Ex-DHS Director Michael Chertoff: The Public Spying On Famous People With Their Smartphones Is A Bigger Issue Than NSA Spying
Former director of Homeland Security (and current profiteer off of any “security” scare) Michael Chertoff has penned quite an incredible op-ed for the Washington Post, in which he argues that the real threat to privacy today is not the NSA spying on everyone, but rather all you people out there in the public with your smartphones, taking photos and videos, and going to Twitter to post things you overheard more important people say. Seriously. It starts out by claiming this is a “less-debated threat”:
So it is striking that two recent news stories illustrate a less-debated threat to privacy that we as a society are inflicting on ourselves. Last week, a passenger on an Acela train decided to tweet in real time his summary of an overheard phone conversation by Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency (NSA) and the CIA (and my current business partner). The same day, a photo was published of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler at a summer party where he was surrounded by underage youths who apparently were drinking.
But he then goes on to argue that this kind of thing is more troubling than the NSA revelations, which Chertoff suggests is no big deal:
Of course, the delicious irony is obvious: In one case, the former NSA chief becomes a victim of eavesdropping. In the other, a politician critical of teen drinking fails to intervene when he is surrounded by it. But both stories carry a more troubling implication. The ubiquitousness of recording devices — coupled with the ability everyone has to broadcast indiscriminately through Twitter, YouTube and other online platforms — means that virtually every act or utterance outside one’s own home (or, in Gansler’s case, inside a private home) is subject to being massively publicized. And because these outlets bypass any editorial review, there is no assurance that what is disseminated has context or news value.
It would appear that Chertoff seems to believe that there should be no expectation of privacy for the things you actually do in private — generating metadata about who you call, where you go, what websites you visit, etc. But, stuff that you actually do in public should never be “broadcast” because it might embarrass famous people.
And, yes, it’s the famous people being embarrassed that seems to most concern Chertoff:
If a well-known person has an argument with a spouse or child at a restaurant, should it be broadcast? If a business personality expresses a political opinion at a private party, should that opinion (or a distortion of it) be passed on to the rest of the world? If a politician buys a book or a magazine at an airport, should a passerby inform everyone?
See? Think of those poor well-known people, having people telling others about what they do. What a shame! Incredibly, he argues that it’s this exposing of the public actions of famous people that creates real chilling effects — and not the NSA’s spying, which he calls “exaggerated.”
Are we creating an informant society, in which every overheard conversation, cellphone photograph or other record of personal behavior is transmitted not to police but to the world at large? Do we want to chill behavior and speech with the fear that an unpopular comment or embarrassing slip will call forth vituperative criticism and perhaps even adversely affect careers or reputations? Do we need to constantly monitor what we say or do in restaurants, at sporting events, on public sidewalks or even private parties?
I don’t know what clueless PR flack thought this was a good strategy, but the clear connotation is hard to miss: Look, we the powerful people get to spy on everyone, but the second you turn the tables and spy on us and the things we do in public, what a horrible shame! Something must be done!
Nearly two dozen of the commentators who appeared on major media outlets to discuss a possible US military strike on Syria had relationships with contractors and other organizations with a vested interest in the conflict, according to a new report.
The Public Accountability Initiative, a non-profit research group dedicated to “investigating power and corruption at the heights of business and government,” determined that 22 of the pundits who spoke to the media during the public debate over whether the US should bomb Syria appeared to have conflicts of interest. Seven think tanks with murky affiliations were also involved in the debate.
Some analysts held board positions or held stock in companies that produce weapons for the US military, while others conducted work for private firms with the relationships not disclosed to the public.
Perhaps the most notable example is that of Stephen Hadley, a former national security advisor to President George Bush who argued in favor of striking Syria in appearances on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and Bloomberg TV. He also wrote an editorial in The Washington Post with the headline, “To stop Iran, Obama must enforce red lines with Assad.”
Nowhere in those appearances was it disclosed, according to the report, that Hadley is a director with Raytheon, a weapons manufacturer that produces the Tomahawk cruise missiles the US almost certainly would have used had it intervened in Syria. Hadley earns an annual salary of $128,5000 from Raytheon and owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock. His holdings were worth $891,189 as of August 23.
“We found lots of industry ties. Some of them are stronger than others. Some really rise to the level of clear conflicts of interest,” Kevin Connor, co-author of the report, told The Washington Post. “These networks and these commentators should err on the side of disclosure.”
The report found that, out of 37 appearances of the pundits named, CNN attempted to disclose that individual’s ties a mere seven times. In 23 appearances on Fox News there was not a single attempt to disclose industry ties. And in 16 appearances on NBC or its umbrella networks, attempts at disclosure were made five times.
Retired General Anthony Zinni, former Commander-in-Chief of US Central Command, made multiple appearances on CNN and CBS. He is an outside director at BAE Systems, which is among the largest military service companies in the world and one that received $6.1 billion in federal contracts in 2012, serves on the Advisory Board of DC Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in defense contractors, and a Distinguished Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Zinni advocated a strike not just on Syria, but told CNN’s Candy Crowley that American hesitation in the Middle East has pushed US adversaries to act.
“Knowing the Iranians, they see everything as a potential opportunity to exploit,” he said. “And I’m sure they are calculating much how they could take advantage of this and maybe push the edge of the envelope.”
The retired general, speaking to the Post via email, said his membership is publicly available online.
“The media who contact me for comment should post any relevant info re my background including my board positions if they desire,” he wrote.
