“Something has happened with Google across the board that affects left-wing media in a big way,” said Scott LaMorte, a web developer for both Truthout and The Real News.
“This is absolutely an aberration. It’s a three-year low for both Truthout and The Real News, and likely unprecedented in the life of these organizations. Neither have previously experienced three straight months of declines as they have since May.”
“It’s not like everybody on the left suddenly changed their SEO [Search engine optimization],” LaMorte said. “I don’t think it was a change in Google’s algorithm in how they value SEO practices.” […]
“This is political censorship of the worst sort; it’s just an excuse to suppress political viewpoints,” said Robert Epstein, a former editor in chief of Psychology Today and noted expert on Google.
Epstein said that at this point, the question was whether the WSWS had been flagged specifically by human evaluators employed by the search giant, or whether those evaluators had influenced the Google Search engine to demote left-wing sites. “What you don’t know is whether this was the human evaluators who are demoting you, or whether it was the new algorithm they are training,” Epstein said. 1
On July 31st, World Socialist Web Site reporter, Andre Damon, spoke with RT America’s Natasha Sweatte about how and why Google is now directly targeting progressive websites:
An open letter to Google: Stop the censorship of the Internet!
Stop the political blacklisting of the World Socialist Web Site!
August 25th 2017
Chief Executive Officer
Chief Executive Officer/Director
Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors
Google’s mission statement from the outset was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Its official code of conduct was proclaimed in Google’s famous motto: “Don’t be evil.” In recent years, you have seriously lost your way. You are now engaged in hiding the world’s information, and, in the process, are doing a great deal of evil.
When Google officially discontinued its China-based search engine, due to censorship by the Chinese government of search engine results for political criticism, Mr. Brin publicly stated that for Google, “it has always been a discussion about how we can best fight for openness on the Internet. We believe that this is the best thing that we can do for preserving the principles of the openness and freedom of information on the Internet.”
In 2013, when Mr. Schmidt visited Burma, he spoke in favor of free and open Internet use in the country. In light of Google’s recent actions, the statements of Mr. Brin and Mr. Schmidt appear utterly hypocritical.
Google, and by implication, its parent company Alphabet, Inc., are now engaged in political censorship of the Internet. You are doing what you have previously publicly denounced.
Google is manipulating its Internet searches to restrict public awareness of and access to socialist, anti-war and left-wing websites. The World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org) has been massively targeted and is the most affected by your censorship protocols. Referrals to the WSWS from Google have fallen by nearly 70 percent since April of this year.
Censorship on this scale is political blacklisting. The obvious intent of Google’s censorship algorithm is to block news that your company does not want reported and to suppress opinions with which you do not agree. Political blacklisting is not a legitimate exercise of whatever may be Google’s prerogatives as a commercial enterprise. It is a gross abuse of monopolistic power. What you are doing is an attack on freedom of speech.
We therefore call upon you and Google to stop blacklisting the WSWS and renounce the censorship of all the left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive websites that have been affected adversely by your new discriminatory search policies. […]
Beginning in April of this year, Google began manipulating search results to channel users away from socialist, left-wing, and anti-war publications, and directing them instead towards mainstream publications that directly express the views of the government and the corporate and media establishment (i.e., the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.), and a small number of mildly left “trusted” websites whose critiques are deemed innocuous (i.e., Jacobin Magazine and the website of the Democratic Socialists of America, which functions as a faction of the Democratic Party).
As a pretext for these actions, Google announced that it was making changes to its search algorithm “to surface more authoritative content,” a term that brings to mind efforts by authoritarian regimes to censor the Internet and, specifically, political views deemed outside the consensus as defined by the establishment media.
Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president for search engineering, attempted to justify the imposition of political censorship with a blog post on April 25, claiming that the changes to the algorithm were a response to “the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information.”
Google, according to Gomes, has recruited some 10,000 “evaluators” to judge the “quality” of websites. These evaluators are trained to “flag” websites that are deemed to “include misleading information” and “unsupported conspiracy theories.” Gomes explained that the blacklists created by these evaluators will be used, in combination with the latest developments in technology, to develop an algorithm that will impose censorship automatically, in real time, across future search results.
Whatever the technical changes Google has made to the search algorithm, the anti-left bias of the results is undeniable. The most striking outcome of Google’s censorship procedures is that users whose search queries indicate an interest in socialism, Marxism or Trotskyism are no longer directed to the World Socialist Web Site. Google is “disappearing” the WSWS from the results of search requests. For example, Google searches for “Leon Trotsky” yielded 5,893 impressions (appearances of the WSWS in search results) in May of this year. In July, the same search yielded exactly zero impressions for the WSWS, which is the Internet publication of the international movement founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.
Other frequently used words and phrases that no longer include the WSWS in Google search results include: socialism, class struggle, class conflict, socialist movement, social inequality in the world, poverty and social inequality, antiwar literature, and the Russian revolution. A search for socialism vs. capitalism, which, as recently as April, would have listed the World Socialist Web Site as the eighth result on the first page of search results, now no longer returns any results at all for the WSWS. Of the top 150 search queries that returned results for the WSWS in April, 145 now no longer do so.
All the search terms listed above are employed frequently by users seeking a left-wing, socialist or Marxist take on events. Far from protecting readers from “unexpected” responses to their search requests, Google is manipulating its algorithm to make sure that the left-wing and progressive segment of their users, who would be most interested in the World Socialist Web Site, will not find it. Moreover, the extent and precision of the exclusion of the WSWS from search results strongly suggests that the anti-socialist bias of the new algorithm is being supplemented by the actual physical intervention of Google personnel, enforcing authoritarian-style direct and deliberate blacklisting.
As stated above, since April, other left-wing publications that present themselves as progressive, socialist or anti-war also have suffered significant reductions in their Google search results:
* alternet.org fell by 63 percent
* globalresearch.ca fell by 62 percent
* consortiumnews.com fell by 47 percent
* mediamatters.org fell by 42 percent
* commondreams.org fell by 37 percent
* internationalviewpoint.org fell by 36 percent
* democracynow.org fell by 36 percent
* wikileaks.org fell by 30 percent
* truth-out.org fell by 25 percent
* counterpunch.org fell by 21 percent
* theintercept.com fell by 19 percent
Google justifies the imposition of political censorship by using a loaded term like “fake news.” This term, properly used, signifies the manufacturing of news based on an artificially constructed event that either never occurred or has been grossly exaggerated. The present-day furor over “fake news” is itself an example of an invented event and artificially constructed narrative. It is a “fake” term that is used to discredit factual information and well-grounded analyses that challenge and discredit government policies and corporate interests. Any invocation of the phrase “fake news,” as it pertains to the WSWS, is devoid of any substance or credibility. In fact, our efforts to combat historical falsification have been recognized, including by the scholarly journal American Historical Review.
The facts prove that Google is rigging search results to blacklist and censor the WSWS and other left-wing publications. This raises a very serious question, with far-reaching constitutional implications. Is Google coordinating its censorship program with the American government, or sections of its military and intelligence apparatus?
Google probably will dismiss the question as an example of conspiracy theorizing. However, it is legitimate given the ample evidence that Google maintains close ties with the state. In 2016, Barack Obama’s defense secretary, Ashton Carter, appointed you, Mr. Schmidt, to chair the Department of Defense Innovation Advisory Board. Earlier this month, Defense Secretary James Mattis visited Google headquarters to discuss the ongoing and close collaboration between the company and the Pentagon. More generally, according to a report in The Intercept, Google representatives attended White House meetings on average at least once a week from January 2009 through October 2015.
Google claims to be a private corporation, but it is deeply involved in the formulation and implementation of government policy. The distinction between commercial interests and state objectives is increasingly difficult to detect. By obstructing the free access to and exchange of information, Google’s censorship program is aimed at enforcing a twenty-first century version of Orwellian “Right-Think.” It is undermining the development of progressive and constitutionally protected political opposition. It is benefiting the proponents of war, inequality, injustice and reaction.
The censorship of left-wing websites, and the WSWS in particular, reflects the fear that a genuine socialist perspective, if allowed a fair hearing, will find a mass audience in the US and internationally. There is widespread popular opposition to your efforts to suppress freedom of speech and thought. That is why Google feels compelled to cloak its anti-democratic policies with misleading arguments and outright lies. An online petition circulated by the WSWS demanding a halt to Google’s censorship efforts has already attracted several thousand signatures from readers in 70 different countries on five continents. We are determined to resist Google’s efforts to censor our publication, and to continue to raise awareness internationally about Google censorship. As long as this policy continues, Google will pay a heavy price in lost public credibility.
The International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Sites demands that the anti-democratic changes to the Google search result rankings and its search algorithm since April be reversed, and that Google cease its effort to curtail search accessibility to the WSWS and other left-wing, socialist, anti-war and progressive web publications.
Chairperson, International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site
Click here to read the open letter in full and here to sign the petition.
The open letter reprinted above from WSWS is an excellent one and very little can be usefully added in terms of alerting interested parties (basically everyone with a left-leaning or else genuinely libertarian outlook) regarding Google’s part in the ongoing censorship of the internet. It should however cause us to think extremely carefully about the fragility of this new information commons we increasingly depend upon. Any library can only be as good as its indexing system. When the library is as huge as the internet then good indexing is the only way to prevent information from becoming lost forever.
A few months ago, Google, which holds a de facto monopoly position on indexing the world’s greatest library, changed its algorithms. It actually does this on a fairly regular basis and historically these changes have generally been small and rather hard to detect. On this occasion, however, the changes were just as dramatic as they are very blatantly targeted.
Just as WSWS reports, the traffic to my own website (this one) suffered a vertiginous fall during recent months. Around the start of July the number of hits was cut in half, virtually overnight. What’s more, it has been traffic from the UK (my home country) that has plummeted most. Indeed, traffic to this site from the UK has been falling steadily since April (when Google announced its algorithm changes) and I now estimate that it has dropped by something like 80%. So what is happening here is obviously a very deliberate attack on the alternative left even including such small sites this.
But we should not be so very surprised. Alphabet, the company formerly known as Google (today it also owns youtube), is one of the most profitable and powerful of all global corporations. Amazingly, having entered the Fortune 500 little more than a decade ago, it then climbed into the top 100 within four years and currently stands at #27. 2 Although maybe this isn’t half so amazing once one considers Google’s true origins; and its hand-in-glove ties to the security state:
“From inception,” writes investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed, “Google was incubated, nurtured and financed by interests that were directly affiliated or closely aligned with the US military intelligence community” […]
“The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests.” (More in an addendum below)
The everyman gloss also comes off once one considers that its billionaire Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, is a member of the Trilateral Commission and has been a Bilderberg attendee every year since 2008 (apart from his absence in 2009). In fact, Google and Bilderberg appear to have firmer ties than Eric Schmidt’s affiliation as I explained when the two organisations ran back-to-back conferences at Watford in 2013:
It is a fortnight since the story of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden first broke with revelations of a “previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats” announced to the world by Glenn Greenwald writing in the Guardian on Friday 7th:
“The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.”
