Documents expose the so called „independent“ fact-checkers. The so called disinformation fighters are nothing more than well-paid employees working under a $749,387 program funded by the Pentagon.
A U.S. company called News Guard, self-proclaimed as independent fact-checkers, received generous funding from the U.S. Department of Defense last year, a contract with the U.S. military has revealed.
The company in question, founded in 2018, evaluates media outlets that publish investigations related to the US government, Covid, the war in Ukraine, the attempted coup in Venezuela, and marks them as „dangerous“ sites that spread misinformation, are unreliable and violate journalistic practices. Therefore, they should be avoided by readers and advertisers.
News Guard has signed a contract with Microsoft to provide a free fact-checking service to users of the Microsoft Edge browser. Anyone who wants to check whether a site is dangerous can install the News Guard extension for free on their computer’s browser or buy the application for $4.95 per month on their mobile phone, the company’s website states.
In addition, News Guard specifies that they provide their services to social networks, search engines and Internet providers around the world. Thus, any site that is flagged by News Guard as disinformation will be treated by social networks and search engines as dangerous and „disinformation“.
One of the advisers to the News Guard fact-checkers is Gen. Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA, former director of the National Security Agency and former principal deputy director of National Intelligence. Another News Guard adviser is Don Baer, White House communications director during the Clinton administration.
The Pentagon contract
The company that promotes itself as non-political, trustworthy, unbiased, transparent is violating its own rule of transparency. It turns out that the News Guard fact-checkers received $749,387 in funding from the US Air Force which was not declared by News Guard on the company’s website. However, information about the Pentagon contract can be found in the US government’s federal contract registry.
Information obtained from the US federal contracts registry shows that the News Guard „independent“ fact-checkers were awarded a $749,387 contract by the US Air Force (September 7, 2021 – December 8, 2022). „Misinformation Fingerprints“ is stated in the description for the contract.
The company’s website mentions such a Misinformation Fingerprints program aimed at combating misinformation, but not the $749,387 Air Force contract with the US Department of Defense. All that News Guard has disclosed is that they received $25,000 from the US State Department and the US Cyber Command a year earlier – the federal contract notice was published by News Guard on August 8, 2020, and the aim was to combat Covid-related misinformation. There is no information on the News Guard site as of the publication date of this investigation about the $749,387 contract with the US Air Force, awarded next year – 2021.
Why has the Pentagon paid $749,387 for a free extension?
The question that arises logically is why the US Air Force paid such a hefty sum to News Guard to use their services, when the extension can be installed completely free of charge on the Internet browser Microsoft Edge. Why did fact checkers receive $749,387 in US taxpayer money under a one-year contract with the Pentagon, and why didn’t they announce this money and this federal contract with the US military on their website?
I asked News Guard about this particular contract because my personal site dilyana.bg was flagged by their fact-checking team as extremely dangerous disinformation. Of course, I got no answer. Instead, News Guard posted a short statement in their report about my site confirming that I asked them this question, without mentioning a word about the specific contract and funding.
Instead of answering about the $749,387 award, they make a cursory reference to their 2020 State Department and US Cyber Command contract, but not the 2021 US Air Force contract. Their explanation is that the first 2020 contract is for providing information to the US government to combat disinformation. No word on the second contract I asked them about though.
„Especially dangerous disinformation“
My site has been flagged as particularly dangerous disinformation because I have published a series of investigative reports that are not in the interest of the Pentagon. Despite having been funded by the Pentagon, News Guard have failed to disclose in their smear piece about me that they are in an obvious conflict of interest by evaluating my investigations which concern an institution from which they have taken money. These are my investigations into arms trafficking to Syria and Yemen, including 350 diplomatic flights carrying weapons to terrorists in Syria; my investigation into the Pentagon’s biolabs, as well as the Novichok poisoning of the Skripal.
