The Kagan family, America’s neoconservative aristocracy, has reemerged having recovered from the letdown over not gaining its expected influence from the election of Hillary Clinton and from its loss of official power at the start of the Trump presidency.
Back pontificating on prominent op-ed pages, the Family Kagan now is pushing for an expanded U.S. military invasion of Syria and baiting Republicans for not joining more enthusiastically in the anti-Russian witch hunt over Moscow’s alleged help in electing Donald Trump.
In a Washington Post op-ed on March 7, Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and a key architect of the Iraq War, jabbed at Republicans for serving as “Russia’s accomplices after the fact” by not investigating more aggressively.
Then, Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the neocon American Enterprise Institute, and his wife, Kimberly Kagan, president of her own think tank, Institute for the Study of War, touted the idea of a bigger U.S. invasion of Syria in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on March 15.
Yet, as much standing as the Kagans retain in Official Washington’s world of think tanks and op-ed placements, they remain mostly outside the new Trump-era power centers looking in, although they seem to have detected a door being forced open.
Still, a year ago, their prospects looked much brighter. They could pick from a large field of neocon-oriented Republican presidential contenders or – like Robert Kagan – they could support the establishment Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, whose “liberal interventionism” matched closely with neoconservatism, differing only slightly in the rationalizations used for justifying wars and more wars.
There was also hope that a President Hillary Clinton would recognize how sympatico the liberal hawks and the neocons were by promoting Robert Kagan’s neocon wife, Victoria Nuland, from Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs to Secretary of State.
Then, there would have been a powerful momentum for both increasing the U.S. military intervention in Syria and escalating the New Cold War with Russia, putting “regime change” back on the agenda for those two countries. So, early last year, the possibilities seemed endless for the Family Kagan to flex their muscles and make lots of money.
A Family Business
As I noted two years ago in an article entitled “A Family Business of Perpetual War”: “Neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, run a remarkable family business: she has sparked a hot war in Ukraine and helped launch Cold War II with Russia and he steps in to demand that Congress jack up military spending so America can meet these new security threats.
“This extraordinary husband-and-wife duo makes quite a one-two punch for the Military-Industrial Complex, an inside-outside team that creates the need for more military spending, applies political pressure to ensure higher appropriations, and watches as thankful weapons manufacturers lavish grants on like-minded hawkish Washington think tanks.
“Not only does the broader community of neoconservatives stand to benefit but so do other members of the Kagan clan, including Robert’s brother Frederick at the American Enterprise Institute and his wife Kimberly, who runs her own shop called the Institute for the Study of War.”
But things didn’t quite turn out as the Kagans had drawn them up. The neocon Republicans stumbled through the GOP primaries losing out to Donald Trump and then – after Hillary Clinton muscled aside Sen. Bernie Sanders to claim the Democratic nomination – she fumbled away the general election to Trump.
After his surprising victory, Trump – for all his many shortcomings – recognized that the neocons were not his friends and mostly left them out in the cold. Nuland not only lost her politically appointed job as Assistant Secretary but resigned from the Foreign Service, too.
With Trump in the White House, Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment was down but far from out. The neocons were tossed a lifeline by Democrats and liberals who detested Trump so much that they were happy to pick up Nuland’s fallen banner of the New Cold War with Russia. As part of a dubious scheme to drive Trump from office, Democrats and liberals hyped evidence-free allegations that Russia had colluded with Trump’s team to rig the U.S. election.
New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman spoke for many of this group when he compared Russia’s alleged “meddling” to Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor and Al Qaeda’s 9/11 terror attacks.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, Friedman demanded that the Russia hacking allegations be treated as a casus belli: “That was a 9/11 scale event. They attacked the core of our democracy. That was a Pearl Harbor scale event.” Both Pearl Harbor and 9/11 led to wars.
So, with many liberals blinded by their hatred of Trump, the path was open for neocons to reassert themselves.
Robert Kagan took to the high-profile op-ed page of The Washington Post to bait key Republicans, such as Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who was pictured above the Post article and its headline, “Running interference for Russia.”
Kagan wrote: “It would have been impossible to imagine a year ago that the Republican Party’s leaders would be effectively serving as enablers of Russian interference in this country’s political system. Yet, astonishingly, that is the role the Republican Party is playing.”
Kagan then reprised Official Washington’s groupthink that accepted without skepticism the claims from President Obama’s outgoing intelligence chiefs that Russia had “hacked” Democratic emails and released them via WikiLeaks to embarrass the Clinton campaign.
Though Obama’s intelligence officials offered no verifiable evidence to support the claims – and WikiLeaks denied getting the two batches of emails from the Russians – the allegations were widely accepted across Official Washington as grounds for discrediting Trump and possibly seeking his removal from office.
