It has been sixteen years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq of 2003. The event barely gets a mention in the U.S. press or is any longer part of American consciousness. Iraq remains a faraway land for most Americans and the remembrance of the Iraq war is only discussed from the standpoint of U.S. strategic blunders. Little attention is paid to the suffering and humiliation of the Iraqi people by the American war apparatus. Wars for Americans are measured in U.S. dollars and American blood: suffering of the natives is not registered in war metrics.
The Iraq calamity is not an issue that can be dismissively blamed on George W. Bush alone. For most Democrats, it is too easy to blame the war on that one man. In reality, the Iraq war and its consequences have been a callous bipartisan campaign which had begun in the administration of George HW Bush and Bill Clinton after him. The war and the tight, inhumane sanctions established a record of punishment of civilians, or the use of civilians as tools of U.S. pressure on foreign governments, which became a staple of U.S. foreign policy.
The U.S. government under Ronald Reagan resisted pressures to impose sanctions on South Africa under the pretext that sanctions would “hurt the people that we want to help”—this at a time when the blacks of South Africa were calling on the world to impose sanctions to bring down the apartheid regime. This was the last time that the U.S. resisted the imposition of sanctions on a country.
For the Arab people, the successive wars on Iraq—and the sanctions should be counted as part of the cruel war effort of the U.S. and its allies—changed forever the structure of the Middle East regional system. The wars established a direct U.S. occupation of Arab lands and it reversed the trend since WWII whereby the U.S. settled for control and hegemony, but without the direct occupation. (The U.S. only left the Philippines because Japan had awarded independence to the country during the war, long after the U.S. failed to deliver on promises of independence).
Washington succeeded in the political arrangement designed by the Bush-Baker team to create an unannounced alliance between the Israeli occupation state and the reactionary Arab regime system, which included the Syrian regime, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Gulf states in the same sphere. This arrangement served to oppress the Arab population and to prevent political protests from disrupting U.S. military and political plans, and to ensure the survival of the oppressive regimes who are willing to cooperate with the U.S. The Syrian regime, which cooperated with Washington in the 1991 Iraq war was even rewarded with control of Lebanon.
But the war on Iraq altered the regional structure of regimes. They were no more split into progressive and reactionary. Syria in the past was associated with the ”rejectionist stance,” even though the Syrian regime never joined the ”Rejectionist Front” of the 1970s led by Saddam Hussein, the arch enemy of Syrian leader Hafidh Al-Asad.
It was no coincidence that the U.S. invaded Iraq and expelled Saddam’s army from Kuwait in the wake of the end of the Soviet Union. The U.S. wanted to assert the new rules just as it asserted the new rules of Middle East politics after WWII when it signaled to Britain in 1956 in Suez that it is the U.S. and not Europe which now controls the Middle East region. Similarly, the Iraq war of 1991 was an opportunity for the U.S. to impose its hegemony directly and without fears of escalation in super power conflict.
The U.S. did not need direct control or colonization after after WWII, with the exception of oil-rich Gulf region. (Historian Daniel Immerwahr makes that argument persuasively in his brand new book, “How to Hide and Empire: A History of the Greater United States.”) After the 1973 oil embargo on Western countries because of U.S. support for Israel in that year’s war, the U.S. military had plans on the books for the seizure of Gulf Arab oil fields. But the significance of oil has diminished over the decade especially as fracking has allowed the U.S. to export more oil than it imports.
Furthermore, the previous reluctance of Gulf leaders to host U.S. troops evaporated with the 1991 war.
But the memory of that first Iraq war remains deep in the Arab memory. Here was a flagrant direct military intervention which relied for its promotion on a mix of lies and fabrications. The U.S. wanted to oppose dictatorship while its intervention relied on the assistance of brutal dictators and its whole campaign was to—in name at least—to restore a polygamous Emir to his throne.
The U.S. also bought about official Arab League abandonment of Israel’s boycott, which had been in place since the founding of the state of Israel. As a reward for U.S. convening of the Madrid conference in 1991, Arab despots abandoned the boycott in the hope that Washington would settle the Palestinian problem one way or another. Yet, the precedent of deploying massive U.S. troops in the region was established and the U.S. quickly made it clear that it was not leaving the region anytime soon. Regimes that wanted U.S. protection were more than eager to pay for large-scale U.S. military bases to host U.S. troops and intelligence services. But that war in 1991 was not the only Iraq war; in fact, Washington was also complicit in the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war, when it did its best to prolong the conflict, resulting in the deaths of some half million Iraqis and Iranians.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not about finishing an unfinished business by son toward his father. It certainly was not about finding and destroying WMDs. And no one believed that this was about democracy or freedom. The quick victory in the war of Afghanistan created wild delusions for the U.S. war machine. Bush and his lieutenants were under the impression that wars in the region could be fought and won quickly and on the cheap. The rhetoric of “the axis-of-evil” was a message from the U.S. to all its enemies that the U.S. would dominate the region and would overthrow the few regimes which are not in its camp. The quick “victory” in Kabul was illusory about what had just happened in Afghanistan. Seventeen years later the U.S. is now begging the Taliban—which it had gone to war to overthrow—to return to power to end the agony for U.S. troops and for U.S. puppets in the country who are terrified of the prospect of a country free of U.S. occupation.
Iraq created new images of the U.S.: from Abu Ghraib to the wanton shooting at civilians by U.S. troops or by contractors, to the installation of a puppet government and the issuance of capitalistic decrees and laws to prevent the Iraqi government from ever filing war crime charges against the occupiers. Arabs and Muslims developed new reasons to detest the U.S.: it is not only about Israel anymore but about the U.S. sponsorship of a corrupt and despotic regional order. It is also about Arabs witnessing first hand the callous and reckless forms of U.S. warfare in the region. Policy makers, think tank experts, and journalists in DC may debate the technical aspects of the war and the cost incurred by the U.S.. But for the natives, counting the dead and holding the killers responsible remains the priority. And the carnage caused by ISIS and its affiliates in several Arab countries is also blamed—and rightly so—on U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.
As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science atCalifornia State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the “Historical Dictionary of Lebanon” (1998), “Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New War on Terrorism (2002), and “The Battle for Saudi Arabia” (2004). He tweets as @asadabukhalil
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Trump Threatens Havana With a New Embargo
Opening the litigation floodgates would harm U.S. companies and punish the Cuban people even more, writes Marjorie Cohn.
The Trump administration is threatening to unleash a flood of lawsuits involving Cuba, which no U.S. president has ever done. It has set a deadline of March 2 to announce whether it will create, in the words of the National Lawyers Guild, “a second embargo” of Cuba — “one that would be very difficult to dismantle in the future.”
President Donald Trump may give current U.S. citizens standing to sue in U.S. courts even if they were Cuban citizens when the Cuban government nationalized their property after the 1959 revolution. They would be able to bring lawsuits against U.S. and foreign companies that allegedly profit from the nationalized properties.
In accordance with international law, the Cuban government had offered compensation to U.S. nationals for the taking of their property, as I explain below. If Trump permits myriad new lawsuits to proceed, it would unleash a tsunami of litigation that would harm U.S. companies and punish the Cuban people even more.
For 59 years, the United States has maintained a cruel embargo. “The embargo on Cuba is the most comprehensive set of U.S. sanctions on any country, including the other countries designated by the U.S. government to be state sponsors of terrorism — Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria,” according to the U.S. government.
In 1960, the Eisenhower administration declared a partial trade embargo in an attempt to pressure Cuba to change its form of government. The embargo was prompted by a secret State Department memorandum that proposed “a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
This type of action is illegal under international law, according to Idriss Jazairy, the U.N. special rapporteur concerned with the negative impact of sanctions.
Nonetheless, President John F. Kennedy expanded the embargo in 1962 and every U.S. president since has continued it, hurting the Cuban people, but not succeeding in overthrowing Cuba’s government.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Helms-Burton Act, which codified the embargo into law so that no president could unilaterally lift the sanctions against Cuba. Although President Barack Obama took some limited steps toward normalization of relations, Helms-Burton would have prevented him from lifting the embargo.
Notorious Title III Provision
After the Cuban Revolution, the new government led by Fidel Castro nationalized the property of Cuban nationals, many of whom then fled the country and emigrated to the United States. Helms-Burton contains a notorious provision in Title III that allows private lawsuits against U.S. and foreign entities for allegedly “trafficking” in property confiscated in Cuba since 1959. “Trafficking” as defined includes knowingly engaging in a commercial activity or otherwise “benefitting from confiscated property.”
Every U.S. president beginning with Clinton has delayed the implementation of Title III by waiving its provisions in six-month increments. Clinton put Title III “on hold because it triggered immense opposition from U.S. allies, whose companies operating in Cuba would become targets of litigation in U.S. courts,” American University professor and Cuba scholar William M. LeoGrande wrote in The Conversation.
Clinton’s waiver was also motivated by the European Union’s filing of a complaint against the United States in the World Trade Organization and adoption of a statute that forbids EU members and their firms from complying with Title III.