The fact-checkers’ main argument for why the last two investigations are misinformation is that the US and Ukrainian governments are in denial. Therefore, my investigations, although based solely on documents, are misinformation. According to the fact-checkers’ logic, information is true not if it is based on documents, but only when it is confirmed by the US government. If the US government denies it, then it is „pro-Russian propaganda“.
News Guard have not published my full responses to the questions they asked about, but have selectively picked out certain sentences because if they had published the whole correspondence between me and them, their disinformation thesis falls apart. I am therefore publishing all my correspondence with News Guard below. I leave it to you to decide who to believe – the Pentagon awardees or the documents that I have published, many of which are documents origination from Pentagon.
My correspondence with News Guard:
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: Your site is obviously called Dilyana.bg, and the „About Me“ section lists your biography. But I wanted to ask whether you’re the owner of the site, since I’ve seen some other websites that appear to be a person’s blog but are actually owned by another entity. If the site is owned by you, why does the site not disclose that?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: Dilyana.bg is my website and my personal blog. The site does disclose that it is mine. For reference, see the footer – the section indicating what my site is about, when it was launched (2018), by whom (my full name, nationality and occupation). It is clearly stated in the footer. Please, see in the attached file (Attachment 1): a screenshot proving I have indicated that this is my platform, when I launched it and why.
Secondly, the domain .bg is registered in Bulgaria where the ownership is public information. In my country Bulgaria we do not hide this information. For reference, see Attachment 2. In addition, I am sending you the link to the Bulgarian domains register where it is indicated that I am the owner. Here the ownership of any domain is public information (I guess this is not the same in your country and that is why it is an issue for you). Check the link to the official site of Bulgaria: register.bg. The site is in English as well, then click Whois and see yourself. Even if as a non-EU citizen you do not know that here the ownership of any domain is public information, you can easily find out by checking in any WHOIS database – type my domain dilyana.bg and you are being re-directed to register.bg. For reference, see Attachment 3. This check takes less than 10 seconds as here this is public information and all is transparent. We register domains in Bulgaria with our passports. This is the law here. Despite that, I have provided the information that this is my platform in the footer. Sadly, you have missed to see the footer.
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: We also look for websites to have effective corrections policies. However, I didn’t find any evidence of corrections on your site, even though it’s a few years old. Can you comment on why your site has no corrections? If I missed any, can you let me know?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: My site has no corrections as before publishing an article I check thoroughly all facts and details. So far no one has requested a correction due to a mistake or claims that are not true. Of course, if I made a mistake there would be a notice for such a correction and why it was made.
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: We also look for websites to handle the difference between news and opinion responsibly. However, I found several stories under the „News“ section that have opinionated statements and typically present the United States and friendly countries such as Georgia, in a negative light. Some examples are listed below:
-A January 2022 News article, noted above and titled “Documents expose US biological experiments on allied soldiers in Ukraine and Georgia,” opened with skepticism toward the U.S.: “While the US is planning to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe to ‘protect its allies against Russia’, internal documents show what American ‘protection’ in practical terms means.”
-Another article from January 2022 in the News section was titled “Potential pandemic bird flu modified to be more dangerous in new risky NIH research,” and cast the United States in a similarly negative light. “In response to all scandals surrounding the Lugar Center and the growing distrust among Georgians the US Embassy in Tbilisi has launched a propaganda campaign to educate the local population with animated movies on social media and Georgian TV channels,” the article stated.
“All information concerning the Lugar Center apart from the official government narrative has been branded as ‘fake news’, ‘disinformation’ and ‘conspiracy theories’,” the article continued. “The Lugar Center has been given by Western media as an example in the fight against the novel coronavirus even though COVID-ravaged Georgia ranks seventh in the world among the countries with the highest number of deaths per million as of this month.”
-A September 2020 News article titled “Georgia cover-up of deaths in $3.3 billion pharmaceutical project: documents,” ended with a criticism of the Georgian government, stating “The American pharmaceutical company [Gilead] has used Georgia as a free-drug testbed for its products, which raises questions as to why the Georgian authorities have put the interests of a foreign government and a foreign company first before the interests of its own people.”
