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
Part 3 - 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
In April 2017, in her new capacity as head of the Wikimedia Foundation, Katherine Maher participated in an event for the US State Department. The talk was a “Washington Foreign Press Center Briefing,” entitled “Wikipedia in a Post-fact World.” It was published at the official State Department website.
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.
Today, Maher is a member of the advisory board of the US government’s technology regime-change arm the Open Technology Fund (OPT) – a fact she proudly boasts on her LinkedIn profile.
The OPT was created in 2012 as a project of Radio Free Asia, an information warfare vehicle that the New York Times once described as a “worldwide propaganda network built by the CIA.”
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.