Category Archives: Espionage/"Intelligence"

Diffusion Center

Wish you were here, we could talk. The proprietor reminds me that there’s no substitute for talk. Places like hers have been springing up and getting banned and spreading for five hundred years. From Constantinople and Mecca and Damascus, war carried them to Europe, where they disturbed the serenity of La Serenissima, then spread civic and intellectual ferment to Oxford and London and throughout Europe. The Café de Foy sparked the thought of storming the Bastille. The Café Durand gave birth to Zola’s “J’accuse.” The Café de Flore was Sartre’s soapbox.

They crossed the ocean to this country’s migration portals, gestated Beatnik subversion, and when the Vietnam War began to rankle at home, coffee houses brought antiwar sedition to the gates of Fort Bragg and Fort Hood. At a coffee house in Cleveland Philip Durachinsky twiddled his thumbs in philosophy club, allegedly hatching his plans for nicking titillating personal information, Department of Energy data, and who knows what else.

I came late to the historic coffee houses, Florian, the International, Giubbe Rosse, Café A Brasileira, when they had long since settled down as romantic institutions. I never encountered a coffee house in the florid subversive stage till this one, with its freethinking connoisseurs of the psychotropic bounty of the plant and fungus kingdoms. This third place of mine is one too many for the government authorities among my few attentive readers. I’ve been blinked and bumped and tailed here, I’m on secret surveillance and emergency-detention lists at my local CIA fusion center. It can’t be this great good place, it must be me. Perhaps it’s my utterances. In the Phoenix Program days,“suspicious utterances” used to put you on blacklist D. And there’s nothing more suspicious to our CIA regime than human rights and rule of law.

You might be on some blacklist now too, having read this far, unless you’re reading this with Tor. But then if you’re reading this with Tor you’re on one anyway. It’s hardly a distinction anymore, Every Tom, Dick and Harry is on some fecal roster or other. When the balloon goes up they’re going to put us all away, it seems. That’s what the Stasi thought, too, till the GDR fell. At this stage repression is futile. It’s too late now, no one can stop what is happening.

You’ll know if we’re meant to be sharing a cow cage at FEMA camp. Evidently some old timer taught the fusion center drones the old Phoenix Program eye-of-God trick. It is ever so frightening, if done right. But if the godlike omniscience depends on cops, good luck. These are the people you remember so vaguely from high school, that smoldering burnout or small scrappy brain-damaged nose guard, that guy who had to join the army, or that cross stocky woman who gnawed on cigarettes.

Turning police into junior spy cadets has always been CIA’s way. The spooks jeer at them behind their backs, and they’re careful not to give them anything hard to do. But even by those standards, they must have assigned my dossier to some truly hopeless plateaued loser. Police recruits are chosen for their modest intellectual endowments, so they don’t get bored and leave; nonetheless, it must be insupportably boring, surveiling me. It’s not as though I’m hard to find. I’m a creature of habit these days.

It’s harder to know what I’m up to, perhaps. That’s beyond you. It’s beyond CIA, now they’ve been caught with their pants down and we know their tricks. It’s beyond NSA. They’re overrated. So it helps to have an active imagination. Perhaps you picture me chortling over Phillip Marshall’s manuscript, or Julian Assange’s insurance file, or John Wheeler’s purloined minutes from Mitre’s subcontract with Ptech; or illegal Batelle germ warfare research snuffled out with FruitFly.

Or the workflow chart and 1-A file on Ibragim Todashev or something, anything. Otherwise the tedium must make you want to eat a gun. After all, your job is busywork, my guilt or innocence don’t matter, enemies are enemies and cops can always fabricate some threat – just get on the horn to Shotspotter, order up some gunshots.1  CIA has brought about the Phonenix/Condor end-stage here at home: complete collapse in the integrity of law enforcement.

This is nothing new. When Ed Murphy wrapped up his job making capture-or-kill lists for the Phoenix Program in Vietnam, he came home to find the 116th Military Intelligence Group doing it here. On their list were the likes of Rennie Davis, some madcap Yippies, patrician fuddy-duddy Benjamin Spock. The 108th MIG spied on New England. For the black element there was less capturing and more killing. When Frank Strausser of the Memphis PD blew Martin King’s face off, the 111th MIG was up on a roof, holding their fire with bated breath, snapping photos with Instagram abandon. That is how CIA works, at home and abroad. When there’s dirty work they cannot do by law, they put soldiers or cops up to it.

The MIGs worked for Dick Ober’s shop. Nothing has changed. Why, just a few years ago CIA dispatched a death squad to rule out exculpatory testimony in the shambolic Boston Marathon show trial. They took Aaron McFarlane, a cop too brutish and dirty even for the Oakland PD, a shaved ape that even the FOP can’t recycle. They put McFarlane to the test at the elite FBI Academy at Quantico, where he passed the swimming test with flying colors. They assigned the newly-minted Special Agent two sidekicks of suitable intellect, Massachusetts state cops Curtis Cinelli and Joel Gagne. With the characteristic dim-witted alacrity of paramilitaries everywhere, Cinelli and Gagne kept watch for imaginary terror cells as McFarlane murdered Ibragim Todashev execution-style, with a coup de grâce right in the crown. As Frank Snepp noted, Phoenix programs are ‘jerry-rigged,’ run with built-in organizational deficiencies that let maniacs and sadists slip in through the cracks. That way you’ve always got a few bad apples spoiling the barrel when you need to rub someone out. Nowadays the one-stop shop for organizational deficiencies is FBI.2

Complicity in Todashev’s extrajudicial killing spurred higher echelons in the State Police to get on the bandwagon with the official culprits. State investigators had jibbed at FBI interference with dissonant evidence such as Daniel Morley’s bomb factory. But once state police stood guard over murder of a witness, the duped troopers had a stake in the foreordained outcome of Tsarnaev’s show trial.

CIA’s mission has not changed: eliminate the opposition. That’s you, if you’re thinking for yourself. This is the global war on meeting and talking. But what’s the threat? What’s the point? What are they so scared of? CIA’s impunity is under threat. They can’t exist without impunity, their raison d’etre is crime. Human rights and international criminal law are converging on the world’s most pressing problem, the CIA regime.

Intelligence is changing in the outside world. CIA sticks to its last, destroying opposition at home and abroad, running criminal enterprise for gain. But elsewhere intelligence has a new mission: attribution of internationally wrongful acts. In Russia and Iran (and not just there – you’d be surprised who’s onboard,) the highly professional security services expose and denounce CIA crime. International criminal law applies, although in practice it would be enforced only following a war. But under the customary international law of state responsibility for internationally wrongful acts, the World Court can rule, imposing reparations, restitution, satisfaction or compensation with interest. When aggrieved states invoke that procedure the US can and does settle or meet its legal obligations. There is no alternative. You’ll never hear about it here behind CIA’s iron curtain, but the US government submits to pacific resolution of disputes in accordance with the UN Charter. Even with archenemy Iran. You can tell the wheels are grinding finer when captive CIA media break out in panicky ejaculations of Disinformation! or Conspiracy Theory!

State responsibility for satisfaction may include prosecution of specified criminal officials. If Gina Haspel goes to prison for the crime against humanity of systematic and widespread torture, or for some face-saving technical infraction, this is how it will happen. For a discredited kleptocracy bleeding influence and primacy, a sacrificial victim costs less than compensation with interest. Ask Dick Nixon.

Our first CIA head of state George Bush made one big mistake: he let Congress ratify the ICCPR. No doubt he thought they could talk their way out of it. He probably thought it was a toothless joke like the Bill of Rights. The Gulf War had gone to his head and he fancied himself a statesman, like the diplomats he met as a green UN Ambassador. It’s called acculturation, tried and true monkey see, monkey do. It works! It gets the most primitive cultures on the hook for human rights compliance. Bush even tried to ratify the Convention Against Torture, and his successor did do.