This report comes after Syria researcher Elizabeth O’Bagy was fired from the Institute for the Study of War think-tank for lying about her credentials. Multiple US lawmakers, most notably Secretary of State John Kerry, cited an opinion piece O’Bagy wrote in the Wall Street Journal when calling for a military intervention. It was soon revealed that O’Bagy did not disclose her ties to a lobby group advocating for Syrian opposition forces when penning the column for the Journal.
- they’re shameless, mindless, unprecedented nitwits, all of them (niqnaq.wordpress.com)
As the United States and Iran carefully embark on a renewed push for diplomacy, including direct contact between the presidents of each country for the first time in 34 years, the mainstream media continues to stymie any chance for an honest assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, engaging instead in the misinformation, misrepresentation and misleading reporting that has long characterized coverage of the issue.
In just the past month alone, numerous networks, newspapers and websites have referred, both implicitly and overtly, to an Iranian “nuclear weapons program,” despite the fact that, for years now, United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iran’s uranium enrichment program is fully safeguarded by the IAEA and no nuclear material has ever been diverted to a military program. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.
The August 27, 2013 broadcast of NPR‘ “All Things Considered,” featured correspondent Mara Liasson claiming that the tragic civil war in Syria is “a proxy war” and that “Iran, who is developing its own weapons of mass destruction, is currently backing the Syrian regime, and it is watching very carefully to see what the U.S. does.”
The same day, an editorial in USA Today similarly advocated the U.S. bombing of Syria, stating that it “would demolish U.S. credibility” were Obama not to order a campaign of airstrikes, “not just in Syria but also in Iran, which continues to pursue nuclear weapons despite repeated U.S. warnings.”
Neither Liasson, who has a history of getting things wrong about Iran, nor the editors of USA Today were being honest with their audience, presenting what are hysterical allegations unsupported by any evidence as fact.
In a TIME magazine article published online at the end of August, Michael Crowley wrote, “If another round of negotiations with Tehran should fail, Obama may soon be obliged to make good on his vow to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
New York Times staff writer Robert Worth assessed the Obama administration’s push for bombing Syria on September 3, explaining, “If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons… Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.”
On September 4, the website Foreign Policy posted a shrill piece of propaganda in which former AIPAC official and accused Israeli spy Steven Rosen claimed that not bombing Syria “would certainly undermine the campaign to prevent Iran from completing its nuclear weapons program.”
On September 5, Politico revealed that “some 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm the halls on Capitol Hill beginning next week to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon. They are expected to lobby virtually every member of Congress, arguing that “barbarism” by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated, and that failing to act would “send a message” to Tehran that the U.S. won’t stand up to hostile countries’ efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, according to a source with the group.”
On September 6, Peter Baker wrote in the New York Times that stepping back from a military assault on Syria would signal a lack of willingness on the part of Obama to counter the nonexistent “the development of a nuclear bomb by Iran.”
On September 10, the Washington Post reported uncritically on the same story, identifying AIPAC’s position that there exists “a direct connection between the Syria crisis and Iran’s effort to get nuclear weapons.” The Post quoted an unnamed AIPAC official as warning of grave consequences were the United States not to bomb Syria, noting that “it will send the wrong message to Tehran about their effort to obtain unconventional weapons.”
The Post was back at it on September 15, stating in an article that “Israel’s security establishment fears that a failure to punish Syria for its use of chemical weapons could encourage Tehran, Syria’s ally, to continue to enrich uranium for a bomb.”
When this erroneous conclusion was brought to the attention of Patrick Pexton, Washington Post‘s former ombudsman, he agreed that the “should be corrected,” as no government, agency or organization on the planet has ever claimed Iran is enriching uranium “for a bomb.”
Editors for the Times and Foreign Policy allowed those statements to be published. Neither Politico nor the Post challenged these absurd presumptions.
USA Today published another misleading article on September 22, which stated that President Obama is “trying to take advantage of a diplomatic opening–created by the installation of a new, more moderate president in Iran–to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons program.”
Peter Hart of the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) caught this bit of misinformation and added that the USA Today editing staff are “not the only ones who should consider clarifying the record.” He quotes CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer smugly opining on September 22, “Rouhani says that Iran does not want and is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. Does anybody take that at face value?“
Actually, the burden of proof should be the other way around: Politicians who claim that Iran has such a program should have to prove it. Schieffer obviously doesn’t see the world that way. He’s interviewed people like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and failed to challenge their claims about Iran’s weapons. Indeed, Schieffer presented them as facts, telling viewers about Iran’s “continuing effort to build a nuclear weapon” (FAIR Blog, 7/15/13).
Even more alarming, though, was a claim from NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, which opened his Friday evening broadcast on September 27. Speaking of the surprising telephone conversation between Presidents Obama and Rouhani, Williams said, “This is all part of a new leadership effort by Iran - suddenly claiming they don’t want nuclear weapons! - what they want is talks and transparency and good will. And while that would be enough to define a whole new era, skepticism is high and there’s a good reason for it.”
Really, Brian? Suddenly? In truth, the Iranian government has constantly reiterated its wholesale condemnation of nuclear weapons and refusal to ever acquire them – for over twenty years. Apparently the host of what is often the most-watched evening newscast in the country believes pretending the statements by Rouhani represent a sea change in Iranian policy, rather than undeniable consistency, is good for ratings.
There is literally no way Brian Williams believes this is breaking news unless he has both short-term and long-term memory loss. Why not? He himself has reported on Iran’s repudiation of nuclear weapons for years now.
