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From PropOrNot to New Lines: How Washington is weaponizing media

Originally published: MintPress News on May 10, 2024 (more by MintPress News)  |

New Lines Magazine purports to be an independent media organization. Yet it constantly attacks genuine alternative media who stray from Washington’s official foreign policy line, all while employing many spooks, spies and other figures at the heart of the national security state.

Worse still, its parent organization, the New Lines Institute, has recently admitted to being directly funded by the U.S. government. MintPress News takes a closer look at this shady organization acting as Washington’s attack dog.


If you read the Wikipedia entries for many alternative media outlets, they are written off as fringe conspiracy websites pushing debunked foreign propaganda. MintPress News, for example, is described as a “far-left news website” which “publishes disinformation and antisemitic conspiracy theories.” The Grayzone is similarly smeared as a “fringe” blog known for its “misleading reporting” and “sympathetic coverage of authoritarian regimes” such as Syria, Venezuela and China.

The evidence for these evidence-light smears comes primarily from the U.S. foreign policy journal, New Lines Magazine, a product of the New Lines Institute. New Lines is a very new organization that was established only in 2020. Despite this, it has already become a key player in setting U.S. agendas worldwide, boasting a staff of more than 50 and working with over 150 contributors. Headquartered on the prestigious Massachusetts Avenue NW (some of the most expensive real estate in the world), it sits between foreign embassies and many of America’s most prestigious think tanks, a stone’s throw—metaphorically and physically—from the White House.

New Lines describes its goal as “seeking to shape U.S. foreign policy” based on a “deep understanding of distinct regional geopolitics and value systems.” It began by focusing solely on the Middle East but quickly expanded to cover Ukraine, China, Venezuela and other political hotspots that most concern hawks in Washington. It certainly shapes public debate, and its research and experts are regularly quoted in influential outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN.


New Lines presents itself as an independent organization, claiming that it is “one of the few think tanks in Washington with no foreign or local agendas.” Yet its higher ranks are packed with former state officials.

Chief amongst them is New Lines Institute founder and president Ahmed Alwani. Alwani served on the advisory board of the U.S. military’s Africa Command and influenced Washington’s Middle East positions. His New Lines biography boasts that he “met the commanding generals of Fort Jackson, Fort Hood, Fort Bragg, Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Base Andrews as well as then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his staff numerous times during the Iraq War to consult on U.S. policy”—something many might not consider a badge of honor.

Alwani also founded Fairfax University, a controversial private educational institution that Virginia state regulators considered shutting down in 2019. Auditors found that “teachers weren’t qualified to teach their assigned courses,” academic quality was “patently deficient,” plagiarism was “rampant,” and students’ English levels were “abysmally poor,” making Fairfax look far more like a degree mill than a legitimate university.

New Lines’ senior director, Faysal Itani, has a similarly notable past. Before joining the organization, Itani was simultaneously a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council—a NATO-funded think tank that serves as the brains of the military alliance, and an adjunct professor of security studies at Georgetown University—a department a previous MintPress News investigation exposed as a department filled with CIA agents that functions as a training ground for the next generation of American spies.

Another senior director, Nicholas Heras, was central to U.S. actions in Iraq and Syria. Between 2013 and 2014, Heras was a research associate at the National Defense University (an institution funded and overseen by the Pentagon). While there, he worked with military leaders at U.S. Central Command, Special Operations Command and the broader U.S. intelligence community, briefing them on matters relating to the two countries.

Other key New Lines staff members with similar pasts include Tashi Chogyal, who served in the Obama administration at the Department of Justice and as a special assistant to the administrator of USAID, an organization that has overseen a host of foreign regime change operations; Kamran Bokhari, formerly the Central Asia Studies Course Coordinator at the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute; Tanya Domi, a 15-year U.S. Army veteran who also served at the State Department as a spokesperson and counsel for multiple American ambassadors to Bosnia and Herzegovina; Tammy Palacios, currently employed by the United States Military Academy as a counter-terrorism research fellow and Michael Weiss, a non-resident senior research fellow at NATO’s Atlantic Council.

