#CyrilGate: Has ISI Changed Its Tune on Fake News?

Corps CommandersNation’s top military leadership (in other words, the nation’s leadership) met to discuss the latest threat to national security: This news report in English daily DAWN. At the meeting, Army leaders ‘expressed their serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated story’ to the media. The confused and contradictory nature of officials’ response to the story has given it some credibility, and it must be noted that DAWN has defended the report saying it was only published ‘after verification from multiple sources’. However I am not writing to defend or deny the report’s authenticity. Rather, I am writing to ask whether there has been some change within the establishment’s position on fake news stories?

Disinformation and propaganda has been a tool of the establishment for decades or longer. DAWN itself has been a willing participant in such activities as can be seen on the archived pages from 1971 war.

17 December 1971 Dawn front page

One does not need to go back that far to find evidences of fake news stories, though. It was only a few years ago that Pakistan found itself facing international embarrassment after it was discovered that our media were reporting on a fake wikileaks cable in order to embarrass India. At that time, Ahmed Quraishi actually responded by defending the feeding of false and fabricated news stories. Today, without even a drop of shame, he is hosting a TV programme demanding an official commission to investigate the same.

hypocrite Ahmed QuraishiAhmed Quraishi’s shameless U-turn on the cleverness of false and fabricated news stories raises further points. AQ has actually been connected with several fake news operations during recent years along with others. Earlier this year, Umar Cheema exposed the fake news site ‘ABC News Point’ just as Cafe Pyala had exposed a dozen or more fake news sites being run under shadowy circumstances (also connected to Ahmed Quraishi!)

It remains to be seen whether the top brass have the good sense to cut their losses, but one has to wonder whether ISI’s M-Wing, which is headed by a Rear Admiral and staffed by several Brigadiers and other officers, sees the irony in having the Army Chief himself serious concern over feeding of false and fabricated stories.

Is Farhan Khan Virk the Shoaib Ahmad Shaikh of Twitter?

Farhan Khan Virk

To say Farhan Khan Virk is a prolific Twitter user does not do justice. Even if you don’t follow him on Twitter, you’ve probably seen his work. Despite only joining Twitter less than three years ago, Farhan has managed to post over 187,000 Tweets. That’s over 170 per day on average! His subjects fall very much on the hyper-nationalist side of things, and a recent Tweet by Ali Salman Alvi revealed that as usual with this crowd there may be much more to the eye that what is admitted.

Apparently, before Farhan was Tweeting as himself, he was Tweeting as Dr AQ Khan. He is allegedly behind other fake Twitter accounts also, but what really caught my attention was this amazing screenshot:

Rather than feel any shame, however Farhan responsed to being outed as part of a Twitter propaganda ring with sheer arrogance.

I wrote a piece last year about the propaganda rings that seem to be rapidly spreading. I am not going to point fingers at Farhan as an ISI media operative because obviously I don’t have any evidence that he is. As far as I know, he’s just another cog in the hyper-nationalist media machine who has the time to not only post hundreds of Tweets every day but apparently to run multiple fake accounts and to coordinate with a team of other Twitter users to promote a hyper-nationalist message.

I don’t know if Farhan is paid to do this. Maybe he is just a wealthy young activist who chooses to spread hyper-nationalist propaganda instead of otherwise spending his time on school or a career. Axact may have been a diploma factory, but there also appears to be a propaganda factory also. Like Axact, it may be a matter of sheer arrogance that undoes it.

What does ISI ‘M’ Wing hope to achieve by crude propaganda?

Pakistan Love ISI posters in Islamabad

ISI is the most powerful spy agency in the world. We know because once a year we see a Facebook post or we are forwarded an email about how ISI was ranked as the world’s top spy agency by “US Crime News” or some other media group that doesn’t seem to exist except in the imagination of whoever invented the story. More important than knowing where ISI ranks among other spy agencies (actually, there’s no such think as ranking of spy agencies), we should be asking what ISI media wing hopes to achieve with all of this crude propaganda.

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