The result was disgrace in the most public forums in the world. Anyone can watch it on webtv.un.org. The humiliating blow-by-blow is recounted in the prior posts linked below. The international community subjected US doctrine to controlled demolition by simple logic and world-standard law.

Spy regimes obsess about doctrine, for self-deception is a must. That’s how you fall for the nonsense that justifies state crime. The doctrine’s contradictory and more and more ridiculous as crimes of state compound. Law cannot justify state crime. Only blind loyalty can do that. To restore their ruined standing and self-image, US bureaucrats tinker obsessively with human rights distortion, devising increasingly absurd ways of breaching the legal principle of non-intervention (UNGA resolution 2131 (XX), duty k(1); A/RES/36/103 (XXXVI), duty l). The US twists black-letter law with mad logical contortions to attack US enemies, excuse its most brutal allies, and exempt the US government altogether. US apparatchiks parse the tightly-drafted language of their binding commitments in ridiculous ways. They pervert their own constitution and laws to void the universal obligations of a sovereign state. When cornered in international forums they doggedly repeat the same meaningless phrases word for word. When the US faced the Committee Against Torture after its global torture gulag was exposed, CIA installed David Kramer3 as Assistant Secretary to concoct loony legal pretexts. CIA fed unsourced vilification to elderly academic Gay McDougall and used their Reuters assets to propagate it as official UN human rights reporting. US bureaucrats in human rights forums express themselves in a characteristic bizarre galimatias, the legal analog of Koko signing frown-cry-frown-sad. It makes them figures of fun worldwide, most recently in the UN Security Council.

As they made fools of themselves and their hapless State and Justicefocal points,’ CIA tried to recoup with a frantic effort to corrupt the cognizant institutions. They packed Human Rights Watch with soldiers and spies and put an MI6 agent on Amnesty International’s board. They set up fake humanitarian watchdogs to make a silly hash of human rights with nonsense claims. They almost succeeded. Human rights institutions are under attack as a tool of conniving spies.

They didn’t expect what happened then. A revolutionary vanguard took human rights into their own hands. A movement emerged, Peoples-Centered Human Rights (PCHR.)

At the formal inception of human rights, their purpose was protecting humans from overreaching states. In these days of privatized intelligence and corporate coercion, the PCHR movement wields human rights against oppression in all its forms. They won’t stop at writing laws; they want to demolish and rebuild institutions to enforce them. They’re not pacifists, they’re preparing for struggle in solidarity with the outside world. To satisfy their right to peace, cessation of hostilities is not enough. They want demilitarization: shut US bases here and overseas. You can’t trick them into fixating on guns, they’re out to dismantle the systemic paramilitary violence that ties CIA, their law-enforcement muppets, and gun-fondling washouts and wannabes nationwide. To defend your right to life they’ve stopped wasting time with new red tape governing when a cop can shoot you. They’ve moved on from police reform to police abolition.

So who goes on CIA’s capture-or-kill list for this? Ajamu Baraka leads the movement. He’s the Trotsky of human rights, fomenting perpetual bottom-up revolution based on an ethical framework of evolving rights. Meanwhile, in unofficial table-top exercises Ajamu pseudonymously rises to prominence in a threat matrix with subjective indicators of dissent as pathology, and in commercial data on his emails and blasts cooked into eigenvectors of influence, centrality, and reach. At a certain point he acquires a code word, a nickname, and some compartments. So if a cop in Atlanta shoots Ajamu in a rueful mix-up, and the thick-as-mince blue line frantically pins it on some bug-eyed Right-Stuffer, you’ll know which threads to pull, at Fort McPherson and GISAC, and in the NHB at Langley. The bloody footprints will lead back to CIA. This is not hypothetical. CIA has multiple contingency plans. Strausser’s successor, and James Earl Ray’s, are in the pipeline now.

CIA had finalized plans to kill Occupy leaders. Decapitation went beyond the planning stage at Langley’s inter-agency meetings. CIA tried and failed to murder Scott Olsen. CIA deployed two assassins, Robert Roche of the Oakland P.D. and a gas-masked gunman whose identity is undisclosed and secret. The two tried to murder Scott Olsen with tear-gas and flash-bang grenades.

And Occupy had nothing like the People’s-Centered Infrastructure Ajamu has set up: the US Human Rights Network, with formal institutional ties to the UN High Commissioner’s NGO outreach mechanism; and the Black Alliance for Peace, based on face-to-face working relationships with civil society worldwide. Ajamu, like Martin King, moved on from electoral politics to struggle as revulsion against CIA impunity peaked worldwide. Like Malcolm X, Ajamu multiplies our force with international solidarity – and the Bandung tendency that buoyed Malcolm has since been codified and institutionalized in law. CIA is panicked. They’re getting Vietnam flashbacks, night terrors of Viet Cong Infrastructure.

McDonald’s fries potatoes. CIA kills dissidents. In large bureaus procedure prevails. Dick Ober used Chicago police to execute Fred Hampton. Ober used armed irregulars of FBI COINTELPRO agent Ron Karenga to kill Malcolm X. Ober coordinated the inter-agency civil/military assassination of Martin King. Ober’s Operation CHAOS killed more than those three. Ober used city and highway police to murder Phillip Gibbs and James Green at Jackson State. There was no three-strikes rule to put Ober in a cage for life. Ober is no ordinary murderer. He is one of the CIA criminals who have ruled your country since 1949.

So be ready. Gina Haspel will be presented with four or five active plans to kill Ajamu Baraka. That is her job. She has nothing to lose in choosing one. She is already hostis humani generis in law, enemy of all humankind. She must act. The world-standard law Ajamu espouses would bring her down and extirpate the criminal enterprise she lives for. Modern multilateral lustration works; I’ve seen it done in other undeveloped countries. First we’ll have to storm the secret police, as the Germans did, and seize the files, or get them from some Shady Rat tóngshì, or something.

And all because Ajamu got us talking. Talk is the underlying threat to this criminal state. The Viet Cong never asked for the mass antiwar risings in America. They merely hoped Americans would talk among themselves, in dulcet coffee shops like this one, or in public squares, or in their homes, and reach their own conclusions. As Alan Grayson said, quoting a buoyant man in flight from Apartheid, “People will change their minds.” Community underpins real politics: ask Italy’s communists; ask Hezbollah or Iran’s Basij; ask Bolivia’s Movement Toward Socialism; or ask the shoestring NGOs who sit here over coffee or tea. Community comes first. This is where community is mended. If you pay attention you can see the proprietor at her deft and unobtrusive work. She’s repairing the rents this state has made with synthetic controversy and partisan two minutes’ hate, with factitious enemies and CIA’s strategy of tension. Healing us. We’re healing. CIA cancer is remitting. Soon we’ll be ready to rejoin the outside world.

Clandestine state crime is self-limiting disease because discreet cooperative endeavor is a two-edged sword. Secret police can do it. We can do it, too. We, some of us, purged government officials who don’t know our rights. Some of us have not stopped with removing bad apples, they’ve disbanded their police force. Some of us caught the Justice Department shitting on the law it doesn’t like, flouting Article 17 to attack the honor and reputation of Article 19’s defenders. Some of us caught CIA using illegal biological weapons of mass destruction. Some of us live in America, some live elsewhere. Us is everyone on earth. Them is the criminal CIA enterprise infesting this country and others. So if you know where the bodies are buried, drop in, any time, in the flesh, or not.

  1. When Rochester cop Joseph Ferrigno shot some poor sap, the department planted a drop gun and his buddy Robert Wetzel put Shotspotter to work fabricating evidence of gunshots.
  2. FBI has proven capacity to deodorize criminal police, providing CIA with a farm team of disposable torturers and assassins like McFarlane.
  3. After his ignominious stint as CIA’s State Department mole, Kramer gained awkward notoriety when Russia caught him spying and called for him to be questioned under mutual legal assistance law.