On that very same day I was heading down the M1 motorway to Watford with a friend to protest against the Bilderberg meeting taking place at the Grove hotel: a meeting that evidently has extremely close connections to those same “internet giants” who have been enabling the NSA as well as our own GCHQ to covertly snoop into every aspect of our lives. Indeed Google were already busy having their very own “private gathering” inside the same grounds of the very same hotel on days either side of the Bilderberg confab. In spite of being so closely connected to the inner circle of the Bilderberg clique, and thus to the very people who are engaged in this rampant abuse of our civil liberties, here’s what Google officially said to the Guardian:
“In a statement, Google said: ‘Google cares deeply about the security of our users’ data. We disclose user data to government in accordance with the law, and we review all such requests carefully. From time to time, people allege that we have created a government ‘back door’ into our systems, but Google does not have a back door for the government to access private user data.’”
Plausible deniability, in other words, and it gets better:
“Several senior tech executives insisted that they had no knowledge of Prism or of any similar scheme. They said they would never have been involved in such a program. ‘If they are doing this, they are doing it without our knowledge,’ one said.
“An Apple spokesman said it had ‘never heard’ of Prism.” 3
From an article published by The Independent, we learn how such ‘Google-berg’ events take place annually:
Each year, Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and Eric Schmidt, executive chairman, jet into London for the invitation-only annual gathering, at the Grove hotel, where 400 delegates, chosen from the “great minds of our time”, discuss topics ranging from technology and the media to politics and the arts. […]
For conspiracy theorists, the conference, staged by the search engine giant, which reported a 60 per cent surge in earnings to $2.89bn this year, is a cuddlier version of the Bilderberg Group, the supposedly shadowy network of financiers that holds a private annual assembly, recast in the image of our new tech masters. 4 [my own bold highlight added]
This is also discussed at slightly greater length in another earlier post.
Although dominated by corporations, the internet operates as a commons: a public space to which we contribute voluntarily and as individuals. Anyone can publish online just as I did right now. There’s no editorial control and relatively little censorship. Knowing how to peruse the enormous and ever-expanding repository of online publications, anyone might stumble across my words. Access which is aided thanks to the principle of net neutrality – a democratic notion that all internet traffic should be treated equally – helping online communities to flourish and maintaining a measure of equality in cyberspace. But this is rapidly changing.
Around the time of the Arab Spring there was increasing furore closer to home which surrounded disputed claims about the creation of an “internet kill switch”. In June 2010, some six months prior to the death of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi whose self-immolation sparked riots that led to the Tunisian Revolution, US Senator Joe Lieberman presented a bill entitled “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act” with provision for ‘emergency’ shutdown. Similar legislation has also been introduced in Britain as The Independent reported in March 2011:
In Britain there are two pieces of legislation which give the Government power to order the suspension of the internet and, in theory, bring about web armageddon. The Civil Contingencies Act  and the 2003 Communications Act can both be used to suspend internet services, either by ordering internet service providers (ISPs) to shut down their operations or by closing internet exchanges. Under the protocol of the Communications Act, the switch-flicking would be done by the Culture Secretary. In the eyes of the legislature, Jeremy Hunt is the man invested with the power to send us back to the dark ages.
The same piece continues:
In theory, the mechanical process of shutting down the internet should be simple. In addition to ordering the nation’s main ISPs to cease operation, officials can also close main internet exchanges such as Linx – the London Internet Exchange – which handles 80 per cent of our internet traffic.
To illustrate the case, the article then reminds us of internet shutdowns during the Arab Spring:
The ISP shutdown process was used recently by the Hosni Mubarak’s government in Egypt, ostensibly to stifle the propagation of dissent. On 27 January Egypt was effectively disconnected from the rest of the web after its ISPs were ordered to shut down their services. […]
Egypt’s other three big ISPs – Link Egypt, Telecom Egypt and Etisalat Misr – also stopped services. A few days later the final service provider, Noor, went down, taking the country’s stock exchange with it.
The pattern has since been repeated in other parts of the Middle East where popular uprisings have occurred. On 19 February Libya went completely offline. In Bahrain reduced web traffic flow was reported between 14 and 16 February.
However, shutting down the web isn’t always this simple:
The problem comes down to the very nature of the internet in developed countries. It is a mesh of networks. It transcends borders and has no definable beginning or end. As a result of this structure it is almost impossible to isolate all the connections. […]
It seems highly likely then, that as happened in Egypt, if the Jeremy Hunt Doomsday scenario were ever come to pass, an alternative network would quickly expand and provide access to the internet for all. Which is a relief. 5
The internet “kill switch” is mostly a red herring, because the corporatocracy has no cause to kill the internet for so long as it is maximising profits by selling the latest products – including obviously so many virtual products of our dot.com world – and in the process is hoovering up data about us.
For corporate needs the internet is little more than the free market on steroids, and for the security state it is, as Julian Assange put it so eloquently, ‘the worldwide wiretap’. As these merge, the wealth of data accumulated is filtered and packaged to fit the needs of both sectors. Knowledge becomes both power and profits. But it comes at a cost for our increasingly merged corporations and state. In the pursuit of profits and the acquisition of personal information, they sacrificed a stranglehold over public discourse. That anyone can now broadcast and publish threatens to undermine establishment control. The corporatocracy, however, still holds the key, just so long as we remain reliant on Google and the other corporate tech giants for access to this information commons.
To all intents and purposes, Google are now in the process of throwing that mythical internet “kill switch” except it’s not a switch, it’s a knob… and they are suddenly turning the amplitude right down. If this continues and we are unable to find an efficient and fully independent alternative to Google then the internet will effectively die. It will appear much the same and many of its old functions will remain unaltered – doubtless, it will provide an expanding marketplace and likewise it will continue to track our lives in ever higher resolution – but the internet as tool for progressive resistance will become ossified. For the true potential it still holds for bringing about radical political change and transforming society in truly revolutionary ways will be lost forever.
Addendum: ‘How the CIA made Google’
In an extended article entitled “How the CIA made Google” Nafeez Ahmed embarked on a trail that took him from the Pentagon, the NSA, and CIA’s venture capital investment firm, In-Q-Tel, via a group known as the Highlands Forum – a private network and “bridge between the Pentagon and powerful American elites” – back to Stanford University, and legendary PhD students Larry Page and, more especially, Sergey Brin. It also led him to the door of the Defense Advanced Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), and its purportedly discontinued Total Information Awareness (TIA) programme (featured in an earlier post about the rise of the surveillance state).
It is impossible to neatly summarise all of Ahmed’s findings here so without reprinting too much of the original I have tried to capture a flavour of what he discovers with regards to how Google grew out of DARPA and TIA:
“According to DARPA official Ted Senator, who led the EELD [Evidence Extraction and Link Detection] program for the agency’s short-lived Information Awareness Office, EELD was among a range of “promising techniques” being prepared for integration “into the prototype TIA system.” TIA stood for Total Information Awareness, and was the main global electronic eavesdropping and data-mining program deployed by the Bush administration after 9/11. TIA had been set up by Iran-Contra conspirator Admiral John Poindexter, who was appointed in 2002 by Bush to lead DARPA’s new Information Awareness Office.”
“[U]nder the TIA program, President Bush had secretly authorized the NSA’s domestic surveillance of Americans without court-approved warrants, in what appears to have been an illegal modification of the ThinThread data-mining project — as later exposed by NSA whistleblowers William Binney and Thomas Drake.” […]
“Core components of TIA were being “quietly continued” under “new code names,” according to Foreign Policy’s Shane Harris, but had been concealed “behind the veil of the classified intelligence budget.” The new surveillance program had by then been fully transitioned from DARPA’s jurisdiction to the NSA.” […]
“By 2008, as Facebook received its next funding round from Greylock Venture Capital, documents and whistleblower testimony confirmed that the NSA was effectively resurrecting the TIA project with a focus on Internet data-mining via comprehensive monitoring of e-mail, text messages, and Web browsing.”
TIA was purportedly shut down in 2003 due to public opposition after the program was exposed in the media, but the following year Poindexter participated in a Pentagon Highlands Group session in Singapore, alongside defense and security officials from around the world. Meanwhile, Ted Senator continued to manage the EELD program among other data-mining and analysis projects at DARPA until 2006, when he left to become a vice president at SAIC [Science Applications International Corporation, a US defence firm and “the forum’s partner organization”] which changed its name to Leidos in 2013. He is now a SAIC/Leidos technical fellow.
According to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the first to disclose the vast extent of the privatization of US intelligence with his seminal book Spies for Hire, SAIC has a “symbiotic relationship with the NSA: the agency is the company’s largest single customer and SAIC is the NSA’s largest contractor.”
Long before the appearance of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stanford University’s computer science department had a close working relationship with US military intelligence. […]
From the 1970s, Prof. Feigenbaum and his colleagues had been running Stanford’s Heuristic Programming Project under contract with DARPA, continuing through to the 1990s. Feigenbaum alone had received around over $7 million in this period for his work from DARPA, along with other funding from the NSF, NASA, and ONR.
Brin’s supervisor at Stanford, Prof. Jeffrey Ullman, was in 1996 part of a joint funding project of DARPA’s Intelligent Integration of Information program. That year, Ullman co-chaired DARPA-sponsored meetings on data exchange between multiple systems.
In September 1998, the same month that Sergey Brin briefed US intelligence representatives Steinheiser and Thuraisingham, tech entrepreneurs Andreas Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton invested $100,000 each in Google. Both investors were connected to DARPA. […]
After Google’s incorporation, the company received $25 million in equity funding in 1999 led by Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. According to Homeland Security Today, “A number of Sequoia-bankrolled start-ups have contracted with the Department of Defense, especially after 9/11 when Sequoia’s Mark Kvamme met with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the application of emerging technologies to warfighting and intelligence collection.” Similarly, Kleiner Perkins had developed “a close relationship” with In-Q-Tel, the CIA venture capitalist firm that funds start-ups “to advance ‘priority’ technologies of value” to the intelligence community. […]
In 2003, Google began customizing its search engine under special contract with the CIA for its Intelink Management Office, “overseeing top-secret, secret and sensitive but unclassified intranets for CIA and other IC agencies,” according to Homeland Security Today. […]
Google’s relationship with US intelligence was further brought to light when an IT contractor told a closed Washington DC conference of intelligence professionals on a not-for-attribution basis that at least one US intelligence agency was working to “leverage Google’s [user] data monitoring” capability as part of an effort to acquire data of “national security intelligence interest.” […]
In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests. 6
Click here to read Nafeez Ahmed’s full article entitled “How the CIA made Google”.