Thus far, the Trump administration has followed suit with three six-month waivers. But on Jan. 16, the president waived Title III for only 45 days, from Feb. 1 to March 17, while his administration conducts “a careful review” of whether to allow the provision to go into effect. He will announce his decision by March 2.
If Trump does activate Title III, it would be the first time since Helms-Burton was enacted. It would tie up U.S. and foreign firms in a tidal wave of litigation if they do business with Cuba — including in medicine and agriculture — and have allegedly benefited from confiscated properties.
Up to 200,000 people who were not U.S. citizens at the time of their property’s confiscation would be able to file claims for property they held in Cuba when they were Cuban citizens. This is considerably more than the nearly 6,000 claims already filed by U.S. parties at the time their property was nationalized.
Nationalization Was Legal
The U.S. State Department takes the well-established position that a sovereign’s nationalization of the property of its own nationals does not violate international law. In 1962, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk told the National Business Advisory Council:
“Any sovereign national has the right to expropriate property, whether owned by foreigners or nationals. In the United States we refer to this as the power of eminent domain. However, the owner should receive adequate and prompt compensation for his property.”
On several occasions, Cuba has offered to negotiate compensation of the nearly 6,000 claims of U.S. parties, as it has successfully done with claims from other countries. “It is well-known that all nationalizations of foreign property, including that of the U.S., were provided by law with a commitment to compensation, which the U.S. government refused even to discuss, while it was adopted by the governments of claimants of other countries, all of which enjoyed due compensation,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba said in a statement.
Permitting lawsuits to proceed under Title III would overturn long-standing law. In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino that U.S. courts should not decide the legality of taking property in Cuba’s jurisdiction and that state-to-state negotiations provide the best way to resolve these issues.
Does Rubio have inside information? Very likely. The New York Times recently called Rubio “a virtual secretary of state for Latin America.” Indeed, Trump described his Cuba policy to White House staff early in his term: “Make Rubio happy.”
Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Florida), whose brother pressured Clinton into signing Helms-Burton, are the leading advocates for Title III. They represent the richest and most conservative people in Miami’s Cuban-American community, once known as Cuba’s “One Percent,” LeoGrande writes. Since Title III exempts private residences and small businesses from potential compensation, it is the one-percenters — people who owned businesses worth more than $433,000 at today’s prices — who have the most to gain if Trump unblocks Title III and allows litigation to proceed.
Trump is also apparently making Rubio happy by recognizing Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president, albeit in violation of international law. Rubio is part of Trump’s inner circle working with the opposition in Venezuela to carry out an illegal coup.
“Venezuela is really an extension of the position on Cuba,” Ricardo Herrera, director of the Cuba Study Group, told The New Republic. Both nations are targets in a plan to reassert U.S. control over Latin America, and finally overthrow the Cuban Revolution, according to The Wall Street Journal.
At a Feb. 18 rally in Miami, Trump played to a large voting bloc by criticizing Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. South Florida has the largest population of Venezuelans in the United States, many of whom are opposed to Maduro’s government. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Florida) accused the Trump administration of “using Venezuelans’ suffering to score political points here in Florida,” adding, “We shouldn’t be using this as a political weapon.”
But, “Trump doesn’t care about Latin America. It’s still about domestic politics,” LeoGrande told The New Republic. “Trump thinks he won Florida because of the Cuban American vote. Rubio convinced him that that’s what made the big difference in Florida.” Many older Cuban Americans oppose the Cuban government and have been pivotal votes for Republican presidential candidates in the swing state of Florida.
It is the Cuban people who would suffer most from the activation of Title III. A torrent of lawsuits would not only discourage foreign firms from trading with, investing in, or operating in Cuba; they would also endanger the food supply and other essentials for life in Cuba for years to come. They would weaken Cuba’s fragile economy.
Title III could affect firms that currently operate in Cuba on confiscated property and companies that profit from such “trafficking.” Because of jurisdictional issues, U.S.-based companies would be the most vulnerable to these lawsuits, which would disadvantage them internationally. They would be unlikely to expand their operations in Cuba.
Ending the suspension of Title III would have a chilling effect on future efforts to normalize relations with Cuba because it was written to prevent future U.S. administrations from interfering with this private litigation. Sanctioning lawsuits under Title III could also negatively impact areas such as travel, academic exchanges and research collaboration.
Meanwhile, Cuba has asserted its own claims against the U.S. for billions of dollars of injury due to the impact of the illegal and expanded multinational economic embargo against Cuba, which had been intentionally enacted to deny money and supplies to Cuba, to impose hunger and hardship and seek to overthrow its government, as quoted above. One such case filed in Cuban civil courts in 2000 sought over $120 billion in damages. A prior case sought more than $180 billion in damages based on illegal acts of violence and sabotage, including CIA sponsorship of the Bay of Pigs invasion; this resulted in a judgment in 1999. Cuba seeks resolution of its claims as part of its attempt to mutually resolve issues between Cuba and the United States.
“Activating Title III would represent a quantum leap in hostility [against Cuba],” LeoGrande maintains. By refusing to further suspend Title III, Trump would effectively be punishing the Cuban people with a second embargo.
Cuba represents no threat to the United States. It is time to end the illegal 59-year-old embargo against Cuba once and for all.
This article, first published on Truthout, was reprinted with permission.
Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and a member of the advisory board of Veterans for Peace. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.”
Liberté, Égalité, Impérialisme! Vive la France in Black Africa!
“Hotel Rwanda” is a touchstone of interventionist ideology, writes Ann Garrison. Debunking that script helps show why the closure of the assassination case against Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame serves Western interests.
Most Westerners believe that the Rwandan Genocide was the simple story of good and evil told in the hugely successful film “Hotel Rwanda,” but there is barely a moment of “Hotel Rwanda” that is not carefully constructed propaganda. The film was produced to convince the world that demon Hutus murdered a million innocent Tutsis in 100 days in 1994, that the U.S. and its NATO allies failed to intervene, and that their failure obligates them to intervene “to stop genocide” anywhere in the world from hereon.
Obama’s foreign policy team—most prominently Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Samantha Power, a national security advisor—invoked the Rwandan genocide over and over, as did the press, to justify destroying Libya and beginning the aerial bombing war that continues in Syria today. The propaganda has also been used to justify Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s invasions, occupation and resource plunder in the fabulously resource rich Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Western press and governments have portrayed him as Rwanda’s savior and characterized his invasions of DRC as the defense of Rwanda against “Hutu genocidaires” who fled into the DRC as he and his army advanced and seized power.
Essential elements left out of the “Hotel Rwanda” construction include the 1990-1994 Rwandan War and massacres that concluded in the infamous hundred days. The tragedy happened over four years’ time, not 100 days, and both Hutus and Tutsis were massacred, Hutus by Kagame’s army.
Another missing element is the unsolved crime that triggered the final bloodletting of the final 100 days: the assassination of Rwanda and Burundi’s Hutu presidents, when a surface-to-air missile downed their plane as it was approaching the airport in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on April 6, 1994. No one has ever been convicted of the crime, and there is enormous Western pressure to make sure that no one ever is. Overwhelming evidence implicates Kagame, but he is a key U.S. ally and “military partner” in Africa, and the “Hotel Rwanda” story is a key touchstone of Western interventionist ideology.
Kagame has nevertheless been accused and his inner circle indicted in both French and Spanish courts, where French and Spanish citizens claim jurisdiction because their family members died in the plane shoot-down or the ensuing massacres, but both of those cases have been shut down.
Last month, geopolitics trumped international justice again—just in time for Christmas. On Dec. 21, a French court closed the long-running case against Kagame and his inner circle for assassinating Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira, both of whom were Hutus.
Nearly 25 years later, there are still no convictions for the assassinations that turned first Rwanda, then DRC, into a vast killing ground. Not in the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, where two investigations of Kagame were shut down, and where a judge told defense attorney Tiphaine Dickson, “We don’t investigate plane crashes [or Tutsis, only Hutus].” And not in the French or Spanish courts.
The Subtext: Imperial Competition
The subtext of the Rwandan War and the ensuing Congo Wars was competition between the U.S./U.K. and France. France, which was then the dominant power in the region, had been the patron of Habyarimana’s Hutu government; the U.S. and U.K. backed Kagame’s invading Tutsi army, which emerged victorious in 1994, declared that English would from thereon be Rwanda’s international business language, then invaded and occupied French-speaking Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) two years later.
France and Rwanda have engaged in a bitter argument off and on for all these years about who was responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Their embassies have often been closed in one another’s capitals, and France pulled outof the 20th anniversary commemoration in Kigali after Kagame once again accused France of participating in the killing.