The Security Derangement Complex: Technology Companies and Australia’s Anti-Encryption Law

Australia is being seen as a test case. How does a liberal democracy affirm the destruction of private, encrypted communications? In 2015, China demonstrated what could be done to technology companies, equipping other states with an inspiration: encryption keys, when required, could be surrendered to the authorities.

It is worth remembering the feeble justification then, as now.  As Li Shouwei, deputy head of the Chinese parliament’s criminal law division explained to the press at the time, “This rule accords with the actual work need of fighting terrorism and is basically the same as what other major countries in the world do”.  Birds of a feather, indeed.

An Weixing, head of the Public Security Ministry’s Counter-Terrorism division, furnishes us with the striking example of a generic state official who sees malefactors coming out of the woodwork of the nation. “Terrorism,” he sombrely stated, reflecting on Islamic separatists from East Turkestan, “is the public enemy of mankind, and the Chinese government will oppose all forms of terrorism.”  Given that such elastic definitions are in the eye of the paranoid beholder, the scope for indefinite spread is ever present.

The Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, must be consulting the same oracles as those earning their keep in the PRC.  The first rule of modern governance: frighten the public in order to protect them.  Look behind deceptive facades to find the devil lurking in his trench coat.  Morrison’s rationale is childishly simple: the security derangement complex must, at all times, win over.  The world is a dark place, a jungle rife with, as Morrison insists upon with an advertiser’s amorality, paedophile rings, terrorist cells, and naysayers.

One of his solutions?  The Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018, otherwise known by its more accurate title of the Anti-Encryption Bill. This poorly conceived and insufferably vague Bill, soon to escape its chrysalis to become law, shows the government playbook in action: tamper with society’s sanity; draft a ponderous bit of text; and treat, importantly, the voter as a creature mushrooming in self-loathing insecurity in the dark.

The Bill, in dreary but dangerous terms, establishes “voluntary and mandatory industry assistance to law enforcement and intelligence agencies in relation to encryption technologies via the issuing of technical assistance requests, technical assistance notices and technical capability notices”.  Technology companies are to become the bullied handmaidens, or “assistants”, of the Australian police state.

The Pentecostal Prime Minister has been able to count on supporters who see privacy as dispensable and security needs as unimpeachable.  Those who get giddy from security derangement syndrome don the academic gown of scorn, lecturing privacy advocates as ignorant idealists in a terrible world.  “I know it is a sensitive issue,” claims Rodger Shananan of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, “but the people arguing privacy just don’t have a handle on how widespread it’s used by the bad people.”  The problem with such ill-considered dross is that such technology is also used by “good” or “indifferent” people.

Precisely in being universal, inserting such anti-encryption backdoors insists on a mutual presumption of guilt, that no one can, or should be trusted.  It is in such environments that well versed cyber criminals thrive, sniffing out vulnerabilities and exploiting them.  Computing security academic Ahmed Ibrahim states the point unreservedly. “If we leave an intentional backdoor they will find it.  Once it is discovered it is usually not easy to fix.”

The extent of such government invasiveness was such as to trouble certain traditional conservative voices.  Alan Jones, who rules from the shock jock roost of radio station 2GB, asked Morrison about whether this obsession with back door access to communications might be going too far.  Quoting Angelo M. Codevilla of Boston University, a veteran critic of government incursions into private, encrypted communications, Jones suggested that the anti-encryption bill “allows police and intelligence agencies access to everyone’s messages, demanding that we believe that any amongst us is as likely or not to be a terrorist.”  Morrison, unmoved, mounted the high horse of necessity.  Like Shanahan, he was only interested in the “bad” people.

To that end, public consultation has been kept to a minimum.  In the words of human rights lawyer, Lizzie O’Shea, it was “a terrible truncation of the process”, one evidently designed to make Australia a shining light for others within the Five Eyes Alliance to follow.  “Once you’ve built the tools, it becomes very hard to argue that you can’t hand them over to the US government, the UK – it becomes something they can all use.”

There had been some hope that the opposition parties would stymie the process and postpone consideration of the bill till next year.  It could thereby be tied up, bound and sunk by various amendments.  But in the last, sagging sessions of Australia’s parliament, a compliant opposition party was keen to remain in the elector’s good books ahead of Christmas.  Bill Shorten’s Labor Party took of the root of unreason, calculating that saying yes to the contents of the bill might also secure the transfer of desperate and mentally ailing refugees on Nauru and Manus Island to the Australian mainland.

Instead, in what became a farcical bungle of miscalculating indulgence, the government got what it wanted.  The medical transfer bill on Nauru and Manus Island failed to pass in the lower house after a filibuster in the Senate by the Coalition and Senators Cory Bernardi and Pauline Hanson.  The Anti-Encryption Bill, having made is way to the lower house, did.

Shorten’s deputy, Tanya Plibersek, was keen to lay the ground for Thursday’s capitulation to the government earlier in the week.  A range of “protections” had been inserted into the legislation at the behest of the Labor Party. (Such brimming pride!)  The Attorney-General Christian Porter was praised – unbelievably – for having accepted their sagacious suggestions.  The point was elementary: Labor, not wanting to be seen as weak on law enforcement, had to be seen as accommodating.

Porter found himself crowing. “This ensures that our national security and law enforcement agencies have the modern tools they need, the appropriate authority and oversight, to access the encrypted conversations of those who seek to do us harm.”

International authorities versed in the area are looking at the Australian example with jaw dropping concern.  EU officials will find the measure repugnant on various levels, given the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws in place.  Australian technology companies are set to be designated appropriate pariahs, as are other technology companies willing to conduct transactions in Australia.  All consumers are being treated as potential criminals, an attitude that does not sit well with entities attempting to make a buck or two.

SwiftOnSecurity, an often canonical source on cyber security matters, is baffled. “Over in Australia they’re shooting themselves in the face with a shockingly technical nonsensical encryption backdoor law.”  Not only does the law fail to serve any useful protections; it “poison-pills their entire domestic tech industry, breaks imports.”

Li’s point, again something which the Australian government insists upon, was that the Chinese law did not constitute a “backdoor” through encryption protections.  Every state official merely wanted to get those “bad people” while sparing the “good”.  The Tor Project is far more enlightening: “There are no safe backdoors.”  An open declaration on the abolition of privacy in Australia has been made; a wonderfully noxious Christmas present for the Australian electorate.

Activist Guide to Security: Defeating Geolocation and Tracking

We live in a surveillance state. As the Edward Snowden leaks and subsequent reporting has shown, government and private military corporations regularly target political dissidents for intelligence gathering. This information is used to undermine social movements, foment internecine conflict, discover weaknesses, and to get individuals thrown in jail for their justified resistance work.

As the idea of the panopticon describes, surveillance creates a culture of self-censorship. There aren’t enough people at security agencies to monitor everything, all of the time. Almost all of the data that is collected is never read or analyzed. In general, specific targeting of an individual for surveillance is the biggest threat. However, because people don’t understand the surveillance and how to defeat it, they subconsciously stop themselves from even considering serious resistance. In this way, they become self-defeating.

Surveillance functions primarily by creating a culture of paranoia through which the people begin to police themselves.

This is a guide to avoiding some of the most dangerous forms of location tracking. This information is meant to demystify tracking so that you can take easy, practical steps to mitigating the worst impacts. Activists and revolutionaries of all sorts may find this information helpful and should incorporate these practices into daily life, whether or not you are involved in any illegal action, as part of security culture.

About modern surveillance

We are likely all familiar with the extent of surveillance conducted by the NSA in the United States and other agencies such as the GCHQ in Britain. These organizations engage in mass data collection on a global scale, recording and storing every cell phone call, text message, email, social media comment, and other form of data they can get their hands on.

Our best defenses against this surveillance network are encryption, face-to-face networking and communication, and building legitimate communities of trust based on robust security culture.

