Wikipedia has become a bulletin board for corporate and imperial interests under the watch of its Randian founder, Jimmy Wales, and the veteran US regime-change operative who heads the Wikimedia Foundation, Katherine Maher.
By Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal
This is part 2 in a series of investigative reports on the systemic problems with Wikipedia. Read part 1 here: “Wikipedia formally censors The Grayzone as regime-change advocates monopolize editing“
Internet encyclopedia giant Wikipedia has listed The Grayzone as a “deprecated source,” censoring the independent organization, alongside several other news websites, on an official blacklist of taboo media outlets.
The blacklisting is the result of a long-running campaign run by a coterie of regime-change activists who have effectively hijacked Wikipedia, scrubbing the site of information that runs counter to their sectarian agenda and editing their political adversaries out of existence.
At no point has this cabal of editors pointed to a pattern of errors or fabrications by The Grayzone. Instead, they have argued for its blacklisting on the grounds of the political views of its writers, a wholesale violation of Wikipedia guidelines that demand neutrality in editing.
As detailed in part one of this series, Wikipedia founders and the Wikimedia Foundation have done nothing to address the fundamental corruption of the internet encyclopedia they oversee by a gang of hyper-partisan censors.
That might be because the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, and the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, veteran US regime-change operative Katherine Maher, share the interventionist and corporate agenda that disproportionately powerful, neoconservative-oriented editors advance under their watch.
Jimmy Wales’ Randian philosophy, corporate and national security ties come to the surface
Born from seemingly humble beginnings, the Wikimedia Foundation is today swimming in cash and invested in many of the powerful interests that benefit from its lax editorial policy.
The foundation’s largest donors include corporate tech giants Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Craigslist. With more than $145 million in assets in 2018, nearly $105 million in annual revenue, and a massive headquarters in San Francisco, Wikimedia has carved out a space for itself next to these Big Tech oligarchs in the Silicon Valley bubble.
It is also impossible to separate Wikipedia as a project from the ideology of its creator. When he co-founded the platform in 2001, Jimmy “Jimbo” Wales was a conservative libertarian and devoted disciple of right-wing fanatic Ayn Rand.
A former futures and options trader, Wales openly preached the gospel of “Objectivism,” Rand’s ultra-capitalist ideology that sees government and society itself as the root of all evil, heralding individual capitalists as gods.
Wales described his philosophy behind Wikipedia in specifically Randian terms. In a video clip from a 2008 interview, published by the Atlas Society, an organization dedicated to evangelizing on behalf of Objectivism, Wales explained that he was influenced by Howard Roark, the protagonist of Rand’s novel The Fountainhead.
Wikipedia’s structure was expressly meant to reflect the ideology of its libertarian tech entrepreneur founder, and Wales openly said as much.
At the same time, however, Wikipedia editors have upheld the diehard Objectivist Jimmy Wales, as the New York Times put it in 2008, as a “benevolent dictator, constitutional monarch, digital evangelist and spiritual leader.”
Wales has always balanced his libertarian inclinations with old-fashioned American patriotism. He was summoned before the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Operations in 2007 to further explain how Wikipedia and its related technologies could be of service to Uncle Sam.
Wales began his remarks stating, “I am grateful to be here today to testify about the potential for the Wikipedia model of collaboration and information sharing which may be helpful to government operations and homeland security.”
“At a time when the United States has been increasingly criticized around the world, I believe that Wikipedia is an incredible carrier of traditional American values of generosity, hard work, and freedom of speech,” Wales continued, implicitly referencing the George Bush administration’s military occupation of Iraq.
The Wikipedia founder added, “The US government has always been premised on responsiveness to citizens, and I think we all believe good government comes from broad, open public dialogue. I therefore also recommend that US agencies consider the use of wikis for public facing projects to gather information from citizens and to seek new ways of effectively collaborating with the public to generate solutions to the problem that citizens face.”
In 2012, Wales married Kate Garvey, the former diary secretary of ex-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Their wedding, according to the conservative UK Telegraph, was “witnessed by guests from the world of politics and celebrity.”
Wales’ status-quo-friendly politics have only grown more pronounced over the years. In 2018, for instance, he publicly cheered on Israel’s bombing of the besieged Gaza strip and portrayed Britain’s leftist former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite.
The Wikimedia Foundation’s Katherine Maher: US regime-change operative with deep corporate links
Jimmy Wales and the Wikimedia Foundation claim to have little power over the encyclopedia itself, but it is widely known that this is just PR. Wikimedia blew the lid off this myth in 2015 when it removed a community-elected member of its board of trustees, without explanation.