One of the recurring points of contention is Opération Turquoise, France’s emergency relief response, which began on June 23, 1994, several weeks before Kagame, then a general, seized power in Kigali. Some French officials who were in office at the time, most notably former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, have maintained that Opération Turquoise created a humanitarian corridor for Rwandan Hutus fleeing into Zaire, for fear of being massacred by General Kagame’s advancing Tutsi army. Kagame’s government has claimed that France instead provided an escape route for Hutus guilty of genocide, although the vast majority flooding into Zaire were civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. According to the 2010 UN Mapping Report on Human Rights Abuse in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1993-2003, Kagame’s troops followed the refugees into Zaire and massacred as many as 250,000.
In “Dying to Live: A Rwandan Family’s Five-Year Flight Across the Congo,” Pierre-Claver Ndacyayisenga describes how he and his family and 300,000 more Rwandan Hutus fled Kagame’s advancing army all the way through the Congolese jungle, from east to west, as many more died of hardship or were massacred by Kagame’s troops along the way.
The authors of the UN Mapping Report said that the massacres in Congo would most likely be ruled a genocide if a case were brought to court, but none has been and none ever will be without a major geopolitical shift in power. In 2013, in one of his many cynical moments, former President Bill Clinton told BBC journalist Komla Dumor that he would not condemn his friend Paul Kagame for murdering the refugees because “it hasn’t been adjudicated.” (And because it happened on his watch, with his support, as did the 1998 Rwandan and Ugandan invasions of DRC, during which Kagame and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni became what another UN report called “the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the DRC.”)
France Wants Its Share
France of course wants its share, and French officials now in power have decided to close the case against Kagame in order to secure access to Congo’s riches, which he significantly controls. The court’s ruling came shortly after Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo became secretary-general of La Francophonie, an international organization similar to the British Commonwealth, in what was widely perceived to be another concession to smooth French-Rwandan relations and ease France’s imperial access in DRC.
Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former Rwandan general, chief of army staff, and chief of military intelligence, was also named as a defendant in the French indictment. Speaking to Jane Corbin in the BBC video “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” he said that Kagame most definitely ordered his troops to shoot down the plane carrying the Rwandan and Burundian presidents:
Jane Corbin: Who do you believe was behind the shooting down of the plane?
Kayumba Nyamwasa: Paul Kagame undoubtedly.
JC: Paul Kagame?
KN: Oh yes, oh yes.
JC: You know that?
KN: One hundred percent.
JC: Were you at meetings where it was discussed?
KN: Well, I know. I was in a position to know, and he knows I was in a position to know. And he knows that.
BBC interjection: General Nyamwasa has offered to cut a deal with the French judge to testify.
JC: If you discuss these matters with the judge and it implicates you yourself, are you willing to do that?
KN: Obviously. If it implicated me? Why not? Because I think that truth is what matters.
The French court said they were closing the case for lack of “credible” and “significant” evidence despite abundant such evidence. That does not mean, however, that they acquitted Kagame, Nyamwasa, or anyone else who was in Kagame’s inner circle at the time Habyarimana and Ntaryamira were assassinated. As Rwandan American legal scholar Charles Kambanda said, “This is a political decision which could well be superseded by another political decision to reopen the file when there is additional ‘credible’ and ‘significant’ evidence.” In other words, France has mollified Kagame for now, but it’s kept a knife behind its back.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize for her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes Region. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diane Duston on Her Late Husband, Robert Parry
Bob Parry worked at his job nearly every waking hour. Diane Duston asked him why he kept it up. Her husband’s answer was pretty simple. It’s what journalists are supposed to do, he said.
It has been almost a year since the death of my husband, Consortium News founder Robert Parry. The stroke he mentioned in the final piece he wrote for Consortium News was the first of three, caused by undiagnosed pancreatic cancer. It has been a challenging year for me and our family since he passed away on Jan. 27, but one of the things that has given us comfort is the continuation of his journalism through the website he founded.
The only way this can live on is through your donations. I urge you to contribute today so Consortiumnews.comwill thrive and grow.
A lot has happened in Washington since Bob wrote his last piece. But one thing that has not changed is the need for independent journalism. Bob was fond of saying, “I don’t care WHAT the truth is. I just care what the truth IS.”
I met Bob in the 1980s at the Associated Press where we both worked. As a member of the special assignments team, he was delving into inconsistencies about what the Reagan administration was saying and what it was doing. Eventually, his work led to revelations that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. I never ceased in my admiration for Bob’s dogged pursuit of the truth, no matter what might happen politically. It took patience and long hours of documents research. It required source development and double-triple-quadruple fact-checking. It meant going to battle with editors who were worried about political fall-out. It wasn’t easy. I was a journalist, too, but I didn’t have the same kind of drive. Few do, really.
In 31 years of marriage, I remained in awe of his persistent quest for truth. He worked at it nearly every waking hour. I asked him why he kept it up. His answer was pretty simple. It’s what journalists are supposed to do, he said.
It hadn’t brought him any particular financial rewards. His books never became best-sellers. He didn’t seek praise from anyone, and he was irrationally modest about the awards he received. He eschewed self-promotion. He was too busy practicing journalism.
Consortiumnews.comis home for those who are interested in truth and fearless journalism. You can help keep this important mission alive. Please send a donation today.
From Editor Robert Parry: For readers who have come to see Consortium News as a daily news source, I would like to extend my personal apology for our spotty production in recent days. On Christmas Eve, I suffered a stroke that has affected my eyesight (especially my reading and thus my writing) although apparently not much else. The doctors have also been working to figure out exactly what happened since I have never had high blood pressure, I never smoked, and my recent physical found nothing out of the ordinary. Perhaps my personal slogan that “every day’s a work day” had something to do with this.
Perhaps, too, the unrelenting ugliness that has become Official Washington and national journalism was a factor. It seems that since I arrived in Washington in 1977 as a correspondent for The Associated Press, the nastiness of American democracy and journalism has gone from bad to worse. In some ways, the Republicans escalated the vicious propaganda warfare following Watergate, refusing to accept that Richard Nixon was guilty of some extraordinary malfeasance (including the 1968 sabotage of President Johnson’s Vietnam peace talks to gain an edge in the election and then the later political dirty tricks and cover-ups that came to include Watergate). Rather than accept the reality of Nixon’s guilt, many Republicans simply built up their capability to wage information warfare, including the creation of ideological news organizations to protect the party and its leaders from “another Watergate.”
So, when Democrat Bill Clinton defeated President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 election, the Republicans used their news media and their control of the special prosecutor apparatus (through Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle) to unleash a wave of investigations to challenge Clinton’s legitimacy, eventually uncovering his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The idea had developed that the way to defeat your political opponent was not just to make a better argument or rouse popular support but to dredge up some “crime” that could be pinned on him or her. The GOP success in damaging Bill Clinton made possible George W. Bush’s disputed “victory” in 2000 in which Bush took the presidency despite losing the popular vote and almost certainly losing the key state of Florida if all ballots legal under state law were counted. Increasingly, America – even at the apex of its uni-power status – was taking on the look of a banana republic except with much higher stakes for the world.
Though I don’t like the word “weaponized,” it began to apply to how “information” was used in America. The point of Consortium News, which I founded in 1995, was to use the new medium of the modern Internet to allow the old principles of journalism to have a new home, i.e., a place to pursue important facts and giving everyone a fair shake. But we were just a tiny pebble in the ocean. The trend of using journalism as just another front in no-holds-barred political warfare continued – with Democrats and liberals adapting to the successful techniques pioneered mostly by Republicans and by well-heeled conservatives.
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 was another turning point as Republicans again challenged his legitimacy with bogus claims about his “Kenyan birth,” a racist slur popularized by “reality” TV star Donald Trump. Facts and logic no longer mattered. It was a case of using whatever you had to diminish and destroy your opponent.
We saw similar patterns with the U.S. government’s propaganda agencies developing themes to demonize foreign adversaries and then to smear Americans who questioned the facts or challenged the exaggerations as “apologists.” This approach was embraced not only by Republicans (think of President George W. Bush distorting the reality in Iraq in 2003 to justify the invasion of that country under false pretenses) but also by Democrats who pushed dubious or downright false depictions of the conflict in Syria (including blaming the Syrian government for chemical weapons attacks despite strong evidence that the events were staged by Al Qaeda and other militants who had become the tip of the spear in the neocon/liberal interventionist goal of removing the Assad dynasty and installing a new regime more acceptable to the West and to Israel).
More and more I would encounter policymakers, activists and, yes, journalists who cared less about a careful evaluation of the facts and logic and more about achieving a pre-ordained geopolitical result – and this loss of objective standards reached deeply into the most prestigious halls of American media. This perversion of principles – twisting information to fit a desired conclusion – became the modus vivendi of American politics and journalism. And those of us who insisted on defending the journalistic principles of skepticism and evenhandedness were increasingly shunned by our colleagues, a hostility that first emerged on the Right and among neoconservatives but eventually sucked in the progressive world as well. Everything became “information warfare.”
