Tag Archives: The New York Times

Chris Hedges and Matt Taibbi on true ‘fake news’ and the monopolised censorship of the tech giants

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.

This is Chris Hedge’s introduction to a recent interview with fellow journalist Matt Taibbi on his RT show On Contact broadcast Saturday [Oct 31st] on the eve of the US Presidential election. The show is embedded below with my own transcript provided:

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Chris Hedges: Let’s begin with 2016, which was awful, but now it’s worse. Can you talk about the progression?

Matt Taibbi: Sure. I mean I think what happened in 2016 – and it’s kind of been a story that’s assumed biblical importance for people in the news media – we had this episode where a cache of emails that had come from the Democratic National Committee [DNC] and had been from figures like Tony Podesta, came to be in the public sphere through groups like Wikileaks.

And this material was true – it wasn’t fake, it wasn’t what we would traditionally call disinformation or misinformation – and it was reported on in a small way but later blamed for helping to election Donald Trump. And, as a result, a kind of coalition of news media, tech platforms and politicians has since demanded that the next time a situation like this takes place, we have to make sure that nobody reports material like that.

And so we’re now in a semi-analogous situation, where there’s been an explosive report about some emails allegedly belonging to the nominee’s son, Hunter Biden; and there’s been suppression and the news agencies have essentially decided we’re not going to do what we did in 2016. We’re going to shut this off completely. [from 2:25 mins]

On October 22nd, Matt Taibbi was invited to speak on The Hill’s weekday morning show ‘Rising’ about the difference between how the mainstream media covered the Steele Dossier versus Hunter Biden:

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CH: But this wasn’t just Biden. They will run with stuff like the Steele dossier that obviously can’t be fact checked. They will trumpet that because it hurts Trump. And I’m not talking about partisan news agencies like MSNBC, which is just an arm of the Democratic Party, I’m talking about these old traditional media outlets like The New York Times: the kind of language that they’ll use; [how] they’ll marginalise any kind of news – even in this case of Hunter Biden’s laptop [when] no-one has denied its authenticity and yet the way they write about it will be to discredit it as black propaganda.

I think there’s kind of a sea change within that traditional media which I come out of; just a whole new ethic. I find days when I read The New York Times it’s unrecognisable in terms of how it writes, the language it uses, what it’s willing to say… it’s really a completely new organisation in many ways. Can you talk about that shift, because I find that very frightening.

MT: Sure, and of course you would know this better than I would, I think that traditionally what The New York Times would do with a story like this is; it would work very hard to ascertain first whether the material was real, and it would wait to come out with some kind of pronouncement about it news value until it had done that. And that is exactly what they don’t do anymore. You know, really in the first days after this story broke they already had a story by Kevin Roose in the paper that the headline was something along the lines of “There was a mistake in 2016, Facebook promised to fix it, well this is what the fixing looks like.”

And then the lead of that… [from 5:05 mins]

CH: Matt let me interrupt you because this is the headline… “Facebook and Twitter Dodge a 2016 Repeat, and Ignite a 2020 Firestorm

[Chris Hedges then reads from Matt Taibbi’s report published on taibbi.substack.com]

The Companies have said they would do more to stop misinformation and hacked materials from spreading, this is what the effort looks like. And then, I’m reading from your article: [Kevin] Roose, who you’ve just mentioned, notes that “politicians and pundits have hoped for a stronger response from tech firms, ever since Russian hackers and Wikileaks injected stolen emails from the Clinton campaign into public discourse.”

This again, a quote from him:

“Since 2016, lawmakers, researchers and journalists have pressured these companies to take more and faster action to prevent false or misleading information from spreading on their services.” The Podesta emails are not false – they’re real.

MT: No exactly, it’s a bait and switch. And this has been going on all across the media landscape. When they’re doing that… they’ve used the word disinformation, or misinformation, so many times that people associate those emails with words like that. And so they can get away with saying, “Well we have to do something to stop this misinformation or disinformation”. Even though, again, we are talking about things that are real and true, but just that it happened to come to the public through a means that is in their minds infamous.

So again, the traditional mission of an organisation like The New York Times – and they exist specifically because they have the resources and the training to hunt out whether or not stuff like this is real – they are just skipping straight past that and going to the editorial pronouncement about how this is the kind of material that should be suppressed, and this is what suppression looks like, and good for them, and that’s the angle that they’re taking right now, which is really extraordinary, it’s an amazing change.  [from 6:45 mins]

CH: Yeah, no it is seismic.

So Matt I want to ask you about this podcast because I don’t think it’s unrelated: ‘Caliphate’. It’s a five-part series [where] they interview [Abu Huzayfah] – it turns out that he’s an imposter – you call it, correctly, stuff of snuff films. He’s talking about stabbings. He claims to have been an al Qaeda murderer, putting people up on crosses and putting daggers in their hearts. It’s quite amazing – again, coming out of the culture of The [New York] Times.

It’s completely false. It’s rabidly salacious. You know the worse parts of tabloid trash television. But I think that that’s a piece of what’s happening here. Can you talk about that – especially back up a little bit for people who aren’t familiar with what happened.

MT: Sure, yes. They had what I think was a six-part podcast series, and the lead reporter was a pretty celebrated figure in the organisation: it’s Rukmini Callimachi… and she’s been a four-time finalist for the Pulitzer [Prize]. And they interviewed this character who’s a Canadian citizen, who’s a Muslim, who claimed to have gone over to Syria to become a soldier for ISIS, and in the process he accumulated all these tales of committing horrific acts of violence.

The podcast was essentially based around these graphic descriptions of what he had done while he was in Syria and in other parts of the Middle East, and then he was arrested by Canadian authorities for perpetrating a hoax under a law – I guess we don’t have an analogous law here in The States – but when The [New York] Times was presented with this news that their main source in this very acclaimed, significantly trafficked podcast had turned out to be an imposter; their immediate reaction was to deflect and say, actually one of the purposes of the podcast was to determine whether or not he was telling the truth, which is completely untrue.

As Eric Wemple of the Washington Post put it (who incidentally has been one of the few media critics who’s actually done real work on this kind of stuff), they spent the entire podcast really bolstering the credibility of this source and not calling it into question at all. Incidentally, what would be the worth of a podcast like that, if there was any question at all of whether or not it was true? It would be a complete waste of time to do the story.

So they undermined themselves rather than do what I think a traditional news organisation would do, which is to say “okay, we might have a problem here, we’re going to look into it – if necessary we’ll bring in an outside auditor to see what went wrong and we’ll come out with all the results of our investigation later, and in the meantime we apologise”; that’s exactly what they didn’t do.

They’ve learned that audiences now forgive this kind of thing, and if you just pretend that it didn’t happen you can just move along and just go to the next thing. And that’s now more the kind of modus operandi, which of course wasn’t what it was when you worked there and I think when a lot of other people entered The [New York] Times back in the day. [from 8:50 mins]

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Many of the media outlets that promoted Russiagate claims which helped to deflect attention from the contents of the DNC email leaks during the 2016 election, recently repeated the same ploy by reporting unsubstantiated claims made by former intelligence officials, including John Brennan and James Clapper, as well as of top Democrats, including Joe Biden and Adam Schiff, that the Hunter Biden laptop revelations are also “Russian disinformation”, even though no one from the Biden camp has disputed the authenticity of a single leaked email or document, or denied that the laptop belongs to Hunter Biden.

On October 23rd, The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté spoke to Ray McGovern, a former career CIA officer who served as chief of the CIA’s Soviet analysts division and chaired National Intelligence Estimates, about latest claims of “Russian disinformation”, and how these new allegations actually raise questions about the conduct of the intelligence officials behind the original Russiagate claims:

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CH: Well they will forgive it only if it bolsters the dominant narrative. If it doesn’t bolster the dominant narrative, they won’t forgive it. That’s why they’ve pushed you to the margins of the media landscape.