When it comes to attacking alternative media, Weiss, in particular, has a notable past. In late 2016, an anonymous organization called PropOrNot published a list of some 200 websites that it classified as routine peddlers of Russian disinformation. Many leading alternative media outlets were on that list, including MintPress News, WikiLeaks, Truthout, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism and Antiwar.com. The charges were false, but the effect was staggering.

The PropOrNot list went viral, boosted by mainstream outlets such as the Washington Post, which insinuated that a massive, Kremlin-controlled propaganda network was responsible for Donald Trump’s electoral victory. Google, Facebook and other prominent social media platforms subsequently changed their algorithms to punish the outlets on the list and promote “authoritative” content like the Washington Post or Fox News. MintPress News lost more than 90% of its Google search traffic almost overnight, never to return. It was later revealed that PropOrNot was likely Weiss’ brainchild, meaning that the hysteria over foreign government interference in our media was probably a domestic government-funded operation.

A number of other key New Lines staff also previously worked at Stratfor, an organization often referred to as the “shadow CIA,” a private group carrying out intelligence gathering on behalf of the U.S. government.


Perhaps the most notable New Lines Institute employee, however, is non-resident fellow Elizabeth Tsurkov. Tsurkov is a Russian-born Israeli who, before joining New Lines, worked at a number of hawkish think tanks, including the Atlantic Council and Freedom House.

She grew up in Israel and served for many years in Israeli military intelligence, including during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon. She also worked directly for former Israeli Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky. In 2015, she published a photo of her at the Pentagon, claiming she was on a “special mission accompanied by the State Department.”

Tsurkov was an obscure figure who only came to international attention in 2023 when she was arrested in Baghdad, carrying out what authorities described as a spying mission. The news made worldwide headlines, with many official figures in the West leaping to her defense, describing the charges as ridiculous.

It transpired that she had concealed her identity, entering Iraq on a Russian passport, and presented herself as a Russian researcher and supporter of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. A 2022 video interview shows Tsurkov in Baghdad dressed in a khimar — a modest black dress and head covering. “It is clear that Muqtada al-Sadr is a patriotic figure who rejects intervention from any country, whether in the West or the East… In my opinion, this should be the position of every Iraqi political leader,” Tsurkov says, adding that the United States is an “oppressor” nation.

This is a blatant deception, given that she is a former Israeli intelligence officer who worked for NATO’s think tank. In fact, Tsurkov has long taken hostile, anti-Shia positions, supported Sunni militias in Syria and championed U.S. military intervention in the region.

For years, she was one of the most outspoken Syria regime change hawks online, downplaying the U.S.-backed “moderate rebels’” connections to Al-Qaeda and even promoting the “Gay Girl in Damascus” blog—an online personality purporting to be a Syrian opposition organizer that was later unmasked as a pro-regime change hoax run by an American student at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Tsurkov initially claimed she was in Iraq to conduct academic research for Princeton University. This was also the position taken by the Israeli government (whose laws prohibit its citizens from traveling to Iraq without special dispensation). “She is an academic who visited Iraq on her Russian passport, at her own initiative pursuant to work on her doctorate and academic research on behalf of Princeton University in the U.S.,” stated the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Princeton, however, categorically denied that it had allowed her to go to Iraq on university business.

Thus, very little about her story makes any sense, leading many to conclude that Iraqi authorities were correct in their assessment of Tsurkov. Adding weight to this theory is the complete radio silence from New Lines since her arrest and imprisonment. In more than one year, neither the New Lines Institute nor its magazine has released so much as a sentence addressing the detention of one of the institute’s more senior staff members.

In a video released in November, Tsurkov stated that she was actually in Iraq on behalf of the CIA and Israeli intelligence outfit Mossad. Her goals were to foment intra-Shia division and strife and to organize and support anti-corruption protests. She also said that she traveled to Syria to build ties between Israel and the (Sunni) Syrian opposition forces. Given that she had been detained for over half a year by this point, it is not clear if she was coerced into “confessing.”


