Tag Archives: John Kiriakou

when is a whistleblower not a whistleblower? Facebook, Frances Haugen, Avaaz (again) and the billion dollar question

Facebook is not averse to censorship. Indeed, it has already been in the business of censoring political content for many years. Here is journalist Chris Hedges speaking out against its social media censorship twelve months ago:

Twitter and Facebook blocked access to a New York Post story about a cache of emails reportedly belonging to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter, with Twitter locking the New York Post out of its own account for over a week. This overt censorship is emblematic of the widening and dangerous partisan divide within the US media. News and facts are no longer true or false; they are divided into information that either hurts or promotes one political faction over another.

While outlets such as Fox News have always existed as an arm of the Republican Party, this partisanship has now infected nearly all news organisations, including publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post along with the major tech platforms that disseminate news. The division of the press into warring factions shreds journalistic credibility, creating a world where facts do not matter, and where a public is encouraged to believe whatever it wants to believe.

The statement above provided the introduction to Chris Hedge’s interview with fellow journalist Matt Taibbi on his RT show On Contact broadcast on the eve of the US Presidential election [Oct 31st, 2020]. The show is also embedded above and you can click here to read an annotated transcript I posted a few days later under the title “Chris Hedges and Matt Taibbi on true ‘fake news’ and the monopolised censorship of the tech giants”.

However, Facebook’s censorship of political content enjoys a far longer history, as I already highlighted in an extended article published in March 2019 under the title “Gilet Jaunes, Avaaz, Macron & Facebook (or when grassroots ‘populism’ meets controlled opposition)”. In that piece I drew on revelations make public by Forbes magazine in April 2018 of secret rules for censoring posts:

The company has come in for a fair amount of criticism over the years for taking down perfectly innocuous content – everything from photos of classical statues to the famous picture of a napalmed child in Vietnam.

Now, users whose content has been taken down will be notified and given the chance to ask for a review; reviews will normally be carried out within 24 hours.

The policy will initially apply only to nudity or sexual activity, hate speech and graphic violence, says [VP of global product management Monika] Bickert.

But, she adds, “We are working to extend this process further, by supporting more violation types, giving people the opportunity to provide more context that could help us make the right decision, and making appeals available not just for content that was taken down, but also for content that was reported and left up.” 1

At that time and in response to Facebook’s announcement of its policy, the ACLU cautioned against this corporate censorship drive and clampdown on free speech:

If Facebook gives itself broader censorship powers, it will inevitably take down important speech and silence already marginalized voices. We’ve seen this before. Last year, when activists of color and white people posted the exact same content, Facebook moderators censored only the activists of color. When Black women posted screenshots and descriptions of racist abuse, Facebook moderators suspended their accounts or deleted their posts. And when people used Facebook as a tool to document their experiences of police violence, Facebook chose to shut down their livestreams. The ACLU’s own Facebook post about censorship of a public statue was also inappropriately censored by Facebook.

Facebook has shown us that it does a bad job of moderating “hateful” or “offensive” posts, even when its intentions are good. Facebook will do no better at serving as the arbiter of truth versus misinformation, and we should remain wary of its power to deprioritize certain posts or to moderate content in other ways that fall short of censorship. 2

Click here to read the ACLU statement in full.

In the same article, I also highlighted a fresh censorship drive that had been launched by Facebook back in October 2018:

People need to be able to trust the connections they make on Facebook. It’s why we have a policy banning coordinated inauthentic behavior — networks of accounts or Pages working to mislead others about who they are, and what they are doing. This year, we’ve enforced this policy against many Pages, Groups and accounts created to stir up political debate, including in the US, the Middle East, Russia and the UK. But the bulk of the inauthentic activity we see on Facebook is spam that’s typically motivated by money, not politics. And the people behind it are adapting their behavior as our enforcement improves.

The statement continues:

Topics like natural disasters or celebrity gossip have been popular ways to generate clickbait. But today, these networks increasingly use sensational political content – regardless of its political slant – to build an audience and drive traffic to their websites, earning money for every visitor to the site. And like the politically motivated activity we’ve seen, the “news” stories or opinions these accounts and Pages share are often indistinguishable from legitimate political debate. This is why it’s so important we look at these actors’ behavior – such as whether they’re using fake accounts or repeatedly posting spam – rather than their content when deciding which of these accounts, Pages or Groups to remove.

Today, we’re removing 559 Pages and 251 accounts that have consistently broken our rules against spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Given the activity we’ve seen — and its timing ahead of the US midterm elections — we wanted to give some details about the types of behavior that led to this action. 3

Click here to read the Facebook statement in full.

This clampdown was reported on by the Guardian in an article entitled “Facebook accused of censorship after hundreds of US political pages purged”, which included an interview with two disabled veterans, one of whom stated that:

“I don’t think Facebook wants to fix this… I think they just want politics out, unless it’s coming from the mainstream media.”

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Avaaz campaign Facebook knew

It is noteworthy, I think, that yesterday [Oct 27th] – a day that happens to coincide with the reopening of Julian Assange’s extradition trial – I received a new message from pressure group Avaaz. It reads [with all highlights retained from original]:

A brave whistleblower just leaked secret Facebook documents… and they’re shocking!

They show that Facebook knew. It knew that human traffickers used their platform to lure women into sexual slavery. It knew that it was being used to incite violence against minorities, which had already fueled death and displacement in the past. It knew that divisive lies and extremism were being promoted to millions all over the world. And it knew its systems were removing less than 1% of violent content.

Facebook knew all this. And yet, the whistleblower said, it has put “profits before people”.

As I say, it is interesting how the timing of this latest Avaaz campaign on the back of “whistleblower” Frances Haugen has coincided with the trial of the single most prominent whistleblower in the world today, Julian Assange.

I contend, however, for a variety of reasons I shall come to, that Frances Haugen is not a real whistleblower at all. After all, genuine whisteblowers lose their jobs, or still worse, they finish up in prison. And they always, more or less by definition, have something new to disclose.

Chelsea Manning is a real whistleblower. Likewise John Kiriakou, who exposed the use of waterboarding and served time in jail, and former UK ambassador Craig Murray, who testified to the UK’s complicity in the horrific torture of Uzbek dissidents (presenting evidence of victims boiled alive) and consequently lost his job and his health (today he languishes in prison after falling foul of unrelated charges).

There are countless examples of real whistleblowers, and arguably the most exceptional is Julian Assange himself, held in conditions described by the UN as “torture” inside max security HMP Belmarsh and facing extradition to the US for espionage.

As Jonathan Cook wrote in an article entitled straightforwardly “Haugen Isn’t Really a ‘Facebook Whistleblower’” at the beginning of this latest saga:

There are clues that Haugen’s “whistleblowing” may not be quite what we assume it is, and that two different kinds of activities are being confused because we use the same word for both.

That might not matter, except that using the term in this all-encompassing manner degrades the status and meaning of whistleblowing in ways that are likely to be harmful both to those doing real whistleblowing and to us, the potential recipients of the secrets they wish to expose.

The first clue is that there seems to be little Haugen is telling us that we do not already know – either based on our own personal experiences of using social media (does anyone really not understand yet that Facebook manipulates our feeds through algorithms?) or from documentaries like The Social Dilemma, where various refugees from Silicon Valley offer dire warnings of where social media is leading society.

We did not call that movie’s many talking heads “whistleblowers”, so why has Haugen suddenly earnt a status none of them deserved? (You can read my critique of The Social Dilemma here.)

Cook then correctly acknowledges that the immediate and prominent attention Haugen has received from both liberal media outlets and within political circles (especially on “the left” – i.e., Democrat rather than Republican) “does not mean that she is not drawing attention to important matters” (emphasis is mine), before adding:

But it does mean that it is doubtful that “whistleblowing” is a helpful term to describe what she is doing.

This is not just a semantic issue. A lot hangs on how we use the term.

A proper whistleblower is trying to reveal the hidden secrets of the most powerful to bring about accountability and make our societies more transparent, safer, fairer places. Whistleblowing seeks to level the playing field between those who rule and those who are ruled.

At the national and international level, whistleblowers expose crimes and misdemeanours by the state, by corporations and by major organisations so that we can hold them to account, so that we, the people, can be empowered, and so that our increasingly hollow democracies gain a little more democratic substance.

But Haugen has done something different. Or at least she has been coopted, willingly or not, by those same establishment elements that are averse to accountability, opposed to the empowerment of ordinary people, and stand in the way of shoring up of democratic institutions.

