Russian Sergey Brin and Google: A KGB-style Propaganda and Spying Machine?

When a national cult-watcher has to beg San Francisco's mayor to stop luring young people into a dangerous mind-control sect, we have a problem.

"He's using his imprimatur of San Francisco, the mayor of San Francisco, to lend credibility to this cult. This means people may join Dahnhak when they otherwise wouldn't have," said Rick Ross, director of the Arizona based anti-cult group the Rick A. Ross Institute. "Mayor Newsom has admitted his personal peccadilloes in the past. But actually this is much more serious."

Dahnhak is a yoga and holistic health organization that promotes a technique called "brain respiration." Newsom recently honored the group's Korean leader with a proclamation declaring Sept. 7 "Ilchi Lee Day."

SF Weekly inquired about this bizarre apparent gaffe and scolded the mayor on the newspaper's blog. But I haven't heard back from the Newsom staffer in charge of proclamations, and there's no indication Newsom plans on correcting the error.

This hope-the-problem-just-goes-away attitude angers Ross, who spoke with us when we published the Web site item on the award. Ross says Newsom's error may become a dangerous act of will if the mayor refuses to rescind Lee's honor. San Francisco shouldn't be in the business of propping up dangerous mind-control cults, Ross says.

Lee is the Korean leader of Dahnhak, an organization that sells workshops through a chain that includes five Bay Area locations. Ross cites news stories and lawsuits from around the country that say Lee's organization lures victims into spending their savings on pricey classes and retreats a la Scientology, while sometimes shutting victims off from their families.

Last year SF Weekly's sister paper, the Village Voice, published a 3,600-word story describing how the family of one Lee follower filed a lawsuit complaining that their loved one was drugged prior to a grueling desert hike, then died after group members deprived her of medical care. Lee's representatives denied the allegations in the suit, which is in federal court. In keeping with a theme repeated in newspaper and television stories around the country, the Voice article cited various former Dahnhak members and cult experts saying Lee's group practices the sort of mind control and isolation typical of cultish groups. A group spokesman denied those allegations.

"People have suffered under Ilchi Lee," Ross said. "He's facing a wrongful death suit because a young woman died. She had her whole life ahead of her. I just don't see anything in Ilchi Lee's history that is worth declaring a day in his honor. I don't see anything in Newsom's recent history that suggest he'd suffer political damage from admitting he'd made a serious mistake."

With cult crises thus implanted in my brain, I made my way last Thursday night to the Room of the Dons in the Mark Hopkins Hotel to dine with followers of Mark Anderson, a Seattle-based technology futurist of the sort that once was as common as flies during the late-1990s tech boom. Fittingly, the room was packed with employees and leaders of companies one might define as cults of personality and dogma — Google and Microsoft, in other words.

Just as America and the U.S.S.R once stalked each other in a sectarian battle between allegedly good and bad ideology, All-Being-All-Knowing Microsoft now informs us we're under threat from a neo-Stalinist-Leninist cult bent on world domination.

"You've got to remember that Google is run by Russians, and that affects the viewpoints and values of the company," said Ty Carlson, director of technical strategy for Microsoft (and my dining partner for the evening) in reference to Sergey Brin's status as a Russian immigrant. "They've made conscious references to Google co-founder Sergey Brin's status as a Russian immigrant."

Carlson was referring to Google's recent troubles, in which U.S. and European regulators, privacy groups, and Microsoft, are questioning a $3.1 billion Google acquisition of DoubleClick, an online advertising company.

For Microsoft, the deal represents a possible tipping point from the Redmond, Wash., giant's old creepy business model of selling us products by crushing and/or co-opting every competitor in its path, thus stifling technology and eliminating competition. Carlson, tellingly, during two hours of dinner conversation never used the word "competitors," as if such a thing didn't exist for his employer. Instead, he referred to "partners" and "soon-to-be partners."

The new, perhaps-even-creepier model for world industrial domination is one where Google will amass a vast and detailed up-to-the-moment chronicle of customers' innermost thoughts. Producers won't need to profit by force-feeding narrowed product choices onto customers via industrial might a la Microsoft. That's because sellers will know consumers psychology so intimately that they will be able to efficiently trick them into buying the worthless junk.

In cold war terms, Microsoft is 1970s Soviet bread lines. Google is the KGB propaganda and spying machine.

Hysterics have been predicting a terrifying age of Internet-based corporate prying for a decade. Google-DoubleClick just might turn them into modern versions of Nostradamus.

Google currently scrutinizes the content of messages sent through its Gmail service — meaning you can enter Google's KGB realm just by sending a message to a friend's Gmail account.

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