“There were rumours emanating from those with radios, but we really didn’t know anything about it until half-time, when there was no score given for the Liverpool–Forest semi-final, and even then nobody had any real idea of the sickening scale of it all. By the end of our game, a dull, distracted 1–0 win, everyone knew there had been deaths.” — Nick Hornby 1
These measured words are taken from Nick Hornby’s book Fever Pitch. They form the opening to his chapter entitled simply “Hillsborough”, in which he describes the moments when he, along with hundreds of thousands of others at different football grounds across Britain, were first waking up to the dreadful news of what had happened earlier in Sheffield.
At this same time, and like many millions of others, I’d been watching the tragedy unfold live on TV. Cameras were there because the game between Liverpool and Forest was meant to have featured later on Match of the Day, but the game itself had barely kicked off before it had been abandoned. Rather than the beautiful game, we had instead watched in sorrow and disbelief, finding it hard to comprehend the sheer scale of the disaster. 96 innocent people who had gone out to enjoy a football match had lost their lives instead, and every other football fan felt the same, had the same thought: that there but for the grace of god go I.
The paragraphs above are ones from an earlier post written in light of the verdict of the Hillsborough Independent Panel in September 2012 and in tribute to the families who fought so valiantly and ultimately won justice for their friends and loved ones. The same piece continues:
Now, 23 years later, we have access to a little more of the awful truth, and not only regarding the failures of the police and other emergency services that had both caused and exacerbated the catastrophic sequence of events at Hillsborough, but also to the cover up that immediately followed. A conspiracy of silence that has since been maintained by the police themselves, was assisted by the deliberately distorted coverage of the press, and that had also involved the complicity of politicians all the way up to members within the cabinet of the Thatcher government.
Most disgusting of all was this now infamous headline story:
“The Truth” as sensationally portrayed by Murdoch’s The Sun headlines is an obscene and defamatory fiction: part of a co-ordinated effort that helped to derail the investigation and thus to pervert the course of justice. Not everyone was deceived. The people of Liverpool understood immediately and banished the newspaper from their streets in collective outrage.
Then, at the beginning of this year, Liverpool FC went further. With the 96 victims now fully vindicated, the club acted in solidarity by barring all Sun journalists from reporting on home matches at Anfield and denied all access to hold interviews with either the players or team manager. And everyone of goodwill loudly applauds the ban.
But the horrific events of April 15th 1989 (twenty-eight years today) that resulted in 96 totally avoidable deaths were also part of a greater tragedy – the last in a terrible series of football disasters that twice befell Ibrox (25 fatalities, 1902; 66 fatalities, 1971), Bolton in 1946 (33 fatalities) and then in very quick succession took 56 lives in the Bradford fire and, too often forgotten, at Heysel (39 fatalities) both in May 1985. So let us never forget that even such comparatively recent tragedies as Hillsborough, Heysel, and Bradford happened in a very different era: prior to the formation of the English Premier League and the Champions’ League, and in years preceding the spectacular TV deals and the phenomenal wealth that nowadays streams into football’s coffers. Grounds were mostly dilapidated, the facilities basic, and fans in their tens of thousands were routinely crammed in as tight as possible on stepped terraces behind crush barriers – past lessons were never learned.
But then, before the gentrification of the sport, football was chiefly the preserve of the working class; a lowbrow and uncultured spectacle. Respectable opinion held that football inevitably “attracted” hooliganism, and the rest of society – the middle class in particular (the strata of society I was born into) – was highly contemptuous toward anyone closely associated with the game, especially the fans. As a young supporter and grammar school pupil in Shrewsbury (Shropshire still maintained the 11+ system), I was more than conversant with attitudes of this kind.
Many who had never entered a football stadium envisioned outbursts of violence at every match, when in reality such eruptions, especially inside the grounds, were rare and deeply shocking even to a regular goer – yet the presumption that all fans were “mindless animals” became commonplace. This judgement had been cultivated by the media (an extension of the middle class, of course) who fixated on football hooliganism, raising its significance far above other kinds of gang related violence. In some unaccountable but unique way, the media felt required to say, it is the nature of the game as such that triggers the violence. And this nonsense was widely echoed. (Nowadays religion, Islam in particular, comes in for the same flak.) But silently at root lay a perennial fear and loathing of the contemporary underclass – of yesterday’s ‘chavs’.
Then predictably, during the height of the Thatcher years when everything proletarian was despised, the authorities took a fateful decision and penned us – the “mindless animals” – in: constructing high perimeter fences around every ground, including the one that trapped the innocent victims at Hillsborough. Back in 1985, then-Chairman of Chelsea FC, Ken Bates, had seriously proposed electrifying the fences at Stamford Bridge. Fortunately, Bates was ignored.
Without the fences it is likely that no-one would have died at Hillsborough.
As we now know for certain, the disaster at Hillsborough was also an outcome of more direct criminal negligence: a combination of atrocious decisions taken by officials who didn’t care enough about the consequences of their actions. Afterwards, a false narrative was hastily concocted to put the blame on purportedly loutish behaviour and, most importantly, the drunkenness of the Liverpool fans. This was further embellished into the risible official story (just read the allegations in headline above) that lodged so deeply in the public consciousness thanks to a media that was so very eager to believe in it. Thus, a huge, disgusting lie manufactured to defame the 96 innocent victims was promoted at the very beginning of a sustained cover-up by senior officers of South Yorkshire Police and by an establishment which immediately closed ranks:
“I believe that there would have been no Hillsborough disaster if tanked-up yobs had not turned up in very large numbers to try to force their way into the ground.”
wrote Thatcher’s former Chief Press Secretary Sir Bernard Ingham in a letter dated December 30th 1996 to Liverpool fan Graham Skinner whose friend Eric Hughes died in the disaster. Ingham continued:
“I have no intention of apologising for my views which are sincerely held on the basis of what I heard first hand at Hillsborough. I have, however, one suggestion to make: for its own good, Liverpool – with the Heysel disaster in the background – should shut up about Hillsborough.” 2
Those same foundational lies would later permit other establishment figures including Sir Oliver Popplewell, who chaired the public inquiry into the earlier Bradford Stadium fire, to dismiss the long-standing fight for justice and denigrate the Hillsborough families as ‘conspiracy theorists’:
“The citizens of Bradford behaved with quiet dignity and great courage. They did not harbour conspiracy theories. They did not seek endless further inquiries. They buried their dead, comforted the bereaved and succoured the injured. They organised a sensible compensation scheme and moved on.
“Is there, perhaps, a lesson there for the Hillsborough campaigners?” 3
As the unadulterated truth slowly came to light, the media remained rather muzzled in their opprobrium of fellows at the Sun and its self-seeking former editor Kelvin MacKenzie. Then, on the day of the Hillsborough disaster inquest verdict the Sun disgraced itself one last time by relegating the judgement to its inside pages 8 and 9, while its highbrow sister broadsheet The Times from the same Murdoch stable, did likewise. Meanwhile, Murdoch-ridden Sky News invited Sun‘s Political Editor, Tom Newton Dunn to discuss the day’s papers, and Newton Dunn actually had the temerity to defend their original fake news story, saying “I don’t think it should all be about the Sun – it was not us who committed Hillsborough”:
Others in the ranks of our corporate media dutifully looked on aghast of course. Indeed, they would have loved to have patted themselves on the back at the significant role they played in bringing justice to the families. In reality, however, the press mostly played a very different role, maintaining a conspicuous silence throughout more than two decades, and paying little regard to contradictory evidence as it slowly emerged.
The Hillsborough disaster offers a stark illustration of how pernicious ‘fake news’ – more accurately ‘big lies’ – can be. Causing irreparable harm to its victims, it can quite literally destroy lives:
Speaking in a personal capacity, Trevor Hicks, president of the HFSG [Hillsborough Family Support Group], whose teenage daughters Sarah and Vicki were among the 96 killed, said: “The Sun’s coverage did enormous damage to me, [his then wife] Jenni and all the families and caused us great distress. We tried to contact the Sun many years ago; we asked them to name their sources for the scurrilous stories, but we never got that and we have never moved on since.
“We did not accept that the apologies they have made were genuine, and we support Liverpool football club banning the paper. All the 96 people who died supported Liverpool, Anfield is our spiritual home, and there was an element of the place being besmirched by the presence of the Sun.” 4
So where was the orchestrated clamour to put a stop to fake news after the Hillsborough verdict? Ah, but this was corporate fake news. Apparently, there’s a difference.
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” — Milan Kundera 5
The 1980s was a defining period for modern Britain. A decade when the forces of capital led by Thatcher’s government cracked proverbial knuckles and set about crushing the trade union movement to establish permanent ascendancy over workers’ rights. One key part of this strategy involved the steady dismantlement of Britain’s industrial base and vital to this, since essential for all the heavy industry at the time, was ensuring the closure of the coal mines. To these ends Thatcher personally approved the appointment of Ian MacGregor to head the National Coal Board (NCB) – a known hatchet-man who was already responsible for drastic cuts to British Steel prior to its sell-off.
As MacGregor set about turning the NCB into a “profitable concern” laying out plans for a devastating programme of pit closures, the NUM, under the charge of its militant leader Arthur Scargill, laid down tools in an unballoted (but widely supported) all-out strike against “the American butcher of British industry”. 6 This move, although lacking in strategy (and Scargill was heavily criticized for his timing), had effectively been forced by the government, who were well-prepared for the showdown and, as we learned later, stockpiled coal to ensure that the lights remained on whatever happened.
Once the strike was called, the stakes could hardly have been higher for either side. Thatcher, determined to break the strongest of all the unions, would not have been the first Tory Prime Minister defeated by the miners. But the miners were fighting for their livelihoods and the future of their communities. Predictably, therefore, tensions quickly escalated. In response, police forces from Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire were given unprecedented new powers allowing them to restrict free movement and association, and they increasingly adopted a military style approach to smashing up the protests. The most violent of all the confrontations took place on June 18th 1984 outside the gates of the Orgreave coking plant near Sheffield again. It turned out to be pivotal moment in the dispute and in modern British history.
The “Battle of Orgreave”, as it is now known, began after a section of mounted police charged into pickets who were already corralled on an adjacent field. The miners retaliated with a barrage of missiles hurled at the police lines. On the BBC news report later, however, the course of events was replayed in reverse and so the film showed the miners throwing stones, and then police charging back on horses in response. History was thus reedited.
