Privatization, the EU and a Bridge

A Genoa bridge that collapsed last month killing 43 people is privately owned, but a key factor that has slowed basic infrastructure investment in Italy in recent years is the fault of the EU, reports Andrew Spannaus.  

By Andrew Spannaus
in Milan

Special to Consortium News

A little over a month ago, on August 14, a highway bridge collapsed in the middle of the Italian city of Genoa, killing 43 people, damaging the populated areas below, and interrupting a major traffic artery connecting the two sides of the city. The bridge had been built in the 1960s, with a construction technique that had been criticized by some experts over the years, and its decay was obvious; it had already undergone various repairs, and a new round of extraordinary maintenance was planned for this fall.

The maintenance didn’t come in time. As heavy rain fell in the area, cars and trucks dropped from a height of 150 feet, causing death and injury, and marking a national tragedy that has gripped the country.

Why did this happen? Italy’s highway company was privatized in 1999, and concessions were then granted to operate the roads. The largest concession-holder (with about 50% of the network) is currently Autostrade per l’Italia S.p.A., controlled by the Benetton family, founders of the eponymous fashion brand. They make a handsome profit off of highway tolls – among the highest in Europe – and they are responsible for maintenance and investments, which have stagnated even as tolls have more than doubled in the past 25 years.

Autostrade’s defense in regard to the disaster is that while concerns had been raised about the bridge, there was no indication of imminent danger. It’s a weak argument, considering that in Genoa the bridge had been the subject of public debate for years, with some seeing it as “a disaster waiting to happen.” After initial resistance, Autostrade ultimately responded to public pressure by allocating 500 million Euros (575 million dollars) to compensate the families of the victims and rebuild the bridge.

The first response from Italy’s populist government led by the Five-Star Movement (M5S) and the League, was to channel rage against the private company, using popular arguments against the neoliberal policies of privatization and budget-cutting. They are right, of course, that the disaster came on the watch of a private company, which is claimed to be more efficient than the public sector. Italy’s highway system works fairly well, but there’s no ignoring the need for upgrades to the parts of the infrastructure that were built during the economic boom of the 1950s and 60s, which have reached the end of their useful life.

Yet tolls are already high, and the private concessionaire wants to guarantee its profits; who’s going to pay for all the work that needs to be done?

The two Deputy Prime Ministers of the Italian Government, Luigi Di Maio of M5S and Matteo Salvini of the League, have led the charge against Autostrade. Di Maio has threatened to revoke the concession and re-nationalize the highways, although the institutional pushback has been strong. Salvini, on the other hand, immediately pointed the finger at European Union (EU) budget constraints: “Investments that save lives… must not be calculated by the strict, cold rules imposed by Europe”, he said on Aug. 15.

EU Hinders Infrastructure Funding 

The disaster in Genoa was not a direct consequence of cuts to the public budget, since the section of the highway is run by a private company, as centrist politicians and much of the major media jumped to point out. But Salvini’s broadside pinpointed an essential issue for Italy – and many other European countries – today: massive public investment is needed, but EU budget constraints prevent it.

The Italian government is responsible for the public welfare, but it is unable to guarantee that public welfare. There are many reasons for this, starting with the country’s massive public debt – 131 percent  of GDP, among the highest in the world – and the inefficiency of public spending. The construction tender process is slow and complicated, and tangled bureaucracy means that even money allocated is often left unspent for years.

These are long-term problems that require legislative reforms and the reorganization of priorities. The current government has promised to streamline the tender system, and also to direct available funds to the most urgent projects.

Yet the key factor that has slowed down basic infrastructure investment in Italy in recent years has been the EU budget rules, which after originally setting a maximum deficit of 3 of GDP, now make it mandatory to fully balance the budget, although countries are allowed to move gradually towards that goal.

The Italian government is constantly under pressure to cut public spending in order to get closer to a zero deficit every year. This, despite the fact that Italy has run a primary budget surplus (i.e. before interest on the public debt) practically every year since 1992. Public investment has fallen continually over the years; by more than one-third at the national level, down to 2% of GDP, and by as much as one-half over the past ten years when it comes to local governments.

This happened in particular because in order to meet the EU budget criteria, Italy adopted something called the “Internal Stability Pact,” to go along with the European “Stability and Growth Pact.” The internal version used the budgets of municipalities, provinces and regions to help reach national budget goals. In essence, the local authorities were required to cut spending even if they had money in the bank, so that the government in Rome could count those funds to meet the EU rules.

The harsh austerity implemented from 2011 to 2014 made things even worse. After the spread between Italian and German bonds on the financial markets spiked in the summer of 2011, leading to fears of financial catastrophe for Italy and the Euro system as a whole, technocratic governments rapidly moved to slash spending even more.

This policy, dictated by the European Central Bank and the European Commission and enthusiastically implemented by neoliberals in Italy, led to a true disaster. The result was a 25% drop in industrial production, and a sharp rise in unemployment and poverty. And not surprisingly – at least to rational people – the economic contraction ended up making the public debt even larger.

Who Should Decide?

When after the bridge disaster in Genoa the government promised to rebuild the country’s road infrastructure no matter what the cost, the reaction was swift. On the one hand, EU officials such as budget commissioner Guenther Oettinger denied Europe is responsible for lack of investment in Italy, and on the other, financial markets rapidly increased the risk premium on Italy’s state bonds.

The question is: why should financial markets or technocrats decide whether Italy’s roads are safe? The populist government was elected on the promise of challenging EU austerity policies, and the coalition agreement between M5S and the League sets two main priorities in this field: increasing public aid to the poor, through a form of universal income, and simplifying and lowering the country’s high tax rates, to help both businesses and individuals.

The main fight in the government right now is if they will actually carry through on these promises, despite the pressure to toe the line on the budget criteria. Economics Minister Giovanni Tria seems cowed by the pressure from the bond markets, and clearly fears antagonizing the EU. Di Maio and Salvini insist on keeping their promises, touting the heretical, but true, argument that productive investment actually produces growth. Something has to give. The hope is that it won’t be another bridge.

Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He was elected chairman of the Milan Foreign Press Association in March 2018. He has published the books “Perché vince Trump” (“Why Trump is Winning” – June 2016) and “La rivolta degli elettori” (“The Revolt of the Voters” – July 2017).

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Will ‘God’ Save Kavanaugh?

That attitudes may not have changed from an older generation to Kavanaugh’s — and may have gotten still worse, and not only at elitist Georgetown Prep, but in society at large — is sad beyond telling, says Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Are boys really better than girls? I know you are one, but please try to be fair,” asked eight year-old Helen in a letter to God.

From my own experience while a callow youth at a Jesuit boys-only high school, I believe it highly unlikely that Georgetown Jesuit Prepster Brent Kavanaugh ever thought of asking God the question Helen posed. For Kavanaugh, as for the rest of us, the answer was self-evident — much clearer than 13th century Thomas Aquinas’s “proofs” for the existence of God.

At my Jesuit high school, as at Kavanaugh’s, the concept of God-like male supremacy was deeply entrenched — from the priests and other all-male faculty to the bonhomie of the young “good-natured men” in the smoke-infested Senior Room.

The Jesuits encouraged us to think of ourselves — each one of us — as exceptional, down to the last man, so to speak.  It was Lake Wobegone on steroids.  We had been pre-selected to become the future leaders of the sole exceptional country in the world — an ethos that prevails, in spades, at Georgetown Prep.

Happily, we were spared Aquinas’s “insights” on women, whom he described as defective, misbegotten males.  It was not until college that I learned Thomas deemed women “the result of some debility … or of some change effected by external influences, like the south wind, for example, which is damp, as we are told by Aristotle.”

Is God ‘One of the Boys’

Even without Aquinas, though, the culture of the Prep spoke loudly, if less directly, of the subordinate status of women.  It should come as no surprise, then, that this prep-school milieu left us precocious adolescents quite comfortable with an all-powerful God who was “one of the boys.”

For me, though, high school was a half-century ago.  The reality that attitudes have not changed between my generation and Kavanaugh’s — and may have gotten still worse, not only at Jesuit-run elitist Georgetown Prep, but in society at large — is sad beyond telling. Can we forget that the 2016 election went to a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women? “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” … and that this same man is now defending Kavanaugh “all the way.”

To Be Fair

Taking a cue from eight year-old Helen, let’s try to be fair.  Who among us is without blame?  Most of us still refer to God as “he.”  And how many of us still visualize the Last Supper, through the oils of Leonardo da Vinci, as a stag party rather than the traditional Passover meal it was — with women and children galore. (Psst! DaVinci wasn’t even there.)

Perhaps worst of all, how many of Catholics join Kavanaugh in bowing submissively to the arbitrary ban on women priests, a prohibition based not on Scripture or the practice of the first-century Church, but rather on out-and-out misogyny.

In his kid-gloves interview on Fox Tuesday evening, Kavanaugh again denied having sexually assaulted anyone, pointedly adding, “I have faith in God.”  But the tide has turned.  This has become clearer with every new accusation against him, plus the unseemly rush by Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley (R, Iowa) and his ten white male Republican apostles to ram through the confirmation.  Like the protagonists of the Greek tragedies — Kavanaugh will need a Deus ex Machina to pluck him out of his distress. “Supportive” comments on Wednesday from the aforementioned “star,” who now happens to be president, are not going to help.

Those who know Washington are aware that the closest thing to an all-powerful God is a congressional committee chairman.  But it does not help Kavanaugh’s candidacy when Sen. Grassley seems to know nothing other than the power-over type of God — the same model that dominated what Kavanaugh calls his “formative years” at Georgetown Prep.

Throw in Grassley’s obtuseness and insensitivity, and add a pinch of omniscience from the likes of Sen. Orin Hatch (R, Utah) and you have a recipe that could spell defeat.  Asked why he branded “phony” the very recent allegation by Deborah Ramirez, a Yale classmate of Kavanaugh, Hatch snapped, “Because I know it is, that’s why.”

If Kavanaugh’s nomination does reach the Senate floor, what will be most interesting of all will be to observe the degree to which Senators Susan Collins (R, Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R, Alaska) have themselves internalized male supremacy — whether of God or of demigod Republican committee chairmen.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He holds a Certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown University.




Being Julian Assange

As Julian Assange’s fate may soon be resolved, here’s an in-depth look at the history of WikiLeaks, the infiltration of activist communities and the strength & vulnerability of the world-changing publisher whose freedom is at stake, by Suzie Dawson.

By Suzie Dawson

Certain journalists would consult an almanac for Washington DC on the night of the 2016 election, and begin this article with a few picturesque, scene-setting words about the chill winds whipping the capital as it lay poised, awaiting the results with bated breath.

But I have more respect for my readers than that.

So I’ll cut to the chase.

That Election

In 2016 an accused serial sexual predator ran for the US presidency against the notoriously corrupt wife of a previously impeached President – who is also an accused serial sexual predator.

That these facts alone were insufficient to invalidate the entire race is testament to the audacity with which corrupt power operates in the West, and how conditioned the public is to consuming the warped byproducts of its naked machinations.

Arguably the most contentious election in recent history, the accused serial sexual predator won.

During the race, WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange aptly described the two candidates as “cholera vs gonorrhoea.” Edward Snowden ran a Twitter poll asking his followers whether they would rather vote for a “calculating villain”, an “unthinking monster” or “literally anyone else”. 67% chose the latter. Yet those who didn’t want to be forced into a false choice between Clinton or Trump became the forgotten voices, the silent majority; largely excluded from the endless, vapid mainstream media debates about the outcome.

Julian and Edward’s descriptors were flawless metaphors for the Presidential contestants; cartoon-like characters that when paired together and portrayed as a legitimate democratic choice, made a mockery of the entire concept of political representation.

Unfortunately, this sham wasn’t as anomalous as it may appear when viewed in such a simplistic light. The moral failings were business as usual in a modern “democracy”. No matter who had won, the global public was going to be subjected to a continuation of Barack Obama’s blatant lies and populist betrayals of his ‘Hope and Change’ platform.

The contenders for leadership are the reality TV stars (now, quite literally) of an intergenerational revolving political theatre: A four-yearly exercise in mass re-enfranchisement of the public, where two-dimensional aspiring figureheads promise to fulfil the dreams of their populace. You are told that with your vote, your candidate of choice will begin ending wars and bringing transparency to government, investing in infrastructure or asserting human rights and equality for all – yet once elected, the victor turns to the camera, sotto voce, like Kevin Spacey in House of Cards, and says “You didn’t really think I’d do that, did you?”

Meanwhile, the media and the money-power that pull their strings ignore the blatantly obvious and work feverishly to emboss the proceedings with a veneer of credibility. In tandem, government-aligned big data and social media companies are employing ever more loathsome technologies to remodel human history in real time.

This industrialized historical revisionism requires the excoriating of the public reputation of the virtuous, the sanitizing of the compromised, and the constant manipulation of the living memory of both.

These are the core tenets of manufacturing consent. They aren’t just lying to us; they are already preparing the lies they will tell our unborn great-grandchildren.

It is some of those layers of contrived, mainstream bullshit that this article intends to peel back.

At the crux of the issue is a battle of authenticity versus falsehood, on a spectrum. With most of us sandwiched somewhere in between and WikiLeaks front and centre. Because WikiLeaks is the last available vestige of verifiable, unadulterated public truth.

That is why they are hated by those who fear the revelations WikiLeaks facilitates and why WikiLeaks’ public reputation is desecrated every day. It is why their every pillar of support is systematically undermined and why Julian Assange is being ever so slowly murdered in front of our eyes.

We, the people, are the last line of their defenze. Part of protecting WikiLeaks – and ultimately ourselves – is to understand the relentless nature of the psyops employed against them; that the hardships inflicted upon them by the enemies of human progress are not just reputational or financial but physical; that for those waging this thankless war of truth on our behalf, this is a matter of life or death.

And that is why we must push back.

That is why we must tell the truth about them.

Talking A Man To Death

There is something morbidly voyeuristic about the vast majority of the conversations about Julian Assange that are occurring in the activism and journalism worlds of late.

While many of their harshest critics hypocritically profess ideological support for the world’s foremost publisher, too few of us are meaningfully acting to free him. More are tricked, provoked or incentivized into endlessly debating among our social circles what I can only describe as relative frivolities – what Assange said about such and such, or to who; what Assange thinks about this or that, what Assange did or didn’t do – while his body slowly decays in front of the entire world.

By design, these debates create social fissures and fracture points. They amount to both a distraction from the obvious urgency of addressing the larger circumstance of his seemingly inevitable decline and a delaying tactic, creating a pretext that prevents us from acting, and serves to justify our inaction.

Because doing nothing is a tantalizingly easy option. Taking action, requires guts. Blood, sweat and tears.

The lack of cohesive effort to pressure the great powers persecuting Julian coalesce with the absence of meaningful movement-building to achieve it. The lack of unity of purpose to save the life of someone who has himself saved the lives of many others, including some we hold most dear, has us all staring into the abyss of the greatest moral failure of this generation.

What we are collectively playing out is the personification of Bob Marley’s “how long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?” Except even more perversely, we aren’t just looking. We are, as a community and a society, already dissecting Assange like a cadaver. We are picking over his bones like vultures, while he is still clinging to life.

It is despicable and disgusting to witness.

Stripping The Target

Assange’s story has gone beyond the stuff of books, movies or legend: one man altering the course of media, politics, technology, society, forever.

As if being the target of a Pentagon manhunt in 2010 didn’t put Assange far enough up the deep state shit list, in 2017 WikiLeaks was declared a priority target for the CIA.

Yes, the agency infamous for destroying the lives of millions of people by engaging in every kind of malignant behavior evidenced in human history, including countless assassinations and the active destabilization of dozens of countries, now uses its press conferences to announce that the target they are after is not a despot, not an arms dealer, a war criminal or a drug trafficker – but a publisher.

A journalist.

While the sanctity of the Embassy in which Julian resides remains intact, this is only due to the thin hanging threads of the few remaining respected international laws that govern its existence. In a geopolitical climate in which almost every international covenant has been violated, even this sanctuary provided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Ecuadorian people, cannot be taken for granted.

Unable to directly abscond with his physical body in the near term, the powers that have been, for years, overtly threatening Assange’s life have instead turned their attentions to undermining other aspects of his existence: his relationships, his finances, his organizational affiliations, his achievements, his reputation, his ability to communicate and even the internal affairs of the country which has granted him refuge.

Part of the Divide and Conquer playbook is to fracture natural allies. We see this in the determination to sever the relationships between our most significant whistleblowers so that they can never become a united force.

Manning, encouraged to distance herself from Snowden because Snowden didn’t stick around to face charges and/or torture and/or death. Brown, egged on to hate on Assange. On and on it goes.

Bleaching The Record

Part of undermining Assange and WikiLeaks (and indeed, any target) is to deny them any achievement. Narratives are developed and circulated to retrospectively strip them of their accomplishments, to reduce their significance.

We can see this in consistent attempts to diminish WikiLeaks’ efforts to defend and organize in support of Chelsea Manning and other whistleblowers.

But there are some smart exceptions who do not hesitate to give props where it is due.

Alleged UK hacker Lauri Love, who in a historic victory has defeated an attempt to extradite him to the United States, was swift to credit Julian Assange and the Courage Foundation:

Lauri’s homage to those who dedicated years of their life to supporting him is laudable and the effort to emancipate him from the extradition threat has established an important legal precedent.

By contrast, much of the digital history detailing the genesis of the campaign to free Chelsea Manning has vanished. Many of the key contributions of her original supporters have been bleached from the record.

The Twitter accounts @freebradley & @savebradley have been suspended.

The original support campaign websites, standwithbrad.org & bradleymanning.org are both down. Freebradley.org looks like this:

Privatemanning.org looks like this:

Chelsea Manning’s current official support network website has news archives only dating back to 2016. All prior updates have either disappeared or were never copied over to this new site in the first place. A loss of six years of supporter activities, bulletins, actions and updates.

And that’s not all that has vanished. Short links to critically important information like the below, have also been broken. (Some are available through archive services; many are not)

The true story is on WikiLeaks’ Twitter timeline. Starting from the very day that Manning, having been mercilessly betrayed by FBI-snitch Adrian Lamo, was arrested:

Sunshine Press is WikiLeaks’ publishing organization. Proof that from the very moment Manning was detained, WikiLeaks was already mobilizing in support of her.

The Bradley Manning Support Network was soon established:

Within days of her arrest, WikiLeaks had launched the first letter-writing campaign in support of Manning – while she was still in a cage in Kuwait:


Within less than a week of her arrest, WikiLeaks was already debunking mainstream smears of Manning:

WikiLeaks exceeded what could be expected of any publisher, in its support for its beleaguered alleged source:

Something I’ve yet to see anyone else piece together: even in the same week in late August 2010 that Julian Assange was in the midst of enduring his own law-fare attacks and ensuing public vilification, WikiLeaks was still relentlessly tweeting out support announcements for Manning:

Corporate censorship of the Support Network kicked off early with WikiLeaks reporting in September of 2010 that the 10,300-strong Facebook group for Manning supporters had been blocked by the social media company.

Despite this, a mere three months after WikiLeaks’ establishment of the Support Network, 20 cities were marching in solidarity with the whistleblower:

WikiLeaks’ exemplary legal team spoke publicly in defense of Manning:

If you thought Paypal and/or Pierre Omidyar were evil for cutting off WikiLeaks’ funding, you will likely be even more enraged to discover that they also subsequently cut funding to Manning’s Support Network:

…three weeks after WikiLeaks had been coordinating calls to the White House to free Manning:

Manning’s lawyer complained that she was not being treated like other prisoners.

The “special treatment” of Manning by the authorities, eerily foreshadows the case of Julian Assange. Years later, it would be revealed in emails of UK prosecutors obtained by the FOIA requests of Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, that they told their Swedish counterparts “please do not think that the case is being dealt with as just another extradition request.

Meanwhile, the Guardian was busy incriminating Manning, long before the trial. Their justification for doing so was the prior betrayal of Manning’s confidence by FBI-informant Adrian Lamo.

Once WikiLeaks began pushing the #freebrad hashtag, it soon spiraled into countless thousands of tweets. It took me several hours just to read through the 2011-2013 history of the hashtag. The sheer volume of content is overwhelming.

Shortly thereafter, Manning was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. WikiLeaks ingeniously kept her in the public consciousness by tallying every single day that she was spending in pre-trial detention.

WikiLeaks never misses a chance to achieve an ironic victory: by the end of 2012, they were encouraging people to vote for Manning to become the Guardian’s Person of the Year. Sure enough, they were able to raise enough support for her, and she won:

By mid 2012, the Support Network was petitioning Obama directly:

Many of the citizen heroes, journalists, and NGO’s who provided critical support to Manning in these early days have been conveniently forgotten. But in particular, the Twitter history shows that FireDogLake editor Jane Hamsher, reporter Kevin Gozstola, and a host of WikiLeaks satellite volunteers and supporters went above and beyond year in and year out in support of Manning.