On September 19, 2006, Williams asked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to respond to what he deemed the U.S. government position that Iran “[s]top enriching uranium toward weapons,” which made now sense in the first place since no one on the planet – including the United States – had ever claimed Iran was enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels.
Ahmadinejad replied, “We have said on numerous occasions that our activities are for peaceful purposes… Did Iran build the atomic bomb and use it? You must know that, because of our beliefs and our religion, we’re against such acts. We are against the atomic bomb.”
Williams interviewed Ahmadinejad again in late July 2008 and asked the Iranian president, “Is Iran’s goal to have nuclear power or to be a nuclear power in the sense of possessing weapons?”
Ahmadinejad again was clear: “We are not working to manufacture a bomb. We don’t believe in a nuclear bomb… Nuclear energy must not be equaled to a nuclear bomb… A bomb, obviously, is a very bad thing. Nobody should have such a bomb.”
Nevertheless, as The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald puts it, “NBC News feels free to spout such plainly false propaganda – ‘suddenly claiming they don’t want nuclear weapons!’ – because they know they and fellow large media outlets have done such an effective job in keeping their viewers ignorant of these facts. They thus believe that they can sow doubts about Iran’s intentions with little danger that their deceit will be discovered.”
Despite the increasingly rapid pace of renewed Iranian and American communication and cooperation, the media’s misinformation campaign against Iran has yet to slow down. The journalists, editors, analysts and anchors who traffic in dishonest reporting should be held accountable.
Media researchers Jonas Siegel and Saranaz Barforoush recently wrote in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs:
If the goal of news media is to act in the public interest, to hold public officials accountable, and to permit an informed public to play a constructive role in the foreign policy decisions made by their governments—in their name—then journalists ought to consider more carefully how they go about framing the facts and assessments that animate complex policy issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and how the international community could and should respond. Without considering these fundamental characteristics more carefully and reflecting a broader spectrum of viewpoints and policy possibilities in their coverage, they are liable to repeat the mistakes that contributed to disastrous policy choices in the past.
- What is Kerry actually negotiating with Iran? (alethonews.wordpress.com)
There’s plenty of discussion about how the threatened U.S. military attack on Syria is really a way of sending a “message” to Iran. And some media accounts inaccurately portray what is known about Iran.
Take this Washington Post news story (9/10/13), by Paul Kane and Ed O’Keefe, about the pro-war lobbying underway by AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee):
An AIPAC official said the group is playing an active role because it sees a direct connection between the Syria crisis and Iran’s effort to get nuclear weapons. “If America is not resolute with Iran’s proxy Syria on using unconventional weapons, it will send the wrong message to Tehran about their effort to obtain unconventional weapons,” said the AIPAC official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly about the effort.
The Post would seem to be portraying “Iran’s effort to get nuclear weapons” as if it were a fact. It’s not–it’s an allegation. Either that, or the Post is granting a source anonymity to make a claim that goes further than the facts allow.
This isn’t a new problem for the Post; in December 2011 the group Just Foreign Policy noted that the Post was running a Web feature with the headline, “Iran’s Quest to Possess Nuclear Weapons.” After readers sent messages to Post ombud Patrick Pexton, the headline was changed (“Iran’s Quest to Possess Nuclear Technology”).
As Pexton wrote (12/9/11), the International Atomic Energy Agency “does not say Iran has a bomb, nor does it say it is building one, only that its multiyear effort pursuing nuclear technology is sophisticated and broad enough that it could be consistent with building a bomb.”
The Post no longer has an ombud, but Douglas Feaver is acting as the paper’s “Reader Representative.” He can be reached at email@example.com.
- AIPAC to go all-out on Syria (dailypaul.com)
The UK’s Independent newspaper today had an “exclusive” article, in which they claim that documents from Ed Snowden’s leaks revealed a secret internet surveillance base in the Middle East run by the UK government. There’s just one problem. While the article implies (though does not state) that it got those documents from Snowden, Snowden says he’s never talked to nor given anything to The Independent. Instead, he argues, that he’s worked carefully with key journalists (namely, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman) to make sure that the things they publish don’t reveal anything that might put anyone in danger. Snowden suggests, instead, that this is the UK government itself releasing this information in an attempt to “defend” the detention of David Miranda.
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent. The journalists I have worked with have, at my request, been judicious and careful in ensuring that the only things disclosed are what the public should know but that does not place any person in danger. People at all levels of society up to and including the President of the United States have recognized the contribution of these careful disclosures to a necessary public debate, and we are proud of this record.
It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post’s disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.
If you read the Independent’s coverage carefully, they never actually claim they got the documents from Snowden, even if they leave that impression. Instead, they claim that “information on [the base's] activities was contained in the leaked documents obtained from the NSA by Edward Snowden.” In other words, they got that information from someone else — almost certainly the UK government. And, yes, that’s convenient timing for the UK government to claim that some of the documents that Snowden downloaded might contain useful information to terrorists, so that they can then turn around and argue that they detained Miranda and took all of his electronics (and destroyed a Guardian hard drive) to avoid having this information “fall into the hands of terrorists.”
The Independent article also implies that the UK government is afraid that Greenwald is going to start revealing this type of info in response to the Miranda detention, even though there’s no basis to believe that all. Greenwald has been quite careful so far not to reveal any information that puts anyone at risk, so it’s odd to believe that he’d start doing so now. Of course, it’s fairly bizarre since the Independent story itself contains tons of details — the kinds of details that Greenwald has avoided.
If Snowden’s assertion is correct — and it does seem like the most plausible argument at this point — then it highlights the ridiculous lengths to which the UK government is going: releasing potentially damaging information that Snowden himself has avoided revealing just to suggest that Snowden was leaking damaging information. Incredible.