At the time of this scandal, the Wikimedia Foundation’s board of trustees included a former corporate executive at Google, Arnnon Geshuri, who was heavily scrutinized for shady hiring practices. Geshuri, who also worked at billionaire Elon Musk’s company Tesla, was eventually pressured to step down from the board.
But just a year later, Wikimedia appointed another corporate executive to its board of trustees, Gizmodo Media Group CEO Raju Narisetti.
The figure that deserves the most scrutiny at the Wikimedia Foundation, however, is its executive director Katherine Maher, who is closely linked to the US regime-change network.
Maher boasts an eyebrow-raising résumé that would impress the most ardent of cold warriors in Washington.
With a degree in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies from New York University, Maher studied Arabic in Egypt and Syria, just a few years before the so-called Arab Spring uprising and subsequent Western proxy war to overthrow the Syrian government.
Maher then interned at the bank Goldman Sachs, as well as the Council on Foreign Relations and Eurasia Group, both elite foreign-policy institutions that are deeply embedded in the Western regime-change machine.
At the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Maher says on her public LinkedIn profile that she worked in the “US/Middle East Program,” oversaw the “CFR Corporate Program,” and “Identified appropriate potential clients, conducted outreach.”
At the Eurasia Group, Maher focused on Syria and Lebanon. According to her bio, she “Developed stability forecasting and scenario modeling, and market and political stability reports.”
Maher moved on to a job at London’s HSBC bank – which would go on to pay a whopping $1.9 billion fine after it was caught red-handed laundering money for drug traffickers and Saudi financiers of international jihadism. Her work at HSBC brought her to the UK, Germany, and Canada.
Next, Maher co-founded a little-known election monitoring project focused on Lebanon’s 2008 elections called Sharek961. To create this platform, Maher and her associates partnered with an influential technology non-profit organization, Meedan, which has received millions of dollars of funding from Western foundations, large corporations like IBM, and the permanent monarchy of Qatar.
Meedan also finances the regime-change lobbying website, Bellingcat, which is considering a reliable source on Wikipedia, while journalism outlets like The Grayzone are formally blacklisted.
Sharek961 was funded by the Technology for Transparency Network, a platform for regime-change operations bankrolled by billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network and billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
Maher subsequently moved over to a position as an “innovation and communication officer” at the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. There, she oversaw projects funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), an arm of the US State Department which finances regime-change operations and covert activities around the globe under the auspices of humanitarian goodwill.
Soon enough, Maher cut out the middleman and went to work as a program officer in information and communications technology at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), which was created and financed directly by the US government. The NDI is a central gear in the regime-change machine; it bankrolls coup and destabilization efforts across the planet in the guise of “democracy promotion.”
At the NDI, Maher served as a program officer for “internet freedom projects,” advancing Washington’s imperial soft power behind the front of boosting global internet access – pursuing a strategy not unlike the one used to destabilize Cuba.
The Wikimedia Foundation CEO says on her LinkedIn profile that her work at the NDI included “democracy and human rights support” as well as designing technology programs for “citizen engagement, open government, independent media, and civil society for transitional, conflict, and authoritarian countries, including internet freedom programming.”
After a year at the NDI, she moved over to the World Bank, another notorious vehicle for Washington’s power projection.
At the World Bank, Maher oversaw the creation of the Open Development Technology Alliance (ODTA), an initiative that uses new technologies to impose more aggressive neoliberal economic policies on developing countries.
Maher’s LinkedIn page notes that her work entailed designing and implementing “open government and open data in developing and transitioning nations,” especially in the Middle East and North Africa.
At the time of her employment at the World Bank, the Arab Spring protests were erupting.
In October 2012, in the early stages of the proxy war in Syria, Maher tweeted that she was planning a trip to Gaziantep, a Turkish city near the Syrian border that became the main hub for the Western-backed opposition. Gaziantep was at the time crawling with Syrian insurgents and foreign intelligence operatives plotting to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Planning to go to Gaziantep in a few days. A timely NYT report from the Turkish-Syrian border: http://t.co/LfqaEnL1
— Katherine Maher (@krmaher) October 13, 2012
Just two months later, in December, she tweeted that was was on a flight to Libya. Just over a year before, a NATO regime-change war had destroyed the Libyan government, and foreign-backed insurgents had killed leader Muammar Qadhafi, unleashing a wave of violence – and open-air slave markets.
Today, Libya has no unified central government and is still plagued by a grueling civil war. What Maher was doing in the war-torn country in 2012 is not clear.
I’m on the plane to Libya. Holy wow, batman. pic.twitter.com/hvYFrbO0
— Katherine Maher (@krmaher) December 9, 2012
Maher’s repeated trips to the Middle East and North Africa right around the time of these uprisings and Western intervention campaigns raised eyebrows among local activists.