Ignoring the political conflict of interest for Obama’s appointees, Kagan judged that “given the significance of this particular finding [about Russian meddling], the evidence must be compelling” and justified “a serious, wide-ranging and open investigation.”
But Kagan also must have recognized the potential for the neocons to claw their way back to power behind the smokescreen of a New Cold War with Russia.
He declared: “The most important question concerns Russia’s ability to manipulate U.S. elections. That is not a political issue. It is a national security issue. If the Russian government did interfere in the United States’ electoral processes last year, then it has the capacity to do so in every election going forward. This is a powerful and dangerous weapon, more than warships or tanks or bombers.
“Neither Russia nor any potential adversary has the power to damage the U.S. political system with weapons of war. But by creating doubts about the validity, integrity and reliability of U.S. elections, it can shake that system to its foundations.”
A Different Reality
As alarmist as Kagan’s op-ed was, the reality was far different. Even if the Russians did hack the Democratic emails and somehow slipped the information to WikiLeaks – an unsubstantiated and disputed contention – those two rounds of email disclosures were not that significant to the election’s outcome.
Hillary Clinton blamed her surprise defeat on FBI Director James Comey briefly reopening the investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State.
Further, by all accounts, the WikiLeaks-released emails were real and revealed wrongdoing by leading Democrats, such as the Democratic National Committee’s tilting of the primaries against Sen. Bernie Sanders and in favor of Clinton. The emails of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta disclosed the contents of Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street, which she was trying to hide from voters, as well as some pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.
In other words, the WikiLeaks’ releases helped inform American voters about abuses to the U.S. democratic process. The emails were not “disinformation” or “fake news.” They were real news.
A similar disclosure occurred both before the election and this week when someone leaked details about Trump’s tax returns, which are protected by law. However, except for the Trump camp, almost no one thought that this illegal act of releasing a citizen’s tax returns was somehow a threat to American democracy.
The general feeling was that Americans have a right to know such details about someone seeking the White House. I agree, but doesn’t it equally follow that we had a right to know about the DNC abusing its power to grease the skids for Clinton’s nomination, about the contents of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street bankers, and about foreign governments seeking pay-to-play influence by contributing to the Clinton Foundation?
Yet, because Obama’s political appointees in the U.S. intelligence community “assess” that Russia was the source of the WikiLeaks emails, the assault on U.S. democracy is a reason for World War III.
More Loose Talk
But Kagan was not satisfied with unsubstantiated accusations regarding Russia undermining U.S. democracy. He asserted as “fact” – although again without presenting evidence – that Russia is “interfering in the coming elections in France and Germany, and it has already interfered in Italy’s recent referendum and in numerous other elections across Europe. Russia is deploying this weapon against as many democracies as it can to sap public confidence in democratic institutions.”
There’s been a lot of handwringing in Official Washington and across the Mainstream Media about the “post-truth” era, but these supposed avatars for truth are as guilty as anyone, acting as if constantly repeating a fact-free claim is the same as proving it.
But it’s clear what Kagan and other neocons have in mind, an escalation of hostilities with Russia and a substantial increase in spending on U.S. military hardware and on Western propaganda to “counter” what is deemed “Russian propaganda.”
Kagan recognizes that he already has many key Democrats and liberals on his side. So he is taking aim at Republicans to force them to join in the full-throated Russia-bashing, writing:
“But it is the Republicans who are covering up. The party’s current leader, the president, questions the intelligence community’s findings, motives and integrity. Republican leaders in Congress have opposed the creation of any special investigating committee, either inside or outside Congress. They have insisted that inquiries be conducted by the two intelligence committees.
“Yet the Republican chairman of the committee in the House has indicated that he sees no great urgency to the investigation and has even questioned the seriousness and validity of the accusations. The Republican chairman of the committee in the Senate has approached the task grudgingly.
“The result is that the investigations seem destined to move slowly, produce little information and provide even less to the public. It is hard not to conclude that this is precisely the intent of the Republican Party’s leadership, both in the White House and Congress. …
“When Republicans stand in the way of thorough, open and immediate investigations, they become Russia’s accomplices after the fact.”
Lying with the Neocons
Many Democrats and liberals may find it encouraging that a leading neocon who helped pave the road to war in Iraq is now by their side in running down Republicans for not enthusiastically joining the latest Russian witch hunt. But they also might pause to ask themselves how they let their hatred of Trump get them into an alliance with the neocons.
On Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, Robert Kagan’s brother Frederick and his wife Kimberly dropped the other shoe, laying out the neocons’ long-held dream of a full-scale U.S. invasion of Syria, a project that was put on hold in 2004 because of U.S. military reversals in Iraq.
But the neocons have long lusted for “regime change” in Syria and were not satisfied with Obama’s arming of anti-government rebels and the limited infiltration of U.S. Special Forces into northern Syria to assist in the retaking of the Islamic State’s “capital” of Raqqa.
