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In-Depth Interview: Journalist/Author Yasha Levine Shares the True History of the Internet

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Yasha Levine returns to this podcast to talk about his long-awaited book: Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet, and to comment on Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians, and other current topics.Levine was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and emigrated to the US at age 9. He studied computer science at UC Berkeley, then switched to journalism. He was writing for Pando, the Silicon Valley media site, when we first connected a few years ago.

His new book will change your understanding of the origins of the internet. Levine’s book explores the US reaction to the Soviet Union’s 1957 Sputnik launch, which led to the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, now known as DARPA, as a public/private partnership to develop new weapons and technology.  In 1960, J.C.R Licklider published a paper that sketched a remarkable vision for networked computers, and engaged academics from MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley and other institutions to develop the elements of today’s internet.  And, says Levine, “Surveillance was baked in from the very beginning”.

We open with a discussion of Special Counsel Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russians at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg on allegations of using social media to influence the 2016 US election in favor of Trump. Then we shift to the early history of Project Agile in Vietnam, aimed at collecting data on the population to generate persuasion and propaganda messages as part of a larger counterinsurgency program.  We also focus on the role of Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, and his 1972 Rolling Stone article intended to quell protests over DARPA’s plans to develop an internet that could be used to spy on Americans.

Levine is critical of NSA leaker Ed Snowden and his allies for their continuing support for the Tor encryption system, which is still today funded by the US Navy, the State Department and the Broadcast Board of Governors, the American propaganda unit.  This book is a must-read for anyone who thinks Tor and Signal can’t be compromised.

There’s much more in our conversation, which runs over an hour, and in Levine’s book.