MT: Right, and you too obviously.

CH: Yes. So, on the one hand, you have the Podesta emails, the Biden [story], which is real, being denounced as “fake”. And you have a complete hoax defended – let’s call it what it is: fake news, sensationalist garbage – being perpetrated by The [New York] Times.

I just want to read a really great paragraph you wrote: Now the business (you’re talking about journalism) has reversed course, acting like a gang of college freshmen who’ve just read Beyond Good and Evil for the first time. Objectivity is dead! There’s no truth! Everything is permitted! The cardinalate has gone from pompous overconfidence in its factual rectitude to a bizarre postmodernist pose where nothing matters, man, and truth is whatever we can get away with saying.

I mean it’s funny, but it’s not. That is really what we’re documenting here.

What do you think the pressures were? Is it commercial? I think to an extent it must be commercial: The [New York] Times has bled advertising. It’s stumbling into a new media environment that it’s not familiar with. What do you think is causing this? Or maybe it’s just moral posturing, I don’t know.

MT: I think it’s a combination of all of those things. Clearly, the commercial aspect of it plays a strong role because – just to take an example of that ‘Caliphate’ podcast: here you’ve got somebody giving a first-hand account of crucifying a human being, and that’s what you’ve got to do to you know trend on Twitter for eight seconds now! You need to come up with stuff like that just to keep getting a requisite number of clicks. Just to not lose audience, you need to come up with sensational material because everybody’s hyping things left and right.

So there’s enormous pressure now to stretch the envelope of sensationalism in ways that probably didn’t exist when I first went into the business or you did. But that’s only part of the picture. The other part of the picture is there’s been this segmentation of audience.

You know the Pew Center did a study this summer where they asked people what their political affiliations were. If your primary news source was Fox, you know 93% of those people were Republican. If your primary news source was MSNBC, 95% of those people were Democrats. With The New York Times it was 91% of those people are Democrats. NPR are 87%.

So all of these news outlets are talking to one audience exclusively, and so they’ve learned that if they screw up and they make a mistake about the other audience, it’s not going to matter. So I think whether consciously or unconsciously, it’s sped up their fact checking process, or made it looser, because they know it doesn’t really matter. You know, if we make a mistake about this it’s not going to come and bounce back at us. If we predict that something’s going to happen – if we say the walls are closing in and they don’t – that’s not going to bounce back. So I think that’s a major, major part of this picture. [from 13:05 mins]

CH: Is this the death of journalism? I mean I don’t hold the commercial networks to the same standards (maybe it’s nostalgia) that I do for The [New York] Times. But, if you can’t communicate across these divides – which is essentially what’s happening – then the country just bifurcates into warring, antagonistic tribes, which is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia because you had competing ethnic groups seize rival media outlets, and speak only to their own and demonise the other.

But to see this happening in The New York Times and in the Washington Post: is this the end of traditional media?

MT: I think temporarily. I do believe – I mean I have maybe a naive hope – that some canny entrepreneur will realise that there’s a screaming need out there for a new kind of media product. I hear it every day from people sending emails: I just wish there was a place I can go to find out what happened, stripped of all the editorialising.

Like people want the old school boring when, why, where, how; third person; dead voice; that we used to get in all these newspapers. And they’re not getting that anymore because everything is highly charged and highly politicised and tailored for a political audience.

So I do believe that if somebody was smart they would create that outlet and there is some interesting stuff going on in independent media. But for the time being, the major commercial media outlets have become completely bifurcated as you put it. And it’s literally balkanising American society. I think you make a good point there.

I don’t think it’s an accident that we’re seeing groups of people who are marching around carrying AR-15s, really on both sides of the aisle, and that’s because we’ve developed different realities for different groups of people. And that’s very dangerous. [from 16:35 mins]

CH: It is: it’s very dangerous. And I will just throw in there that nobody in Yugoslavia thought they were going to have a war. You have people dressed up in camos posturing, but once that violence starts – we saw glimpses of it in Portland – once people start getting killed you open a Pandora’s Box that you can’t control.

I want to talk about the tech platforms because they’ve played a major role, I think a very pernicious role in all of this. You’ve also written about that. Can you talk about that?

MT: Sure. A couple of years ago when Alex Jones was thrown off basically all of the tech platforms in what was actually, in hindsight, kind of a remarkable moment, because it was clearly coordinated. All of the major platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google, Spotify, Youtube – they all kicked of Jones at the same time. And sort of liberal America cheered: said, well this is a noxious figure; this is a great thing [that] finally someone’s taking action. What they didn’t realise is that we were trading an old system of speech regulation for a new one [and] without any real public discussion.

You and I were raised in a system where you got punished for speech if you committed libel or slander or if there was imminent incitement to lawless action: that was the standard that the Supreme Court set. But that was done through litigation; it was an open process where you had a chance to rebut charges. That is all gone now.

Now basically there’s a handful of these tech distribution platforms that control how people get their media and they’ve been pressured by The Senate, which has called all of their CEOs in and basically ordered them: we need you to come up with a plan to prevent the sowing of discord and spreading of “misinformation”.

And now I think this past week is when this has finally come to fruition, when you see an major reputable news organisation like the New York Post, you know with a two hundred year history, is now locked out of its own Twitter account and that story [of Hunter Biden] which has not been disproven – it’s not disinformation or misinformation – it’s been suppressed in the manner as you know it would be suppressed in a Third World country. Which I think – I don’t know what you think – I think it’s remarkable kind of historic moment for us. [from 18:35 mins]

CH: No, it is: it’s a very frightening historic moment.

These tech platforms are not neutral. They’re on one side of the political divide. And the danger in my eyes – I’ll get your opinion on this – is that if Trump loses the election, this platform and this old media, and whatever their veracity is about their critiques of Trump, will essentially be completely written off. You won’t be able to reach that segment of the population at all.

MT: Right, yes. Exactly.

And I know some of the people who are high-ranking executives at some of the companies, and I’ve had discussions with some of them in the last year or so, and one of the things that I’ve tried to communicate is that there’s no possible way to institute a standard of something like factual reliability that can be done in an even-handed way without an awesome amount of people going through each and every submission. And they’re clearly not doing that. They are clearly creating rules and selecting out some content that they don’t like and allowing other content that they do like go through.

There’s no possible way to do it either with AI or with manpower in any kind of even-handed way. It’s automatically either going to be a mess or a double-standard. Like whack-a-mole, or a double-standard. And I think in a post-Trump reality, the danger is that we end up with essentially like a one-party informational system, where there’s going to be approved dialogue and unapproved dialogue that you can only get through certain kind of fringe avenues. And that’s the problem, because we let these companies get this monopolistic share of the distribution system and now they’re exercising that power. [from 21:15 mins]

CH: And I know you lived in Russia – I worked in Eastern Europe – what are the political consequences of that, because you’ve seen it?

MT: Yes, I kind of lived in both versions of Russia. I lived in the Soviet times – I was a student during that time – and I was there when the media freed up. And a lot of my former colleagues (Russian colleagues) worked under the Soviet system. And the similarities are pretty striking because what ends up happening is that it’s really more of a psychological form of censorship than it is an overt top-down kind of pressure.

The reporters end up knowing ahead of time what kinds of things they can write and what kinds of things they can’t write. And if you’re worried about where the edge is with Facebook or Twitter, and your career depends on not being deplatformed by those companies, you just won’t go anywhere near where you think the line might be.