By ROBERT ROSS | August 20, 2013
A foreign affairs blogger for The Washington Post recently posted “40 Maps that explain the world.” Some of the maps are important (“Economic inequality around the world”), some are interesting (“Meet the world’s 26 remaining monarchies”), but others grossly distort the reality they purportedly represent. Chief among this latter category is “How far Hamas’s rockets can reach into Israel” .
All about Hamas’s rockets
There are two principal problems with this map. First, the map attempts to “explain” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by pointing exclusively to the capacity of Hamas’s rockets to reach ever-extensive points within Israel. Four color-coded, concentric semi-circles spread out from the Gaza Strip, each showing the distance different rockets could travel, the furthest making it all the way to the Dead Sea. Max Fisher, the Post’s chief foreign affairs blogger, writes in a caption to the map, “This helps drive home why Israel is so concerned about Hamas, the Gaza-based Islamist group, and in particular about its access to Iranian-made Fajr-5 rockets. Those are the ones that can reach into the light-yellow region.”
Erasing Palestine from the Map
The second major problem with this map is that Palestine—both historic and contemporary—is erased from it. A white dotted line traces the border between the West Bank and Israel but the line is barely visible beneath the yellow-shaded ring. Moreover, “West Bank” (not “occupied West Bank,” or “occupied Palestinian territory,” or “Palestinian West Bank” or “Palestine,” mind you) appears in font so small that it seems to designate some tiny city northeast of Jerusalem, not the Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967. And while Israeli municipalities such as Arad, Ashdod, Holan, and Hrzliya, among others, are included, nowhere can one find the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, or Jericho, much less al-Bira, Jenin, or Qalqilia. Only Jerusalem and Hebron, West Bank cities that are significant to both Israelis and Palestinians, are featured. Even Jaffa, the coastal Palestinian city north of Tel Aviv, has been replaced by the Israeli-Hebrew version, “Yafo.”
So what does this map tell us about the Israel-Palestine conflict? It’s not apparent what or where Palestine is, or that it even exists, but the map suggests that an ever-menacing, Iranian-supported Islamist group threatens more than half of Israel. And therefore, Israel is “concerned.” Presumably, the reader might conclude, that “concern” forces Israel to periodically defend itself, launching its own counter-attacks into the Gaza Strip. The West Bank, meanwhile, appears for all intents and purposes, part of Israel and in no way related to the Gaza Strip or the cartographically cleansed “Palestine.” So Israel’s geography is simplified into a need to defend itself and Palestine is wiped off the map.
Concealing more than it reveals
The Washington Post’s map (which is actually just a simple google map lifted from someone named “Gene,” whose cartographic resume also includes google maps of “Richmond Bars/Restaurants” and “Jane Austin’s England”) doesn’t reveal how and to what extent Israel has “defended” itself against the perceived threat of Hamas’s rockets. The threat is all that is deemed important; a map showing where and with what deadly ramifications Israel’s responses have taken place, such as this one produced by the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East at Harvard University and the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, didn’t make the Post’s list.
Any attempt to cartographically represent the context within which Hamas’s rockets and Israel’s “response” may have been launched, such as this UN map, is also entirely missing from the Post’s compilation.
In addition to nearly erasing the Palestinian West Bank altogether, the Post’s map reveals nothing about the multiple ways in which the territory is occupied by Israel. Maps of Israeli-only roads, checkpoints, the separation barrier, settlements, and the ethnically-based divisions of the West Bank (such as these from Btselem, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, and The Applied Institute for Research – Jerusalem) don’t, according to the Washington Post, help explain this part of the world as much as Gene’s map of Hamas’s rocket-firing potential.
The Washington Post’s map of choice sheds no light on the Palestinian villages within Israel that were ethnically cleansed and destroyed in 1948-1949. References to these maps from the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA) and Visualizing Palestine could have at least begun to cartographically resurrect these erased landscapes.
The Dangers of Distorted Cartography
In sum, The Washington Post’s map explains very little about this part of the world. But what the map does reveal is The Washington Post’s myopic view of Israel and Palestine. The ongoing colonization of Palestine by Israel is reduced and reversed, in this map’s representation, to a normal country that must fend off existential threats from its shadowy neighbors. The effects of this distorted cartography are dangerous—erasing the geographies of Palestine is yet another step in the ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Robert Ross is an Assistant Professor of Global Cultural Studies at Point Park University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus upon the political-economic geographies of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the United States. He is also a member of the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Recently the Latin American “dirty wars” of the 1960s through 1980s have resurfaced in mainstream media discussion. One reason is the trials in Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Peru, and Uruguay against some of the late twentieth century’s most vicious criminals, who are collectively responsible for the murders of hundreds of thousands of political dissidents and their suspected sympathizers. Some of the highest-profile defendants are Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83), Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971-86), and various officials from Argentina’s military dictatorship (1976-83). Dozens of former Argentine military officials have been convicted since 2008, while prosecutions against Ríos Montt and other Guatemalan officials and Haiti’s Duvalier have been attempted since 2011.
Despite dedicating substantial coverage to these events, U.S. news outlets have usually ignored the role of the U.S. government in supporting these murderous right-wing regimes through military aid and diplomatic support. This pattern also applies to press coverage of current U.S.-backed “dirty wars,” in Honduras and elsewhere.