Jonathan Cook continues:

Our “Facebook whistleblower” is not helping to blow the whistle on the character of the power structure itself, or its concealed crimes, or its democratic deficit, as Manning and Snowden did.

She has not turned her back on the establishment and revealed its darkest secrets. She has simply shifted allegiances within the establishment, making new alliances in the constantly shifting battles between elites for dominance.

Which is precisely why she has been treated with such reverence by the 60 Minutes programme and other “liberal” corporate media and feted by Democratic party politicians. She has aided their elite faction over a rival elite faction.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s article published by Counterpunch on October 12th in full.

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Digging a little deeper, journalist Alexander Rubinstein reveals more about Haugen’s sudden emergence as the purported source of the leak quickly christened “The Facebook Files”. He writes:

Haugen first appeared in September 2021 as the supposed source of a leak called “The Facebook Files.” She was immediately hailed as a “modern US hero” in the media for secretly copying tens of thousands of internal Facebook documents and releasing them to the Wall Street Journal, which published a series of nine articles based on the documents.

The WSJ initially kept its source anonymous, rolling out the series two weeks before Haugen came forward in an October 3 interview with 60 Minutes. On camera, she complained that Facebook was “tearing our societies apart and causing ethnic violence around the world.”

“Ethnic violence including Myanmar in 2018 when the military used Facebook,” narrated 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley, to “launch a genocide.”

When pressed by 60 Minutes about what motivated her to leak the documents, Haugen answered vaguely: “at some point in 2021, I realized I’m going to have to do this in a systematic way and I have to get enough [so] that no one can question that this is real.”

Yet Haugen first divulged company information before 2021. In the final installment of the Journal’s series, the outlet revealed that Haugen first sent an encrypted text to one of their reporters on December 3, 2020.

That same article, published the day the 60 Minutes interview aired, reported that Haugen “continued gathering material from inside Facebook through her last hour with access to the system. She reached out to lawyers at Whistleblower Aid [more on this organisation below], a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that represents people reporting corporate and government misbehavior.”

Doors have been promptly flung open on both sides of the Atlantic, with Frances Haugen ushered to give testimony before lawmakers across Europe and in America. Having spoken with MPs in France and Britain as well as two members of the European Parliament on October 3rd, Haugen was also called on October 5th to testify before a Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.

But who is Frances Haugen anyway? Well, this is you will learn from her current Wikipedia entry (all links retained):

After graduating from college, Haugen was hired by Google, and worked on Google Ads, Google Book Search, a class action litigation settlement related to Google publishing book content, as well as Google+.[7] At Google, Haugen co-authored a patent for a method of adjusting the ranking of search results.[11] During her career at Google, she completed her MBA, which was paid for by Google.[7] While at Google, she was a technical co-founder of the desktop dating app Secret Agent Cupid, precursor to the mobile app Hinge.[12][10][13]

She then moved to Google’s tech rival Facebook and became product manager on the newly-formed “threat intelligence unit” which comprised some 200 fellow employees. Rubinstein picks up the story again:

At Facebook, Haugen claimed she worked as product manager on a “threat intelligence unit” at the company. “So I was a product manager supporting the counter-espionage team,” she claimed to Sen. Sullivan. Part of her job included “directly work[ing] on tracking Chinese participation on the platform,” she claimed. Further, she alleged that Iran used the platform to conduct “espionage” on the platform.

“I’m speaking to other members of Congress about that,” Haugen acknowledged. “I have strong national security concerns about how Facebook operates today.”

As journalist Kit Klarenberg reported, the little-known Facebook “threat intelligence unit” where Haugen claimed to have worked is staffed by former CIA, NSA, and Pentagon operatives. Those who work at the unit must have “5+ years of experience working in intelligence (either government or private sector), international geopolitical, cybersecurity, or human rights functions,” according to a job posting.

Yet Haugen’s now-deleted blog and Twitter account feature no political content, nor does her resume.

In short, Frances Haugen’s profile has the telltale signs of an intelligence operative, while this latest tranche of document leaks has all the hallmarks of a limited hangout. Equally, and set alongside Haugen’s somewhat exceptional employment history, there are related questions that arise once we delve into the legal body that represents her, an organisation called Whistleblower Aid:

[T]he outfit was founded by a national security lawyer, Mark Zaid, who has been accused of ratting out his client, CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling, to his employers in Langley. Zaid is joined by a former State Department official and government-approved whistleblower, John Tye [more below], ex-CIA and Pentagon official Andrew Bakaj, and veteran US government information warrior, Libby Liu, who has specialized in supporting color revolution-style operations against China.

John Kiriakou, the CIA whistleblower jailed for exposing the agency’s role in the serial torture of terror suspects, commented to The Grayzone, “Mark Zaid presents himself to the public as a whistleblower attorney, however, he is anything but. Instead, he has betrayed his clients and come down on the side of prosecutors in the intelligence community. He is not to be trusted.”

Kiriakou continued, “My own personal belief is that he is the intelligence community’s preferred ‘whistleblower’ attorney because he’s willing to place their interests over his clients.”

Alexander Rubinstein continues:

Tech billionaire and media mogul Pierre Omidyar has provided funding to Whistleblower Aid, as well as to a public relations firm assisting Haugen. Omidyar has played his own role in US foreign interventionism, sponsoring anti-government media outlets and activists alongside US government agencies in states where Washington seeks regime change. […]

Whistleblower Aid bills itself as “a pioneering, non-profit legal organization that helps patriotic government employees and brave, private-sector workers report and publicize their concerns — safely, lawfully, and responsibly.”

But is this group truly the whistleblower protection outfit it claims to be?

In fact, Whistleblower Aid appears to have been modeled as a sort of anti-Wikileaks organization.  “Whistleblower Aid is not Wikileaks,” the “vision” page of the former organization insists. On another section of its website, it states, “No one should ever send classified information to Whistleblower Aid. Whistleblower Aid will never assist clients or prospective clients with leaking classified information.”

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Avaaz campaign Facebook knew - continued

Coming back to Avaaz’s email (see extract above): after vaingloriously promoting itself with claims such as “Avaaz has helped force Facebook’s shame onto the agenda of legislators across the world”, their latest message goes on remind us of the other threats we may face by not censoring online content:

We’ve seen, time and again, what devastating real-world consequences social media can have. In Myanmar, the military turned Facebook into a tool for ethnic cleansing, spreading hatred that fueled a bloodbath. In Palestine and Israel, viral lies are further inflaming the conflict. And all over the world, it’s become a Covid-conspiracy hotbed, with doctors warning against an ‘infodemic’ of fake news.

Nobody does overwrought rhetoric quite like Avaaz! (emphasis in keeping)

But seriously, does anyone actually believe social media is to blame in any way whatsoever for inflamed tensions between Palestine and Israel? If so, how? Surely it has a great deal more to do with the illegal occupation, the bombing of Gaza, the indiscriminate shooting of peaceful protesters and the daily oppression of Israel’s apartheid regime; none of which, judging by the campaigns it most actively promotes, Avaaz has any serious concern about.

And precisely what constitutes “a Covid-conspiracy hotbed”? Or put differently, how can social media firms be regulated to police every question relating to the risks, treatments (including vaccines), and importantly, the unknown origins of the pandemic? For that matter, and besides Avaaz and some in the media, who is issuing such dire warnings about a supposed ‘infodemic’ – doctors, which doctors? The fact is that a great many doctors and other medical experts are actively engaged in this vitally important debate and are very thankful to have access to public platforms across the internet.

Here is comedian and political commentator Jimmy Dore pointing out how Facebook’s so-called “independent fact checkers” – i.e., anonymous corporate gatekeepers – have just flagged up research in a published and peer-reviewed scientific study by Harvard scientists [warning: strong language]:

Intriguingly, Alexander Rubinstein’s own fact check into the background of ‘whistleblower’ Frances Haugen uncovers another link to Avaaz, since it transpires that “government-approved whistleblower”, John Tye – who, as mentioned above, was co-founder and chief disclosure officer of Whistleblower Aid, the legal nonprofit organisation assisting Haugen – had previously worked there too:

Shortly before leaving Avaaz, Tye responded to criticism of the billionaire-backed group’s advocacy for a [Syria] no-fly zone, writing “thousands and thousands of people will die, for years to come, if we turn away and wring our hands.”