Capitalism has expanded surveillance to every person. Data collection has long been big business, but the internet and smartphones have created a bonanza in data collection. Corporations regularly collect, share, buy, and sell information including your:

  • Home address
  • Workplace
  • Location tracking data
  • Businesses you frequent
  • Political affiliations
  • Hobbies
  • Family and relationship connections
  • Purchasing habits
  • And much more

Much of this information is available on the open marketplace. For example, it was recently reported that many police departments are purchasing location records from cell phones companies such as Verizon that show a record of every tower a given cell phone has connected to. By purchasing this information from a corporation, this allows police to bypass the need to receive a warrant—just one example of how corporations and the state collaborate to protect capitalism and the status quo.

Forms of location tracking

There are two main types of location tracking we are going to look at in this article: cell tower tracking and GPS geolocation.

Cell phone tracking

Whenever a cell phone connects to a cell tower, a unique device ID number is transmitted to the service provider. For most people, their cell phone is connected directly to their identity because they pay a monthly fee, signed up using their real name, and so on. Therefore, any time you connect to a cell network, your location is logged.

The more cell towers are located in your area, the more exact your location may be pinpointed. This same form of tracking applies to smartphones, older cell phones, as well as tablets, computers, cars, and other devices that connect to cell networks. This data can be aggregated over time to form a detailed picture of your movements and connections.

GPS tracking

Many handheld GPS units are “receiver only” units, meaning they can only tell you where you are located. They don’t actually send data to GPS satellites, they only passively receive data. However, this is not the case with all GPS devices.

For example, essentially every new car that is sold today includes built-in GPS geolocation beacons. These are designed to help you recover a stolen car, or call for roadside assistance in remote areas.

Additionally, many smartphones track GPS location data and store that information. The next time you connect to a WiFi or cell phone network, that data is uploaded and shared to external services. GPS tracking can easily reveal your exact location to within 10 feet.

Defeating location tracking

So how do we stop these forms of location tracking from being effective? There are five main techniques we can use, all of which are simple and low-tech.

(a) Don’t carry a cell phone. It’s almost a blasphemy in our modern world, but this is the safest way for activists and revolutionaries to operate.

(b) Use “burner” phones. A “burner” is a prepaid cell phone that can be purchased using cash at big-box stores like Wal-Mart. In the USA, only two phones may be purchased per person, per day. If it is bought with cash and activated using the Tor network, a burner phone cannot typically be linked to your identity.

WORD OF CAUTION: rumor has it that the NSA and other agencies run sophisticated voice identification algorithms via their mass surveillance networks. If you are in a maximum-security situation, you may need to use a voice scrambler, only use text messages, or take other precautions. Also note that burners are meant to be used for a short period of time, then discarded.

(c) Remove the cell phone battery. Cell phones cannot track your location if they are powered off. However, it is believed that spy agencies have the technical capability to remotely turn on cell phones for use as surveillance devices. To defeat this, remove the battery completely. This is only possible with some phones, which brings us to method number four.

(d) Use a faraday bag. A faraday bag (sometimes called a “signal blocking bag”) is made of special materials that block radio waves (WiFi, cell networks, NFC, and Bluetooth all are radio waves). These bags can be purchased for less than $50, and will block all signals while your phones or devices are inside. These bags are often used by cops, for example, to prevent remote wiping of devices in evidence storage. If you are ever arrested with digital devices, you may notice the cops place them in faraday bags.

WORD OF CAUTION: Modern smartphones include multiple sensors including a compass and accelerometer. There have been proof-of-concept experiments showing that a smartphone inside a faraday bag can still track your location by using these sensors in a form of dead reckoning. In high-security situations where you may be targeted individually, this is a real consideration.

(e) Don’t buy any modern car that includes GPS. Note that almost all rental cars contain GPS tracking devices as well. Any time a person is traveling for a serious action, it is safest to use an older vehicle. If you may be under surveillance, it is best to use a vehicle that is not directly connected to you or to the movement.

Conclusion

There are caveats here. I am not a technical expert, I am merely a revolutionary who is highly concerned about mass surveillance. Methods of location tracking are always evolving. And there are many methods.

This article doesn’t, for example, discuss the simple method of placing a GPS tracker on a car. These small magnetic devices can be purchased on the private market and attached to the bottom of any vehicle.

However, these basic principles can be applied across a wide range of scenarios, with some modification, to greatly increase your privacy and security.

Good luck!

China: A New Philosophy of Economics

China’s economic philosophy is a far cry from that of the west.

The west consistently seeks to undermine the interests of their partners, be it for trade or political agreements; be it partners from the west, their smaller and weaker brothers; or from the east; or from the south, there is always an element of exploitation, of “one-upmanship”, of outdoing a partner, of domination. Equality and fairness are unknown by the west. Or, when the concept was once known, at least by some countries and some people, it has been erased by indoctrinated neoliberal thinking – egocentricity, “me first”, and the sheer, all-permeating doctrine of “maximizing profits”; short-term thinking, instant gratification or more extreme, making a killing today for a gamble or deal that takes place tomorrow. Futures trading – the epitome of manipulating economic values. Only in the capitalist world.

This has become a key feature of western commerce and trading. It’s manipulation and exploitation over ethics; it’s Profits Über Alles! Doesn’t it sound like fascism? Well it is. And if the partner doesn’t fall for the ruse, coercion becomes the name of the game, and if that doesn’t work the western military move in with bombs and tanks, seeking regime change, destroying the very country the west wants to dominate. That’s western brutal economics – full hegemony. No sharing.

China’s approach is quite different. It’s one of sharing, of participating, of mutual benefits. China invests trillions of dollars equivalent in developing countries – Asia, especially India and now also Pakistan, Africa, South America, largely for infrastructure projects, as well as mining of natural resources. Unlike the gains from western investments, the benefits of China’s investments are shared. China’s investment and mining concessions are not coerced, but fairly negotiated. China’s investment relationship with a partner country remains peaceful and is not ‘invasive’ and abusive, as are most of those of the west which uses threats and guns to get what they want.

Of course, the west complains about Chinese investments, lying how abusive they are, when in reality the west is upset about Chinese competition in Africa and South America, continents that are still considered part of the western domain, as they were colonized for about thousand years by western powers and empires, and as of today, African and Latin-American countries are neo-colonized, no longer (for now) with brute military force, but with even more ferocious financial strangulation, through sanctions, boycotts and embargos; all highly illegal by any international standards. But there aren’t any international laws that are upheld. International courts and judges are coerced to obey Washington’s dictates, or else… literally “or else”; and these are serious threats.

Take the case of West and Central Africa, former French colonies. The French West African zone includes eight countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Togo; and the French Central African area comprises six countries – Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. All 14 countries have a common currency, the CFA franc (CFA = Communauté financière africaine – African Financial Community).

They are two separate currencies, though always at parity and therefore interchangeable. The Western and Central African monetary union have separate central banks, the Banque Centrale des États de l’Afrique de l’Ouest, BCEAO, headquartered in Dakar, Senegal; and the Banque des États de l’Afrique Centrale, BEAC, in Yaoundé, Cameroun. Both currencies are guaranteed by the French treasury. This means, in fact, that the economy of these 14 countries not only depends on France, but setting the value of the currency (at present one € = 655 CFA francs) is entirely the prerogative of the Banque de France (French Central Bank). This ultra-complicated setup between the two groups of former and new French colonies is not only a matter of French accounting, but foremost a means to confuse and distract the mostly innocent observer from a flagrant abusive reality.

With the French control over the West and Central African currencies, the foreign trading capacity of these countries is reduced to what France will allow. France has a de facto monopoly on these countries’ production. Should France stop buying their “former-new” colonies’ goods, the countries go broke, as they have been unable to develop alternative markets under the French yoke. Thus, they are always at the mercy of France, the IMF, World Bank and the African Development Bank. From labor slaves up to the early 1960s, they have become debt slaves of the neoliberal age.

