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JOHN KIRIAKOU: Reckoning with a Major Twitter Troll

Louise Mensch has defamed many people in the past few years, including the author of this column. Often, as in his case, she accused them of being Russian agents. The examples are almost too many to mention. But here’s a start.  

Troll warning. (Gil, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

By John Kiriakou

Special to Consortium News

Louise Mensch, a former Conservative Party member of the British Parliament tweeted the following on Feb. 9: “Convicted spy for Russia, traitor, and Russian State Radio host John Kiriakou says what??”

She followed that up a minute later with a second tweet: “Yes, John Kiriakou was convicted of espionage and subsequently went on to host a radio show for Russian state radio, proving that he was indeed a spy, a traitor, and an excuser of genocide.” These tweets were apropos of nothing. I have no idea why she wrote them.

I have never met Louise Mensch. I have never interacted with her. I was, however, familiar with her reputation as a loose cannon who loves to throw verbal grenades into the middle of the room and laugh as people scatter.

Mensch made a name for herself as the author of more than a dozen “chick lit” novels in her native U.K. In 2010 she was elected as a Conservative to the British Parliament, but she resigned two years later to move to the United States to marry her second husband, Peter Mensch, the manager of the heavy metal group Metallica, from whom she divorced in 2019.

In 2014, Mensch began working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, where she launched its “Heat Street” website. She left News Corp in 2017 and began focusing on her own blog and on Twitter, tweeting as many as 250 times a day.

Trail of Twitter Incidents 

Piers Morgan, right, interviewing U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in February 2023. (Number 10 Downing/CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

I’m certainly not the only person Mensch has attacked in the past few years. The examples are almost too many to mention. But…that won’t stop me.

In 2011 Mensch was forced to issue an apology to broadcaster Piers Morgan after falsely saying that he had admitted to carrying out wiretapping in his reporting. She was a member of Parliament at the time and so had parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

Mensch said in July 2012 that taking hard drugs while in her 20s had left her with “long-term mental health problems” and had caused her to suffer bouts of anxiety.

She said in May 2013 that she had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and that she was an alcoholic.

In May 2015, Mensch was accused of bullying and harassing a 17-year-old British girl, berating her on Twitter for using a hashtag that she had appropriated from another Twitter user. Mensch followed up her Twitter bullying with a 4,000-word blog post denying that she had bullied the girl.

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was so angry at Mensch’s behavior that he complained directly to her supervisors at The Sun newspaper. While denying that she was a bully, she referred to the teenager as “distasteful,” “self-glorifying,” “disgraceful,” hysterical,” displaying “extraordinary hypocrisy,” twice “doxxing a reporter,” and feeding “a victim complex.”

Russian Obsession 

Mensch said in 2016 that the attack on the Reina nightclub in Istanbul where 39 people were killed and dozens were wounded on Dec. 31, 2015, was a Russian “false flag operation.” She later said that ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the attack, “is under Russian control” and that “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is ISIS.”

Mourners after the attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, Jan. 3, 2017. (Mark Lowen, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

In the first four months of 2017, Mensch accused at least 210 people and organizations of being under direct Russian government influence. These included 35 American politicians and government officials, 26 journalists, 26 organizations and corporations (including think tanks, banks, media outlets, foreign intelligence agencies and security firms), 18 Russian citizens, 18 U.S. citizens notable for political donations or affiliations, 80 low-level Twitter accounts she characterized as “Putinbots,” and two British politicians.

How was prison, Craig? ? https://t.co/pnMND4LXHr

— LouiseMensch ???? (@LouiseMensch) March 17, 2023

The list includes Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Fox News broadcaster Sean Hannity. She has also accused former F.B.I. agent Naveed Jamali and political strategist Evan Siegfried of being “Russian spies.” When asked for a comment, Mensch told Buzzfeed, “If anything the number of Russian agents is understated.” She said that her criteria for determining whether or not someone was a Russian agent depended on “Intelligence from sources; actions; words, such as tweets; and other primary source material.”

In 2017, according to Slate, Mensch called Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) a “douchebag,” and said that she hopes “Trump will die in jail, at least stay there til the tertiary syphillis really kicks in.”

Mensch went on the BBC’s Sunday Politics program on March 12, 2017, to say that she “had evidence” that Russian agents had murdered Breitbart founder Andrew Breitbart in 2012. Breitbart had died of a heart attack while jogging. Mensch said in the interview when asked if she had evidence to support her assertion, “I do.” She did not. The Russian “murder” of Breitbart is a well-known baseless conspiracy theory.