In the Journal op-ed, Frederick and Kimberly Kagan call for opening a new military front in southeastern Syria:
“American military forces will be necessary. But the U.S. can recruit new Sunni Arab partners by fighting alongside them in their land. The goal in the beginning must be against ISIS because it controls the last areas in Syria where the U.S. can reasonably hope to find Sunni allies not yet under the influence of al Qaeda. But the aim after evicting ISIS must be to raise a Sunni Arab army that can ultimately defeat al Qaeda and help negotiate a settlement of the war.
“The U.S. will have to pressure the Assad regime, Iran and Russia to end the conflict on terms that the Sunni Arabs will accept. That will be easier to do with the independence and leverage of a secure base inside Syria. … President Trump should break through the flawed logic and poor planning that he inherited from his predecessor. He can transform this struggle, but only by transforming America’s approach to it.”
A New Scheme on Syria
In other words, the neocons are back to their clever word games and their strategic maneuverings to entice the U.S. military into a “regime change” project in Syria.
The neocons thought they had almost pulled off that goal by pinning a mysterious sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, on the Syrian government and mousetrapping Obama into launching a major U.S. air assault on the Syrian military.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in to arrange for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to surrender all his chemical weapons even as Assad continued to deny any role in the sarin attack.
Putin’s interference in thwarting the neocons’ dream of a Syrian “regime war” moved Putin to the top of their enemies’ list. Soon key neocons, such as National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman, were taking aim at Ukraine, which Gershman deemed “the biggest prize” and a steppingstone toward eventually ousting Putin in Moscow.
It fell to Assistant Secretary Victoria “Toria” Nuland to oversee the “regime change” in Ukraine. She was caught on an unsecured phone line in late January or early February 2014 discussing with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt how “to glue” or “to midwife” a change in Ukraine’s elected government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Several weeks later, neo-Nazi and ultranationalist street fighters spearheaded a violent assault on government buildings forcing Yanukovych and other officials to flee for their lives, with the U.S. government quickly hailing the coup regime as “legitimate.”
But the Ukraine putsch led to the secession of Crimea and a bloody civil war in eastern Ukraine with ethnic Russians, events that the State Department and the mainstream Western media deemed “Russian aggression” or a “Russian invasion.”
So, by the last years of the Obama administration, the stage was set for the neocons and the Family Kagan to lead the next stage of the strategy of cornering Russia and instituting a “regime change” in Syria.
All that was needed was for Hillary Clinton to be elected president. But these best-laid plans surprisingly went astray. Despite his overall unfitness for the presidency, Trump defeated Clinton, a bitter disappointment for the neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks.
Yet, the so-called “#Resistance” to Trump’s presidency and President Obama’s unprecedented use of his intelligence agencies to paint Trump as a Russian “Manchurian candidate” gave new hope to the neocons and their agenda.
It has taken them a few months to reorganize and regroup but they now see hope in pressuring Trump so hard regarding Russia that he will have little choice but to buy into their belligerent schemes.
As often is the case, the Family Kagan has charted the course of action – batter Republicans into joining the all-out Russia-bashing and then persuade a softened Trump to launch a full-scale invasion of Syria. In this endeavor, the Kagans have Democrats and liberals as the foot soldiers.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
It seems the unofficial Minitrue we predicted in yesterday’s piece is already here. Google’s “Quality raters” will, from Tuesday, be combing the net with fresh vigour looking for “upsetting-offensive” things and making sure we never get to see them.
The article in the Guardian covering this new development highlights its use against the usual suspect – “Holocaust denial”, which is of course the thinnest and most entirely acceptable end of the wedge. The one they always use as a poster child for censorship of any kind. But we would have to be cosmically naive to believe Google’s anonymous and entirely unaccountable “10,000-strong army of independent contractors” will stop there. We should also remain a little sceptical about Google’s vaguely worded claim that these new guidelines will not effectively remove certain opinions from the web. The only way the quality control can work is through promoting some sites while suppressing others.
We might not be concerned when white supremacists sites are being targeted for such suppression, but what about alternative health sites? Truther sites? Or indeed alt news sites such as ours? How will Google’s busy crusaders for “quality” deal with them?
Alex Hern, in the Guardian, predictably thinks Google isn’t going far enough, and that:
Google’s failure to keep fake news and propaganda off the top of search results is broader than simply promoting upsetting or offensive content.
He illustrates this with Google’s “snippets in search” feature quoting “questionable sites”, leading to “the search engine claiming in its own voice that “Obama may be planning a communist coup d’état”, and – even worse – the same feature once:
lied to users about the time required to caramelise onions
Hern does rather grudgingly admit that “shortly after each of these stories were published, the search results in question were updated to fix the errors,” but that apparently doesn’t mitigate the indictment.