Additionally of note was a continual flow of slick infographics and memes from pro-WikiLeaks designer SomersetBean, right up to the present day.

By January 2013, things were taking a sinister turn. While the Support Network was collectively investing themselves in this noble cause, the FBI were predictably undermining them at every opportunity:

However by February, the rising cacophony of support for Manning, directly attributable to the efforts of the network originally coordinated by WikiLeaks, had grown too loud to be ignored:

In April of the same year, Manning was again up for the Nobel Peace Prize, this time nominated by 36,000 supporters:

Devastatingly, on July 30th, 2013 Manning was convicted on 20 counts, regardless.

In total, the WikiLeaks main Twitter account sent over 800 tweets in support of Chelsea Manning between the date of her arrest in 2010 and the date of her conviction in 2013. The count only includes tweets containing the search term of the name by which she was known at that time, and only until the conclusion of her trial. References to her as Pfc, or similar, were not included in the search, and thus the calculation of the total. There have been countless hundreds of further supportive tweets by WikiLeaks since.

From what mainstream publication could we expect such a level of dedicated and consistent support for its sources? WikiLeaks’ efforts to free Manning – a source it had not burned – are unprecedented in modern media history, yet this is seldom, if ever, recognized.

In the quasi conclusion to his recent hit piece on WikiLeaks, The Intercept’s Micah Lee (ex-Electronic Frontier Foundation, currently with the Freedom of the Press Foundation) endeavored to further distance Manning from WikiLeaks’ by hammering home the oft-touted quote that Manning had preferred to leak to the New York Times or the Washington Post, rather than to WikiLeaks. Neither mainstream outlet had responded to her attempts to make contact with them.

However, it is highly dubious as to whether either of those organizations, even had they replied, would have achieved the level of reach and global impact for Manning’s leaks that WikiLeaks did. It is equally doubtful that they would have gone out on such a limb to try to limit the damage wreaked upon Manning by the traitorous Lamo. Nor is it likely mainstream media outlets would have committed themselves and their financial resources to a multi-year campaign to build public support for the whistleblower. Likely as not, she would have been left to rot in that cage in Kuwait.

But WikiLeaks’ relationship with Manning and her supporters is not the only legacy to be actively suppressed by Lee, and affiliates.

The Mic Drop

The attempts to posthumously divorce the highly-skilled developer Aaron Swartz and his (now known as) SecureDrop project from Assange, has been an extremely public one.

Backtrack a few years before Micah Lee’s above assertion, and you’ll find Freedom of the Press Foundation’s own marketing materials promoted SecureDrop as – wait for it – “A WikiLeaks In Every Newsroom” – titling the launch video for the technology as precisely that.

The opening salvo from the host at their launch event reiterated the point: “This is SecureDrop – a Wikileaks in every newsroom… Freedom of the Press Foundation is a non-profit that was founded in December of 2012. It was originally created as a fancy way of laundering money for WikiLeaks but now it has expanded its scope…”

There was originally no bone of contention about it: WikiLeaks was the inspiration behind the invention of SecureDrop and was the primary beneficiary of the Foundation.

Right up until December 2016, the default tweet generated when donating to the Freedom of the Press Foundation read “I’m supporting uncompromising journalism like @WikiLeaks. Join me and @FreedomofPress in changing the world! Freedom.press”

Even the surviving beneficiaries of SecureDrop, namely Lamo-confidante Kevin Poulsen, and by association, developer Micah Lee (now so keen to sever the concept from its WikiLeaks roots) were originally candid about its genesis.

Micah Lee openly stated that SecureDrop – who acquired the Github repository of Swartz’s pre-existing project known as DeadDrop, then rebranded it – was a way of making WikiLeaks-like tech available to everyone:

“When I first heard about DeadDrop, it seemed like a really fine, exciting project. WikiLeaks was really big in the news then and it seemed like it was kind of democratizing that.” Micah Lee

This is consistent with Kevin Poulsen’s statement that he wanted to standardise the secure drop box technology across all newsrooms:

“There was no standard way for sources to contribute securely tips and documents to a reporter so I wanted to develop a solution and I went to approach Aaron…” Kevin Poulsen

In the wake of the Wall Street Journal’s 2011 attempt to create a secure dropbox, Aaron Swartz was asked on live television “Do you think that WikiLeaks has really changed the playing field over the last year, now we’re seeing this journalism arms race as to who can set up their own leaking site, or I guess alternative, faster?”

He answered: “Oh, clearly, I mean this is a huge vindication for WikiLeaks. We’ve gone from everybody saying that they should be locked up in prison, to the point where every newspaper and news outlet wants to have their own WikiLeaks site.” (emphasis added)

The facts of the matter couldn’t be any more clear: just as Aaron says, WikiLeaks was the reason that news rooms wanted access to the same technology. Just as Micah said, SecureDrop would bring WikiLeaks technology to the world. Just as Kevin Poulsen described in the New Yorker, he needed Aaron to do it, and accessed him via James Dolan.

Unfortunately, the two main developers of SecureDrop, Aaron Swartz and James Dolan, are no longer with us. Both are said to have committed suicide. Aaron Swartz was memorialized in an obituary by Kevin Poulsen.

Poulsen is also an ex-Wired reporter and one-time Freedom of the Press Foundation technologist. The circumstances of his brief tenure at the organization, or the reasons for his departure are unknown. His participation is memorialized only by a now-defunct Freedom of the Press staff listing.

More significantly, Poulsen is also the very reporter to whom FBI-snitch Adrian Lamo leaked the private chat logs of Chelsea Manning, leading to her capture and torture.

Lamo had presented himself to Manning as being both a journalist and of all things, a priest, and stated that Manning could therefore be doubly assured of the confidentiality of their communications. An unconscionable betrayal of trust.

Poulsen’s partial reporting of the logs was lambasted by WikiLeaks, by Glenn Greenwald, and also by FireDogLake who analyzed several different versions that found their way into the public sphere, and discovered major discrepancies.

Given these circumstances, one must marvel at the way Poulsen became a self-appointed gatekeeper of Aaron Swartz’s legacy. Especially when he fails to acknowledge the most basic of facts about him: that Aaron was a very public advocate for WikiLeaks up until his death, and a WikiLeaks volunteer.

Rewriting History

Like Poulsen, others who have survived Aaron Swartz make zero mention of WikiLeaks in their tributes to him.

Some actively deny the affiliation had any impact on Aaron’s work at all: for example, Anil Dash.

Those who put two and two together are swiftly directed towards Poulsen’s “beautiful” obituary on Aaron, which irregardless of merit has come to serve as an official history.

Conveniently, Poulsen’s obituary of Swartz contains zero references to the whistleblowing organisation. (Poulsen has a long and acrimonious history with WikiLeaks, as the latter believes his tailoring of the Lamo-Manning chat log narratives involved a direct attempt to incriminate WikiLeaks by association.) Nor is there any mention of WikiLeaks in Cory Doctorow’s Boing Boing obituary of Swartz.

The Guardian’s obituary also omits the WikiLeaks connection. Likewise does Time Magazine’s. Ditto, the LA Times, The Boston Globe, The Economist, The Telegraph and the New York Times.

All of the aforementioned placed the blame for Aaron’s death solely on the stress arising from the DOJ investigation into Swartz’s penetration of the JSTOR database at MIT. There is no mention whatsoever of any preceding status as a person of interest to the intelligence agencies targeting WikiLeaks.

Aaron appeared 13 times on RT, often engaging in outspoken public praise for WikiLeaks. Throughout the time period that the publisher was the subject of a worldwide manhunt and an “all of Government” investigation of “unprecedented scale and nature.” This continually goes unmentioned.

Only Rolling Stone names WikiLeaks at all – and very briefly. “WikiLeaks claimed him as an ally”, they wrote of Swartz. Yet it was Swartz who had repeatedly and profusely pronounced himself to be an ally of WikiLeaks, long prior to the JSTOR penetration that became the official reasoning for the relentless persecution of him by law enforcement authorities.

The net effect is not merely to render WikiLeaks irrelevant to the narrative retelling of Aaron’s life – but to divert the spotlight from being shone upon the intelligence agencies that were hunting WikiLeaks staff and supporters around the world. The public is instead schooled to believe that the FBI’s interest in him was all about the MIT case.

Public rage at Aaron Swartz’s untimely passing was therefore directed at the university and the Department of Justice prosecutors, rather than the US intelligence community as a whole. The mainstream obliteration of Swartz’s WikiLeaks connections conceals an important contributing factor in the circumstances leading up to his death.

I have confirmed with WikiLeaks that Aaron wasn’t just a fan, a supporter, or a public advocate.

He was working directly with them.

But I already knew this, because of insights gained from yet another WikiLeaks volunteer, the significance of whose work and legacy is also being expunged from the public record. In this instance, while he is still alive.

Jacob Appelbaum.

The Forgotten History

At the Aaron Swartz Day Hackathon in 2015, Jacob Applebaum gave vital testimony about his contact with Aaron, and their relationship with WikiLeaks. He spoke of a history that has been all but erased; the real reasons Aaron Swartz was an enemy of the State. Sure enough, it wasn’t because he downloaded documents from JSTOR.

“Aaron and I worked on a few different overlapping projects and I very much respected him. Some of the topics that came up were light but some were very heavy and very serious. The topic of WikiLeaks was important to both of us. In November of 2009, long before I was public about my work with WikiLeaks, I introduced Aaron to someone at WikiLeaks who shall remain unnamed. If we had a secure, easy way to communicate, if some sort of communication system had existed that reduced or eliminated metadata, I probably could have done so without a trace. But we didn’t. You’re not the first to know – the FBI and the NSA already know. Less than a year later, Aaron sent me an email that made it clear how he felt. That email in its entirety is straightforward and his lack of encryption was intentional. On July 10th, 2010, he wrote “Just FYI – let me know if there’s anything ever that I can do for WikiLeaks.” Did that email cast Aaron as an enemy of the state? Did Aaron worry? 2010 was an extremely rough year. The US government against everyone – the investigation of everyone associated with WikiLeaks – stepped up. So many people in Boston were targeted that it was effectively impossible to find a lawyer without a conflict. Everyone was scared. A cold wave passed over everything and it was followed by hardened hearts for many… the sense of paranoia was overwhelming but prudent. The overbearing feeling of coming oppression was crushing… all of us felt that our days were numbered in some sense. Grand juries, looming indictments, threats, political blacklisting. None of us felt free to speak to one another about anything…

Shortly after Aaron was found WikiLeaks disclosed three facts: Aaron assisted WikiLeaks. Aaron communicated with Julian and others during 2010 and 2011. And Aaron may have even been a source. I do not believe that these issues are unrelated to Aaron’s persecution and it is clear that the heavy-handed US prosecution pushed Aaron to take his own life. How sad that he was abandoned by so many in his time of need. Is it really the case that there was no link? Is it really the case that the US prosecutors went after Aaron so harshly because of a couple of Python scripts and some PDFs? No, clearly not…

When we learned more details about the US prosecutors, we learned that they considered Aaron a dangerous radical for unspecified reasons…” – Jacob Applebaum

As well as the key revelation that Aaron offered his services to WikiLeaks, a mere one month prior to the commencement of the DoD manhunt, Jacob makes some other very important points.

Firstly: When considering all of this forgotten history, be it the Manning support, Aaron’s work for WikiLeaks, WikiLeaks being the inspiration for SecureDrop, Julian Assange having been involved in founding the Freedom of the Press Foundation, (another fact denied by Micah Lee) or other related factors, one must understand that the FBI, the CIA and the NSA know full well the significance of WikiLeaks, their true legacy and their very real accomplishments.

That’s why WikiLeaks and anyone associated with them are targeted. That is why the truth is obscured or outright expunged.

The public are subjected to this whitewashed historical record, to prevent them from discovering the full extent to which WikiLeaks deserves our praise and support. The true historical record exists within the databases of the intelligence agencies and is hoarded by the elite, who then seek to manufacture a new public reality.

Fast forward to the same Aaron Swartz Day event in 2017 and confirmed NSA XKeyscore and FBI target Jacob Appelbaum does not appear. He is now persona non grata, excommunicated from the activism community after being the subject of a sexual assault scandal that is eerily reminiscent of the accusations made against Julian Assange.

Subverting The Legacy

It is only once the target is neutralized, be it via institutionalization, capitulation, character assassination or death (whichever comes soonest) that their legacy may be allowed to be partly acknowledged and restored. Albeit only so it can be co-opted and massaged to suit the agenda of the neutralizing force.

The revolutionary rock-rap act Rage Against The Machine voiced fragments of FBI texts from the Cointelpro files in their hit song ‘Wake Up’ in 1991. This later became the theme track to the Matrix movies.

The recording features a looped voice mimicking an FBI agent stating: “Through counter-intelligence, it should be possible to pinpoint potential troublemakers and neutralize them.”

This was the doctrine employed against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, among countless others.

As Nobel Peace Prize nominee David Swanson pointed out during an #AntiSpyBill episode in 2017, and as was later ratified by Cynthia McKinney in that same series, Dr. King was not merely the civil rights activist and organizer that we are encouraged to remember him as. He was in fact an ardent anti-war, anti-militarism, anti-imperialism and anti-capitalist activist.

By acknowledging only one component of his work and instituting a national holiday to “celebrate” that limited aspect, his memory has been both sanitized and co-opted by the establishment.

Rather than recognize that King stood against absolutely everything that the status quo is, they are able to pretend he just took issue with one facet of society and argue that the US has progressed as a direct result. In reality, the overwhelming majority of the problems King dedicated his life to addressing have not been bettered, but in fact worsened in the passage of time since the State who now celebrates his memory, killed him. Such as systemic economic inequality, mass incarceration, the rise of the military-industrial complex, and Washington’s bull-in-a-china-shop foreign policy.

If we do not recognize these tactics, this is what we can expect to see play out again, and again, with the memories of our present day heroes. We have already seen this with Swartz; if we do not identify the process of sanitization as it is occurring and intervene accordingly, the day will come when we will see it with Snowden, and with Julian Assange.

The Black Widow

It didn’t take much digging to find the connections between the self-appointed gatekeepers of Aaron Swartz’s legacy and the agenda to divorce it from WikiLeaks.

That agenda aligns with their priority task of denying WikiLeaks was the inspiration for SecureDrop.

Meet Quinn Norton, Aaron’s long-time ex-partner. Quinn is a journalist and also authored her own take on Aaron’s death.

Quinn has tweeted about WikiLeaks approximately 140 times, about 65 of which were derogatory in nature. She has named Julian Assange 40 times in her tweets, about 22 of which were also derogatory.

Despite the secretive nature of Aaron and WikiLeaks work, Quinn has long postured herself as an eye-witness due to her proximity to Aaron.

Even when directly called on the obvious, Norton was insistent that the mainstream media’s adoption of secure whistleblowing platforms was not derived from WikiLeaks’ famously having implemented their own secure whistleblowing platform first.

One might assume that she was simply guarding the legacy of Swartz, not wanting to detract from his memory or deny him full credit for his work on SecureDrop.

But to the contrary, she has frequently described the posthumous coverage of Swartz as unduly favorable.

It is not often that you see a loved one of the dearly departed complain that the public memory of them makes them look too good.

She complained bitterly of Aaron having been raised up as an icon by the infosec community.

As quoted earlier in this article, Jacob Appelbaum suggested that Aaron Swartz was not only a WikiLeaks volunteer and advocate, but a source. Others have also suggested this in the past, and the possibility has been acknowledged by WikiLeaks themselves: that his submissions were done in such a way that he could not be identified as the source, but given the nature of what was leaked and his closeness to the organization, it cannot be ruled out.

Quinn, however, is adamant that despite Aaron’s life work being in support of the public’s right to know, that he was not a whistleblower.

In the heat of WikiLeaks’ organizing efforts for the Manning Support Network, Quinn was being utilized in the effort to rehabilitate FBI-snitch Adrian Lamo’s image within the activism community.

The core of her interview with the informant Adrian Lamo contained a claim by Lamo that Poulsen cherry-picked the Manning chat logs in order to protect Manning. Ironically, the interview was conducted while Manning was being tortured in a cage in Kuwait as a direct result of Lamo’s actions.

Lamo additionally claims to have supplied WikiLeaks with a portion of the chat logs which then showed up at Aaron Swartz’s friend Cory Doctorow’s publication Boing Boing, in an article published by Boing Boing co-Founder and ex-board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Xeni Jardin. Norton writes that Jardin would not confirm her source, but I have confirmed with WikiLeaks that this never happened: Lamo did not, as he claims, submit WikiLeaks the logs, and they did not pass any to Jardin or Boing Boing.

While Norton became a conduit for circulation of Lamo’s disinformation, by contrast Aaron Swartz’s activism organization Demand Progress was running a campaign to support WikiLeaks in the same year.

This is another incredible reference point in the excision of Swartz’s devotion to WikiLeaks from his public image.

Norton’s acidic commentary about Swartz, Assange and Manning, in the direct wake of Aaron’s passing, was raising eyebrows in the community.

But the real reason for the widespread scorn of Norton had been the revelation that she had cooperated with authorities and signed an immunity deal to inform on her then-partner Aaron Swartz.

Aaron’s family, who “never liked [Norton]“, were livid.

Aaron’s father, Robert Swartz told Larissa MacFarquhar from the New Yorker that Quinn’s betrayal had been devastating for Aaron, who tried to defend her to his family, regardless.

While Swartz’s family were told that Norton’s grand jury testimony hadn’t been of help to the prosecution, and Norton recounts that part of the story in great detail in this article, she also admits how damaging her prior cooperation with the prosecutor had been to Swartz.

Quinn, for her part, blames her lawyer for her caving to the pressure from authorities. Despite the fact that she was never charged with anything, and cooperated voluntarily.

Norton repeatedly describes herself as a technology journalist guarding sensitive sources that she was eager to protect.

Norton doesn’t adequately explain why if that were the case, she did not know to never ever talk to the authorities without lawyers present, let alone allow them in to her apartment for an informal chat, as she did with the Secret Service. Despite claiming to have already come to “expect raids, surveillance, and threats from powerful men who couldn’t tell the good guys from the bad in my world” she states only that she was “shocked and unsure”:

Ultimately, her relationship with Swartz didn’t survive the egregious breaches of trust and the two parted ways.

After Aaron’s death, Norton shared this statement by Aaron’s subsequent partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman.


Where self-interest and lack of empathy converge, ignorance abounds. Aaron is not the only truth-teller that Norton views unsympathetically:

Norton clearly made a positive impression on Lamo, whose Medium account shows him “clapping” on her work as recently as October 2017. Indeed, to this day, Norton still advocates on behalf of Kevin Poulsen over his Lamo collaboration. In a recent, bizarre Twitter diatribe Norton states her belief that Glenn Greenwald should apologize to Poulsen. Glenn had publicly sought to hold Wired to account over the filleted Manning chat logs.

But why would Poulsen be owed an apology? Greenwald’s sleuthing had long since confirmed thatsubstantial portions” of the logs withheld by Poulsen and Wired contained “vital context and information about what actually happened.

The long-winded premise for Norton’s ire is beyond strange: she accuses Greenwald of being like a “respectable gay from the 80s and 90s…” who she claims were biased against bisexual and transgender people.

This despite Greenwald having in reality, been salubrious in print over Manning’s epic display of courage in coming out as a transgender woman the day after her sentencing in 2013.

Since the day it was announced, Greenwald has displayed unwavering support of Manning’s transition. Norton’s attacks on him are illogical and unsound.

This type of hysteria is common amongst WikiLeaks’ most high-profile detractors. The thread that binds them is a combination of betrayal and benefit.

A period of initial ideological support is required in order to make the betrayal effective. The benefit can be measured both economically, and in the ultimate currency of the energy vampire: attention.

A Beginners Guide To E-Drama

More than ever before we are not only schooled but actively incentivised to loathe Julian Assange. To mock him, malign him, judge him. In certain circles, you can gain significant amounts of social credit simply by being willing to engage in a giant circle jerk of anti-Assange mud-slinging.

The lack of empathy for the seriousness of Julian’s condition is jarring, but particularly when it comes from other known targets who have also suffered immensely.

In December 2017, I had a rather public stoush with Barrett Brown on Twitter. This resulted in him plus cohorts utilizing their Pursuance Project platform to generate a small amount of negative media about me, specifically several You Tube & Facebook videos, a blogpost and a radio show appearance to pitch their side of the story.

I made a point of choosing to keep my own organizations and publishing platforms out of the fray, on principle and in the hope that doing so might encourage some self-reflection on Barrett’s part.

I refused media requests, didn’t discuss the issue on other social media platforms outside of Twitter, and to this day have not even watched Barrett’s You Tube or Facebook video diatribes about me or read the Pursuance Project blogpost.