The New Outcasts
That is why many of us who exposed major government wrongdoing in the past have ended up late in our careers as outcasts and pariahs. Legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who helped expose major crimes of state from the My Lai massacre to the CIA’s abuses against American citizens, including illegal spying and LSD testing on unsuspecting subjects, has literally had to take his investigative journalism abroadbecause he uncovered inconvenient evidence that implicated Western-backed jihadists in staging chemical weapons attacks in Syria so the atrocities would be blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Theanti-Assad group think is so intense in the West that even strong evidence of staged events, such as the first patients arriving at hospitals before government planes could have delivered the sarin, was brushed aside or ignored. The Western media and the bulk of international agencies and NGOs were committed to gin up another case for “regime change” and any skeptics were decried as “Assad apologists” or “conspiracy theorists,” the actual facts be damned.
So Hersh and weapons experts such as MIT’s Theodore Postol were shoved into the gutter in favor of hip new NATO-friendly groups like Bellingcat, whose conclusions always fit neatly with the propaganda needs of the Western powers.
The demonization of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia is just the most dangerous feature of this propaganda process – and this is where the neocons and the liberal interventionists most significantly come together. The U.S. media’s approach to Russia is now virtually 100 percent propaganda. Does any sentient human being read the New York Times’ or the Washington Post’s coverage of Russia and think that he or she is getting a neutral or unbiased treatment of the facts? For instance, the full story of the infamous Magnitsky case cannot be told in the West, nor can the objective reality of the Ukrane coup in 2014. The American people and the West in general are carefully shielded from hearing the “other side of the story.” Indeed to even suggest that there is another side to the story makes you a “Putin apologist” or “Kremlin stooge.”
Western journalists now apparently see it as their patriotic duty to hide key facts that otherwise would undermine the demonizing of Putin and Russia. Ironically, many “liberals” who cut their teeth on skepticism about the Cold War and the bogus justifications for the Vietnam War now insist that we must all accept whatever the U.S. intelligence community feeds us, even if we’re told to accept the assertions on faith.
The Trump Crisis
Which brings us to the crisis that is Donald Trump. Trump’s victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton has solidified the new paradigm of “liberals” embracing every negative claim about Russia just because elements of the CIA, FBI and the National Security Agency produced a report last Jan 6 that blamed Russia for “hacking” Democratic emailsand releasing them via WikiLeaks. It didn’t seem to matter that these “hand-picked” analysts (as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called them) evinced no evidence and even admitted that they weren’t asserting any of this as fact.
The hatred of Trump and Putin was so intense that old-fashioned rules of journalism and fairness were brushed aside. On a personal note, I faced harsh criticism even from friends of many years for refusing to enlist in the anti-Trump “Resistance.” The argument was that Trump was such a unique threat to America and the world that I should join in finding any justification for his ouster. Some people saw my insistence on the same journalistic standards that I had always employed somehow a betrayal.
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Other people, including senior editors across the mainstream media, began to treat the unproven Russia-gate allegations as flat fact. No skepticism was tolerated and mentioning the obvious bias among the never-Trumpers inside the FBI, Justice Department and intelligence community was decried as an attack on the integrity of the U.S. government’s institutions. Anti-Trump “progressives” were posturing as the true patriots because of their now unquestioning acceptance of the evidence-free proclamations of the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Hatred of Trump had become like some invasion of the body snatchers – or perhaps many of my journalistic colleagues had never believed in the principles of journalism that I had embraced throughout my adult life. To me, journalism wasn’t just a cover for political activism; it was a commitment to the American people and the world to tell important news stories as fully and fairly as I could; not to slant the “facts” to “get” some “bad” political leader or “guide” the public in some desired direction.
I actually believed that the point of journalism in a democracy was to give the voters unbiased information and the necessary context so the voters could make up their own minds and use their ballot – as imperfect as that is – to direct the politicians to take actions on behalf of the nation. The unpleasant reality that the past year has brought home to me is that a shockingly small number of people in Official Washington and the mainstream news media actually believe in real democracy or the goal of an informed electorate.
Whether they would admit it or not, they believe in a “guided democracy” in which “approved” opinions are elevated – regardless of their absence of factual basis – and “unapproved” evidence is brushed aside or disparaged regardless of its quality. Everything becomes “information warfare” – whether on Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, MSNBC, the New York Times or the Washington Post. Instead of information provided evenhandedly to the public, it is rationed out in morsels designed to elicit the desired emotional reactions and achieve a political outcome.
As I said earlier, much of this approach was pioneered by Republicans in their misguided desire to protect Richard Nixon, but it has now become all pervasive and has deeply corrupted Democrats, progressives and mainstream journalism. Ironically, the ugly personal characteristics of Donald Trump – his own contempt for facts and his crass personal behavior – have stripped the mask off the broader face of Official America.
What is perhaps most alarming about the past year of Donald Trump is that the mask is now gone and, in many ways, all sides of Official Washington are revealed collectively as reflections of Donald Trump, disinterested in reality, exploiting “information” for tactical purposes, eager to manipulate or con the public. While I’m sure many anti-Trumpers will be deeply offended by my comparison of esteemed Establishment figures with the grotesque Trump, there is a deeply troubling commonality between Trump’s convenient use of “facts” and what has pervaded the Russia-gate investigation.
My Christmas Eve stroke now makes it a struggle for me to read and to write. Everything takes much longer than it once did – and I don’t think that I can continue with the hectic pace that I have pursued for many years. But – as the New Year dawns – if I could change one thing about America and Western journalism, it would be that we all repudiate “information warfare” in favor of an old-fashioned respect for facts and fairness — and do whatever we can to achieve a truly informed electorate.
The late Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. He founded Consortiumnews.com in 1995 as the Internet’s first investigative magazine. He saw it as a way to combine modern technology and old-fashioned journalism to counter the increasing triviality of the mainstream U.S. news media.
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Et Tu, RT? Amplifying Western Disinformation on Rwanda
The great lie about the Rwandan bloodbath opened the door to a far larger genocide in Congo and helped justify U.S. military interventions in Libya and Syria, argues Ann Garrison.
By Ann Garrison Black Agenda Report
During a recent campaign event, Florida Senator Bill Nelson said, “That story of Rwanda is very instructive to us because when a place gets so tribal that the two tribes won’t have anything to do with each other, and that jealousy turns into hate—we saw what happened to the Hutus and the Tutsis in Rwanda, it turned into a genocide. A million people hacked to death within a few months. And we have got to watch what’s happening here.”
That got a lot of headlines even though U.S. ethnicity is binary only if seen as white vs. everybody else. Whatever Sen. Nelson meant, those who do see it that way have certainly gained prominence since Trump took the White House.
That was a newly minted reference to the Rwandan genocide in U.S. discourse, however. Rwanda is most often remembered in urgent calls for “humanitarian intervention,” a.k.a. war, to stop another genocide. We’re told that the U.S. failed to stop Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, so we’re now obliged to “intervene” anytime and anywhere another genocide is underway. That’s why, we’re falselytold, the U.S. and its NATO allies had to bomb Libya into ongoing chaos in 2011. That’s why Lockheed Martin had to step up production of cruise missiles to drop on Syria. That’s why Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, both 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls, became initial co-sponsors of an Orwellian bill to “enhance” our government’s ability to “prevent genocide and mass atrocities” with military force: Senate Bill 1158, the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act of 2018.
More soberly, given the lies we’ve all been told in order to start wars, doesn’t it seem likely that this story—that the U.S. failed to stop the Rwandan genocide—is one more? Not that the genocide didn’t happen and not that it wasn’t a terrible tragedy, but the story we were all told and Bill Clinton’s crocodile tears about his “worst mistake” are a lie. In fact, the U.S. and United Kingdom backed Gen. Paul Kagame’s invasion of Rwanda from Uganda on Oct. 1, 1990, and prevented a United Nations intervention until he and his army had massacred their way to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, to seize power on July 4, 1994.
Just over three weeks later, on July 28, The New York Times reported that the “U.S. Is Considering a Base in Rwanda for Relief Teams.” Kagame has been a key U.S. ally and “military partner” ever since. He not only collaborated with the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) but also invaded the Democratic Republic of the Congo, left millions dead, and thus created new opportunities for U.S. mining corporations.
“The institutionalization of the ‘Rwandan genocide’ has been the remarkable achievement of a propaganda system sustained by both public and private power, with the crucial assistance of a related cadre of intellectual enforcers. The favorite weapons of these enforcers are reciting the institutionalized untruths as gospel while portraying critics of the standard model as ‘genocide deniers,’ dark figures who lurk at the same moral level as child molesters, to be condemned and even outlawed.”
More recently, former Agence France Presse and Radio France International journalist Judi Rever broke down the simple story of Tutsi victims, Hutu perpetrators in her book “In Praise of Blood: Crimes of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.” Here’s some of what she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after the book’s publication:
Judi Rever: He [Kagame] did not stop the genocide because at the same time that ethnic Tutsis were being killed in Hutu-controlled zones, his Tutsi troops were killing with equal zeal and organization. And in every zone that the Rwandan Patriotic Front and its army entered, they killed massively and in an organized way.
CBC: Killed Hutus?