And already, you know somebody like myself, or you, or Glenn Greenwald, reputable journalists, we’re already within range of possible suppression, which I would have said was outlandish even six months ago. And that’s no longer the case. So that’s what you worry about – is where the fear is going to take hold of the business [of journalism] very quickly. [from 22:45 mins]

On October 30th, Glenn Greenwald was invited by The Hill’s morning show ‘Rising’ to explain why he took the decision to resign from The Intercept (the alternative news outlet that he had co-founded) following censorship of his own reporting on the Hunter Biden story:

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CH: Well doesn’t the fear come from the fact that critics such as you have credibility, and therefore are dangerous because as the kind of moral centre erodes within journalistic organisations, critics such as yourself, who point it out, are no longer a nuisance, they essentially can be fatal, and so the suppression becomes much heavier?

MT: Yeah, and that’s the reason why I think this censorship is so self-defeating; it’s such a mistake. Normally, if you just allow this kind of speech to be distributed freely, it’s not going to have the impact. But what ends up happening in societies like the Soviet Union – you know, nobody would use a Russian newspaper, or a Soviet newspaper, for anything but lining a bird cage, or anything like that. But people would treasure the Samizdat [self-published undercover publications] documents that would be handed from family to family because that was the actual truth.

And that’s going to end up happening in this country, if you have an approved dialogue that you can get on Facebook and Twitter, and then there’s this other thing that’s forbidden. People are going to flock to that, which is why I don’t understand the commercial decision that companies like The New York Times and the Washington Post are making to throw off the thing that made them most valuable to people, which was the institutional credibility they had for being a kind of political third-party that was neutral. That was what gave them all of their value and they’re throwing it away and I don’t understand it. [from 24:25 mins]

CH: I think they’re throwing it away because they’re bleeding money. And they’re frightened. I mean you’re right it’s ultimately self-immolation.

You write: The people who run this country have run out of workable myths with which to distract the public, and in a moment of extreme crisis have chosen to stoke civil war and defame the rest of us, black and white, rather than admit to a generation of corruption, betrayal and mismanagement.

And I think part of it is that organisations such as The New York Times do not shine a light on the corruption, the betrayal, and the mismanagement.

MT: That’s right, and so they’ve had to come up with some other thing to sell to the public as the reason for all of our troubles. After the election of 2016, where internally within The New York Times we now know there was a tremendous kind of come-to-Jesus moment where they realised we didn’t see this coming how could we possibly have let that happen? We have to hire more people like Bret Stephens because we’re so out of touch with conservative America.

That’s what they were saying internally, but externally they spent all of their energy building their newsroom around this fictitious Russiagate story, rather than doing things like let’s look at what’s happening with poor and middle class America, and the massive amounts of insecurity that led to Trump’s election. They didn’t do that at all. They went with this other story.

And then later when that story fell apart, they kind of threw their weight behind The 1619 Project and other issues, because that was preferable to telling dangerous truths about the neoliberal economics and other issues that were really concerning the country. So that’s the danger that you get: that when they’re afraid to tell you what’s actually happening, they end up coming up with alternatives that are not convincing. [from 26:20 mins]

CH: Right, The 1619 Project, which they then denied what they wrote.

MT: Yeah, exactly.

CH: That was also kind of bizarre.

MT: Totally.

CH: That was Matt Taibbi, one of the few real journalists left on the disintegrating media landscape in the United States. Thanks Matt.

MT: Thanks Chris.

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how the Guardian, NYT and rest of the “Vichy journalists” all sold Julian Assange down the river

“Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy” — Noam Chomsky

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On September 7th,  as Julian Assange’s extradition hearing entered its final stage, John Pilger gave this address outside the Central Criminal Court in London:

When I first met Julian Assange more than ten years ago, I asked him why he had started WikiLeaks. He replied: “Transparency and accountability are moral issues that must be the essence of public life and journalism.”

I had never heard a publisher or an editor invoke morality in this way. Assange believes that journalists are the agents of people, not power: that we, the people, have a right to know about the darkest secrets of those who claim to act in our name.

If the powerful lie to us, we have the right to know. If they say one thing in private and the opposite in public, we have the right to know. If they conspire against us, as Bush and Blair did over Iraq, then pretend to be democrats, we have the right to know.

It is this morality of purpose that so threatens the collusion of powers that want to plunge much of the world into war and wants to bury Julian alive in Trumps fascist America.

In 2008, a top secret US State Department report described in detail how the United States would combat this new moral threat. A secretly-directed personal smear campaign against Julian Assange would lead to “exposure [and] criminal prosecution”.

The aim was to silence and criminalise WikiLeaks and its founder. Page after page revealed a coming war on a single human being and on the very principle of freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and democracy.

The imperial shock troops would be those who called themselves journalists: the big hitters of the so-called mainstream, especially the “liberals” who mark and patrol the perimeters of dissent.

And that is what happened. I have been a reporter for more than 50 years and I have never known a smear campaign like it: the fabricated character assassination of a man who refused to join the club: who believed journalism was a service to the public, never to those above.

Assange shamed his persecutors. He produced scoop after scoop. He exposed the fraudulence of wars promoted by the media and the homicidal nature of America’s wars, the corruption of dictators, the evils of Guantanamo.

He forced us in the West to look in the mirror. He exposed the official truth-tellers in the media as collaborators: those I would call Vichy journalists. None of these imposters believed Assange when he warned that his life was in danger: that the “sex scandal” in Sweden was a set up and an American hellhole was the ultimate destination. And he was right, and repeatedly right.

The extradition hearing in London this week is the final act of an Anglo-American campaign to bury Julian Assange. It is not due process. It is due revenge. The American indictment is clearly rigged, a demonstrable sham. So far, the hearings have been reminiscent of their Stalinist equivalents during the Cold War.

Today, the land that gave us Magna Carta, Great Britain, is distinguished by the abandonment of its own sovereignty in allowing a malign foreign power to manipulate justice and by the vicious psychological torture of Julian – a form of torture, as Nils Melzer, the UN expert has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was most effective in breaking its victims.

Every time I have visited Assange in Belmarsh prison, I have seen the effects of this torture. When I last saw him, he had lost more than 10 kilos in weight; his arms had no muscle. Incredibly, his wicked sense of humour was intact.

As for Assange’s homeland, Australia has displayed only a cringeing cowardice as its government has secretly conspired against its own citizen who ought to be celebrated as a national hero. Not for nothing did George W. Bush anoint the Australian prime minister his “deputy sheriff”.

It is said that whatever happens to Julian Assange in the next three weeks will diminish if not destroy freedom of the press in the West. But which press? The Guardian? The BBC, The New York Times, the Jeff Bezos Washington Post?

No, the journalists in these organisations can breathe freely. The Judases on the Guardian who flirted with Julian, exploited his landmark work, made their pile then betrayed him, have nothing to fear. They are safe because they are needed.

Freedom of the press now rests with the honourable few: the exceptions, the dissidents on the internet who belong to no club, who are neither rich nor laden with Pulitzers, but produce fine, disobedient, moral journalism – those like Julian Assange.

Meanwhile, it is our responsibility to stand by a true journalist whose sheer courage ought to be inspiration to all of us who still believe that freedom is possible. I salute him.

Click here to read the same transcript on John Pilger’s official website.

John Pilger also gave an extended interview with Afshin Rattansi on today’s ‘Going Underground’:

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Yesterday was the last day of Julian Assange’s extradition hearing at the Old Bailey and unless you have followed the daily reports from Craig Murray; Binoy Kampmark at Counterpunch; Joe Lauria of Consortium News or a handful of other alternative media sites, it is more than likely you have remained unaware that any trial was taking place, let alone what is at stake.