The documentary record leaves no doubt about U.S. support for state terror in Latin America’s dirty wars.1 Although historians debate whether U.S. support was decisive in particular cases, all serious scholars agree that Washington played at least an important enabling role. Argentina, Guatemala, and Haiti are good examples.
Argentina’s military regime murdered, tortured, and raped tens of thousands of people, mainly leftists, who criticized government policy. During the height of the repression, the U.S. government gave the junta over $35 million in military aid and sold it another $43 million in military supplies. It was well aware of the state terror it was supporting. Three months after the 1976 coup, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger privately told Argentine Foreign Minister César Guzzetti that, “we have followed events in Argentina closely” and “wish the new government well. We wish it will succeed . . . If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly.”2
In Guatemala, around 200,000 people were slaughtered by the U.S.-backed military regimes that followed the 1954 CIA-sponsored coup against elected President Jacobo Arbenz. The height of state violence was the genocidal “scorched earth” campaign of the early 1980s, carried out—largely with U.S. weapons—by General Ríos Montt and his predecessor Romeo Lucas García. The campaign specifically targeted indigenous Mayans, who were deemed likely to sympathize with the country’s leftist guerrillas. In December 1982, despite his administration’s private recognition of the military’s “large-scale killing of Indian men, women, and children,” Reagan visited Guatemala and publicly declared that Ríos Montt was getting “a bum rap” and was “totally dedicated to democracy.” The next day the Guatemalan army launched its worst single massacre of the decade, killing nearly 200 men, women, and children in the village of Las Dos Erres. U.S. military aid continued thereafter, though often secretly.3 Ríos Montt himself later noted the importance of U.S. military and diplomatic support, telling a journalist that, “he should be tried only if Americans,” including Ronald Reagan, “were tried too.” (On May 10 Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, but the conviction was annulled by the country’s Constitutional Court after intense lobbying by business and military elites. In April, former army officer and current Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina had tried to shut the trial down for fear that witnesses would implicate him in civilian massacres; one had already done so.)4
Turning to the Caribbean, Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier is no less notorious for his brutality. He and his father, François, murdered and tortured tens of thousands of Haitians. Yet for three decades the Duvalier dynasty enjoyed strong U.S. support, including military training and the sale of millions of dollars in weapons and military aircraft. The dictatorship was “a dependable, good friend of the U.S.” according to a U.S. Embassy official in 1973.5 U.S. support was only withdrawn when a popular uprising was on the verge of ousting Jean-Claude in 1986.
Argentina, Guatemala, and Haiti are just three examples of U.S. support for repression. Political scientist Lars Schoultz has quantified the relationship between U.S. aid and repression by Latin American governments for the years 1975-77, finding a clear pattern: “The correlations between the absolute level of U.S. assistance to Latin America and human rights violations by recipient governments” were “uniformly positive, indicating that aid has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens.”6 The logic is not a mystery: Washington has always preferred U.S.-friendly oligarchs and murderers when faced with the threats of substantive democracy, economic redistribution, and independent nationalism.
Yet the documentary record and scholarly consensus are not reflected in U.S. press coverage. As the table below shows, even the nation’s leading liberal media almost never acknowledge U.S. support for the dictatorships in Argentina, Guatemala, and Haiti. Only 13 times over the past five years did any allusion to that support appear in coverage by The New York Times, Washington Post, and National Public Radio (NPR), despite 222 total news and opinion pieces that mentioned former dictatorship officials in those countries. In other words, these media outlets only acknowledged U.S. support 6% of the time.
Recently the U.S. press has strongly condemned the Argentine, Guatemalan, and Haitian dictatorships, decrying, for instance, Duvalier’s “squalid legacy of disappearance, torture and murder” and interviewing Argentine torture victims and children stolen from their parents at birth by the military.8 The problem is that the perpetrators appear simply as brutal criminals in far-off lands, with no connection whatsoever to the United States. … Full article
The mainstream U.S. news media has been chuckling over the “irony” of NSA leaker Edward Snowden asking asylum from Latin American countries purported to suppress press freedom. But the smugness misses both the complex realities abroad and the U.S. government’s own assaults on information, says a group of scholars.
An Open Letter to the Media:
The supposed “irony” of whistle-blower Edward Snowden seeking asylum in countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela has become a media meme. Numerous articles, op-eds, reports and editorials in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and MSNBC have hammered on this idea since the news first broke that Snowden was seeking asylum in Ecuador.
It was a predictable retread of the same meme last year when Julian Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and the Ecuadorian government deliberated his asylum request for months.
Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Of course, any such “ironies” would be irrelevant even if they were based on factual considerations. The media has never noted the “irony” of the many thousands of people who have taken refuge in the United States, which is currently torturing people in a secret prison at Guantanamo, and regularly kills civilians in drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries. Nor has the press noted the “irony” of refugees who have fled here from terror that was actively funded and sponsored by the U.S. government, e.g. from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and other countries.
But in fact the “irony” that U.S. journalists mention is fantastically exaggerated. It is based on the notion that the governments of Venezuela under Chávez (and now Maduro) and Ecuador under Correa have clamped down on freedom of the press. Most consumers of the U.S. media unfortunately don’t know better, since they have not been to these countries and have not been able to see that the majority of media are overwhelmingly anti-government, and that it gets away with more than the U.S. media does here in criticizing the government.
Imagine if Rupert Murdoch controlled most U.S media outlets, rather than the minority share that his News Corp actually owns – then you’d start to have some idea what the media landscape in Ecuador, Venezuela and most of Latin America looks like.