On April 3, 2017, Matt Taibbi, then of Rolling Stone, reported that Mensch had falsely accused many people of having ties to Russia, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions (“a Russian partisan”), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Assistant F.B.I. Director James Kallstrom (“Russian agents of influence”), the investigative journalism site ProPublica and the news program Democracy Now! (“Russian shills”), and an unnamed number of F.B.I. agents in the Bureau’s New York Field Office (“Russian moles.”)

Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Aug. 17, 2014, following the police killing of Michael Brown. (Loavesofbread, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Mensch tweeted on April 9, 2017, that Russia was responsible for the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, that began when a police officer shot and killed MichaelBrown because the demonstrations had been “funded by the Russian government.”

Mensch reported falsely on May 16, 2017, that “a sealed indictment — intended by the Justice Department to form the basis of Mr. Trump’s impeachment — had already been granted against the president over his links to Russia.”

On Aug. 28, 2017, The Guardian reported that, “Claude Taylor tweeted fake details of criminal inquiries into Trump that were invented by a source whose claim to work for the New York attorney general was not checked. The allegations were then endorsed as authentic and retweeted by his co-writer, Louise Mensch.” Mensch had earlier said falsely that “Trump was being replaced as president by Senator Orrin Hatch in a process kept secret from the American people.”

Since 2017, Mensch has taken increasingly extreme public positions on a variety of issues, but particularly on Russia. Despite being a former member of the British Conservative Party, and a self-described Republican until 2019, Mensch published thousands of tweets accusing Donald Trump of being a Russian “agent,” and in short order, everybody with whom she disagreed became a Russian “agent,” “mole,” “lackey,” or “agent of influence,” including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, investor Peter Thiel, the entire leadership of the F.B.I. and most congressional leaders.

And Then It Was My Turn

Libel. (Eric Molinsky, CALI – Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I was in Havana on the evening of Feb. 9 and was having some trouble sleeping, so I decided to take a look at my emails. One, from a good friend, said simply, “Buddy, you need to take a look at Twitter.” It was then that I saw Mensch’s curious and irrational attack against me.

I was so furious that I screenshot the tweets, emailed them to my attorney, and awakened him at 3:00 a.m. He took a look at them and responded quickly, “Oh yes. This is a lawsuit. It’s clearly defamation per se. She knew that these allegations were false and she published them anyway.”

As I said, I knew almost nothing about Mensch until this happened. I began researching her previous tweets and statements and found a clear pattern of defamation. I spoke to several journalists who have written about her, and they all said the same thing: Nobody considers her to be a serious person. Her opinions do not command respect. She accuses everybody she doesn’t like of being a Russian spy.

But because she commands so little respect, nobody bothers to sue her. Well, I was happy to sue her. As someone to whom I used to be close once said, I am a litigious prick. Besides, Mensch has more than 261,000 Twitter followers, and her smears against me ricocheted around the world in minutes.

Blinks

My attorney sent Mensch a letter in early March demanding that she retract both tweets and issue an apology. The letter said that she had seven calendar days to do so or we would file a defamation suit against her in the federal district court for the Southern District of New York.

She responded directly, without an attorney, saying that she had researched my background, had taken a second look at her tweets and had come to the realization that she was wrong. She said she would retract the allegations that I’m a Russian spy, but, even though treason is defined in the Constitution and is a death penalty offense, she meant it colloquially, not constitutionally, so she wanted to stand by her allegation that I was a traitor.

“Not good enough” was my response. I wasn’t going to play games with her or negotiate. Either she retracted the tweets and apologized for them or we’d see her in court. Period.

On Thursday, she issued the retractions and apology minutes later, using the language we demanded:

“On February 9, 2023, I erred in tweeting that John Kiriakou had been convicted of espionage. I regret the error. In that same tweet, I erred in stated that his subsequent hosting ‘a radio show for Russian state radio prove[d] that he was indeed, a spy, a traitor.’ I regret the error.”

On February 9, 2023, I erred in tweeting that John Kiriakou had been convicted of espionage. I regret the error. In that same tweet, I erred in stated that his subsequent hosting ‘a radio show for Russian state radio prov[ed] that he was indeed, a spy, a traitor.’ I regret the… https://t.co/igzw8Bz4J4

— LouiseMensch ???? (@LouiseMensch) March 16, 2023

She blinked. Still, I will remain vigilant when dealing with Mensch and other demagogues of her ilk. There are consequences for our actions. The anonymity that the internet provides can’t protect the haters every time. I will protect myself against Louise Mensch and people like her.

That’s a promise. Remember, I’m a litigious prick.

John Kiriakou is a former C.I.A. counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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