As Binoy Kampmark reported on Thursday – summing up events of the previous day:

Today will be remembered as a grand expose. It was a direct, pointed accusation at the intentions of the US imperium which long for the scalp of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. For WikiLeaks, it was a smouldering triumph, showing that the entire mission against Assange, from the start, has been a political one. The Australian publisher faces the incalculably dangerous prospect of 17 charges under the US Espionage Act and one under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Stripped to its elements, the indictment is merely violence kitted out in the vestment of sham legality. The rest is politics.

Doubtless, and was not for ‘the politics’, the Assange case would have made headline news and featured front-and-centre of mainstream news bulletins for weeks, not only because the seriousness of its potential ramifications – how it will cast a long shadow over press freedom and set a precedent for further US overreach based on trumped up charges of ‘spying’ – but more straightforwardly because of the prominence and quality of so many of the witnesses called to give testimony in Assange’s defence. These include (to single out just three of the more outstanding) Daniel Ellsberg, ‘Pentagon Papers’ whistleblower; Clive Stafford Smith, esteemed human rights lawyer and a  co-founder of Reprieve; before, on Wednesday, Noam Chomsky joined these illustrious ranks having issued a fourteen point submission of concise eloquence which concludes as follows:

One device to control the population is to operate in secret so that the ignorant and meddlesome outsiders will stay in their place, remote from the levers of power, which are none of their business. That’s the main purpose for classification of internal documents. Anyone who has pored through the archives of released documents has surely come to realise pretty quickly that what is kept secret very rarely has anything at all to do with security except for the security of the leadership from their domestic enemy, their own population.  The practice is so routine that illustration is really quite superfluous.  I’ll mention only one current case.  Consider the global trade agreements: Pacific and Atlantic, in actuality investor rights agreements masquerading under the rubric of free trade. They’re negotiated in secret. There’s an intention of a Stalinist style of ratification by parliaments –  yes or no –  which of course means yes with no discussion or debate, what’s called in the United States “fast track”.  To be accurate they’re not negotiated entirely in secret.  The facts are known to the corporate lawyers and lobbyists who are writing the details in such a way as to protect the interests of the constituency that they represent which is of course not the public. The public on the contrary is an enemy that must be kept in ignorance.

Julian Assange’s alleged crime in working to expose government secrets is to violate the fundamental principles of government, to lift the veil of secrecy that protects power from scrutiny, keeps it from evaporating – and again it is well understood by the powerful that lifting the veil may cause power to evaporate. It may even lead to authentic freedom and democracy if an aroused public comes to understand that force is on the side of the governed and it can be their force if they choose to control their own fate.

In my view, Julian Assange, in courageously upholding political beliefs that most of us profess to share, has performed an enormous service to all the people in the world who treasure the values of freedom and democracy and who therefore demand the right to know what their elected representatives are doing. His actions in turn have led him to be pursued in a cruel and intolerable manner.

Click here to find Chomsky’s statement uploaded in full within Craig Murray’s report.

Returning to Binoy Kampmark’s report from the same day, he continues:

Witness statements were read from a veritable who’s who of courageous investigative journalism (Patrick Cockburn, Andy Worthington, Stefania Maurizi and Ian Cobain) and an assortment of legal freight from Guy Goodwin-Gill, professor of law at the University of New South Wales, Robert Boyle, well versed in the dark practices of grand juries and Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

These statements, pointing to the value of the WikiLeaks publications, the care taken in releasing them, and the terrifying prospects for press freedom, deserve separate treatment.

Kampmark’s report then scrutinises in granular detail, evidence presented by two anonymous witnesses from the Spanish security firm UC Global S.L. in what he describes as “Wednesday’s grand show”. Since this lies outside of my purview, I direct and encourage readers instead to read his full article entitled “Assange on Trial: Embassy Espionage, Contemplated Poisoning and Proposed Kidnapping” published by Counterpunch on October 1st.

A précis is also provided by Craig Murray’s report from Wednesday:

Twenty minutes sufficed for the reading of the “gist” of the astonishing testimony of two witnesses, their identity protected as their lives may be in danger, who stated that the CIA, operating through Sheldon Adelson, planned to kidnap or poison Assange, bugged not only him but his lawyers, and burgled the offices of his Spanish lawyers Baltazar Garzon. This evidence went unchallenged and untested.

Meanwhile, here is what BBC has been reporting throughout what is (without exaggeration) the trial of the century – quite literally nothing! (the top article here is a ‘profile’ from September 23rd):

Screenshot from BBC website today

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“If I am a conspirator to commit espionage, then all these other media organisations and the principal journalists in them are also conspirators to commit espionage. What needs to be done is to have a united face in this.”

These are the words of Julian Assange quoted from an interview with journalist Mark Davis of Australian TV channel SBS back in 2011, as he unpacked why the US preferred to charge him under the Espionage Act of 1917 in their determined effort to isolate him from other journalists and thereby lessen an otherwise perceived threat that they too might share his fate. (The relevant section is from 24–43 mins and the quote is at 40:00 mins.)

In a different article published last week by Counterpunch, investigative reporter Jonathan Cook reminds us of Assange’s statement and places it in context:

During the course of the current extradition hearings, US officials have found it much harder to make plausible this distinction principle than they may have assumed.

Journalism is an activity, and anyone who regularly engages in that activity qualifies as a journalist. It is not the same as being a doctor or a lawyer, where you need a specific professional qualification to practice. You are a journalist if you do journalism – and you are an investigative journalist if, like Assange, you publish information the powerful want concealed. Which is why in the current extradition hearings at the Old Bailey in London, the arguments made by lawyers for the US that Assange is not a journalist but rather someone engaged in espionage are coming unstuck.

Cook continues:

Assange was doing exactly what journalists claim to do every day in a democracy: monitor power for the public good. Which is why ultimately the Obama administration abandoned the idea of issuing an indictment against Assange. There was simply no way to charge him without also putting journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian on trial too. And doing that would have made explicit that the press is not free but works on licence from those in power.

For that reason alone, one might have imagined that the entire media – from rightwing to liberal-left outlets – would be up in arms about Assange’s current predicament. After all, the practice of journalism as we have known it for at least 100 years is at stake.

But in fact, as Assange feared nine years ago, the media have chosen not to adopt a “united face” – or at least, not a united face with Wikileaks. They have remained all but silent. They have ignored – apart from occasionally to ridicule – Assange’s terrifying ordeal, even though he has been locked up for many months in Belmarsh high-security prison awaiting efforts to extradite him as a spy.

In a follow-up piece also published by Counterpunch, Cook discusses at greater length and in detail how the corporate media have betrayed Assange. Most egregious is the Guardian, which of course worked in collaboration with Wikileaks to publish the Iraq and Afghan war diaries. Cook writes:

My first criticism was that the paper had barely bothered to cover the hearing, even though it is the most concerted attack on press freedom in living memory. That position is unconscionably irresponsible, given its own role in publishing the war diaries. But sadly it is not inexplicable. In fact, it is all too easily explained by my second criticism.

That criticism was chiefly levelled at two leading journalists at the Guardian, former investigations editor David Leigh and reporter Luke Harding, who together wrote a book in 2011 that was the earliest example of what would rapidly become a genre among a section of the liberal media elite, most especially at the Guardian, of vilifying Assange.

He continues:

Leigh and Harding’s book now lies at the heart of the US case for Assange’s extradition to the US on so-called “espionage” charges. The charges are based on Wikileaks’ publication of leaks provided by Chelsea Manning, then an army private, that revealed systematic war crimes committed by the US military. 

Lawyers for the US have mined from the Guardian book claims by Leigh that Assange was recklessly indifferent to the safety of US informants named in leaked files published by Wikileaks.

Assange’s defence team have produced a raft of renowned journalists, and others who worked with Wikileaks, to counter Leigh’s claim and argue that this is actually an inversion of the truth. Assange was meticulous about redacting names in the documents. It was they – the journalists, including Leigh – who were pressuring Assange to publish without taking full precautions.

