One should wonder where the universal surveillance system dubbed the ‘snoopers charter’ installed by Britain’s government is heading for eventually. Recently described by Edward Snowden in tweets as the “most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West” and its “a comprehensive record of your private activities, the activity log of your life,” – it should really make you ask that question.
We now have a good idea of what surveillance the British government is going to be conducting over its citizens from now on. But think for a minute. The last twelve months of online activity will be captured – what does this say about you? What does it look like? Does it reveal your political interests, subscriptions, social networks and how they relate to you, religious or medical concerns, even your most private sexual interests. And fantasies; fantasies that many people have that are never enacted, such as doing something evil or illegal – but searching the internet out of nothing more than inquisitiveness. How confusing would that be to the state or to one of the many tens of thousands of individuals in government departments not professionally trained to interpret all this data. Generally speaking what this surveillance system does is to map out who you really are like no other.
Before we consider where this system is potentially going, it should be understood what the government is capable of when it comes to creating an act and then abusing it. Let’s take the the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).
RIPA was primarily defined as a legal framework to combat serious crime and terrorism: “In the interests of national security (including terrorism), for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime or of preventing disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, in the interests of public safety, for the purpose of protecting public health.” Four iterations later in 2003, 2006, 2010 and 2015 and the Act has widened out dramatically.
Soon after Theresa May at the Home Office got her knees under the table, the use of RIPA caused headlines such as: “Official complaint over police use of Ripa against journalists” (The Guardian ) and “BBC uses anti-terror spy powers to track down licence fee dodgers” (Daily Mail ).
Then we found that local councils were using this act designed to catch serious criminals and terrorists to hunt down non-payment of council tax. Indeed, 11 councils every day were conducting thousands of covert surveillance operations across the country for this purpose alone.
These same anti-terror laws were also used to target dog fouling and even underage sunbed users and parking fines.
In terms of actual terrorism, regardless of your political or judicial persuasion, you could argue why the killer of politician Jo Cox was not tried in Yorkshire for the crime of murder but tried in London for an act of terrorism. Interestingly, the judge in this case said: “It is evident from your internet searches that your inspiration is not love of country or your fellow citizens, it is an admiration for Nazis and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds. Our parents’ generation made huge sacrifices to defeat those ideas and values in the second world war. What you did … betrays those sacrifices.”
If ever there was a case for highlighting mission creep by the government, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act defines it perfectly, the Terrorism Act 2000 seems to work in harmony, when it suits the government.
Back to the, where are the new surveillance laws going question. If the government now has total access to your entire life and you apply mission creep as in the proven example above, consider what China is currently testing right now.
From the Wall Street Journal :
“Hangzhou’s local government is piloting a “social credit” system the Communist Party has said it wants to roll out nationwide by 2020, a digital reboot of the methods of social control the regime uses to avert threats to its legitimacy. More than three dozen local governments across China are beginning to compile digital records of social and financial behavior to rate creditworthiness. A person can incur black marks for infractions such as fare cheating, jaywalking and violating family-planning rules. The effort echoes the dang’an, a system of dossiers the Communist party keeps on urban workers’ behaviour.
In time, Beijing expects to draw on bigger, combined data pools, including a person’s internet activity, according to interviews with some architects of the system and a review of government documents. Algorithms would use a range of data to calculate a citizen’s rating, which would then be used to determine all manner of activities, such as who gets loans, or faster treatment at government offices or access to luxury hotels.”
What China intends to do is collect data from multiple sources, incorporate government department data, social media and online activities, and combine them with academic achievement, volunteer work, financial expenditure, loans and tax data, online shopping habits and the like. The WSJ headline “China’s New Tool for Social Control: A Credit Rating for Everything” explained further:
“A credit-scoring service by Alibaba affiliate Ant Financial Services—one of eight companies approved to pilot commercial experiments with social-credit scoring—assigns ratings based on information such as when customers shop online, what they buy and what phone they use. If users opt in, the score can also consider education levels and legal records. Perks in the past for getting high marks have included express security screening at the Beijing airport, part of an Ant agreement with the airport.
“Especially for young people, your online behavior goes towards building up your online credit profile,” said Joe Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, “and we want people to be aware of that so they know to behave themselves better.”
Planning documentation in a ZeroHedge article on the same subject described the credit system to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” It even provides an over-arching infographic.
According to the WSJ/Zerohedge articles a “blacklisting system” has already been created. The purposes of this is to counterbalance the good behaviour credits.
The system is designed to automatically provide “green lanes” for faster access to government services for “well-behaved” citizens while levying travel bans and other punishments on those who get out of line. China’s judiciary has already created a blacklisting system that would tie into the national social-credit operation. Zhuang Daohe, a Hangzhou legal scholar, cites the example of a client, part-owner of a travel company, who now can’t buy tickets for planes or high-speed trains because a Hangzhou court put him on a blacklist after he lost a dispute with a landlord.
The blueprint to this system is really quite simple. Credits are given for perceived good behaviours and taken away by bad perceived behaviours. Well behaved citizens will get access to “Green Lanes” that gives faster and better government services and penalties for those with low scores include delays or higher barriers to obtaining loans for instance or being given access to leisure services.
Additional scrutiny will be implemented for those who are classified in more sensitive employment such as journalists, lawyers or teachers, but one can can see how wide this list might become. It’s all about control.
Think this is all too far-fetched for a democracy like Britain or America? Well, it is already happening – slowly. The government knows the theory of the panopticon. Its been using it for centuries. The panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow all (pan-) inmates of an institution to be observed (-opticon) by a single watchman without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. Bentham’s design is being adapted as a government playbook for future civil rights and liberties.
Here’s how: Pew Research conducted over two and half years from 2014 (after the Snowden revelations) demonstrates how self censorship is already working in a big way. “Some 86% of internet users have taken steps online to remove or mask their digital footprints, but many say they would like to do more or are unaware of tools they could use. And 55% of internet users have taken steps to avoid observation by specific people, organizations or the government – 61% say they would like to do more to protect their privacy.” In addition 31% had taken at least one step to hide or shield their information from the government.
A study by the University of Oxford demonstrated some interesting results regarding recent changes in our internet activities. The study provides evidence of the “chilling effects” of Wikipedia users associated with online government surveillance, again after the Snowden revelations of 2013.
“Using an interdisciplinary research design, the study tests the hypothesis, based on chilling effects theory, that traffic to privacy-sensitive Wikipedia articles reduced after the mass surveillance revelations. The Article finds not only a statistically significant immediate decline in traffic for these Wikipedia articles after June 2013, but also a change in the overall secular trend in the view count traffic, suggesting not only immediate but also long-term chilling effects resulting from the NSA/GCHQ PRISM online surveillance revelations. These, and other results from the case study, offer compelling evidence for chilling effects associated with online surveillance.”
This study is among the first to demonstrate — using either Wikipedia data or web traffic data more generally — how government surveillance and similar actions may impact online activities, including access to information and knowledge online says it author Jon Penney.
Here is proof that the more people know they are being surveilled, the more they censor themselves. The government are becoming so intrusive that many now believe for self protection they are to be classed alongside hackers.
So as Bentham’s panopticon is redesigned for the digital age to instill anxiety in order that those in power continue their reign, everyone else is being forced to bow their heads for fear of being caught looking up. In the meantime, China’s new method of population control will, no doubt, be carefully monitored by our own government and who knows, may modify, adapt or even adopt it to control behaviour of its citizens (who just voted against the establishment by way of Brexit).
Our government had no intention of declaring its universal citizen surveillance systems (found to be illegal in courts both at home and abroad); and in an attempt to legally cover itself has railroaded through the Snoopers Charter in record time, willingly supported by an opposition in exchange for nothing more than a self centered exclusion clause for its own benefit. The government, after a few more years of unchallenged and weak opposition will continue to act as though it has some divine existential right to move Britain towards an authoritarian state where the thin veil of democracy is more rhetoric than reality and corporations seize complete control such as CETA’s rampant profiteering ambitions.
The trappings of science can be decoupled from the actual rigor of science.
The trigger for this post is a recent article in the Atlantic, entitled How Will Trump Use Science to Further His Political Agenda? The article provides some important insights, that are worth discussing in context of the climate debate and the politicization of climate science. Excerpts:
Of all the memorable lines from this year’s election, the one I keep returning to months later is from Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. “And I believe in science,” she said, as she pivoted to climate change. She giggled. The crowd roared. Isn’t it absurd she had to say she believed in science? And most smug of all: Hillary, science is not a belief.