The titles and descriptions contained so many inaccuracies that I felt no need to subject myself to the content and didn’t believe any good could come from doing so.

I decided to wait to address it in my own time and in the larger context which had led to the disagreement in the first place: Barrett’s constant attacks on Julian Assange. That is why I am now finally broaching the topic.

Courage Foundation beneficiary Barrett Brown’s obsession with skewering Julian at every opportunity is self-evident: In the period September 18th, 2017 to February 2018, there are 81 tweets by Brown referencing Assange. 80 of them are critical of him. (Tweets that do not directly reference Assange’s name are not included in the total.)

The first tweet of the 80 is this:

By contrast, WikiLeaks has 47 tweets about Barrett, all of which are promoting his work and urging support for him.

In many cases, including the above, Brown’s criticisms of Assange are provably without merit.

As I pointed out to Barrett at the time, the long-known practice of “two-hops” surveillance makes it impossible for a member of Trump’s administration to be targeted without Trump being caught in the dragnet by default.

It is genuinely bemusing to see Barrett, who I’ve always considered to be at the very least an advanced student in the field of surveillance practices, being unable to acknowledge the obviousness of the two-hops implication.

The two-hops rule has been public for many years (there are videos of me covering it as far back as 2014) and I’m certainly not the only one who has raised the point. Here it is being explained by the ex Technical Director of the NSA, William Binney:

This was far from the only example of Barrett making completely misguided assertions about Assange.

Brown fell for this giant piece of fake news from Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic, hook, line and sinker:

The alternative media sphere debunked the piece within minutes. In doing so, Caitlin Johnstone sourced some of my own observations about the hatchet job:

Caitlin and I weren’t the only journalists pointing out the lack of efficacy of The Atlantic piece. Glenn Greenwald was too, and Barrett Brown was “livid” about this, according to a recent profile of Greenwald by the New York Post:

In November, The Atlantic published Twitter correspondence from 2016 in which a WikiLeaks representative gave Donald Trump Jr. campaign advice. Greenwald pooh-poohed the coordination, implying that Julian Assange was just playing his usual 4-D chess. Barrett Brown — a pro-transparency autodidact who served more than four years in federal prison for spreading hacked data and won a National Magazine Award for Intercept essays he wrote while incarcerated — was livid. “He doesn’t seem to be engaging on the actual revelations that keep coming out on Russia and Trump’s people,” Brown says. “My best guess is he’s just ignoring these things in favor of the less difficult argument that some people who are backing the Trump-Russia narrative are full of shit.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to Brown that he inadvertently may be one of them.

Brown has joined the chorus of the aforementioned by making the false allegation that Assange had tried to claim credit for Aaron Swartz’s work – a claim that I have already debunked in this article.

Significantly, Brown had earlier asserted the belief that his own targeting by the authorities was not due to his activities around the Stratfor hack, but were a result of his “active defense of WikiLeaks..”

Brown’s description of being targeted for supporting WikiLeaks strengthens our prior argument that Swartz’s involvement with WikiLeaks (rather than the JSTOR hack) was the true cause of his persecution by authorities.

Unfortunately, Assange wasn’t the only target of Brown’s ire.

The radio show host in question was of course, Randy Credico, and the platform was Randy’s ‘Countdown to Freedom’ series interviewing key WikiLeaks supporters (including myself and Barrett) for his “Live on the Fly” show at WBAI.

However, that too was soon debunked, and the same day, Barrett retracted his statement.

Amusingly, Roger Stone had originally made the claims on, of all places, InfoWars.

Barrett’s tweets were accompanied by multiple video monologues about Assange (a pattern that he would later follow in his derision of me) posted to Barrett’s Facebook account. It is notable that Assange never replied in kind to Brown on either platform, or returned his hostility.

The only instance of Assange mentioning anything even vaguely critical of Barrett at all, was the below tweet about my unceremonious exclusion from the Pursuance project for defending Julian.

For this single tweeted question about the situation, Julian was pronounced by Brown to have “libeled” the Pursuance Project. A further Facebook video rant by Barrett ensued, and some more angry tweets.

Ironically, in the video description, Brown claims the root of the issue was me “calling our lead developer ‘menacing’ for having asked her a question on Twitter.”

What was left out by Brown in his diminutive description of the scenario was that the “question” (falsely implied as a singular occurrence) was asked at the tail end of a slew of tweets from said developer, Steve Phillips. In reality, the berating of me came on the back of months worth of character assassination of Assange, stemming from both Brown and Phillips, and seeded within the embryonic Pursuance Project.

Julian’s inquiry about the e-drama was restrained and moderate: a single question on Twitter.

But it set others a-flurry, as the Pursuance coordinator, Raymond Johansen, appealed to me to calm things down.

Intellectual Honesty

To unravel the full story, we must go behind the scenes of Barrett’s 80 negative tweets about Assange.

The degrading and discrediting of Julian, the systematic stripping of his achievements and the undermining of his legacy was being promoted by Barrett’s offsider Phillips, under the guise of a new catchphrase: “intellectual honesty.

Eventually this Newspeak bled through into the public realm.

For months, this specific phrase was repeatedly slung about in the back-channels of the organising platform for Barrett Brown’s Pursuance Project: an unencrypted MatterMost instance where a who’s-who of seasoned activists from around the world were assembled.

The space was supposed to be for coordinating the sharing of our work and the building of Pursuance (and initially was). However, the conversation was soon diluted by periodic, malignant pile-ons critiquing Julian (a political refugee) to death.

The lines were quickly drawn between the few actors intent on diverting the space to indulge in derision of WikiLeaks, and the few staunch and vocal supporters unwilling to sit by quietly while the back-stabbing was playing out.

The majority of the members – experienced and accomplished activists, all – just rolled their eyes at the drama and kept out of it until it snowballed into the public spectacle that it inevitably became.

The server administrator, lead Pursuance developer Steve Phillips, was one of the key antagonists. Proximity to Barrett, or the desire to cement standing with him, appeared to be a motivating factor for participation in the anti-WikiLeaks “intellectual honesty” rituals.

Those of us who were reluctant to relentlessly armchair psychoanalyze someone who had been in arbitrary detention for six years with no end in sight, became increasingly disillusioned with the environment. As I was countering Barrett and Steve’s anti-Assange narratives both publicly on Twitter and privately in Pursuance, it was abundantly clear that my presence was less and less welcomed by them.

Indeed it was confirmed to me after my eventual expulsion that they had been discussing between themselves whether they could get rid of me (and thus my inconvenient counter-narratives) well before finally manufacturing a pretext under which to actually do it.

This was the context in which Steve sent me his “for the third and final time” tweet, which was a clear warning shot implying that he would have me banned if I didn’t capitulate to his demands for critical analysis of Assange. But if the US government with all its might and resources can’t bully me into turning my back on WikiLeaks, like hell was it going to happen because Steve wanted it to. So I called his behavior out for precisely what it was: menacing, and authoritarian.

While Barrett took credit for “ordering” the banning, Anna Burkhart, Pursuance’s “Director of Operations”, who seemed to me to be a fringe figure as I’d never had any contact with her before, swiftly portrayed my excommunication as an exercise in policing… yup, you guess it… “intellectual honesty“.

Being excluded from a platform that risked becoming a cross between a cult of personality and a tinpot dictatorship, didn’t bother me at all. But having my access to direct messages of a personal nature between myself and other activists revoked without notice or consultation certainly did.

The restriction of an exiled activist’s ability to access their own communications raised legitimate questions as to Steve’s monopoly over the governance of user data, as sole server administrator.

Steve refused to allow me to retrieve my data, instead offering bizarre and inappropriate solutions such as him fetching the plain text from the database and handing it to me through third parties – an obvious breach of privacy. I declined.

The use of Pursuance’s publishing platforms to smear me to their public audiences was a significant abuse of organizational power. Steve refused to admit this, and yet again invoked their mantra of “intellectual honesty.”

By contrast, I made a point of not dragging my own organizational affiliations into the drama. Instead of racing off to the Internet Party’s board, or to Kim Dotcom, and decrying the poor treatment, I confined my opinions to my personal Twitter account.

Adding offense to injury, the smear published on the Pursuance Project blog was accompanied by a social media share card displaying an image of CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who apparently had no knowledge that his image was being misused to endorse an attack on an exiled activist, by association.

My only public statement was this:

SupporterGate

It is not possible to meaningfully undermine Assange without also taking ideological aim at his support base, so it was inevitable that I would be targeted one way or another.

Unfortunately, I am far from the only one.

A housewife and a librarian who attend periodic vigils for Julian in London, were recently shocked to find themselves among a group of WikiLeaks supporters being singled out by journalists with The Intercept.

Smelling a rat, one of the ladies wanted to keep all correspondence with Intercept reporter Cora Currier in the public arena and stated so in no uncertain terms, publishing their exchange on her blog:

Although the first public contact seems innocuous, screenshots of Cora’s ensuing DM’s felt intimidating to the other individual involved, who was keenly aware of the power imbalance between herself and mainstream journalists wielding a huge audience:

The member of the public replied to Currier:
a) that she is not a public figure
b) that the messages were “private, chatting between friends
c) that she hadn’t said anything that didn’t already appear on her regular Twitter timeline

She told me that she doesn’t know why Currier thought the EFF was ever mentioned by anyone: “Some of this is misrepresented, some out of context, and a few things are ideas, gripes, jokes, etc. Tossed around.

Most importantly, she verified what many others had posited: I never knew who was behind @wikileaks except that it varied. We all knew different people handled it at various times, no one ever identified themselves and we didn’t care.” [emphasis added]

Julian Assange is named 70 times in the article; 33 of which are explicit attributions of WikiLeaks’ private messages as being authored by him. The Intercept reporters use terms like “Assange decried“, “Assange called“, “Assange posted“, “Assange believed“, “Assange found“, “Assange emphasized“, “Assange maintained“, “Assange explicitly encouraged“, “Assange philosophized“, “Assange responded“, “Assange asked“, “Assange suggested”, “Assange wrote”, “Assange theorized”, “Assange instructed”, “Assange added” and “Assange joked” without ever having verified that the messages were sent by Julian Assange.

Incredibly, their own copy admits the lack of proof, stating: “Throughout this article, The Intercept assumes that the WikiLeaks account is controlled by Julian Assange himself.” [emphasis added]

A fundamental flaw, so problematic that it is almost comical.

The assumption undermines the core premise for the entire text. This factor should not have been overlooked by The Intercept’s editors.

Some of the messages attributed to Assange were sent at dates and times that it was physically impossible for him to have been the author.

Had Currier asked the supporters involved whether they believed they were speaking to Julian Assange, this misrepresentation could have been avoided. But she didn’t. Instead, the framing of her questions attempted to elicit inflammatory commentary under the cover of offering a right of reply. When what she should have been doing was fact-checking the foundations of her story.

I took issue with The Intercept journalists putting ordinary citizens on the spot like this, just because they were supporters of WikiLeaks.

It appears my sabre-rattling may have had some effect: To their credit, by the time the article eventuated, The Intercept had redacted the names of the members of the public caught up in the dragnet.

Unfortunately, it didn’t prevent hurt feelings. The supporters felt that the framing of the article was without merit and were particularly aggrieved to be depicted by Lee and Currier as having been party to misogyny, anti-feminism and anti-semitism.

One of the women told me:

It was a clear attack to undermine the solidarity and other work WL supporters do. The article smears us by its outlandish claims presenting us as participating in a cabal of misogyny/fascism/anti-semitism which I find extremely offensive as I know every single person in that chat supports humanistic progressive ideals of a great variety, most are women, many with Jewish heritage. The article’s claims are so outlandish and negative, so dismissive and morally reprehensible.

The article’s attribution of anti-semitism to WikiLeaks is weakly evidenced. Lee and Currier rely on a comment where WikiLeaks stated that they found a journalist’s work distasteful, “but” that he was Jewish. Whoever was at the helm of the WikiLeaks account that day was clearly implying that they were wary of calling the reporter in question out, lest any criticism be deflected as being anti-semitic. It is the greatest of irony that their suspicion has borne true, not by the reporter they mentioned, but by Micah Lee in his stead.

Another of the women targeted by Lee and Currier told me:

I was offended by being labelled as transphobic and as attacking feminists, among the other smears. I tried to make it clear in my own tweets I am only disturbed by the fanatical version of feminism that acts as though any disagreement with them on anything makes you misogynistic and that any accusation they make against any man, regardless of truth, evidence, or simple reality, must be accepted as gospel… I’ve always considered myself a humanist and an individualist, focusing on equal justice, equal treatment before the law, irrespective of all those things people try to use to divide one group of homo sapiens from another.”

The female supporters damaged by Lee and Currier’s article are not the only ones close to WikiLeaks who are incensed at the constant and unfair accusations leveled against them.

Widely respected investigative journalist Stefania Maurizi has also spoken out about her own extensive experiences with WikiLeaks. When Micah Lee thread-jumped one of her tweets, she responded in no uncertain terms:

Currier hadn’t mentioned to the supporters in her original direct messages who the “we” in her enquiries referred to. Although it was more likely than not, that this latest attempt to undermine support for WikiLeaks originated with none other than Micah Lee.

Two days prior to the article dropping, I had alluded to such:

Sure enough, that is precisely who appeared on the by-line, and then went on a campaign of collecting public credit for the nuclear fallout.

The Worst Article Ever

I had thought my below summary of issues with Lee and Currier’s article was a shocking list of editorial malpractice.

What I didn’t realize is that those shoddy journalistic practices would pale in comparison to what has since come to light.

It turns out that the damage wrought by Micah and Cora’s piece was not confined to WikiLeaks and its supporters.

The lack of due diligence in their article resulted in a highly damaging attack on the ability of conscientious activists to garner high profile support for the legal defense funds of whistleblowers.

In this case, Trident nuclear whistleblower William McNeilly.

Lee and Currier wrote:

Here are the WikiLeaks DM’s on which they were editorializing:

Had Lee and Currier been more conscientious in their methodology, they would have discovered that the tweet amplified by the Scottish MP Paul Monaghan was part of a campaign to raise support for the whistleblower McNeilly. McNeilly’s revelations were about dangerous misconduct aboard the Trident nuclear ship, parked in Scotland.

Lee, Currier and their editors neglected to locate or source the actual tweet which had been retweeted by the MP:

It was the above that was being celebrated by the WikiLeaks supporter, and to which WikiLeaks was saying “be the troll you want to see in the world.” They were not encouraging people to be trolls, but rather suggesting that the type of troll a good person would want to see in the world is one that acts in support of whistleblowers, rather than one that derides, smears or endangers them.

The supporter whose appeal had caught the attention of the MP told me she was extremely upset by Lee and Currier’s malpractice as the decontextualization has produced material harm:

My very modest campaign supporting raising funds for whistleblower William McNeilly by promoting his Courage Foundation Emergency legal defence fund was never mentioned. De- contextualizing my agency as a transparency campaigner, the implication is that sharing my modest joy of a re-tweet by someone within the political establishment who is followed by many of his constituents that might be moved to assist McNeilly’s Legal Defence Fund, is nothing more than a manipulative attack without merit. Political campaigning is perfectly legitimate. Spreading the word for the cause you support is consistent with participatory democracy.

Unfortunately, the damage wreaked by Lee and Currier goes far beyond upsetting the women. Their misreporting directly led to open calls on MP’s to no longer retweet WikiLeaks supporters – striking a blow to future attempts to provide urgent assistance to at-risk whistleblowers.

The butterfly effect of Lee and Currier’s effort to add another cheap shot at WikiLeaks to their pile, is that their article was immediately sourced for a Tory talking point to deride anti-nuclear support in the Scottish National Parliament – a direct violation of the progressive ideals that Lee and Currier claim to be motivated by.

Otherwise known as an own-goal.

Currier and Lee’s assertion that WikiLeaks supporters were targeting the MP on social media implied impropriety, and has undermined one of the most basic tenets of activism: appealing to democratic representatives. The very tactic that has recently freed Courage Foundation beneficiary Lauri Love from the threat of being extradited to the US.

After relentless efforts by campaigners, 73 Members of the British Parliament spoke out on Love’s behalf, with tremendous impact. Their support was gained through the same type of social media technique that WikiLeaks supporters were engaged in on behalf of Trident whistleblower William McNeilly.

This scandal is indicative of the whole: WikiLeaks’ DM’s with their supporters were taken at face value by Lee and Currier, who employed little care to ascertain what was truly going on behind the messaging. The pair failed to measure any potential negative impacts of their framing, beyond surface damage to WikiLeaks reputation.

Only entities likely to further the discrediting of WikiLeaks were given meaningful portions of the word count. In Currier’s DM’s to the WikiLeaks supporters, they were asked only about their statements on contentious topics such as EFF, Jacob Appelbaum or the lawyer of an Assange-accuser. No attempt was made to offer the ladies a chance to contextualize conversations such as the above – with disastrous results.

No consideration was given as to the ethics or dangers of undermining the future work of pro-human rights campaigners.

Lee and Currier’s negligence is to all of our detriment – The Intercept, WikiLeaks, whistleblowers, MP’s, progressive causes and the public at large.

When deception causes actual damage to the ability of good people to effect positive change in this world, it becomes an act of sabotage. In my opinion Lee and Currier have crossed that line.

The Freedom To Impress

In the last 5 years, Micah Lee has sent one tweet educating people about the TPP. Nevertheless, the diabolical trade agreement has become yet another reference point for his attacks on WikiLeaks. In what will become a running theme, Micah accused WikiLeaks of “taking credit” for the “people’s movement against the TPP“.

WikiLeaks tweet did no such thing. As Micah would know, if he a) had actually clicked on the link in it, or b) knew anything about the history of the movement.

The WikiLeaks link contained expert analysis of the leaked chapters by none other than Dr. Jane Kelsey – the New Zealand academic who spearheaded the movement against the TPP since 2008/2009. Kelsey worked relentlessly alongside international counterparts in Japan, South Korea, the United States, and other countries to build the coordinated effort against the TPP that finally resulted in the withdrawal of the United States from the agreement.

New Zealand’s movement in opposition to the TPPA, led by Kelsey’s coalition It’s Our Future NZ, was per capita the largest in the world (by orders of magnitude). She wrote opinion pieces in New Zealand media about the significance of the WikiLeaks publications of the TPP chapters, and how organisers of the movement were reliant upon the leaks for information on what the agreements contained.

Additionally, WikiLeaks directly engaged Kelsey and other academics around the world to analyze the leaked documents and published their findings alongside the releases. An invaluable service to humanity.

I genuinely wish that I was just reporting on Micah making a clown of himself over the TPP. Unfortunately his penchant for uninformed diminishment of the extremely significant work of those he smears has had a splash effect on other organizations with which he is affiliated.

In particular, the reputation of the Freedom of the Press Foundation has been dragged through the mud in recent times. This is due to even more accusations made against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks by Micah Lee, that I can now confirm are false.

The proof is in Micah’s own Twitter timeline. To get to the bottom of the debacle, all we have to do is take a walk down history lane.

Micah has been tweeting about WikiLeaks since July 2010, nearly two months after Manning’s arrest.

Here is the first of his 230 tweets about WikiLeaks:

Initially supportive of the whistleblowing organization, Micah has sent at least 62 highly critical and/or defamatory tweets about WikiLeaks. The turning point was December 2016. Immediately post election. By contrast, WikiLeaks has sent 2 about Micah.

62 separate tweets by Micah dating back to December 2010 explicitly name Julian Assange. Somewhere between 36 and 45 are highly critical and/or defamatory, depending on your tolerance for Micah’s acidity levels. Julian Assange has addressed Micah once.

The first major falsehood asserted by Micah Lee was over a year ago. He claimed that Julian Assange was lying about his involvement with the creation of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. The accusation was widely circulated:

The key to debunking Micah with his own tweets is in April 2012:

Sure enough, when you read the above article, you discover the evidence that Micah’s allegation against Julian is false:

The Guardian quote bears repeating:

“Supporters based in the US are now in talks with Assange to establish a US-based foundation…”

Lee’s first lie now dispensed with, something else that he had repeatedly stated kept echoing in my head, and led me to an even more consequential discovery.

According to the Guardian article, the first onboard with Freedom of the Press was John Perry Barlow (co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Grateful Dead lyricist) who then reached out to Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Helpfully, in 2012 Micah had also tweeted a link to this Forbes piece, quoting Daniel Ellsberg on why the Foundation was started.

What that article reveals should send shockwaves among both the WikiLeaks and FPF communities, as well as that of related organizations.

Because it completely upends the official narrative about the recent decision by FPF’s board to sever funding ties to WikiLeaks.

FPF’s justification for the severance: that it had only provided a conduit for donations due to the infamous Visa, Mastercard and PayPal ‘banking blockade’ against WikiLeaks.

FPF board members claimed that because there was no recent evidence of the blockade continuing, that the funding channel could be closed down, and then did so.