As I explained at greater length in an extended article from March 2015, the term “no-fly zone” is both a misnomer and a euphemism. In fact it is a straightforward demand for sustained military intervention necessitating air strikes. By calling for “no-fly zones” Avaaz was deliberately helping to manufacture consent for US military intervention that sought regime change both in Libya and Syria.

But then, as Rubinstein points out, when it comes to these nonprofit wheels within wheels, they are all turning in much the same direction – ‘the nonprofit-industrial complex’:

Like his former client-turned-legal partner, Mark Zaid has clamored for ramped up US intervention in Syria, tweeting to then-President Trump “what are you going to do about Syria? It’s your problem now, We can’t stand by and let innocent people continue to be slaughtered.”

Click here to read Alexander Rubinstein’s full article entitled “Facebook ‘whistleblower’ Frances Haugen represented by US intelligence insiders” published by The Grayzone on October 21st.

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Which brings us to the billion dollar question: who really benefits from Haugen’s “disclosures”? Another independent journalist, Glenn Greenwald, sets out the case carefully in his own recent article published on Substack:

There is no doubt, at least to me, that Facebook and Google are both grave menaces. Through consolidation, mergers and purchases of any potential competitors, their power far exceeds what is compatible with a healthy democracy. A bipartisan consensus has emerged on the House Antitrust Committee that these two corporate giants — along with Amazon and Apple — are all classic monopolies in violation of long-standing but rarely enforced antitrust laws. […]

Facebook and Twitter both suppressed reporting on the authentic documents about Joe Biden’s business activities reported by The New York Post just weeks before the 2020 election. These social media giants also united to effectively remove the sitting elected President of the United States from the internet, prompting grave warnings from leaders across the democratic world about how anti-democratic their consolidated censorship power has become.

But none of the swooning over this new Facebook heroine nor any of the other media assaults on Facebook have anything remotely to do with a concern over those genuine dangers.

He continues:

Agitating for more online censorship has been a leading priority for the Democratic Party ever since they blamed social media platforms (along with WikiLeaks, Russia, Jill Stein, James Comey, The New York Times, and Bernie Bros) for the 2016 defeat of the rightful heir to the White House throne, Hillary Clinton. And this craving for censorship has been elevated into an even more urgent priority for their corporate media allies, due to the same belief that Facebook helped elect Trump but also because free speech on social media prevents them from maintaining a stranglehold on the flow of information by allowing ordinary, uncredentialed serfs to challenge, question and dispute their decrees or build a large audience that they cannot control. Destroying alternatives to their failing platforms is thus a means of self-preservation: realizing that they cannot convince audiences to trust their work or pay attention to it, they seek instead to create captive audiences by destroying or at least controlling any competitors to their pieties. […]

The canonized Facebook whistleblower and her journalist supporters are claiming that what Facebook fears most is repeal or reform of Section 230, the legislative provision that provides immunity to social media companies for defamatory or other harmful material published by their users. That section means that if a Facebook user or YouTube host publishes legally actionable content, the social media companies themselves cannot be held liable. There may be ways to reform Section 230 that can reduce the incentive to impose censorship, such as denying that valuable protection to any platform that censors, instead making it available only to those who truly allow an unmoderated platform to thrive. But such a proposal has little support in Washington. What is far more likely is that Section 230 will be “modified” to impose greater content moderation obligations on all social media companies.

Far from threatening Facebook and Google, such a legal change could be the greatest gift one can give them, which is why their executives are often seen calling on Congress to regulate the social media industry. Any legal scheme that requires every post and comment to be moderated would demand enormous resources — gigantic teams of paid experts and consultants to assess “misinformation” and “hate speech” and veritable armies of employees to carry out their decrees. Only the established giants such as Facebook and Google would be able to comply with such a regimen, while other competitors — including large but still-smaller ones such as Twitter — would drown in those requirements. And still-smaller challengers to the hegemony of Facebook and Google, such as Substack and Rumble, could never survive. In other words, any attempt by Congress to impose greater content moderation obligations — which is exactly what they are threatening — would destroy whatever possibility remains for competitors to arise and would, in particular, destroy any platforms seeking to protect free discourse. That would be the consequence by design, which is why one should be very wary of any attempt to pretend that Facebook and Google fear such legislative adjustments.

Taking the helicopter view, we might properly regard the tech giants and their billionaire owners as rivals only in the way the five mafia families of The Godfather are rivals. When they are not fighting turf wars, they are working hand in glove and functioning as vital components of the national security state which protects all of their interests as it maintains the status quo.

As Greenwald concludes:

There are real dangers posed by allowing companies such as Facebook and Google to amass the power they have now consolidated. But very little of the activism and anger from the media and Washington toward these companies is designed to fracture or limit that power. It is designed, instead, to transfer that power to other authorities who can then wield it for their own interests. The only thing more alarming than Facebook and Google controlling and policing our political discourse is allowing elites from one of the political parties in Washington and their corporate media outlets to assume the role of overseer, as they are absolutely committed to doing. Far from being some noble whistleblower, Frances Haugen is just their latest tool to exploit for their scheme to use the power of social media giants to control political discourse in accordance with their own views and interests.

Click here to read Glenn Greenwald’s full article entitled “Democrats and Media Do Not Want to Weaken Facebook, Just Commandeer its Power to Censor” published on October 5th.

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1 From an article entitled “Facebook Reveals Its Secret Rules For Censoring Posts” written by Emma Woollacott, published in Forbes magazine on April 24, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/emmawoollacott/2018/04/24/facebook-reveals-its-secret-rules-for-censoring-posts/#40a453b56da4

2 From an article entitled “Facebook Shouldn’t Censor Offensive Speech” written by Vera Eidelman, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, published by ACLU on July 20, 2018. https://www.aclu.org/blog/free-speech/internet-speech/facebook-shouldnt-censor-offensive-speech

3 From a Facebook announcement entitled “Removing Additional Inauthentic Activity from Facebook” written by Nathaniel Gleicher, Head of Cybersecurity Policy and Oscar Rodriguez, Product Manager, posted by Facebook on October 11, 2018. https://newsroom.fb.com/news/2018/10/removing-inauthentic-activity/

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VIPS challenge official narrative and call for restraint after latest chemical incident in Syria

All sections below are quoted from VIPS (unless highlighed in purple).

Background: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

A handful of CIA veterans established VIPS in January 2003 after concluding that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had ordered our former colleagues to manufacture intelligence to “justify” an unnecessary war with Iraq. At the time we chose to assume that President George W. Bush was not fully aware of this.

We issued our first Memorandum for the President on the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2003, after Colin Powell’s ill-begotten speech at the United Nations. Addressing President Bush, we closed with these words:

No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is “irrefutable” or “undeniable” [adjectives Powell applied to his charges against Saddam Hussein]. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.

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October 1st 2013

World attention has moved to the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, but the evidence on the Aug. 21 attack [at Ghouta] near Damascus remains hidden and in dispute, causing a group of former U.S. intelligence professionals to ask Moscow and Washington to present what they have.

Memorandum to: Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

We applaud your moves toward a peaceful resolution of the Syria crisis that will lead to the destruction of all chemical stockpiles possessed by the Syrian Government.

At the same time, we strongly believe the world has the right to know the truth about the chemical attack near Damascus. We note that both sides continue to claim possession of compelling evidence regarding the true perpetrators of this crime.

We therefore call upon Russia and the United States to release all the intelligence and corroborative information related to the 21 August chemical attack so that the international community can make a judgment regarding what is actually known and not known.

We the undersigned — former intelligence, military and federal law enforcement officers who have collectively dedicated, cumulatively, hundreds of years to making the American people more secure — hereby register our dismay at the continued withholding of this vital evidence.

The issue is one of great importance, as the United States has within recent memory gone to war based on allegations of a threat that proved to be groundless. The indictment of Syria on possibly unsubstantiated claims of war crimes could easily lead to another unnecessary armed conflict that would produce disastrous results for the entire region, and indeed the entire world.

Click here to read the statement in full in Consortium News.

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Renewed appeal 2013

In a Memorandum of Oct. 1, 2013, we asked each of you to make public the intelligence upon which you based your differing conclusions on who was responsible for the sarin chemical attack at Ghouta, outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. On Dec. 10, 2015, Eren Erdem, a member of parliament in Turkey, citing official documents, blamed Turkey for facilitating the delivery of sarin to rebels in Syria.

Mr. Kerry, you had blamed the Syrian government. Mr. Lavrov, you had described the sarin as “homemade” and suggested anti-government rebels were responsible. Each of you claimed to have persuasive evidence to support your conclusion.