Clinton’s appeal to science as a partisan rallying cry . . . was clearly in response to the mockery of Trump and his supporters as “anti-science.” But “anti-science” is a dangerously simplistic label.
The trappings of science can be decoupled from the actual rigor of science. Stephen Colbert, who famously coined “truthiness,” less famously also came up with “factiness.” If “truthiness” is a feeling of truth with a disregard for the facts, then “factiness” is using actual facts to paint a misleading truth.
Factiness is the taste for the feel and aesthetic of “facts,” often at the expense of missing the truth. From silly self-help-y TED talks to wrapping ourselves in the misleading scientism of Fivethirtyeight statistics, factiness is obsessing over and covering ourselves in fact after fact while still missing bigger truths.
I’ll suggest that factiness doesn’t actually cleave neatly across the left and the right. It’s an outgrowth of our cognitive biases. We often make decisions emotionally, sometimes based on tribal affiliations; then we marshall the facts that prove us right while discarding the ones that prove us wrong. As such, throwing more facts at climate deniers hasn’t convinced them.
Factiness is why using the veneer of science to rationalize an idea is dangerous, making the idea appear more justified than it really is. It is pro-science in appearance, but anti-science in spirit.
In theory, science provides an objective framework for finding truths about the world. But in practice, science is conducted by humans with biases, often blind to them. To ignore how the practice of science is intertwined with politics is to be blind, in turn, to the coming changes. As a President Trump pulls the discourse in his direction, the ground will shift slowly but surely shift underneath our feet. It’s harder to recognize in the very beginning, when the ground has only shifted ever so slightly.
[read the Atlantic article for a fascinating and disturbing example of how science was used to support the Bush administration’s torture program in the early 2000s.]
I’ve previously used the concept of ‘truthiness’ in discussing why climate modelers believe their climate models [link]. But before delving into truthiness and factiness in the climate debate, a digression is needed to provide a context for understand what science is, and what a ‘fact’ is.
I’ve written many previous posts on Scientific method and Sociology of science. Why so many posts on these topics? Because these are exceedingly complex issues, especially in context of the huge scientific complexity of global climate change.
As per the Wikipedia (which has good summary on this topic):
A fact is something that has really occurred or is actually true. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is, whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to experience.
Fact is sometimes used synonymously with truth, as distinct from opinions, falsehoods, or matters of taste. Fact may also indicate findings derived through a process of evaluation, including review of testimony, direct observation, or otherwise; as distinguishable from matters of inference or speculation. Facts may be checked by reason, experiment, personal experience, or may be argued from authority.
In science, a fact is a repeatable careful observation or measurement (by experimentation or other means), also called empirical evidence. Facts are central to building scientific theories. Various forms of observation and measurement lead to fundamental questions about the scientific method, and the scope and validity of scientific reasoning.
In the most basic sense, a scientific fact is an objective and verifiable observation, in contrast with a hypothesis or theory, which is intended to explain or interpret facts.
Scholars and clinical researchers in both the social and natural sciences have written about numerous questions and theories that arise in the attempt to clarify the fundamental nature of scientific fact. Pertinent issues raised by this inquiry include: the process by which “established fact” becomes recognized and accepted as such; whether and to what extent “fact” and “theoretic explanation” can be considered truly independent and separable from one another; to what extent “facts” are influenced by the mere act of observation; and to what extent factual conclusions are influenced by history and consensus, rather than a strictly systematic methodology.
What are the facts in the climate science debate?
- Average global surface temperatures have overall increased for the past 100+ years
- Carbon dioxide has an infrared emission spectra
- Humans have been adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
That is pretty much it, in terms of verifiable, generally agreed upon scientific facts surrounding the major elements of climate change debate.
Human caused global warming is a theory. The assertion that human caused global warming is dangerous is an hypothesis. The assertion that nearly all or most of the warming since 1950 has been caused by humans is disputed by many scientists, in spite of the highly confident consensus statement by the IPCC. The issue of ‘dangerous’ climate change is wrapped up in values, and science has next to nothing to say about this.
Truthiness and factiness abounds in the climate science debate, and the greatest proponents of truthiness and factiness are the climate ‘alarmed’ – their opponents are mostly calling b.s. on their truthiness and factiness. In slinging around terms like denier, anti-science etc, the defense of climate alarmism in terms of ‘science’ and ‘facts’ starts to become more anti-science than what they are accusing their opponents of.
From the Rational Wiki:
The term “antiscience” refers to persons or organizations that promote their ideology over scientifically-verified evidence, usually either by denying said evidence and/or creating their own. Antiscience positions are promoted especially when political ideology and/or religious dogma conflict with actual science.
The most glaring ‘factiness’ and anti-science strategy is the linking of extreme weather events to human caused climate change. Roger Pielke Jr has an eloquent op-ed in the WSJ (unfortunately behind paywall, which I will have more to say about in another post next week).
So . . . who fits the definition of ‘anti-science’? Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Ignoring science (Trump) does not qualify him for ‘anti-science’. Science does not prescribe public policy. The political dogma of Obama, Clinton and Pope Francis surrounding climate change seems like more of a recipe for ‘anti-science.’
The Washington Post (11/24/16) last week published a front-page blockbuster that quickly went viral: Russia-promoted “fake news” had infiltrated the newsfeeds of 213 million Americans during the election, muddying the waters in a disinformation scheme to benefit Donald Trump. Craig Timberg’s story was based on a “report” from an anonymous group (or simply a person, it’s unclear) calling itself PropOrNot that blacklisted over 200 websites as agents or assets of the Russian state.
The obvious implication was that an elaborate Russian psyop had fooled the public into voting for Trump based on a torrent of misleading and false information posing as news. Everyone from Bloomberg’s Sahil Kupar to CNN’s to Robert Reich to Anne Navarro to MSNBC’s Joy Ann Reid tweeted out the story in breathless tones. Center for American Progress and Clinton advocate Neera Tanden even did her best Ron Paul YouTube commenter impression, exclaiming, “Wake up people.”
But the story didn’t stand up to the most basic scrutiny. Follow-up reporting cast major doubt on the Washington Post’s core claims and underlying logic, the two primary complaints being 1) the “research group” responsible for the meat of the story, PropOrNot, is an anonymous group of partisans (if more than one person is involved) who tweet like high schoolers, and 2) the list of supposed Russian media assets, because its criteria for Russian “fake news” encompasses “useful idiots,” includes entirely well-within-the-mainstream progressive and libertarian websites such as Truth-Out, Consortium News, TruthDig and Antiwar.com (several of whom are now considering lawsuits against PropOrNot for libel).
PropOrNot says their criteria for “Russian propaganda” is “behavioral” and “motivation-agnostic,” so even those who publish views that simply coincide with the Russian government’s, regardless of intent or actual links to Russia, are per se Kremlin assets—an absurd metric that casts a net so wide as to render the concept meaningless.
Glenn Greenwald and Ben Norton of The Intercept (11/26/16) called PropOrNot “amateur peddlers of primitive, shallow propagandistic clichés” who were “engaging in extremely dubious McCarthyite tactics about a wide range of critics and dissenters.” Fortune magazine’s Matthew Ingram (11/25/16) insisted the report had the “beginnings of a conspiracy theory, rather than a scientific analysis,” while AlterNet’s Max Blumenthal (11/26/16) lamented that “insiders have latched onto a McCarthyite campaign that calls for government investigations of a wide array of alternative media outlets.”
As Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone (11/28/16):
The vast majority of reporters would have needed to see something a lot more concrete than a half-assed theoretical paper from such a dicey source before denouncing 200 news organizations as traitors.
Almost everyone outside of the Washington Post who critically examined the list concluded it was at best shoddy and ill-considered, and at worst a deliberate attempt to encourage a chilling effect on Russia-related reporting. That a group of Cold Warrior hacks would publish such a blacklist is not a surprise; that one of the most established names in American news would uncritically parrot it was. Its reporting, writing-up and referencing is a prime example of how fake real news on real fake news spreads without question.