But the Forbes quote of Ellsberg back in 2012 reveals a completely different motivation for setting up the funding channel: it was not just to aid WikiLeaks, but to protect the public.

“A lot of people would rightly be hesitant to go on record sending money to WikiLeaks because they think they could be questioned, blacklisted or prosecuted,” says Ellsberg, citing politicians like Joe Biden and Sarah Palin that have compared WikiLeaks at times to a terrorist organization. “With this the individual will have his or her anonymity preserved. It’s like WikiLeaks itself. WikiLeaks facilitated anonymous leaking. This is to facilitate anonymous donations.” [emphasis added]

This is an earth-shattering reminder of the true reasons for establishing FPF itself – it was not just to help media organizations like WikiLeaks. It was to safeguard those who wished to support them but were afraid to do so, by shielding donors from potential legal ramifications.

Micah appears to have been well aware of this in 2012. As he tweeted the ArsTechnica headline that FPF would act as a “financially-shielded middleman for WikiLeaks“:

But by 2017 he was singing a very different tune. In a slew of tweets, he continues to encapsulate the issue as being about the banking blockade, implying that there is no other reason to maintain the service.

Just as we showed earlier that the Manning Support Network was monitored by the FBI, donors to Barrett Brown’s legal fund were also monitored. Kim Dotcom’s assets were seized and his funds frozen. Julian Assange’s accounts were likewise frozen while he was in Sweden. All whistleblowers, many dissident journalists (including myself) and their supporters have been interfered with financially.

The number one tactic of intelligence agencies is to go after the resources of their targets. To impoverish them by any and all means.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo announced at his first press conference of 2017 that WikiLeaks is a priority target. Subsequently, the very survival of the organization, to this day, hangs in the balance, as do the lives of those who cast their lot in with them.

At this point, we must ask cui bono? Who would benefit from stripping WikiLeaks donors of their anonymity and potentially exposing them to liability?

Cutting off the anonymous donation channel has the potential to put supporters of free press around the world at risk.

Sacrifice (and Love)

Shortly after “Risk”, Laura Poitras’ documentary on Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, came out, I read every review of it that I could find, before finally watching the film myself.

Most reviews parroted each other; the tabloid narrative of conflict between producer and subject was too tasty a morsel to pass up.

At the original 2016 Cannes screening of “Risk”, Poitras appeared alongside Jacob Appelbaum and Sarah Harrison, playing down any suggestion of conflict between herself and Julian Assange.

Question: “We believe through media that while making this documentary you had a kind of a series of differences of opinion with Mr. Assange and that you were not on great terms while you were making the film. Is it true?”

Laura Poitras: “I’m actually curious what your source is. I mean I’m very supportive of the work that WikiLeaks does and I think the work that I’ve done and the work that WikiLeaks has done, that we’re concerned about similar things and very concerned about what the US government is doing internationally. When we first started doing the reporting on Edward Snowden’s documents, one of the first things that the mainstream media did was this comparison model and I think that this is a really kind of move of the mainstream media to try to separate people and I actually think that, you know, Edward Snowden came forward after, I mean what he did came after, very much after Chelsea Manning and its not about comparing the two, it’s actually about looking at what they’re revealing, and so I think that, you’re taking a narrative and um, sort of following what the mainstream media is saying so I actually disagree with it.”

Also at Cannes, Jacob revealed that some of the most significant reporting on the Snowden documents had been undertaken in collaboration with WikiLeaks and had the full support of Julian Assange:

Jacob Appelbaum: “All of the reporting that is not shown in this film such as for example the Merkel phone story where we revealed that the NSA was spying on Chancellor Merkel as well as lots of other reporting including other media relationships, all of the time that I have worked with Laura in Berlin in the last three years was directly supported as WikiLeaks, these things that we were doing were supported directly by Julian with the understanding that sometimes the best thing to do is to partner up and not put WikiLeaks on the by-line because the most important thing is to get the news out and the facts. And the fact is Julian is a political prisoner who is being demonized in the press.”

This is extremely interesting because WikiLeaks’ detractors accuse them of taking credit for other people’s work. On the contrary, the above reveals WikiLeaks not taking credit for major achievements that they helped to bring about.

Poitras re-cut the film into a significantly different beast, alienating many of its participants. She then reversed her Cannes denials and admitted to her personal conflicts with Julian. (She also revealed her personal relationship with Jacob Appelbaum.)

The revised version of the film leaves a lot of questions unanswered. I was able to fill some of the gaps by watching countless shorts of interviews with Poitras and other characters, but the most gaping holes that may never be filled are the untold hours of footage Poitras shot and never released.

Poitras has left major pieces of the puzzle on the cutting room floor.

There were two very subtle revelatory moments that moved me deeply. Each were simple yet poignant and emotive: The first, Sarah Harrison’s hand rubbing Julian’s back, displaying a tenderness that transformed my view of his experience inside the embassy all these years.

There is nothing more perfect in this world than genuine love, and for Julian to have been party to it is a priceless gift.

This insight into Sarah and Julian’s relationship redefines the sacrifice and risk involved when Sarah went to Hong Kong to help Edward Snowden.

In the Grand Master Chessboard, this was Julian’s Queen being sent out onto the playing field. It was a high stakes move for a high stakes win. It denotes a willingness to make personal sacrifice where principles demand it. The legal ramifications of saving Ed physically parted Sarah and Julian from each other and elevated their target status in the eyes of the governments who have been persecuting them.

The price of their victory was three long years without that tender touch. Never once did they acknowledge the sacrifice, or complain.

This historic relationship is seldom given its full due by the press.

While Julian is depicted as the primary representative of WikiLeaks, he has had an intelligent, brave, accomplished and beautiful woman working with him every step of the way.

Sarah, alone in Berlin. Photo by Jacob Appelbaum

The second moment in “Risk” that stood out for me, was extremely brief but enough: the look on Christine Assange’s face when she turns to the camera as Julian is departing the hotel room in disguise, to travel to the Ecuadorean Embassy and seek asylum.

Julian’s courage is at a minimum, second-generation. But more shows through: there is an element of disdain. It is as if Christine knows too well that the camera is a tool both of benefit and betrayal.

There is a lack of self-consciousness in “Risk”. Just as it condemns Julian, at times it unwittingly exonerates him as well.

It looks almost certain now that it’s going to be Hillary versus Trump. Basically it will be Hillary versus Trump unless one of them has a stroke or is assassinated. So that’s quite a bad outcome in both directions. We have a definite warmonger in the case of Hillary, who’s gunning for us, and in the case of Trump we have someone who is extremely unpredictable.” – Julian Assange, in ‘Risk’

In an Associated Press promo video, Laura lends credence to WikiLeaks’ foresight as the genesis of secure whistleblowing platforms:

Laura Poitras: “Julian is somebody who, I think he understood that there was a new era in journalism, and that there would be a need for tools to protect sources, to use encryption, creating this anonymous submission platform, we didn’t know that in 2006 right? That the government was going to be able to monitor what your phone is and if a source calls you, right? So that its not enough for a journalist to say I will protect my sources if the government is able to understand who you met and where.”

A screen in ‘Risk’ reads:

The much-touted displays of sexism in the film, are a double-edged sword. In portraying Julian as a chauvinist, the film stripped out the significance and the accomplishments of the many women working alongside him, diminishing their relevance and downplaying their contributions to the events depicted.

WikiLeaks lawyer Melinda Taylor explains:

“The content was selectively edited and taken out of context and it shows persons who never agreed to be in the film… if you’re showing a documentary about WikiLeaks, you should be talking about source protection, you should be talking about government surveillance, which was the real purpose of the film, or what they were led to believe the film would be about… WikiLeaks is the star of the documentary yet its been edited in such a way that you would think that Assange is WikiLeaks and there’s no one else. The women have been completely edited out of their process, they’ve been denuded of all agency, they’ve been shown as slavish minions…”

Risk‘s hypocrisy in claiming to denounce chauvinism while simultaneously reducing the women in its scenes to irrelevancy, led to a wonderfully karmic direct result: in its wake, the world got to learn much, much more about the women of WikiLeaks.

To better the interests of women, one must be prepared to celebrate them. Poitras’s very male-centric filmmaking, totally missed this opportunity.

But the beef wasn’t just about attitudes to women or feminism. It seems that at the time of re-cutting the film into its second incarnation, Poitras very much believed in Russiagate, and in the specific allegation (now extensively debunked) that Roger Stone was the key to proving a back-channel to WikiLeaks. On the promotional circuit and sharing a stage with Jeremy Scahill, Poitras stated of the #DNCLeaks:

Laura Poitras: “It was clear that it was going to be significant, [WikiLeaks] were on the world stage in a way that they hadn’t been I think since 2010, right, at that same level, that was obvious. I guess I needed to have a little bit of an understanding about what had happened. Jeremy and I just had a talk about this before, he just did an interview with Julian for The Intercepted, Jeremy’s podcast. Where things stand, or what we believe to be accurate, is that there was a hack that was conducted by Russia that a certain amount was submitted through an intermediary or cutout to WikiLeaks and that Julian denies that his source is a state actor.”

In response to a question by another audience member, Jeremy Scahill said “I think that the lives that have been impacted for the positive by WikiLeaks – it’s too many to count.

This was a welcome acknowledgement, coming after Scahill had earlier denounced Julian as “sexist“, and inappropriately quipped that Assange could be compared to Bill Clinton.

It would be very interesting to see a film that compared the lives of Julian Assange and Bill Clinton in this way…

When no one laughed, Scahill quickly backed out of his poor attempt at humour with “…no, I’m sorry” and swiftly moved on.

The apparent inability of self-styled defenders of women to differentiate between the physical and deliberate violence of actual rape, such as Bill Clinton’s rape of Juanita Broderick, compared to disagreements over condoms or in the case of Appelbaum, non-consensual back-washing, kissing someone in a bar, propositioning someone or making bad jokes, undermines and is frankly depressing to, those of us who are survivors.

Sexually harmful behaviors and other aspects of rape culture can and should be denounced and deplored, without having to equate it to rape. The proclivity of the liberal set for doing so waters down and diminishes the experience of rape victims, and the seriousness of it. It seems to be yet another function of privilege, to bandy about terms such as “rape”, “rapist”, and “serial rapist” without understanding the repercussions of doing so.

Rape is an assault on all five senses. For a protracted period of time thereafter, it renders you almost unable to live inside your body, to live inside your life. Unable to preserve your sensory perceptions or restore them to how they functioned before the rape.

To falsely describe sexually problematic behavior common amongst the entire population as “rape” belittles and undermines survivors, as does unfairly expanding the definition of what constitutes a rapist, or branding every man a rapist by affiliation. Doing so causes many men who are not rapists to recoil from confronting what does need to change. It dissuades them from meaningfully engaging on legitimate issues. It encourages an inevitable and counterproductive backlash, that needn’t have occurred.

I was the first to meaningfully investigate JakeGate, at a time when it was anathema to do so, well before the European press followed suit. I did so because I instantly recognized that what the smear website presented as victim accounts, contained stark differences to the common attributes of survivor testimony.

As I dug deep down that rabbit hole, I found dozens more alarming implications behind what was going on with the activists and organizations involved, than merely what they were presenting on the surface.

Some aspects of which tie back to the extremely important work Laura Poitras and Jacob Appelbaum were doing together, before their relationship imploded.

Critics of Appelbaum decry the idea that he should still be remembered for doing “good work”. The truth is, he didn’t just do good work. He did vital, critical, essential work that very few if any have stepped up into his place to continue.

He worked with Guantanamo victims. He exposed surveillance technology that no one else had. He travelled around the world, helping at-risk activists and journalists to evade the targeting they were being subjected to by their governments.

In the above video, Poitras and Appelbaum are studying names from the NSA Kill List sourced from the Snowden files.

During those final years of his public advocacy, Appelbaum periodically jokes that if he is killed, that it was murder. While he smiles and laughs as he says it, there was a dark truth underlying his sardonic humor. For if he hadn’t been neutralized, socially neutered, in the way that he eventually was – if he hadn’t been made persona non grata by the very communities who he worked to insulate from governmental targeting – he may well have eventually been killed.

The ease with which the US empire can add a name to the list for assassination is evidenced in that very presentation by Poitras and Appelbaum. While the bar for inclusion is far lower in a war zone, only the naive believe that state-sanctioned killings of certain journalists and dissidents doesn’t also occur in the West.

We are hurtling towards a future where weaponized drones will be deployed above the heads of all Western citizens. Where it is not inconceivable that extrajudicial execution of “threats to national security” will occur on our own soil with little fanfare, just as they already do in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and god knows how many other countries.

It is this level of threat to human rights that we are up against. Being honest about the risks of activism is part of helping people to understand why they must join the fight to prevent those risks from worsening and spreading.

Most dissidents in the West will never rise to the target level of a Julian Assange or a Jacob Appelbaum. Acknowledging the threats that do exist for some of us, empowers people to better empathize with and support us.

Part of our duty of care to other activists is to share with them the full extent of the knowledge we have about the systems and methods employed against us, just as Appelbaum consistently did.

Why “Risk” is so titled is self-evident. The risks are real.

Everyone involved in the Snowden reporting was at risk – none more so than Snowden himself. Likewise, everyone involved in WikiLeaks – none more so than Julian. Just as everyone who was involved with Kim Dotcom, or anyone else who is being targeted by the upper echelons of the US Empire.

To openly state so shouldn’t be shied away from. It is a simple fact of our existence.

But there are different types of risk, too.

I can’t believe what he allows me to film..” Laura says of Julian, in ‘Risk’.

But Assange wasn’t just letting her film it. He was intending to leak the true history of WikiLeaks to the public: Poitras was only meant to be the conduit.

Laura acknowledges this in a Showtime promo: “I actually think he wanted there to be a record of what was happening.”

The movie covers momentous events of enormous historical value: Julian living under house arrest, working on massive publications, attending court, adopting a disguise and making the mad dash to the Ecuadorian Embassy, engaging in conversations with lawyers, diplomats, celebrities, his mother.

This was supposed to be the focus of the movie. This was the grounds under which WikiLeaks staff gave consent.

At 1:53 in the Showtime video Laura says of her conflicts with Julian over the final cut: “I do find it somewhat ironic that he’s trying to censor the content of the film given the ideological mission of what WikiLeaks does.”

After many hours of pondering this, I realized Poitras’ movie is the personification of the curation debate.

Sitting in her editing suite, Poitras was the curator. By refusing to allow the affected parties to have any input in that, she was retaining control over which pieces of their lives and relationships would be allowed to shine through, and in what light.

The WikiLeaks model would be to simply release all of the footage. The curated model of film making, is to take the footage captured, then edit it into a narrative, package it and release it. They refer to film making as a craft.

Thus events are vulnerable to the creative decision-making of the filmmaker, long before they are subject to the interpretations of the audience. Assange’s very acerbic, very outlandish, very Aussie sense of humor, becomes impropriety in the view of an American liberal filmmaker’s lens. Even though I as a viewer recognize his acerbic wit for what it is at its core, it has been presented to me as something else. The editing has made it third-hand information. Less witnessing, and more Chinese whispers. It has become a script.

These contrasting viewpoints, are at least very human. Two ways to image any single whole. Refracted light, which Poitras loves to fill her frames with; sunbeams and shadow… become representations of the difference of opinion.

These can be forgiven. They come down to the beholder.

Less forgivable, are blatant lies and untruths.

Blatant Lies and Untruths

For reasons unknown, FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds has a long track record of criticizing other whistleblowers and those who promote their work. Her target list includes Daniel Ellsberg, Glenn Greenwald, and in particular, Edward Snowden.

Her publishing organization, Newsbud posts articles and videos deriding all of the aforementioned and many more.

Recently, Edmonds interviewed Whitney Webb of MintPress News (disclosure: I wrote for MintPress for several years) on her recent series of articles about the connections between Pierre Omidyar, PayPal, The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

The articles are postured as being a defense of WikiLeaks, but do so by attacking all of the aforementioned.

Edmonds introduces Webb’s work as being “solid investigative journalism” although it is little more than an aggregation of circumstantial facts from the public record, strung together into a derogatory narrative.

The Edmonds/Webb interview contains a number of falsehoods.

At 3:20 in the video, Webb kicks off by suggesting that The Intercept was only launched to report on the Snowden documents: “its come out over the years their whole basis with the Snowden leaks and whatnot ended up not really becoming true, they’ve had a lot of other stories that have come out that don’t really have anything to do with those documents…”

The Intercept’s launch announcement from 2014 contradicts Webb: “Our central mission is to hold the most powerful governmental and corporate factions to account and to do so, we will report on a wide range of issues.”

Webb continues, speaking of the Snowden documents: there was a document that came out at the end of last year and it was one of the first Snowden releases that The Intercept had had come out in a really long time.”

In one of her many attacks against Glenn Greenwald on Twitter, Webb stated:

In 2017 The Intercept released up to 600 Snowden documents, with nearly a dozen individual reports based on them.

All Webb would have had to do to educate herself on the topic, is to have visited their website and clicked on “Documents”

Edmonds and Webb follow this up with multiple assertions (also commonly circulated on social media) that The Intercept deliberately withheld the file Webb referenced.

“The document that came out was an NSA document… The Intercept had sat on that document for about four and a half years at the time.

Webb has no basis for making this claim: It is impossible to substantiate any intent on behalf of The Intercept to suppress the release of an individual document.

Julian Assange contextualized the issue of the founding rationale for The Intercept and pointed out that no intent can be ascribed, re withholding a specific document:

Edmonds and Webb’s focus on Omidyar and PayPal (which I think is entirely valid) swiftly expands to an outright attack on Greenwald and Snowden.

By 4:40 in the video, Sibel is calling the veracity of the Snowden leaks as a whole into question while Whitney laughs. 

Sibel states “the birth of The Intercept was based on the so-called Snowden case, the supposed Snowden leaks, let’s put it that way. And Glenn Greenwald. Supposedly there is this whistleblower who leaks supposedly over 500,000 pages and he doesn’t leak it. He gives and he hands this information over to this supposed investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald…” [emphasis added]

Sibel’s repetitive language is a common manipulation tactic reminiscent of neuro-linguistic programming: She has no hard evidence that Snowden’s leaks weren’t leaks, no evidence that Snowden isn’t a whistleblower, no evidence that he leaked 500,000 pages (Greenwald & Snowden themselves have quantified the archive as being substantially less than that) and she sure as hell has no evidence that Glenn Greenwald isn’t an investigative journalist, given his many years of investigative journalism pre-dating the Snowden releases.

By 9:00 Webb is trying to depict Booz Allen Hamilton’s tacit connections to the Omidyar Network as being somehow related to the Snowden leaks. She says “the Snowden-Omidyar Booz Allen Hamilton connections… they’ve been called the most profitable spy agency, James Clapper was an ex-Director… if you remember back to the Snowden story years ago, Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton… even though the pace of the leaks has been truly glacial, Snowden hasn’t complained at all..”

The implication is that Booz Allen Hamilton has somehow benefited from the leaks, as if it was a positive development for them to be globally humiliated for having one of their employees compromise their systems, extracting thousands of top secret documents and transporting them across international borders.

Meanwhile, Booz Allen Hamilton’s stocks plummeted in the immediate wake of the Snowden disclosures. There was open musing as to whether the company would survive the scandal.

This, for what Webb described as “the most profitable spy agency” was not a boon at all. It was a looming fiscal armageddon.

Webb and Edmonds repeatedly reference a #GIFiles release that revealed intelligence contractor HB Gary’s efforts to discredit WikiLeaks, by targeting Greenwald because of his support for them. Within minutes of presenting this as evidence of the threats WikiLeaks faces, Edmonds is ripping into Greenwald, suggesting that he was some kind of gay porn king on the lam from the U.S. Government, in hiding in Brazil. Malicious rumors spread by none other than the FBI in the immediate wake of Greenwald’s Snowden reporting.

Webb tried to get out of the outlandish claims after the fact, by blaming them all on Edmonds. 

Assange called Edmonds’ attacks on Glenn “scurrilous“. I couldn’t agree more.

Webb has essentially taken legitimate critiques about Pierre Omidyar – a member of the billionaire club – and stretched it to tar anyone vaguely connected, with the same brush.

Glenn was having none of it, and ripped it apart in two seconds flat.

Unfortunately, Webb didn’t limit herself to Sibel Edmond’s show. She put in a repeat performance on Stranahan.

At 7:20 in the interview she almost nails a key point, but still hadn’t done enough homework to get it right. Webb states, of the Freedom of the Press Foundation: “its board of directors are almost all writers for The Intercept or people like Edward Snowden.

There is a very key common thread between the majority of members of the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) board. But it is not The Intercept. It is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Of the nine members of the board of FPF, five (at a minimum) have direct ties to the EFF.