Neither of you responded directly to our appeal to make such evidence available to the public, although, Mr. Lavrov, you came close to doing so. In a speech at the UN on Sept. 26, 2013, you made reference to the views we presented in our VIPS Memorandum, Is Syria a Trap?, sent to President Obama three weeks earlier.

Pointing to strong doubt among chemical weapons experts regarding the evidence adduced to blame the government of Syria for the sarin attack, you also referred to the “open letter sent to President Obama by former operatives of the CIA and the Pentagon,” in which we expressed similar doubt.

Mr. Kerry, on Aug. 30, 2013, you blamed the Syrian government, publicly and repeatedly, for the sarin attack. But you failed to produce the kind of “Intelligence Assessment” customarily used to back up such claims.

We believe that this odd lack of a formal “Intelligence Assessment” is explained by the fact that our former colleagues did not believe the evidence justified your charges and that, accordingly, they resisted pressure to “fix the intelligence around the policy,” as was done to “justify” the attack on Iraq.

Intelligence analysts were telling us privately (and we told the President in our Memorandum of Sept. 6, 2013) that, contrary to what you claimed, “the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was not responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21.” [bold highlight added]

The VIPS statement then discusses the document leak by Turkish MP, Eren Erdem uncovering a smuggling operation run with Turkish government complicity:

Addressing fellow members of parliament on Dec. 10, 2015, Turkish MP Eren Erdem from the Republican People’s Party (a reasonably responsible opposition group) confronted the Turkish government on this key issue. Waving a copy of “Criminal Case Number 2013/120,” Erdem referred to official reports and electronic evidence documenting a smuggling operation with Turkish government complicity.

In an interview with RT four days later, Erdem said Turkish authorities had acquired evidence of sarin gas shipments to anti-government rebels in Syria, and did nothing to stop them.

The General Prosecutor in the Turkish city of Adana opened a criminal case, and an indictment stated “chemical weapons components” from Europe “were to be seamlessly shipped via a designated route through Turkey to militant labs in Syria.” Erdem cited evidence implicating the Turkish Minister of Justice and the Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation in the smuggling of sarin.

The Operation

According to Erdem, the 13 suspects arrested in raids carried out against the plotters were released just a week after they were indicted, and the case was closed — shut down by higher authority. Erdem told RT that the sarin attack at Ghouta took place shortly after the criminal case was closed and that the attack probably was carried out by jihadists with sarin gas smuggled through Turkey.

Small wonder President Erdogan has accused Erdem of “treason.” It was not Erdem’s first “offense.” Earlier, he exposed corruption by Erdogan family members, for which a government newspaper branded him an “American puppet, Israeli agent, a supporter of the terrorist PKK and the instigator of a coup.”

Click here to read the statement in full as published in Huffington Post.

As an addendum below, I include a post about the leak of documents by Turkish MP, Eren Erdem, written in December 2015 but previously unpublished.

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Latest VIPS statement issued today

Trump Should Rethink Syria Escalation

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)*

SUBJECT: Syria: Was It Really “A Chemical Weapons Attack”?

1 – We write to give you an unambiguous warning of the threat of armed hostilities with Russia – with the risk of escalation to nuclear war. The threat has grown after the cruise missile attack on Syria in retaliation for what you claimed was a “chemical weapons attack” on April 4 on Syrian civilians in southern Idlib Province.

2 – Our U.S. Army contacts in the area have told us this is not what happened. There was no Syrian “chemical weapons attack.” Instead, a Syrian aircraft bombed an al-Qaeda-in-Syria ammunition depot that turned out to be full of noxious chemicals and a strong wind blew the chemical-laden cloud over a nearby village where many consequently died.

3 – This is what the Russians and Syrians have been saying and – more important – what they appear to believe happened.

4 – Do we conclude that the White House has been giving our generals dictation; that they are mouthing what they have been told to say?

5 – After Putin persuaded Assad in 2013 to give up his chemical weapons, the U.S. Army destroyed 600 metric tons of Syria’s CW stockpile in just six weeks. The mandate of the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW-UN) was to ensure that all were destroyed – like the mandate for the U.N. inspectors for Iraq regarding WMD. The U.N. inspectors’ findings on WMD were the truth. Rumsfeld and his generals lied and this seems to be happening again. The stakes are even higher now; the importance of a relationship of trust with Russia’s leaders cannot be overstated.

6 – In September 2013, after Putin persuaded Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons (giving Obama a way out of a tough dilemma), the Russian President wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he said: “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this.”

Click here to read the statement in full in Counterpunch.

*

Addendum: post from December 2015 on Eren Erdem’s document leak

Turkish MP Eren Erdem accuses his own country of assisting with sarin gas attacks on Syria

Turkish Republican People’s Party (CHP) opposition member Eren Erdem says he has seen hard evidence showing of how Turkish nationals have played a vital role in the smuggling ingredients to make sarin gas used by ISIS and other Islamist groups:

On December 10, Erdem addressed Turkish parliamentarians, discussing criminal case number 2013/120, opened by Ankara’s General Prosecutor’s Office in Adana.

Evidence shows various Turkish nationals were involved in direct dealings with ISIS and other terrorist groups, supplying them with sarin gas.

Erdem explained.

“Which trucks were going to be used, all dates etc. From A to Z, everything was discussed and recorded. Despite all of this evidence, the suspects were released,” the case closed, showing high-level coverup, perhaps ordered by Erdogan.

Materials to make sarin gas and perhaps other toxic chemicals moved freely cross-border from Turkey to Syria. Erden indicated a high-level regime coverup, evidence revealing Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag’s involvement.

Toxic chemicals were purchased from Europe,” he said. US-led Western countries “should question themselves about these relations. Western sources know very well who carried out the sarin gas attack in Syria.”

“They know these people. They know who (they) are working with. They know that these people are working for Al-Qaeda…Western (countries) are hypocrites about the situation.”

Click here to read more from Stephen Lendman’s report quoted above, which was published on Monday 14th by Global Research.

Russia Today, who broke the story, reported on Wednesday 16th that:

Ankara’s Chief Prosecutor’s Office opened the case against Istanbul MP Eren Erdem of Republican People’s Party (CHP) after his interview about sarin was aired on RT on Monday.  […]

As Turkish media reported Wednesday, the prosecutor’s office is planning to send a summary of proceedings to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday. Following that, the summary may be forwarded to the Turkish parliament, which could vote to strip Erdem of his parliamentary immunity.

Once Turkish mass-media reported the criminal investigation had been opened against Erdem, the hashtags #ErenErdemYalnızDeğildir – #ErenErdemYouAreNotAlone began to circulate in Turkish social networks.

On Tuesday, MP Erdem issued a written statement in his defense, saying he had become the target of a smear campaign because of his statements made in parliament. […]

As for his accusations about Turkish businessmen being involved in supplying Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) with the poisonous gas sarin and other reactants needed for chemical warfare, Erdem maintained this statement was made based on the results of a Turkish court investigation in 2013.

Erdem also claims that following his interview with RT he has received death threats on social media:

Eren Erdem said that the Turkish paramilitary organization Ottoman Hearths has published his home address on Twitter in an effort to enable at an attack on his house.

“I am being targeted with death threats because I am patriotically opposed to something that tramples on my country’s prestige,” MP Erdem said.

Click here to read more from the same RT report.

So far, in the Western media, only the Belfast Telegraph, Daily Mirror, and Daily Star have carried reports of Erdem’s allegations.

The Daily Star, which also published an article on Monday 14th, runs it under the headline “TOXIC TERROR” and manages to deflect attention away from the alleged role of Erdogen and the Turkish authorities in order to play up “…fears [that] the murderous regime [ISIS] is producing chemical weapons to use against the West.”

*

Additional: The Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

Eugene D. Betit, Intelligence Analyst, DIA, Soviet FAO, (US Army, ret.)

William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer and former Office Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, (ret.)

Thomas Drake, Senior Executive Service, NSA (former)

Robert Furukawa, Capt, CEC, USN-R, (ret.)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq and Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C. Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)

John Brady Kiesling, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)

John Kiriakou, former CIA analyst and counterterrorism officer, and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)

Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator, Department of the Army

Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (Ret.)

Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, and former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat

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John Kiriakou explains how CIA “eyewashing” means even its own employees can never know the truth

The [Redacted] Truth about the CIA:

America’s most notorious spy agency even deceives its own employees.

By John Kiriakou

It’s no secret that the CIA isn’t always up front with the public about its operations. You may even be kept in the dark if you’re an elected official. But did you know the agency even lies to its own employees?