USA Today (11/25/16), Gizmodo (11/25/16), PBS (11/25/16), The Daily Beast (11/25/16), Slate (11/25/16), AP (11/25/16) The Verge (11/25/16) and NPR (11/25/16) all uncritically wrote up the Post’s most incendiary claims with little or minimal pushback. Gizmodo was so giddy its original headline had to be changed from “Research Confirms That Russia Played a Major Role in Spreading Fake News” to “Research Suggests That Russia Played a Major Role in Spreading Fake News,” presumably after some polite commenters pointed out that the research “confirmed” nothing of the sort.
“Um ‘stories planted or promoted by the Russian disinformation campaign were viewed 213 million times,’” New York Times deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman (11/24/16) tweeted out to the tune of 2,800 retweets. But the report didn’t show this at all. There was no methodology provided, nor was there any consideration by Weisman that that “213 million” figure of Russian “fake news” included, for example, the third-most popular news site in the United States, the Drudge Report.
Drudge not only has no funding or backing from Putin, but predates his administration by several years. But because Drudge occasionally publishes stories that make the US look bad in relation to Russia, and because PropOrNot’s “useful idiots” criterion is “motivation-agnostic,” its entire footprint has become a “Russian disinformation campaign.” Did Weisman know this? Did he care?
As reports debunking or discrediting The List came out, the story continued to spread. Joy Ann Reid (Daily Beast, 11/27/16) alluded to the PropOrNot story to bolster her claim that there was an “alarming consensus of experts” that Russia interfered in the US election by “pumping of fake news and propaganda into the country’s digital bloodstream,” despite no such consensus existing. On Monday, Business Insider (11/28/16) insisted that PropOrNot’s “methods uncover some connections that merit consideration,” while citing only two examples and ignoring all of the major objections advanced by Greenwald, Taibbi et al. Rachel Maddow’s popular blog (MSNBC, 11/28/16) added another breathless write-up hours later, repeating the catchy talking point that “it was like Russia was running a super PAC for Trump’s campaign.”
Despite respected media critics taking the report to task, the Post’s spurious claims are being cemented as conventional wisdom, all the while the writer of the story and his editor refuse to answer direct criticism or reveal who this anonymous person or persons is. What are their motives? Who are their funders? Why is “useful idiot” being propped up by a major news outlet as a useful distinction? Why weren’t those on the blacklist asked to comment? Despite numerous inquiries by The Intercept, Rolling Stone and The Nation (11/28/16), all these questions remain unanswered.
One would think reports on “fake news” would themselves be held to the highest possible editorial standards, if not out of some instinctual desire to avoid high doses of irony and cognitive dissonance, at least to shield against charges of blatant hypocrisy. But increasingly, as the moral panic surrounding “fake news” reaches fever pitch, the standards of skepticism and sourcing employed by some of our most trusted news sources have inversely sunk to tabloid levels.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.
The group Roots Action has a petition up calling for a retraction of the blacklist story: “Tell the Washington Post: Smearing Is Not Reporting.”
The British Labour party voted down a motion seeking to hold former UK prime minister Tony Blair accountable for misleading parliament during the run up to the 2003 Iraq War by 439 votes to 70 earlier this week. Many would have shared the disappointment expressed by Alex Salmond, former leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), who put the motion forward.
Commenting on the overwhelming defeat, he said: “This vote demonstrates that those who voted against this cross-party motion have failed to learn any lessons from history and from the Chilcot report. It is like deja vu, it was the Tory and Labour front-benches that took us into the illegal war and it is the Tory and Labour front-benches again who have failed to hold the former prime minister to account.”
It has become clear, if it wasn’t already, that parliament is very unlikely to vote for any measure that would hold Blair and the British government to account for the Iraq invasion. Newly released documents revealing that the Chilcot inquiry itself was designed to “avoid blame” and reduce the risk to individuals and the government facing legal proceedings, is further proof that the British state is more interested in burying mistakes in layers of bureaucracy, and is not very troubled by accusations of war crimes.
The fact that the campaign to hold Blair to account has been fruitless, thus far, should not surprise anyone. It’s simply another reflection of powerful institutions, including nation states, avoiding scrutiny. Institutions and individuals of great power, despite commonly held notions of rule of law and transparency, operate in spaces that are beyond the rule of law. Though there is much to be said about the impunity gap that exists in the way powerful states operate, this is yet another example of a colonial hangover.
At play also is the misplaced belief that the office of the British prime minister, a standard bearer of democracy, freedom and human rights, is incorruptible. Blair may have been economical with the truth – he may have even misled parliament – but there is no way the former prime minister behaved in a manner warranting impeachment, or so the logic of the powerful goes.
Tyrants behave this way – it is a characteristic of third world countries and illiberal democracies. However, be that as it may, the Prime Minster of Great Britain has to be safeguarded from such opprobrium. Few would have failed to recognise the Orientalist undertone, whereby third world and developing economies are lectured on principles that are not applied in the liberal, democratic West.
The reality of course is that the case against Tony Blair is far more compelling than Mr Blair’s case was for bombing Iraq. Going to war, we are told, is the toughest decision an MP makes. Their decision is made on conviction not doubt, and least of all lies and plagiarised reports presented as facts. Or so we are led to believe.
And yet, when presented with facts that leave no doubt and no ambiguity that Mr Blair had indeed misled government in making his case for war, the same MPs are unmoved. One has to say they are unconcerned about righting the grave mistake which they helped bring about and the British parliament has learnt little if anything from Iraq.
MPs that voted down this motion were likely of the opinion, mentioned repeatedly during the parliamentary debate, that the Chilcot report is sufficient as an exercise in government accountability. They believe that setting new processes and tweaking institutions of government and setting up new checks and balances through the creation of a national security council will add a layer of protection and steer parliament’s decision-making to better effect.
These steps, however, will not ensure that Iraq does not happen again. Putting aside the fact that Britain also foolishly bombed Libya and ousted Colonel Gaddafi, there is a lot that could be said about this false hope, not least that it does not address the fact that another charismatic and ambitious prime minister who is hell-bent on going to war will still be able to create the conditions that could persuade MPs to vote for an illegal war. During the debate, Salmond challenged the Cabinet Secretary as to whether any of the changes that were implemented to protect against another Iraq scenario would have made a difference had they existed in the build-up to the Iraq War, his response was an emphatic “no”.
To the millions that have died as a direct result of the decision to go to war and the millions more that continue to be gravely impacted, tweaking decision-making process to avoid future injustice is less of a concern than seeking justice. They would not have failed to notice that a parliament that was so easily convinced over the most serious of all decisions – to wage war – was so readily willing to close the door to accountability. I suspect that unlike most of the MPs who voted in line with their party, they read the report by the Cambridge academic Dr Glen Rangwala.
Titled fittingly “The deliberate deception of parliament”, the report was the basis of many of the charges levelled at Mr Blair. In it, Dr Rangwala unequivocally shows that the former prime minster made statements that were untrue and deliberately misled parliament.
The academic contrasted Blair’s parliamentary statements with promises and statements he made to former US president George Bush and senior members of his cabinet. Citing numerous email exchanges between Blair and neoconservative figures in Washington, Dr Rangwala makes a robust case against Mr Blair, which one assumes even the late Robin Cook would have found more convincing than Blair’s case for war. MPs that obligingly voted for the war have a moral duty, surely, to ask what Mr Cook knew at the time to cause him to vote against the war; were they just gullible and naïve, or did Mr Cook just possess more humanity?
In any case, the evidence cited by Dr Rangwala is, to say the least, incriminating. He writes that, from late 2001 to March 2003, Mr Blair made three interrelated statements repeatedly to the House of Commons: Firstly, that no decision had been taken to use military force against Iraq; secondly, that military action could be avoided by Iraq’s disarmament of its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (that did not exist in the first place for it to be disarmed) and; thirdly, that regime change was not the goal of UK government policy.
Citing evidence presented in the Chilcot report, he goes on to add that Mr Blair was deliberately misleading the House of Commons. Mr Blair backed up his claims about the need for Iraq’s disarmament by asserting that there was conclusive evidence of Iraq’s possession of “weapons of mass destruction,” and that these weapons were a threat to the UK’s national security. All these crucial points, the Cambridge lecturer states, contradicted the intelligence assessments that had been put to Mr Blair.
The report then goes on to debunk Mr Blair’s infamous line that “no decision has been taken” about action against Iraq when, in fact, the Chilcot report reveals that from December 2001, Mr Blair had been proposing an invasion of Iraq to the US administration and had been offering UK military support for that invasion.