John Perry Barlow, of course, was a co-founder of EFF. Rainey Reitman is the current Activism Director at EFF. Micah Lee was a staff technologist for the EFF. Trevor Timm, the Executive Director of the FPF (essentially the operational manager) is also ex EFF. Laura Poitras has worked with the EFF’s legal team. There are further direct ties to the EFF on the FPF staff and on their Technical Advisory Board.

This is the real smoking gun that contextualizes the FPF board decision to cease funding WikiLeaks – not connections to The Intercept, as Webb claims. (More critical info about the EFF appears later in this article)

By 12:45 in the Stranahan interview, Webb is making more erroneous claims about The Intercept’s Snowden reporting. She now states that “three stories a year have come out on these documents.” As has already been demonstrated, this is patently untrue.

By 13:00 Webb is claiming “as the FBI whistleblower mentioned in my story, Sibel Edmonds, she exposed in 2013 that a lot of the Snowden leaks factually contained information that is very damning for Paypal, and Paypal’s connection to the U.S. government, the NSA, the CIA and the Treasury Department so it seems like Greenwald has changed his stance on leaks since being employed by The Intercept.

This slur by Edmonds tracks back to 2014.

When taking aim at Greenwald and The Intercept, Edmonds and Webb are attacking the only remaining media organization still publishing the documents, and the only organization to have engaged in bulk releases of Snowden files.

Edmonds and Webb don’t just produce work attacking Greenwald and The Intercept, they also rake the Freedom of the Press Foundation over the coals.

But to what end?

Just as with the post-election conversation, the prevailing narratives about the FPF decision to cut off WikiLeaks have fallen along two strictly diametric lines:

  1. Freedom of the Press Foundation is good and WikiLeaks is bad (promoted by Micah Lee/EFF people)
  2. WikiLeaks is good and the Freedom of the Press Foundation is bad (promoted by Whitney Webb/Sibel Edmonds)

Whichever of the above you have so far believed to be true, serves the same agenda.

The truth can only be discovered by taking a much closer look at how the decision to cut off WikiLeaks was reached.

In doing so, we will discover that there is a third way to view the situation. A middle way.

Game Theory and the Middle Way

Just as Greenwald recently said of RussiaGate: proponents should take it to its logical conclusion and ask themselves what that is?

The same applies to this situation with the FPF. What is the net result if we assume Micah Lee’s position? What is the net result if we adopt Sibel Edmonds and Whitney Webb’s?

Both outcomes, perhaps indirectly, serve the intelligence agencies’ interests.

In Micah Lee’s version of what happened, the Freedom of the Press Foundation made a unanimous decision to cut off funding to WikiLeaks as there was no evidence that the banking blockade remained in place.

Edmonds and Webb allege corruption, claiming the Freedom of the Press Foundation cut off WikiLeaks because they receive funding from billionaire Pierre Omidyar.

Both narratives neglect to mention that the issue was actually a bone of contention resulting in a long running debate within the FPF. An internal conflict that included the resignation of a board member and may have presented an existential predicament for the organisation.

The November 2017 article “Free Press Group Ready To Cut Off WikiLeaks“, by Kevin Poulsen and self-confessed ‘Petraeus Cultist’ Spencer Ackerman, preceded the official announcement by the FPF of the decision having been reached.

The article attempts to justify FPF’s impending action by making a number of claims about WikiLeaks that have been disproven. Including outlandish statements like “WikiLeaks has made common cause with extreme right-wing forces, principally Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin” and poses a dangerous, reckless question: asking if WikiLeaks has “become something else, something less journalistic, during the election?”

WikiLeaks has earned its journalistic status more than arguably any other media organisation on earth, having endured personal risk and hardships at a level unmatched in its generation. The tacit attempt by these reporters to strip WikiLeaks of journalistic protections retrospectively is cowardly and underhanded.

Poulsen and Ackerman also drastically downplay the significance of FPF’s cutting funding to WikiLeaks, writing: “The practical effect of the move is minimal—WikiLeaks donors in America may no longer be able to claim a tax write-off.”

As demonstrated earlier in this piece by way of Daniel Ellsberg’s original statements about the purpose for the donation channel, the implications for WikiLeaks supporters go well beyond that simplification.

Poulsen and Ackerman attribute direct messages to Julian Assange, without sufficient evidence. Their only ‘proof’: the same tweet later linked to by Lee and Currier, of Assange suggesting that Donald Trump consider “our offer to… open a hotel-style embassy in DC with luxury suites for whistleblowers.”

An obvious joke that many reporters have disingenuously taken at face value.

It is frankly idiotic that the use of the word “our” in the above tweet is the basis for Poulsen, Ackerman, Lee and Currier’s conclusion that all WikiLeaks account messages are sent by Julian Assange.

The recipient of the messages, Xeni Jardin, shared them with the FPF Board in the wake of the 2016 election. Jardin resigned as a Board member in December 2016, and told Poulsen and Ackerman that she had felt “unsupported“. Their article states that “Micah Lee was the only board member at the meeting to agree the time had come to cut ties” (with WikiLeaks).

It took “a year-long debate among the directors at the Freedom of the Press Foundation” before a statement by FPF Executive Director Trevor Timm confirmed that consensus on the question of funding WikiLeaks was finally reached in October 2017.

Multiple other figures sourced in the article confirmed that the issue had divided the Board. It took the reframing of making it about whether the banking blockade was still in existence, in order to justify the decision to sever WikiLeaks.

This blows apart the notion that the decision was in any way related to FPF’s funding, connections to The Intercept or to Pierre Omidyar. Else why would it have taken a year to achieve, after the loss of the Board member who originally raised the issue?

Laughably, Micah Lee told Poulsen and Ackerman “Protecting free press rights for publishers we disagree with is important… but that doesn’t mean WikiLeaks should be able to harass our board members without consequences.”

It is highly debatable whether the few direct messages received by Jardin could be considered harassment; predictably Micah Lee’s far more protracted and public harassment of WikiLeaks and of Julian Assange goes completely unmentioned.

Snowden himself is subtly targeted by the article, which twice alludes to having unnamed sources that are leaking Snowden’s alleged opinion to them:

“Snowden, sources close to him tell The Daily Beast, has felt for a long time that Assange has taken WikiLeaks far from a positive, constructive vision of what Snowden believes WikiLeaks could or should be.” – Poulsen/Ackerman

“Several members of the board, including Snowden, have grown disenchanted with WikiLeaks. Snowden has for some time considered it to have strayed far from its laudatory transparency and accountability missions, sources familiar with his thinking have told The Daily Beast.” – Poulsen/Ackerman

Like Assange, Snowden is very careful in his public appearances to never speak on behalf of any other individual. He is extremely unlikely to utilise others to leak information about his opinions to, of all people and places, FBI informant Adrian Lamo’s close pal Kevin Poulsen or the Chelsea Clinton-affiliated The Daily Beast.

Those who are close to Snowden or Assange are known to fiercely guard their privacy, by necessity and out of respect.

This means others involved with FPF are referencing Snowden to try to shore up their own positions, and Poulsen/Ackerman are masking the identities of those people.

The subtext of their article is “You might not comment directly to us but others will, Snowden. You have a leaky ship.”

Edward Snowden is a man smart enough to swipe the NSA’s most closely guarded secrets from under their nose, ensure it becomes global news and live to tell the tale. He is the last person on earth who would need to be told to keep his friends close, and his enemies closer.

As President of the Board, Snowden’s role is to preserve the ability of the executive to function smoothly, in service to the integrity of the organisation. Having dragged out over the course of a year and already suffering the loss of a Board member, the drama is likely to have caused him more than one headache.

Interpersonal issues and ideological conflicts between Board members may have become the first serious existential threat to the organisation.

If it came down to maintaining their ability to move forward as a group or risking implosion, the eventual unanimous vote to sever WikiLeaks may have been less about WikiLeaks and more about protecting the viability of FPF as a going concern.

This is the third way – the middle way – to view the situation. It is not a case of FPF and WikiLeaks respectively being ‘bad’ or being ‘good’.

It is a case of an organization with internal conflicts and multiple forces pulling it in different directions, being pressured over a long period of time to cut ties with another beleaguered, under attack organization.

Like most things in life, the situation is complex and nuanced.

We need to see through the too-easy narratives spun by  Poulsen, Ackerman, Lee, Currier, Edmonds and Webb. (Webb’s response can be found in the comment section.)

WikiLeaks fans must not be tricked into showing their support by attacking what are in reality, other WikiLeaks supporters.

Nor should fans of the Freedom of the Press Foundation be goaded into attacking a media organization targeted by the State.

Picking one side or the other in this fight, is detrimental to both.

Saving Ourselves

Throughout history, it has not been established institutions that have saved us or progressed society, but average citizens banding together to support each other and achieve change.

NGO support is usually reactive, and seldom proactive. They rise for only those who it is in their own political or public relations interest to do so. 

Furthermore, NGO’s often accept money from the same governments and military entities that are the root cause of the problems the NGO’s profess to address.

FOIA research specialist Rachael Tackett recently described this to me as the “NGO Industrial Complex.

Tackett sought me out after seeing me tweet about the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). She pointed me towards her October 2017 analysis of their funding, which includes money from the State Department’s ‘Internet Freedom’ fund, by way of the Broadcasting Board of Governor’s Cold War project ‘Radio Free Asia’, an infamous foreign propaganda wing of the US government.

Tackett writes:

Much heralded in the media, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is depicted as championing digital civil liberties and fighting the US government’s mass surveillance. EFF also receives money from the same government that it claims to fight.

The EFF has explained away the funding source by stating that the contributions are not “directly” from the U.S. government but “originate” from it. The source it is directly from, Radio Free Asia, is notoriously opaque.

Tackett explains “Since Radio Free Asia has failed to file the transparency reports, the money that Radio Free Asia gave to EFF does not appear on USASpending.gov, the US government’s funding transparency website.”

Tackett continues:

EFF also argues that the Radio Free Asia money is allocated towards specific projects rather than general funds. But this argument doesn’t hold water: How the money is spent is less consequential than the fact that EFF is a State Department vendor.

Of greatest concern, is the Congressional stipulations for the funding in question:

The EFF isn’t just accepting government dollars; it is receiving funding earmarked explicitly for advancing US national security and foreign policy interests.

Although it considers itself to be an activist organisation, the EFF has been targeted by Bay Area activists for their connections to Google and other corporates.

The headquarters of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, targeted by activists

Look at the bios of EFF’s current staff and you find International Relations degrees, an ex Twitter employee, multiple ex Google employees, ex Department of Commerce and multiple Obama White House employees.

Reading the Advisory Board page reveals that the Google Public Policy fellowship program places staff members directly into EFF.

In a recent podcast interview, “Surveillance Valley” author and journalist Yasha Levine says of the EFF:

“It’s a corporate think tank. It’s a corporate think tank that’s – it’s main objective is to appear as a grassroots organization but that in reality is wholly carrying water for its corporate donors. So you’d call it an astroturf group… it represents the interests of its corporate sponsors because its completely funded by Silicon Valley so of course its going to represent its interests. But its power lies in convincing us that it cares about our interests and the interests of average Americans…”

Unfortunately Levine then goes on to make the claim that EFF never criticizes Google or draws attention to surveillance implications in the private sector. This claim is contradicted by a simple search of EFF’s social media accounts.

But that is far from an exoneration of Google and EFF’s close relationship. A comment on the podcast page reads:

Julian Assange previously wrote an entire book – When Google Met WikiLeaks – on the deep ties between Google and the State Department, suggesting that they are essentially one and the same.

Look at the bios of the EFF Board of Directors and you discover:

  • a Computer Science Distinguished Career Professor of Carnegie Mellon University – the institution famously caught accepting $1 million from the FBI to unmask Tor users after receiving a subpoena
  • an ex-Obama White House Science and Technology policy developer, also ex-Department of Health and Human Sciences, and ex-CTO of the World Economic Forum, the literal hub of globalism worldwide
  • ex-Vice President and General Counsel of Verizon Communications, a massive telco neck deep in domestic spying programs, also an advisor to the G8
  • Shari Steele – EFF’s ex Executive Director for 15 years, famously married to a self-admitted NSA contractor (you can read his blog about her). Shari moved from the EFF to Tor in December 2015 and within six months oversaw the rolling of the entire board of the Tor Project. Despite having moved to Tor, she remains on the board of the EFF.

The ties to the World Economic Forum (WEF) are particularly interesting. Founded by an ex-Bilderberg steering committee member, the Forum brings a who’s-who of monied elites from industry and government together to plot out the future of humanity. They openly advocate trans-humanism, corporatism and globalism.

Membership of the WEF starts at $50,000 for an individual and $500,000 for a company. Per year.

The WEF meeting at Davos was where EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow famously wrote his A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace in 1996.

Indeed the WEF immortalized the recently deceased Barlow in this poignant obituary, which screams about openness and internet freedom until you get to the fine print.

After waxing lyrical about his ideals the narrative switches to undermine them:

“There is general consensus that the path we are on is not sustainable. But there are no silver bullets here. We want to be able to leverage large-scale intelligence to stop human trafficking, while also protecting the privacy of the vast majority.”

In the above, “large-scale intelligence” is a euphemism for mass surveillance.

Shortly thereafter, the obituary propagates the idea that user fears over the sovereignty of their own data are irrelevant in the information age:

“We can argue all day about “Who owns my data?” – but in an internet world, as data is an infinitely replicable, non-exclusive good, does the question even make sense?”

The obituary quotes:

“Cindy Cohn, the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a long-time co-worker of Barlow’s, accepts he was “sometimes held up as a straw man for a kind of naive techno-utopianism that believed that the internet could solve all of humanity’s problems”.”

While going on to frame the internet as being a melting pot of the collective decisions of millions of users, the article tacitly admits:

“Governments have fully understood the power such a ubiquitous medium offers – both in terms of gathering intelligence and exerting influence.”

There can no longer be any doubt as to the extent that the EFF is in bed with government. State Department programs are not the only government entities that have been receiving EFF invoices.

There is a long history of EFF employees and/or the organization as a whole, contracting directly to the intelligence agencies that it attempts to hold to account.

Knowing that EFF founder John Perry Barlow was a treasured friend of Julian Assange, I was extremely surprised to discover just how far back EFF’s relationships with the intelligence community stretched and how deeply entrenched they were. I learned about the connections from Barlow’s own words.

In a massive article for Forbes in 2002 entitled “Why Spy?”, Barlow recounts his then-decade plus of contracting to the CIA and NSA.

I’m not going to attempt to regurgitate all the key points here as there are too many – it simply must be read in full. In it, Barlow is seen in all his complexity – admonisher of bureaucracy and secrecy, but admirer of General Michael Hayden. Critic of the intelligence agencies, yet longtime financial beneficiary of them.

I don’t presume to judge Barlow. My gut instinct says that Julian would know far more than I ever could about who John Perry really was and what merit he brought to the table, both personal and professional.

But I can say this: In the wake of SecureDrop developer James Dolan’s passing, I discussed what I’d learned about Barlow with a major WikiLeaks supporter on an unencrypted forum.

That person pointed out that many of our extended friends in privacy activism had ties to or had worked for intelligence agencies. I responded that the litmus test for Barlow’s legitimacy, would be whether or not he had become a target. For one is not able to act against the interests of the intelligence agencies, without falling into their crosshairs.

In all my years of activism I’d never heard a single bad word said about the EFF. Nor was I aware of any discernable smear campaign against them, such as has been employed countless times against other activists and organizations. I surmised that the lack of institutional attacks against EFF suggest that the organization is not a target. I pointed out that I didn’t know Barlow personally, but that those who did would be able to quickly determine whether he was made to pay a price for his criticism of the agencies and his support of Snowden, Julian and WikiLeaks.

That was in January. By February 9th, the Freedom of the Press Foundation and others, were announcing that Barlow – who it was widely known had been very ill for an extended period of time – had passed away. On the 22nd anniversary of his authorship of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.

EFF has four current lawsuits against NSA:

First Unitarian v. NSA: EFF’s case challenging the NSA’s phone metadata surveillance

Jewel v. NSA: EFF’s case challenging the NSA’s dragnet surveillance

Hepting v. AT&T: EFF’s case that challenged AT&T’s complicity in illegal NSA spying

Smith v. Obama: EFF’s appeal with the ACLU of an Idaho nurse’s challenge to the NSA’s phone metadata surveillance.

Given its ex Legal Director Shari Steele is literally in bed with an NSA contractor, it’s hard to ignore the nagging possibility that, by proxy through the EFF, these lawsuits might effectively be the NSA suing the NSA.

The EFF has also compiled a comprehensive timeline of NSA spying revelations, with zero mention of EFF’s own involvement with and ties to the NSA. Of particular note is their extensive commentary of events in the year 2002 – the year in which Barlow was most closely rubbing shoulders with Hayden. The relationship is not disclosed.

Regardless of what is going on at the top of the organisation, it is abundantly clear to me that at the bottom of it, talented privacy activists are recruited to work on legitimate projects, and to lend the EFF street cred.

FOIA researcher Rachael Tackett also discussed this with me, stating:

“I also wanted to reiterate that some of the people at EFF might believe that they are doing good and trying to do the right thing. Criticism of nonprofits in the US is still a very rare viewpoint to have, especially outside of the more radical anarchist scene. If you engage with some people in the US who work for nonprofits (especially middle and lower employees), some of them may just have zero awareness of who their funders are. They may also not understand the criticisms of nonprofit culture. They could be very confused about why anyone would criticise their organisation.”

It is not long ago that I would have shared their confusion.

The defining moments in my own awakening to the dual-purposes of nonprofits lay within a combination of Chelsea Manning’s testimony at her court martial hearing, and within the Snowden docs.

From the former, I learned that a network anonymity tool heavily promoted to activists worldwide on the pretext of protecting them, is in fact a part of the US military software kill chain.

To be fair, the Tor Project discloses this fact on its website, but uses vastly different language to do it.

Military targeting practices are described as being aimed at “insurgents“, and Tor is framed as protecting the military, rather than aiding them in killing people.

The Global War on Terror by definition, as spelled out by George W. Bush and many intelligence agency executives since, dramatically expands both the definition of who can be defined as an enemy and where. The whole world is a battlefield, we were told post 9/11 and that is precisely what it has become.

In the myriad talks and discussions I have witnessed on the benefits of Tor over the years, never once have I heard frank mention of the fact that prevalent use of Tor was aiding the ability of the US military to mask their kill traffic.

From our #DecipherYou project studying the Snowden documents we have learned about the ways the NSA uses some nonprofit organizations as a cover for its activities, and how it targets others.

At this point, it seems the NGO’s are either forced to be complicit with Empire in order to prosper, or subjected to targeting for maintaining their integrity.

With 99%’ers at the bottom and 1%’ers at the top, it’s pretty clear in which category EFF falls.

I created the following slide to encapsulate the relationships between the people mentioned in this article in the context of the EFF’s relationships to FPF and SecureDrop.

All of the key players involved in developing SecureDrop either have a hostile relationship with WikiLeaks or are deceased.

A majority of the board members of the FPF have extremely close ties with EFF.

Given all of the evidence presented in this article, it can no longer be acceptable for EFF to retain such a heavy influence on the Freedom of the Press Foundation, if the latter is to remain independent.

Provenance

Being Julian Assange is named in homage to arguably my favourite movie of all time, Being John Malkovich. (Its number one placement in my affections is contended only by Leaving Las Vegas).

In the movie, self-hating celebrity-obsessed zombie fans of John Malkovich risk life and limb to enter a portal into Malkovich’s consciousness and live vicariously through him for a limited span of time, before reality strikes and they are spit out, covered in shit, onto the side of the New Jersey turnpike.

Although the plot line isn’t why I chose it as the concept for this article, I can’t help but be amused by the obvious parallels to Assange’s critics.

The fantastic custom graphic design at the header of this article, by @SomersetBean, reflects the poster design from Being John Malkovich. It parodies Assange’s detractors – often hiding behind masks, and always trying to get inside his head.

Freedom of the Press Foundation board member John Cusack’s performance in “Being John Malkovich” is in my opinion a career-best. He artfully assumes a deranged, tortured puppeteer tired of his mundane daily existence, frustrated by his unfulfilled dreams and obsessed with a work crush, who turns access into Malkovich’s inner existence into a pretty profit before his fixation consumes him utterly.

This article has monopolised my time for more than a third of a year. The research phase spanned months. The writing phase was more than two weeks straight of 12-20 hour days. The article now stretches well over 15,000 words and may need to be consumed by readers in several sittings.

The hundreds of hours invested have been for one very grave reason:

I am concerned that Julian Assange is slowly dying in front of our eyes while we argue about his tweets.

While Julian has never asked for our pity – quite the opposite, he regularly shakes off any discussion about his suffering – in good conscience I refuse to be silent in the face of the obvious physical degradation that is resulting from his unjust and illegal arbitrary detention.

The Doctor’s Orders

We can’t say that we haven’t been warned.