That’s the subject of a recent Washington Post report on a heretofore unknown practice at the CIA called “eyewashing.”

Before moving to the substance of the article, however, I owe my readers an explanation: The Central Intelligence Agency must approve of everything I write about intelligence, the CIA, foreign policy, diplomacy, the military, and national security — for the rest of my life.

They didn’t like this column, even though the source material is freely available to anybody who reads the Post. The CIA consented to let me run it, but only if I redacted a few important sections.

I’ve decided to show you the CIA’s cuts, rather than engage in a protracted negotiation.

Now, back to eyewashing. Eyewashing, simply put, is a way that the CIA deceives its own employees.

According to the Post, CIA veterans described eyewashing as an “important security measure” and a “means of protecting vital secrets by inserting fake communications into routine cable traffic.” But these lies eventually are passed to Congress, too.

And when documents are finally declassified, the lies make their way to historians and to the American people. Here’s how eyewashing works.

Let’s say a CIA officer is working on a sensitive operation in the field. He’s reporting his progress to headquarters, and the operation becomes even more sensitive. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.

Investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee found at least two instances where the CIA turned over eyewashed cables for the committee’s report on torture. Both related to Abu Zubaydah, an alleged al-Qaeda operative the CIA believed — incorrectly — XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.

This practice is ripe for abuse.

What happens when an officer decides to issue a deceptive “eyewash” cable to his coworkers because the source — or the officer — is doing something illegal or unethical? With the eyewash cable in place, congressional oversight committees would have no idea.

Interestingly, the Post article said that most former senior CIA officers interviewed, including attorneys, had never heard of the practice.

That means it wasn’t passed through the chain of command. No legal opinions were issued. The inspector general didn’t know it was happening. While those who did know about the practice claimed it didn’t get out of hand, you’ll just have to take their word for it. Plainly, there’s no adult supervision in the CIA.

Imagine what can happen if we accept that our public servants can simply lie.

Why not eyewash a torture program? Why not eyewash a secret prison system? Where does it end?

And more importantly, how can it end at all if nobody except the perpetrators knows it’s happening in the first place?

The CIA may tell you that eyewash cables are important to protecting sources and operations. What I would tell you is that it’s forbidden by federal law.

Indeed, it’s a criminal offense to “conceal, cover up, falsify, or make a false entry“ into an official record. It’s called “making a false statement,” and it’s punishable by five years imprisonment. There’s no legal exemption for the CIA.

It’s in the CIA’s nature to lie, even to its congressional overseers. But that doesn’t mean the American people should stand for it.

*

OtherWords columnist John Kiriakou is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. A former CIA counterterrorism officer, he led the operation to capture Abu Zubaydah. OtherWords.org

Click here to read the article at otherwords.org

And here and here to read earlier posts on John Kiriakou.

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the horror, the horror… can be found in the subtext too

The only person to have been put on trial and convicted for any reason relating to America’s use of torture against prisoners is the former CIA analyst John Kiriakou. Kiriakou was the first insider to disclose the use of waterboarding and like many whistleblowers, he paid a heavy price.

Three years ago, in January 2012, just weeks after Obama had signed his name under the now notorious NDAA 2012 with its “indefinite detention” clauses, Kiriakou had been formally charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act as well as the Espionage Act of 1917 – and please note that under Obama’s administration, this act has been used to bring more indictments against whistleblowers than under all other presidents combined. A year later, after a plea deal had been reached with federal prosecutors, Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The judge at the trial described Kiriakou’s sentence as “way too light.”1

Kiriakou was recently released from prison, although he remains under house arrest while finishing his two-and-a-half-year sentence. And following his release, he was interviewed from his home on yesterday’s Democracy Now! These are selected excerpts from what he had to say, beginning with the extraordinary case of Abu Zubaydah.

During his capture in Pakistan, Zubaydah was shot three times and gravely wounded. He was then sent to a secret location, where the CIA brought in a trauma surgeon from Johns Hopkins University Medical Center to treat him:

When we first captured him, we took him to a hospital, a military hospital in Pakistan. He had lost so much blood, we needed to transfuse him. And he was initially in a coma. He came out of the coma a couple of times, and we were able, at first, to just exchange an initial comment, later on, in the next couple of days, to have short conversations. For example, when he first came out of his coma, he asked me for a glass of red wine. He was delirious. Later in the evening, he asked me if I would take the pillow and smother him. And then, the next day, we talked about poetry. We talked about Islam. We talked about the fact that he had never supported the attacks on the United States. He wanted to attack Israel.

Well, he was sent from Pakistan to this secret location. And once he was healthy enough to withstand interrogation, a group of CIA interrogators—I’m sorry, a group of FBI interrogators interviewed him, appeared to have been successful in gathering some information, but then were replaced by CIA interrogators, that we’ve now learned were untrained, unprepared, and was subjected to waterboarding in addition to other torture techniques, placed into a cage. He had a fear of bugs, so they put him in a small box and put bugs in the box with him. He was subject to a cold cell, to lights on 24 hours a day, booming music so that he couldn’t sleep. There were several different things that the CIA did to him.

Torture is wrong under any circumstances. You know, we know from the Second World War, when the Justice Department was interrogating Nazi war criminals, we know that the establishment of a rapport, the establishment of a relationship with someone, results in actionable information, if that prisoner has actionable information which he’s willing to give. That wasn’t the case with Abu Zubaydah. He was beaten. He was waterboarded. He was subject to sleep deprivation. He had ice water poured on him in a 50-degree cell every several hours. The man just simply didn’t have any information to give.

I learned initially that he had been waterboarded in the summer of 2002, at the end of the summer of 2002. And as I said in the 2007 interview with Brian Ross, I believed what the CIA was telling us, that he was being waterboarded, it was working, and we were gathering important, actionable intelligence that was saving American lives. It wasn’t until something like 2005 or 2006 that we realized that that just simply wasn’t true—he wasn’t producing any information—and that these techniques were horrific.

It was in 2007, Amy [Goodman], that I decided to go public. President Bush said at the time, categorically, “We do not torture prisoners. We are not waterboarding.” And I knew that that was a lie. And he made it seem as though this was a rogue CIA officer who decided to pour water on people’s faces. And that simply wasn’t true. Torture—the entire torture program was approved by the president himself, and it was a very carefully planned-out program. So to say that it was rogue, it was just a bald-faced lie to the American people.

Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded no less than 83 times and yet we now know that he provided no useful information as a result. He remains imprisoned at Guantánamo without charge.

I will return to Kiriakou’s interview later. But first would like to address the bigger issues here. For instance, why does Guantánamo remain open at all, especially since more than half of its inmates have long since been acquitted of terrorist charges? Leaving aside the logistical and legalistic excuses, one of the unspoken reasons concerns us all. It is the same reason Obama was determined to surreptitiously sign into law the NDAA 2012. And part of the reason why we are seeing no serious repercussions following last December’s release of the long-delayed Senate report which detailed the horrendous catalogue of crimes committed by the CIA (and only those committed by the CIA – which actually lets the Pentagon off the hook): crimes of torture nowadays chillingly redefined as “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Reading through those horrendous descriptions of what the spy agency has routinely been doing to prisoners in the name of “freedom and democracy” is painful. Not that these “revelations” come as much of a surprise. Other than the most lurid details, we already knew all of this, didn’t we? But then think about it this way, and imagine for a moment the public outcry if an ordinary citizen (a civilian, to use the preferred label attached by today’s news media) confessed to having chained their victims to a wall, repeatedly half-drowned them and also forcibly inserted a variety of objects into their anus (so-called “rectal feeding” is an abuse more straightforwardly described as rape). Such an individual would rightly be publicly judged to be a depraved monster and hurriedly locked away in a very secure facility (somewhere not so very different from Guantánamo, but without the torture regime). Yet instead, these open admissions of crimes committed by an extremely depraved “intelligence” arm of our terribly depraved system are met with little more than a grimace and a whimper. After the obligatory week of media coverage, the news of this systemic cruelty has largely been forgotten, and in spite of the weight of harrowing evidence, it appears that no-one at all will be prosecuted.

With Kiriakou locked away in jail for speaking out of turn, here is what CIA Director John Brennan had to say by way of apology for those most heinous of crimes:

CIA Director John Brennan has defended the agency’s post-9/11 interrogation methods but admitted some techniques were “harsh” and “abhorrent”.

Speaking at CIA headquarters, he said some officers acted beyond their authority but most did their duty.