The most incriminating of all the revelations is that there was a clear contradiction between what Mr Blair told parliament and what his real intentions were. Having already decided to support the neoconservative agenda for the Middle East and go to war with Iraq in order to change the regime, Mr Blair spent nearly two years manufacturing the case for war; massaging intelligence data, developing the “evidence” and argument to win over the UN, major allies and to bring the British parliament on board.
A year before the war, Mr Blair emphasised to then-President Bush and senior members in his office that “we need a strategy for regime change that builds over time… I think we need a roadmap to getting rid of Saddam… Getting rid of Saddam is the right thing to do.”
He said this while being conscious of the fact that regime change was illegal and could not be sold to the public, and so the former prime minister devised tactics of propaganda, commenting: “We must look reluctant to use force… show that we have made every effort to avoid war,” all while he fixed the evidence in pursuit of a policy that was agreed on years before the invasion in March 2003.
The fact that Mr Blair has been allowed to get away with causing mayhem and destruction on a genocidal scale should not surprise anyone. Gaps of impunity are carefully created and managed in the international system for the likes of Mr Blair to pursue agendas that would normally be blocked by a properly functioning democratic system.
What in another context is morally corrupt and criminal behaviour deserving of the highest reprimand is reduced to nothing more than a technical problem that requires fixing. For Mr Blair to truly face justice in this world, it was always going to require more than a token parliamentary vote in the UK. The evidence against Blair is marked in history, and now it is only a matter of time to see whether he will ever be held to account in his lifetime.
Jewish state plans to unplug the muezzins
Here’s another dastardly twist in the religious hate war against Muslims in the Holy Land.
According to a report by The Times, mosques in the city of Lod are threatened with having their loudspeakers, which call the faithful to prayer five times a day, shut down. The first call is at 4.45 am and this is a nuisance to non-Muslim residents, so much so that the mayor recently suggested broadcasting a Jewish prayer to drown out the Muslim adhan. Imagine the pre-dawn cacaphony! No, he’s not exactly the brightest fairy-light on the Christmas tree.
The argument is that hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens routinely suffer from the noise caused by the muezzin’s calls, it’s getting them down and freedom of religion shouldn’t be allowed to undermine their quality of life.
However, a bill going through the Knesset banning the use of outside broadcast equipment by houses of worship, which had the support of prime minister Netanyahu, was stopped in its tracks when it dawned on some members that the wording could backfire on religious Jewish communities who use a siren to mark the start of the Sabbath on Friday evenings. So it’s back to the drawing board on this one. Personally I’d prefer the naturally mellifluous voice of the muezzin from a distant minaret to the electronically amplified and distorted version. It should still disturb the sleep of a useful number of Israelis, especially if muezzins punctuate their performance with an occasional blast from a musical instrument like the bugle.
This is not the first time that the dark forces of Zionism have tried to silence the Muslims of this city. Lod was originally a Canaanite town and in ancient times became the old Arab city of Lydda. Its importance grew under Ottoman rule and the British mandate and by 1948 it had become a key trading centre with an airport and rail hub and nearly 20,000 inhabitants – 18,500 Muslim and 1,500 Christian. The UN’s Partition Plan of 1947 allocated Lydda to a future Arab state.
But in July 1948 Israeli terrorist troops seized Lydda, shot up the town and drove out the population as part of their ethnic cleansing programme. In the process they silenced 426 men, women, and children…. permanently. 176 of them were slaughtered in the town’s main mosque. See here for the lurid details.
Those who survived were forced to walk into exile in the scalding July heat leaving a trail of bodies — men, women and children — along the way. And who was the perpetrator of this foul massacre? None other than the great hero of the Six Day War, Moshe Dayan.
The assault on Lydda was witnessed by two American news correspondents. One recorded that “practically everything in their way died. Riddled corpses lay by the roadside.” The other wrote that he saw “the corpses of Arab men, women and even children strewn about in the wake of the ruthlessly brilliant charge”.
Christians, especially English Christians (and indeed Swedish, Portuguese, Romanian, Georgian and Maltese) will be aware that these outrages were committed in St George’s home town. He was born and buried in Lydda.
Israeli troops carried away 1,800 truck loads of loot. Jewish immigrants then flooded in and Lydda was given its Hebrew name, Lod.
So Israelis have no right to be there in the first place. Nor Ben Gurion airport, formerly Lydda airport. All was stolen in the murderous terror raid.
There’s an amusing story where an irate airline passenger wrote: “This morning (6 May 2003) on a flight from Rome to Tel Aviv, after landing the pilot announced in the microphone: ‘Welcome to Palestine’. I think this is the most disgusting thing for a pilot to say.”
It led to a long and acrimonious argument on the forum with many demanding dire punishment for the Alitalia pilot. It seems an Air France pilot had said something similarly shocking. Had he been sacked I’d have enjoyed chairing his employment tribunal. I salute that unnamed Alitalia pilot. And the Air France one.
So next time you fly into Ben Gurion, if the pilot doesn’t announce over the tannoy the greeting: ‘Welcome to Lydda and Palestine. And may St George protect you!’ remember to whisper it to yourself. Whisper being the operative word seeing as how Israelis tend to get twitchy when confronted with the truth.
The movement against South African apartheid was perhaps the most universal and popular movement in the western world in the 1980s. Hundreds of thousands protested in a multitude of ways—from letter-writing campaigns to shantytown occupations of city squares and college campus greens. Institutions of all types, from churches to universities, from corporations and banks to city halls, were forced to remove their investments from companies doing business with the racist South African regime, ultimately forcing that regime to end its racist legal system. Even the right wing Reagan and Thatcher regimes were ultimately forced to end their support for Pretoria’s racist system and grudgingly go along with the popular will.
However, as Ron Nixon’s new book, titled Selling Apartheid, makes clear, the South African regime was not going to go down without a fight. In addition to police and military actions of varying brutality, the regime hired advertising men to sell their brand of repression to people and governments around the world. The campaign he describes involved a cynical manipulation of emotions about race, implied white supremacist chauvinism, and outright lies. Advertising campaigns presented South Africa as a tourist destination full of beauty and the perfect climate (which it had) with absolutely no mention of the racial discrimination built into its social and political systems. Glossy photo spreads were bought in newspaper and magazines and television programs were made and sold to television networks in the United States and Britain. These shows were then shown to the unsuspecting viewer as if they were made by agencies independent of the apartheid government and their only agenda was tourism.
In a particularly cynical move, the South African government was able to buy off a few African-Americans over the years in what was ultimately a vain attempt to convince Black Americans that apartheid was okay. The first of these individuals was a former supporter of the Black resistance movement in South Africa, Max Yergan. In what can only be described as a complete sell out, Yergan went from working with early members of what would become the primary resistance organization against apartheid—the African National Congress(ANC)—to giving speeches in the United States and Africa aimed at convincing his audiences that apartheid helped Blacks. Once a committed left-winger, Yergan came under pressure during the McCarthy era in the United States, became an informer for the FBI, and turned against his friends in South Africa; friends that included freedom fighters Nelson Mandela and Joseph Tambo. Yergan was but the first of a few such individuals who would follow in his treacherous footsteps.
The bottom line for the white South African regime and the United States was money. Several US companies had millions invested in South African industry. These companies took advantage of the cheap labor (and maximized profits resulting from that labor) and minimal regulations offered by the Pretoria regime. In turn, they either supported or at the least, tacitly accepted the racism and brutality that defined the apartheid system. Consequently, it was these corporations and financial institutions that were targeted by the anti-apartheid movement’s divestment campaign. Churches, universities, and other institutions that had investments in such companies were ultimately convinced to drop those investments. Sometimes that convincing was purely of a moral plea, other times it required a concerted effort that combined direct action, monetary boycotts, and legislative pressure.
As an advocate of the current campaign against Israeli apartheid, it was more than interesting to compare the similarities in the campaign waged against the movement against South Africa’s apartheid and that currently waged against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement of today. Residents of western nations are constantly barraged with imagery that attempts to portray the Tel Aviv government as a beacon of fairness and democracy in the Middle East. Furthermore, one is constantly told that the Palestinians who resist the occupation of their lands and the ever-present system of discrimination are nothing but terrorists. This latter phenomenon was also the case in South Africa. Indeed, the ANC was not removed from the US list of “terrorist” organizations until 2008, more than fifteen years after apartheid met its well-deserved end. Of course, there are specific differences between the two systems of separation referred to here, but the essential fact apartheid is true for the historic South African regime and the current Israeli one.