In addition, to back this French Treasury guarantee, 85% of the countries’ foreign exchange reserves are blocked by the French Central Bank and may only be used by the respective counties against specific permission and as a loan. Imagine! The “former” French colonies have to borrow their own money from the French Central Bank. Similar debt enslaving is going on in former British and Portuguese colonies, though, none of them is as abjectly abusive as are the French.

Big wonder that Chinese investors are highly welcome in Africa. And knowing western manipulating and deranged mindsets, no wonder that China is demonized by the west as exploiting Africa to the bones, when exactly the contrary is the case. But almighty western lie-propaganda media has the brainwashed western populace believe China is stealing African natural resources. Chinese fairness is indeed tough competition against the usual western trickery and deceit.

In Africa, China is not only focusing on buying and trading natural resources, but on training and using local African brainpower to convert Africa from a western slave into an equal partner. For example, to boost African autonomy, China is using an approach, Gaddafi intended to apply – entering the wireless phone system, conquering some of the market with efficient batteries, and providing cheaper and more efficient services than the west, hence directly competing with the western exploited African telephone market. Chinese phones also come with their own browsers, so that internet may eventually be accessed in the remotest places of Africa, providing a top tool for education. Challenging the EU and US dominated multi-billion-dollar market, is just one of the reasons Gaddafi was miserably murdered by French-led NATO forces. Of course, China’s presence is a bit more difficult to kick than was Gaddafi’s.

This is just one more signal that China is in Africa – and Asia and Latin America – not just for the legendary American Quick Buck, but for genuine investments in long-term economic development which involves developing transportation networks, efficient and independent financial systems which may escape the western SWIFT and FED / Wall Street banking system through which US sanctions are imposed. This may involve the creation of government controlled blockchain currencies – see also Venezuela’s hydrocarbon-backed Petro – and linking African currencies to the Yuan and the eastern SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) monetary system, freeing Africa from the dollar hegemony. With the help of China and Russia, Africa may, in fact, become the forerunner of crypto-currencies and, in the case of west-and central Africa, the 14 countries would be able to gain financial autonomy, and to the chagrin of the French Central Bank, manage their own financial resources, breaking loose from under the little-talked about French yoke. It is quite conceivable that with Chinese development assistance Africa will become an important trading partner for the east, leaving western exploiting and abusing business and banking magnates behind in the dust.

The Overseas Private Investment Cooperation (OPIC), a US private lending as well as investment guarantee agency, is upset about US investors losing out to Chinese and wants US corporations to compete more aggressively which is precisely what Africa rejects, America’s violent bombing approach to impose her trade and concession rules with the coercing help of the IMF and the World Bank. Africa is seeking – finally – sovereignty, deciding over her own financial and political destiny. This includes choosing investors and trading partners of their liking.

Many African and South American countries prefer China’s yuan-investments, rather than Washington’s US-dollar investments. It’s ‘softer’ money coming from the Chinese. For China it’s also a way of diverting the world from the US-dollar, providing incentives for countries to divest their dollar reserves into yuan reserves. That is already happening at accelerating speed.

China’s outlook at home and abroad is nothing less than spectacular. On the home front, they are building cutting-edge technology transport infrastructure, such as high-speed railways, for example, connecting Shanghai and Hangzhou, cutting travel time from one and a half hour in half. China’s high-speed bullet train connects for the first time Hong Kong with the mainland, cutting travel time Hong Kong to Beijing from 24 hours to 9 hours.

In October 2018, after nine years construction, President Xi Jinping opened the world’s longest sea crossing bridge, linking Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai. The bridge is 55 km long, about 20 times the length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate bridge. In urban development, existing and new multi-million people cities are planned, expanded and stamped out of the ground in less than a generation.

China has just built a US$ 2.1 billion AI (Artificial Intelligence) industrial park, and is not sleeping either on the environmental protection and development front, investing billions in research and development of alternative clean energies, especially solar power and its storage potential, next generation beyond lithium batteries, ranging from lithium solid state to electrolyte materials to graphene batteries and eventually to copper foam substrate. And that’s not the end of the line. Each battery technology offers increased capacity, safety and charging and discharging speed.

On the domestic and international front, the Belt and Road (B and R) Initiative – the New Silk Road – is China’s President Xi’s phenomenal geo-economic initiative to connect the world from China with several transport routes and develop in a first step Western China, Eastern Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe – all the way to the frontiers of western Europe. This massive economic development program includes industrial parks, trade and cultural interchanges, research and development through existing universities and new science and learning centers. Maritime routes are also foreseen entering Africa through Kenya and Southern Europe and the Middle East via the Greek port of Piraeus and Iran. A southern route is also planned to enter the southern cone of Latin America.

The endeavor is so huge, it has recently been inscribed into the Chinese Constitution. It will mobilize in the coming decades and possibly century trillions of yuan and dollar-equivalent of investments, mostly from China, Russia, the other SCO countries, as well as European partners, and foremost the Beijing-based AIIB (Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank) which has already 70 member countries, among them Australia, Canada, Western European nations and close to 20 prospective new countries; but not the United States of America.

This giant project, is, of course, not without challenges. While the need for proof of “credit worthiness” by being tied to the IMF and World Bank of the eighties and nineties had since long faded into oblivion, China is still bound to the IMF and WB. Why?  In my opinion it proves two things, The People’s Bank of China – the Chinese Central Bank – is still controlled by the FED and BIS (Bank for International Settlement, alias, central bank of all central banks), and a strong Fifth Column that doesn’t yield an inch of their power. The Chinese leadership could implement the necessary changes towards full financial sovereignty but, why is that not happening? Western threats and their secret services have become ever more sophisticated abduction and “neutralizing” machines over the past 70 years.

The next question is what’s the Chinese lending limit to countries who have already or will subscribe to the Belt and Road Initiative to help them repay western debt and integrate into the new eastern economic model and monetary system? The question is relevant, because China’s money supply is based on China’s economic output; unlike western currencies which are purely fiat money (hot air).

Also, how will ownership of foreign assets; i.e., infrastructure funded and perhaps built, be dealt with? Will they become Chinese property, increasing China’s capital base and flow of money? Or would they be negotiated as long-term concessions, after which a country may repay to acquire sovereign ownership, or transfer part or all of the assets to China as a shareholder. These are relevant considerations, especially with regard to the huge B&R investments foreseen in the coming years. These decisions should be made autonomously by Chinese leadership, totally outside the influence of western monetary czars, like IMF and WB.

Another issue which is steadily and increasingly cropping up in the west, of course, to demonize China and discourage “western civilized” (sic) countries to associate themselves with socialist China is China’s concept of “Social Credits”. It is largely based on what the west calls a dictatorial, freedom-robbing surveillance state with cameras and face-recognition everywhere. Of course, totally ignoring the western own Orwellian Big Brother Surveillance and lie apparatus which calls itself democracy, and, in fact, is a democracy for then the elite of the plutocrats, gradually and by heavy propaganda brainwashing converting what’s left of ‘democracy’ into outright fascism, we, in the west, are almost there. And this, to the detriment of the “Silent Lambs” as per Rainer Mausfeld’s latest book, in German, “Why are Lambs Silent” (German Westend-Verlag). Yes, that’s what we have become: “Silent Lambs”.

It is too easy to demonize China for attempting to create a more harmonious, cohesive and peaceful society. Granted, this surveillance in China as in the west, demolishes to a large extent individualism, individual thinking, thereby limiting human creativeness and freedom. This is a topic which the Chinese socialist government, independent of western critique, may have to address soon to keep precisely one of the key principles of Chinese society alive – ‘social cohesiveness’ and a sense of equality and freedom.

What is the “Social Credit” system? It is a digital footprint of everything the Chinese do, as private citizens, as corporate managers in production as well as banking, workers, food sellers, in order to basically create an ambiance of full transparency (that’s the goal – far from having been reached), so as to establish citizens’ and corporations’ “creditworthiness”, in financial terms, but also assessing crime elements, political inclinations, radicalism, to prevent potential terror acts (interestingly, in the case of most western terror acts, officials say the ‘terrorists’ were known to the police which simply leaves you to conclude that they acted in connivance with the forces of order); and to enhance food safety in restaurants and by other food sellers.