So begins a report from BBC news entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy”. The implication being that torture is a “strategy”. Well, yes, if we listen to neo-con voices such as John Brennan, echoed without contradiction thanks to the drones at the BBC.  But before returning to the BBC and their article, it is worthwhile reminding ourselves of John Brennan’s prior approval of the CIA’s use of torture. Indeed, it helps to go back two years to his Senate confirmation hearing when he was appointed CIA Director. The following is taken from a Guardian article published in February 2013:

Brennan faced lengthy questioning over the CIA’s abduction and abuse of alleged terrorists at secret “black sites”, following a confidential 6,000-page Senate report that Brennan described as “very concerning and disturbing” in its evidence that the agency misrepresented and lied about the value of “enhanced interrogation techniques”. […]

Brennan defended an interview with CBS in 2007 in which he said that IETs [sic] “saved lives” by gathering valuable intelligence.

“The reports I was getting subsequent to that and in the years after that, it was clearly my impression it was valuable information that was coming out,” he said.2

Click here to read the full article.

Likewise, The Atlantic then reported:

In nominating John Brennan to head the CIA, President Obama has made it more urgent that the report be declassified. It is one of several sources that could help us to answer an important question: Are the American people being asked to entrust our clandestine spy agency and its killing and interrogation apparatuses to a man who was complicit in illegal torture?

There is strong circumstantial evidence that the answer is yes. At minimum, Brennan favored rendition and what he called “enhanced interrogation tactics” other than waterboarding. As Andrew Sullivan put it in 2008, when Obama first considered Brennan as CIA chief, “if Obama picks him, it will be a vindication of the kind of ambivalence and institutional moral cowardice that made America a torturing nation. It would be an unforgivable betrayal of his supporters and his ideals.”3

Incidentally, this latest release is merely a 525-page summary of the aforementioned 6,000-page report. Two years after it was approved by Senate, the full report remains highly classified. In any case, the White House needed time for the torture-happy Hollywood fantasy Zero Dark Thirty to seep deeply into the American collective unconscious before any part of this lesser report could be publicly released. Think I exaggerate…? Well then read how the Huffington Post reported on the story two years ago:

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 on Thursday to approve a report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program that could shed light on the debate over torture. But for now, even as the new movie “Zero Dark Thirty” stirs up public debate about the use of harsh interrogation tactics, declassifying the report to prepare for its release to the public could take months, if not longer. […]

While “Zero Dark Thirty” suggests that a critical piece of information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden was extracted from a prisoner by using “enhanced interrogation,” top senators speaking to The Huffington Post dismissed the proposition.

Nevertheless the idea that torture can provide valuable information was very helpfully implanted by the film – and it is still being repeated by Brennan and his ilk. Just as a different meme was being embedded at the very same time, and in this case by neo-con apologist Dianne Feinstein:

“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement after the vote. “I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced-interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes. The majority of the Committee agrees.”4 [my bold highlight]

So we are supposed to swallow this ludicrous defence that torturing was a terrible mistake. Just an accidental error of judgement. Which it obviously isn’t and never could be. And so let’s come back to the BBC news report already quoted above, because it then continues:

Senator Dianne Feinstein, whose committee produced the report, said torture should now be banned by law. 5

But torture IS banned by law! It is already against the law because it was ‘banned’ (i.e., criminalised) a long time ago. For instance, “cruel and unusual punishments” are in direct violation of the Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution. On top of which, torture contravenes the UN Convention against Torture that was signed by President Reagan in 1988 and then ratified by the Senate in October 1990. But more importantly, torture is internationally outlawed under the Geneva Conventions and legally defined as a war crime. So why does the BBC insist on perpetuating this kind of claptrap?

Deliberate or not (I leave the reader to judge), uncritical repetition of this sort of nonsense as if it were impartially reporting facts serves to acclimate readers to accept the unacceptable and to tolerate the intolerable. Torture may or may not be a necessary evil, they imply in this way, but regardless of the ethical concerns it was lawfully sanctionable. As I say, this is absolute rubbish – and patently so.

Incidentally, John Kiriakou describes Senator Feinstein as “one of the CIA’s leading supporters on Capitol Hill”. He adds: “So for Dianne Feinstein to come out with a report as critical as this report was just shows you how wrongheaded the CIA torture program was.”

But now we must come to an even more shocking illustration of how public perceptions are being shifted and reframed. And the author on this occasion happens to be Anthony Romero, who is none other than the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Romero writes:

BEFORE President George W. Bush left office, a group of conservatives lobbied the White House to grant pardons to the officials who had planned and authorized the United States torture program. My organization, the American Civil Liberties Union, found the proposal repugnant. Along with eight other human rights groups, we sent a letter to Mr. Bush arguing that granting pardons would undermine the rule of law and prevent Americans from learning what had been done in their names.

But with the impending release of the report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I have come to think that President Obama should issue pardons, after all — because it may be the only way to establish, once and for all, that torture is illegal. 6

I will not bother to outline the kinds of doublethink which encourage Mr Romero to reach such a startling and illogical conclusion. If you can stomach any more then I direct you read his New York Times op-ed.

So what we have in summary is one extremely shocking although highly redacted text that has been released in such a fashion as to make believe the rule of law is extant. As with child abuse, the offending authorities have taken care to draw an historical line so as to make it appear a problem of past failures. Torture was “a mistake”. And thus, like a fashion that disappeared for no more discernible reason than footballers stopped wearing moustaches and perms, all the torturing has since stopped, or so we are encouraged to believe (in spite of ample evidence to the contrary that the ‘black sites’ never went away), because the perpetrators, who were previously misguided in the actions, have since spontaneously and miraculously come to their senses.

After John Kiriakou had heard about the release of the Senate report whilst in jail, he says that “like most other Americans, [he] was absolutely shocked and appalled at some of the details”:

We need to prosecute some of these cases. I understand that reasonable people can agree to disagree on whether or not case officers who really believed they were carrying out a legal activity should be prosecuted. I understand that. But what about case officers who took the law into their own hands or who flouted the law and raped prisoners with broomsticks or carried out rectal hydration with hummus? Those were not approved interrogation techniques. Why aren’t those officers being prosecuted? I think, at the very least, that’s where we should start the prosecutions.

(Incidentally, I do not agree with everything Kiriakou says in this interview.) 7

The BBC may feel obliged to keep up this pretence that torture is not in itself illegal, and one of the largest civil rights organisations may actually believe that even though torture was and is illegal, for legal reasons it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, but as it happens John Kiriakou begs to differ. Likewise, I believe that the proper response must be to demand criminal prosecutions for those who were most responsible: beginning from the top with Cheney and Bush and working down. Kiriakou also believes that Cheney should now be tried and he makes this perhaps more important point:

We’ve seen Vice President Cheney, we’ve seen former CIA directors, several of them, former senior CIA officers go on the network news programs and defend, defend, defend their actions during the torture regime. The reason that they’re doing that is because torture is their legacy. When their obituaries are written, those obituaries are going to say that they were instrumental in the torture program. And the only thing they can do at this point to save their reputations is to keep repeating this lie that torture worked and hope that the American people eventually believe it.

Yes, torture is still being normalised. Doubtless, for the reason Kiriakou states above, but also because there remains a sinister determination by some at the top to undo the well-established justice process and take us back into the dark ages. So the horror of December’s report is not entirely contained within the text per se, but very much exists within the surrounding subtext too. That under a given pretext (which our never-ending “war on terror” usefully sustains) torture can be inflicted with absolute impunity on whosoever America and her close allies deems an enemy, because might is right and the rule of law be damned.

Click here to watch the interview or read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Additional:

If you are wondering in what ways our own authorities in Britain have also been complicit in these torture programmes, then I recommend reading an article by former Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, published in the Daily Mail last December, immediately following the release of the summary of the Senate report. It begins:

In the summer of 2004, I warned Tony Blair’s Foreign Office that Britain was using intelligence material which had been obtained by the CIA under torture. Two months later I was sacked as the British Ambassador to Uzbekistan on the orders of Downing Street, bringing to an end my 20-year diplomatic career.

When I then went public with the news that Uzbek territory was part of a global CIA torture programme, I was dismissed as a fantasist by Mr Blair’s henchmen. Now finally, a decade later, I have been vindicated by last week’s shocking Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Over 500 pages it details the CIA’s brutal abuse of Al Qaeda suspects, who were flown around the world to be tortured in a network of secret prisons. One of these was in Uzbekistan, where the US had an air base.