Judi Rever: Killed Hutus. They also fueled the genocide against the Tutsis. They infiltrated the Hutu militias very successfully, and they baited the violence. They egged on the violence, but they also—some of their commandos—participated in the slaughter of Tutsis at roadblocks.
Kagame knowingly ordered and encouraged Tutsi massacres to build a storyline that would justify his Tutsi minority dictatorship after he’d seized power and control of the country’s electoral apparatus. Had he proceeded to real elections, as mandated by the Arusha Accords signed to end the war, the Hutu majority would have elected a Hutu president. Former Rwandan Foreign Minister Jean-Marie Ndagijimana tells the same story from a different standpoint in “How Paul Kagame Deliberately Sacrificed the Tutsi.” Most of these victims were poor Tutsis who had been left behind when the wealthy and aristocratic Tutsis fled to Uganda during the Hutu Peasant Revolution of 1959-1961.
Rever’s conclusions are based on years of research and interviews, many of them with RPF troops who were tormented by memories of what they had done and felt compelled to confess. Her book also includes accounts of how she, her husband, and even her children were threatened while she was researching it, and how Belgian security operatives accompanied her everywhere during a research trip to Brussels to interview political exiles and refugees.
In an email released by WikiLeaks, a Stratfor intelligence analyst said that “Rwandans are cold ass mofos“ and detailed Rwandan operatives’ transnational assassinations and assassination attempts. Their targets are almost always high-profile figures who, like Rever, challenge the story of Tutsi victims and Hutu perpetrators that is so essential to Kagame’s survival and international stature.
Despite all this, the propaganda has been so effective that the standard story of Tutsi victims, Hutu perpetrators, and Bill Clinton’s failure remains all but unassailable in mainstream media. It’s in the Wikipedia, where a host of “edit alerts” assure that any attempt to change it starts a tireless “editing war” that Wikipedia moderators will finally shut down with no changes made. It’s at the heart of former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power’s interventionist bible, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” It’s in Obama’s 2011 Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities and “Mass Atrocities Response Operations: A Military Handbook,” which was produced by the Pentagon and Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights with help from Pierre Omidyar’s Humanity United Foundation. And it’s in the template of every Reuters and AP newswire that ever touches on the subject.
I was nevertheless surprised when RT repeated the standard propaganda as well. Mightn’t one expect RT to dig a little deeper into a narrative used to justify the U.S. war in Syria among others? RT asked me to comment on a news story about the recent appeal of a French court’s ruling that French soldiers were not criminally complicit for failing to protect Tutsis massacred at Bisisero, Rwanda, in 1994. I agreed, so they called me on Skype, but the host and I proceeded to frustrate one another, and most of what I said was left on the cutting room floor. CIUT 89.5 FM-Toronto host and former ICTR investigator Phil Taylor sent me a consolation note saying, “I felt for you, Ann. I saw the item in real time and slapped my forehead. The cutting was done with shears.”
Basic journalistic ethnics and not wanting to be misrepresented compelled me to write about why this interview turned into such a hot mess after beginning with the usual false recitation:
“The genocide in Rwanda lasted just over three months and left nearly a million people dead. . . . The genocide was committed mainly by the Hutu government and its backers against the ethnic minority Tutsi tribe. Allegations of the French government’s support for the Hutus, who carried out most of the slaughter in the genocide, have been rough on the French government’s relations with the Rwandan government for years. But the French, although they admit that they’ve made mistakes, they say they have no complicity in the genocide that took place there.”
I told RT that the context of the 1994 Bisesero massacre was a four-year war that began on Oct. 1, 1990, when a detachment of the Ugandan Army led by then General, now President, Paul Kagame invaded Rwanda from Uganda. I said that those Ugandan troops were Rwandan Tutsis or the children of Rwandan Tutsis who had fled to Uganda between 1959 and 1961, when the Hutu majority finally liberated themselves from centuries-long domination by the Tutsi minority.
I said that focusing on this single tragic incident, the Tutsi massacres at Bisesero, imposed the propaganda narrative about the Rwandan genocide on their story.
I said that France’s Operation Turquoise had created a humanitarian corridor for civilians fleeing to Congo in terror of Kagame’s advancing army, so it was a distortion to discredit the French troops over this one incident in which they were accused of failing to act even though it wasn’t clear they had a mandate. (UN Security Council Resolution 929 (1994) gave the operation the aim of “contributing, in an impartial way, to the security and protection of displaced persons, refugees, and civilians at risk in Rwanda.”)
I considered quoting Ed Herman, David Peterson, and Judi Rever, but ran out of time. That was more complexity than RT appeared to want added totheir news story. They had already built it on the widely received account of what happened in Rwanda before calling me. Having produced radio news, I know the show must go on at the scheduled hour even if it could be improved. Had they nevertheless considered that there might be something wrong with their premises? I’m only encouraging them to review this Western narrative as they do so many others.
This article was originally published on Black Agenda Report.
Ann Garrison is an independent journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, she received the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prizefor her reporting on conflict in the African Great Lakes region. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 that “substantial 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.
In November, The Atlanticpublished 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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 byJacob 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’
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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:
Freedom of the Press Foundation is good and WikiLeaks is bad (promoted by Micah Lee/EFF people)
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 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
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Physiological and cardiovascular stress
Depression and suicide risk
Loss of hope
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 Establishment’s Bi-Partisan Fear of Popular Revolt
Right and left insurgencies in the 2016 U.S. election spooked the bi-partisan Establishment. Gareth Porter explains how they are responding.
By Gareth Porter
The two most powerful think tanks in Washington, representing center-left and center-right political elites, have responded to the populist shocks of the 2016 presidential election by trying to reposition themselves and the Democratic and Republican Parties as more sympathetic to populist concerns even while maintaining their attachments to the interests of big business and the complex of war-making.
The Center for American Progress (CAP), linked to the Democratic Party establishment, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which is close to the Republican Party, have issued two long papers in recent months reflecting their high anxiety over the rapid growth of populism on both sides of the Atlantic — especially in light of the shocking success of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton and mainstream Republicans during the 2016 presidential election cycle.
But the papers suggest that neither organization is ready to depart from the economic and military policies preferred by the powerful elites that still control the two major parties. And the more recent paper attacks Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders for being insufficiently hawkish in regard to Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
An initial joint paper published on May 10 urged the two parties to make far-reaching changes in policy and operations, citing their “need to recognize that they are in a moment of crisis — a moment that could portend a long-term realignment — and develop a strategy for managing change.” It also warned that they “got into the current crisis by seeming indifferent to the concerns that drive constituencies drawn to extreme populists.”
The authors of that paper further identified a series of “striking commonalities” between left-wing and right-wing populism in the United States regarding attitudes toward key issues: “deep suspicion of America’s overseas military actions; alarm about the rise of a surveillance state; mistrust of major institutions; and suspicion of global elites.”
Endless Wars and Recession
They pointedly warned, “Much of this cynicism is borne from the endless wars since the beginning of the 21st century as well as the experience of the Great Recession — ascribed by many to the misdeeds of an elite that avoided accountability.”
The paper also said parties “need to support structural changes to the political system that will increase the responsiveness and accountability of electoral representatives.”
Those recommendations suggested a sense of urgency about making radical changes. But none of the 31 top executives and vice-presidents of CAP were involved in the writing or approved the text. It was co-written by Vikram Singh, CAP’s former vice president for national security and international policy and now a senior fellow; Liz Kennedy, CAP’s senior director for democracy and government reform, and Dalibor Rohac, a research fellow on European political and economic trends at AEI.
In an interview with me, Singh explained that the views expressed were only those of the authors and had not been approved by senior-level CAP officials.
Like the initial paper, a joint CAP-AEI statement released on July 31, co-authored by Singh, Rohac and Danielle Pletka, AEI’s senior vice-president for foreign and defense policy, strikes a conciliatory tone toward the rising tide of populism. It also recognizes the abject failure of institutions and policies to which the establishments in both parties were committed. But in the end, it shies away from any alternative policies.
The three co-authors suggest that populism “is not inherently bad” and reject “futile attempts to conserve the status quo.” They concede, “The shortcomings of the [European Union], NATO, [World Trade Organization], and other forms of international cooperation have provided a fertile ground for those calling to upend existing structures.”
Even more remarkable, they acknowledge that US- and European-led military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have mired the United States and Europe in “long and unpopular wars,” and that “limited intervention in Syria” had “led to much of the refugee crisis that hit Europe’s shores in the summer of 2015.”
The authors refer to a “deepening frustration” over a globalization that had brought “unprecedented worldwide growth” but also “led to economic stagnation and structural unemployment, particularly in the West.” They further acknowledge that the financial crisis of 2008 had an “impact on the middle class in developed economies as well as confidence in the free enterprise system’s ability to deliver shared prosperity.”
The authors warn that the “threat of authoritarian populism will not recede unless a new generation of political leaders offers a credible agenda for improving people’s lives that is more appealing to the public than the populist alternatives.”
