in sort of the midst of history because it's ... You read any history of the internet, and you don't really get that sense that people were protesting against it and understood what it was.
Yasha Levine: Again, because I think it doesn't square with our mythology of the internet.
Chuck: Right, our mythology of the internet. And I wanna get to that in a little bit, and holding corporations responsible. You write that when it comes to tech company collusion and surveillance, quote, "Google possibly helping Oakland spy on its residents? If true, it would be particularly damning. Many Oaklanders saw Silicon Valley companies such as Google as being the prime drivers of the skyrocketing housing prices, gentrification, and aggressive policing that was making life miserable for poor and low-income residents. Indeed, just a few weeks earlier protesters had picketed outside the local home of a wealthy Google manager who was personally involved in a nearby luxury real estate development."
Chuck: So Google is profiting off spying on city residents while driving the price of their homes up so much it becomes impossible to afford to live there anymore. If this is the silicon future, so many in D.C. on both sides of the aisle want us to embrace, what are we in for?
Yasha Levine: I mean, yeah, we're in for something really bad. Look, we have to understand that Google, although it tries to present itself as a buhlwork against government power, and it tries to ... Not just Google, but Apple, tries to say that it protects us with encryption and all these things from the FBI. What you have to understand that they are very much a part of the national security apparatus, right?
Yasha Levine: Google, Oakland is just one example. As I dug into its history and it's contracting history with the federal government and various intelligence agencies, I found out that almost as soon as it became a company, when it spun off out of Stanford Research Project and became a company, it was selling its technology to the NSA, to the CIA, its search technology. And that continues through today. Like for instance, it's partnered with a predictive policing company called PredPol. Helping customize its sort of mapping and analysis engines for a company that sells its services to police departments across the country to help, basically, predict crime spots. It's very much intertwined with not just the national security state, but also law enforcement on a local level.
Yasha Levine: Yeah, right now we have, a few months ago, there were these Senate hearings about Russian influence over the internet and in the election. There was a bi-partisan agreement to basically force Silicon Valley, to pressure it, to work even more closely with intelligence agencies, to police the internet for malicious information that could be pushed by a foreign power.
Yasha Levine: We're being pushed in that direction and there's no real accountability. Silicon Valley is a very opaque industry. It's obviously private, we don't know what goes on in there, we don't really have any democratic power these platforms at all. At the same time, they have complete merged and are even more merged now with the national security state, which is also a completely opaque entity and force.
Yasha Levine: It's the worst of both worlds, but it's kind of a logical conclusion, I think, of the internet project. Because back in the 1960s when first developing these networked computers and databases and analysis software that didn't exist until then, people were already thinking to the future and thinking about creating a kind of an early warning radar system for human society.
Yasha Levine: A network computer system that could sit on top of the world and watch it for threats and intercept them before they could cause harm. On kind of a global and societal level, but even on a personal level. And we're seeing that right now. I mean, the internet has become a kind of a radar system for people and societies. We're seeing a logical conclusion of the internet project, and so it doesn't surprise me.
Chuck: How much do you this collusion between Silicon Valley and the national security state, between Google and surveillance systems, how much do you think that is the definition of an oligarchy?
Yasha Levine: Oh well, I mean yeah. It's the national security oligarchy as self-reinforcing system ... Yeah, I mean, it's an oligarchy in any way you cut it. You have just several companies owned by several individuals that dominate internet, and dominate everything that we do on the internet. And these companies like Google, like Facebook, like Amazon, like Apple, I mean, they are really an extension of the national security state. Our phone, our Android phone or our Apple phone, it's not owned by the NSA, the NSA didn't build it. The NSA doesn't own the internet. For it to spy on people, it requires these private tools, this private infrastructure that it can bug and that it can tap into.
Yasha Levine: These monopolistic oligarchy systems are a direct extension of the national security state and the surveillance state. We'd like to draw a fine line between the private sector and the public sector, but when you start to drill down into the relationships and into the connections between state and these corporations, the line gets very, very fuzzy. I mean, you don't really know where one begins and the other one ends.
Yasha Levine: Yeah, it's like a state, private oligarchy.
Chuck: But when we do think about the history of the internet we don't think of people in military uniforms working as spies to try to implement a system and impose it upon the people of the United States. Instead, what we think of is hippies working out of their garage and having only the best intentions that may have turned into unintended consequences.