A Mike Figgis documentary entitled simply The Battle of Orgreave was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2001. Constructed around a re-enactment of the event, it includes an interview with the late Tony Benn – still a Labour MP at the time. Benn tells the filmmakers that he remembered the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) being “up in arms” because they “could see quite clearly that the police charge and then the miners threw stones, and were ordered to transpose the order in such a way as to give the opposite impression”. Benn’s remarks are substantiated by a caption that quotes an extract of a ‘BBC letter of apology’ dated July 3rd, 1991. It reads:
The BBC acknowledged some years ago that it made a mistake over the sequence of events at Orgreave. We accepted without question that it was serious, but emphasised that it was a mistake made in the haste of putting the news together. The end result was that the editor inadvertently reversed the occurrence of the actions of police and pickets.
Benn is then asked to respond to the BBC apology and says “they didn’t make a mistake… whoever gave the orders actually destroyed the truth of what was reported”.
Footage in The Battle of Orgreave from 13:40 mins:
We later learned from David Hart, a political adviser to Margaret Thatcher, as well as Ian MacGregor and the NCB, that the Battle of Orgreave was “a set-up by us”. Hart said in an interview given in 1993:
“The coke was of no interest whatsoever. We didn’t need it. It was a battle ground of our choosing on grounds of our choosing. I don’t think that Scargill believes that even today. The fact is that it was a set-up and it worked brilliantly.”
Which tallies with MacGregor’s own remarks in his biography:
“It [Orgreave] became a cause célèbre for Scargill, a fight he had to win. We were quite encouraged that he thought it so important and did everything we could to help him continue to think so, but the truth was that it hardly mattered a jot to us – beyond the fact that it kept him out of Nottingham.” 7
Meanwhile, in 2012, the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) was formed, following the success of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. It is campaigning for a full and independent public inquiry into the assaults, wrongful arrests of nearly a hundred miners and false prosecutions (all subsequent trials collapsed) which human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC later described as “the biggest frame-up ever”.
Photo by John Harris.
Mirror headline to story published in October, 2016.8
Both cases [Hillsborough and Orgreave] involve the police colluding with the media to portray a false picture of events and blame the innocent so as to conceal their own wrongdoing and failings:
After Orgreave, encouraged by the police, the media unfairly vilified the miners for provoking the violence when in fact it was the police who instigated it;
After Hillsborough, egged on by the police, the media unfairly blamed the fans for the disaster, accusing them of being drunk, arriving late and trying to get into the match without tickets, an account which the Inquest jury has now roundly rejected.
In neither case has there been any proper accountability for what the police did wrong.
From the main statement on the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign (OTJC) website, which continues:
There is a clear and direct chronological link between the two events:
The way in which the police abused their power at Orgreave, lied about it and got away with it, fostered the culture of impunity which allowed the cover-up after Hillsborough to take place.
Had the police lies after Orgreave been properly and publicly addressed, the Hillsborough cover-up would never have been allowed to happen.
It’s said (especially by journalists!) that “journalism is the first draft of history”. 9 I would merely add that historical revisionism likewise begins in those very same newsrooms. The events quickly reinterpreted according to the diktats of the establishment line.
being economical with the truth
“I watched him with some interest, for it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies — unless one counts journalists.”
Editors and producers are guilty of many sins. For my money, however, the biggest and lying-est are the big lies of omission that leave important facts unknown to the public for years and even decades, result in many deaths, and let the perpetrators off the hook both legally and historically.
writes Ted Rall in an excellent historical overview which catalogues just a few of the worst examples of mainstream media complicity by omission:
For the better part of a decade, American citizens paid good money for newspapers that purported to bring them the news from Vietnam. What those papers never told them was that the reason LBJ gave for entering the war, a 1964 attack on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, never happened. This isn’t controversial; liberal and conservative historians alike agree the war was sold on fake news.
Imagine if the media had begun every story about Vietnam with a Trump-era-ish reference to Johnson’s big lie? “Continuing Unprovoked Attack on North Vietnam, U.S. B-52s Rain Death on Hanoi Without Reason.” Significantly less than 58,000 Americans and 2 million Vietnamese might have died.
After the U.S. lost — which they reported as a withdrawal rather than what really happened — lazy and easily cowed journalists and editors let stand the canard that returning Vietnam War vets were spat upon, insulted as “baby killers” and generally mistreated by dirty leftie hippies waiting for them at the airport. It never happened. To the contrary, the antiwar movement was supportive of vets, running clinics and other facilities to help them out. The myth of the spat-upon hippie, it turns out, began with the 1982 movie “Rambo,” when Sylvester Stallone’s character says it — probably as a metaphor.
Afghanistan’s Taliban government had nothing to do with 9/11, but few Americans know that. Even the soldiers sent to fight, kill and die there thought they were avenging the attack on the World Trade Center — and why not? Thanks to the Bush-era fake news purveyors, few of even the best read and most informed Americans know that Osama bin Laden was already in Pakistan on 9/11, that the Taliban offered to arrest him and turn him over if the U.S. showed some evidence of his guilt, that Al Qaeda had fewer than 100 members in Afghanistan(the vast majority were in Pakistan, as were the infamous training camps), and that there wasn’t a single Afghan among the 19 hijackers.
Would Afghanistan have become America’s longest war if news headlines had read something like “Bush Promises To Hunt Down Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in Country Where They Aren’t, Sends Weapons and Cash to Country Where They Are”? Doubtful.
That the media fell down on the job during the build-up to the Iraq War is well-documented. Yet, even after the WMDs failed to turn up in that country after we destroyed it, the media never applied the standard they now stick on Trump, e.g. “Continuing Unjustified Assault on Innocent Iraq, Marines Prepare For Battle in Fallujah.” Talk about fake news — even if Saddam Hussein had had WMDs, Iraq’s lack of long-range ballistic missiles meant it never could have posed a threat to the United States.
The famous toppling of Saddam’s statue in Firdos Square heralded as a symbol of victory and given saturation media coverage was in reality a staged event – here’s the proof:
Alternative facts abounded under Obama.
Obama launched hundreds of drone attacks against Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere that killed thousands of people. Studies showed that 49 out of 50 people killed were innocent bystanders, and that the other 1 were local guerilla fighters who hated their own local governments, not anti-American jihadis coming to kill us here. Yet story after story about drone assassinations referred to victims as “militants” or even “terrorists,” without a shred of evidence. If you’re going to let your president kill people just for fun, the least the media as a watchdog could do is call it what it is: “President Murders 14 More Muslims Cuz Fun.” Did you know the military calls them “squirters” — because their heads, you know…? 11
French journalists are teaming up with Facebook and Google to create a new fact-checking service aimed at tackling the rise of “fake news”.
Seventeen French newsrooms will be involved in the CrossCheck project, with a focus on the French elections. […]
The news organisations operating in France will collaborate with the two technology giants to debunk false information amid an increase in pressure in recent weeks to prevent the spread of fraudulent reports.
CrossCheck, a collaborative verification project aimed at helping French voters “make sense of what and who to trust online”, will offer users the option to identify and flag news stories as either “real”, “satire” or “fake”. 13
From a BBC newsarticle written by an uncredited author (an increasingly common occurrence in these days of ‘fake news’) published on February 6th.
Facebook will enable users to flag information they suspect to be false, then make the links accessible to its partnered media outlets to verify the contentious article. If two media sources deem the information to be false, the post will appear on Facebook with a banner signalling that two fact-checkers have disputed its contents.
Facebook’s algorithm can then be altered to reduce the post’s circulation, the network said. […]
If you follow this blog then you will perhaps be familiar with the name Crosscheck. As recently disclosed by investigative reporter Greg Palast, Crosscheck was the “Interstate Voter Registration” system that, under the direction of Kansas Secretary of State and Trump operative, Kris Kobach, purged millions of Americans – mostly Black and Latino – from the voter registers.
Given the narrowness of Trump’s victory, it is legitimate to say that Crosscheck won it. It a little curious therefore that this new initiative ostensibly to purge the internet of ‘fake news’ has also been given the name CrossCheck – this curious coincidence certainly helps to cover those “Interstate Voter Registration” tracks…
It’s once bitten, twice shy for Google and Facebook. Together they’re taking a stand against the fake news that helped skew the narrative of the 2016 US presidential election.
The two companies on Monday launched an initiative in Paris to tackle fake news stories that could arise around the upcoming French presidential election. The project, called CrossCheck, was announced at the News Impact Summit and will serve to help verify news stories being shared among the French electorate. 15
On Monday, Google announced a new endeavor it is calling CrossCheck, described as “a coalition news verification project.” Debuted at the News Impact Summit in Paris, CrossCheck is the product of a partnership between First Draft and the Google News Lab. […]
Google released a similar project called Electionland during the 2016 U.S. election, though fake news was still criticized during the American political showdown. Perhaps, however, this second iteration will prove more effective.
“With the French presidential election approaching, journalists from across France and beyond will work together to find and verify content circulating publicly online, whether it is photographs, videos, memes, comment threads, [or] news sites,” Google announced in a blog post. “CrossCheck partners will make use of the collective reporting in their own articles, television programs, and social media content.” 16
So just who are the “CrossCheck partners”? Well, I searched and searched through the top searches on Google and could find only a few of the 17 newsrooms – here’s the most extensive list: AFP (Agence France-Presse), BuzzFeed News, France Médias Monde (via les Observateurs de France 24), France Télévisions, Global Voices, Libération, La Provence, Les Echos, La Voix du Nord, Le Monde (Les Décodeurs), Nice-Matin, Ouest-France, Rue89 Bordeaux, Rue89 Lyon, Rue89 Strasbourg, Storyful, and StreetPress (courtesy of Digital Trends).
To find a fuller list of partners, however, it is far better to visit the Google blog from which this initial list is drawn and then to follow the link to ‘First Draft’ which is in partnership with Google. Here is the current crop of forty corporate media outlets that comprise its “global Partner Network of newsrooms, fact-checkers, human rights organizations and technology platforms”:
Amongst these self-appointed defenders of truth and warriors against ‘fake news’ are more than a few household names including media outlets with a less than reliable record of their own (the links provide examples of recent ‘inaccuracies’): BBC, the Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, Channel 4 news, Al Jazeera and Sky News. 17More revealing, however, is that amongst the news agencies there is the Atlantic Council, and still more absurdly, listed as a founding partner alongside Google News Lab, there is also Bellingcat – read this first and then read on…
On Wednesday 5th, Angela Merkel’s cabinet introduced new legislation ostensibly “to curb the spread of fake news and malicious posts ahead of Germany’s election on Sept. 24”:
Germany pushed ahead with legislation that threatens social networks such as Facebook Inc. with fines of as much as 50 million euros ($53 million) if they fail to give users the option to complain about hate speech and fake news or refuse to remove illegal content. 18
“Today we see a country that, in weaponising misinformation, has created what we might now see as the post-truth age. Part of that is the use of cyber-weaponry to disrupt critical infrastructure and disable democratic machinery” — Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon 19
Bellingcat, for those unfamiliar with one-man armchair “research group” Eliot Higgins, aka Brown Moses, is a “self-styled” (as the corporate media would describe him if he wasn’t one of the team) citizen journalist and blogger. He compares online images and leaps to conclusions that happen to serve the interests of the Western powers:
Higgins now works not from home, but from an office, in his hometown of Leicester. So where’s the money coming from for Bellingcat, clearly now an operation requiring considerable financial support? That’s unclear, Higgins has yet to publish any record of where the finance comes from, all the ‘About‘ section of the Bellingcat site says is – ‘Bellingcat uses open source and social media investigation to investigate a variety of subjects, from Mexican drug lords to conflicts being fought across the world. Bellingcat brings together contributors who specialise in open source and social media investigation, and creates guides and case studies so others may learn to do the same.’