But Singh and Pletka offer no suggestion of an alternative to the economic management model that has caused such socioeconomic distortions and dislocation. In the only hint of future policy direction, they write, “Both the political right and left need to make a stronger case for economic openness as a cornerstone of the West’s prosperity.”
Furthermore, Singh and Pletka use the joint statement to push for toughening the US and European stances toward Russia, and to accuse two main left-wing opponents of the Democratic Party centrist establishment — Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders — of having been apologists for Russia or Russian President Vladimir Putin, or very close to it. In both cases, however, the charges are without foundation and amount to a reversion by CAP and AEI to McCarthy-style political smears.
They write that Stein “justified Russian aggression” by declaring that “NATO has been surrounding Russia with missiles, nuclear weapons, and troops.” And in an interview with me last week, Singh said, “Stein is an apologist for Russia and for Putin. She is inclined to say the U.S. is to blame.”
In the interview to which the CAP-AEI statement referred, the Green Party leader did indeed say, “NATO has been surrounding Russia with missiles, nuclear weapons, and troops,” which was literally true. But she did not suggest that this situation “justified Russian aggression.” Responding to a question about Russian annexation of Crimea and involvement in the war in Ukraine, Stein referred to the US support for “regime change” through the armed uprising in Ukraine in 2014. “Regime change is something we need to be very careful about,” Stein said. “And this is a highly inflammatory regime change with a nuclear armed power next door.”
Stein’s assertion that Russian moves in Crimea and Ukraine came in response to U.S. support for regime change was not substantially different from a commentary published by CAP in 2017. The only difference between them was that CAP supported the U.S. policy of support for regime change in Ukraine rather than opposing it.
Contacted for her comment on the statements made by CAP-AEI and Singh about her, Stein said, “It’s telling that anyone who rejects the oversimplified Cold War narrative and addresses the real-world complexity of geopolitics gets accused of siding with the enemy by CAP and other shills for the bipartisan war party.”
Pletka and Singh also question whether Sen. Bernie Sanders has been sufficiently supportive of NATO. While acknowledging that Sanders had issued a statement in 2016 supporting a NATO role in protecting Eastern Europe “against any kind of Russian aggression,” they accuse Sanders of having been “concerned about the alliance’s expansion to the East” as provocative of Russia in 1997.
Singh conceded in an interview with Truthout that Sanders’s skepticism about NATO expansion in 1997 “is not per se evidence of being an apologist for Russia.” But he added, “It quickly gets very close to saying it’s our fault — we provoked them.”
But Singh and Pletka were ignoring the fact that in the mid-1990s, many of the most experienced US government specialists on Europe had opposed the Clinton administration’s decision to expand NATO into former Soviet territory in Central Europe and the Baltics. In 1995, a group of 18 former senior Pentagon and State Department officials and diplomats had warned against NATO expansion as likely to provoke Russian geopolitical countermoves and proposed as a non-provocative alternative bringing Central European states into the European Union and its nascent defense organization.
Among those opposing Clinton’s policy were Paul Nitze, a major US Cold War strategist and the main US negotiator of arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, as well as former US ambassadors to the Soviet Union, West Germany, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Bulgaria.
Singh and Pletka were thus using what was supposed to be a reconsideration of populism as a response to serious failures of centrist governments to stigmatize leading left-wing US figures for positions on US policy that are shared by many mainstream analysts. That tactic takes on more sinister implications in the present atmosphere of almost complete political and media unanimity in believing that Russia is an existential threat to US democracy.
The attacks on Stein and Sanders provide further evidence that these centrist power centers have been unable to resist clinging to familiar policies and political strategies long after they have proven to be a path to political disaster.
This article was originally published on TruthOut.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter.
The Real Russian Interference in US Politics
If Russia were trying to interfere in U.S. domestic politics, it wouldn’t be attempting to change the U.S. system but to prevent it from trying to change Russia’s, argues Diana Johnstone.
By Diana Johnstone
The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was ostensibly a conflict between two ideologies and two socio-economic systems.
All that seems to be over. The day of a new socialism may dawn unexpectedly, but today capitalism rules the world. At first glance, it may seem to be a classic clash between rival capitalists. And yet, once again an ideological conflict is emerging, one which divides capitalists themselves, even in Russia and in the United States itself. It is the conflict between American unipolar dominance and a multipolar world.
The defeat of communism was brutally announced in a certain “capitalist manifesto” dating from the early 1990s that actually proclaimed: “Our guiding light is Profit, acquired in a strictly legal way. Our Lord is His Majesty, Money, for it is only He who can lead us to wealth as the norm in life.” The authors of this bold tract were Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who went on to become the richest man in Russia (before spending ten years in a Russian jail) and his business partner at the time, Leonid Nevzlin, who has since retired comfortably to Israel.
Loans for Shares
Those were the good old days in the 1990s when the Clinton administration was propping up Yeltsin as he let Russia be ripped off by the joint efforts of such ambitious well-placed Russians and their Western sponsors, notably using the “loans for shares” trick.
In a 2012 Vanity Fairarticle on her hero, Khodorkovsky, the vehemently anti-Putin journalist Masha Gessen frankly summed up how this worked:
“The new oligarchs—a dozen men who had begun to exercise the power that money brought—concocted a scheme. They would lend the government money, which it badly needed, and in return the government would put up as collateral blocks of stock amounting to a controlling interest in the major state-owned companies. When the government defaulted, as both the oligarchs and the government knew it would, the oligarchs would take them over. By this maneuver the Yeltsin administration privatized oil, gas, minerals, and other enterprises without parliamentary approval.”
This worked so well that from his position in the Communist youth organization, Khodorkovsky used his connections to get control of Russia’s petroleum company Yukos and become the richest oligarch in Russia, worth some $15 billion, of which he still controls a chunk despite his years in jail (2003-2013).
His arrest made him a hero of democracy in the United States, where he had many friends, especially those business partners who were helping him sell pieces of Yukos to Chevron and Exxon. Khodorkovsky, a charming and generous young man, easily convinced his American partners that he was Russia’s number one champion of democracy and the rule of law, especially of those laws which allow domestic capital to flee to foreign banks, and foreign capital to take control of Russian resources.
Vladimir Putin didn’t see it that way. Without restoring socialism, he dispossessed Khodorkovsky of Yukos and essentially transformed the oil and gas industry from the “open society” model tolerated by Yeltsin to a national capitalist industry. Khodorkovsky and his partner Platon Lebedev were accused of having stolen all the oil that Yukos had produced in the years 1998 to 2003, tried, convicted and sentenced to 14 years of prison each. This shift ruined U.S. plans, already underway, to “balkanize” Russia between its many provinces, thereby allowing Western capital to pursue its capture of the Russian economy.
The dispossession of Khodorkovsky was certainly a major milestone in the conflict between President Putin and Washington. On November 18, 2005, the Senate unanimously adopted Resolution 322 introduced by Senator Joe Biden denouncing the treatment of the Khodorkovsky and Lebedev as politically motivated.
Who Influences Whom?
There is an alternative view of the history of Russian influence in the United States to the one now getting constant attention. It is obvious that a Russian who can get the Senate to adopt a resolution in his favor has a certain influence. But when the “deep state” and the corporate media today growl about Russian influence, they aren’t talking about Khodorkovsky. They are talking about alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. They are seizing, for example, on a joking response Trump made to a reporter’s snide question during the presidential campaign. In a variation of the classic “when did you stop beating your wife?” the reporter asked if he would call on Russian President Vladimir Putin to “stay out” of the election.
Since a stupid question does not deserve a serious answer, Trump said he had “nothing to do with Putin” before adding, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Many Trump opponents think this proves collusion. Irony appears to be almost as unwelcome in American politics as honesty.
When Trump revoked his security clearance earlier this month, former CIA chief John Brennan got his chance to spew his hatred in the complacent pages of The New York Times. Someone supposed to be smart enough to head an intelligence agency actually took Trump’s joking invitation as a genuine request. “By issuing such a statement,” Brennan wrote, “Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.”
As America’s former top intelligence officer, Brennan had to know that (even if it were true that Trump was somehow involved) it is ludicrous to suggest that Trump would have launched a covert intelligence operation on national television. If this were a Russian operation to hack Clinton’s private server it would have been on a need-to-know basis and there is no evident need for Trump or his campaign team to have known.
Besides, Clinton’s private server on the day Trump uttered this joke, July 27, 2016, had already been about nine months in possession of the Department of Justice, and presumably offline as it was being examined.
Since Brennan knows all this he could only have been lying in The New York Times.
The Russians, Brennan went on, “troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters.”
But which Russians do that? And who are those “individuals?”
To understand the way Washington works, one can focus on the career of lawyer Jonathan M. Winer, who proudly says that in early 2017 the head of the Carnegie Endowment, Bill Burns, referred to him as “The Fixer-in-Chief.” Let’s see what the fixer has fixed.
Winer served in the Clinton State Department as its first Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Law Enforcement from 1994-1999. One may question the selectivity of Bill Clinton’s concern for international law enforcement, which certainly did not cover violating international law by bombing defenseless countries.