Of course, none of these corporate journalists – only Assange – is being put on trial, revealing clearly that this is a political trial to silence Assange and disable Wikileaks.

Cook then provides details regarding a specific incident that is central to the prosecution claims highlighting how it was the Guardian journalists themselves and not Assange who must be held responsible for many of these unredacted leaks:

The February 2011 Guardian book the US keeps citing contained something in addition to the highly contentious and disputed claim from Leigh that Assange had a reckless attitude to redacting names. The book also disclosed a password – one Assange had given to Leigh on strict conditions it be kept secret – to the file containing the 250,000 encrypted cables. The Guardian book let the cat out of the bag. Once it gave away Assange’s password, the Old Bailey hearings have heard, there was no going back.

Any security service in the world could now unlock the file containing the cables. And as they homed in on where the file was hidden at the end of the summer, Assange was forced into a desperate damage limitation operation. In September 2011 he published the unredacted cables so that anyone named in them would have advance warning and could go into hiding – before any hostile security services came looking for them.

Yes, Assange published the cables unredacted but he did so – was forced to do so – by the unforgivable actions of Leigh and the Guardian.

Not that any of Wikileaks publications are believed to have harmed informants, as a Guardian report substantiates:

“Brigadier general Robert Carr, a senior counter-intelligence officer who headed the Information Review Task Force that investigated the impact of WikiLeaks disclosures on behalf of the Defense Department, told a court at Fort Meade, Maryland, that they had uncovered no specific examples of anyone who had lost his or her life in reprisals that followed the publication of the disclosures on the internet. “I don’t have a specific example,” he said.

It has been one of the main criticisms of the WikiLeaks publications that they put lives at risk, particularly in Iran and Afghanistan. The admission by the Pentagon’s chief investigator into the fallout from WikiLeaks that no such casualties were identified marks a significant undermining of such arguments.

Click here to read the full Guardian report entitled “Bradley Manning leak did not result in deaths by enemy forces, court hears” written by Ed Pilkington, published on July 31st 2013.

Moreover, John Young, the editor of a US website Cryptome (which has in the past been highly critical of Wikileaks) is another who gave evidence at the Assange hearings. Young told the court they had published the unredacted cables on September 1st 2011, crucially the day before Wikileaks published, though they (unlike Wikileaks) have never been pursued by law enforcement agencies. Craig Murray, who has been reporting from the public gallery throughout the trial, writes that:

Cryptome is US based but they had never been approached by law enforcement about these unredacted cables in any way nor asked to take them down. The cables remained online on Cryptome.

Similarly Chris Butler, Manager for Internet Archive, gave evidence of the unredacted cables and other classified documents being available on the Wayback machine. They had never been asked to take down nor been threatened with prosecution.

Click here to read the same in Craig Murray’s report from day 17 of the hearing published on September 25th.

Jonathan Cook then goes on to list the Guardian’s deceptions point-by-point. He writes – and I have reproduced below his criticism in full:

Every time the US cites Leigh and Harding’s book, it effectively recruits the Guardian against Assange and against freedom of the press. Hanging over the paper is effectively a threat that – should it not play ball with the US campaign to lock Assange away for life – the US could either embarrass it by publicly divulging its role or target the paper for treatment similar to that suffered by Assange.

And quite astoundingly, given the stakes for Assange and for journalism, the Guardian has been playing ball – by keeping quiet. Until this week, at least.

Under pressure, the Guardian finally published on Friday a short, sketchy and highly simplistic account of the past week’s hearings, and then used it as an opportunity to respond to the growing criticism of its role in publishing the password in the Leigh and Harding book.

The Guardian’s statement in its report of the extradition hearings is not only duplicitous in the extreme but sells Assange down the river by evading responsibility for publishing the password. It thereby leaves him even more vulnerable to the US campaign to lock him up.

Here is its statement:

“The Guardian has made clear it is opposed to the extradition of Julian Assange. However, it is entirely wrong to say the Guardian’s 2011 WikiLeaks book led to the publication of unredacted US government files,” a spokesman said.

“The book contained a password which the authors had been told by Julian Assange was temporary and would expire and be deleted in a matter of hours. The book also contained no details about the whereabouts of the files. No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September

Cook then goes on to highlight the deceptions:

  1. The claim that the password was “temporary” is just that – a self-exculpatory claim by David Leigh. There is no evidence to back it up beyond Leigh’s statement that Assange said it. And the idea that Assange would say it defies all reason. Leigh himself states in the book that he had to bully Assange into letting him have the password precisely because Assange was worried that a tech neophyte like Leigh might do something foolish or reckless. Assange needed a great deal of persuading before he agreed. The idea that he was so concerned about the security of a password that was to have a life-span shorter than a mayfly is simply not credible.

  1. Not only was the password not temporary, but it was based very obviously on a complex formula Assange used for all Wikileaks’ passwords to make them impossible for others to crack but easier for him to remember. By divulging the password, Leigh gave away Assange’s formula and offered every security service in the world the key to unlocking other encrypted files. The claim that Assange had suggested to Leigh that keeping the password secret was not of the most vital importance is again simply not credible.
  2. But whether or not Leigh thought the password was temporary is beside the point. Leigh, as an experienced investigative journalist and one who had little understanding of the tech world, had a responsibility to check with Assange that it was okay to publish the password. Doing anything else was beyond reckless. This was a world Leigh knew absolutely nothing about, after all.

But there was a reason Leigh did not check with Assange: he and Harding wrote the book behind Assange’s back. Leigh had intentionally cut Assange out of the writing and publication process so that he and the Guardian could cash in on the Wikileak founder’s early fame. Not checking with Assange was the whole point of the exercise.

  1. It is wrong to lay all the blame on Leigh, however. This was a Guardian project. I worked at the paper for years. Before any article is published, it is scrutinised by backbench editors, sub-editors, revise editors, page editors and, if necessary, lawyers and one of the chief editors. A Guardian book on the most contentious, incendiary publication of a secret cache of documents since the Pentagon Papers should have gone through at least the same level of scrutiny, if not more.

So how did no one in this chain of supervision pause to wonder whether it made sense to publish a password to a Wikileaks file of encrypted documents? The answer is that the Guardian was in a publishing race to get its account of the ground-shattering release of the Iraq and Afghan diaries out before any of its rivals, including the New York Times and Der Spiegel. It wanted to take as much glory as possible for itself in the hope of winning a Pulitzer. And it wanted to settle scores with Assange before his version of events was given an airing in either the New York Times or Der Spiegel books. Vanity and greed drove the Guardian’s decision to cut corners, even if it meant endangering lives.

  1. Nauseatingly, however, the Guardian not only seeks to blame Assange for its own mistake but tells a glaring lie about the circumstances. Its statement says: “No concerns were expressed by Assange or WikiLeaks about security being compromised when the book was published in February 2011. WikiLeaks published the unredacted files in September 2011.”

It is simply not true that Assange and Wikileaks expressed no concern. They expressed a great deal of concern in private. But they did not do so publicly – and for very good reason.

Any public upbraiding of the Guardian for its horrendous error would have drawn attention to the fact that the password could be easily located in Leigh’s book. By this stage, there was no way to change the password or delete the file, as has been explained to the Old Bailey hearing by a computer professor, Christian Grothoff, of Bern University. He has called Leigh a “bad faith actor”.

So Assange was forced to limit the damage quietly, behind the scenes, before word of the password’s publication got out and the file was located. Ultimately, six months later, when the clues became too numerous to go unnoticed, and Cryptome had published the unredacted file on its website, Assange had no choice but to follow suit.