So, be warned. Google may be showing us the way to a simpler and safer world where upset and offence will just be a distant and fading memory, but that’s only a beginning. If the Graun and other neoliberal opinion-makers have their way there will be a time in the not too distant future when merely referencing any “controversy” from debatable optimum cooking times to the alleged funding of ISIS will be about as socially unacceptable as urinating in public.
Stonewalls Queries during “Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know”
In the midst of journalism’s “Sunshine Week” – during which the Associated Press and other news organizations are valiantly proclaiming the public’s “right to know” – AP insists on conducting its own activities in the dark, and refuses to answer even the simplest questions about its system of international news reporting.
Most of all, it refuses to explain why it erased footage of an Israeli soldier intentionally shooting a Palestinian boy.
AP, according to its website, is the world’s oldest and largest news organization. It is the behemoth of news reporting, providing what its editors determine is the news to a billion people each day. Through its feeds to thousands of newspapers, radio and television stations, AP is a major determinant in what Americans read, hear and see – and what they don’t.
What they don’t is profoundly important. I investigated one such omission when I was in the Palestinian Territories last year working on a documentary with my colleague (and daughter), who was filming our interviews.
On Oct. 17, 2004 Israeli military forces invaded Balata, a dense, poverty-stricken community deep in Palestine’s West Bank (Israel frequently invades this area and others). According to witnesses, the vehicles stayed for about twenty minutes, the military asserting its power over the Palestinian population. The witnesses state that there was no Palestinian resistance – no “clash,” no “crossfire.” At one point, after most of the vehicles had finally driven away, an Israeli soldier stuck his gun out of his armored vehicle, aimed at a pre-pubescent boy nearby, and pulled the trigger.
We went to the hospital and interviewed the boy, Ahmad, his doctors, family, and others. Ahmad had bandages around his lower abdomen, where surgeons had operated on his bladder. He said he was afraid of Israeli soldiers, and pulled up his pants leg to show where he had been shot previously.
In the hospital there was a second boy, this one with a shattered femur; and a third boy, this one in critical condition with a bullet hole in his lung. A fourth boy, not a patient, was visiting a friend. He showed us a scarred lip and missing teeth from when Israeli soldiers had shot him in the mouth.
This was not an unusual situation. When I had visited Palestinian hospitals on a previous trip, I had seen many such victims; some with worse injuries. Yet, very few Americans know this is going on. AP’s actions in regard to Ahmad’s shooting may explain why.
We discovered that an AP cameraman had filmed the entire incident. This cameraman had then followed what apparently is the usual routine. He sent his video – an extremely valuable commodity, since it contained documentary evidence of a war crime – to the AP control bureau for the region. This bureau is in Israel.
What happened next is unfathomable. Did AP broadcast it? No. Did AP place the video in safe-keeping, available for an investigation of this crime? No.
According to its cameraman, AP erased it.
We were astounded. We traveled to AP’s control bureau in Israel. With our own video camera out and running, we asked bureau chief Steve Gutkin about this incident. Was the information we had been told correct, or did he have a different version? Did the bureau have the video, or had they indeed erased it. If so, why?
Gutkin, repeatedly looking at the camera and visibly flustered, told us that AP did not allow its journalists to give interviews. He told us that all questions must go to Corporate Communications, located in New York. He explained that they were on deadline and couldn’t talk. I said I understood deadline pressure, and sat down to wait until they were done. When he called Israeli police to arrest us, we left.
Back in the US later, I phoned Corporate Communications and reached Director of Media Relations Jack Stokes, AP’s public relations spokesman. I had conversed with Stokes before.
Over the past several years I have noticed disturbing flaws in AP coverage of Israel-Palestine: newsworthy stories not being covered, reports sent to international newspapers but not to American ones, stories omitting or misreporting significant facts, critical sentences being removed from updated reports.
I would phone AP with the appropriate correction or news alert. One time this resulted in a flawed news story being slightly corrected in updates. In a few cases stories were then covered that had been neglected. In many cases, however, I was told that I needed to speak to Corporate Communications. I would phone Corporate Communications, leave a message, and wait for a response. Most often, none came.
Several times, however, I was able to have long conversations with AP spokesman Stokes. None of these conversations, however, ever ended with AP taking any action. Some typical responses:
- The omitted story was “not newsworthy.”
- The story deemed by AP editors to be newsworthy to the rest of the world – e.g. Israel’s brutal imprisonment of over 300 Palestinian youths – was not newsworthy in the US (Israel’s major ally).
- Burying a report of Israeli forces shooting a four-year-old Palestinian girl in the mouth was justified.
- Misreporting an incident in which an Israeli officer riddled a 13-year-old girl at close range with bullets was unimportant.