In other words, the aim is to establish corporate and individual “score cards” which will work as a rewards and punishment system, a “carrot and stick” approach. Depending on the crime or deviation from the rule, you may be reprimanded and get ‘debits’ which you may wipe out by changing your behavior. Living under the spell of debits may limit, for example, your access to comfortable or speedy travel, better and speedier trains, air tickets, certain cultural events and more.

Yes, the idea of creating a stable domestic society has its drawbacks – surveillance – demolition of much of individualism, creativity, by implanting conformity. The government’s axiom is “we want a society where people don’t desire to break the rules, but the earliest stage is that they are afraid to break the rules.”

In the end, the question is, will the “Social Credits” approach to societal living, meaning a total surveillance state with every data recorded into a network of total control, be beneficial or detrimental for the Chinese goal to push ahead with her extraordinary and mostly egalitarian economic development approach, transport and industrial infrastructure, scientific research and cultural exchange – called Belt and Road, alias the New Silk Road? Only the future will tell; but the Chinese are not alone. They have solid partners in the SCO and long-term economic development endeavors never work in linear values, but with the unknown of dynamics to which humans are uniquely adapted to adjust.

• First published in New Eastern Outlook (NEO)

Phil Ochs and the Crucifixion of President John F. Kennedy

They say they can’t believe it, it’s a sacrilegious shame
Now, who would want to hurt such a hero of the game?
But you know I predicted it; I knew he had to fall
How did it happen? I hope his suffering was small.
Tell me every detail, I’ve got to know it all,
And do you have a picture of the pain?

— Phil Ochs, The Crucifixion

You are aware of only one unrest;
Oh, never learn to know the other!
Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And one is striving to forsake its brother.

— Goethe, Faust

President John Kennedy was assassinated by the U.S. national-security state, led by the C.I.A., on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas.  That is a fact beyond dispute, except for those who wish to engage in pseudo-debates to deny the obvious.  I prefer not to, since there is nothing to debate.

But there is everything to mourn, even after fifty-five years, first, of course, for the man himself, then for those who have suffered and died for bearing witness to the truth about his assassination, and finally for the consequences of his murder, because it cut savagely into any pretense of American innocence and set the stage for the nihilistic tragedies that have followed, including the murders of Malcolm X, MLK, RFK, the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the ongoing “war on terror.”

Today, JFK’s killers have tightened their choke-hold on the country and on the throats of those wishing to tell the truth.  Their penetration of the corporate mass media is wide and deep, and the narratives they spin can make an innocent soul’s head spin.  Everything is twisted to serve their interests.  With a click of a finger, truth and falsehood rotate like spokes on a rapidly turning wheel – spooks turning spokes in a game of hide and seek meant to confuse and derange the public. Constant befuddlement is the name of this racket.

It’s a melancholy task to contemplate the parts played, consciously or unconsciously, by various actors in this deadly game, not least because one’s own naiveté prompts one sometimes to question or abandon those one once admired and to dive deeply into the twisted minds and hearts of fellow humans.  What follows concerns one such man’s strange story as told by another man, whose story is perhaps stranger, and what their relationships with U.S. intelligence, if any, might suggest about our situation today.

Oh I am just a student, Sir, and only want to learn
But it’s hard to read through the risin’ smoke of the books that you like to burn
So I’d like to make a promise and I’d like to make a vow
That when I got something to say, Sir, I’m gonna say it now

Those are the words of the folk singer, Phil Ochs, from his 1966 song I’m Going To Say It Now. Ochs wrote and performed passionate protest songs during the 1960s that inspired many to speak and act in opposition to the Vietnam War and many other injustices.  He was a fiery, sardonic activist whose music, such as I Ain’t Marching Any More induced many to refuse military induction and to burn their draft cards.  He, not Bob Dylan, was the committed voice of the 1960s radical anti-war folk music world, singing at events and rallies across the country, culminating at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago when the Chicago police rioted and savagely beat anti-war protesters, and Yippies and Hippies gathered in Lincoln Park to listen to Ochs sing defiant songs to keep up their spirits. But Ochs’s own spirit was broken that terrible year of so many deaths, which started his long descent into alcoholism and mental chaos that ended with his suicide in 1976.

I was one of those who was inspired by his music. I still am.  Soulful and satiric, biting and beautiful, stirring and inspiriting, it has a power few can equal.  But I have come to a point where I feel compelled to broach a mysterious story involving Ochs, something that when I first heard it in passing shocked me terribly. No, I thought, that can’t be true; it’s impossible.

But the more I have researched it, the truer it seems – with emphasis on the word “seems” – for there is only one source for the story, a source I don’t doubt but can’t confirm.

But either way, I have come to see the story as emblematic of the treachery and confusion sown by the CIA, its Operation Mockingbird, and its so-called Mighty Wurlitzer that have played so many for fools through its control of the corporate mass media and the production of narratives that run like little movies too perfect to be true, but too true to be false – even when they are.  Screens within screens within screens.  Efforts to fuck up as many people as possible in operation chaos, to derange and cleave them into split personalities within and without, and to mystify as many minds as possible.

I think Phil Ochs was one so mystified. I am wondering if in life and death he was used and abused by radically evil forces, whomever they may be.

According to Phil’s best friend from college at Ohio State, the man who taught him to play guitar, his singing partner, best man at his wedding, constant pal in their days in Greenwich Village, and life-long friend, Jim Glover, Ochs was in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963, standing outside the Dal-Tex building in Dealey Plaza when JFK was driven by to be killed. Glover says Phil told him he went there as a “national security observer.”

I had read about this on some off-beat websites, but never in biographies of Ochs, or in the latest documentary about him, There But for Fortune. There seems to be an “official” ban on mentioning Glover’s claim, even though Glover appears in the books and the documentary, has been interviewed by the authors and filmmaker, and is considered by them, as Phil’s old and close friend, to be a reliable source.

Jim Glover, who was one half of the well-known folk duo, Jim and Jean, back in the 1960s, and is now an anti-war activist in Florida, says that he has told Ochs’s siblings and biographers all the details, has also reported it recently and as far back as the early 1990s to the FBI, and has put these claims out on some internet sites and openly spoken about it. These disclosures have resulted in silence from Ochs’s family and biographers.  There have been no efforts to refute it, and so it circulates far outside the mainstream.  Since Glover speaks of it openly and in great detail, and since it is a shocking claim with serious implications, one would think it worthy of response.  But it is only greeted with silence.  It seems perhaps like another example of what Thomas Merton called “the unspeakable” – “the void that contradicts everything that is spoken even before the words are said.”

So I contacted Glover and asked him about it.  He told me that Phil had told him months before the assassination that he was “working for National Security, something like the C.I.A.”  Then, he later told him he had gone to Dallas with one of the Gambino boys as “a national security observer” and had been standing in Dealey Plaza outside the Dal-Tex building where he was filmed when JFK was shot.  Jim Glover has sent me photos that he discovered decades later that he says are photos of Phil in Dealey Plaza at the exact spot he mentioned and also in the movie theatre where Oswald was arrested.  He thinks they are very conclusive, especially because of the Dealey Plaza location, despite their blurriness.  While I think they are not dispositive, they do look like Ochs in a fuzzy sort of way.

 

The first two photos are outside the Dal-Tex building, after and before the assassination.

Inside the movie theatre where Oswald was captured and taken out the front door, while the second Oswald was led out the back door.

And the last is a photo of Ochs at Ohio State in 1961 for comparison purposes.

Whatever you think of the photos, they are one piece of a larger mystery, a tale stranger than fiction.  They may or may not show Ochs, as Jim Glover is certain they do, but if Ochs’s biographers trust him on other matters, why would they doubt him when he says Ochs told him he was in Dallas that day?  He says they are afraid to entertain the possibility.