This is the real story, the one the Guardian dare not tell. Despite the best efforts of the US lawyers and the judge at the Old Bailey hearings, the truth is finally starting to emerge. Now it is up to us to make sure the Guardian is not allowed to continue colluding in this crime against Assange and the press freedoms he represents.

Click here to read Jonathan Cook’s article in full at Counterpunch and here to read his previous article also published by Counterpunch.

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Update:

On October 3rd, Craig Murray spoke about the hearing with Chris Hedges on his RT show ‘On Contact’:

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Filed under Australia, Britain, Craig Murray, internet freedom, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky

how the Afghan ‘Bountygate’ hoax deflects from the dirty truth

On June 26th, The New York Times ran a sensational story claiming that as its headline announces in bold “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says”.

This first NYT report (one of many) begins:

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Continuing:

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The first thing to note here is that the allegation itself has historical precedence:

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) program to arm and finance the mujahideen (jihadists) in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989

Quoted above is the opening passage to the current Wikipedia entry on Operation Cyclone: a clandestine Cold War initiative led by Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, which cost more than $20 billion in U.S. funds. What the US did in the eighties is therefore precisely what Moscow is accused of doing by these ‘sources’ and the NYT today.

The next thing to note is the absence of evidence to back this purported ‘intelligence’ and exceedingly vague claim that bounties were paid not to the Taliban but to “Taliban-linked militants”. The NYT does however shed interesting light on the origins of the claim:

The intelligence assessment is said to be based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals. 1

“Interrogations” has become a familiar euphemism in our post-9/11 age, and I shall return to consider its meaning in this context shortly.

In the following week, the NYT embroidered its “suspicions of Russian bounties” (as one headline begins) with a series of follow-up pieces. To lend weight to otherwise unsubstantiated claims, evidence was now presented of sizeable transfers of money purportedly traceable to Russia:

American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence. […]

The intercepts bolstered the findings gleaned from the interrogations, helping reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies over the reliability of the detainees. The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump. In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily written brief in late February, two officials have said. 2

This follow-up piece that appeared on June 30th proceeds from a byline with no less than five credited authors! (Safety in numbers?) In total, nine separate correspondents were seconded to work on this quickly expanding series of NYT ‘Bountygate’ articles; the account of events constantly revised as the dramatic “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops” claim was gradually walked back over the course of a few days.

As investigative journalist Gareth Porter wrote in a detailed rebuttal of the ‘Bountygate’ story:

[S]ubsequent reporting revealed that the “US intelligence reports” about a Russian plot to distribute bounties through Afghan middlemen were not generated by US intelligence at all.

Regarding the specific allegation of money transfers to “Taliban-linked militants”, Porter continues:

The Times reported first on June 28, then again on June 30, that a large amount of cash found at a “Taliban outpost” or a “Taliban site” had led U.S. intelligence to suspect the Russian plot.  But the Times had to walk that claim back, revealing on July 1 that the raid that turned up $500,000 in cash had in fact targeted the Kabul home of Rahmatullah Azizi, an Afghan businessmen said to have been involved in both drug trafficking and contracting for part of the billions of dollars the United States spent on construction projects.

The Times also disclosed that the information provided by “captured militants and criminals” under “interrogation” had been the main source of suspicion of a Russian bounty scheme in Afghanistan. But those “militants and criminals” turned out to be thirteen relatives and business associates of the businessman whose house was raided.

While on the subject of “interrogation”, Porter adds:

Furthermore, contrary to the initial report by the Times, those raids had actually been carried out exclusively by the Afghan intelligence service known as the National Directorate of Security (NDS). The Times disclosed this on July 1. Indeed, the interrogation of those detained in the raids was carried out by the NDS, which explains why the Times reporting referred repeatedly to “interrogations” without ever explaining who actually did the questioning.

Given the notorious record of the NDS, it must be assumed that its interrogators used torture or at least the threat of it to obtain accounts from the detainees that would support the Afghan government’s narrative. Both the Toronto Globe and Mail and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have documented as recently as 2019 the frequent use of torture by the NDS to obtain information from detainees. 3

Porter’s analysis is assiduous and I very much encourage readers to follow the link to his full article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” by The Grayzone.

On Saturday 11th, ‘Red Lines’ host Anya Parampil spoke with Gareth Porter about his latest report. Porter explains why the Afghan regime was so eager to concoct a story in fears that Trump was ready to pull out US troops to boost his own poll ratings:

But leaving aside these bogus ‘Bountygate’ claims cooked up to embarrass Putin and Trump (already joined at the hip thanks to the ‘Russiagate’ hysteria) and thereby apply leverage to “keep US troops entrenched in Afghanistan” as Porter puts it, there is actually far more to this sordid tale. In fact substantiated allegations do exist that the Taliban has been paid off in order to keep the war in Afghanistan going: evidence that forms the basis for a lawsuit. Those presently in the dock are not based in Moscow however, but representatives of businesses including US companies with their own vested interests in prolonging the war:

Nearly 400 people who were either wounded while serving in the U.S. military in Afghanistan or are family members of service members who died in the conflict sued a group of companies on Friday they say helped fund attacks against Americans by making protection payments to the Taliban.

“Defendants supported the Taliban for a simple reason: Defendants were all large Western companies with lucrative businesses in post-9/11 Afghanistan, and they all paid the Taliban to refrain from attacking their business interests,” the 288-page complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Friday states. “Those protection payments aided and abetted terrorism by directly funding an al-Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgency that killed and injured thousands of Americans.”

From a report published by Courthouse News Service published in late December, which continues:

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. […]

The companies had significant interests to protect. One of the named defendants, the South African telecom firm MTN, was the largest cell-service provider in the country, while the other companies either had government development contracts or security deals.

“Defendants decided that buying off the terrorists was the most efficient way to operate their businesses while managing their own security risks – even though doing so jeopardized other American lives,” the complaint states. 4

Click here to read the full report entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops”.

And here to read a report by NPR.

Hat tip to Scott Creighton of Nomadic Everyman.

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Update:

While the military is investigating the allegations, Mark Miley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says there’s no proof that Russian payments led to any US deaths. The National Security Agency says it found no communications intelligence supporting the bounty claim.

Marine Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., head of the US Central Command, says he’s not convinced that American troops died as a result of Russian bounties.

“I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” he tells The Washington Post.

From an article entitled “Russia Bounty Story Falls Flat” written by Reese Erlich, published in Antiwar.com on July 18th.

The piece goes on:

Matthew Hoh, who worked for the State Department in Afghanistan and is now a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy, tells me that the reports of Russian bounties likely originated with the Afghanistan intelligence agency.

“The mention of Russia was a key word,” says Hoh. CIA officials fast-tracked the Afghan reports. They argued that Russia’s interference, and Trump’s failure to respond, only emboldens the Russians. […]

Hoh says the alleged bounties make no sense politically or militarily. Last year, he says, “The Taliban didn’t need any incentives to kill Americans.” And this year, it has stopped all attacks on US forces as part of the February agreement.

Adding:

“There’s an entire infrastructure influencing policy,” says Hoh, who had an inside seat during his years with the government.

The Deep State is not monolithic, he cautions. “You won’t find a backroom with guys smoking cigars. But there is a notion of US primacy and a bent towards military intervention.”

And that’s what the current Russia-Taliban scandal is all about: An unreliable Afghan report is blown into a national controversy in hopes of forcing the White House to cancel the Afghan troop withdrawal. Demonizing Russia (along with China and Iran) also justifies revamping the US nuclear arsenal and building advanced fighter jets that can’t fly.

“It’s Russia hysteria,” says Hoh.

Click here to read Reese Erlich’s full article at Antiwar.com.