Ron Nixon’s text is an essential addition to the volume of work on South Africa’s apartheid regime. Rich in detail, it provides the reader with an extended look at the nature of propaganda in modern society. A one-time journalist for the New York Times, Nixon makes his argument with facts and writing that is both accessible and engaging. In doing so, he exposes the moral vacuousness of those who propagandized for the racists of South Africa not because they necessarily believed in apartheid, but because they made money from doing so. Furthermore, in his telling Nixon doesn’t just rake the white South African regime over the coals, he also points his pen at the equally deserving US and British governments, especially those of Reagan and Thatcher. In terms of how the world seems to work, Selling Apartheid is a tawdry yet familiar tale.
A few weeks prior to the November 8 Presidential vote, I began the draft of an essay expecting a future attack by the government on the First Amendment citing President Obama’s most recent mellifluous verbal assault on free speech as HRC’s campaign speeches indicated that protecting a diversity of opinion would not be a top priority in her Administration.
Now in retrospect, it appears that Obama and HRC were both, most likely in the loop and knew what was coming as they prepared the way with subtle (and not so subtle) references to taming that messy, wild, wild west otherwise known as the world wide web.
As a reminder, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama was touted as a Constitutional scholar explaining that “I taught the Constitution for ten years. I believe in the Constitution and I will obey the Constitution of the United States.” During that campaign, he pledged to end warrantless surveillance (Fourth Amendment), detention without habeas corpus or trial (Fifth Amendment), torture (Eighth Amendment), and excessive executive branch secrecy and not engage in an offensive war without Congressional approval (both Article 1, Section 8).
That the President failed in those pledges is not surprising just as he promised the most open and transparent Administration ever in American history luring the Dem-Libs into eight years of somnolent rapture. Instead, the President used the Espionage Act for his Administration’s aggressive prosecution of more whistleblowers than all other Presidents combined and its pursuit of longer jail sentences than any other President. There is also the President’s disregard for the Rule of Law with his publicly declared, predetermined guilt of Chelsea Manning in 2011.
During a visit to the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh on October 13th, the President, known for his smooth, glib reassurances so successful at placating the public, suggested that “we are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to” and that “democracy requires citizens to be able to sift through lies and distortions” and further that “those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.” The President continued that “there has to be some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests.”
The President’s statement does not adequately capture what democracy requires of its citizens and reads more like what George Orwell epitomized as ‘political speech’ deliberately meant to confuse and demean citizen awareness. What Obama failed to acknowledge is that every American has a right, an obligation as an engaged citizen to determine for themselves what is a lie, distortion or truth; that ‘fake news’ is in the eye of the beholder and what a citizen believes and what they do not believe is their business and requires no justification to the government or anyone else. Most importantly, it was the President’s obligation to say that with a tremendous divergence of opinion on the www, some of it wacky, some of it conspiratorial, some of it incredibly incisive and intelligent and important – all of it is protected by the First Amendment.
To briefly parse the President’s words, most of which are painfully obvious, suggestions of a “curating function” as in some official government entity assigned for the purpose of “protecting” (“ added) the public interest and “some sort of way… sort through information that passes some truthiness test” are presented in the President’s usual folksy, innocuous dialectic used to serve the public pablum while a further shredding of their Constitutional rights slips by under their nose.
Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day, when most Americans were still slicing the turkey, the Washington Post found it the right time to publish a partisan-related article entitled “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” written by Craig Timberg.
What is especially curious about the timing is that Timberg’s article and the Propornot report were released within weeks of the imminent inauguration of a new President and that new President-elect’s name is included as one of the ‘bad guys’ according to Propornot’s YYYcampaignYYY. (see below)
One of the many problems with this article, besides the problematic First Amendment issues and journalistic standards of objectivity that Timberg’s reportage entails, is the weirdly anonymous nature of unnamed, non partisan ‘independent researchers’ (aka ‘concerned American citizens”). Timberg cited two tiers of ‘researchers’ who claimed that a “sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign” disseminating ‘fake news’ had found solace within the ranks of two hundred on line websites including “botnets” and “paid trolls” are “undermining faith in US democracy” and “embarrassed” Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton (HRC).
With a faux solemnity of protecting the nation at a time of great peril, the Post article assumes the validity of the ‘flood of fake news this election season’ as a given, with no critical analysis identifying what flood of fake news? How did that tsunami of ‘fake news’ get by me? Immediately, Mr. Timberg embraced the ‘fake news’ concept with no question as to its ‘truthiness” and accepted the fallacious notion that the Russians were required to provide necessary background information with which to create ‘fake news.’ Apparently the Post, Timberg and his secret grifters believe that none of the contributing writers of those two hundred websites, labeled by Timberg as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda,” have the brains or initiative to create and research their own commentaries without being directed by some surreptitious foreign power.
Obviously, the issue is that any online article that dares question Obama or HRC’s proclivity for disastrous foreign policy entanglements or any disagreement with the established order’s agenda has been designated as a purveyor of ‘fake news’ generated by Russia.
The ‘researchers,’ according to Timberg, claimed to use “internet analytics tools to trace the origins of particular tweets and mapped the connections among social media accounts that consistently delivered synchronized messages” and that “exact phrases or sentences were echoed by sites and social-media accounts in rapid succession, signaling membership in connected networks controlled by a single entity.”
Citing RT News and Sputnik as sources, what Timberg is suggesting is that a US online website specifically used verbatim language from RT or Sputnik in the text of an article – yet no examples, not one illustration of such journalistic defilement was provided.
Timberg and the Post had a journalistic duty to specifically identify the “origin of particular tweets” and follow that tweet to show exactly how that tweet ‘consistently delivered synchronized messages.” Further, the Post had an obligation to specifically demonstrate how ‘exact phrases or sentences were echoed .. in rapid succession” and ended up “signaling members in connected networks controlled by a single entity.”
Instead Timberg failed to conduct his own examination of what the “researchers” had claimed and did exactly what he was claiming the websites did which was to mindlessly publish someone else’s allegations without verification.
The fact that Timberg recited what he was told by the ‘researchers’ indicates he is willing to accept ‘fake news’ without checking his informant’s information – which proves the point that ‘fake news’ begins with those pointing the finger at others.
A closer reading of Timberg’s article however informs that, according to unnamed ‘researchers’, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social media to ‘amplify’ stories already circulating on line and were able to identify ‘trending’ topics that “sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.” Sounds like the Russian media committed the grievous error of getting the jump on the asleep-at-the-wheel MSM.
Also the ‘researchers’ complained that “The speed and coordination of these efforts allowed Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience.” Got that? “Outcompete traditional news organizations”. Again, MSM with egg on their face.
Of special interest was Timberg’s mention of “Propornot,” a group which, according to the Post, is a ‘nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds” whose report would show the ‘startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.”
So while Propornot website has a list of two hundred websites and a list of nineteen chosen for special attention, no identifying evidence or proof is presented other than wild accusations and unsubstantiated fact-free assertions that any of these websites are ‘peddlers’ for Russian propaganda.
All this agitation might stir some real concern and downright intimidation if it were anything but sheer hogwash. None of Timberg’s assertions pan out as the nineteen websites selected by Propornot were not vetted as described above in this essay; that is connecting website text with text submitted by Russian spooks.
Upon visiting the Propornot website, the public is greeted with an eerily sparse home page reminiscent of something from post-WWII Russian KGB and a very bizarre introduction to “Your Friendly Neighborhood Propaganda Identification Service, Since 2016!” and no identified participants except comedian and satirist Samantha Bee, hostess for TBS’s late night news comedy program Full Front. Bee, who apparently agreed to be the face of Propornot is accompanied by two fully masked men who claim to be Russian hackers. Now right away, Bee’s presence confirms this is all a spoof, Timberg was tricked and this is all a Samantha Bee publicity stunt.
Except it is not. The Propornot Team calls on a disreputable Congress and a lame duck Obama Administration to investigate Russian manipulation of the US political process and whether the American public was deprived of information to vote in an ‘informed manner’. In other words, another attempt to scapegoat HRC’s rejection at the polls.