Chuck: So how much were the visionaries, the hippies who started the whole cyber movement, how much were they just simply co-opted by the military industrial complex? How accurate of a history is it when we look at the history of the internet if we just see it as hippies co-opted by the military industrial complex?
Yasha Levine: Well, I mean, I don't think you needed the co-opt very much. I think there's not a contradiction necessarily between being a hippie and taking acid, and being a military contractor. And in fact, that's what you had. You had, for instance, an example is Douglas Engelbart, who was a ARPA contractor, a legendary inventor, he's credited with creating the mouse. But his unit, which was at Stanford, the Stanford Research Institute, created kind of the first interactive sort of personal computer, complete with online document editing that you could edit collaboratively like you can do with Google Docs now in real-time. Video conferencing. Again, a mouse, and an operating system with menus and things like that. A lot of the things that Macintosh and Apple became really ... With demonstrated in the 70s by this guy, and he was a military contractor.
Yasha Levine: And he was working as part of the ARPANET program. And he was attached to the ARPANET program, and he dropped acid. And he gave and he sent acid to his engineers. And these guys probably didn't want to think about the bigger implications of what they were doing. And they weren't necessarily brought in on the larger plan, right? Of what this system was actually gonna be used for. I mean, it was kind of obvious, but you don't really discuss it.
Yasha Levine: So there's not a contradiction between being a counterculture type and doing acid at the time, and being a military contractor building a information weapon. I think that's a kind of a mythology that we've been fed, a syrupy story about hackers and radical engineers that ... Just scrappy guys that put stuff together and created this cool technology that they had a real vision for the future and had this utopian idea for the future and they wanted to create technology that connected the world and equalized power. Sure that they might have had some kind of military connections, but those things were really not that important. And anyway the military is stupid and dumb and doesn't even know what it's doing. It's just kind of throwing money at these guys.
Yasha Levine: If you read some of these histories about them and the idea is that these guys are actually creating technologies that are gonna make the military obsolete. They're gonna destroy the military, 'cause there was gonna be no purpose for it anymore in this sort of radical, utopian future that they're constructing.
Yasha Levine: Yeah, the reality is that you could take acid, and you could work for the military. Not a contradiction.
Chuck: So to you, after doing your investigation, after writing this book, do you see ... And I'm sorry for making this kind of, "Is it A or is it B?" And you can go anywhere in between if you want. When you look at it, is the internet more a weapon being used against you? Or more of a tool being used by you?
Yasha Levine: I mean, it's definitely a tool that I use. That we all use. We use it to communicate, we use to do everything now. To watch films, to talk to people on the phone. To take pictures and things like that. I mean, yeah, I would say I'm a user, but I'm not a very empowered user. My power on the internet is very limited. It's like ... It's a funny question because no one would ask that question if it was, say Walmart or Target. It's like, "Do you think that Walmart is using you, or you're using it?"
Yasha Levine: And the internet is kinda like that. We go onto the internet it's all private property. We don't really have any rights on the internet. We are allowed to use it, at the discretion of the companies that provide that service. We don't have a right to use Google. We don't have a right to use Facebook. We don't actually have a say in how these services are run, what's done to the data trail that we leave behind when we use that service.
Yasha Levine: We use it at their mercy. And we can get kicked off of those platforms at any moment. And of course, there's some useful things that happen and these are useful tools, but we, in the end, have no power in that environment. Just like we have no power when we walk into Walmart. We can buy something there, but that's about it.
Yasha Levine: We are being used by it, of course, I think more than we are using it because I think the companies that are providing these services and that own these services have the ultimate power over what we do there. Of course, they are using us more than we use them.
Yasha Levine: I mean, I'm not sure about you, but I'm not making billions of dollars off using the internet. I don't know Sergey Brin and Larry Page are doing pretty well. And so is Jeff Bezos, last I heard. Who's now the richest person in the world.
Yasha Levine: I think we're being used much more so.
Yasha Levine: Than we're using it. Yeah.