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1 From an article entitled “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says” written by Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt & Michael Schwirtz, published in The new York Times on June 26th 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/us/politics/russia-afghanistan-bounties.html

2 From an article entitled “Suspicions of Russian Bounties Were Bolstered by Data on Financial Transfers” written by Charlie Savage, Mujib Mashal, Rukmini Callimachi, Eric Schmitt & Adam Goldman, published in The New York Times on June 30, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/us/politics/russian-bounties-afghanistan-intelligence.html

3 From an article entitled “How the Pentagon failed to sell Afghan government’s bunk ‘Bountygate’ story to US intelligence agencies” written by Gareth Porter, published in The Grayzone on July 7, 2020. https://thegrayzone.com/2020/07/07/pentagon-afghan-bountygate-us-intelligence-agencies/

4 From an article entitled “US Contractors Accused of Funding Taliban Attacks Against American Troops” written by Tim Ryan, published in Courthouse News Service on December 27, 2019. https://www.courthousenews.com/us-contractors-accused-of-funding-taliban-attacks-against-american-troops/

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Filed under Afghanistan, al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Russia, USA

John Pilger on war with China, the West’s loss of perception, and how “many journalists have simply given up”

“When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

“I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

“Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.” — John Pilger

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On today’s season finale special episode of Going Underground, Afshin Rattansi speaks to award-winning journalist and film-maker John Pilger in an extended interview about the current state of global affairs as it enters what Pilger describes as a state of world war: the ‘Coming War on China’ that he had warned about in an earlier documentary (embedded within the transcript below) has already arrived he says.

He also discusses his concern with John Bolton being at the ear of Donald Trump amidst the collapse of the global nuclear arms control framework that saw the end of the INF Treaty and the beginning of a new arms race with Russia; a situation where Washington’s goal is to break up the Russian Federation under Putin. He likewise sees a growing risk of war between other nuclear superpowers, most especially Pakistan and India.

Pilger also talks about western sanctions imposed on Venezuela and Iran and how they are deliberately bringing suffering to the citizens of those countries; how Brexit has provided a distraction from the most pressing issues at home (such as austerity and the NHS) and abroad; and finally, he provides an update on the condition of Wikileaks founder and publisher Julian Assange, after he visited him recently in Belmarsh prison:

The full transcript of the interview is my own [interview begins at 2:30 mins]:

Afshin Rattansi: John thanks for coming back on. Boris Johnson [is] in Germany today. All eyes on the G7 at the end of the week: Russia not invited, China not considered by the IMF to be an advanced economy, but they will be talking about China apparently – we are being led to believe that Hong Kong is the centre of this weekend’s negotiations or talks.

John Pilger: Yes – what are these talks about? Excluding two of the most interesting developed powers in the world, China and Russia. I mean you know the truth is – what nobody is talking about – is there is a world war. It’s not a shooting war. But it could easily become a world war. There is a war already on China.

There has been a war of attrition against Russia for some years now: breaking up the Russian Federation is an American objective. Maintaining the supremacy of the US in all areas of human affairs – economic affairs, cultural affairs – is what particularly this regime in Washington is committed to. All regimes have been committed to.

It’s now reaching a head because they see a challenge in China. A challenge, and undoubtedly it’s an economic challenge, but it’s not a military challenge. This Nineteenth Century view of the world that permeates Washington and has returned to this country, the United Kingdom, has now created a war situation with China.

Very few know that China has now changed its nuclear posture from low alert – that is separating the warheads from missiles – to high alert – putting them together, the same as the United States. That’s something China didn’t do for many, many years, but they are clearly worried there now.

AR: You’re documentary was “The Coming War on China”, but you’re saying it is a war: we’ve seen colour revolutions thwarted – some successful against Putin in Russia. Is Hong Kong – millions of pounds have gone in from the National Endowment for Democracy – does Beijing understand what Hong Kong is?

JP: Oh yes. Yes, I think Beijing understands perfectly. The reason there is a rebellion in China is complex, of course, the people in Hong Kong do have a grievance. There is an inequality. But really what has happened is that manufacturing has moved to the mainland. The interference in Hong Kong, the subversion in Hong Kong by the US through the National Endowment for Democracy, through its local agents… and by all the others who make regular pilgrimages to John Bolton. Of course they are part of the war on China.

That’s not to take away from the fact that there are grievances within China – within Hong Kong – but Hong Kong didn’t sign up for two countries, two systems. It signed up for one country and two systems. And I find it almost grotesque the whole idea [that] the Union Jack should be draped over the speaker’s chair in the assembly in Hong Kong, when it was the Union Jack over hundred that represented an oppressive system.

I went to Hong Kong several times to write about the oppression of the police under the British. A corrupt police force led by British officers. A brutal police force. There was never any democracy.

AR: Even up to the 1990s?

JP: Right up to the 1990s. What there was – Hong Kong has been a business island. Well one could say that perhaps China is a business nation. And the mainland has usurped this special role of Hong Kong.

AR: So why here are we treated to endless images – as you say, no doubt some of these protesters have justification for opposing what is going on in Hong Kong – but yet the Gilets Jaunes protests are probably not going to be discussed in Biarritz this weekend at the G7?

JP: Because never before have people been called upon to think within such a narrow spectrum. And we could sit here all day talking about the iniquities of the media and so on, but it’s even wider than the media. There is a spectrum in which we are, if you like, allowed to think.

The news is dominated by Hong Kong and yet 29 miles from England there’s France, and this extraordinary rebellion of the Yellow Jackets, which has produced the most equally extraordinary violence from the state, has been virtually ignored. The same is true of Kashmir. I mean Kashmir was a fleeting moment, if you like, allowed into our perception. And here is a country bigger than Belgium, bigger than Portugal – 30 million people – where people are denied everything by the Indian state: denied food, freedom of movement, freedom of expression. India’s been doing this for a very, very long time. But India is our friend – the world’s greatest democracy and so…

AR: Trump says he’s being even-handed on it. China, of course, which has an interest there – another nuclear power apart from the other two – has taken it up at the Security Council.

JP: It’s our perception, I suppose, that we’re thinking about here… the way people are concerned that we’re going to run out of medicines after October 31st. We have no perception of the way the people of Iran are suffering under the sanctions that deny cancer drugs almost entirely because of these sanctions.

We have no perception of the way the people of Venezuela are suffering under sanctions. We have absolutely zilch understanding of how the people of Gaza continue to suffer in their open prison, as that has been obliterated almost from the news agenda and by extension from our perception. So within this spectrum – this narrow spectrum – the manipulation of people is probably the most extraordinary I’ve know in my career as a journalist.

AR: But obviously it’s not a physiological problem amongst journalists in newsrooms around the world that they can’t understand say Brexit no deal – there’s going to be problems here with medicines and food – and not understanding Yemen.

JP: I think journalists have given up. Many journalists have simply given up. There is a so-called mainstream, which is a misnomer: it’s not a mainstream at all, it’s an agency of extreme economic policies, policies that produce 4.1 million children in poverty in Britain.

AR: Four million children, two million under the age of five in Britain.

JP: Yes. And the kind of suffering that has come out of these extreme policies – called neoliberalism or whatever you want to call it – is echoed through our media in the same way that the whole absence of a warning that these virulent campaigns against China and Russia (particularly against the nuclear armed countries) could actually lead to something.

The abandonment by the United States of the INF treaty – the most important anti-nuclear war treaty ever signed – and here we had yesterday, I think it was, the US now testing again these intermediate-range nuclear weapons. And Russia, Putin, saying well yes of course we’re in an arms race again. The dangers of this. The dangers of accidentally, mistakenly beginning a nuclear war are not known to most people. That’s left out of this spectrum.