Murray continues later:

The British Government continues to cover up the truth even today. We should not forget that the climate of public and media opinion which made it possible for this US Senate report to be published at all was generated entirely by the work of whistleblowers. I was the first of these, but at least I remain at liberty: two subsequent whistleblowers – soldier Chelsea Manning and CIA agent John Kiriakou – are serving long stretches in prison. Although it is in no way comparable to the horrifying abuses suffered by the torture victims, we truth-tellers have also been through hell.

It is very strange to now hear Westminster politicians calling for a judicial inquiry into our involvement in rendition. There has already been one, headed by retired judge Sir Peter Gibson. He started to gather evidence, and ordered the Foreign Office to give me full access to all the classified documentation on the subject from my time as Ambassador. Indeed, Gibson gave every appearance of being a man of integrity, appointed to lead an investigation into governmental wrongdoing.

It was therefore no surprise when the Gibson inquiry was cancelled and his duties handed to politicians on the Commons Intelligence and Security Committee. Incredibly, its members include Hazel Blears, one of Tony Blair’s Ministers at a time when the Government had a policy of using intelligence from torture. She is therefore investigating herself.

No wonder a source on the Intelligence and Security Committee told journalists last week that they would only scrutinise members of the security services, not the politicians who instructed them.

He concludes with a call for both Tony Blair and Jack Straw to be put on trial:

Recent scandals, such as the alleged cover-up of an Establishment paedophile ring, highlight the apparent impunity of our political class in the face of the honest forces of law and order.
We don’t need an inquiry into British complicity in torture. We need a trial. And it should be Tony Blair and Jack Straw in the dock.

Click here to read Craig Murray’s full statement.

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1 http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/former-cia-officer-john-kiriakou-sentenced-to-30-months-in-prison-for-leaks/2013/01/25/49ea0cc0-6704-11e2-9e1b-07db1d2ccd5b_story.html

2 From an article entitled “Brennan rejects CIA torture claims in confident display at Senate hearing” written by Chris McGreal, published by the Guardian on February 7, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/07/john-brennan-cia-torture-claims-senate-hearing

3 From an article entitled “Does It Matter if John Brennan Was Complicit in Illegal Torture?” written by Conor Friedersdorf, published in The Atlantic on January 8, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/01/does-it-matter-if-john-brennan-was-complicit-in-illegal-torture/266918/

4 From an article entitled “CIA Torture Report Approved By Senate Intelligence Committee” published by the Huffington Post on December 13, 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/13/cia-torture-report_n_2295083.html

5 From an article entitled “CIA boss John Brennan defends post-9/11 strategy” published by BBC news on December 12, 2014. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-30437804

6 From an article entitled “Pardon Bush and Those Who Tortured” written by Anthony D. Romero, published by the New York Times on December 8, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/09/opinion/pardon-bush-and-those-who-tortured.html?_r=2

7 Kiriakou adds that: “I understand that President Obama is not going to seek the prosecution of the CIA leaders who carried out the torture, the case officers involved in the day-to-day torture program. I understand that. The lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, I understand. No problem. But what about the CIA officers who directly violated the law, who carried out interrogations that resulted in death? What about the torturers of Hassan Ghul? Hassan Ghul was killed during an interrogation session.”

I strongly disagree with him on these points. All those in charge must be prosecuted and the lawyers who sanctioned these crimes doubly so.

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John Kiriakou jailed after exposing CIA’s use of torture

John Kiriakou has recently become the only CIA officer to yet face imprisonment for any reason relating to use of torture in the post-9/11 “war on terror”. His supposed crime, however, was not any complicity in America’s on-going crimes against humanity, but rather the result of his decision to blow the whistle on the CIA and White House sanctioned torture programme and, specifically, their use of ‘waterboarding’ for purposes of so-called “enhanced interrogation”.

Having just been sentenced to spend the next two and a half years behind bars, John Kiriakou gave an extended interview on yesterday’s Democracy Now! [Jan 30th]. He began by explaining how he had become a whistleblower more or less by accident, and what the immediate consequences had been for himself and his family:

In 2002, I was the chief of counterterrorism operations for the CIA in Pakistan, and my job was to try to locate al-Qaeda fighters or al-Qaeda leaders and capture them, to turn them over to the Justice Department and have them face trial. That was the original—the original idea, not to have them sit in Cuba for the next decade.

But we caught Abu Zubaydah. He was shot three times by Pakistani police as he was trying to escape from his safe house. And I was the first person to have custody of him, to sit with him. We spoke to each other extensively, I mean, talked about everything from September 11th to poetry that he had been writing to his family. And then he was moved on to a secret prison after that. Once I got back to headquarters, I heard that he had been subject to harsh techniques, then euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and I was asked by one of the leaders in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center if I wanted to be trained in the use of these techniques. I told him that I had a moral problem with them, and I did not want to be involved.

So, fast-forward to 2007. By then, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had reported that al-Qaeda prisoners had been tortured, and ABC News called and said that they had information that I had tortured Abu Zubaydah. I said that was absolutely untrue. I was the only person who was kind to Abu Zubaydah, and I had never tortured anybody. So, they asked me to go on their show and defend myself. I did that. And in the course of the interview, I said that not only was the CIA torturing prisoners, but that it was official U.S. government policy. This was not the result of some rogue CIA officer just beating up a prisoner every once in a while; this was official policy that went all the way up to the president of the United States.

Within 24 hours, the CIA filed what’s called a crimes report against me with the Justice Department, saying that I had revealed classified information, which was the torture program, and asking for an investigation with an eye toward prosecuting me. The Justice Department decided at the time that I had not revealed classified information, that the information was already in the public domain. But immediately, within weeks, I was audited by the IRS. I’ve been audited by the IRS every single year since giving that interview in 2007.

But a more important bit of fallout from that interview was that every time I would write an op-ed, every time I would give a television interview or give a speech at a university, the CIA would file a crimes report against me, accusing me of leaking additional classified information. Each time, the Justice Department determined that I did not leak any classified information. In fact, I would get those op-eds and those speeches cleared by the CIA’s Publications Review Board in advance.

Then the CIA started harassing my wife, who at the time was a senior CIA officer, particularly over an op-ed I had written. They accused her of leaking classified information to me for the purpose of writing the op-ed. Well, I said I had gotten the information in the op-ed from two UPI reports and from a South American Ministry of Foreign Affairs website. And they would back off.

But this sort of became our life. We would be under FBI surveillance. She would be called into the CIA’s Office of Security. I would have trouble getting a security clearance when I went to Capitol Hill. It just became this pattern of harassment.

A pattern of harassment that will no doubt be familiar to other high-level whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake and Sibel Edmonds.

Click here to watch the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

Democracy Now! also spoke to Kiriakou’s attorney Jesselyn Radack. She has previously represented Tom Drake, the National Security Agency (NSA) insider who helped to expose the massive fraud and waste within the organisation, whilst also bringing public attention to the illegal, although once again government sanctioned, programme of warrantless wiretaps. Radack says:

But in the grander scheme, the prosecution of John Kiriakou and the war on whistleblowers, using the heavy handed Espionage Act, by charging people who dare to tell the truth as being enemies of the state, sends a very chilling message. And Judge Brinkema [who presided over Kiriakou’s trial] herself acknowledged that a strong message had to be sent, that secrets must be kept. But apparently, that only applies to people who are trying to reveal government abuses and illegality, because all of the people in the White House and the CIA who revealed classified information and—of undercover identities to the makers of a Hollywood film, Zero Dark Thirty, have done so with impunity and with lavish praise. […]

Specifically, the White House and the CIA were very involved in the making of Zero Dark Thirty, which pretends to be some kind of neutral film that implies torture led to the capture of Osama bin Laden, which it absolutely did not. In that process, a high-level Defense Department official, Michael Vickers, revealed the identity of an undercover Special Operations Command officer, but was not held to account for that. And the CIA revealed numerous classified pieces of information, including sources and methods. […]

So when the United States talks about the sanctity of keeping secrets, and both the judge and multiple statements by United States officials discussed that, they are the biggest leakers of all. And they do so with impunity.