The fact is that most media outlets in Ecuador and Venezuela are privately-owned, and oppositional in their orientation. Yes, the Venezuelan government’s communications authorities let the RCTV channel’s broadcast license expire in 2007. This was not a “shut down”; the channel was found to have violated numerous media regulations regarding explicit content and others – the same kind of regulations to which media outlets are subject in the U.S. and many other countries.
Even José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch – a fierce critic of Venezuela – has said that “lack of renewal of the contract [broadcast license], per se, is not a free speech issue.” Also rarely mentioned in U.S. reporting on the RCTV case is that the channel and its owner actively and openly supported the short-lived coup d’etat against the democratically-elected government in 2002.
A July 10th piece from the Washington Post’s editorial board – which has never hid its deep hatred of Venezuela, Ecuador and other left governments in Latin America – describes another supposed grave instance of the Venezuelan government clamping down on press freedoms. The editorial, which was given greater publicity through Boing Boing and others, describes the case of journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who is credited with breaking the news of Chávez’s cancer in June 2011. The Post champions Bocaranda as a “courage[ous]” “teller of truth” and dismisses the Venezuelan government’s “charges” against him as “patently absurd.”
In fact, Bocaranda has not been charged with anything; the Venezuelan government wants to know whether Bocaranda helped incite violence following the April 14 presidential elections, after which extreme sectors of the opposition attacked Cuban-run health clinics and homes and residences of governing party leaders, and in which some nine people were killed mostly chavistas.
The government cites a Tweet by Bocaranda in which he stated false information that ballot boxes were being hidden in a specific Cuban clinic in Gallo Verde, in Maracaibo state, and that the Cubans were refusing to let them be removed. Bocaranda later deleted the Tweet, but not before it was seen by hundreds of thousands.
So while the Post dismisses the case against Bocaranda as “absurd,” the question remains: why did Bocaranda state such specific information, if he had no evidence to support it? Indeed, any such evidence would be second hand unless Bocaranda had seen the supposed “hidden” ballot boxes and the actions by the Cubans himself.
The Venezuelan government’s summons for Bocaranda to explain himself is being characterized as a grave assault on press freedom, and perhaps it is an over-reaction – after all, many journalists report false information all the time. But wasn’t Bocaranda’s Tweet irresponsible, especially given the context of a volatile political situation?
In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa has been widely condemned in the U.S. media – in much reporting as well as commentary – for suing a prominent journalist, Emilio Palacio, for defamation. The defamatory content was, in fact, serious. It relates to a 2010 incident in which Correa was first assaulted and then later held captive by rebelling police in what many observers deemed an attempt at a coup d’etat.
Military forces ultimately rescued Correa. But in a February 2011 column referring to the episode, Palacio alleged that Correa had committed “crimes against humanity,” and that he had ordered the military forces to fire on the hospital where he was being held at the time. So Correa sued Palacio for defamation and won. What some U.S. media outlets have failed to mention is that he subsequently pardoned Palacio, and had made clear from the beginning that he would have dropped the lawsuit if Palacio ran a correction.
In other words, all that Correa did was exercise his right as a citizen under the law to sue someone who had printed an outrageous lie about him. This is a right that most elected officials have in most countries, including the United States. Former AP reporter Bart Jones has written:
“Would a network that aided and abetted a coup against the government be allowed to operate in the United States? The U.S. government probably would have shut down RCTV within five minutes after a failed coup attempt — and thrown its owners in jail. Chavez’s government allowed it to continue operating for five years, and then declined to renew its 20-year license to use the public airwaves.”
Considering the massive extent of “national security” overreach following the 9/11 attacks, it is almost incomprehensible to imagine what a U.S. administration’s reaction to a coup attempt would be, but it certainly would not be as restrained as in Ecuador or Venezuela, where a fiercely critical press not only exists, but thrives.
Many commentators have cited Reporters Without Borders [known as RSF, from its French initials] and other media watchdog groups’ criticisms of Ecuador’s proposed new “Organic Law of Communication.” In an example of true irony, such supposedly objective journalists have been more critical of Ecuador’s proposed media reforms than RSF itself has been, which noted that:
“…we think that other provisions conform to international legal standards. They include restrictions on broadcasting hours for the protection of minors, the prohibition of racist and discriminatory content and the prohibition of deliberate calls for violence. Finally, the provisions governing nationally-produced broadcasting content are broadly similar to those in force in most other countries.”
Organizations such as RSF and Freedom House are supposed to be impartial arbiters of press freedom around the world and are rarely subject to scrutiny. Yet both have taken funding from the U.S. government and/or U.S.-government supported organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy (which was set up to conduct activities “much of [which]” the “CIA used to fund covertly,” as the Washington Post reported at the time, and which also provided funding and training to organizations involved in the afore-mentioned 2002 Venezuelan coup) and other “democracy promotion” groups.
The NED has spent millions of dollars in Venezuela and Ecuador in recent years to support groups opposed to the governments there. This conflict of interest is never noted in the press, and RSF and Freedom House, when they are cited, are invariably presented as noble defenders of press freedom, for whom ulterior motives are apparently unimaginable.
The true irony in the cases of Snowden, Assange, Manning and others is that the U.S. government, while claiming to defend freedom of the press, speech and information, has launched an assault on the media that is unprecedented in U.S. history.
The extreme lengths to which it has gone to apprehend (witness the forced downing of President Evo Morales’ plane in Austria) and punish (Bradley Manning being the most obvious example) whistle-blowers is clear. Apparently less understood by some U.S. journalists is that it is part of an assault on these very freedoms that the U.S. government pretends to uphold.
