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US govt-linked PR firm ran fake news networks for right-wing Latin American regimes

A Washington, DC-based PR firm linked to the US government and Democratic Party, CLS Strategies, ran a fake news network on Facebook and Instagram, spreading propaganda for Bolivia’s coup regime and the right-wing opposition in Venezuela and Mexico.

by Ben Norton

Part 9 - CLS Strategies’ deep ties to the US government

CLS Strategies boasts on its website that it has a “team of veteran political operatives, former journalists and corporate communications experts” who are employed as “strategists, counselors and problem solvers.” Among those veteran political operatives are some prominent former US government officials.

A senior advisor to CLS is Mark Feierstein, a longtime Democratic Party operative who has spent decades overseeing regime-change policies in Latin America.

Feierstein played a key role in the Obama administration’s foreign policy team as the president’s top advisor on Latin America, and served as senior director for Western hemisphere affairs on the National Security Council.

While working in the Obama administration, Feierstein helped oversee a 2012 soft coup against elected left-wing President Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, as first reported by Spanish researcher Julián Macías Tovar.

In his CLS Strategies professional bio, Mark Feierstein boasted that he “also oversaw the United States Agency for International Development’s programming in the Americas as assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, a Senate-confirmed position, and later took on a global portfolio as USAID’s deputy administrator for two years.

USAID is a regime-change arm of the US government, and has been used to support coup attempts against leftist governments in Latin America.

Feierstein’s CLS profile also trumpeted that he “was a principal strategist for winning national campaigns in Austria, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Honduras, and designed communications strategies for major multinational companies, including Boeing, BP and Monsanto.

Feierstein previously served in the Bill Clinton administration, and advised the US ambassador to the OAS. He also worked at another US government regime-change entity, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In his CLS bio, Feierstein boasted that he spent his time at the NDI helping the right-wing Nicaraguan opposition challenge the Sandinista government.

Feierstein is also a close associate and friend of US regime-change operative Roger Noriega, a neoconservative Washington insider who crafted Latin America policy in the George W. Bush administration’s State Department and Ronald Reagan’s USAID, where Noriega oversaw support for far-right Contra death squads in Nicaragua.

Mark Feierstein’s political background was included in a bio he had on the CLS Strategies website. But the PR firm removed Feierstein’s page, apparently in response to the backlash over its fake news ring. Feierstein’s significant role in CLS drew the attention of the Bolivian media.

Another senior advisor for the influential firm is David Romley, who previously filled senior positions in the Department of Defense. In his official CLS bio, Romley boasts:

David served 20 years in the United States Marine Corps as a public affairs officer where he was a press attaché to the Secretary of Defense and a Pentagon spokesman. While there, he developed the department’s response to interagency communication efforts following the capture of Saddam Hussein and during operation Phantom Fury, the battle for Fallajuh, Iraq. He was senior Marine spokesman during combat operations in Afghanistan for General Jim Mattis and Task Force-58, and in Iraq he authored the combined Marine Corps and British Royal Commando communications plan to integrate more than 340 news media representatives into combat operations. As Director of Community Relations for the United States Marine Corps he established its trademark and license office and created the Corps’ signature public outreach and community relations campaign, Marine Week.

After leaving the US military, Romley went on to serve as vice president for communications at the Washington, DC-based German Marshall Fund, a hawkish think tank created during the first cold war to turn up the heat on the former Soviet Union. Flush with funding from the US and German governments, NATO, European Union, and Western weapons corporations, the German Marshall Fund has in the Trump era become a major home for neoconservative operatives.

The German Marshall Fund sponsors a neo-McCarthyite organization called the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which has worked to fuel the new cold war on Russia and China. Its slogan is, “Putin knocked. We answered.” And the outfit devotes an increasing amount of resources to attacking independent Western journalists who report critically on US foreign policy.

After leaving the German Marshall Fund, CLS senior advisor David Romley found cushy positions at other bellicose DC think tanks, including the neoconservative Hudson Institute and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), which was closely linked to the Obama administration and was used to fill his State Department and Pentagon with experienced hawks.

But Feierstein and Romely are by no means the only powerful figures involved with CLS Strategies. The PR firm is also deeply tied to the Washington juggernaut the Atlantic Council, NATO’s de facto think tank.

This is ironic, given that Facebook — which took down the CLS fake news ring on its platform — is itself a major financial sponsor of the Atlantic Council. Other donors to the think tank include the governments of the United States, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates, NATO, and the European Union, along with corporate arms manufacturers and fossil fuel companies.

Before rebranding as CLS Strategies in 2014, the PR firm was called Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates. The S in CLS comes from its co-founder Peter Schechter.

Schechter is one of the most influential operatives in Washington, DC working on Latin America related issues, and has extensive experience representing powerful right-wing heads of state.

In 2013, Schechter was the founding director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, which has pushed a hawkish line against the leftist governments in the region, advancing the interests of right-wing regimes and pushing neoliberal economic policies.

In 2017, Schechter left the Atlantic Council to found Altamar, a political communications consulting firm that has been hired by Colombia’s former right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos and Peru’s former neoliberal President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who was forced to resign during impeachment proceedings over major corruption charges.

As The Grayzone contributor Alexander Rubinstein reported, Schechter went on to co-found a DC restaurant in 2019, called Immigrant Food. Located blocks from the White House, Immigrant Food sought to capitalize on liberal opposition to President Donald Trump and his xenophobic rhetoric.

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