With mainstream news coverage focusing considerable attention on President Obama’s nomination of the seemingly rather moderate Chuck Hagel to replace well-known drone attack enthusiast Leon Panetta as US Secretary of Defense, surprisingly little concern is being raised about Obama’s other nomination of neo-con hawk and torture-endorsing John Brennan as Director of the CIA. Kiriakou, who had worked directly with Brennan twice, says Brennan “is a terrible choice to lead the CIA”:

Obviously I can’t read John Brennan’s mind, but I can tell you that at the time that the torture techniques were being implemented, John Brennan was President Bush’s director of the National Counterterrorist Center. He was also, a little earlier than that, the deputy executive director and then, I believe, executive director of the CIA. That’s the number three ranking position in the CIA. So, he would have had to have been intimately involved in—not necessarily in carrying out the torture techniques, but in the policy, the torture policy—either that or he had to be brain dead, because you can’t be in positions like that, director of the National Counterterrorist Center and executive director of the CIA, without knowing what the CIA’s torture policies are.

Now, I’m surprised, frankly, also, at the fact that there’s no outrage in the human rights community now that Mr. Brennan’s nomination has been made official. There was a great hue and cry in 2009 when he was initially floated for the position of CIA director. And I’m not sure why there’s a difference between four years ago and now. John Brennan certainly hasn’t changed.

Click here to watch the second part of the interview or to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

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Sibel Edmonds goes public after a decade of being silenced

In the days following the September 11th attacks, Sibel Edmonds, who is fluent in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani, was recruited as a language specialist to assist with translations of NSA interceptions at the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Two months later, in December, she received a phone call that would turn her life upside-down. She was about to discover that her own high security division had been infiltrated by spies.

When Edmonds reported these events to her supervisor, rather than pursuing the case, he asked her to keep quiet. In response, Edmonds decided to take her case to higher superiors, but again instead of listening to the evidence, they wanted to hear no more about it, whilst also taking retaliatory action that made it harder for her to perform her regular duties. Eventually she took her case to the Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, who had himself been appointed just days prior to September 11th. Yet again this back-fired, and in consequence she suffered still more harassment. Then, on Friday March 22nd 2002, she was summarily dismissed from her job.

A few months later in July, Edmonds filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice for unlawful termination of her employment, which she said was a direct consequence of whistleblowing on the criminal activities committed by government officials. In October 2002, the-then Attorney General, John Ashcroft, who in the wake of the September 11th attacks had pushed through the US Patriot Act, responded to Edmonds in a most extreme and heavy-handed fashion by invoking the State Secrets Privilege:

According to Ashcroft, everything involving my case and my allegations were considered state secrets, and whether or not I was right in my allegations, the United States District Court had to dismiss my entire case without any questions, hearings or oral argument; period. According to Ashcroft, the court had to grant his order and dismiss the entire case with no hearings solely based on the fact that he, Ashcroft, said so. After all, our government knew best. As of that day, my case came to be gagged; but I continued on.1

The message from the top was clear: to keep quiet or go to jail, and so she did. Until, that is, the Kean-Hamilton 9/11 Commission, when Edmonds realised that she had seen evidence that directly contradicted the “outrageous” testimony given by Condoleeza Rice. Bravely, Sibel Edmonds stepped back into the limelight again:

In early 2004, an unclassified summary of the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s report on Edmonds confirmed that many of her claims “were supported, that the FBI did not take them seriously enough, and that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI’s decision to terminate her services.” In February of that year, Edmonds testified before the 9/11 Commission about problems at the FBI. Three months later, the Justice Department retroactively classified Edmonds’ briefings to Senators and the 9-11 Commission, as well the information the Senators had cited in their letter to the FBI, and forced the Members of Congress who had information about Edmonds’ case posted on their web sites to remove the documents.2

Edmonds was also gagged a second time in April 2004:

In April 2004, after attorneys for a large group of 9/11 family members subpoenaed my deposition, the then Attorney General, John Ashcroft, made his next move: He invoked the state secrets privilege for the second time, and this time, he designated my place of birth, date of birth, my mother tongue, my father tongue, my university background, and my previous employments all State Secrets, Top Secret Classified, and matters of the highest level national security. Let’s see, based on this new ruling and designation by our ironically named Justice Department, my passport would be considered a ‘top secret’ document since it contains my place of birth, information considered state secrets. According to our government officials my Virginia driving license would be considered a ‘Top Secret’ document, since it contains my date of birth, information considered state secrets and classified. Well, heck, even my resume would be considered ‘Top Secret’ since it contains my linguistic credentials and my degrees. As of that day, I officially became a notoriously gagged whistleblower; but I continued on.3

In 2006, Mathieu Verboud and Jean-Robert Viallet made the French documentary4 Une Femme à Abattre [literally “a woman to be cut down”] about Sibel Edmonds’ continuing struggle for truth and justice. An English version of the film entitled Kill the Messenger was produced in 2007 by SBS Australia. It is embedded below:

In August 2004, Sibel Edmonds also founded the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. The NSWBC organizes current or former government employees who have been punished for exposing official wrongdoing and advocates for legislation to protect the rights of National Security whistleblowers.

Fearing that America is sliding ever more rapidly towards becoming a police state, Edmonds has now decided to break her gagging order by releasing a full account of what she uncovered whilst working for the FBI. So, on April 10th 2012, Edmond’s attorneys and the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) issued the following press release:

Today, the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC) revealed that the FBI required employees to sign employment contracts that are illegal under Federal law. The NWC launched the investigation in response to a nearly yearlong campaign by the FBI to prevent the publication of whistleblower Sibel Edmonds’ new book, Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story.

On April 26, 2011, Ms. Edmonds followed official procedure and submitted her manuscript to the FBI for pre-publication clearance. Under the terms of her employment agreement and controlling regulations, the FBI was required to review and approve the submission within thirty (30) days. Instead of complying with the law, the FBI intentionally stalled the approval process for over 341 days and has still refused to “clear” the book for publication.5

For the full press release visit their website at http://www.whistleblowers.org.

Sibel Edmonds writes that:

I intend to publish this book as an American citizen armed with my First Amendment and validated even by our government’s own no-longer-followed laws and regulations. Doing otherwise would be ‘Un-American.’ I will leave being Un-American to our despotic rulers and those who choose to remain docile and silent.

I am also planning to write a blog series on the behind-the-scenes experiences and adventures in getting this book published. It was one thing to fight the despots in the government, but I had no intention of engaging in a major fight with corporate mega publishers on their version of censorship. I gladly turned my back, and took the alternative road. I have been determined to practice what I’ve been preaching all along. Doing that included undertaking an alternative publication venue (independently and proudly self-published!) and using alternative media-news-forums to reach out.6

Under the Obama administration, the war on whistleblowers rages on. On Thursday 5th April 2012, former CIA official John Kiriakou was indicted for allegedly leaking information to journalists. More then four years earlier, in December 2007, it was Kiriakou who had first exposed the CIA’s use of waterboarding on terrorist suspects.

If convicted, Kiriakou could now receive a maximum of 45 years in prison for the five-count indictment including three charges under the Espionage Act — the Obama administration has already invoked the Espionage Act more often than any other US administration in history.

Stephen Kohn, Executive Director of the National Whistleblower Center, and Attorney-Trustee for the National Whistleblower Legal Defense and Education Fund, recently spoke on Russia Today [April 10th] about the publication of Sibel Edmonds’ book and the on-going Kiriakou case:

Sibel Edmonds is editor of Boiling Frogs Post and founder-director of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition.

1 From an article entitled “Gagged, But Not Dead” written by Sibel Edmonds and published on May 14, 2005. http://www.justacitizen.com/articles_documents/May14-05-Gagged%20but%20not%20Dead.htm

2 From Press Release for 2006 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award: “Translator Fired from FBI for Blowing Whistle on Intelligence Failures to Receive 2006 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award” New York, NY, March 29, 2006. http://www.pen.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/633/prmID/172

3 Also taken from “Gagged, But Not Dead” written by Sibel Edmonds and published on May 14, 2005. http://www.justacitizen.com/articles_documents/May14-05-Gagged%20but%20not%20Dead.htm

4 Produced by Canal+ / Zadig Productions.

5 From a press release published on April 10, 2012 entitled “FBI Attempts to Hold Sibel Edmonds’ Book Hostage- Illegally & Unconstitutionally: Investigation Shows Agency Used Contract to Censor Whistleblowers”. http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2012/04/10/press-release-fbi-attempts-to-hold-sibel-edmonds-book-hostage-illegally-unconstitutionally/

6 From an article entitled “Calm before the storm?” written by Sibel Edmonds, posted on her own website on April 15, 2012. http://www.classifiedwoman.com/2012/04/15/updates-on-classified-woman-and-boiling-frogs-post/

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