The U.S. government’s pursuit of Wikileaks – through grand jury and FBI investigations, and open condemnation of Julian Assange as a “terrorist” – is a blatant attack on the press. It seems too many journalists forget – or willingly overlook – that Wikileaks is a media organization, and that the leaks that have so infuriated the U.S. government, from the “Collateral Murder” video to “Cablegate”, Wikileaks published in partnership with major media outlets including the New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel and others.
Now, as Edward Snowden’s leaks are published in The Guardian and other outlets, efforts have been launched to delegitimize journalist Glenn Greenwald, and some in the media have been all too willing to take part in attacking one of their own, simply for exposing government abuse – i.e. doing journalism.
There is a long history of partnership between traditional, corporate media outlets in the U.S. and those in Latin America. Due to a variety of reasons, including educational, class and often racial backgrounds, journalists throughout the hemisphere often tend to share certain biases. It is the journalist’s duty to be as objective as possible, however, and to let the media consumer decide where the truth lies.
Likewise, eagerly going along with double standards that reinforce paradigms of “American exceptionalism” and that overlook the U.S.’ long, checkered human rights history and minimize the importance of over a century of U.S. intervention and interference in Latin America does a great injustice to journalism and the public.
Likewise, media distortions of the state of democracy and press freedoms in countries that are routinely condemned by the U.S. government – such as Venezuela and Ecuador – contribute to a climate of demonization that enables U.S. aggression against those countries and damages relations between the people of the U.S. and our foreign neighbors.
Thomas Adams, Visiting Professor, Tulane University
Marc Becker, Professor, Department of History, Truman State University
Julia Buxton, Venezuela specialist
Barry Carr, Honorary Research Associate, La Trobe University, Australia
George Ciccariello-Maher, Assistant Professor, Drexel University
Aviva Chomsky, Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies, Salem State University
Luis Duno-Gottberg, Associate Professor, Caribbean and Film Studies, Rice University
Steve Ellner, Professor, Universidad de Oriente, Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela
Arturo Escobar, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Nicole Fabricant, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology/Anthropology, Towson University
Sujatha Fernandes, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Queens College and the Graduate
Center, City University of New York
John French, Professor, Department of History, Duke University
Lesley Gill, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
Greg Grandin, Professor, Department of History, New York University
Daniel Hellinger, Professor, Department of Political Science, Webster University
Forrest Hylton, Lecturer, History and Literature, Harvard University
Chad Montrie, Professor, Department of History, UMASS-Lowell,
Deborah Poole, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University,
Margaret Power, Professor, Department of History, Illinois Institute of Technology
Adolph Reed, Jr., Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
Gerardo Renique, Associate Professor, Department of History, City College of the City University of New
Suzana Sawyer, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of California
T.M. Scruggs, Professor Emeritus, School of Music, University of Iowa
Steve Striffler, Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of New Orleans
Miguel Tinker Salas, Professor, Department of History, Pomona College
Sinclair Thomson, Associate Professor, Department of History, New York University
Jeffery R. Webber, Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary, University of
Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research
Sometimes, as an observer of the news, one comes across a particular opinion column that is so brazen, so audacious, that one must stare at the headline for thirty seconds or so, simply to make sure it’s not a hallucination. Such was my experience this morning when I saw that Fred Hiatt wrote a column for The Washington Post titled “Will Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ include the rule of law?” Irony is officially dead.
Hiatt, for those who don’t know, is the editorial page editor at the Post, and someone who lives and breathes for war. Not in the sense that he has ever volunteered to go fight in one, of course. That’s for Other People to do. Hiatt prefers to fight the good fight from his comfortable D.C. office. There’s much more money and prestige in doing it that way.
One must stipulate that, while he loves war with all of his heart, Hiatt, like all serious, sophisticated, reasonable Beltway intellectuals, has at times seemed fairly torn on the far more perplexing issue of torture. Whether or not to flagrantly violate domestic and international law and disregard the most basic conceptions of human morality by torturing other people – this always represented a profound moral quandary for the intellectual class. Hiatt did eventually make his thoughts on this matter clear, though, by hiring an absolute lunatic by the name of Marc Thiessen to grace the pages of his newspaper’s prestigious opinion section; Thiessen mostly used his space to explain why torture is so awesome and underrated.
We do know, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Fred Hiatt does not believe in the rule of law. In enthusiastically supporting the attack on Iraq, which, as a war of aggression, constituted the “supreme international crime,” Hiatt forever forfeited any right to even talk about the rule of law. One doesn’t get to cheer-lead, fanatically, for the most colossal international crime in a generation, and maintain any credibility on “the rule of law.” This cannot really be debated, unless one also wants to argue in favor of consulting Bill Clinton on marital fidelity, or O.J. Simpson on domestic tranquility.
Hiatt, though, is evidently very concerned about the future of the rule of law. Not in the United States, naturally, but, rather, in China. In his new column, Hiatt worries that China, under Xi, might continue its heinous “bullying” in the international arena and its regular flouting of international norms. Fred Hiatt just hates when countries do this. He encourages President Obama – the man who refuses to investigate and prosecute the torturers and killers of the Bush administration on the astonishing grounds that it’s preferable to Look Forward, Not Backward – to lecture the Chinese on appreciating the rule of law and respecting human rights. Hiatt sternly warns the Chinese that they risk losing the “trust” of the United States if they don’t cease their unconscionable imprisonment of peaceful activists and their disregard for due process. He writes this as peaceful American activist Bradley Manning, after sitting in a cage for more than two years, is now going on trial for the offense of telling people about his country’s war crimes, and as more than 100 prisoners of the United States continue to wage a hunger streak to protest their lack of due process. Hiatt has apparently, through some sort of mental process, airbrushed both stories from his brain, despite the fact that both are currently receiving an astounding amount of international attention.