So we might ask the question: If Phil Ochs was in Dallas that day, what was he doing there?

Let me reiterate: The murder of President Kennedy is not a mystery, and I am not exploring it.  We know he was killed in a coup carried out by the national security state led by the CIA.  If you want to know why, and if you want to know why this Thanksgiving, November 22, we should give thanks for John Kennedy’s life and witness, read JFK and the Unspeakable by James Douglass.  It’s the only book you need to read on the assassination.

Phil Ochs is the mystery in Glover’s telling, and I am wondering about him (and Glover), what he thought he was doing getting tangled up with shadowy intelligence operatives, how that awakening knowledge subsequently affected him, how he responded, and what place guilt and fear played in his post-1963 life and death.  I am proceeding as if Ochs went to Dallas at the naïve age of 22 not to harm Kennedy, but as Glover said he said, to investigate the threats against Kennedy that he had heard of in NYC through V. T. Lee of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC) and others. (This is the same V.T. Lee who received a letter from Lee Harvey Oswald, who was proposing a FPCC chapter for New Orleans in May 1963, where he was performing his theatrical stunts.  Lee warned Oswald not to provoke “unnecessary incidents which frighten away prospective supporters” in a place so hostile to Castro.  But Oswald, of course, did the opposite to establish his fake support for Castro.)

Glover says he also knew of the plots against Kennedy that were widely circulating in leftist circles, and afterwards felt Phil and he were being set up to be implicated in the assassination in case the official cover story fell apart since he and Glover were sympathetic to Castro and Cuba. He says their phones were tapped and they were being surveilled.  At this time Glover and his partner Jean were persuaded, against Ochs’s advice, to go on a Hollywood Hootenanny Tour of southern college campuses, a surreal trip that made stops in Dallas and Houston and seemed clearly connected to the Kennedy assassination as strange people got off and on the multi-bus caravan, talking about Kennedy being killed.  Glover says these included George and Barbara Bush and J. Edgar Hoover, who were picked up by the bus at the Houston airport late in the day of November 22.

You would have to have a fantastic imagination to make this stuff up.  Why would he?   Yet his tale is truly bizarre, revealing the intricate nature of the government conspiracy to kill Kennedy and to create multiple tales of plausible deniability when others failed.

He told me that he doesn’t know who told Phil to go to Dallas, but he is unequivocal that he did.  He said:

I don’t have all the answers.  All I know is what Phil told me to keep us both as safe as possible.  He told me I’ll never lie to you but there are things I can’t tell you.  Knowing I had a big mouth if he told me things you [me] are asking, I might not be alive.  His purpose as I see it was to observe, and being set up if Oswald lived, he could have been used as, ‘See a Castro sympathizer knew and was involved.’  And that would apply to me also [learning what he did on the Hootenanny Tour] and they would stop at nothing to have us both silenced permanently if Oswald or Kennedy lived because we knew too much.

Once, he said, as an example of his big mouth, he was performing at the Gaslight in Greenwich Village and told the audience that Phil had been in Dallas as a national security observer.  He thinks Ochs’s manager, Al Grossman, and Bob Dylan heard it, “because Phil came over and said, ‘Are you trying to get me killed?’”

Phil, he said, was a super patriot and would never have done anything to harm Kennedy, but was tricked into going to Dallas under the assumption that he was working with those trying to prevent the assassination by investigating the plot or trying to infiltrate it and perhaps stop it. But when Ochs returned to NYC later that day,  according to Glover, he was devastated by Kennedy’s assassination and at the realization that he had been used and was now compromised.  That is why he cried so terribly that night and wanted to die.  His youthful innocence had died.

Phil Ochs was a man of two minds and inclinations, not unusual for a coterie of musicians of that era who knew and associated with it each other, had military/intelligence family backgrounds, and were never drafted like so many young men not in college. Like so many of these musical icons – Jim Morrison, David Crosby, Frank Zappa, “Papa” John Philips, Stephen Stills, et al (as Dave McGowan chronicles in his book, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, where he questions their public personae and the strange ways they gathered from far distances at one time into Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon, at the heart which was a covert military film facility, Lookout Mountain Laboratory)  – Ochs had a military background.  He was a conservative rebel who suddenly transformed from a conservative to a radical at Ohio State in his last year, according to Glover. He attended Staunton Military Academy with Barry Goldwater’s son and John Dean of Watergate fame and was a sergeant in the ROTC at Ohio State where at the least he was aware of military intelligence spying on radical students; he idolized John Wayne, James Dean, Marlon Brando and the American western film mythology of the cowboy and soldier; he loved John Kennedy; he sang powerful anti-war songs and would jokingly say to his audience that now that they had listened to his anti-government songs he was turning them in to the government; he was a drama king who loved heroes and wanted to be one; he was a left-winger who mocked liberals; he was a folk singer who loved Elvis.  In short, he was a man of many contradictions, of highs and lows, hope and despair, driven to stop war and injustice and to become a star in the superficial entertainment culture, etc.  As he fell apart in his last years, it became easy to categorize him with the facile term “manic-depressive” or “bipolar.”

I think that misses the heart of the matter, as if a term explains its reality, as if his paranoia had no basis outside his mind, as if he was just nuts to think the CIA was out to get him, as he did regularly and especially after he was attacked and choked while walking alone on a beach in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, when his vocal cords were ruptured and his voice permanently damaged.

My guess is that he was driven by guilt and fear and that his suicide at age 35 was connected to being in Dallas on the day JFK was assassinated.  I think he died that day too, and that the next 13 years of his life were courageous attempts to quell his guilt for being gulled into going to Dallas and fear that he might be killed for doing so by singing out his rebellious songs in the face of his ghosts. He was a haunted man, and produced haunting songs in response to exorcise his demons, including the songs The Crucifixion and That Was the President, both about John Kennedy.

In his last years he said he was John Train (sometimes John Butler Train), not Phil Ochs, and that John Train had killed Phil Ochs in the Chelsea Hotel on the summer solstice in 1975, the solstice being a significant turning point.  His biographers give various explanations for his adoption of this pseudonym, all of which, I believe, miss the mark.  To say he took the name from his heroes John Wayne, John Ford, John Kennedy, and William Butler Yeats, avoids the key word: Train. It’s as if the word is unimportant or unspeakable, or the name John Train is a common name that “crazy” Phil just made up.

As he was unravelling in fear and trembling, I believe he was referring to a real John Train, a CIA operative, when he metaphorically said “on the first day of summer 1975, Phil Ochs was murdered in the Chelsea Hotel by John Train….For the good of societies, public and secret, he needed to be gotten rid of.” Train assassinates Ochs.  Then the following spring Ochs assassinates Ochs by hanging himself.

Could it just be a coincidence that there is a real John Train who from the early 1950s onward was connected to the CIA and the covert state in various activities as an asset or an agent?  This John Train, who was one of the founders and funders of The Paris Review, its first managing editor, who together with the CIA’s Peter Matthiessen and George Plimpton started the magazine for the CIA under its propaganda front, The Congress for Cultural Freedom.  This John Train, who ran cover corporations for the CIA and was connected to George Herbert Walker Bush through the CIA’s Thomas Devine, who was involved in setting up Bush’s company Zapata Offshore.  This John Train, who was deeply involved with the CIA’s activities in the early 1980s backing the CIA-supported mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan.  This John Train who….1

It is farfetched in the extreme to think that Phil Ochs just plucked the name John Train out of thin air. But the fact that this is asserted by his biographers makes sense when we realize that Jim Glover’s claims are ignored by Ochs’s family, his biographers, and the makers of the documentary about him.  That there is a real CIA-affiliated John Train and that Glover insists Phil told him he was in Dallas on November 22, 1963 seem clearly connected.  But these facts are unspeakable.  I think they need to be explored.

