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Washington Post and its hit job on ‘Disinfo Lab’: Exposing the nefarious campaign to discredit Indian OSINT handle before 2024 Lok Sabha election

Ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election, The Washington Post has launched a campaign of sorts to de-legitimise those exposing anti-India narratives and promote individuals disseminating propaganda against India.

On Sunday (10th December), the leftist media outlet carried out a hit job on the Indian OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) handle ‘Disinfo Lab.’ To this effect, it published an article titled ‘Covert Indian operation seeks to discredit Modi’s critics in the U.S.’

The development comes two days after American political commentator Jack Posobiec revealed how The Washington Post ‘journalist’ Priyanshu Verma had been soliciting information about ‘Disinfo Lab.’

Screengrab of the propaganda piece in The Washington Post

‘Disinfo Lab’ is the same OSINT handle, which earlier exposed how the US State Department was relying on misleading data (sourced from Christian evangelist groups and radical Islamist outfits) to allege a decline in India’s religious freedom.

It was thus obvious that US-based leftist media outlets such as The Washington Post would make attempts to de-legitimise ‘Disinfo Lab’ sooner or later.

Based on ‘sources’, Pranshu Verma and his two other colleagues claimed on Sunday (10th December) that the OSINT handle is run by an Indian Intelligence Officer named Lt. Col. Dibya Satpathy.

Screengrab of the website of ‘Disinfo Lab’

The trio at The Washington Post alleged that the objective of ‘Disinfo Lab’ is to ‘research and discredit foreign critics of the Modi government’, ‘combine fact-based research with unsubstantiated claims’, ‘intimidate individuals overseas’ and ‘run covert influence operation.’

However, a cursory look at the website of the OSINT handle reveals that it is focused on uncovering disinformation campaigns, aimed at tarnishing the image of India on a global scale. Nevertheless, this did not stop The Washington Post from making sweeping claims about it.

“The Disinfo Lab’s activities show how the online propaganda campaigns waged by the BJP and its allies have been expanding beyond their traditional, domestic aims of shoring up popular support and denigrating opposition parties — and now seek to influence attitudes far beyond India’s borders,” it brazened out.

The Washington Post and its reliance on controversial ‘experts’

The leftist media outlet roped in several ‘experts’ to suggest that the Indian government led by PM Narendra Modi is using an OSINT handle with 45.6K followers to undermine political rivals and create a global narrative.

One such expert was an ‘academic’ named Joyjeet Pal. He claimed, “The Indian right wing is a new player that has arrived on the world stage and wants to shape global discussion…So far, much of it is done in the same way it’s done within India — through crude, blunt force. But it’s getting smarter.”

The Washinton Post introduced Pal as a University of Michigan Professor ‘who studies disinformation in India.’ Interestingly, he is the same ‘expert’ whose obscure research was used by Indian leftist propaganda outlet The Wire to discredit calls for investigating the unnatural death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

Another controversial expert cited by The Washington Post in its report was ‘journalist’ Ajai Shukla. He claimed, “(The defence establishment) exists to serve national and strategic interests, not political interests. But the BJP under Modi has seen critics as anti-Indian, the enemies of India itself.”

Shukla has a history of peddling fake news (here and here) in the context of the India-China border dispute. He had also disseminated conspiracy theories post the 2019 Pulwama terror attack and was dubbed sexist by a prominent Italian journalist.

Despite such dwindling credibility, The Washington Post roped him as an expert for its propaganda-laden piece on ‘Disinfo Lab.’

Leftist media outlet shamelessly defends US State narrative

India has been under tremendous pressure to choose sides, following the Russia-Ukraine war. The US state apparatus and the media on several occasions had even threatened India with sanctions for purchasing oil from Russia, only to receive befitting replies from External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar.

Nevertheless, The Washington Post saw it as an opportunity to attack India’s neutral position in the ongoing crisis. “Coordinated social media accounts have been found to play a role, for instance, in spreading identical posts in support of Russia, an important supplier of weapons and energy to India…” it furthered the US State narrative.

The leftist news outlet targeted the ‘Disinfo Lab’ for exposing the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and its biased reporting on India, which is often used to cast aspersions on Indian democracy.

In February this year, OpIndia reported in detail about the ties of former USCIRF Commissioner Anurima Bhargava to far-left billionaire George Soros. We also exposed how the controversial body has relied on the dubious ‘Tek Fog’ story to make insinuations about India.

The Washington Post legitimises anti-Hindu,anti-India activists

Throughout its article, The Washington Post desperately tried to whitewash both anti-Hindu and anti-India activists and paint them as ‘victims’ of the social media exposé by ‘Disinfo Lab.’

One such activist mentioned by the leftist media outlet happens to be Pieter Friedrich, who has ties to Khalistani terrorist Bhajan Bhinder.

The organization released a dossier nearly 100 pages long alleging that Pieter Friedrich, a California-based activist and journalist who has written magazine articles and given public speeches critical of the BJP and affiliated Hindu-nationalist groups, had ties to the Sikh separatist movement and Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency. The Disinfo Lab burrowed into California state records to uncover Friedrich’s employment history, published his parents’ names and plotted detailed graphs about his social media activity,” it claimed.