Perhaps the most malevolent element of Propornot is the YYYcampaignYYY where the general public is encouraged to cross the Rubicon to a fully totalitarian state by not only identifying Russian propaganda outlets but also those known ‘sympathizers.’
In addition, YYYcampaignYYY makes the point that no matter whether a citizen is knowingly directed or not but continues to ‘echo Russian propaganda,” their “willingness to uncritically echo Russian propaganda makes them a tool of the Russian state.” The threat here is that with Russia declared an ‘enemy” of the US, a citizen may be committing treason.
If there is any doubt whether the Timberg article and Propornot itself is a partisan effort, the YYY implication is that anyone “echoing a Russian propaganda line” such as those who speak “how wonderful, powerful, innocent and righteous Russia and Russia’s friends are: Putin, Donald Trump, al-Bashar Assad, Syria, Iran, China, radical political parties” will be considered tools of Russia as compared with those who speak “how terrible, weak, aggressive, and corrupt the opponents of Russia are: the US, Obama, HRC, the EU, Angela Merkel, NATO, Ukraine, Jewish people, US allies, MSM and Democrats” will be considered enemies of the State. Anyone with such information is encouraged to ‘come tell us at Propornot about it.’
Consider that Propornot’s YYYcampaignYYY identified President Elect Trump as one of the ‘bad guys’ who is, in certain circles, considered to be entirely too amenable to Putin while HRC and the Democrats who created the unprovoked attacks on Putin are the “good guys.’
Exactly what is the Deep State telling us?
Renee Parsons has been a member of the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, an environmental lobbyist and staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC. She can be found on Twitter @reneedove31
“I have in my possession a secret map, made in Germany by Hitler’s government — by the planners of the New World Order,” FDR told the nation in his Navy Day radio address of Oct. 27, 1941.
“It is a map of South America as Hitler proposes to reorganize it. The geographical experts of Berlin, however, have ruthlessly obliterated all the existing boundary lines … bringing the whole continent under their domination,” said Roosevelt. “This map makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but against the United States as well.”
Our leader had another terrifying secret document, “made in Germany by Hitler’s government. …
“It is a plan to abolish all existing religions — Protestant, Catholic, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist and Jewish alike. … In the place of the churches of our civilization, there is to be set up an international Nazi Church…
“In the place of the Bible, the words of ‘Mein Kampf’ will be imposed and enforced as Holy Writ. And in place of the cross of Christ will be put two symbols — the swastika and the naked sword. … A god of blood and iron will take the place of the God of love and mercy.”
The source of these astounding secret Nazi plans?
They were forgeries by British agents in New York operating under William Stephenson, Churchill’s “Man Called Intrepid,” whose assignment was to do whatever necessary to bring the U.S. into Britain’s war.
FDR began his address by describing two German submarine attacks on U.S. destroyers Greer and Kearny, the later of which had been torpedoed with a loss of 11 American lives.
Said FDR: “We have wished to avoid shooting. But the shooting has started. And history has recorded who fired the first shot.”
The truth: Greer and Kearny had been tracking German subs for British planes dropping depth charges.
It was FDR who desperately wanted war with Germany, while, for all his crimes, Hitler desperately wanted to avoid war with the United States.
Said Cong. Clare Boothe Luce, FDR “lied us into war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it.”
By late 1941, most Americans still wanted to stay out of the war. They believed “lying British propaganda” about Belgian babies being tossed around on German bayonets had sucked us into World War I, from which the British Empire had benefited mightily.
What brings these episodes to mind is the wave of indignation sweeping this capital over “fake news” allegedly created by Vladimir Putin’s old KGB comrades, and regurgitated by U.S. individuals, websites and magazines that are anti-interventionist and anti-war.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman says the “propaganda and disinformation threat” against America is real, and we must “counter and combat it.” Congress is working up a $160 million State Department program.
Now, Americans should be on guard against “fake news” and foreign meddling in U.S. elections.
Yet it is often our own allies, like the Brits, and our own leaders who mislead and lie us into unnecessary wars. And is not meddling in the internal affairs, including the elections, of regimes we do not like, pretty much the job description of the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy?
History suggests it is our own War Party that bears watching.
Consider Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Who misled, deceived, and lied about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, the “fake news” that sucked us into one of our country’s greatest strategic blunders?
Who lied for years about an Iranian nuclear weapons program, which almost dragged us into a war, before all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies debunked that propaganda in 2007 and 2011?
Yet, there are those, here and abroad, who insist that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. Their goal: war with Iran.
Were we told the whole truth about the August 1964 incident involving North Vietnamese gunboats and U.S. destroyers Maddox and C. Turner Joy, which stampeded Congress into voting a near-unanimous resolution that led us into an eight-year war in Southeast Asia?
One can go back deeper into American history.
Cong. Abe Lincoln disbelieved in President Polk’s claim that the Mexican army had crossed the Rio Grande and “shed American blood upon American soil.” In his “spot” resolution, Lincoln demanded to know the exact spot where the atrocity had occurred that resulted in a U.S. army marching to Mexico City and relieving Mexico of half of her country.
Was Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt telling us the truth when he said of our blasted battleship in Havana harbor, “The Maine was sunk by an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards”?
No one ever proved that the Spanish caused the explosion.
Yet America got out of his war what T.R. wanted — Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, an empire of our own.
“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.”
So said Winston Churchill, the grandmaster of fake news.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of the new book “The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.”
Copyright 2016 Creators.com
Under the cover of battling “fake news,” the mainstream U.S. news media and officialdom are taking aim at journalistic skepticism when it is directed at the pronouncements of the U.S. government and its allies.
One might have hoped that the alarm about “fake news” would remind major U.S. news outlets, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, about the value of journalistic skepticism. However, instead, it seems to have done the opposite.
The idea of questioning the claims by the West’s officialdom now brings calumny down upon the heads of those who dare do it. “Truth” is being redefined as whatever the U.S. government, NATO and other Western interests say is true. Disagreement with the West’s “group thinks,” no matter how fact-based the dissent is, becomes “fake news.”
So, we have the case of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius having a starry-eyed interview with Richard Stengel, the State Department’s Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, the principal arm of U.S. government propaganda.
Entitled “The truth is losing,” the column laments that the official narratives as deigned by the State Department and The Washington Post are losing traction with Americans and the world’s public.
Stengel, a former managing editor at Time magazine, seems to take aim at Russia’s RT network’s slogan, “question more,” as some sinister message seeking to inject cynicism toward the West’s official narratives.
“They’re not trying to say that their version of events is the true one. They’re saying: ‘Everybody’s lying! Nobody’s telling you the truth!’,” Stengel said. “They don’t have a candidate, per se. But they want to undermine faith in democracy, faith in the West.”
Typical of these recent mainstream tirades about this vague Russian menace, Ignatius’s column doesn’t provide any specifics regarding how RT and other Russian media outlets are carrying out this assault on the purity of Western information. It’s enough to just toss around pejorative phrases supporting an Orwellian solution, which is to stamp out or marginalize alternative and independent journalism, not just Russian.
Ignatius writes: “Stengel poses an urgent question for journalists, technologists and, more broadly, everyone living in free societies or aspiring to do so. How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?
“Stengel argues that the U.S. government should sometimes protect citizens by exposing ‘weaponized information, false information’ that is polluting the ecosystem. But ultimately, the defense of truth must be independent of a government that many people mistrust. ‘There are inherent dangers in having the government be the verifier of last resort,’ he argues.”
By the way, Stengel is not the fount of truth-telling, as he and Ignatius like to pretend. Early in the Ukraine crisis, Stengel delivered a rant against RT that was full of inaccuracies or what you might call “fake news.”
Yet, what Stengel and various mainstream media outlets appear to be arguing for is the creation of a “Ministry of Truth” managed by mainstream U.S. media outlets and enforced by Google, Facebook and other technology platforms.
In other words, once these supposedly responsible outlets decide what the “truth” is, then questioning that narrative will earn you “virtual” expulsion from the marketplace of ideas, possibly eliminated via algorithms of major search engines or marked with a special app to warn readers not to believe what you say, a sort of yellow Star of David for the Internet age.
And then there’s the possibility of more direct (and old-fashioned) government enforcement by launching FBI investigations into media outlets that won’t toe the official line. (All of these “solutions” have been advocated in recent weeks.)