More than four years into Julian’s arbitrary detention in the Ecuadorian Embassy, WikiLeaks published the findings of medical personnel who had examined him, to gauge the physical and psychological effects of his unprecedented confinement.

According to a ‘Trauma and Psychosocial Expert’ who assessed Assange, Julian’s situation is “tantamount to a prisoner being detained indefinitely but without a prisoner’s normal healthcare…”

The ill effects go far beyond those we have commonly heard about – the lack of sunlight and resulting Vitamin D deficiency, the undiagnosed and thus untreated shoulder injury, the lack of dental care (two and a half years ago, Julian needed a root canal and is yet to receive it), or Julian only being able to breathe recirculated air.

There are psychological effects upon Julian that we could only have guessed at, but which the medical reports lay bare.

For he who is hunted by the world’s best funded and most vicious intelligence agencies, to reveal any new avenue for personal attack can present a mortal threat. According to the report, Julian was “particularly reticent” about alluding to “any vulnerability or any concern that his cognitive or emotional faculties might be degraded… as a result of his situation..”

This inability to freely confide in medical professionals, or to admit the full extent of his own suffering to others around him, prohibits it being meaningfully addressed (if this is even feasible anyway).

The doctor reports: “Mr. Assange reiterated that he fears medical information about him will be used against him, and that he cannot appear ‘weak’ in his current circumstances.”

This exacerbates his mental isolation while contributing to the public perception of Julian as being somehow invulnerable or super-human. Thus he is not viewed as empathetically as he should be, and public demands for a humane resolution to his situation have not yet reached the crescendo of urgency that it merits.

The medical report continues: “There is clinical evidence to suggest that Mr. Assange is suffering from significant alterations in his sense of time, space and internal perceptions of his body in relationship to the external environment. These changes are all consistent with the restrictions associated with his current living situation.”

While Julian’s self-perception is being affected by his limited personal space and its physical restrictions on his body, he is fully aware of the extent of the oppressive forces laid out around him beyond the walls of the Embassy.

Police forces, including counter-terrorism personnel, numbering up to 100 full-time positions, staff “three rings of surveillance around the Embassy, 24/7.

Menacing incidents and intrusions abound, from plainclothes officers armed with submachine guns, to a would-be cat burglar attempting to scale the facade of the building, to the delivery of an envelope containing white powder.

Constant death threats and calls for Julian’s assassination make the pronouncement by an MI6-affiliated Municipal Court judge that Julian could merely sun himself on the first-floor balcony of the Embassy, both sickly ironic and insulting to the intelligence of the public.

The psychosocial report states: “The system of surveillance as cited by Mr Assange is a constant source of psychological pressure. It is omnipresent reminder of his fundamental vulnerability in his relationship to the authorities.

Julian himself is fully aware of the paradoxical nature of the aggressive surveillance on his person, and is quoted on it: “My whole life’s work has been in the service of fighting for liberty and the right to privacy. Now I have none.

The report reiterates this point in the context of its detrimental effects on Julian’s sense of identity and self; noting that the intensity of the surveillance upon a privacy activist creates additional stressor points: “The surveillance described earlier in this report can be viewed as incompatible with Mr Assange’s own ethos and identity when he himself is virtually under a microscope and as such is both traumatizing and destructive to his personality.”

The effects of indefinite detention are listed:

  • Chronic anxiety
  • Physiological and cardiovascular stress
  • Depression and suicide risk
  • PTSD
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of hope
  • Insomnia
  • Sensory deprivation

Julian spoke about the way his perceptions are being altered.

“…the walls of the Embassy are as familiar as the interior of my eyelids. I see them, but I do not see them.” He commented on how it was increasingly hard to see how objects related to each other or to grasp the passage of time. “Nothing is before or after anything. There is a diminishing set of reference points”.

Even sleep brings no respite, as police officers throw unidentified objects at his bedroom window in the middle of the night and have accessed the apartment above the Embassy.

To be subjected to the above is severe enough, but to experience it while being viciously attacked, libelled and misrepresented by negative press worldwide; enduring every slur imaginable, called a rapist, a pedophile, a Nazi, a chauvinist, a misogynist, a narcissist, a covert agent, a fraud and an anti-Semite; having your past allies and friends stripped away and your support base eroded by incessant black propaganda campaigns, is unthinkable and on a scale that is without precedent.

Julian’s detractor’s complete irreverence to the reality of his physical condition – and in some cases, the open mockery of it – magnifies the indecency.

They have become the modern day hype men encouraging the spectators to cheer and celebrate state-sanctioned torture at the Colosseum.

Far from the narcissist he is portrayed as, insights into Julian’s self-image belies concerns for others rather than himself. The report reveals:

This, from a man who the report concludes: “lives in a chronic state of health insecurity” and warned as far back as December 2015 that “The effects of the situation on Mr. Assange’s health and well-being are serious and the risks will most certainly escalate with the potential to become life-threatening if current conditions persist.”

Stating The Obvious

The doctor’s dire warnings of those risks to Assange’s health are manifesting in full view.

In his most recent live appearance, Assange is insightful, learned and brilliant as ever. But he is visibly suffering the ever exacerbating physical effects of his 7 year confinement.

After more than half a decade without fresh air to breathe, he coughs and clears his throat constantly. He struggles to maintain cognitive flow – breaking and reforming his thoughts, soldiering on in a concerted effort to express his ideas. It is obvious to any viewer that his vision has been affected. Our eyes need regular exposure to both short and long distances, as well as natural light changes, to maintain their health. With only four close walls to look at, Assange faces partial blindness, as well as a host of other negative effects from his unjust confinement.

Although there are countless social media threads and tweets circulating about Julian and WikiLeaks every day, few if any seem to register the serious and grave possibility that, immersed in our collective complacency, we may lose them forever.

Mostly, they are instead filled with either outright conspiracy theories (Julian is dead/in CIA custody/etc) or endlessly reconstituted conjecture about his personal proclivities, opinions, quirks, or relationships.

Even among more highbrow Twitterati circles, myriad Assange imposter accounts are gifted an undeserved legitimacy through retweets from established mainstream journalists replete with blue ‘verified’ check marks.

Meanwhile, the most vitriolic of detractors overtly wish doom, death and destruction upon Assange.

Again, the calls for his assassination are coming from ‘verified’ Twitter accounts.

But those who argue that the world would be better off without WikiLeaks, may soon live to regret their ignorance if the day comes when the same systems and resources that have so avidly sought its demise, are freed from their encumberances and unleashed upon new targets.

WikiLeaks is the dam holding back the tide of intelligence agency resources used to target them. If we allow cracks in the bulwark to go unaddressed, the day will come when the dam bursts and we will find ourselves drowning in the deluge.

Something Has Got To Give And It’s Us

To make change, we have to care, and implore those around us to care also, Edward Snowden told the world in a Reddit AMA on Christmas Eve.

This is what we do, those of us who hold our humanity dear, us activists: we care. We care so much that we put our principles ahead of our wellbeing, our conscience ahead of our profitability, our compassion ahead of our personal ambitions.

Even where that entails great sacrifice and seemingly little reward.

The military, by comparison, teaches soldiers to be dispassionate. To psychologically separate themselves from their humanity. Blind obedience and conformity, which in and of themselves are tiny deaths of identity, cannot coexist with independent thought. Soldiers are taught to mentally abdicate their volition; not to think, but merely to react in an ingrained fashion. To let others – their superiors – think for them. To forfeit steering the courses of their own lives, one action at a time.

Where activists focus on healing our broken societies, and evolving them; soldiers simply focus on a mission assigned to them by shadowy, privileged bureaucrats they have never met: to undermine, disempower and defeat an enemy.

Increasingly, activists risk being socially engineered into becoming the soldiers of Empire. So much so that the lines between those who themselves were once hunted and those who hunted them are becoming blurred. And the same stalwarts of established power structures that support the military, are now aligning with activists, and calling themselves The Resistance.

As the political opinions and positions of intelligence agency executives and the thought leaders of activism merge, we are surrendering the reins of social progress to those most committed to limiting it.

There is no easier way to describe this nouveau Resistance, than by sharing the bio of one of its self-proclaimed leaders.

“I help lead #TheResistance”.

Gone are the days of freedom fighters like Mandela at the head of the people’s struggles; now we get ex-heads of intelligence agencies, Hollywood stars and the millionaire funders of notoriously corrupt politicians, as the self-described leaders of resistance.

I was mortified when a long-term (and very persecuted) activist and new media stalwart explained to me very frankly, why some activists opposing Trump were knowingly choosing to get in bed with the very same intelligence agencies who had been trying to destroy their lives in the years prior.

Paraphrasing him, he said: “we should pursue our shared goals to bring down Trump, then we can deal with them after that.”

In my opinion, as well as being morally abhorrent, this the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend-temporary thinking is pure folly. It is also extremely dangerous. Yet this is what is occurring all around us: activists are legitimising and facilitating the aims of the very agencies that destroy the lives of activists, in the vain hope of achieving joint short term political objectives.

This is the slippery slope of a deal with the Devil. Should it inevitably go awry and the agencies emerge ever more powerful and entrenched in their footholds within government, it is those same activists that will be paying the ultimate price for having marched to a tune that ensured their supremacy.

For the intelligence agencies have even loftier goals than subverting activism for political gain. As we’ve learned from studying Snowden’s documents, their tentacles have already expanded into every area of our lives imaginable.

But that is not enough for these self-styled Masters of the Universe: Their “Collect it all” strategy isn’t just about our communications, our present perceptions or our collective future.

They also seek to become the curators of the past: to control our legacies.

How Wikipedia Sanitises Fake News

I have proven that the living history of Julian Assange’s involvement with Chelsea Manning’s Support Network, Aaron Swartz, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation have been altered to negatively skew his contributions.

The revisionism doesn’t end there. Examination of the Wikipedia biography of FBI-snitch Adrian Lamo shows the reverse: he is sanitized as a “threat analyst” who “indirectly reported” Manning, and you have to get halfway down the page to find further context about his informant activities.

By comparison, a cursory examination of the Wikipedia biography for WikiLeaks demonstrates how quickly fake news generated about the whistleblowing organization is laundered into the official record.

The academic reputation of WikiLeaks as a whole is thereby subject to gross manipulation and censorship.

WikiLeaks’ historical significance is reflected in the length of their Wikipedia profile: the page is over 10,000 words. The content, however, has been feverishly micro-managed to the benefit of their persecutors.

Two classic examples of this appear in the 3rd paragraph, within the very summary of what WikiLeaks supposedly is: yup, you guessed it. Julia Ioffe’s Atlantic article and Micah Lee and Cora Currier’s Intercept article.

The core premises for both have been debunked, yet they are ranked at #20 and #21 of the 370 source links that form the backbone of the page.

There is no mention of or reference to the critical deconstructions that discredit either piece. Why? Because articles whose falsehoods have been perpetrated by monied organizations with editorial boards are acceptable to Wikipedia – an encyclopaedic tool utilized by millions of students and teachers worldwide.

But articles published by independent sources are not. Even when the latter demonstrate greater analytical merit than the former.

By this mechanism, lies are indelibly etched into the history books, while the truth is censored out of them.

The opinions of intelligence agencies are ranked even higher than the other mainstream slurs of WikiLeaks.

The Wikipedia source link at #22 goes ten steps further, attempting to depict Assange and WikiLeaks as being sympathetic to Putin and Russia.

The New York Times article in question attempts to downplay WikiLeaks releases that have implications for both.

It states “Notably absent from Mr. Assange’s analysis, however, was criticism of another world power, Russia, or its president, Vladimir V. Putin, who has hardly lived up to WikiLeaks’ ideal of transparency.”

One must then read to the 20th paragraph of the article before it begrudgingly admits that WikiLeaks has published detrimental information about Russia.

But the author contains this by limiting it to Manning’s CableGate leaks – “a cache of State Department cables” and writes off the significance as being “far more damaging to the United States’ interests than to Russia’s.”

In actuality 660,036 WikiLeaks documents name Russia and they are from 19 separate WikiLeaks releases – not just CableGate.

The suggestion that all of these are more damaging to the U.S. than Russia is not only completely inane but provably false.

One very pertinent example: We know from the WikiLeaks “Hacking Team” releases, that the Italian mercenary surveillance company was selling their technology to a Russian military agency:

The same release also contains information about Russia’s activities in the Ukraine; an extremely contentious topic for the Russian government.

Of course, this is not news to those of us who actually bothered reading what WikiLeaks documents have to say about Russia.

Caitlin Johnston has also made mincemeat of the WikiLeaks-Is-Pro-Russia conspiracy theory, and in doing so sourced my original research from my 2015 article on the same topic.

The sad fact is that those who are genuinely interested in evidentiary truth about Russia will find exponentially more of it in the WikiLeaks releases than they ever will in reading hit pieces about Julian Assange.

In their zeal to align WikiLeaks with Russia and Putin, those same critics will likewise ignore the fact that I am highlighting this information about Russian military intelligence while living in extremely tenuous circumstances in Moscow, engaged in the process of seeking temporary asylum due to threats on my life.

That I am bringing attention to this truth at my own peril does not suit their narrative.

Emancipating History

Julian Assange’s true legacy is a lesson in personal agency.

He did not sit and wait for the better world he hoped for to miraculously materialise. He is neither utopian nor idealist. He knew he had to create it.

Julian has done so by scrutinizing the past, scrying into the future and then shaping the present.

He is extremely pragmatic in his thinking, yet intuitive to boot; a rare combination.

His past writings are the closest glimpse of his inner world we may ever be able to access, other than the manifestations of those narrated hopes and dreams that bleed through into his actions.

He has taken that action – relentlessly – both in spite of and because of the dismal outlook humankind has made for itself.

Julian is not an agent of any nation – he is an agent of change.

Stagnation is his enemy. Even stationery in the Embassy for over 2000 days, Assange never allows himself, WikiLeaks, or society to stagnate. There is always a new day. There is always progress, forward momentum. A new initiative, another release. There is always change.

To recognize this is to truly understand his actions surrounding the 2016 election. By design, the limited options produced by the electoral system provided little promise. The only “choice” was, as he warned us, between “cholera or gonorrhoea“.

In such a dichotomy, what would an agent of change do?

Regardless of her hatred for WikiLeaks and threats against Assange, enabling the continuation of the ruling elite Hillary Clinton represented, would never have appealed to Julian. He has been railing against them his whole life, because it is they that shepherded society into this mess, and most profit from it.

He could not single handedly cure the disease, but he did offer us the brief respite of a switch in malady. For change makes space. Even if what replaces the status quo is equally woeful, or worse – change does bring opportunity.

It was always up to us to grab the reins.

It still is.

When Trump was elected I said privately “We’ve bought six months.” I was talking about World War III. The sheer logistics of a change of US regime gifted the world a temporary pause in the bloodletting.

How many lives were saved in that window of time?

Had Clinton gotten in, we would have seen an immediate acceleration in death and destruction.

WikiLeaks is an anti-war organization. I am always astonished by those who fail to recognize this simple fact. Julian is from a line of anti-war activists.

When Lady Gaga asked him how he feels, he replied “I don’t care how I feel.” When anyone gets close to touching on his personal suffering, he diverts the focus to those on this planet who may not live out the day without being shot, or having a bomb dropped on them.

I have seen him do this time and again in interviews throughout the years, whenever his hardships are raised. “What about the people in Iraq?” he asks. “What about the people in Syria?”

Detractors claim WikiLeaks puts lives at risk, to distract you from the reality: WikiLeaks saves lives. It is the true purpose for its existence. This goes beyond the many whistleblowers and journalists it has valiantly fought to save and to protect. WikiLeaks exists to end wars. To raise the political stakes so high on governments and on the military industrial complex that it has the potential to impact deployment, withdrawal and resourcing decisions. Precisely as Manning’s leaks are credited with doing.

Julian’s personal power is at its core rooted in solidarity with the suffering of others and personal agency to do something about it, rather than his often-praised fierce intellect, mastering of philosophy, or technical ability.

While you are talking smack about Julian Assange, he is saving another whistleblower. Facilitating another leak.

Handing us, on a platter, the true history hidden from us.

Cowards loathe him.

The corrupt fear him.

The heroic help him.

It Starts With This

Sometimes we hear things, we are told things, we believe things, we know things – but they still don’t sink in, until we feel them. Then the penny drops. Then we can begin to see things more clearly.

Then we can change them.

Feel the walls that you have been looking at for six years, closing in around you. Feel the days without closure bleed into months and into years.

Imagine watching your children grow up on a screen. Listen down a wire as the birthdays, weddings and funerals you can never attend pass by. Imagine being in constant fear for the safety of everyone you care about.

Now imagine knowing that despite all the degradation and hardship, the difference that you make in the world can save millions of people.

Feel the determination well within you, to fight on no matter what.

Imagine being Julian Assange.

Author’s note: a huge thank you to Elizabeth Lea Vos, Editor in Chief of Disobedient Media, who spent dozens and dozens of hours tirelessly editing and proofing this article for me. Her assistance and expertise was an invaluable contribution to the final copy.

This article was originally published by Contraspin.

Suzie Dawson is a Kiwi journalist, activist and current President of the Internet Party of New Zealand. She specialises in writing about whistleblowers, intelligence agencies, geopolitics and technology. Her work has been shared by WikiLeaks for the last 5 years running, as well as by other noteworthy figures. Suzie is the organiser of the #Unity4J movement in support of Julian Assange. 



The Battle for Our Minds

There are battlefields in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere, but given the state of corporate media, perhaps the most consequential battle now being fought is for our minds, says Patrick Lawrence.

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

After reading The New York Times piece “The Plot to Subvert an Election” I put the paper down with a single question.

Why, after two years of allegations, indictments, and claims to proof of this, that, and the other did the newspaper of record—well, once the newspaper of record—see any need to publish such a piece? My answer is simple: The orthodox account of Russia-gate has not taken hold: It has failed in its effort to establish a consensus of certainty among Americans. My conclusion matches this observation: The orthodox narrative is never going to achieve this objective. There are too many holes in it.

The information age is actually a media age,” John Pilger, the noted British–Australian journalist, remarked during a symposium four years ago, when the Ukraine crisis was at its peak. “We have war by media; censorship by media; demonology by media; retribution by media; diversion by media—a surreal assembly line of obedient clichés and false assumptions.” Pilger revisited the theme in a piece last week on Consortium News, arguing that once-tolerated, dissenting opinion has in recent years “regressed into a metaphoric underground.”

There are battlefields in Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, and elsewhere, but perhaps the most consequential battle now being fought is for our minds.

Those who dispense with honest intellectual inquiry, healthy skepticism of all media, and an insistence that assertions require supporting evidence should not win this war. The Times piece by Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti—two of the paper’s top-tier reporters—is a case in point: If the Russia-gate narrative were so widely accepted as their report purports, there would have been no need to publish such a piece at this late date.

Many orthodox narratives are widely accepted however among a public that is not always paying attention. The public too often participates in the manufactured consent. Usually it take years for the truth to be widely understood. Sometimes it comes when the U.S. admits it decades later, such as the role of the CIA in the coups in Iran and Chile. Other times it comes through admissions by former U.S. officials, such as former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara about the Vietnam War.

Even Recent Narratives are Fraying

There are more recent examples of official narratives quickly fraying if not starting to fall apart, though Establishment media continues to push them.

For instance, there are serious doubts about who was responsible for alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The most significant was in Eastern Ghouta in August 2013 followed by attacks in Khan Sheikhoun (April 2017) and Douma (April 2018).

The corporate media accounts of each of these attacks have been countered with persuasive evidence against the prevailing view that the government of Bashar al–Assad was to blame. It has been provided journalists (Seymour Hersh ), a scientist (Theodore Postol ), and on-the-ground correspondents and local witnesses. These reports are subject to further verification. But by no means do official narratives stand without challenge.

There is also the case of Malaysian Flight MH–17, shot down over Ukrainian territory in June 2014. The official report, issued a year later, concluded that the plane was downed by Ukrainian rebels using a Russian-supplied missile. The report was faulty from the first: Investigators never visited the site , some evidence was based on a report produced by Bellingcat , an open-source web site affiliated with the vigorously anti–Russian Atlantic Council, and Ukraine was given the right to approve the report before it was issued.

Last week the Russian military disclosed evidence that serial numbers found in the debris at the MH–17 crash site indicate the missile that downed the plane was produced at a Soviet military-production plant in 1986 owned by Ukraine. Let us see further verification of this evidence (although I seriously doubt any Western correspondent will seek any). The official report of 2015 noted the serial numbers, so we know they are authentic, but it did not use them to trace the missile’s provenance.

There is also the seriously muddled case of the poisoning of the Skripals in Britain.  Why hasn’t the Western media dug into this story rather than accept at face value the pronouncements of the British government?

A month ago I lamented the damage Russia-gate has done to many of our most important institutions, the press not least among them. What is the corporate media thinking? That once President Trump is dumped, all will return to normal and professional standards will be restored? One can also argue the reverse: that adversarial journalism has returned to the White House beat largely out of personal animus towards Trump and that it will disappear again once a more “normal” president is in office.