Chuck: You write about being in Mauthausen, Austria. Describing how Mauthausen is an idyllic place, calm, almost magical. Today, computer technology frequently operates unseen, hidden in gadgets, wires, chips, wireless signals, operating systems, and software. We are surrounded by computers and networks, yet we barely notice them. If we think about them at all, we tend to associate them with progress. We rarely stop to think about the dark side of information technology, as you were just talking about. The innovators of the internet not thinking about what the consequences and their impact would be. All the ways it can be used and abused to control societies to inflict pain and suffering. Here, in this quiet country setting, stands a forgotten monument to that power: the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
Chuck: How is the power of today's computer technology like the power that manifested itself in a concentration camp?
Yasha Levine: Yeah. Well, I went there as a pilgrim almost. This is in Austria, on the border with Czech Republic. Mauthausen was one of the largest death camps, slave labor complexes operated by Nazi Germany. And as part of its management of operations in this sprawling complex that actually spanned many different sub-camps, was sort of IBM technology. IBM punch-card technology. And it was used to administer these death camps much more efficiently to keep track of the labor pool, to keep track of the kind of specialists that were there. And if the specialists died off, you need to be able to relay that information to Berlin and get some fresh labor to fill those shoes and to keep the slave labor complex operational.
Yasha Levine: So I just went there to look at the dark side of technology. Because to me, we look at technology as this thing that transcends, I don't know, transcends economics, transcends politics, transcends even human nature. The internet has taken on this cast of something above us. Something almost god-like. And to me, going there and looking at that place, brings us back down to life, and down to earth, and down to human actions.
Yasha Levine: And because technology is a reflection of human societies. Technology is used in accordance to that society's values and political culture. So at the same time that IBM was supplying these things for the concentration camps in Germany, it was also powering the Social Security System in America, so keeping pensioners alive and happy.
Yasha Levine: For me it was a reminder that computer technology is not something that sits above the world, it's very much a part of it. And so it's used in a way that's driven by the dominant political values of a society. It's a lesson to me about the internet. The internet is a reflection of our culture and our society. The internet right now is dominated by giant corporations, billionaires, and surveillance, and spy agencies. Because our society's dominated by those forces.
Yasha Levine: We cannot change the internet without changing the underlying society that it sits upon and reflects. If we wanna make the internet better and make the internet work for people and for society we have to figure out, first of all, what we want, what it means to have an internet work for society, and then we have to actually have that society do these things. And then the internet will follow from that, I think.
Yasha Levine: Yeah, the internet is a reflection of our culture. And so it's not surprising what it has become, 'cause our culture is just a very toxic place now. And the internet is a reflection of that.
Chuck: You write about how integrated concentration camps and their slave labor became in Nazi Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. You write how they refined oil, the slave labor, they built fighter aircraft, assembled canons, developed rocket technology, and were leased out to private German businesses. Volkswagen, Siemens, Daimler-Benz, BMW, Bosch- all benefited from the camp's slave labor patrol. The administrative nerve center was centrally directed from Berlin using the latest in early computer technology: IBM punch card tabulators. No IBM machines are displayed at Mauthausen today. And, sadly, the memorial makes no mention of them.
Chuck: How much does not holding companies responsible for their role in atrocities, does not having IBM machines at the exhibit at the concentration camp cause any lack of criticism of today's technologies? Are we susceptible to Google, because we forgave VW? How much is our tack optimism driven by the unwillingness to hold accountable those companies that have had a negative impact on society and culture?
Yasha Levine: I think that's a very good point. The fact that there's no IBM machines at the concentration camp today, at the memorial, is a travesty. I agree it does a disservice to our memory, and a disservice to our understanding. Because if we don't understand the past, and we don't ... If our sense of today isn't situated firmly in what happened yesterday, we cannot really even go forward. And so, yeah, I think you're right, 100%. If we don't hold these forces accountable, and if we don't hold our society accountable for these things, then we don't really know anything, and we don't really have a handle.
Yasha Levine: It's more and more these days, I'm beginning to see the role of investigative journalism as actually more of almost as a historian. Investigative journalism cannot really function without history anymore. We have so much information coming in from every direction. The internet is actually a big driver of this. We're flooded with information. But, that information doesn't help us understand anything. More information doesn't mean a better understanding. It actually means less understanding.
Yasha Levine: We have to really reclaim the past. And reclaim our history. And resituate it in today's politics and today's problems. Because without it, there's no way out. And so, yes, 100%. Holding those entities accountable is very important.
Yasha Levine: It's interesting because, at the same time that IBM tabulators were being used in Nazi concentration camps, they were actually being used to process Japanese Americans in internment camps in America. And that also is a lost part of history. Very few people know about.