In 2021, OpIndia reported how Pieter Friedrich evolved from a Christian zealot and a Gandhi basher to a ‘critic of Hindu fascism’ and a Khalistani asset. In June last year, he was slammed for allegedly giving death threats to a Hindu US Representative from Illinois, Raja Krishnamoorthi.

The Washington Post lamented that ‘Disinfo Lab’, which posted a plethora of evidence tying ‘activist’ Sunita Vishwanath to far-left billionaire George Soros and his Open Society Foundations (OSF), was used against Congress scion Rahul Gandhi.

“The Disinfo Lab dug into her past and reported that a nonprofit she launched to help female Afghan refugees had received funding from Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Two months later, after Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi attended a meeting in Washington with Viswanath as part of a U.S. tour, Amit Malviya, the head of the BJP’s social media team, tweeted a photo of the meeting and shared a flowchart stamped with the Disinfo Lab logo illustrating Viswanath’s connections to Soros,” wrote the leftist media outlet.

Ties of Sunita Vishwanath to Open Society Foundations, graphic by DisinfoLab

Sunita Vishwanath is the co-founder of an organisation named ‘Women for Afghan Women’, which is funded by OSF. She is also the co-founder of ‘Hindus for Human Rights (HfHr)’ and has tried to create hysteria and panic among Indian Muslims about the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

“We are especially appalled by the most recent nightmare of the Kashmiri people, and the situation of 1.9 million people in India who are rendered stateless due to the imposition of the travesty called the National Register of Citizens”, Vishwanath said in 2019.

In September 2021, she also participated in the Hinduphobic conference ‘Dismantling Global Hindutva.’ The Washington Post also roped in the policy director of Hindus for Human Rights (HfHr), Ria Chakraborty, to make a case for an organisation named ‘Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC).’

According to the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), the Indian Americal Muslim Council has links [pdf] with the banned Islamic terror outfit, Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI).

Besides, the Indian American Muslim Council has ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) through its founder Shaik Ubaid. The IAMC is a Jamat-e-Islami-backed lobbyist organisation claiming to be a rights advocacy group.

It had been caught spreading fake news to further the Islamist cause in India. It had also been slapped with the UAPA in 2021.

Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey with anti-Brahmin poster designed by Thenmozhi Soundarajan

The Washington Post also made references to anti-Brahmin activist Thenmozhi Soundarajan and her organisation ‘Equality Labs’. Soundarajan had shot to fame in 2018 after the then Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey clicked pictures with a poster, designed by her, carrying the tagline ‘Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy.’

In April 2022, tech giant Google cancelled a talk by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, owing to the fear that it might create ‘division and rancour’ in the workplace. Google spokesperson Shannon Newberry had said, “We also made the decision to not move forward with the proposed talk which — rather than bringing our community together and raising awareness — was creating division and rancour.”

In November last year, she went on an unhinged tirade against Yoga. During the one-and-a-half-hour-long podcast, Soundararajan cast aspersions on the history of the ancient Indian Hindu practice and claimed that it was used by Brahmins to oppress the Dalit community. She also insinuated that Yoga had an in-built system of hierarchy, which supposedly made it vulnerable to abuse.

Whitewashing of George Soros and his antics

The Washington Post also attempted to whitewash far-left billionaire George Soros and his nefarious anti-India agenda.

The leftist media outlet wrote, “In February, Soros, a frequent critic of Modi, warned in a speech at the Munich Security Conference that the Indian leader was undemocratic and would lose his “stranglehold” over the Indian government. A day later, the Disinfo Lab posted a lengthy tweet thread alleging that Soros had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and manipulated “fake” U.S.-based advocacy groups to smear India. A spokesperson for Soros’s Open Society Foundations called the Disinfo Lab’s claims “entirely baseless” and said they were part of a “campaign by this site and others in India against advocates of human rights, democratic governance and the rule of law in the service of the political aims of the BJP and its allies.”

India has been fighting a ‘perception war’ on all fronts since the start of 2023. On February 16 this year, George Soros exploited the Adani-Hindenburg controversy and launched a scathing attack on the Indian government.

He claimed, “Modi and business tycoon Adani are close allies. Their fate is intertwined…Adani Enterprises tried to raise funds in the stock market, but it failed. Adani is accused of stock manipulation and his stock collapsed like a house of cards.”

Soros accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of crony capitalism. “Modi is silent on the subject, but he will have to answer questions from foreign investors and in parliament,” he added.

The Hungarian-American billionaire also said that the ‘shakedown’ caused to the Indian markets due to the Hindenburg Research report will result in ‘much needed institutional reforms’ and ‘democratic revival’. 

George Soros and his vicious ecosystem of NGOs, activists and journalists had been trying to prove PM Modi as an ‘electoral autocrat’ who needed to be ousted for the ‘greater good’ of this country. And it has been a work in progress for a long time.