Despite this unresponsive pattern, when I learned firsthand of an AP bureau erasing footage of an atrocity, I again phoned Corporate Communications. I no longer had much expectation that AP would take any corrective action, but I did expect to receive some information. I gave spokesperson Stokes the numerous details about this incident that we had gathered on the scene and asked him the same questions I had asked Gutkin. He said he would look into this and get back to me.
After several days he had not gotten back to me, so I again phoned him. He said that he had looked into this incident, and that AP had determined that this was “an internal matter” and that they would give no response.
Footage of this boy being intentionally shot by an Israeli soldier was erased by the Associated Press. Photo: Reuters
While I should have known better, I was again astounded. AP was blatantly violating fundamental journalistic norms of ethical behavior, and clearly felt it had the power to get away with it.
Journalism, according to the Statement of Principles of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, is a “sacred trust.” It is the bulwark of a free society and is so essential to the functioning of a democracy that our forefathers affirmed its primacy in the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights.
According to the Society of Professional Journalists, one of the four major pillars of journalistic ethics is to “Be Accountable.” According to the SPJ’s Code of Ethics:
“Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.
- Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
- Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
- Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
- Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
- Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.”
Finally, this week, on deadline with a chapter about media coverage of Israel-Palestine, I again tried to confirm some of my facts with AP. Certainly, I felt, during “Sunshine Week” AP would respond. As part of the Sunshine campaign, AP’s CEO and President Tom Curley is traveling the country giving speeches on the necessity of transparency and accountability (for government) and emphasizing “the openness that effective democracy requires.”
“The trend toward secrecy,” AP’s President has correctly been pointing out, “is the greatest threat to democracy.”
I emailed my questions to AP, talked to Stokes by phone, and again was told he would get back to me. Again, I got back to him. Then, in a surreal exchange, he conveyed AP’s reply: “The official response is we decline to respond.” As I asked question after question, many as simple as a confirmation of the number of bureaus AP has in Israel-Palestine, the response was silence or a repetition of: “The official response is we decline to respond.”
The next day I tried phoning AP’s President Curley directly. I was unable to reach him, since he was on the road giving his Sunshine Week speeches (“Secrecy,” Curley says, “is for losers”), but I left a message for him with an assistant. She said someone would respond.
I am still waiting.
It is clearly time to go to AP’s superiors. The fact is, AP is a cooperative. It is not owned by Corporate Communications spokespeople or by its CEO or even by its board of directors. It is owned by the thousands of newspapers and broadcast stations around the United States that use AP reports. These newspapers, radio and television stations are the true directors of AP, and bear the responsibility for its coverage.
In the end, it appears, the only way that Americans will receive full, unbiased reporting from AP on Israel-Palestine will be when these member-owners demand such coverage from their employees in the Middle East and in New York. As long as AP’s owners remain too busy or too negligent to ensure the quality and accuracy of their Israel-Palestine coverage, the handful of people within AP who are distorting its news reporting on this tragic, life-and-death, globally destabilizing issue will quite likely continue to do so.
In the final analysis, therefore, it is up to us – members of the public – to step in. Everyone who believes that Americans have the right and the need to receive full, undistorted information on all issues, including Israel-Palestine, must take action. We must require our news media to fulfill their profoundly important obligation, and we must ourselves distribute the critical information our media are leaving out.
If we don’t take action, no one else will.
US fighter jets drop bombs on Cambodia circa 1973 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/cc)
Cambodians are responding with outrage to the U.S. government’s demand that the country repay a nearly 50-year-old loan to Cambodia’s brutal Lon Nol government, which came to power through a U.S.-backed coup and spent much of its foreign funds purchasing arms to kill its own citizens, according to Cambodia’s current prime minister Hun Sen.
While the U.S. was backing the Lon Nol government, it was also strafing the Cambodian countryside with bombs—a carpet-bombing campaign that would eventually see over 500,000 tons of explosives dropped on the small Asian country, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and leaving a legacy of unexploded ordnance.
“[The U.S.] dropped bombs on our heads and then they ask us to repay. When we do not repay, they tell the IMF [International Monetary Fund] not to lend us money,” Hun Sen said at an Asia-Pacific regional conference earlier this month.
“At the same time the U.S. was giving weapons to Lon Nol, it was bombing the Cambodian countryside into oblivion and creating millions of refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh and destroying all political fabric and civil life in the country,” former Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin told Australia’s ABC.
“And all of this was simply to stop the supplies coming down to South Vietnam, as it was then, from the north,” Kevin added. “So the United States created a desert in Cambodia in those years, and Americans know this.”
Hun Sen has argued that the U.S. has no right to demand repayment of its “blood-stained” funds.
“Cambodia does not owe even a brass farthing to the U.S. for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields, and forest cover,” wrote former Reuters correspondent James Pringle for The Cambodia Daily.