Can you comment on why these articles contain opinion even though they’re presented as news? Can you comment on whether your site has a particular political stance?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: These articles are in the section NEWS because this is what they are – news. The paragraphs in question are not opinion but a conclusion based on the facts and documents provided. These conclusions are fully backed by the documents presented in the articles in question. My site has no political stance.
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: We also look for sites to not publish false information and to gather and present news and information responsibly. However, I found several articles on your site that seem to make false or unsubstantiated claims. They’re listed below:
-For example, a March 2022 article was titled “Pentagon contractors worked in Ukrainian biolabs under $80 million program,” and repeated the claim that the United States controls a series of biological research laboratories in Ukraine. “The Pentagon activities in Ukrainian biolabs were funded by the Defense Threat Reduction agency (DTRA),” the article stated. It further described a “US military biological research program.” The article also quoted U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, saying that she had “confirmed that ‘Ukraine has biological research facilities’ and the US is worried that ‘those research materials’ may fall into the Russian hands. What ‘research materials’ were studied in these biolaboratories and why are US officials so worried that they may fall into Russian hands?”
There are other articles on your site making similar claims about biolaboratories across Eastern Europe, starting with an April 2018 article titled “The Pentagon Bio-weapons,” that stated “The US Army regularly produces deadly viruses, bacteria and toxins in direct violation of the UN Convention on the prohibition of Biological Weapons. Hundreds of thousands of unwitting people are systematically exposed to dangerous pathogens and other incurable diseases. Bio warfare scientists using diplomatic cover test man-made viruses at Pentagon bio laboratories in 25 countries across the world.”
However, both the U.S. and Ukrainian governments have strongly denied that any research into bioweapons is occurring at these laboratories. Furthermore, claims about the U.S. running biological weapons laboratories in Ukraine and Eastern Europe are typically based on a misrepresentation of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Biological Threat Reduction Program, which collaborates with partner countries to reduce the threat of outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases by helping partners to secure dangerous pathogens and to quickly detect outbreaks. Can you comment on why your site has repeatedly implied or alleged that the U.S. is developing bioweapons in these laboratories?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: Your claim is false. I have not written: “The U.S. is developing bioweapons in these laboratories”. I use the term “produce viruses, bacteria and toxins”, not bioweapons. As to the title “Pentagon bioweapons”: the article assesses the Pentagon bioweapons program in the past (declassified documents) and compares it to the current biological research programs of the US including documents originating from the Pentagon in which it is clearly stated by the US Army that they do produce such deadly viruses, toxins and bacteria, study them and test different dissemination methods. All information is based again only on documents. If you claim this information is false then you should address your question to the Pentagon as these are their documents and reports. I just quote documents.
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: A similar article from May 2020 was titled “Project G-2101: Pentagon biolab discovered MERS and SARS-like coronaviruses in bats,” and stated “The Lugar Center in Georgia is just one of the many Pentagon biolaboratories in 25 countries across the world. They are funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under a $ 2.1 billion military program – Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP), and are located in former Soviet Union countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa. Much of their work is classified and includes projects on bio-agents and pathogens with pandemic potential.” The article then continued with a discussion of the history and effectiveness of biological weapons, strongly implying that the Lugar Center, with Pentagon funding, was developing bioweapons.
However, the Georgian government similarly refuted any claims that such dangerous research was occurring after Russian state media made such allegations. Can you comment on the allegation that the Lugar Center is involved in bioweapons development?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: Again, I have not used these words: “The Lugar Center is involved in bioweapons development”. What I have written is information based on documents and interviews with witnesses on the ground. I cannot comment on other media allegations.