For a lot of people, it’s highly convenient that Eliot Higgins is an ‘expert’, and his agency Bellingcat taken seriously. This is a man who, with his agency Bellingcat, will absolutely always back the position of western governments, and powerful western organisations. And they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he’s taken seriously, lay on all the trappings, auspices of highbrow, on trend terms like ‘open source investigation’ and ‘error level analysis‘, be sure he’s given awards, plaudits, made a ‘fellow’, ‘expert’, at sympathetic organisations, appears at the right seminars, conferences, everything to apply the sheen of credibility. […]
Creating social media accounts to post misinformation, free of all the source checks, verification of other sources as this is ‘citizen journalism’ and all things cool, which can’t be questioned because a lot of people don’t really know what they are. This, then passed off, and on, into Bellingcat, and up it goes higher into the food chain of mass media, unquestioned, unchecked.
So you can see why a lot of people really have an interest in making Eliot Higgins out to be an authority, a reputed source, an expert. Have a look at his profile on the Atlantic Council site, an agency funded by governments across the world (25, no less), to promote their position under the guise of being a ‘think tank’. Higgins now works with them, and they call him. […]
Higgins has never been near the MH17 site, Syria, or anywhere else on where he’s an apparent ‘expert’. Higgins may not go to any of the places he ‘investigates’, but he does travel the world being an ‘expert’ at various conferences, receiving awards – all of these used (and used by Higgins himself, who doesn’t shy from self-promotion , making extensive mention on Twitter of his own participation at conferences, using a photo from such for his profile) to propagate ‘Higgins, the expert.’
It’s very handy for some people, having a guy who doesn’t need to be sent anywhere, who, from his sofa, can quickly come up with the conclusions so beloved of western press, and governments. He’s also clearly a hard worker, dogmatic, persistent, the man who used to spend endless hours gaming now happy to spend that time on Bellingcat ‘investigations’. Higgins took part in the official MH17 investigation, and even boasted about knowing the result of the MH17 report before it was released – so sure was he, he even challenged me to a bet over it (I declined).
So, make your own mind up.
Who is Eliot Higgins, and Bellingcat, really? Are they indeed the experts the western media would have us believe? Or are we being stitched up by a man either of limited abilities plunged into the limelight, making the most of all that goes with it – fawning western media write ‘He often doesn’t finish sentences, as if his mind is racing elsewhere’ – but could it be, that Higgins is actually rather simply rather a dim man, being used, and fine with that, by higher powers?
Or is Higgins actually an intelligent calculating individual, who has exploited the opportunity to make a name for himself, make a lot of money? One thing about Higgins is sure. He’s a liar. A conman. A charlatan. And whatever associations the name ‘Higgins’ and ‘Bellingcat’ have now, the future can surely only be these names associated with fabrication, fraud, a scam. All that will be debated, is whether Higgins is a latter-day Donald Crowhurst, a hapless man forced into a web of deceit, or a Bernie Madoff, who knew just what he was doing all along. 20
Click here to read the full article written by independent journalist Graham Phillips entitled “Eliot Higgins of Bellingcat, Who is He? Everything You Need to Know…”
For the record, when the report by the international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on MH17 was released in the form of a letter sent to family members of the victims in February 2016, the Dutch prosecutor who led the investigation, Fred Westerbeke, wrote:
On December 26, 2015 Bellingcat has submitted a draft report to the JIT. The report has been gathered using social media and other public Internet sources, include information about members of a Russian military unit with, according to Bellingcat, a possible BUK-missile system in Ukraine. Many sources which Bellingcat relies on were known to the JIT. In addition, the research team still has more and other information on this subject, which is not mentioned by Bellingcat. Insofar as Bellingcat has offered new sources, they are examined and assessed for suitability for the criminal investigation. No evidence of direct involvement of individual members of this unit at the shooting of the MH17 follows from the report of Bellingcat.21
[bold emphasis added]
When Fallon says “we see a country that, in weaponising misinformation, has created what we might now see as the post-truth age” he is deliberately spinning the official line that the information war is both a recent invention, and, more importantly, that it is purely the work of the Kremlin. A bizarre claim that in turn rests on entirely baseless accusations that ‘Russia hacked the US elections’; an allegation first formulated to protect the DNC from whistleblower leaks (see here) but endlessly echoed by a lazy and pliant media which discredits itself every time it repeats the story and further echoes the claims that it is fact-based.
In fact this entire “Russia-gate” fixation, which is so silly that it ought to be beneath contempt, distracts from the real and pernicious threat of actual manipulation of our democracies. As former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and NSA whistleblower William Binney point out in an excellent recent piece published by Consortium News, regarding the counter allegations made by Trump:
So, were Trump and his associates “wiretapped?” Of course not. Wiretapping went out of vogue decades ago, having been rendered obsolete by leaps in surveillance technology.
The real question is: Were Trump and his associates surveilled? Wake up, America. Was no one paying attention to the disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 when he exposed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as a liar for denying that the NSA engaged in bulk collection of communications inside the United States.
The reality is that EVERYONE, including the President, is surveilled. The technology enabling bulk collection would have made the late demented FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s mouth water.22
Click here to read the full article entitled “The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate”.
Another serious matter that ought to trouble us is that rather than seeking insight from recognised experts like McGovern and Binney, the corporate media turns to self-styled non-specialists such as Eliot Higgins aka Bellingcat or Rami Abdulrahman aka Osama Suleiman’s puffed up Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), who invariably tell them exactly what they want to hear.
In May, a few weeks after posting this article, MIT Professor and weapons specialist, Theodore Postol, gave an interview in which he described Bellingcat and their chemical weapon “expert” Dan Kaszeta as “less than a bunch of amateurs and really a bunch of frauds”. He continued [from 4:45 mins]:
And I must say I’m very disturbed by the press continuing to use them as a source for information, when the press has to know — if they did any work at all — that these guys have been shown in detail to be frauds.
“An important question regarding the survival of our nation is how we answer the increasing threats that we face in the Information Environment from adversaries who range from nation states large and small to criminal or terrorist organizations to a handful of people with malicious intent”
— Rand Waltzman
The quote above is from a newsletter published by the American Foreign Policy Council published in September 2015.
As former head of the Social Media In Strategic Communications (SMISC), a programme within the Pentagon’s notorious Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Waltzman’s team were specialists in the spread of ideas and influence, including “how online videos affect emotions to how Twitterbots accelerate the spread of fake news” 23
Beneath the same section-header, “The Weaponization of the Information Environment”, Waltzman goes on to propose the establishment of a Center for Information Environment Security “to serve as a ‘network of networks of human efforts, technology development and technology transfer’ related to fighting foreign influence operations.” 24
Reading between the lines, Waltzman is advocating a new intelligence hub to spread influence throughout what he defines as the ‘Information Environment’: a new security agency that brings America closer to the neo-con dream of ‘full spectrum dominance’.
And so the stage was set: ready for the Friday before Christmas, when Obama duly obliged with the signing of National Defense Authorisation Act 2017 and its dreary and inconspicuous inclusion of a bipartisan bill ‘Countering Foreign Disinformation and Propaganda Act’ (CFDPA) written in March 2016 by Senators Rob Portman and Chris Murphy:
The passage of this bill in the Senate today takes us one critical step closer to effectively confronting the extensive, and destabilizing, foreign propaganda and disinformation operations being waged against us. While the propaganda and disinformation threat has grown, the U.S. government has been asleep at the wheel.
writes Senator Portman. His statement from December 8th continuing:
With the help of this bipartisan bill, the disinformation and propaganda used against our allies and our interests will fail.
And Senator Murphy writes:
Congress has taken a big step in fighting back against fake news and propaganda from countries like Russia. When the president signs this bill into law, the United States will finally have a dedicated set of tools and resources to confront our adversaries’ widespread efforts to spread false narratives that undermine democratic institutions and compromise America’s foreign policy goals.
So how does CFDPA (hardly the easiest acronym to recall) set about combating the scourge of ‘fake news’? Here is a little more information drawn from the same press release:
The bill would increase the authority, resources, and mandate of the Global Engagement Center to include state actors like Russia and China in addition to violent extremists. The Center will be led by the State Department, but with the active senior level participation of the Department of Defense, USAID, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the Intelligence Community, and other relevant agencies. The Center will develop, integrate, and synchronize whole-of-government initiatives to expose and counter foreign disinformation operations and proactively advance fact-based narratives that support U.S. allies and interests.
[T]he legislation seeks to leverage expertise from outside government to create more adaptive and responsive U.S. strategy options. The legislation establishes a fund to help train local journalists and provide grants and contracts to NGOs, civil society organizations, think tanks, private sector companies, media organizations, and other experts outside the U.S. government with experience in identifying and analyzing the latest trends in foreign government disinformation techniques. This fund will complement and support the Center’s role by integrating capabilities and expertise available outside the U.S. government into the strategy-making process. It will also empower a decentralized network of private sector experts and integrate their expertise into the strategy-making process. 25
Some are already describing this Global Engagement Center with its “decentralized network of private sector experts” as a Ministry of Truth:
[I]t seems reasonable to assume WikiLeaks-style journalism (like the email leaks during our “elections”) will now be considered “foreign propaganda and misinformation...”