On the other hand, if you do toe the official line that comes from Stengel’s public diplomacy shop, you stand to get rewarded with government financial support. Stengel disclosed in his interview with Ignatius that his office funds “investigative” journalism projects.
“How should citizens who want a fact-based world combat this assault on truth?” Ignatius asks, adding: “Stengel has approved State Department programs that teach investigative reporting and empower truth-tellers.”
After reading Ignatius’s column on Wednesday, I submitted a question to the State Department asking for details on this “journalism” and “truth-telling” funding that is coming from the U.S. government’s top propaganda shop, but I have not received an answer.
But we do know that the U.S. government has been investing tens of millions of dollars in various media programs to undergird Washington’s desired narratives.
For instance, in May 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) issued a fact sheet summarizing its work financing friendly journalists around the world, including “journalism education, media business development, capacity building for supportive institutions, and strengthening legal-regulatory environments for free media.”
USAID estimated its budget for “media strengthening programs in over 30 countries” at $40 million annually, including aiding “independent media organizations and bloggers in over a dozen countries,” In Ukraine before the 2014 coup ousting elected President Viktor Yanukovych and installing a fiercely anti-Russian and U.S.-backed regime, USAID offered training in “mobile phone and website security,” skills that would have been quite helpful to the coup plotters.
USAID, working with currency speculator George Soros’s Open Society, also has funded the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which engages in “investigative journalism” that usually goes after governments that have fallen into disfavor with the United States and then are singled out for accusations of corruption. The USAID-funded OCCRP collaborates with Bellingcat, an online investigative website founded by blogger Eliot Higgins.
Higgins has spread misinformation on the Internet, including discredited claims implicating the Syrian government in the sarin attack in 2013 and directing an Australian TV news crew to what appeared to be the wrong location for a video of a BUK anti-aircraft battery as it supposedly made its getaway to Russia after the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014.
Despite his dubious record of accuracy, Higgins has gained mainstream acclaim, in part, because his “findings” always match up with the propaganda theme that the U.S. government and its Western allies are peddling. Higgins is now associated with the Atlantic Council, a pro-NATO think tank which is partially funded by the U.S. State Department.
Beyond funding from the State Department and USAID, tens of millions of dollars more are flowing through the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy, which was started in 1983 under the guiding hand of CIA Director William Casey.
NED became a slush fund to help finance what became known, inside the Reagan administration, as “perception management,” the art of controlling the perceptions of domestic and foreign populations.
The Emergence of StratCom
Last year, as the New Cold War heated up, NATO created the Strategic Communications Command in Latvia to further wage information warfare against Russia and individuals who were contesting the West’s narratives.
As veteran war correspondent Don North reported in 2015 regarding this new StratCom, “the U.S. government has come to view the control and manipulation of information as a ‘soft power’ weapon, merging psychological operations, propaganda and public affairs under the catch phrase ‘strategic communications.’
“This attitude has led to treating psy-ops — manipulative techniques for influencing a target population’s state of mind and surreptitiously shaping people’s perceptions — as just a normal part of U.S. and NATO’s information policy.”
Now, the European Parliament and the U.S. Congress are moving to up the ante, passing new legislation to escalate “information warfare.”
On Wednesday, U.S. congressional negotiators approved $160 million to combat what they deem foreign propaganda and the alleged Russian campaign to spread “fake news.” The measure is part of the National Defense Authorization Act and gives the State Department the power to identify “propaganda” and counter it.
This bipartisan stampede into an Orwellian future for the American people and the world’s population follows a shoddily sourced Washington Post article that relied on a new anonymous group that identified some 200 Internet sites, including some of the most prominent American independent sources of news, as part of a Russian propaganda network.
Typical of this new McCarthyism, the report lacked evidence that any such network actually exists but instead targeted cases where American journalists expressed skepticism about claims from Western officialdom.
Consortiumnews.com was included on the list apparently because we have critically analyzed some of the claims and allegations regarding the crises in Syria and Ukraine, rather than simply accept the dominant Western “group thinks.”
Also on the “black list” were such quality journalism sites as Counterpunch, Truth-out, Truthdig, Naked Capitalism and ZeroHedge along with many political sites ranging across the ideological spectrum.
The Fake-News Express
Normally such an unfounded conspiracy theory would be ignored, but – because The Washington Post treated the incredible allegations as credible – the smear has taken on a life of its own, reprised by cable networks and republished by major newspapers.
But the unpleasant truth is that the mainstream U.S. news media is now engaged in its own fake-news campaign about “fake news.” It’s publishing bogus claims invented by a disreputable and secretive outfit that just recently popped up on the Internet. If that isn’t “fake news,” I don’t know what is.
Yet, despite the Post’s clear violations of normal journalistic practices, surely, no one there will pay a price, anymore than there was accountability for the Post reporting as flat fact that Iraq was hiding WMD in 2002-2003. Fred Hiatt, the editorial-page editor most responsible for that catastrophic “group think,” is still in the same job today.
Two nights ago, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews featured the spurious Washington Post article in a segment that – like similar rehashes –didn’t bother to get responses from the journalists being slandered.
I found that ironic since Matthews repeatedly scolds journalists for their failure to look skeptically at U.S. government claims about Iraq possessing WMD as justification for the disastrous Iraq War. However, now Matthews joins in smearing journalists who have applied skepticism to U.S. and Western propaganda claims about Syria and/or Ukraine.
While the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament begin to take action to shut down or isolate dissident sources of information – all in the name of “democracy” – a potentially greater danger is that mainstream U.S. news outlets are already teaming up with technology companies, such as Google and Facebook, to impose their own determinations about “truth” on the Internet.
Or, as Ignatius puts it in his column reflecting Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Stengel’s thinking, “The best hope may be the global companies that have created the social-media platforms.
“‘They see this information war as an existential threat,’ says Stengel. … The real challenge for global tech giants is to restore the currency of truth. Perhaps “machine learning” [presumably a reference to algorithms] can identify falsehoods and expose every argument that uses them. Perhaps someday, a human-machine process will create what Stengel describes as a ‘global ombudsman for information.’”
Ministry of Truth
An organization of some 30 mainstream media companies already exists, including not only The Washington Post and The New York Times but also the Atlantic Council-connected Bellingcat, as the emerging arbiters – or ombudsmen – for truth, something Orwell described less flatteringly as a “Ministry of Truth.”
The New York Times has even editorialized in support of Internet censorship, using the hysteria over “fake news” to justify the marginalization or disappearance of dissident news sites.
It now appears that this 1984-ish “MiniTrue” will especially target journalistic skepticism when applied to U.S. government and mainstream media “group thinks.”
Yet, in my four decades-plus in professional journalism, I always understood that skepticism was a universal journalistic principle, one that should be applied in all cases, whether a Republican or a Democrat is in the White House or whether some foreign leader is popular or demonized.
As we have seen in recent years, failure to ask tough questions and to challenge dubious claims from government officials and mainstream media outlets can get lots of people killed, both U.S. soldiers and citizens of countries invaded or destabilized by outsiders.
To show skepticism is not the threat to democracy that Undersecretary Stengel and columnist Ignatius appear to think it is.
Whether you like or dislike RT’s broadcasts – or more likely have never seen one – a journalist really can’t question its slogan: “question more.” Questioning is the essence of journalism and, for that matter, democracy.
[In protest of the Post’s smearing of independent journalists, RootsAction has undertaken a petition drive, which can be found here.]
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s.
Open letter to the president-elect of the USA requesting new investigation into the downing of MH-17
Dear Mr. Trump,
Your election has raised hopes that easing of tensions, between U.S. and Russia, and peacemaking in Europe in general is achievable. Settlement of the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine and lifting the sanctions against Russia which is vital for the world community has a realistic chance now. With this in mind, there is also hope for a higher quality investigation into the disputed downing of MH17, as you expressed your doubts in an October 2015 interview, regarding the proof of Russian guilt:
“They say it wasn’t them. It may have been their weapon, but they didn’t use it, they didn’t fire it, they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean to be honest with you, you’ll probably never know for sure.“ (MSNBC)
Indeed, we agree with you, we will never be sure, with the kind of investigation we have seen over the past two years. The official investigation of the “Dutch Safety Board“ (DSB) and the “Joint Investigation Team“(JIT) was neither independent nor convincing. This kind of investigation forms a huge burden particularly to the families who lost their loved ones in the downing of MH17. They need to know the truth.