This column represents one of the most exquisite examples of Orwell’s “doublethink” in recent memory.
- WaPo Really Thinks U.S. Should Be World’s Policeman (lobelog.com)
- incidentally, all these people (hiatt, diehl, rubin, and lobe himself) are jewish (niqnaq.wordpress.com)
Iran has sent soldiers to Syria to fight alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.
An unknown number of Iranians are fighting in Syria, the official said, citing accounts from members of the opposition Free Syrian Army, which is backed by the United States. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview a strategy session that Secretary of State John F. Kerry is to hold Wednesday with key supporters of the Syrian opposition.
The rationale for granting anonymity–a privilege that outlets are supposed to extend only rarely–is curious; it’s not clear why the government would need to say things anonymously in order “to preview a strategy session” about Syria.
Even more curious, though, is whether or not the source in question actually said this. At EA Worldview (5/22/13), Scott Lucas took a look at the briefing that produced the story, and what the State Department official actually said was this:
It is the most visible effort we have seen of Hezbollah to engage directly in the fighting in Syria as a foreign force. We understand there are also Iranians up there. That is what the Free Syrian Army commanders are telling us. I think this is an important thing to note, the direct implication of foreigners fighting on Syrian soil now for the regime.
Suggesting that the Free Syrian Army believes Iranians are in Syria–which is probably true–is not the same thing as saying “Iran has sent soldiers to Syria” to fight on Assad’s behalf. And in answering followup questions, the anonymous State Department official admits that “to be very frank, I don’t have any estimates of numbers and I don’t know that they are directly involved in the fighting.” The source also says the Iranians “could be doing a little of both advising and fighting” and that “the reports that we’re getting… are not consistent.”
But Gearan’s question at the briefing would strongly suggest that she was pushing a stronger line about Iranian involvement than the anonymous source:
Are we now, based on your earlier comments about Iranian fighters being involved, looking at a proxy war? I mean, you’re talking about arming the rebels on one side, and the Iranians are clearly arming the others and fighting on behalf of the others on the other side. Are we now basically in a war with Iran?
The source doesn’t go as far out on this issue as Gearan’s question was pushing. But it didn’t really matter. As you can see in the pages of the Washington Post, an official Iranian role in the fighting was treated almost like a fact–which might be the point of having anonymous briefings like this.
An Iranian deputy foreign minister has rejected claims about Tehran’s military presence in Syria, dismissing the allegations as a “blame game” orchestrated by the Syrian opposition groups.
“Iranian forces have never been, and are not present in Syria, and I deny this claim,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Abbas Araqchi said in Ankara on Thursday.
“The real enemies of Syria make such claims to provoke that country’s people [against Iran] and divert developments [in Syria] in the wrong direction,” said Araqchi, who is also Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman.
He emphasized that the crisis in Syria cannot be resolved through military means, adding that the unrest in the Arab country should be resolved politically. … Full article
Mainstream Media in America and Britain Repeat the Same Mistakes in Covering Iran That They Made on Iraq
In an excellent report released last month, the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM) offered a thoroughly documented—and devastating—critique of mainstream media coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue. Authored by Jonas Siegel and Saranaz Barforoush, Media Coverage of Iran’s Nuclear Program: An Analysis of U.S. and U.K. Coverage, 2009-2012, see here, reviews coverage of Iran’s nuclear activities and the international controversy surrounding those activities in six major English-language newspapers: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Guardian, and the Independent.
To quote from the report’s executive summary (with emphasis added), the authors found that
“–Newspaper coverage focused on the ‘he said/she said’ aspects of the policy debate, without adequately explaining the fundamental issues that should have been informing assessments—such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions, the influence of U.S., European, Iranian, and Israeli security strategies, and the impact of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
–When newspaper coverage did address Iranian nuclear intentions and capabilities, it did so in a manner that lacked precision, was inconsistent over time, and failed to provide adequate sourcing and context for claims. This led to an inaccurate picture of the choices facing policy makers.
–Government officials, particularly U.S. government officials, were the most frequently quoted or relied-on sources in coverage of Iran’s nuclear program. This tendency focused attention on a narrow set of policy options and deemphasized other potential approaches to the dispute.
–Newspaper coverage generally adopted the tendency of U.S., European, and Israeli officials to place on Iran the burden to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, failing to acknowledge the roles of these other countries in the dispute…
–Coverage of Iran’s nuclear program reflected and reinforced the negative sentiments about Iran that are broadly shared by U.S., European, and Israeli publics. This contributed to misunderstandings about the interests involved and narrowed the range of acceptable outcomes.
In general, these characteristics led newspapers to frame their coverage of Iran’s nuclear program in a manner that emphasized official narratives of the dispute and a relatively narrow range of policy choices available to officials. By not consistently describing the complex web of international relationships, security concerns, and intervening political factors in sufficient detail, newspaper coverage further privileged official narratives and policy preferences. This makes it likely that the policies enacted and under consideration by policy makers—coercive diplomacy and war—remain the most likely outcome of the dispute. In this way, news coverage of Iran’s nuclear program is reminiscent of news coverage of the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. News coverage has the potential to play a significant, constructive role in finding a lasting resolution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, but journalists and editors first need to address the tendencies present in their current coverage of the topic.”
We encourage all to read and ponder, hard, this important new report.