If this isn’t a big enough red flag for you already, consider the fact that, not only does the new Ministry of Propaganda plan to “proactively advance fact-based narratives,” they plan on doing it with the help of both our schools & the private sector:
To establish cooperative or liaison relationships with foreign partners and allies… and other entities, such asacademia, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector — §1259C, a5
Or, in other words, they’ll be planting their people in academic situations & working with pretty much any industry they think will enhance their propaganda’s reach & effectiveness. The section even approves funding to spy on journalists, social media groups, political parties, & NGOs — all of this is to “proactively advance fact-based narratives,” of course. See for yourself — the NDAA lists one of the center’s functions as:
“Identifying current and emerging trends in… information obtained from print, broadcast, online and social media, support for third-party outlets such as think tanks, political parties, and nongovernmental organizations… and the use of covert or clandestine special operators and agents to influence targeted populations and governments…”
— §1259C, b4
So writes independent journalist and activist, John Laurits, quoting and interpreting what he describes as “the fantastically boring depths of the 1,576-page NDAA”, who concludes the breakdown:
Lastly, I’d like to show you the part of all of this that, as a journalist, I find most worrying:
AUTHORITY FOR GRANTS.—The Center is authorized to provide grants or contracts of financial support to civil society groups, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, federally-funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions for the following purposes:
[…]to counter efforts by foreign governments to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability of the United States
— §1259C, f(1) & §1259C, f(1)D
In plain English, this is saying that the US is going to start subsidizing journalists, researchers, and even schools who agree with the regime — which, incidentally, will punish and potentially threaten the viability of truly independent media altogether. 26
[allemphasis as in original]
Click hereto read the full article entitled “Counter-Propaganda Bill Quietly Creates US Propaganda Factory”.
the illusory truth effect
“You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.”
The extract above is drawn from an excellent and extremely prescient article written by Naomi Wolf and published by the Guardian in 2007. It is entitled “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.
In 2011, I produced an updated version by taking Wolf’s analytical breakdown of the Bush years, applying her identified sequence of steps to Obama’s term in office. Here is what I wrote under Step #8. Control the press:
Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.
But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat.
Following which I reminded readers of the Machiavellian role played by Cass Sunstein (married to warmongering former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers), who, in September 2009, had been appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. In 2008, Sunstein co-authored a paper with Adrian Vermeule, entitled “Conspiracy Theories,” in which they propose methods for dealing with the spread of faulty information saying “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”:
“Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”
The authors also advocate other methods for muddying the waters such as the recruitment of “independent experts”:
“government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes… too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”
Indeed, they provide no less than five alternative responses that the US government might take to hinder and restrain such unwanted freedom of speech:
We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. 28
As I wrote in September 2011:
So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?
Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.
Click here to read my full post entitled “12 steps to tyranny – the state of America under Obama”.
“If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer”
No lesser authority than Adolf Hitler famously said “Propaganda must confine itself to very few points, and repeat them endlessly”. 30 And this “fundamental principle” as he called it has become the unsurpassed precept that now informs all PR, all advertising and infests every corner of our world with the hi-tech conjuring of (post-)modern propaganda. The Nazis lost the war, but in this regard their methods more than survived. In fact, they have been honed ever since.
With Trump in power, allusions to Hitler and fascism are all the more vogue. Drawing comparisons to twentieth century fascism is indeed the currency of right-minded liberalism in the West, and most especially amongst many who held their tongues throughout the duration of Obama’s tenure: turning a blind eye to “Terror Tuesdays”, failing to speak up against the silent menace of his drones, and content that the battlefields across Africa and the Middle East of his continuing “war on terror” were faraway and probably for the betterment of humanity. Whereas Trump is a racist, they rightly inform us today, forming an impossible distinction between two phases of the West’s “war on terror” which has always been racist in its conception.
Today there is another trope. Just like Brexit, these same liberal commentators now inform us, Trump’s victory is ample proof that we are living in a “post-truth” era. Oddly, this opinion is something that Trump, in his characteristically twisted fashion, appears to share. So whether by accident or design, he has already stolen much of the thunder simply by flinging his own accusations of ‘fake news’ at all and sundry. Did the liberal proponents of the meme really not envisage propagandistic blowback of this kind?
In 2003, when we were told that half the world could be obliterated by Iraqi weapons within 45 minutes, were we still in pre-post-truth politics? At the start of this decade, when governments across Europe did everything to convince us that a global financial crisis had been caused by giving too much money to disabled people—was that also part of the lost golden age? When we entered the First World War to stop Belgian babies from being impaled on bayonets? When kings ruled by divine right?
writes Sam Kriss in an piece entitled “The Biggest Political Lie of 2016”, continuing:
We have always been in post-truth politics. The first written texts of political theory are a lament that questions of government are no longer ruled by transcendent, objective fact. So many subsequent interventions tend to carry the same theme. John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville warned darkly of the ignorant masses on the horizons, now terrifyingly sovereign. Kant saw humanity living deeply irrational lives in a state of self-imposed nonage, capable of being rescued only by an enlightened but autocratic ruler. Most revealingly, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke condemns radical and nonconformist preachers, who use their pulpits “not for the diffusion of truth, but for the spreading of contradiction.”
But then, as Kriss laments:
It’s not that facts aren’t good for anything, but a politics consisting of facts and nothing else isn’t politics, but management. This is what our politics are actually turning into: rule by experts and fatalism. […]
When truth is all that matters, there’s no room for any vision of a better life. All you end up with is a system in which the rulers are the ones with the most information, who know the ins and outs of the machine, and are sporadically capable of keeping it running. And if it’s a machine for grinding up human bodies into a profitable paste, then that’s just the reality of things. 31
“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States”
— CNN’s Fareed Zakaria responding to Trump’s airstrikes against Syria 32
In recent days, Trump’s foreign policy has swiveled 180 degrees. This apparent volte-face on Washington’s relations with Russia as well as Trump’s policy on Syria corresponds to a parallel shift in media coverage. From disputing his every tweet, overnight the chorus became ‘all hail the conquering hero!’
Of the top 100 US newspapers, 47 ran editorials on President Donald Trump’s Syria airstrikes last week: 39 in favor, seven ambiguous and only one opposed to the military attack.
In other words, 83 percent of editorials on the Syria attack supported Trump’s bombing, 15 percent took an ambivalent position and 2 percent said the attack shouldn’t have happened. Polls showed the US public being much more split: Gallup (4/7–8/17) and ABC/Washington Post (4/7–9/17) each had 51 percent supporting the airstrikes and 40 percent opposed, while CBS (4/7–9/17) found 57 percent in favor and 36 percent opposed.
From an article produced by US Media watchdog Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) published on Tuesday 11th.
The same piece concludes with comparisons of the media reaction immediately prior to the wars against Iraq and Libya:
The overwhelming [media] support for Trump’s Syria strikes—which open a whole new theater of potential war in the Middle East—is consistent with FAIR’s studies of media reaction to US military action. A 2003 FAIR survey (3/18/03) of television coverage in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, for example, found “just 6 percent of US sources were skeptics about the need for war. Just 3 of 393 sources were identified with anti-war activism.” As the US debated intervening in the civil war in Libya, pro-intervention op-eds outnumbered those opposed to or questioning intervention by 4-to-1 in the New York Times and Washington Post (Extra!, 5/11). 33
Click here to read the full article entitled “Out of 47 Major Editorials on Trump’s Syria Strikes, Only One Opposed”.
Propaganda is a vital weapon of modern warfare: insidious and strangely hard to detect, it is the dark agent that incites and cajoles a population to act against its own better judgement. For the greater part of a century we have all lived in the shadow of war: the Second World War bled out into the Cold War, the Cold War into this more perpetual blackness of the ‘War on Terror’. Tomorrow one can only dread to think. Throughout this same period we have been immersed in wartime propaganda. But like fish swimming in polluted water, we remain largely unaware of how it is suffocating us on a daily basis.
Yesterday’s villain was Stalin, then Brezhnev, Castro, Milošević, Saddam, Noriega, Ahmadinejad, and Gadaffi. Today it is Assad. Since hatred is better focused, we prefer to deal with our monsters one at a time.
In the meantime America and the West has courted friendly relations or even been close allies with Batista, Pinochet, Marcos, Suharto, Karimov, General Franco, the House of Saud and not forgetting our later villains Saddam, Noriega, Gadaffi, and Assad. Not that either list is exhaustive – for a more complete catalogue click here. The point is that there is no genuinely ethical component in the West’s choosing of sides. America, in particular, has a diabolical record of allying with despots to put down democratic forces.
What is truly alarming, however, is how easily amnesia sets in. That familiarity with what is an absolutely damning litany of recent lies and deceptions that propelled us into an expanding sequence of dirty wars beginning with Vietnam still fails as a safeguard against renewed propaganda offensives. Somehow in spite of the old lies, the new ones are able to sway and cajole enough of us by means of bogus pleas for justice and demands for ‘humanitarian intervention’.
The method is rather brilliantly encapsulated in a related article by Adam Johnson and also published by FAIR, again in response to the immediate tub-thumping in the aftermath of Trump’s airstrikes:
Dictator commits an alleged human rights violation, the media calls on those in power to “do something” and the ticking time bomb compels immediate action, lest we look “weak” on the “global stage.” Anything that deviates from this narrative is given token attention at best. 34
Lastly, it is instructive to draw attention to an earlier incident which the corporate media has determinedly kept the lid on – lies of omission have always been the greater part of all propaganda. As in Iraq and in Libya as well as in other warzones, America has been secretly and knowingly poisoning the people of Syria too. So here is the true measure of how little compassion the West really has for the lives of Syrians caught up in this terrible war:
The US has finally confirmed that it has fired DU ammunition Syria, after it had earlier stated that the weapons would not be used. US Central Command (CENTCOM) has acknowledged that DU was fired on two dates – the 18 and 23 November 2015. Between the strikes on the two dates, 5,100 rounds of 30mm DU ammunition were used by A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. This equates to 1,524kg of DU. CENTCOM said that the ammunition was selected because of the “nature of the targets”.
The news comes as governments are debating a UN General Assembly resolution on DU weapons in New York. And, although DU use has only been admitted on two dates, ICBUW and PAX are concerned that this disclosure could be the sign that DU has, or will, be used more widely in the conflict.35
Click here to read the full report entitled “United States confirms that it has fired depleted uranium in Syria” published by the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) on October 21, 2016.
5 From “Part One: Lost Letters”, The book of laughter and forgetting [orig: Kniha smíchu a zapomnění] by Milan Kundera, first published in France in 1979.
6“The head of the National Union of Mineworkers, Arthur Scargill, promptly dubbed him ‘the American butcher of British industry’.” Extract from BBC News obituary “Sir Ian: loved and hated” published Tuesday, April 14, 1998. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/78042.stm
9 Long-standing but frequently credited to Philip Graham on the basis of a speech he gave to the overseas correspondents of Newsweek in London:
“So let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand…”
10From Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell first published in 1938.
“So let me just give you two examples of just the corruption that’s at play here. So, when the Post unveiled their huge story about Russia fake news based on this McCarthyite list that has been proven to be a fraud, they had Marty Baron, the executive editor, the widely respected executive editor of the paper, go onto Twitter and announce this huge exposé. And predictably, it got tweeted and retweeted and shared thousands and thousands of times by all of the biggest journalists with the biggest social media followings. When the story collapsed over the next two weeks and they appended this huge editor’s note, The Washington Post did nothing to bring anyone’s attention to the fact that the key claims of the story have been gutted. Marty Baron refused to answer any questions over that two weeks about what the paper did, and he uttered not one syllable on Twitter or anywhere else to tell all the followers that he alerted to this story that the story had collapsed.