WE ARE ASKING YOU, TO PLEASE PUSH FOR A NEW INVESTIGATION. This could happen within an international framework like the U.N. comprising the following aspects:
(1) A team of international, independent scientists who would be able to exclude veto power for any government. This exclusion of veto is especially important, due to the overwhelming role of one of the involved parties, Ukraine. The main source of information to the DSB and JIT used for their official investigations was SBU, the Ukrainian secret service.
(2) Keeping all scenarios on the table.
(3) Declassifying and releasing “available satellite images” claimed by Secretary of State, John Kerry, on 20th of July 2014; or (if not) disclaiming their existence.
(4) Conducting forensic examination of impact holes (for metal residues) in the MH17 wreckage and reproducing the same pattern of damage by shelling tests (as usually done in crime cases). Completing key information fields, such as body forensics, voice recorder, radar data etc.
(5) Prior construction of, a clear path to an international, objective trial in the U.N. framework with judges from countries which are not connected with the crash.
FURTHERMORE, WE ARE ASKING YOU TO PLEASE INITIATE PEACE TALKS WITH ALL PARTIES CONCERNED (including but not limited to Russia, Ukraine, and the EU) aiming at settling the dispute and establishing a reconstruction plan for Eastern Ukraine including the compensation of the MH17 families.
Thank you so much, in advance, for your attention to this matter.
Independent journalists & experts on MH17,
- MARK BARTALMAI, journalist & Ukraine documentaries producer, GERMANY
- DR. THIERRY BAUDET, journalist, publicist & initiator of Dutch referendum on EU/Ukraine association agreement, NETHERLANDS
- BERND BIEDERMANN, missile defense colonel ret., military attaché ret. & book author, GERMANY
- CHRISTOPHER BLACK, international criminal lawyer, CANADA
- NORBERT FLEISCHER, investigative journalist, GERMANY
- PROF. DR. ELMAR GIEMULLA, lawyer of German MH17 victims, GERMANY
- DR. HERMANN HAGENA, airforce general ret. & author of MH17 military study, GERMANY
- PROF. DSC. OTTO-FRIEDRICH HAGENA, physicist, GERMANY
- PETER HAISENKO, journalist, publisher & former “Lufthansa” pilot, GERMANY
- JOHN HELMER, longest-serving foreign correspondent in Russia, UNITED STATES
- FRANK HÖFER, journalist & film producer, GERMANY
- DIETER KLEEMANN, airforce colonel / trainer ret. & book author, GERMANY
- PATRICK LANCASTER, investigative journalist with 100s of hours on MH17 site from day one & U.S. Navy veteran, UNITED STATES
- DR. JAMES O´NEILL, barrister on human rights & geopolitical analyst, AUSTRALIA
- JOOST NIEMÖLLER, journalist & MH17 book author, NETHERLANDS
- GRAHAM PHILLIPS, investigative journalist, UNITED KINGDOM
- PROF. DR. KEES VAN DER PIJL, political scientist, peace activist & author, NETHERLANDS
- HECTOR REBAN, political analyst & blogger on MH17, NETHERLANDS
- NORBERT K. REISBERG, . ret., airforce pilot ret. & military scientist, GERMANY
- DAN SHEPPARD, private MH17 researcher, AUSTRALIA
- JOACHIM SIEGERIST, journalist, publisher & author, GERMANY
- BILLY SIX, investigative journalist & book author, GERMANY
- MAX VAN DER WERFF, blogger & private MH17 investigator, NETHERLANDS
- PROF. KAREL VAN WOLFEREN, journalist, political analyst & book author, NETHERLANDS
- MOHD AZAHAR ZANUDIN, technician, supplier for army/police & blogger on MH17, MALAYSIA
Spokesman for media – Mr. Billy Six
facebook BILLY SIX
tel. 0049 152 269 27 443
These two top officials behind major US wars (Iran/Afghanistan and Vietnam/Cambodia/Laos) and regime change (against Allende, Chile) will speak at the first of a new event, The Nobel Peace Prize Forum Oslo, created by the Nobel Institute in Oslo.
The leaders of the two institutions declare that they are proud to have succeeded in getting these two diplomats to Norway – and the media, of course, will be there. The event is sponsored by the California-based company InCircl – a marketing and mobile payment company.
These two experts on warfare and interventionism will – Orwellian style – speak about “The United States and World Peace After The Presidential Election”.
This is the country that, since 1980, has intervened violently in Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosova/Serbia, Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, i.e. 14 Muslim countries. It has some 630 base facilities in 130+ countries. It has its US Special Forces (SOF) in 133 countries.
It has used nuclear weapons without apology and owns the second largest arsenal of nuclear weapons.
The US stands for about 40% of the world’s military expenditures, is the world’s leading arms exporter and has killed more people than anybody else since 1945. It’s the master of (imprecise) drone strikes. It presently supports Saudi Arabia’s bestial war on Yemen and conducts a military build-up in Asia and the Pacific planning, as it seems, for what looks like a future confrontation with China. And not with terribly positive results in its Middle East policies since 1945.
So with all these credentials, please tell us about world peace!
The U.S. should be seen as quite incapable of peace-making – not the least thanks to Dr. Kissinger (now 93) who is associated with major “war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offences against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture” in places such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Timor, and Chile as stated in the classical book about his peace-making by Christopher Hitchens “The Trial Of Henry Kissinger.”
Here is Carl Estabrook’s trustworthy account with personal references.
Brzezinski (now 88) doesn’t have as much blood on his hands but his hawkish “Realpolitk” contributions to US foreign policy – including its failures – over decades are well described here.
So, undoubtedly these voices from past militarism and imperialism – here understood as theoretical concepts, not as ideological slogans – are supposed to enlighten the participants in Oslo, young university students in particular, in the right teachings, in U.S. international political history and concepts, promote their surreal peace concept and present an interpretation of the – surely – benign US and its exceptionalist role in the future world (dis)order.
Let me be very clear: I am in favour of universities being open, of free academic debate and freedom of expression. These two cast-off ideologues are entitled to that too – in Oslo for sure.
But I do have this to ask:
Who will get the same honour while holding the different, opposite views – as should be the case in normal academic-intellectual settings?
Will the Nobel Institute and Oslo University honour intellectuals with such other values and perspectives? Would they invite victims of the policies of the US under the influence of Kissinger and Brzezinski?
And would somebody be invited to a similar high-profiled event who works with peace concepts that – in stark contrast to these two – are based on conflict analysis, anti-imperialism, anti-militarism, disarmament, nonviolence, reconciliation, forgiveness and the cultures of peace including dialogue and negotiations?
This brings me to a confession of sorts:
While I am in favour of intellectual freedom and open debate, I am not in favour of the Nobel Institute inviting people such as Kissinger and Brzezinski. The Institute as well as the Nobel Committee that decides who shall be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize has a mandate based upon the will of Alfred Nobel.
And he wrote there that he wanted his Prize to go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
It goes without saying and without further discussion that the two visitors have done nothing – nothing – for that.
To award prizes – and honour by invitations – alleged, non-convicted war criminals should, by simple logics, be unthinkable. Impossible.
The link between the prize committee and the institute is clear; that link is embodied in professor Olav Njölstad, a historian, who both heads the Nobel Institute and is a member (secretary) of the Nobel Committee.
The Kissinger-Brzezinski event is nothing less than a slap in the face of everyone working for peace and of Alfred Nobel’s will.
It’s a crystal clear violation of that will and legal authorities as well as the Swedish Nobel Foundation ought to secure that anything like this can never happen again. I know from experience that none will take action. Peace is war and war is peace – and why should they care about a will and legal issues when they honour people who have systematically broken international law or advocated the breaking of it?
Or, in other words, anybody who feels they need to be enlightened by two of the oldest and worst representatives of the most militant and war-fighting nation on earth about the world’s future and about peace signals only one thing: The intellectual and moral decay of a small Western country totally submissive to the US – which itself is in utterly clear moral, intellectual, political and economic decay – and Empire fast approaching its end thanks to its own policies.
One way to go: Boycott the event and let Kissinger, Brzezinski, Njölstad and Ottersen be the only ones who turn up in that huge hall on December 11th.
Or, go there – students, media and civil society – and raise all the questions any independent, decent academic must. And anyone must who takes the word peace seriously.