Studying their output, it is clear that New Lines has two principal targets: nations the U.S. has deemed enemy states and alternative media outlets that question the narratives that New Lines and the U.S. government are trying to establish. Indeed, New Lines has spent years investigating alternative media, promoting a narrative that opposition to U.S. foreign policy equals being in the pay of official enemy countries.

A 2022 article titled “How the Pro-Putin West Is Coping With Russian Defeat in Ukraine” presented journalists such as Max Blumenthal and Michael Tracey, as well as renowned academic Professor Noam Chomsky as Kremlin admirers, and claimed that Ukraine’s “lightning counteroffensive” and the “rapid territorial advances” had left Russia defeated. News of this defeat will no doubt surprise many reading in 2024. But this sort of disinformation about disinformation has become a common method of attacking and smearing anti-war voices.

Another article describes what it calls an “echo chamber” of Syria “conspiracy theorists.” It mentions MintPress News and a host of other alternative media outlets, including Consortium News, Project Censored, Free Speech TV, Media Roots, Shadow Proof, The Grayzone, Truthout, Common Dreams and Antiwar.com.

New Lines again attacked MintPress News for our coverage of Latin America, claiming that we backed “leftist dictatorships” by “looking the other way” as they crushed protests. The report appeared particularly annoyed that we did not support the 2021 Cuban protests—a movement it lionized as an anti-racist uprising led by the local hip-hop community. MintPress showed that the Cuban demonstrations were led by artists funded, trained, and supported by the National Endowment for Democracy and USAID, which are part of the same network that funds New Lines.

Groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, as well as journalist Ben Norton and author and public intellectual Vijay Prashad, were also singled out for their support for anti-imperial governments in Latin America.


Considering its output, its constant support for U.S. policy and attacks on both domestic and international opponents of Washington, speculation was rife that the U.S. government was secretly funding New Lines. But the institute had always denied this, presenting itself as a neutral, agenda-free organization. That was, at least, until late last year when it announced that it had reached a “cooperative agreement” with the Modern War Institute at the United States Military Academy at West Point to “jointly develop actionable recommendations for U.S. global leadership to address pressing global security challenges.” In other words, to plan out American military strategy. The New Lines Institute also noted that they would now “serve as an intellectual resource for solving military problems.”

Days later, New Lines’ “About Us” section was updated, removing all reference to being funded by the Fairfax Foundation and inserting a clause admitting U.S. government financial support, strongly suggesting that the military is now bankrolling it. It now reads (emphasis added):

Funding for The New Lines Institute is provided by the The [sic] Washington Institute for Education and Research, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization registered in Washington DC.

New Lines Institute accepts research grants and charitable donations from U.S. individuals, registered U.S. legal entities, and the U.S. Government in support of its research priorities, and only insofar as such support is in compliance with U.S. laws and regulations; aligns with the institute’s vision, mission, purpose and principles; and falls within its core areas of expertise.

The news did not come as a shock to those paying close attention. “It will come as a surprise to no-one that New Lines is funded by the U.S. government,” wrote investigative journalist Matt Kennard on Twitter.

There is a certain tenor to the articles of these cut-outs that is instantly recognizable. Slightly critical—to be convincing—but only up to a point which leaves state narratives robust.

Others were even more scathing. “Congrats to New Lines on their new collaboration with the Modern War Institute at West Point Military Academy,” quipped The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté;

A good reminder that people who smear Grayzone and other independent journalists as state-funded are often projecting.


With their quiet admission of U.S. government funding, New Lines joins an ever-growing list of organizations like Graphika and Bellingcat that present themselves as independent but are funded by the U.S. government. Former U.S. state and intelligence officials staff them and dutifully repeat U.S. government narratives and talking points.

Through their reports and studies, groups like New Lines launder Washington’s narratives into the public domain, smuggled in under the guise of objectivity. Worse still, New Lines has been at the forefront of attacking and demonizing the few dissenting voices left in American society, their reports being used to further marginalize alternative media—the only place where serious domestic critique of U.S. foreign policy can occur. It is, therefore, doubly crucial that organizations like New Lines are understood for precisely what they are: the State Department’s attack dogs.

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