“With the story that I just talked about over the weekend of the—of how Putin had wanted to steal the heat from Vermonters to make them suffer in the winter, Brent Staples, who works for The New York Times editorial page, went on Twitter and said, “Our friend Putin has invaded the U.S. electric grid.” And when that story collapsed and The Washington Post retracted it, he did something even worse: He just went and quietly deleted his tweet a day later, as though it never happened, and also failed to tell his 30,000 followers that what he had just told them the day before, that caused them to run around and share with all their friends on Facebook and Twitter that this has happened, was in fact a complete fiction.
“And you see this over and over and over again. And remember, these are the people who keep saying that fake news is a huge problem, that Facebook has to suppress it. And yet it’s America’s leading journalistic outlets that are doing more to disseminate false and deceitful stories than Macedonian teenagers by a huge amount. And when they do it and it turns out that the stories are discredited, they take very little to no steps to alert the people that they’ve misled about the fact that the stories were false. And it’s incredibly reckless journalistically. And these are the same people pretending to be crusaders against fake news, who are themselves disseminating it more aggressively than anyone else.”
This author, as a program manager at the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), recently concluded what is probably the largest ever government sponsored research program in foundational social media technology, known as the Social Media in Strategic Communications (SMISC) program. SMISC researchers accomplished amazing things and significantly advanced the field resulting in over 200 publications in the open literature, as well as developing a number of groundbreaking technologies ready for application. At this point, the biggest fear is that, because of uninformed and antiquated policies and undue legal constraints, the principal beneficiaries of this work will end up being not the U.S. government but its adversaries.
To ensure this does not happen, the United States needs to create a new Center for Information Environment Security, the goal of which is to create and apply the tools needed to discover and maintain fundamental models of our ever-changing IE and to defend us in that environment, both collectively and as individuals. Such a Center would bring together experts in areas such as cognitive science, computer science, engineering, social science, security, marketing, political campaigning, public policy, and psychology, with the goal of developing a theoretical as well as an applied engineering methodology for managing the full spectrum of information environment security issues. The U.S. government has already laid the foundation for such a construct; now is the time to erect it.
27 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.
From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all
“The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed? If everybody always lies to you, the consequence is not that you believe the lies, but rather that nobody believes anything any longer. This is because lies, by their very nature, have to be changed, and a lying government has constantly to rewrite its own history. On the receiving end you get not only one lie—a lie which you could go on for the rest of your days—but you get a great number of lies, depending on how the political wind blows. And a people that no longer can believe anything cannot make up its mind. It is deprived not only of its capacity to act but also of its capacity to think and to judge. And with such a people you can then do what you please.”
“No amount of genius spent on the creation of propaganda will lead to success if a fundamental principle is not forever kept in mind. Propaganda must confine itself to very few points, and repeat them endlessly. Here, as with so many things in this world, persistence is the first and foremost condition of success.”
From Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (1925), as translated to English by James Murphy (February 1939).
“I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” last night, CNN host Fareed Zakaria said when asked about the significance of Trump’s airstrikes on Syria (New Day, 4/7/17). “I think this was actually a big moment.”
In March 2015, and following the deployment of A-10s to the conflict, the US had confirmed to journalists that the aircraft would not be armed with DU, stating: “U.S. and Coalition aircraft have not been and will not be using depleted uranium munitions in Iraq or Syria during Operation Inherent Resolve.” Justifying the decision, CENTCOM public affairs explained that: “The ammunition is developed to destroy tanks on a conventional battlefield; Daesh does not possess large numbers of tanks.”
IRIN news finally extracted the confirmation that DU had been used from CENTCOM on October 20, and after weeks of denials. The revelations first came to light after an aide to Congresswoman Martha McSally (Rep, AZ) – herself a former A-10 combat pilot – responded to a question from DU activist, and constituent, Jack Cohen-Joppa. However a number of CENTCOM sources initially denied that the information was accurate. Confirming that the data were indeed accurate, a spokesperson for CENTCOM said earlier denials were due to “an error in reporting down range.”
In 1791, the Father of Utilitarianism and ardent social reformer Jeremy Bentham published blueprints for a wholly new design of prisons. Called the Panopticon, from observe (-opticon) all (pan-), the design, which involved a circular annulus of cells surrounding a central lodge, allowed the guards to keep an eye on all of the inmates, and importantly, without them, in turn, being aware of when they were being watched.
Bentham had big plans for his design, suggesting that aspects of the concept might usefully be applied to the construction of hospitals, schools and workhouses.
One century ago:
H.G. Wells was the father of a good many utopias. He spent the greater part of his creative life planning the shape of future societies. One of his most complete visions is laid out in a novel entitled simply A Modern Utopia (and published 1905). The story goes that two travellers walking in the Swiss Alps suddenly discover themselves in a parallel world. A new world that is Earth (at least geographically and biologically speaking) but one where civilisation has been reconstructed on altogether more Wellsian principles.
The inhabitants of this world are guaranteed housing, food and basic essentials. Even the unemployed are provided with a minimum wage, this safety net granted as “workfare” rather than “welfare”, with its recipients being coerced into work for the greater good of the state. In this vision of Wellsian meritocracy, the total measure of individual status depends solely upon earned income: the citizens of the new society regarding being broke as “clear evidence of unworthiness”.
Meanwhile criminal types and drug-users are given very short shrift. Removed from the main body of society and placed on high security prison islands, they are also sexually segregated to ensure that such poor genetic stock can never again pollute the otherwise healthy gene-pool.
Central to this alternative civilisation, the two explorers learn, there is a world-government (Wells never can resist the idea) made possible by a monumental database, with information stored on a card-index system housed in Paris. And Wells says that “Such a record is inevitable if a Modern Utopia is to be achieved.” But of course, what Wells could not foretell was how quickly technology would render the card-index system obsolete and make the establishment of such a global database entirely achievable.
Half a century ago:
It was 1948 when George Orwell settled into seclusion on the Isle of Jura, and there began to work on his most lasting contribution to literature and language. A little over a year passed before his terrifying vision of a future dystopia would be published, entitled simply Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Nineteen Eighty-Four isn’t merely gloomy, it is hellish in altogether more Orwellian ways. A one-party state, in which every member of Ingsoc (the Party) lives under close and constant scrutiny, watched on two-way telescreens, which are highly sensitive devices that can never be turned off. Casual conversations are eavesdropped, by friends just as surely as by strangers, and children are actively encouraged to snoop on their parents; enrolling with the juvenile troops of Spies rather than Scouts (often to the delight and pride of their own brainwashed parents).
There is absolutely no place for privacy in Nineteen Eighty-Four, certainly not for anyone in the Party, with the telescreens monitoring indoors, whilst outside, and aside from the hidden microphones, it is safe to presume that everyone is probably an informant. The Party has, however, less concern for minor dissent that may flare up within the lower ranks of ‘the proles’; the masses that it regards as so ignorant and intent on self-preservation as to pose no serious counter-revolutionary threat. Although even amongst the proles there stalks the ever-present menace of the Thought Police.
Orwell’s new world of dread was forged from the same ideological foundations as the just defeated axis of Fascism. It was a world divided by class, hatred and perpetual war. A world riven and driven by Power. And undoubtedly Orwell was in part presenting his critique of the post-war Soviet Union reconstructed under that other great dictator, Joseph Stalin, with his all-new formula for Communism. Indeed, on the basis of Orwell’s images of Big Brother, it’s fair to judge that this all-powerful leader of Ingsoc (the single party governing the new alliance of Oceania1) was a caricature of Stalin.
Aldous Huxley was Orwell’s old teacher, and in his own futurist satire Brave New World (published in 1932), had envisaged a world of shopping and leisure, founded upon gentle Pavlovian conditioning of eugenically perfected infants, made ready for the soft bed of a world constructed in accordance with Freud’s pleasure principle. In Brave New World, everyone is Dolly the Sheep, and so more forcible means of coercion have become a thing of the forgotten past. George Orwell wrote of his old teacher Huxley’s prophesy as follows:
“Mr Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was a good caricature of the hedonistic Utopia, the kind of thing that seemed possible and even imminent before Hitler appeared, but it had no relation to the actual future. What we are moving towards at this moment is something more like the Spanish Inquisition, and probably far worse, thanks to the radio and the secret police. There is very little chance of escaping it unless we can reinstate the belief in human brotherhood without the need for a ‘next world’ to give it meaning.”2
Of course, it has turned out to be more complicated than that. Stalin died, and the Eastern Bloc with its many citizen spies and Stasi Thought Police was eventually overthrown by resistance within as much as without. Aldous Huxley always maintained that all forms of brutal totalitarian oppression must eventually succumb to such internal pressures, being forced to give way to a different and softer kind of centralised control, and for a short time it seemed that he was correct. But then came September 11th and how quickly in its shadows, the jackboots came back on the ground. Stomping down on the face of humanity all across the world.
Since about a decade:
In January 2002, within the months following the September 11th attacks, the US Defense Department, under the umbrella of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), began to develop a vast surveillance project, requiring a database even beyond H.G. Wells’ imagining. Set up under the direction of Admiral John Poindexter – formerly Ronald Reagan’s National Security Advisor3 – the Information Awareness Office (IAO) was intended to serve the interests of “National Security”. Its aim was to establish methods of collecting and collating information of all kinds. Records of what an individual purchased, where they travelled, what they watched, and so on, whilst also incorporating information from public records on education and health. More covert snooping was also proposed as a necessary means of analysing internet use, emails, and faxs.
Other plans included the development of “human identification at distance systems” based on biometrics, which would obviate the current reliance on human operators to keep their eyes peeled. Combined with the ever extending network of CCTV, such a system could conceivably keep track of movements of the entire population. In a world soon to be filled with automated face-recognition systems or more probably – given recent technological developments – whole body scanners, it will be unnecessary for government authorities to force the people to carry forms of identity (or under more extreme tyranny, to wear badges), because it will become impossible to hide.