Chuck: Yeah, this is such a fascinating book. You write that this wasn't the automated type of IBM tabulation system that was used by Nazi Germany, this wasn't the automated type of computer network system that the Pentagon would begin to build in the United States just a decade later. But it was an information network nonetheless. An electro-mechanical web that field and sustained Nazi Germany's war machine with blazing efficiency.
Chuck: How much has the United States inherited that Nazi mindset in your opinion?
Yasha Levine: Well, you know, it's a good question. I think, I don't know. I mean, I think America had plenty of Nazi mindset before Nazi Germany came around, to be honest. It's not a good sign because, in the end, Germany lost, right? All these information systems are not actually necessarily helpful. Because they gave you a false sense of control, and a false sense of information awareness, and management. But yeah, I mean, to some degree it has, America has been kind of a ... There's a bit of fascism in America, I think it's safe to say.
Yasha Levine: What's interesting about IBM, and punchboard in general, is that they actually came out of an interesting episode in American history. They actually are very tied to the science of eugenics that really took hold in America beginning in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries. Because IBM came out of a company called Herman Tabulator Company, created by this guy named Herman Hollerith. Who worked at the U.S. Census, and was essentially contracted by the U.S. Census around the 1880s to come up with a way to count, and to tabulate the census, using a mechanical method, or some kind of automated method because it was being done by hand before that. And there was a huge surge in immigration at the time, and there was a big worry among American Anglo-Saxon elites that these immigrants coming from Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, were gonna dilute America's superior genetic stock and drag the whole country down. There was a lot of panic about this influx of immigrants and their bad genes.
Yasha Levine: And so the U.S. Census got more, and more, and more complicated. They wanted to know much more about the origins of Americans, their ethnic makeup. It started getting really bloated and almost impossible to count. The 1880 census took 10 years to count by hand. Yet the census has to be carried out every 10 years, and so it wasn't even done by the time the next census had to be carried out. The first computer technology, this IBM punch card, really came out of a need to surveil people, on an individual level, but on a mass level. But also surveil their ethnic makeup.
Yasha Levine: This stuff is all kind of tied together. The origins of computers and computer technology are very much tied up with surveilling populations and controlling populations. Or at least the urge to control populations. What Nazi Germany was doing later on with the stuff ... It's not such a big departure from where this technology originated.
Yasha Levine: It's important to understand the darker side of technology and information technology. Because if we don't, we're just gonna fall prey to these syrupy false narratives about the utopian progressive nature of technology that dominated society still.
Chuck: One last question for you, Yasha. We have been speaking with investigative journalist, Yasha Levine. He is author of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet. You can find out more about Yasha's book at Surveillance Valley dot com. You can find out more about Yasha at Yasha Levine dot com. You can follow Yasha on Twitter @YashaLevine where he describes himself as Soviet American and nefarious Russian. His new book Surveillance Valley has been excerpted at the Baffler, and we shared that excerpt online this week, you can find it on our social media feeds. Yasha was on our show last April to discuss the Baffler article From Russia With Panic. Cozy bears, unsourced hacks - and a Silicon Valley shakedown.
Chuck: One last question for you, Yasha. And as it is with all of our guests, it's the question from hell. The question we hate to ask, you might hate to answer, our audience is going to hate your response. And I wanna do something that the innovators of the internet did not do. And that's consider what the impact will be of the internet on today's political culture.
Chuck: You write about, well, I'm sorry. You write not all control is equal. Not all surveillance is bad. Without them, there can be no democratic oversight of society. Ensuring oil refineries comply with pollution regulations, preventing Wall Street fraud, forcing wealthy citizens to pay their fair share of taxes, and monitoring the quality of food, air, and water - none of these goods would be possible. In that sense, surveillance and control are not problems in and of themselves. How they are used depends on our politics and political culture.
Chuck: So in your opinion, what happens when we put control and surveillance in the hands of anti-government politicians, in a political culture that celebrates only private solutions, while denigrating all collective solutions?
Yasha Levine: I mean, I think we get what we have today. We get this kind of anti-surveillance culture that we have now. If you think about what happened with Edward Snowden, he exposed government surveillance on the internet and how private companies were playing a big role in that. But the overwhelming focus was not on regulating Silicon Valley or stopping this obscene collection of our data, where there's no limits at all on what they can do with the information that they get from us. The focus was mostly on calling attention to government surveillance - and limiting the government in some way.