In any case, in 1999 Winer received the State Department’s second highest award for having “created the capacity of the Department and the U.S. government to deal with international crime and criminal justice as important foreign policy functions.” The award stated that “the scope and significance of his achievements are virtually unprecedented for any single official.”
After the Clinton administration, from 2008 to 2013, Winer worked as a high-up consultant at one of the world’s most powerful PR and lobbying firms, APCO Worldwide. As well as the tobacco industry and the Clinton Foundation, APCO also works for Khodorkovsky. To be precise, according to public listings, the fourth biggest of APCO’s many clients is the Corbiere Trust, owned by Khodorkovsky and registered in Guernsey. The trust tends and distributes some of the billions that the oligarch got out of Russia before he was jailed.
Corbiere money was spent to lobby both for Resolution 322 (supporting Khodorkovsky after his arrest in Russia) and for the Magnitsky Act. APCO president Margery Kraus is a member of the Institute of Modern Russia, which is headed by Khodorkovsky’s son Pavel, with the ostensible purpose of “promoting democratic values” – in other words, of building political opposition to Putin.
When John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, allowing Hillary to prepare her presidential campaign, Winer went back to the State Department. Winer’s extracurricular activities at State brought him into the public spotlight early this year when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) named him as part of a network promoting the notorious “Steele Dossier,” which accused Trump of illicit financial dealing and compromising sexual activities in Russia, in a word, “collusion” with Moscow.
By Winer’s own account,he had been friends with former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele since his days at APCO. Back at State, he regularlychanneled Steele reports, ostensibly drawn from contacts with friendly Russian intelligence agents, to Victoria Nuland, in charge of Russian affairs, as well as to top Russia experts. Among these reports was the infamous “Steele dossier,” opposition research on Trump financed by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
But dirt seemed to pass the other way too. According to a Feb. 6 Washington Post story, Winer passed on to Steele the story of Trump being urinated on by prostitutes in a Moscow hotel with Russian agents allegedly filming it for blackmail material. The Post says the story was written by Cody Shearer, a Clinton confidante. A lawyer for Winer told the paper that Winer “was concerned in 2016 about information that a candidate for the presidency may have been compromised by a hostile foreign power. Any actions he took were grounded in those concerns.” Shearer did not respond to a request for comment from Consortium News. (Full disclosure: Cody Shearer is a member of the advisory board of the Consortium for Independent Journalism, which publishes Consortium News, and has been asked to resign.)
All this Democrat paid-for and created dirt was spread through government agencies and mainstream media before being revealed publicly just before Trump’s inauguration. The Steele dossier was used by the Obama Justice Department to get a warrant to spy on the Trump campaign.
Winer and the Magnitsky Act
Winer played a major role in Congress’s adoption of the “Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012” (the Magnitsky Act), a measure that effectively ended post-Cold War hopes for normal relations between Washington and Moscow. This act was based on a highly contentious version of the November 16, 2009 death in prison of accountant Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky as told to Congress by hedge fund manager Bill Browder. According to Browder, Magnitsky was a lawyer beaten to death in prison as a result of his crusade for human rights.
However, as convincingly established by dissident Russian film-maker Andrei Nekrasov’s investigative documentary (blacklisted in the U.S.), Magnitsky was neither a human rights crusader, nor a lawyer, nor beaten to death. He was an accountant jailed for his role in Browder’s business dealings, who died of natural causes as a result of inadequate prison care. The case was hyped as a major human rights drama by Browder in order to discredit Russian tax fraud charges against himself.
By adopting a law punishing Magnitsky’s alleged persecutors, the U.S. Congress acted as a supreme court judging internal Russian legal issues.
The Magnitsky Act also condemns legal prosecution of Khodorkovsky. Browder, on a much smaller scale, also made a fortune ripping off Russians during the Yeltsin years, and later got into trouble with Russian tax collectors. Since Browder had given up his U.S. citizenship in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes, he had reason to fear Russian efforts to extradite him for tax evasion and other financial misdeeds.
It was Winer who found a solution to Browder’s predicament. As Winer wrote in The Daily Beast:
“When Browder consulted me, he wanted to know what he could do to hold those involved in the case accountable. As Browder describes in his book, Red Notice, I suggested creating a new law to impose economic and travel sanctions on human-rights violators involved in grand corruption. Browder decided this could secure a measure of justice for Magnitsky. He initiated a campaign that led to the enactment of the Magnitsky Act. Soon other countries enacted their own Magnitsky Acts, including Canada, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and most recently, the United Kingdom.”
Meanwhile, Russian authorities have been trying for years to pursue their case against Browder. Putin brought up the case in his press conference following the Helsinki meeting with Trump. Putin suggested allowing U.S. authorities to question the 12 Russian GRU military intelligence agents named in the Mueller indictment in exchange for allowing Russian officials to question individuals involved in the Browder case, including Winer and former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, among others. Putin observed that such an exchange was possible under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty signed between the two countries in 1999, back in the Yeltsin days when America was posing as Russia’s best friend.
But the naïve Russians underestimated the craftiness of American lawyers.
As Winer wrote, “Under that treaty, Russia’s procurator general can ask the U.S. attorney general … to arrange for Americans to be ordered to testify to assist in a criminal case. But there is a fundamental exception: The attorney general can provide no such assistance in a politically motivatedcase (my emphasis). I know this because I was among those who helped put it there. Back in 1999, when we were negotiating the agreement with Russia, I was the senior State Department official managing U.S.-Russia law-enforcement relations.”
The clever treaty is a perfect Catch-22. It doesn’t apply to a case if it is politically motivated, and if it is Russian, it must be politically motivated. (The irony is that Mueller’s indictment of 12 GRU Russian military intelligence agents appears to be more a political than a legal document. For one thing, it accused the agents of interfering in a U.S. election but never charges them under U.S. electoral law.)
On July 15, 2016, Browder’s Heritage Capital Management firm registered a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice accusing both American and Russian opponents of the Magnitsky Act of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA); adopted in 1938 with Nazis in mind.
As for Russian lawyers attempting to bring their case against the Act to the U.S., the Heritage Capital Management brief declared:
“While lawyers representing foreign principals are exempt from filing under FARA, this is only true if the attorney does not try to influence policy at the behest of his client. By disseminating anti-Magnitsky material to Congress, [lawyer Natalia] Veselnitskaya is clearly trying to influence policy and is therefore in violation of her filing requirements under FARA.”
Veselnitskaya was at the infamous Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016 to lobby a possible incoming Trump administration to oppose the Magnitsky Act. A British music promoter, not a spokesman for the Russian government, offered dirt on Clinton in an email to Donald Trump Jr. No dirt was apparently produced and Don Jr. saw it as a lure to get him to the meeting on Magnitsky. Democrats are furiously trying to prove that this meeting was “collusion” between the Trump camp and Russia, though it was the Clinton campaign that paid for opposition research and received it from foreigners, while the Trump campaign neither solicited nor apparently received any at that meeting.
The Ideological Conflict Today
Needless to say, Khodorkovsky’s Corbiere Trust lobbied hard to get Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act. This type of “Russian interference intended to influence policy” goes unnoticed while U.S. authorities scour cyberspace for evidence of trolls.
The basic ideological conflict here is between Unipolar America and Multipolar Russia. Russia’s position, as Putin made clear in his historic speech at the Munich security conference in 2007, is to allow countries to enjoy national sovereignty and develop in their own way. The current Russian government is against interference in other countries’ politics on principle. It would naturally prefer an American government willing to do the same.
The United States, in contrast, is in favor of interference in other countries on principle: because it seeks a Unipolar world, with a single “democratic” system, and considers itself the final authority as to which regime a country should have and how it should run its affairs.
So, if Putin were trying to interfere in U.S. domestic politics, he would not be trying to change the U.S. system but to prevent it from trying to change his own.
U.S. policy-makers practice interference every day. And they are perfectly willing to allow Russians to interfere in American politics – so long as those Russians like Khodorkovsky, who aspire to precisely the same unipolar world sought by the State Department. Indeed, the American empire depends on such interference from Iraqis, Libyans, Iranians, Russians, Cubans – all those who come to Washington to try to get U.S. power to settle old scores or overthrow the government in the country they came from and put themselves in power. All those are perfectly welcome to lobby for a world ruled by America.
Russian interference in American politics is totally welcome so long as it helps turn public opinion against “multipolar” Putin, glorifies American democracy, serves U.S. interests, including the military industries, helps break down national borders (except those of the United States and Israel) and puts money in appropriate pockets in the halls of Congress.
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A Retrospective on Kofi Annan, Dead at 80
Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan died on Saturday. The following is a look back on his tumultuous ten years in office by Consortium News Editor-in-Chief Joe Lauria, writing for The Boston Globe on Dec. 29, 2006.
By Joe Lauria, for The Boston Globe | December 29, 2006
UNITED NATIONS — Kofi Annan, the first United Nations secretary general from sub-Saharan Africa, ends his 10-year term on Sunday, leaving behind a complex legacy during an era of genocide, terrorism, and US dominance.