As Pilger put it, “This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new ‘groupthink,’ as [Robert] Parry called it, dispensing myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.”

In other words, Establishment journalism has shifted far afield from its traditional ideals of non-partisan, objective reporting and is instead vying for your mind to enlist it in its agenda to promote American interests abroad or one party or the other at home.

We can’t let them get away with it. Our minds are our own.

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author, and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century (Yale). Follow him @thefloutist. His web site is www.patricklawrence.us. Support his work via www.patreon.com/thefloutist.

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Teachers’ Strikes May Reinvigorate US Labor Movement

Events of recent weeks shows there’s gut-level support for radical change, including on the state of education and teacher’s working conditions. This building momentum could help spark a new labor movement, argues Andy Piascik.

By Andy Piascik
Last spring, public school teachers led an inspiring wave of strikes across the United States. That momentum has carried over into the 2018-19 school year.

With school opened for less than a month, teachers in several districts in Washington state have already won significant gains in pay, benefits and school funding through walkouts.

In Puerto Rico, teachers struck on the third day of school to oppose school closures demanded by financial vultures, who continue to ravage the island.

And in Los Angeles, the country’s second-largest school district, teachers have authorized a strike if their demands to prevent wage and benefit cuts and against school privatization aren’t met.  

In addition to the strike and potential walk-outs, teachers in West Virginia have formed WV United, according to Labor Notes reporter Dan Dimaggio. WV United is a rank-and-file caucus consisting of members of both the nation’s major teachers unions, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers. WV United is affiliated with the United Caucuses of Rank-and-File Educators (UCORE).

Teachers in West Virginia kicked off the wave of strikes in the spring, and educators and other school staff in Arizona, Oklahoma, Colorado, North Carolina and Kentucky soon followed, holding large-scale walkouts that led to the statewide closure of schools for extended periods in some instances.

Similar actions also took place in individual municipalities such as Jersey City, New Jersey.

A Show of Unity and Militancy

In every instance, there was a tremendous degree of unity. Rank-and-file participation was robust. Rallies were large and often quite spirited. Few teachers crossed picket lines in those places where schools weren’t completely closed and the public was highly supportive.

Some commentary has noted that Donald Trump carried a number of the states where the strikes occurred, where union members tend to be a lower percentage of the workforce and have fewer collective bargaining rights.  

Among the many themes of the strikes, at least two relate to their red-state hue. The first, widely commented on, is that reactionary state governments have been aggressive in their assaults on the living standards of the majority of their populations. In the face of dramatic tax reductions on corporations and the wealthy, attacks on workers and unions, and the undermining and underfunding of education and other public programs, teachers who have not gotten raises often for years while working conditions deteriorate, finally said enough

Many Trump Voters Among the Strikers

People’s class allegiances emerge as struggles intensifies, and that some of the striking teachers may have voted for Trump is irrelevant. 

The focus on whom the strikers voted is of great interest to the punditocracy but obfuscates that the struggle between the super rich and the rest of us will unfold primarily in workplaces and on the streets, not in voting booths.    

There were also fissures between union officers and some rank and filers who believe officers in Oklahoma, for example, were too timid in calling off a strike that had not yet achieved all of the teachers’ demands.

In West Virginia, teachers remained out in defiance of union officers who tried to end the strike. Efforts by nervous officers to curtail or even prevent strikes echo events in Wisconsin in 2011, when workers occupied that state’s capitol building before union bureaucrats shut down the protests and essentially told the workers to go home and find a Democrat to vote for.

The fissures in the teacher unions will not go away, and a galvanized rank and file may emerge that can address that timidity. That much of the work in preparation for and during the recent strikes was done outside official union channels speaks to the possibility for changes in union structure and culture.

Another Teachers’ Strike Wave 40 Years Ago

In the early stages of the neoliberal epoch in the 1970s, public school teachers in Bridgeport, Conn., went on strike for many of the same reasons 40 years ago. The Board of Education and the Bridgeport Education Association (BEA), the collective bargaining representative of the city’s 1,247 teachers and about 100 other school professionals, had been at loggerheads for months. Connecticut law forbade strikes by public school teachers, however, and many Bridgeporters were caught off guard by the picket lines on the first day of school.

Much like the strikes in 2018, the teachers in 1978 had widespread public support. Hundreds of backers, including students and their parents, joined the picket lines. At one site, members of a neighborhood group played an active role in urging students and parents to either join the picket line or go home.

Like the 2018 strike wave, the walkout in Bridgeport was one of many that September. Teachers in Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Seattle and numerous smaller cities and towns saw schools closed because of strikes, and some of those actions lasted for several weeks.

It was the Bridgeport walkout, though, that was the longest and the most contentious, as teachers faced a local power structure determined to crush it. 

In what were the early stages of the austerity agenda of the business class, Bridgeport’s teachers had seen wages and benefits lag and classroom sizes grow in the years leading up to the 1978 strike. They had accepted a concessionary contract in 1975, causing salaries to fall to the bottom in Fairfield County (as they are today) and among the lowest in the state.

There was also a growing exodus of teachers from Bridgeport to higher-salaried jobs in nearby school districts, another trend that continues in 2018. 

From the outset, the 1978 strike was highly successful. Only 36 teachers, or less than 3 percent, reported for work on the first day of school, and that number dropped in the days that followed. The Democratic mayor and the Democrat-majority Board of Education kept elementary and middle schools open at first by utilizing a small number of teaching aides, substitute teachers and accredited, unemployed teachers, but only 10 percent of students showed up. The city’s Parent Teacher Association, meanwhile, supported the strike by rejecting a call by the board that they volunteer in schools and assist scab teachers.

From Mass Arrests and Imprisonment to Victory

Arrests began just days into the strike and State Superior Court Judge James Heneby began levying fines of $10,000 per day against the union. As the strike continued, Heneby ordered the union’s officers jailed.

The first jailings occurred on Sept. 12, the fifth school day of the strike, when 13 teachers were handcuffed and carted off, the men to a prison in New Haven and the women were sent to a prison in Niantic some 60 miles away. Those arrested endured degradations such as strip searches and being doused with lice spray.

Adding further insult, Heneby imposed individual fines of $350 per person per day on the arrestees.

Angered by the arrests and the teachers’ subsequent treatment, the strikers turned out to the picket lines in larger numbers and with greater determination and militancy.

One result was that the city and school board were forced to abandon efforts to keep any schools open. With all 38 schools closed, another 115 teachers were arrested in the next few days.

In all, 274 were arrested during the strike, 22 percent of the total in the city. As prison space became scarcer, many of those in the later waves of arrests were packed onto buses and taken 70 miles to a National Guard camp that was converted into a makeshift prison.

As the confrontation continued into late September, and with all of the other strikes around the country settled, the mass arrest and imprisonment of Bridgeport’s teachers was drawing international attention and causing local elites and city residents as a whole great embarrassment.

Despite the arrests, imprisonment, fines and some tense scenes on a number of picket lines, the teachers stood firm.

Finally, on Sept. 25, after 14 school days, the teachers union and Board of Education agreed to accept binding arbitration. All teachers, some of whom had been locked up for 13 days, were released from prison. The final terms of the agreement were largely favorable to the teachers.

An Important Turning Point?

In the strike’s aftermath, the Connecticut legislature passed the 1979 Teacher Collective Bargaining Act that mandates binding arbitration when teachers and the municipalities they work for are stalemated in contract negotiations. While some observers saw the law as a victory for teachers, it was still illegal for teachers in Connecticut to strike, as it remains today.

In addition, a number of changes to the law since 1979—such as one that allows municipalities but not unions to reject the decision of an arbitrator—have weakened the bargaining position of teachers.  

No militant strike wave or reinvigorated workers’ movement followed the strikes of 1978.  Rather, it was capital that escalated its offensive, one that continues to this day.

Probably the most noteworthy strikes by teachers since 1978 came in Chicago where teachers walked out for nine days in 2012 and for shorter durations several times afterward. The Chicago actions gained significant victories and showed a country where strikes have become rare that they can be effective.

The 40 years from the Bridgeport strike to today cover the period in which we have seen the most radical upward redistribution of wealth in human history. There is much gut-level support for radical change on many issues, including the state of education and working conditions for teachers. The wave of strikes may be a turning point.

Raising Awareness

If that is to be the case, continued organizing and coalition-building is essential. Striking teachers in 2018 did not face anywhere near the state repression as those in Bridgeport in 1978. There wasn’t a single arrest during the recent strike wave reported.

But entrenched power will push back hard and fast on all fronts, as it always does.

The recent strike wave presents an opportunity for catalyzing the large-scale, but mostly diffuse discontent among workers across industries and sectors toward something more cohesive and better organized. The thousands of teachers and other school workers who stepped forward in recent months are well-positioned to make that possibility reality.

It is of great significance that in the West Virginia strike at least, teachers refused to accept a demand by the governor that improved pay and benefits would be paid for with cuts in much-needed programs for the working class as a whole. Mainstream commentators who regard union workers as nothing more than a special-interest group focused on their own well-being had no idea how to react to that.

For those who recognize increased class consciousness as essential to long-term social change, the teachers’ rejection of West Virginia elite efforts to conclude the strike by driving a wedge between themselves and other workers was an important step. 

A challenge facing the burgeoning movement among teachers is that the underfunding of education has proceeded at a higher and faster pace in places with a higher percentages of students of color, particularly African-Americans. Seriously addressing this point and developing strategies through their unions—in the networks they’ve established and in coalitions they join—will go a long way in determining how broad, militant and effective those organizations will be.

Events of recent week indicate that teachers and other school staff are determined to build on what happened in the spring and may be the spark needed to reinvigorate a broader labor movement.  

An earlier version of this story originally appeared on Peacenews.org.

Bridgeport native Andy Piascik is an award-winning author whose most recent book is the novel In Motion. He can be reached at andypiascik@yahoo.com.




The New York Times as Judge and Jury

Seeking to maintain its credibility, The New York Times dispenses with the criminal justice system and basic principles of journalism to weigh in again on Russia-gate, reports Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

We’ve seen it before: a newspaper and individual reporters get a story horribly wrong but instead of correcting it they double down to protect their reputations and credibility—which is all journalists have to go on—and the public suffers.

Sometimes this maneuver can contribute to a massive loss of life. The most egregious example was the reporting in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Like nearly all Establishment media, The New York Times got the story of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction—the major casus belli for the invasion—dead wrong. But the Times, like the others, continued publishing stories without challenging their sources in authority, mostly unnamed, who were pushing for war.

The result was a disastrous intervention that led to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and continued instability in Iraq, including the formation of the Islamic State.

In a massive Timesarticle published on Thursday, entitled, “‘A Plot to Subvert an Election: Unravelling the Russia Story So Far,” it seems that reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti have succumbed to the same thinking that doubled down on Iraq.

They claim to have a “mountain of evidence” but what they offer would be invisible on the Great Plains.

With the mid-terms looming and Special Counsel Robert Mueller unable to so far come up with any proof of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to steal the 2016 election—the central Russia-gate charge—the Times does it for him, regurgitating a Russia-gate Round-Up of every unsubstantiated allegation that has been made—deceptively presented as though it’s all been proven.

This is a reaffirmation of the faith, a recitation of what the Russia-gate faithful want to believe is true. But mere repetition will not make it so.

The Times’ unsteady conviction is summed up in this paragraph, which the paper itself then contradicts only a few paragraphs later:

What we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.”

But this schizoid approach leads to the admission that “no public evidence has emerged showing that [Trump’s] campaign conspired with Russia.”

The Times also adds: “There is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved.”

This is an extraordinary statement. If it cannot be “proved or disproved” what is the point of this entire exercise: of the Mueller probe, the House and Senate investigations and even of this very New York Times article?

Attempting to prove this constructed story without proof is the very point of this piece.

A Banner Day

The 10,000-word article opens with a story of a pro-Russian banner that was hung from the Manhattan Bridge on Putin’s birthday, and an anti-Obama banner hung a month later from the Memorial Bridge in Washington just after the 2016 election.

On public property these are constitutionally-protected acts of free speech. But for the Times, “The Kremlin, it appeared, had reached onto United States soil in New York and Washington. The banners may well have been intended as visual victory laps for the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history.”

Why? Because the Times tells us that the “earliest promoters” of images of the banners were from social media accounts linked to a St. Petersburg-based click-bait farm, a company called the Internet Research Agency. The company is not legally connected to the Kremlin and any political coordination is pure speculation. IRA has been explained convincingly as a commercial and not political operation. Its aim is get and sell “eyeballs.”

For instance the company conducted pro and anti-Trump rallies and social media messages, as well as pro and anti-Clinton. But the Times, in classic omission mode, only reports on “the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia.” Sharing with “millions” of people on social media does not mean that millions of people have actually seen those messages. And if they had there is little way to determine whether it affected how they voted, especially as the messages attacked and praised both candidates.

The Times reporters take much at face value, which they then themselves undermine. Most prominently, they willfully mistake an indictment for a conviction, as if they do not know the difference.

This is in the category of Journalism 101. An indictment need not include evidence and under U.S. law an indictment is not evidence. Juries are instructed that an indictment is merely an accusation. That the Times commits this cardinal sin of journalism to purposely confuse allegations with a conviction is not only inexcusable but strikes a fatal blow to the credibility of the entire article.

It actually reports that “Today there is no doubt who hacked the D.N.C. and the Clinton campaign. A detailed indictment of 12 officers of Russia’s military intelligence agency, filed in July by Mr. Mueller, documents their every move, including their break-in techniques, their tricks to hide inside the Democrats’ networks and even their Google searches.”

Who needs courts when suspects can be tried and convicted in the press?

What the Times is not taking into account is that Mueller knows his indictment will never be tested in court because the GRU agents will never be arrested, there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia and even if it were miraculously to see the inside of a courtroom Mueller can invoke states secrets privilege to show the “evidence” to a judge with clearance in his chambers who can then emerge to pronounce “Guilty!” without a jury having seen that evidence.

This is what makes Mueller’s indictment more a political than a legal document, giving him wide leeway to put whatever he wants into it. He knew it would never be tested and that once it was released, a supine press would do the rest to cement it in the public consciousness as a conviction, just as this Times piece tries to do.

Errors of Commission and Omission

There are a series of erroneous assertions and omissions in the Times piece, omitted because they would disturb the narrative:

–Not mentioning that the FBI was never given access to the DNC server but instead gullibly believing the assertion of the anti-Russian private company CrowdStrike, paid for by the DNC, that the name of the first Soviet intelligence chief found in metadata proves Russia was behind the hack. Only someone wanting to be caught would leave such a clue.

–Incredibly believing that Trump would have launched a covert intelligence operation on live national television by asking Russia to get 30,000 missing emails.

–Ignoring the possible role of the MI6, the CIA and the FBI setting up Trump campaign members George Papadopoulos and Carter Page as “colluders” with Russia.

–Repeating misleading statements about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, in which Trump’s son did not seek dirt on Clinton but was offered it by a music promoter, not the Russian government. None was apparently produced. It’s never been established that a campaign receiving opposition research from foreigners is illegal (though the Times has decided that it is) and only the Clinton campaign was known to have obtained any.

–Making no mention at all of the now discredited opposition research dossier paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC from foreign sources and used by the FBI to get a warrant to spy on Carter Page and potentially other campaign members.

–Dismissing the importance of politicized text messages between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page because the pair were “skewered regularly on Mr. (Sean) Hannity’s show as the ‘Trump-hating F.B.I. lovebirds.’”

–Putting down to “hyped news stories” the legitimate fear of a new McCarthyism against anyone who questions the “official” story being peddled here by the Times.

–Seeking to get inside Putin’s head to portray him as a petulant child seeking personal revenge against Hillary Clinton, a tale long peddled by Clinton and accepted without reservation by the Times.

–Pretending to get into Julian Assange’s head as well, saying he “shared Mr. Putin’s hatred of Mrs. Clinton and had a soft spot for Russia.” And that Assange “also obscured the Russian role by fueling a right-wing conspiracy theory he knew to be false.”

–Ignoring findings backed by the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity that the DNC emails were leaked and not hacked.

–Erroneously linking the timing of WikiLeaks’ Podesta emails to deflect attention from the “Access Hollywood” tape, as debunked in Consortium News by Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, who worked with WikiLeaks on those emails.

Distorts Geo-Politics

The piece swallows whole the Establishment’s geo-strategic Russia narrative, as all corporate media do. It buys without hesitation the story that the U.S. seeks to spread democracy around the world, and not pursue its economic and geo-strategic interests as do all imperial powers.

The Times reports that, “The United States had backed democratic, anti-Russian forces in the so-called color revolutions on Russia’s borders, in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004.” The Times has also spread the erroneous story of a democratic revolution in Ukraine in 2014, omitting crucial evidence of a U.S.-backed coup.

The Times disapprovingly dismisses Trump having said on the campaign trail that “Russia was not an existential threat, but a potential ally in beating back terrorist groups,” when an objective view of the world would come to this very conclusion.

The story also shoves aside American voters’ real concerns that led to Trump’s election. For the Times, economic grievances and rejection of perpetual war played no role in the election of Trump. Instead it was Russian influence that led Americans to vote for him, an absurd proposition defied by a Gallup poll in July that showed Americans’ greatest concerns being economic. Their concerns about Russia were statistically insignificant at less than one percent.

Ignoring Americans’ real concerns exposes the class interests of Times staffers and editors who are evidently above Americans’ economic and social suffering.  The Times piece blames Russia for social “divisions” and undermining American democracy, classic projection onto Moscow away from the real culprits for these problems: bi-partisan American plutocrats. That also insults average Americans by suggesting they cannot think for themselves and pursue their own interests without Russia telling them what to do.

Establishment reporters insulate themselves from criticism by retreating into the exclusive Establishment club they think they inhabit. It is from there that they vicariously draw their strength from powerful people they cover, which they should instead be scrutinizing. Validated by being close to power, Establishment reporters don’t take seriously anyone outside of the club, such as a website like Consortium News.

But on rare occasions they are forced to take note of what outsiders are saying. Because of the role The New York Times played in the catastrophe of Iraq its editors took the highly unusual move of apologizing to its readers. Will we one day read a similar apology about the paper’s coverage of Russia-gate?

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston GlobeSunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@consortiumnews.com and followed on Twitter @unjoe .

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CN Radio—Episode 3: Gareth Porter on DHS Deception & Bi-Partisan Fear of Revolt

The DHS deceptively pushed the story that Russia hacked U.S. voter databases; and both Democratic & Republican elites fear popular revolt against their failed polices but refuse to change, as Gareth Porter explains.

The guest on Episode 3 of Consortium News Radio is Gareth Porter, a long time contributor to Consortium News.  Gareth is an independent investigative journalist and historian who has been
studying the national security state for nearly two decades and is the author of two books on the subject: Perils of Dominance on the U.S. going to war in Vietnam and Manufactured Crisis, on the false narrative about the Iranian nuclear program.

Gareth speaks about two of his articles recently published on Consortium News. The first is an original piece about how the Department of Homeland Security Created a Deceptive Tale of Russia Hacking US Voter Sites.  The second story was originally published on Truthout. We gave it the title:  The Establishment’s Bi-Partisan Fear of Popular Revolt.

The runtime is 23 minutes and 46 seconds.  The episode is also available as a podcast on Consortium’s podcast page.  

And now Gareth Porter on Consortium News Radio:

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Hold the Front Page: The Reporters are Missing

So much of mainstream journalism has descended to the level of a cult-like formula of bias, hearsay and omission. Subjectivism is all; slogans and outrage are proof enough. What matters is “perception,” says John Pilger.

By John Pilger
Special to Consortium News

The death of Robert Parry earlier this year felt like a farewell to the age of the reporter. Parry was “a trailblazer for independent journalism”, wrote Seymour Hersh, with whom he shared much in common.

Hersh revealed the My Lai massacre in Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Parry exposed Iran-Contra, a drugs and gun-running conspiracy that led to the White House. In 2016, they separately produced compelling evidence that the Assad government in Syria had not used chemical weapons. They were not forgiven.

Driven from the “mainstream”, Hersh must publish his work outside the United States. Parry set up his own independent news website Consortium News, where, in a final piece following a stroke, he referred to journalism’s veneration of “approved opinions” while “unapproved evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality.”

Although journalism was always a loose extension of establishment power, something has changed in recent years. Dissent tolerated when I joined a national newspaper in Britain in the 1960s has regressed to a metaphoric underground as liberal capitalism moves towards a form of corporate dictatorship. This is a seismic shift, with journalists policing the new “groupthink”, as Parry called it, dispensing its myths and distractions, pursuing its enemies.