In fact, during his tenure as prime minister Hun Sen has asked the U.S. to drop the “dirty debt” several times, but American leaders have refused.
“[The] U.S. would not drop it. It would have been so easy to forgive the repayment, it would have been easy to refinance it for education like they did in Vietnam,” the reporter Elizabeth Becker, who covered the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s, told Al Jazeera.
“The U.S. intervention in Cambodia was easily the most controversial that we had in that era,” Becker said. “[The U.S.] dragged Cambodia into the Vietnam War for hopes that by expanding it they could win, the complications now are that even 50 years later, the Khmer Rouge legacy is horrible.”
“The U.S. owes Cambodia much more in war debts that can be repaid in cash,” Becker argued to The Cambodia Daily.
It is the leakiest of times in the Executive Branch. Last week, Wikileaks published a massive and, by all accounts genuine, trove of documents revealing that the CIA has been stockpiling, and lost control of, hacking tools it uses against targets. Particularly noteworthy were the revelations that the CIA developed a tool to hack Samsung TVs and turn them into recording devices and that the CIA worked to infiltrate both Apple and Google smart phone operating systems since it could not break encryption. No one in government has challenged the authenticity of the documents disclosed.
We do not know the identity of the source or sources, nor can we be 100% certain of his or her motivations. Wikileaks writes that the source sent a statement that policy questions “urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency” and that the source “wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyber-weapons.”
The FBI has already begun hunting down the source as part of a criminal leak investigation. Historically, the criminal justice system has been a particularly inept judge of who is a whistleblower. Moreover, it has allowed the use of the pernicious Espionage Act—an arcane law meant to go after spies—to go after whistleblowers who reveal information the public interest. My client, former NSA senior official Thomas Drake, was prosecuted under the Espionage Act, only to later be widely recognized as a whistleblower. There is no public interest defense to Espionage Act charges, and courts have ruled that a whistleblower’s motive, however salutary, is irrelevant to determining guilt.
The Intelligence Community is an equally bad judge of who is a whistleblower, and has a vested interest in giving no positive reinforcement to those who air its dirty laundry. The Intelligence Community reflexively claims that anyone who makes public secret information is not a whistleblower. Former NSA and CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden speculated that the recent leaks are to be blamed on young millennials harboring some disrespect for the venerable intelligence agencies responsible for mass surveillance and torture. Not only is his speculation speculative, but it’s proven wrong by the fact that whistleblowers who go to the press span the generational spectrum from Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg to mid-career and senior level public servants like CIA torture whistleblower John Kiriakou and NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake to early-career millennials like Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The lawbreaker does not get to decide who is a whistleblower.
Not all leaks of information are whistleblowing, and the word “whistleblower” is a loaded term, so whether or not the Vault 7 source conceives of him or herself as a whistleblower is not a particularly pertinent inquiry. The label “whistleblower” does not convey some mythical power or goodness, or some “moral narcissism,” a term used to describe me when I blew the whistle. Rather, whether an action is whistleblowing depends on whether or not the information disclosed is in the public interest and reveals fraud, waste, abuse, illegality or dangers to public health and safety. Even if some of the information revealed does not qualify, it should be remembered that whistleblowers are often faulted with being over- or under-inclusive with their disclosures. Again, it is the quality of the information, not the quantity, nor the character of the source.
Already, the information in the Vault 7 documents revealed that the Intelligence Community has misled the American people. In the wake of Snowden’s revelations, the Intelligence Community committed to avoid the stockpiling of technological vulnerabilities, publicly claiming that its bias was toward “disclosing them” so as to better protect everyone’s privacy. However, the Vault 7 documents reveal just the opposite: not only has the CIA been stockpiling exploits, it has been aggressively working to undermine our Internet security. Even assuming the CIA is using its hacking tools against the right targets, a pause-worthy presumption given the agency’s checkered history, the CIA has empowered the rest of the hacker world and foreign adversaries by hoarding vulnerabilities, and thereby undermined the privacy rights of all Americans and millions of innocent people around the world. Democracy depends on an informed citizenry, and journalistic sources—whether they call themselves whistleblowers or not—are a critical component when the government uses national security as justification to keep so much of its activities hidden from public view.
As we learn more about the Vault 7 source and the disclosures, our focus should be on the substance of the disclosures. Historically, the government’s reflexive instinct is to shoot the messenger, pathologize the whistleblower, and drill down on his or her motives, while the transparency community holds its breath that he or she will turn out to be pure as the driven snow. But that’s all deflection from plumbing the much more difficult questions, which are: Should the CIA be allowed to conduct these activities, and should it be doing so in secret without any public oversight?
These are questions we would not even be asking without the Vault 7 source.