In 2016, when Maher was named executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, a prominent Tunisian activist named Slim Amamou spoke out, alleging that “Katherine Maher is probably a CIA agent.”
Amamou briefly served as secretary of state for sport and youth in Tunisia’s transitional government, before later resigning. He noted that Maher traveled to the country several times since the Arab Spring protests broke out in 2011, and he found it strange that her affiliations kept changing.
Katherine Maher is probably a CIA agent. She’s been in Tunisia multiple times since 2011 under multiple affiliations https://t.co/HMwevSCngF
— Slim Amamou (@slim404) March 13, 2016
Maher replied angrily, “seriously, Slim? You’ve welcomed me in your home.”
Amamou shot back, “you gave me the impression that you were not who you claimed to be back then.”
@krmaher you gave me the impression that you were not who you claimed to be back then
— Slim Amamou (@slim404) March 13, 2016
Maher denied the accusation. “I’m not any sort of agent,” she said. “You can dislike me, but please don’t defame me.”
Amamou responded, “I don’t dislike you. I’m doing my duty of protecting the internet.”
@krmaher I don’t dislike you. I’m doing my duty of protecting the internet
— Slim Amamou (@slim404) March 14, 2016
Amamou lamented that the “Wikimedia foundation is changing.. and not in a good way.”
“It’s sad, because rare are organisations that have this reach in developing world,” he added.
Wikmedia foundation is changing.. and not in a good way. It’s sad, because rare are organisations that have this reach in developing world
— Slim Amamou (@slim404) March 13, 2016
In April 2017, in her new capacity as head of the Wikimedia Foundation, Katherine Maher participated in an event for the US State Department.
Maher spoke about the libertarian philosophy behind Wikipedia, echoing the Ayn Randian ideology of founder Jimmy Wales.
When journalists asked how Wikipedia deals “with highly charged topics,” where “some entities – sometimes countries, sometimes various other entities – are often engaged in conflict with each other,” Maher repeatedly provided a non-answer, recycling vague platitudes about the Wikipedia community working together.
The Grayzone has clearly demonstrated how Wikipedia editors overwhelmingly side with Western governments in these editorial conflicts, echoing the perspectives of interventionists and censoring critical voices.
A few months later, in January 2018, Maher appeared on a panel with Michael Hayden, the former director of both the CIA and NSA, and a notorious hater of journalists, as well with a top Indian government official, K. VijayRaghavan.
The talk, entitled “Lies Propaganda and Truth,” was held by the organization behind the Nobel Prize.
The moderator of the discussion, Mattias Fyrenius, the CEO of the Nobel Prize’s media arm, asked Maher: “There is some kind of information war going on – and maybe you can say that there is a war going on between the lies, and the propaganda, and the facts, and maybe truth – do you agree?”
“Yes,” Maher responded in agreement. She added her own question: “What are the institutions, what is the obligation of institutions to actually think about what the future looks like, if we actually want to pass through this period with our integrity intact?”
Hayden, the former US spy agency chief, then blamed “the Russians” for waging that information war. He referred to Moscow as “the adversary,” and claimed the “Russian information bubble, information dominance machine, created so much confusion.”
Maher laughed in approval, disputing nothing that Hayden said. In the same discussion, Maher also threw WikiLeaks (which is blacklisted on Wikipedia) under the bus, affirming, “Not WikiLeaks, I want to be clear, we’re not the same organization.” The former CIA director next to her chuckled.
Since disaffiliating from this CIA cutout in 2019, the OPT is now bankrolled by the US Agency for Global Media, the government’s propaganda arm, formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Like Maher’s former employer the National Democratic Institute, the OPT advances US imperial interests in the guise of promoting “internet freedom” and new technologies. It also provides large grants to opposition groups in foreign nations targeted by Washington for regime change.
While she serves today as the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, Katherine Maher remains a fellow at the Truman National Security Project, a Washington, DC think tank that grooms former military and intelligence professionals for careers in Democratic Party politics.
The Truman Project website identifies Maher’s expertise as “international development.”
As The Grayzone’s Max Blumenthal reported, the most prominent fellow of the Truman Project is Pete Buttigieg, the US Naval intelligence veteran who emerged as a presidential frontrunner in the Democratic primary earlier this year.
The extensive participation by the head of the Wikimedia Foundation in US government regime-change networks raises serious questions about the organization’s commitment to neutrality.
Perhaps the unchecked problem of political bias and coordinated smear campaigns by a small coterie of Wikipedia editors is not a bug, but a deliberately conceived feature of the website.