The 2001 Nobel Peace Prize recipient charted a treacherous course between pleasing and antagonizing Washington while resisting persistent calls for his resignation over the worst corruption scandal in UN history.
Annan was a secretary general of many contradictions: the first UN staff member to rise to the top, he was later reviled by much of the staff. A champion of developing world causes against entrenched First World power, he was lambasted as a toady of the West. And while critics say his inactions contributed to genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda, he later became a leading advocate for military intervention to curb mass killings.
His career as the world’s top diplomat has evoked strong views from both supporters and detractors.
“It has been a decade of unmitigated failure,” said Nile Gardiner, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “He is probably the worst UN secretary general in history.”
“He will rank historically with Dag Hammarskjöld as one of the two most important secretaries general in the evolution of the organization,” said William Luers, president of the UN Association of the USA.
Annan’s relationship with Washington most pointedly shaped his tenure as secretary general. If he drew too close to the United States, such as on UN reform, developing nations blasted him; when he opposed the United States, such as on Iraq, trade, and development assistance, he was pilloried, especially in Congress.
Obsessed With Washington
Ed Luck, a UN specialist at Columbia University, thinks Annan was too focused on Washington for his own and the United Nations’s good. “The UN should stop obsessing about the US. It is not going to give up on the UN,” he said. “It seems much of the time he was trying to cater to Washington, bend over backwards if some senator complains.”
“By doing so,” Luck said, “he lost credibility with many of the other member states, feeding into this sense that the US is trying to dominate everything and the secretary general is just a puppet.”
A resentful Annan in turn criticized Washington, Luck said. Just before the 2004 US presidential election, Annan angered the Bush administration by branding the invasion of Iraq as “illegal.”
In his farewell address at the Truman Library in Independence, Mo., on Dec. 11, Annan aroused anger in America by saying, “No nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others.” He added that world institutions could not accomplish much “when the US remains aloof.”
Washington defenders were incensed. Gardiner blasted Annan as “a very antagonistic secretary general who has gone out of his way to be very unhelpful.”
But Luers said: “His problem has been principally the US attitude of perceiving the UN as a threat to US power, as a counter to the US approach to the world. It was a US, not Kofi, problem.”
When Annan and his son Kojo got caught up in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal two years ago, UN officials saw the Washington attacks as purely partisan payback for Annan’s opposition to the Iraq war.
“When there were rumors of his son’s involvement, instead of ordering a serious investigation he simply dismissed it as part of a political agenda against the UN,” Luck said. “Most people in the Secretariat to this day view oil – for – food that way.”
Annan met three times with the president of Cotecna, a Swiss firm that employed Kojo and was bidding for a UN contract. Cotecna wanted to inspect shipments to Iraq in the oil-for-food program, designed to help ordinary Iraqis overcome sanctions imposed after Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
At first Annan denied to investigators ever meeting with the Cotecna president. When presented with evidence of the meetings, he said they had nothing to do with his son or the contract. Three months after the final meeting Cotenca got the $10 million deal.
Some Annan supporters concede that there was at least an appearance of conflict of interest.
Annan defenders such as Dumisani Kumalo, South Africa’s UN ambassador, blame the Security Council. “They created the program, they ran the program,” he said. “It failed and they blamed Kofi Annan. The oil – for – food program is an unfair blemish on him.”
Annan said at his final press conference: “The scandal, if any, was in the capitals and with the 2,200 companies that made a deal with Saddam behind our backs.”
The Rwanda Cable
With the scandal behind him, Annan enters retirement, part of which he will spend in his native Ghana, where he born in 1938 in Kumasi. He received an economics degree from Macalester College in St. Paul and a master’s in management as a Sloan Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Annan joined the United Nations as a budget officer in Geneva in 1962 and eventually would be head of budget, personnel director, and undersecretary general for peacekeeping.
In that last post, he received a cable on Jan. 11, 1994, from the UN force commander in Rwanda asking for reinforcements to prevent an impending genocide in which 800,000 mostly Tutsis would be massacred.
A later UN investigation found that Annan failed to act urgently on the request. A similar thing occurred at Srebrenica, where a UN inquiry found that he did too little to help stop the massacre of 8,000 Bosnians in July 1995.
Adam Lebor, author of a new book about the United Nations and genocide, says Annan was bound by the United Nations’ principle of strict neutrality and the charter’s prohibition against the United Nations interfering in a nation’s internal affairs. But “guilt” over Srebrenica and Rwanda has led Annan to now back military intervention to stop genocide, Lebor said.
After a Human Rights Day speech this month, Annan told the Globe that Security Council powers knew more and earlier about what was to happen in Rwanda.
“Let’s assume they didn’t know,” he said. “But what did they do when they found out? They sent planes to repatriate their nationals and allowed the killing to go on.”
Annan’s harshest critics, like Gardiner, say Rwanda and Srebrenica were his “darkest hours.”
“The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Kofi Annan was an absolute travesty,” Gardiner said. “He could have done more to save lives and he chose not to.”
In his defense, Annan said at his final press conference that he was made the scapegoat for all the world’s problems.
“There is a tendency in certain places to blame the secretary general for everything, for Rwanda, for Srebrenica, for Darfur, but should we not also blame the secretary general for Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the tsunami, earthquakes?” he said. “Perhaps the secretary general should be blamed for all of those things, too.”
Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Sunday Times of London and numerous other newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @unjoe .
Hidden in Plain View in Belgrade
Why did NATO attack Yugoslavia in 1999, killing perhaps as many as 2,500 civilians? Here are some possible answers as Vladimir Golstein reflects back on that ugly episode.
By Vladimir Golstein in Belgrade Special to Consortium News
Right across the street from my hotel, tucked behind tall office buildings, is the rather large Church of St. Mark. Hidden in St. Mark’s shadows is a tiny Russian Orthodox church. The Church of the Holy Trinity, known simply as the Russian Church, is famous for holding the remains of BaronPyotr Nikolayevich Wrangel, the Russian Civil War leader of the Whites. It is hard to find, but luckily, a friend took me there.
As we were looking around the church, not particularly interested in Wrangel, a couple of Russians asked me to take their picture in front of his tomb. Trying to find a proper angle for the picture, I noticed a small plaque on a wall nearby. It listed the names of Russians who died fighting for Yugoslav Serbs during the conflict with separatist Albanians in Kosovo and the subsequent NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999.
As we left the church, we took a small path toward the top of the park. There we observed another brutal sign of that war: a destroyed building next to the TV center. It too had a plaque. It screamed, “Zashto” (For What? Why?). Below it were the names of all the TV people NATO killed during that attack. In all, as many as 2,500 civilians may have been killed by NATO, according to the then Yugoslav government, though the real number may never be known.
On the one hand, the question Zashto is both idle and provocative. It implies a laceration of wounds, a refusal to forget and to start anew. On the other, there is an obvious need to find an answer to this question simply to prevent future destruction and senseless murders.
We won’t find answers to this question in the official narratives, which tell us that the noble Clinton administration decided to stop flagrant violations of human rights in the extremely complex situation in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo by bombing the Serbs into respecting minorities both on its own and on neighboring territories. (In fact the large exodus of Kosovo Albanians to Albania proper only began after NATO bombs started to fall.)
Testing the Limits
Behind these official stories, a much sadder picture emerges. Why did these people die? Why did this NATO operation go ahead without UN Security Council authorization nor proof of self-defense, requirements of the UN Charter? Was it to satisfy the lust for power of U.S. and NATO leaders, of liberal interventionists like Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton, and Susan Rice? To assuage the Clinton administration’s guilt over its failure to respond to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda? Was it to set up America’s largest military base in Europe since the Vietnam War, Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo? For American access to Kosovo’s vast mineral wealth and other business opportunities, including for Ms. Albright? Or was it to finally kill off a rather successful Yugoslav experiment in the “third way” between the West and the Soviet Union?
It seems these people had to die for all those reasons and to put into practice the doctrines of responsibility to protect (R2P) and full spectrum dominance, doctrines cooked up by liberal interventionists and neocons in Washington. Those who died were essentially guinea pigs of a New World Order experiment to see how far the world could be pushed to implement R2P, a policy that could be used to mask imperial ambitions.
And it worked. Yugoslavia was unable to stand up to the power of NATO operating outside the mandate of its obsolete charter: namely to defend Western Europe against an alleged Soviet threat. Indeed one could argue that with the Cold War over, another motive for the attack on Yugoslavia was to provide NATO with a justification to exist. (It would later go even further afield outside its legal theater of operation, into Afghanistan and then Libya.)
Russia could do little to help the Serbs. Then the Chinese Embassy was hit as well, as a test it seems, though The New York Timessaid it was a mistake. The Chinese did nothing.
Thus was R2P implemented—with no protection for Yugoslav Serbs. They had to die in the experiment to explore the limits of U.S. power and the limits of its resistance.