The Clean Network

The US State Department’s new program The Clean Network, launched in August, offers a masterclass in propaganda.

Leonie Rushforth
15 September 2020, 7.47pm
Screenshot: US Department of State twitter image.

The US State Department’s new program The Clean Network, launched in August, offers a masterclass in propaganda. It makes the now-deleted UK Home Office tweet drawing on Dad’s Army graphics and associating ‘activist lawyers’ with abuses of the asylum system look like an amateur business.

In its own words the Network is: a comprehensive approach to safeguarding the nation’s assets including citizens’ privacy and companies’ most sensitive information from aggressive intrusions by malign actors, such as the Chinese Communist Party.

It is a seamlessly interlocking sequence of gestures, steps and stated intentions, signaling severally and jointly a complex system of ideas. It is both the act of the chemical bonding of these things with each other and the state, and its completed embodiment designed to set things and people in motion.

Elsewhere, as less nuanced back up, here on Twitter (where some asked both what the point of the tweet was and whether China was not perhaps in fact Maoist), the State Department is putting out this kind of thing:

Help us uncover the truth about Covid-19

The Covid-19 public inquiry is a historic chance to find out what really happened.

US State Department twitter.

The Clean Network sets out its purpose more specifically as [addressing]:
the long-term threat to data privacy, security, human rights and principled collaboration posed to the free world from authoritarian malign actors. The Clean Network is rooted in internationally accepted digital trust standards.

It is also securely rooted in racist ideology, in a position alongside ideas of contamination and racial hygiene. We have seen these ideas activated and animated at the White House podium in the phrase the China virus, which the President has performed with relish and a voice designed both to mimic and to convey disgust. Actual images caricaturing Chinese people have not yet appeared in public as official government material as far as I know but cannot be far off.

The Clean Network appears on the screen as a neat arrangement of detergent lozenges, each one covering a separate IT/digital area to be laundered. The presence of Chinese technology in any form in a company or body operating in one of these areas will render it, as the CN says, untrusted :

Untrusted IT vendors will have no access to U.S. State Department systems. We will follow the letter of the law to ensure that we have a clean path for all 5G network traffic coming into all of our facilities. Period.

The law or laws in question are not cited.

Screenshot: US Department of State twitter image.

Cleanliness is of course next to godliness. The Trump administration is always alert to its dependence on the Christian evangelicals for their votes.

The Clean Network branding is beautifully simple. It says: we have no designs on you. But other dimensions and instances of population management are re-inflated in it and by it. The little blue squares bear some resemblance to the kind of advertising prevalent in the 1950s and would not look out of place on a packet of Daz – the kind of advertising which played a significant role in creating the American housewife of the period. That is, in returning women from the workplace to the domestic sphere after WW2. At this point the word ‘clean’ became an active and virtuous verb; shining formica made cleanliness manifest.

Underpinning the Clean Network is economic anxiety and the hard realities of Chinese superiority in certain areas, notably 5G. It is the expression of an economy used to dominance and bent on restoring it by all means at their disposal. All of them are bullying means and in an escalating order of violence, they lead to war.

The Clean Network will sever American and Chinese tech industries. Eliza Gkritsi, reporter for tech website TechNode, notes that in pursuing this policy, the US is in effect creating its own firewall:

The program, outlined by the US State Department, signifies a monumental shift in US internet policy, moving away from a free web towards a China-like walled garden.

There will of course be Clean Countries invited behind the hygiene shield; this is an important part of its purpose. The State Department claims there are 30 of them signed up already.

But the Clean Network has nothing to do with protecting citizens’ data, as Jason Healey notes in his article for Oodaloop:

If the Administration cares so deeply about safeguarding the privacy of US citizens, surely a better place to start would be a new Federal law for data-security and privacy protection (with the additional benefit of boosting a replacement for the recently overturned EU-U.S. Privacy Shield program for transatlantic data transfer) or data-breach notification ,as called for by the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.


There were connotations of innocence and openness in the Old English word claene – but its primary meaning more than a thousand years ago was ‘pure’. It denoted something that was unmixed with foreign or extraneous matter.

The additional sense of ‘whole and entire’ came a little later in the 12/13C and led, by degrees and over centuries, to the idea of a ‘clean sweep’ or ‘cleaning up’ in the sense of taking the lot.

This piece was originally published in the September edition of Splinters.

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