Jesselyn Radack is a national security and human rights attorney who heads the “Whistleblower & Source Protection” project at ExposeFacts. Twitter: @jesselynradack
A few months back, Europhysics News, the science journal that published the new study “On the Physics of High Rise Building Collapse”, by Jones et al (republished here on OffG), published an interesting range of follow up letters to the editor. Less widely publicised has been an announcement in the same edition from its editors that reads like a declaration of political censorship.
The small collection of “letters to the editor” published in a recent edition of Europhysics News as a follow-up to the Jones et al paper “On the Physics of High Rise Building Collapse” is revelatory on several levels. Not only for the range of views expressed, but also, and perhaps most significantly, as a statement on the level of censorship and self-censorhip currently deemed acceptable in academia.
The letter that received most attention in the alt media is from a “member of the NIST technical staff during the period 1997 – 2011,” and alleging “the more I investigated, the more apparent it became that NIST had reached a predetermined conclusion by ignoring, dismissing, and denying the evidence.” He calls on NIST to “openly share all evidence, data, models, computations, and other relevant information unless specific and compelling reasons are otherwise provided.” Which seems an eminently rational and reasonable demand.
Thoughts from a former NIST employee
I was a member of the NIST technical staff during the period 1997- 2011. I initially joined the High Performance Systems and Services Division and later became a member of what was, at the time, the Mathematical and Computational Sciences Division of the Information Technology Laboratory. My fellow NIST employees were among the finest and most intelligent people with whom I have ever worked.
I did not contribute to the NIST WTC investigation or reports. But in August of this year, I began to read some of those reports. As I then watched several documentaries challenging the findings of the NIST investigation, I quickly became furious. First, I was furious with myself. How could I have worked at NIST all those years and not have noticed this before? Second, I was furious with NIST. The NIST I knew was intellectually open, non-defensive, and willing to consider competing explanations.
The more I investigated, the more apparent it became that NIST had reached a predetermined conclusion by ignoring, dismissing, and denying the evidence. Among the most egregious examples is the explanation for the collapse of WTC 7 as an elaborate sequence of unlikely events culminating in the almost symmetrical total collapse of a steel-frame building into its own footprint at free-fall acceleration.
I could list all the reasons why the NIST WTC reports don’t add up, but others have already done so in extensive detail and there is little that I could add. What I can do, however, is share some thoughts based on common sense and experience from my fourteen years at NIST.
First, if NIST truly believes in the veracity of its WTC investigation, then it should openly share all evidence, data, models, computations, and other relevant information unless specific and compelling reasons are otherwise provided. For example, would the release of all files and calculations associated with the ANSYS collapse initiation mod- el jeopardize public safety to an extent that outweighs the competing need for accountability?
Second, in its reports, NIST makes a great show of details leading to collapse initiation and then stops short just when it becomes interesting. The remainder of the explanation is a perfunctory statement that total collapse is inevitable and obvious. It is easy to see through this tactic as avoid- ance of inconvenient evidence. In response to any challenges, NIST has provided curt explanations from its Public Affairs Office. There were many contributors to the NIST WTC investigation: Why not let them openly answer questions in their own voice with the depth of knowledge and level of detail that follows from the nuts and bolts of their research?
Lastly, awareness is growing of the disconnect between the NIST WTC reports and logical reasoning. The level of interest in “15 years later” is a good example. Due to the nature of communication in today’s world, that awareness may increase approximately exponentially. Why not NIST blow the whistle on itself now while there is still time?
Truth is where our healing lies.
Peter Michael Ketcham, USA
The 9/11 Truth community has, understandably, promoted the above letter as evidence for the crumbling of NIST’s official position on 9/11. But we think the following announcement is in many ways the most relevant to our current time. In the era of “propornot”, campus censorship and the promotion of “anti-free-speech” as the new badge of the Left, below is the official statement by the editors of Europhysics News itself (our emphasis):
The editors respond
It is the policy of EPN to publish by invitation. Prospective authors are suggested by members of our Editorial Advisory Board, who cover various disciplines and come from different countries.
This particular Feature article ‘On the physics of High Rise Building Collapses’, followed the same route. We expected this topic to be of wide interest to our readers and thus invited the suggested authors to submit their manuscript. EPN does not have a formal review/rejection policy for invited contributions.
In the present case we realized that the final manuscript contained some speculations and had a rather controversial conclusion. Therefore a ‘Note from the editors’ was added, stressing that the content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not represent an official position of EPN.
Since some controversy remains, even among more competent people in the field, we considered that the correct scientific way to settle this debate was to publish the manuscript and possibly trigger an open discussion leading to an undisputable truth based on solid arguments. Therefore we asked NIST, as principal investigator of the WTC collapse, to send us a reaction to the article. Their response can be found elsewhere on these pages.
It is shocking that the published article is being used to support conspiracy theories related to the attacks on the WTC buildings. The Editors of EPN do not endorse or support these views.