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: A January 2022 article was titled “Documents expose US biological experiments on allied soldiers in Ukraine and Georgia,” and claimed that the Pentagon conducted “potentially lethal” experiments on over 5,000 soldiers from Ukraine and Georgia. It also repeatedly emphasized that the documents in question say that “all volunteer deaths should be reported within 24 h (in Ukraine) and 48 h (in Georgia).” The article also claimed that study results would not be available to participants.
However, the study involved only the taking of blood samples and the answering of some questions, and was therefore not potentially lethal, according to Georgia’s National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC). Furthermore, the study is widely available online. Can you comment on this article?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: Is it widely available online the information in the documents that all volunteer deaths should be reported within 24 h (in Ukraine) and 48 h (in Georgia)? Please, would you provide me the link where this exactly is written and is widely available online? One correction to your question, these are two studies, not one – in Ukraine and in Georgia as I have written in the article.
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: A September 2021 article was titled “UK Defense ministry document reveals Skripals blood samples could have been manipulated,” and concerned the 2018 poisoning of former Russian military official Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. “We have been told that Novichok is the deadliest nerve agent ever developed,” the article stated. “However, none of the alleged ‘Kremlin targets’ (the Skripals and [Russian opposition politician] Alexei Navalny) died and all made full recovery without any damage to their health or permanent harm. How is it possible that the deadliest nerve agent in the world has caused no harm to any of the targeted victims and they all fully recovered?” The article, and another from May 2018, also claimed that the Skripals had been poisoned not with Novichok, but with fentanyl.
However, while Novichok is certainly deadly in some cases, it appears that the way the Skripals came into contact with the nerve agent, combined with the medical care they received soon after, led to their eventual recovery. (Other people have certainly died.) In addition, there does not appear to be any evidence that they were poisoned with fentanyl — I saw the local news article that you cited that suggested poisoning by an opioid, but they later amended their story to remove the suggestion of fentanyl, saying it was widely speculated. Can you comment on why your article continues to allege that the Skripals were not poisoned by Novichok?
Dilyana Gaytandzhieva: My article provides exactly the information you quoted: the local medical journal reported the Skripals were poisoned with fentanyl and afterwards the initial report was amended as exactly my article stated. I provided information about what the initial report stated and that it was later redacted. These are the facts as they happened. My article does not claim, it quotes what the initial report stated and that it was redacted afterwards.
Furthermore, as my other article revealed: Newly disclosed information obtained from the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) under the Freedom of Information Act questions the integrity of the main evidence that the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, namely their blood samples. The ministry is in charge of the British military laboratory DSTL Porton Down which analyzed the Skripals blood samples and reportedly identified Novichok.
“Our searches have failed to locate any information that provides the exact time that the samples were collected”, the ministry states. The information held by MOD therefore indicates that the samples were collected at some point between 16:15 on 4 March 2018 and 18:45 on 5 March 2018 (the approximate time according to MOD when the samples arrived at DSTL Porton Down). Even the time of arrival at Porton Down is indicated as “approximate”.
The lack of this information is gross violation and breach of the chain of custody. The UK NHS protocol requires that a request form accompany all specimens sent to the laboratory and clearly state the exact (not approximate) date and time of collection. This newly disclosed information questions the whole Skripals Novichok poisoning story. The fact that the chain of custody of these blood samples was broken directly suggests that they could have been manipulated and tampered with.
If your question is why I have not deleted my article my answer is because I am not a PR to institutions and governments and do not take their statements for granted. I am a journalist and my job is to check if the official statements are true or not. My other article about the Skripals discovered that the chain of custody of the Skripals’ blood samples had been broken: New evidence has emerged of gross violations during the UK investigation into the alleged poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on 4th March 2018. The new revelations put into question the main evidence that the Skripals were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. This information was obtained from the UK defense ministry under the Freedom of Information Act – again not a claim but facts and documents.
Valerie Pavilonis, News Guard: We also look for sites to disclose their editors. As I said above, your site appears to be your personal blog, but I was wondering if you have anyone who edits your work who is not named on the site.
This article was originally published in Bulgarian here