AR: Some say the INF treaty had to be revised because China was always opposing and violating the terms… in which the INF treaty was originally negotiated between Gorbachev and…

JP: That would come out of Washngton. And even if that treaty did need revision, then revise it. I remember those discussions and I interviewed a number of the American negotiators, extraordinary men… who sat down and negotiated with the Russians these complex treaties. They were serious people. We are not dealing with serious people.

AR: Some school textbooks in this country still say that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the prices to pay for ending the Second World War. You went there.

JP: You only have to read the US Air Force bombing survey and it’s very clear that that wasn’t the case.

When I first went to Hiroshima it was just over twenty years after the bomb was dropped and it had an extraordinary effect on me. I saw on the steps of a bank in the middle of Hiroshima, the shadow of a woman. She’d been sitting there, apparently preparing her lunch, sitting on the steps when the flash happened. The bomb dropped on August 6th 1945 and her image was burnt into the steps of the bank.

I remember looking at this image of this woman – you could see her shape, her arms, almost her relaxed position – and the impact that had on me was quite profound actually. And it obviously had an impact on many people because they got rid of it. They got rid of the shadow. Japan under US pressure got rid of this extraordinary shadow and it’s not there anymore.

Now I would suggest that that shadow represents something ahead of us unless we start understanding the true dangers of the recklessness of our own governments.

AR: Well, John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, who advises Trump we are led to believe, says that all options should be on the table against dictators like Maduro, against people in Iran who lead their government – attacking all these different places.

JP: I’ve interviewed John Bolton. John Bolton comes as close to being a political lunatic as you can get.

AR: He had friendly conversations with Boris Johnson here just the other week.

JP: Often political lunatics can have a very friendly conversation with others if they recognise similarities. But Bolton particularly is a man absolutely salivating it appears – and I don’t think I’ve ever said this about any politician of this kind – for a war. Or for an attack. Or for an overthrow. Or for a coup. That he is in the position he is in is the most terrifying thing.

AR: In foreign policy terms you see the European Union, which completely backs John Bolton’s view on Venezuela – Britain and Brussels completely aligned with Washington saying Juan Guaidó is the real leader of Venezuela. The EU is an arm of Nato?

JP: Well, you see the problem with the whole Brexit nonsense – this utterly almost internecine struggle of wills following the referendum in 2016 – is how much it excludes. There is no public debate, certainly no parliamentary debate – probably there never would have been – no public debate on the fact that the European Union is an agency of Nato. And Nato is, almost by definition, certainly by example, a nuclear war fighting provocative organisation. All this is supported by the EU. It should be part of our debate about the EU. I have no doubt there are great virtues in some things about the EU.

AR: Of course it’s the kind of thing Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party here in Britain, used to talk about. Is there reason why he perhaps has been on the fence – or is regarded as being on the fence about Lexit versus Brexit, because he understands that?

JP: Jeremy Corbyn seems to have become so overwhelmed by Brexit, whereas the country – this country – in which so many people are suffering is as a result of this hideous ideology “austerity”. One only has to drive outside London as I’ve done in making the film I’ve made about the National Health Service. And drive into rather nice places like Wiltshire and see the boarded up towns. This needs a Labour leader.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has presented himself as that Labour leader, but Brexit seems to have overwhelmed every party, anyone who steps anywhere near Parliament or this subject – it’s a very important subject, of course. No deal or not no deal. But what is most important is whether the National Health Service will survive, not Brexit, but will survive the ideological attacks on it. Whether people will survive this hideous mutation of welfare called Universal Credit.

In Durham, a father of three killed himself because he had no money anymore, it hadn’t come through under Universal Credit. The suffering of people in this developed country, which is now the sixth or seventh richest country in the world, is obscene.

AR: This is a week when the Childhood Trust has said that in Britain children are eating toilet paper to stave off hunger. Is this in a sense, when you talk about the United States or Germany, is this the Achilles heel? Because, of course, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, there are people heading to 2020 to overthrow, democratically, Donald Trump, who seem to have a different vision. And is the 2008 crisis the context: the foreign policy, the home policy, the starvation?

JP: I mean I think Sanders and the rest of them are social democrats rushing to catch up with a kind of social democracy which has been in Europe and is now being rapidly extinguished. But their foreign policy doesn’t change. We had two of the leading socialists – at least they are members of the Democratic Socialists of America – vote for Donald Trump’s 738 billion arms budget recently in Congress. That should concern us in the outside world, that Sanders and the others – which they interestingly call “the left” in the United States – okay, but they’re social democrats – whether they bring some form of civilised life to a country where now up to half the population are suffering some form of impoverishment (in the United States).

AR: You certainly won’t hear them defending Julian Assange of Wikileaks. If anything they might arguably be seen as part of those people who consider Wikileaks a Russian cut-out of an organisation. You met Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison not far from this studio. Chelsea Manning of course is refusing to testify against Julian Assange. She’s in solitary in the United States. Tell me first of all about Julian’s health.

JP: Can I just say very quickly, first you know we’ve been talking about censorship by omission on a huge scale. A federal court ruled that there was no Russian connection with Julian Assange. That he had constitutional rights to do as he did as a journalist and as a publisher, and that has been completely ignored.

Julian’s own condition is, how do I put it, very dangerous. When I last saw him about ten days ago I was shocked because he’d lost more weight. He was isolated. They seemed to be imposing a regime that must be punitive on him of isolation. He’s in the health wing – what they call the ‘healthcare wing’ or ‘hospital wing’ – of Belmarsh prison, but he’s in a single cell and he told me that I see people walking by and I’d like to talk to them but I can’t.

Category A prisoners, murderers and others who have committed serious crimes, are allowed to fraternise; Julian is not allowed to fraternise. He’s not even allowed to telephone his American lawyers and he’s facing extradition to the United States. He had to wait two and a half months to see an optician and then when he got his glasses one of the lens didn’t work.

He’s being denied the right – the right – to prepare his own defence. He’s denied access to documents. Access to the library. A laptop. His lawyer, his solicitor Gareth Peirce spoke to the governor on the fourth of June about this and received no reply. What’s going on?

We understand if there is no basic justice in the treatment of somebody like this, who is in prison because he infringed bail – that is just about the merest – it’s not a crime actually – it is about the merest thing that the law can nail you for (and that is infringing your bail). He is there also, of course, because he is facing US extradition. But primarily he is there for this minor offence and he has been treated in the way that political prisoners are treated all over the world. That’s a moniker that won’t be appreciated, but it applies.

AR: Have his previous partners, the Guardian newspaper in London, The New York Times, have they helped to seal his fate?

JP: Yes they have helped to seal his fate. Mind you they’re worried. They’re worried because in the federal court ruling it was made clear by the judge in this very considered judgement that newspapers like The New York TimesThe New York Times and the Guardian published the war logs in 2010 – the war logs from Iraq, the war logs of Afghanistan that Wikileaks had been the conduit for, had passed to them – they published them first, before Wikileaks.

In law, and that’s what he [the judge] was saying, they are as liable. But they are also, as Julian is – and this was the point he was making – are protected by the US Constitution. Now the US Constitution is being torn up by the Trump administration. That’s why Julian, basically, is in the trouble he is.

All these charges that he’s meant to be facing in the United States are concocted. They’re ridiculous. They don’t apply. They are charges against a journalist and a publisher, but they would apply equally against the editor-in-chief of the Guardian, the editor of The New York Times, and the editor of El País, the editor of Der Spiegel, the editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. They know this and they’re worried.

But they’re in such cahoots, they collude so deeply with the establishment of their country, and that now means the intelligence agencies – they have the power now in western societies – they collude so deeply with them that they dare not speak up. I suggest that as this whole grotesque charade against Julian Assange goes on, they should speak up pretty quickly.

Not all of the views expressed are necessarily views shared by ‘wall of controversy’.

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