By February 2003, the IAO had begun funding what they called the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Program, although by May 2003 the program had already been renamed the Terrorism Information Awareness Program in an attempt to allay growing public anxiety of its Orwellian spectre. Then in August 2003, Poindexter was forced to resign as TIA chief with concerns that his central role in the Iran-Contra affair had made him unfit to run a sensitive intelligence program. Soon after this the IAO closed and officially the TIA program was terminated with all funding removed, yet it is widely acknowledged that the core of the project remains and that funding was merely switched to other government agencies.4
Finally, perhaps some indication of the true intent of these surveillance projects may be gleaned from the original IAO logo. Featuring a planetary-sized pyramid capped by an all-seeing eye that is scanning the entire Earth, the message is surely loud enough, especially when captioned with the motto “scientia est potentia” (knowledge is power). For what is this pyramid and the all-seeing eye meant to represent? That Big Brother is watching you? That you are already inside the Panopticon? Here was the official explanation of its meaning:
“For the record, the IAO logo was designed to convey the mission of that office; i.e., to imagine, develop, apply, integrate, demonstrate, and transition information technologies, components, and prototype, closed-loop information systems that will counter asymmetric threats by achieving total information awareness useful for preemption, national security warning, and national security decision making. On an elemental level, the logo is the representation of the office acronym (IAO) the eye above the pyramid represents “I” the pyramid represents “A,” and the globe represents “O.” In the detail, the eye scans the globe for evidence of terrorist planning and is focused on the part of the world that was the source of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”5
Meanwhile, British governments have also brought in rafts of new legislation to extend police powers and limit personal freedom. Indeed, the first major new Terrorism Act, which was introduced in 2000 (and thus prior to the September 11th attacks), actually redefined the meaning of terrorism in order to increase the scope for police intervention. Whilst the disconcertingly titled RIP Act, which quickly followed, further extended the rights for government to intercept communications and to patrol the internet. Then, during David Blunkett’s tenure as Home Secretary, the RIP Act (or RIPA) was broadened again, becoming so extensive that almost 800 separate organisations, including more than 450 councils, have the right to invoke it. People might now be snooped on right across the country for offences no more serious than littering and under-age smoking.6
In the aftermath of the London bombings of July 7th 2005, the New Labour governments under both Blair and Brown also pressed hard for an extension of police rights to detain terrorist suspects. What had begun with seven days, quickly progressed to three weeks, and then, at least in the government’s opinion, required not less than 90 days. The justification given for these extraordinary new measures – the worst of which were thankfully rejected by Parliament – being that plots of the most diabolical kind were suddenly so widespread and complex that the ordinary course of justice had to be by-passed in order to ensure public safety. Around the same time, the introduction of national ID cards was also thwarted, in part thanks to a massive public outcry. Nevertheless, the threat of terrorism (the real risk of which is far lower than during the days of IRA attacks) is the overriding justification for ever more surveillance of our public spaces and our personal lives.7
Throughout the last decade we have all been asked to give up our privacy and other civil liberties on the grounds of enhanced security: sacrificing freedom today for the sake of freedom tomorrow, which may well be, of course, a bargain with the devil. By the end of 2006, the United Kingdom was being described by some experts as ‘the most surveilled country’ among all industrialized Western nations.8
I heard someone speaking on Radio 4 a few years ago. Wrongly convicted for a crime he was later cleared of, he had as a direct consequence spent more than ten years of his life in prison. The interviewer asked him what his first thoughts were after being released as a free man. “Well, I was horrified,” he replied, “horrified that there were just as many cameras on the outside as inside. It was like I’d never left prison.”9
Now and the foreseeable future:
Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy10.
From an article entitled “The NSA is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)” written by James Bamford, the author of The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Published in Wired magazine on March 15th, Bamford continues:
For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail. William Binney was a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. […]
He explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US. […]
The eavesdropping on Americans doesn’t stop at the telecom switches. To capture satellite communications in and out of the US, the agency also monitors AT&T’s powerful earth stations, satellite receivers in locations that include Roaring Creek and Salt Creek. […]
Binney left the NSA in late 2001, shortly after the agency launched its warrantless-wiretapping program. “They violated the Constitution setting it up,” he says bluntly. “But they didn’t care. They were going to do it anyway, and they were going to crucify anyone who stood in the way. When they started violating the Constitution, I couldn’t stay.” Binney says Stellar Wind was far larger than has been publicly disclosed and included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts. The haul only grew from there. According to Binney—who has maintained close contact with agency employees until a few years ago—the taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct “deep packet inspection,” examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light. […]
After he left the NSA, Binney suggested a system for monitoring people’s communications according to how closely they are connected to an initial target. The further away from the target—say you’re just an acquaintance of a friend of the target—the less the surveillance. But the agency rejected the idea, and, given the massive new storage facility in Utah, Binney suspects that it now simply collects everything. “The whole idea was, how do you manage 20 terabytes of intercept a minute?” he says. “The way we proposed was to distinguish between things you want and things you don’t want.” Instead, he adds, “they’re storing everything they gather.” And the agency is gathering as much as it can.
Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. “You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining,” Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, “financial transactions or travel or anything,” he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone’s life.
Click here to read more of James Bamford’s eye-opening article, and then, hereto read a still more extraordinary article published by Wired magazine on the very same day:
More and more personal and household devices are connecting to the internet, from your television to your car navigation systems to your light switches. CIA Director David Petraeus cannot wait to spy on you through them.
Earlier this month, Petraeus mused about the emergence of an “Internet of Things” — that is, wired devices — at a summit for In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s venture capital firm. “‘Transformational’ is an overused word, but I do believe it properly applies to these technologies,” Petraeus enthused, “particularly to their effect on clandestine tradecraft.”
All those new online devices are a treasure trove of data if you’re a “person of interest” to the spy community. Once upon a time, spies had to place a bug in your chandelier to hear your conversation. With the rise of the “smart home,” you’d be sending tagged, geolocated data that a spy agency can intercept in real time when you use the lighting app on your phone to adjust your living room’s ambiance.
“Items of interest will be located, identified, monitored, and remotely controlled through technologies such as radio-frequency identification, sensor networks, tiny embedded servers, and energy harvesters — all connected to the next-generation internet using abundant, low-cost, and high-power computing,”11
Orwell, for all of his profound insight and prescience, could never have imagined the sort of universal networks of surveillance being so rapidly put in place today. He didn’t see, for instance, as Huxley might have done, how people would one day almost willingly give up their privacy, and not only as the price for security, but purely for convenience and pleasure. That personal tracking devices would one day become such highly desirable commodities, in the form of mobile phones and ‘sat nav’s, that it would actually be strange not to carry one. That social networking sites would be temptation enough for many millions to divulge huge volumes of personal information, private opinions, dreams and fantasies. That others would broadcast their thoughts via emails, tweets, blogs, and all could be swept up in a worldwide web. The worldwide wiretap, as Julian Assange referred to it.
This post is another part of the immense traffic of data presumably being collected and analysed by those at the NSA (and in all probability also filtered using servers at our own GCHQ). That you are reading this is most probably being recorded too. So feel free to add a comment, although you should be cautioned that whatever you do say may later be used as evidence against you. The Panopticon is watching all of us.
Click here to read a wikipedia overview of the types of mass surveillance now used in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
Here is a Russia Today report broadcast a few days later on Friday 30th March entitled: “Minority report: Era of total surveillance zooms-in on US?”
Click here to find the same report at Russia Today website.
As for Britain, and whatever the situation right now, the government is just about to announce new measures that will open the way for GCHQ to have “access to communications on demand, in real time” with the justification being, as always, “to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public”:
A new law – which may be announced in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech in May – would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.
But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.
Click here to read the full BBC news report from April 1st.
1 The setting is roughly as follows. Some time after the World War, the world divided up into three warring superpowers: Oceania (previously America, Australia and Airstrip One); Eurasia (Russia and the rest of Europe); and Eastasia (China and India). These states have since then been engaged in an endless three-sided conflict, fighting to gain control of the resources in a disputed zone which includes North Africa and the Middle East. Progress in this conflict is reported to the citizens of Oceania via a government controlled media, relaying information manufactured by the Ministry of Truth.
2 Taken from “Notes on the way” by George Orwell, first published in Time and Tide. London, 1940.
3 Poindexter had been previously been convicted of lying to Congress and altering and destroying documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra Affair.
4 These include Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), a part of the Disruptive Technology Office (run by to the Director of National Intelligence); and SAIC, run by former Defense and military officials and which had originally been awarded US$19 million IAO contract to build the prototype system in late 2002.
5 Statement of the Information Awareness Office regarding the meaning and use of the IAO logo. Source: Question 15 in the IAO Frequently Asked Questions – document dated February, 2003 which can be accessed at http://www.darpa.mil/iao/TIA_FAQs.pdf
6 The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIP or RIPA) regulates the powers of public bodies to carry out surveillance and investigation, especially with regard to the interception of communication. It can be invoked by government officials specified in the Act on the grounds of national security, and for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety, protecting public health, or in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom.
“Councils have used laws designed to combat terrorism to access more than 900 people’s private phone and email records in the latest example of Britain’s growing surveillance state. Town hall spies found out who residents were phoning and emailing as they investigated such misdemeanours as dog quarantine breaches and unlicensed storage of petrol. The news prompted fresh calls from civil rights groups for a reform of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which was originally brought in to combat terrorism and serious crime but is increasingly being used by councils to snoop on members of the public. In April a council in Dorset used Ripa powers to spy for weeks on a family it wrongly suspected of breaking rules on school catchment areas. Other local authorities have used covert surveillance to investigate such petty offences as dog fouling and under-age smoking.” extract from “Council snoopers access 900 phone bills” by Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter, Daily Telegraph, 5th June 2008. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2075026/Council-snoopers-access-900-phone-bills.html
7 “Deputy chief constable of Hampshire Ian Readhead said Britain could become a surveillance society with cameras on every street corner. He told the BBC‘s Politics Show that CCTV was being used in small towns and villages where crime rates were low… ‘If it’s in our villages, are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation where cameras are at every street corner?’
‘And I really don’t think that’s the kind of country that I want to live in.’ There are up to 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain – about one for every 14 people.” from BBC News, Sunday, 20th May 2007. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6673579.stm
8“Produced by a group of academics called the Surveillance Studies Network, the [Surveillance Society] report was presented to the 28th International Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners’ Conference in London, hosted by the Information Commissioner’s Office. […]
The report’s co-writer Dr David Murakami-Wood told BBC News that, compared to other industrialised Western states, the UK was “the most surveilled country”.
“We have more CCTV cameras and we have looser laws on privacy and data protection,” he said.
“We really do have a society which is premised both on state secrecy and the state not giving up its supposed right to keep information under control while, at the same time, wanting to know as much as it can about us.”
The report coincides with the publication by the human rights group Privacy International of figures that suggest Britain is the worst Western democracy at protecting individual privacy.
The two worst countries in the 36-nation survey are Malaysia and China, and Britain is one of the bottom five with ‘endemic surveillance’.”
9Unfortunately, since I did not have pen at hand – I was driving at the time! – I can no longer recall his precise words and so I have been compelled to paraphrase what he said. I have tried to be accurate so far as memory serves me.