Yasha Levine: We have a culture in which surveillance is rarely tied to private enterprises. When people are outraged about surveillance, they're not thinking about, "How do I protect myself from Google, and what can we do to protect ourselves from these giant corporations?" But they're only thinking about, "How can I protect myself from the NSA?" Even though most of us, I mean, I don't know what the NSA wants on us, but even as a journalist I think, the NSA doesn't really care about me that much. Or if it does it's like not really that important. I understand maybe they're keeping tabs on me, but so what?
Yasha Levine: There are these very specific problems that I think arise from giving a company like Facebook, like Google, a complete free-hand in collecting any kind of information they want on us, and doing whatever they want with us. I mean, think about if Koch Industries had all our email. Koch Industries had all our texts. Koch Industries had everything that we do on the internet in its hands. They would use that in some capacity, right? We wouldn't put it past Charles Koch to do that. It's silly for us to think that Google wouldn't do the same thing.
Yasha Levine: Because it's influencing politics to its own ends and to its own profit. We have to focus on that, but we're not really talking about that at all. In fact, Congress right now is trying to empower Silicon Valley to clamp down on this supposed malicious interference in our democratic internet system by Russia and other outside forces. There's not any talk about constraining their power. But most people just think about the NSA, or the FBI, when they think about surveillance.
Yasha Levine: We live in a kind of a libertarian world, in a libertarian culture. And our politics about the internet and technology are very libertarian.
Chuck: You were on the show, I just want one more question, I know you only have a couple minutes. You were on our show before to talk about the Russia investigation. Things have changed since the last time you were on our show, back in, I believe, March or April of last year.
Chuck: How do you think this investigation will end? And if it does look into Trump's financial matters, can that counter any of the arguments that you have had about how Russia, quote-unquote "hacking" of the election has been exaggerated?
Yasha Levine: Well, I mean, I don't know. I mean, if there's something that comes to light, of course, we're gonna have to redefine our position on this. And we're gonna have to reassess. So far what we've seen, and given the impressive amount of leaking that's happening by the FBI and by Congress to the press about what's happening, there's very little of material that points to anything other than just regular corruption. Regular D.C. corruption.
Yasha Levine: I mean, I think everyone is suddenly very worried about the internet after Donald Trump was elected. You turn on MSNBC at any given hour you'll probably hear it, have an analyst talk about the unprecedented nature of what Russia did on the internet. You get the sense that Russia did something that no one's ever done before. They actually used the internet to influence people.
Yasha Levine: This idea is so ridiculous because that's what the internet is made for. It goes back to the very origins of the internet, but that is what companies like Google, companies like Facebook, Twitter, that's the service that they sell to advertisers, to influence their users.
Yasha Levine: And then when you look at the actual numbers that have been released about the ads that Russian entities have bought on Facebook and on Twitter and on Google, and then you look at during the election cycle. And then you look at the amount of money that was spent on internet advertising during the election cycle by American groups, by billionaires, and corporations. The Russian spending doesn't even get to a percentage point. It's a rounding error in the overall spending that happened on the internet. And that, of course, doesn't even include traditional media, and print media, and billboards, and radio.
Yasha Levine: This idea is that if you took out all the Russian influence from the election, would Trump still have won? I believe yes. But again, I could be proved wrong, but my sense of it from everything that I know, and from everything that I could have analyzed and knowing the history of it, and looking at the numbers as much we can ... Know those numbers, because they're very opaque. I think it was not very material to the election itself.
Chuck: Yasha, it's always a pleasure having you on the show and when your book Surveillance Valley comes out in paperback, and a new amended version we'd love to have you back on the show. That's investigative journalist, Yasha Levine. Author of Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet. Thank you so much for being back on This is Hell.
Yasha Levine: Thank you for having me. And I'm sorry that my voice gave out. Too much talking, too much talking.
Chuck: Oh, I thought it was because you're finally going through that stage of your life. I was kind of-
Yasha Levine: Oh, yeah.
Chuck: ... Going to tell you I was proud of you.
Yasha Levine No, thanks, I appreciate. Thanks for not bringing that up, I really appreciate that.
Chuck: All right, Yasha, take care.
Yasha Levine: All right, okay. Thanks for having me on.
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