The Hungarian-American billionaire has also tried to use international institutions, which are funded by him, including Freedom House and  V-Dem (Varieties of Democracy) Institute to tarnish the image of India at a global level.

In January 2020, the American billionaire committed $1 billion to start a global university to “fight nationalists” and climate change, calling them twin challenges that threaten the survival of our civilisation.

The Washington Post ends up vindicating ‘Disinfo Lab’

Throughout the article, The Washington Post resorted to insinuations, and source-based allegations to discredit ‘Disinfo Lab.’ However, it failed to provide any empirical evidence that could dispute any claims of the Indian OSINT handle.

The leftist news outlet had not refuted the assertion by ‘Disinfo lab’ that its exposé had led to the shutting down of several sources of fake data. “In its response to The Post, the Disinfo Lab pointed to its record of forcing “activists” and “human rights fronts” to shut down by exposing them,” it noted.

Ironically, one such source of fake data, DOTO (Data of Database of the Oppressed), was cited by WaPo tech ‘journalist’ Pranshu Verma in an article in January 2023 to allege that ‘religious hatred’ is on the rise in India.

‘Disinfo Lab’ had earlier exposed the fabrications of DOTO, following which the latter first revised and then deleted the database. The OSINT handle also uncovered the lies of another dubious organisation called OFMI (Organization for Minorities of India), following which the latter shut shop permanently.

The Washington Post resorts to ‘shrewd dishonesty’

The leftist media outlet had reached out to prominent people in the hopes of deterring them from sharing informative posts by ‘Disinfo Lab’.

The Washington Post ‘journalist’ Pranshu Verma messaged American political commentator Jack Posobiec on Friday (8th December) and claimed that the Indian OSINT handle is run by an Intelligence officer.

“We are doing a story on a group called Disinformation Lab. Our reporting shows this group combines fact-based research with unsubstantiated claims to paint U.S. government figures, researchers, Indian American human-rights activists and international humanitarian groups as part of a conspiracy, purportedly led by global Islamic groups and the billionaire George Soros, to undermine India. Our analysis found you have retweeted this organisation’s content,” he claimed.

He further added, “Do you know about the organization’s background? Our research has found Disinfo Lab is actually run by an Indian Intelligence Officer. Did you know that?

Pranshu Verma then sought a response from the American political commentator based on his unsubstantiated assertions. “Due to the sensitive nature of this story, the time for response is tight. Please provide a response by the end of day today, Friday, December 8th,” he emphasised.

However, he did not anticipate a befitting reply from Jack Posobiec that would put ‘The Washington Post’ in the dock. ” So if it’s a intel agency run-media outlet that basically makes it the same as the Washington Post then?” the American political commentator wrote.

Jack Posobiec told Verma that The Washington Post is a media outlet run by the United States Intelligence and by his ‘assertion’ would make it similar to ‘Disinfo Lab.’ As expected, the tech ‘journalist’ did not respond to the message.

Excerpt of the article published by The Washington Post

After the article was published, The Washington Post did not reproduce the actual response of Jack Posobiec. While resorting to shrewd dishonesty, it wrote,” Posobiec did not address whether he was familiar with the organisation’s background.

Washington Post and its targeting of India before 2024 elections

With the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in mind, The Washington Post is leaving no stone unturned to make insinuations about the Modi government and target individuals and accounts known for debunking anti-India propaganda.

The development comes amidst growing concerns about ‘regime change’ operations in India and neighbouring Bangladesh.

Just last month, The Washington Post published a misleading piece wherein it dubbed requests for action to X (formerly Twitter) against extemists by Indian government as ‘global standard for online censorship.’

Screengrab of the news report by The Washington Post

Earlier, it romanticised an Islamist named Raqib Hameed Naik in an article titled ‘Tracking rising religious hatred in India, from half a world away.’ A vicious fake news peddler, Raqib Hameed Naik is the founder of anti-Hindu disinformation outlet ‘Hindutva Watch.’

He is also infamous for denying the Hindu genocide, perpetrated by radical Islamists in the Kashmir Valley, in the early 1990s. Naik had also mocked the Hindu ‘Shivling’ found inside the Gyanvapi mosque in Kashi.

Screengrab of the article by Pranshu Verma

The Washington Post has also published a dubious report on India and its solar power systems. It has given editorial space to the likes of scam-accused ‘journalist’ Rana Ayyub to parrot the narrative of ‘Muslims are in danger in India.’

None of these articles are random but serve a sinister agenda to create a narrative that paints the incumbent elected government as ‘anti-democracy’ and ‘anti-minority’.

In the US, The Washington Post has attempted to distort public perceptions through its dissemination of the Russian disinformation hoax – A conspiracy theory that suggests that the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 US Presidential election was influenced by Russia.

It had also suppressed the ‘Hunter Biden Laptop’ story and influenced the outcome of the 2020 US Presidential election. With less than 6 months left for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the Indian public must be wary of attempts by Western publications to peddle their sinister agenda

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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