In future, prospective authors will be asked to provide an abstract of the proposed article, as well as an indication of other related publications to allow the editors to better assess the content of the invited articles.
It’s hard to read this as anything but a wholesale rejection of its own decision to publish this “controversial” paper, and an announcement that all future papers will be vetted for political content as well as scientific validity, and that certain authors and/or dissenting opinions will be suppressed. Whatever your opinions on 9/11, and however you view the Jones et al paper, this must disturb you.
We did email Europhysics News to ask them for some clarification. We’ll let our readers know when/if they respond.
In the past year the Guardian has been overtly promoting internet censorship. A while back they uncritically coordinated with Yvette Cooper’s insinuating “take back the internet” programme to make sure we all get “the web
we they want”. Last week they uncritically published an opinion piece from Tim Berners-Lee, where he claims we should:
… push back against misinformation by encouraging gatekeepers such as Google and Facebook to continue their efforts to combat the problem…
While, of course….
… avoiding the creation of any central bodies to decide what is “true” or not.
Hmm… tough thing to achieve you may think. Which is possibly why Tim doesn’t bother to tell us how he thinks it should be done. In fact we can be pretty sure, being a bit of a genius allegedly, Tim knows pretty well that Governments and corporations are so irreversibly intertwined, their policies and goals so similar, that by instructing Facebook to “take measures” you are, in effect, privatising Orwell’s Minitrue, and creating precisely the “central bod[y] to decide what is true or not” that he affects to fear.
We can also be pretty sure that if/when Facebook/Twitter and the rest announce the creation of some new “special department” for further “fact-checking”, people at the Guardian will write editorials congratulating them on saving the internet.
That brings us to today. Today the Guardian are – again uncritically – reprinting censorship advocacy, this time by their very close associates GCHQ. This article quotes Paul Chichester, the head of GCHQ’s new National Cyber Security Centre, who says that Facebook and Twitter have a
“social responsibility” to do more to “limit the spread of fake news” and control the flow of “misinformation”.
There is not a single word of analysis, doubt or even equivocation in the article. The headline reads [my emphasis]:
And that’s all the story is, a stenographic report of what Chichester said. Not a single question is asked about the implications of what said, or indeed why he might be saying it. It is a press release. It tells us what the people in power think and, worse than agreeing, simply refuses to acknowledge that disagreeing is even a possibility.
The “journalist” (Josh Halliday) who put this piece together doesn’t acknowledge that state agencies would have an obvious vested interest in controlling what the citizenry reads online, or that mega-corporations such as Facebook or Google could abuse this “plea” to take advantage of their users. He’s content to just reprint the head of the spy agency’s opinion, word for word. He is, essentially, reducing himself from a journalist to a state broadcasting service.
And he most likely has a long career ahead of him.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has announced that it will build a “a state-of-the-art command center in Silicon Valley” to monitor and fight anything online that it determines is “hate.”
The ADL is known for attacking individuals who criticize Israel as allegedly “anti-Semitic.” Its website states: “ADL has always been a strong voice for Israel.”
Critics of the organization have noted that its fundraising strategy relies on finding “anti-Semitism” and charge that it often exaggerates this threat.
A former Israeli minister stated that Israel and its partisans often use the charge of anti-Semitism against those who speak discuss Israel’s oppression of Palestinians: “It’s a trick, we always use it.” The ADL was the initiator of hate crimes legislation in the United States, launching this campaign in 1981.
ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt announced the new center on March 12 at a music festival in Austin, Texas. Accompanying him was Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.
According to the ADL’s press release on the project, the new center “will write reports, compile data, and “provide insights to government and policy makers.” The center will use the “best-in-class technology,” according to Greenblatt.
“This is a natural extension of the cyber hate work ADL has been doing for decades,” Greenblatt said, “and builds on the new presence we established last year in the Valley to collaborate even closer on the threat with the tech industry.”
The Omidyar Network is providing seed funding for the project. According to its website, Omidyar Network is a “philanthropic investment firm” that works to “catalyze economic and social change.” Founded by Ebay creator Pierre Omidyar, the organization has dispersed over a billion dollars since its inception in 2004.
According to the ADL release, “The new center will leverage ADL’s long-standing relationships with law enforcement.“ It will evaluate artificial intelligence, big data, augmented/virtual reality, and other technologies as potential tools.
The center’s director will be Brittan Heller, who joined the ADL in September 2016 from the U.S. Department of Justice.
CEO Greenblatt came to the ADL from the tech word, with experience “starting ventures, raising capital, developing products, and crafting partnerships in Silicon Valley.
According to the ADL, “Over the next several months, Heller, Greenblatt, and the ADL team will engage with a wide range of stakeholders in Silicon Valley and beyond as they work to stand up this new center.”
Below is the trailer for a documentary on the ADL made by Israeli film director Yoav Shamir:
View full film