Witness the witch-hunts against refugees and immigrants, the willful abandonment by the “MeToo” zealots of our oldest freedom, presumption of innocence, the anti-Russia racism and anti-Brexit hysteria, the growing anti-China campaign and the suppression of a warning of world war.

With many if not most independent journalists barred or ejected from the “mainstream”, a corner of the Internet has become a vital source of disclosure and evidence-based analysis: true journalism sites such as wikileaks.org, consortiumnews.com, wsws.org, truthdig.com, globalresearch.org, counterpunch.org and informationclearinghouse.com are required reading for those trying to make sense of a world in which science and technology advance wondrously while political and economic life in the fearful “democracies” regress behind a media facade of narcissistic spectacle.

Propaganda Blitz

In Britain, just one website offers consistently independent media criticism. This is the remarkable Media Lens — remarkable partly because its founders and editors as well as its only writers, David Edwards and David Cromwell, since 2001 have concentrated their gaze not on the usual suspects, the Tory press, but the paragons of reputable liberal journalism: the BBC, The Guardian, Channel 4 News.

Their method is simple. Meticulous in their research, they are respectful and polite when they ask why a journalist why he or she produced such a one-sided report, or failed to disclose essential facts or promoted discredited myths.

The replies they receive are often defensive, at times abusive; some are hysterical, as if they have pushed back a screen on a protected species.

I would say Media Lens has shattered a silence about corporate journalism. Like Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in Manufacturing Consent, they represent a Fifth Estate that deconstructs and demystifies the media’s power.

What is especially interesting about them is that neither is a journalist. David Edwards is a former teacher, David Cromwell is an oceanographer. Yet, their understanding of the morality of journalism — a term rarely used; let’s call it true objectivity — is a bracing quality of their online Media Lens dispatches.

I think their work is heroic and I would place a copy of their just published book, Propaganda Blitz, in every journalism school that services the corporate system, as they all do.

Take the chapter, Dismantling the National Health Service, in which Edwards and Cromwell describe the critical part played by journalists in the crisis facing Britain’s pioneering health service.

The NHS crisis is the product of a political and media construct known as “austerity”, with its deceitful, weasel language of “efficiency savings”  (the BBC term for slashing public expenditure) and “hard choices” (the willful destruction of the premises of civilized life in modern Britain).

“Austerity” is an invention. Britain is a rich country with a debt owed by its crooked banks, not its people. The resources that would comfortably fund the National Health Service have been stolen in broad daylight by the few allowed to avoid and evade billions in taxes.

Using a vocabulary of corporate euphemisms, the publicly-funded Health Service is being deliberately run down by free market fanatics, to justify its selling-off. The Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn may appear to oppose this, but is it? The answer is very likely no. Little of any of this is alluded to in the media, let alone explained.

Edwards and Cromwell have dissected the 2012 Health and Social Care Act, whose innocuous title belies its dire consequences. Unknown to most of the population, the Act ends the legal obligation of British governments to provide universal free health care: the bedrock on which the NHS was set up following the Second World War. Private companies can now insinuate themselves into the NHS, piece by piece.

Where, asks Edwards and Cromwell, was the BBC while this momentous Bill was making its way through Parliament? With a statutory commitment to “providing a breadth of view” and to properly inform the public of “matters of public policy,” the BBC never spelt out the threat posed to one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. A BBC headline said: “Bill which gives power to GPs passes.” This was pure state propaganda.

Media and Iraq Invasion

There is a striking similarity with the BBC’s coverage of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lawless invasion of Iraq in 2003, which left a million dead and many more dispossessed. A study by the University of Wales, Cardiff, found that the BBC reflected the government line “overwhelmingly” while relegating reports of civilian suffering. A Media Tenor study placed the BBC at the bottom of a league of western broadcasters in the time they gave to opponents of the invasion. The corporation’s much-vaunted “principle” of impartiality was never a consideration.

One of the most telling chapters in Propaganda Blitz describes the smear campaigns mounted by journalists against dissenters, political mavericks and whistleblowers. The Guardian’s campaign against the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is the most disturbing. Assange, whose epic WikiLeaks disclosures brought fame, journalism prizes and largesse to The Guardian, was abandoned when he was no longer useful. He was then subjected to a vituperative – and cowardly — onslaught of a kind I have rarely known.

With not a penny going to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie deal. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, gratuitously described Assange as a “damaged personality” and “callous.” They also disclosed the secret password he had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing the U.S. embassy cables.

With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding, standing among the police outside, gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh.”

The Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore wrote, “I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.”

Moore, who describes herself as a feminist, later complained that, after attacking Assange, she had suffered “vile abuse.” Edwards and Cromwell wrote to her: “That’s a real shame, sorry to hear that. But how would you describe calling someone ‘the most massive turd’? Vile abuse?”

Moore replied that no, she would not, adding, “I would advise you to stop being so bloody patronizing.” Her former Guardian colleague James Ball wrote, “It’s difficult to imagine what Ecuador’s London embassy smells like more than five and a half years after Julian Assange moved in.”

Such slow-witted viciousness appeared in a newspaper described by its editor, Katharine Viner, as “thoughtful and progressive.” What is the root of this vindictiveness?  Is it jealousy, a perverse recognition that Assange has achieved more journalistic firsts than his snipers can claim in a lifetime? Is it that he refuses to be “one of us” and shames those who have long sold out the independence of journalism?

Journalism students should study this to understand that the source of “fake news” is not only trollism, or the likes of Fox News, or Donald Trump, but a journalism self-anointed with a false respectability: a liberal journalism that claims to challenge corrupt state power but, in reality, courts and protects it, and colludes with it. The amorality of the years of Tony Blair, whom The Guardian has failed to rehabilitate, is its echo.

“[It is] an age in which people yearn for new ideas and fresh alternatives,” wrote Katharine Viner. Her political writer Jonathan Freedland dismissed the yearning of young people who supported the modest policies of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as “a form of narcissism.”

“How did this man ….,” brayed the Guardian‘s Zoe Williams, “get on the ballot in the first place?”  A choir of the paper’s precocious windbags joined in, thereafter queuing to fall on their blunt swords when Corbyn came close to winning the 2017 general election in spite of the media.

Complex stories are reported to a cult-like formula of bias, hearsay and omission: Brexit, Venezuela, Russia, Syria. On Syria, only the investigations of a group of independent journalists have countered this, revealing the network of Anglo-American backing of jihadists in Syria, including those related to ISIS.

Supported by a “psyops” campaign funded by the British Foreign Office and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the aim is to hoodwink the Western public and speed the overthrow of the government in Damascus, regardless of the medieval alternative and the risk of war with Russia.

The Syria Campaign, set up by a New York PR agency called Purpose, funds a group known as the White Helmets, who claim falsely to be “Syria Civil Defense” and are seen uncritically on TV news and social media, apparently rescuing the victims of bombing, which they film and edit themselves, though viewers are unlikely to be told this. George Clooney is a fan.

The White Helmets are appendages to the jihadists with whom they share addresses. Their media-smart uniforms and equipment are supplied by their Western paymasters. That their exploits are not questioned by major news organizations is an indication of how deep the influence of state-backed PR now runs in the media. As Robert Fisk noted recently, no “mainstream” reporter reports Syria.

In what is known as a hatchet job, a Guardian reporter based in San Francisco, Olivia Solon, who has never visited Syria, was allowed to smear the substantiated investigative work of journalists Vanessa Beeley and Eva Bartlett on the White Helmets as “propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government.”

This abuse was published without permitting a single correction, let alone a right-of-reply. The Guardian Comment page was blocked, as Edwards and Cromwell document.  I saw the list of questions Solon sent to Beeley, which reads like a McCarthyite charge sheet — “Have you ever been invited to North Korea?”

So much of the mainstream has descended to this level. Subjectivism is all; slogans and outrage are proof enough. What matters is the “perception.”

When he was U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus declared what he called “a war of perception… conducted continuously using the news media.” What really mattered was not the facts but the way the story played in the United States. The undeclared enemy was, as always, an informed and critical public at home.

Nothing has changed. In the 1970s, I met Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s film-maker, whose propaganda mesmerized the German public.

She told me the “messages” of her films were dependent not on “orders from above”, but on the “submissive void” of an uninformed public.

“Did that include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked.

“Everyone,” she said. “Propaganda always wins, if you allow it.”

Propaganda Blitz by David Edwards and David Cromwell is published by Pluto Press.

John Pilger is an Australian-British journalist based in London. Pilger’s Web site is: www.johnpilger.com. His latest film, “The Coming War on China,” is available in the U.S. from www.bullfrogfilms.com

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Justice Dept Likely to Slow-Walk Declassification

President Trump has ordered Russia-gate data to be declassified  but will likely be stonewalled, raising questions about whether Trump is his own man, writes Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News

Don’t hold your breath. While the media is breathlessly describing yesterday’s order by President Donald Trump’s “to provide for the immediate (emphasis added) declassification” of Russia-gate materials as a “showdown,” any likely showdown is months away, if it comes at all.

The word “immediate” can mean different things to different people. Had the President set a deadline, or had he given the declassification task to his own National Security Council, the word “showdown” might be closer to what to expect.

The tragic-comedy now on stage in Washington is beyond bizarre. Can President Trump be unaware that those he “ordered” to do the declassification — top officials of the Justice Department, the FBI, and the intelligence agencies — have zero incentive to comply “immediately.” And they have minus-zero incentive, as the top echelons see it, to throw their former bosses, colleagues, and co-conspirators under the bus by releasing the family jewels.

Most of today’s commentary by anonymous officials on declassification are transparently bogus. To suggest, for example, that “death could occur,” as one MSNBC pundit predicted this afternoon, is beyond ludicrous. Do not expect Establishment media, however, to stop its feeding frenzy at the Deep State trough.

Stakes High For Russia-gate Pundits

The stakes could hardly be higher not only for the Deep State, but also for the media — including erstwhile “progressive” pundits not yet recovered, after 22 months, from the virulent virus I call “HWHW” (Hillary Would Have Won). Observations by Mark Twain and, more recently, Patrick Lawrence apply in spades to the widely shared predicament of Russia-gate. Twain: “It is easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Lawrence put it this way in Consortium News: “The most ordinary standards of evidentiary procedure are forgone. Many of our key institutions—the foreign policy apparatus, the media, key intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, the political leadership—are now extravagantly committed to a narrative none appears able to control. The risk of self-inflicted damage these institutions assume, should the truth of the Russia-gate events emerge—as one day it surely will—is nearly incalculable. … Russia-gate, in a phrase, has become too big to fail.”

Trump has now put the ball in the miscreants’ court but, with the media on their side, Deep State functionaries enjoy the equivalent of home-court advantage. House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R, CA) has pretty much warned of this. Speaking of classified passages Trump has now ordered released, Nunes in late July expressed hedged confidence “that once the American people see these 20 pages, at least for those that will get real reporting on this issue, (emphasis added) they will be shocked by what’s in that FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] application” to surveil Carter Page, an American citizen, and member of Trump’s campaign team.

Sure, Nunes is a Trump supporter. But he also has this strange — these days one might say romantic — notion that the way the U.S. Constitution set things up, he and his committee have the power — and the duty — to oversee the agencies that Congress established and funds, and to uncover any abuses. The behavior of the chairs of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees shows they share that view.

On February 18, Nunes threw down a heavy gauntlet during an interview with journalist Sheryl Attkisson:

“FISA abuse … as it relates to the Department of Justice and the FBI, if they need to be put on trial, we will put them on trial. The reason that Congress exists is to oversee these agencies that we created. DOJ and FBI are not above the law. Congress created them, we oversee them, and we fund them. And if they’re committing abuse for a secret court, getting warrants on American citizens, you’re darn right that we’re going to put them on trial.”

Trump Agonistes

Nunes put that on the record back in February. What can possibly explain Trump’s reluctance to order declassification of relevant FISA and other documents (with such redactions that might be truly necessary) until seven months later, and just seven weeks before the mid-term elections? And why did Trump throw down a cautious, paper-thin gauntlet, with no firm deadline — inviting Deep State stonewalling?

The need to play ball with the Deep State is normally made clear to incoming presidents before they are inaugurated, and such was the case with President-elect Trump. Just two weeks before he took office, Trump was paid an official visit by National Intelligence Director James Clapper, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA Director Michael Rogers. Trump was put on notice by none other than the Minority Leader of the Senate, Chuck Schumer. Schumer has been around and knows the ropes; he is a veteran of 18 years in the House, and is in his 20th year in the Senate.

On Jan. 3, 2017 Schumer said it all, when he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, that President-elect Trump is “being really dumb” by taking on the intelligence community and its assessments on Russia’s cyber activities:

Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer told Maddow. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.” Did Maddow ask Schumer if he was saying the President of the United States should be afraid of the intelligence community? No, she let Schumer’s theorem stand.

Three days after the Schumer-Maddow warning, at the January 6 meeting with the Deep State brass, Trump was handed an evidence-free, rump intelligence “assessment” — published the same day — that Russian President Vladimir Putin had done what he could to get Trump elected.  Adding insult to injury, after the others had left then-FBI Director Comey told the President-elect about the dubious findings of the so-called “Steele dossier,” opposition research paid for by the Democrats, with unconfirmed but scurrilous stories about Trump cavorting with prostitutes in Moscow, etc., etc.

Did Trump get the message? Is he his own man? A clue is in the almost embarrassing abundance of caution he has exercised vis-a-vis the Deep State — and the military, as well. He is likely to let himself be slow-walked on declassification past the mid-term elections, after which the scenery is likely to look very different in Congress.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was an Army officer and a CIA presidential briefer, and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




The West Against the Rest or The West Against Itself?

The West’s illiberal-bashing frenzy has reduced what should be a crucial debate about a fearful West Against the Rest, to the more pressing issue of The West Against Itself, writes Pepe Escobar.

By Pepe Escobar
in Paris
Special to Consortium News

What is the bigger story? The West Against the Rest or The West Against Itself?

The Illiberal Quartet of Xi, Putin, Rouhani and Erdogan is in the line of fire of haughty homilies about Western “values.”

Illiberalism is arrogantly and provocatively depicted in the West repeatedly as a Tartar Invasion 2.0. But closer to home Illiberalism is responsible for the social, civil war in the U.S. as Trump’s America has long ago forgotten what the European Enlightenment was all about.

The Western view is a maelstrom of a Judaeo-Greco-Roman, pseudo-philosophy steeped in Hegel, Toynbee, Spengler and obscure biblical references decrying an Asian attack on the “enlightened” West’s mission civilisatrice.

The maelstrom stunts critical thinking to evaluate Xi’s Confucianism, Putin’s Eurasianism, Rouhani’s realpolitik and non-Westoxified Shi’ite Islam, as well as Erdogan’s quest to guide the global Muslim Brotherhood.

Instead the West give us phony “analyses” of how NATO should be praised for not allowing Libya to become a Syria, which it indeed has.

Meanwhile a golden rule prevails about one Asian power: never criticize the House of Saud, which happens to be the ultimate manifestation of Illiberalism. They get a free pass because after all they are “our bastards.”

What the illiberal-bashing frenzy does accomplish is to reduce what should be a crucial debate about a fearful West Against the Rest, to the more pressing issue of The West Against Itself. This intra-West battle is being manifested in several ways: Viktor Orban in Hungary, eurosceptic coalitions in Austria and Italy, the advance of the ultra right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and the Sweden Democrats. In short it’s The Revenge of the European Deplorables.

Bannon’s ‘Paradise’ Regained

Into this European fray steps Steve Bannon, the master strategist who elected Donald Trump and is now taking the continent by storm. He is about to launch his own think tank, The Movement, in Brussels, to foment no less than a right-wing populist revolution.

It comes replete with Bannon spooking assorted EU lands by paraphrasing Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost: “I prefer to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

Bannon’s growing influence in Europe has reached the Venice Biennale, where director Errol Morris presented a documentary on Bannon, American Dharma, based on 18 hours of interviews with Trump’s Svengali himself.

Bannon held court two weeks ago in Rome supported by Mischaël Modrikamen, the president of the Popular Party in Belgium, who is slated to lead The Movement. In Rome Bannon again met Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – whom he had previously advised “for hours” to finally break a political coalition with fading star Silvio “Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi. Salvini and Berlusconi though are now horse-trading again.

Bannon has correctly identified Italy as the vortex of post-politics, spearheading the crusade to defeat the EU. The game-changer should be the May 2019 European Parliament elections, which Bannon reads as a certified victory for Right populism and nationalist movements.

In this do-or-die battle between populism and the Davos Party, Bannon wants to play The Undertaker against a puny George Soros.

Bannon is even seducing cynics in France by designating self-described “Jupiter” Emmanuel Macron, now in public opinion free fall, as public enemy number one. A faded U.S. newsweekly declared Macron to be The Last Man Standing between “European values” and, well, fascism. Bannon is more realistic: Macron is “a Rothschild banker who never made money – the definition of a loser…He imagines himself to be a new Napoleon.”

Bannon is connecting across Europe because he has identified how the West peddles “socialism for the very rich and the very poor” and “a brutal form of Darwinian capitalism for everybody else.” Quite a few Europeans easily grasp his simplistic concept of Right populism, according to which citizens must be able to get jobs, something impossible when illegal immigration is used as a scam to depress workers’ salaries.

The political strategy underlining The Movement is to unite all European nationalist vectors – a currently fragmented mess featuring sovereignists, neoliberals, radicalized nationalists, racists, conservatives and extremists on a quest for respectability.

To his credit, Bannon viscerally understood how the EU is a vast, de facto “un-sovereignty” space held hostage to economic austerity. The EU bureaucracy can easily be construed as Illiberalism Central: It was never a democracy.

There’s no question Bannon impressed on Salvini the need to keep hammering over and over again how the Germany-France leadership of the EU is anti-democratic. But there’s a huge problem: The Movement, and the Right populism galaxy, center almost exclusively on the role of illegal migrants – leading non-ideological cynics to suspect this might be little else than State xenophobia posing as a revolt of the masses.

Meanwhile, in Plato’s Cave…

Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe, teaching at the University of Westminster and a darling of the multicultural café society, could easily be depicted as the anti-Bannon. She does identify the “crisis of neoliberal hegemony” and is capable of outlining how post-politics is all about Right and Left wallowing together in a conceptual swamp.

The political impasse of the whole West once again revolves around TINA: There Is No Alternative, in this case to neoliberal globalization. The Goddess of the Market is Athena and Venus rolled into one. The question is how to organize a politically strong reaction against the all-out marketization of life.

Mouffe at least understands that just demonizing Right populism as irrational – while despising the “deplorables” – is not good enough. Yet she places too much hope in the fuzzy political strategy of Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise in France, or Bernie Sanders in the U.S. Arguably the only progressive politician in Europe who has a clear shot at government is Jeremy Corbyn – who’s consuming all his energy fighting a nasty demonization campaign.

Sanders has just launched a manifesto calling for a Progressive International – capable of outlining a New Deal 2.0 and a new Bretton Woods.

For his part, Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister and co-founder of the DiEM25 democratic movement, laments the triumph of a Nationalist International – at least stressing that they “sprang out of the cesspool of financialized capitalism”.

Yet he resorts to the same old players when it comes to pushing for a Progressive International: Sanders, Corbyn and his own DiEM25.

Mouffe’s conceptual solution is to bet on what she describes as Left populism, which can be construed as anything from “democratic socialism” to “participatory democracy”, depending “on the different national context.”

This implies that populism – relentlessly demonized by the neoliberal elites – is far from a toxic perversion of democracy, and can be authentically progressive.

Slavoj Zizek, in The Courage of Hopelessness, couldn’t agree more, when he stresses that when the masses “not convinced by ‘rational’ capitalist discourse” prefer a “populist anti-elitist stance,”this has nothing to do with “lower-class primitivism”.

In fact Noam Chomsky, way back in 1991, in Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, had brilliantly shown how Western “democracy” really works: “It is only when the threat of popular participation is overcome that democratic forms can be safely contemplated.”

So what does Europe want?” Zizek asks. He holds the merit of identifying the “principal contradiction” of what he qualifies as “The New World Order” (actually we’re still under the slow burn of the Old Word Disorder). Zizek succinctly depicts the contradiction as “the structural impossibility of finding a global political order that could correspond to the global capitalist economy.”

And that’s why the “change” spectrum is so limited, and for the moment totally captured by Right populism. Nothing substantial can happen without a real socio-economic transformation, a new world-system replacing casino capitalism.

Taking the shadowplay in their Platonic – Russophobic – cave for reality, while mourning “the end of Atlanticism,” the champions of “Western values” prefer to adopt a diversionist tactic.

They keep on summoning fear of “illiberal” Putin and his “malign behavior” undermining the EU, coupled with “debt trap” neo-colonialism inflicted on unsuspecting customers by those devious Chinese.

These elites could not possibly understand they face a plight of their own making, courtesy of free market populism, which happens to be the apex of Western Illiberalism.

Pepe Escobar is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030. Follow him on Facebook.

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