Like Jim Glover, I don’t have all the answers about Phil Ochs.  My guess and my hope is that Phil was used and was not complicit, that he naively thought by going to Dallas he was working with the good guys to protect the president from the killers, and when he witnessed the brutal murder, he felt compromised, and felt so overwhelmed with guilt and fear that life eventually became too unbearable for him.  Clearly this is Glover’s story.  I think it is incumbent on those who don’t believe it to explain why Glover would fabricate such an intricate tale that glorifies his friend as a true patriot,  whom he claims was used by intelligence operatives and who therefore suffered for the rest of his life for trying to protect President Kennedy.

Whatever the truth in this age of “not knowing,” I think his story is a parable for our times.  Whenever you think you’re getting the straight scoop, think again, and then again.  The CIA’s Operation Mockingbird is still singing its siren song to convince us that the crucifixion was a one-time event, when Phil knew otherwise, right from the start and right to the end. I think he tried to warn us and wouldn’t be silenced, even in death.

When I’m Gone

  1. See Joel Whitney’s Finks, Russ Baker’s Family of Secrets, David McGowan’s Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, and Bill Kelly’s http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2013/05/phil-ochs-at-dealey-plaza.html

Scapegoating Russia for Corporate Riches and Internal Fear

To the millions of victims of the Cold War, and those who have struggled valiantly for a lasting friendship between the American and Soviet/Russian people.

That is authors Jeremy Kuzamarov and John Marciano’s dedication of this scholarly work that should be a text for high school, college and university students in the US and worldwide.

“We write this book as the curtain slowly draws down on the American Empire,” thus opened Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick in their monumental historical tome The Untold History of the United States. (Their book accompanies the 2012 Showtime documentary film in 12 episodes)

This could easily have been the opening sentence of The Russians are Coming, Again (TRACA) (Monthly Review Press, May 2018, 240 pages).

The book’s title comes from the 1966 Academy Award–winning film The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, directed by Norman Jewison, which parodies the Cold War paranoia pervading the US during the war against Vietnam and depicts chaos that seized a small coastal New England town after a Soviet submarine ran aground. The sub-title—“first as tragedy, then as farce”—comes from Karl Marx’ description of history repeating itself.

Half-century after the film was released US citizens are again being instructed to fear the “Russian menace”. Bastions of “objective media outlets” bombard us with such ridiculousness. Why? Just ask one question. What could Russia gain from being a menace to the world’s mightiest of nations; from interfering in its elections; from threatening war by moving some of their military close to their own borders where they are encircled by US-NATO forces, which spend ten times what Russia does on military might; “menaced” by a president who offered and provided real material assistance for the US war against Afghanistan; by a Russian president who went fishing with the two Bush presidents, a Russian leader who plays the piano and sings “Blueberry Hill”?

The charge of election interference has been accepted by most of the media even though intelligence agencies, whose legitimacy is at one of its lowest points following the weapons of mass destruction lie-debacle in Iraq—released a report so bereft of actual evidence that they could only make an “assessment.” In Deep State jargon that means a “guess”. Forensic specialists working with dissenting intelligence veterans asserted that the hack on the email server of the Democratic National Committee chairman was the result of a leak by someone on the inside carried out in United States eastern time zone.

Much of the book centers on a historical perspective of contemporary U.S.-Russian relations emphasizing how the absence of historical consciousness has resulted in a repetition of past tragedies and farces mainly conducted for economic profit for the massive weapons/war industry.

I quote a key paragraph at the conclusion of the book emphasizing this theme:

One clear lesson we can draw from history is that the Russians have more reason to fear us than we have to fear them. We should not be fooled by alarmist claims about Putin and a new Russia imperialism, a form of projecting our own behavior onto someone else…” as history has shown.

It was the United States that invaded the Soviet Union—not vice versa. It was the United States that encircled the Soviet Union with military bases during the Cold War and initiated many other provocative policies while intervening aggressively in Third World nations under the pretext of fighting Communism. A study by Ruth Leger Sivard that analyzed 125 military conflicts from 1946 to 1981, 95 percent in the Global South, found ‘Western powers accounting for 79 percent of the interventions, Communists for 6 percent.” Most of the latter were enacted around their borders with the exception of Cuba, which supported multiple African liberation wars against European colonial powers.

The foreword of Sivard’s book, World Military and Social Expenditures 1981, was written by George F. Kennan, who had been the epitome of a US imperialist war strategist. Late in life, he reversed himself regretting his policy of “communist containment”, which he authored under President Truman. Kennan is but one of thousands of key military, intelligence/covert operatives, and close presidential advisors/secretaries who have come over to the side of truth and peace. Many of those people are key protestors of the current war hysteria: Paul Craig Roberts, William Blum, Jack Matlock, Ramsey Clark, John Stockwell, Ray McGovern.

These dissident veterans remind us that it was the United States that expanded NATO toward the Russian border in violation of a 1990 promise not to do so, and meddles in the affairs of nations on Russia’s border, including Ukraine and Georgia. They also oppose overthrowing leaders not totally under US tutelage, like Qaddafi in Libya, Hussein in Iraq, and attempting to remove Assad in Syria—all of which alarms the Russians.

It is the US government that has methodically and chronically interfered in scores of nations’ elections; removing their leaders by murder or invasion. Just read one of William Blum’s books about this sordid record of manufacturing “democracy” for those it wishes to rule.

“Russia has a checkered past as a nation as do we,” write the authors, “however, it has never intervened militarily in Mexico or Canada, funneled expansive military aid to them, tried to manipulate their politics,” as the US has done and does to Russia’s neighbors.

Here is but one of many examples the authors provide readers about how unfair and imbalanced the US media are about US and Russian politics.

The mass media tirelessly demonizes Russia and President Putin, preparing public opinion for war while ignoring or belitting the few peace activists in the US. For example: according to Edward S. Herman, the Times from January 1 to March 21, 2014, had twenty-three articles on the Pussy Riot group to signify alleged Russian limits on free speech, and gave one member of the group op-ed space to denounce Putin. The group had been arrested after disrupting a church service and were given a two-year sentence. Around the same time, eighty-four-year-old Sister Megan Rice was given a [three-year] jail sentence for protesting a nuclear weapons site in Tennessee, but she was mentioned only in the back pages and not given an opportunity to publish an op-ed. Nor could she meet with the Times editorial board as Pussy Riot did.

She, and two comrade activists, served two years before release in 2014.

The first chapter of TRACA discusses the new Cold War, with a focus on the Russophobic discourse and demonization of Putin in the New York Times and its political implications.

The second chapter goes back to when the Franklin Pierce administration sent a military delegation to assist Russia during the Crimean War (ironically enough), and Russia returned the favor by sending a naval fleet as a signal to Britain and France to not intervene militarily on behalf of the Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War. Half a century later (1918-20), the unprovoked U.S. invaded the new Soviet Russia without the consent of Congress.

The US military commander in Siberia, William S. Graves, considered the invasion a violation of Russia’s sovereignty. Graves also denounced horrible atrocities conducted by both US forces and allies in the Russian White Army.  Among those killed were former members of the constituent assembly, railroad workers who had struck for higher wages, and at least two thousand Jews.

In that war US and British troops pioneered the use of nerve gas designed to incapacitate and demoralize the Red Army.

In the United States, critics of the intervention were prosecuted under the Alien and Sedition Acts that made it a crime to “willfully utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the U.S. form of government, constitution, military or naval force or flag.”

So Much for Freedom of Speech!

The book also shows how the Russian army and people were the actual victors of WWII. Less than half-a-million US forces lost their lives compared to 27 million Russians and other Soviet people, about half of all deaths in the war.

In February 1942, General Douglass MacArthur, who later was willing to invade “red” China and use nuclear weapons, said of the Russian military:

I observed such effective resistance to the heaviest blows of a hitherto undefeated enemy, followed by a smashing counterattack which is driving the enemy back to his own land. The scale and grandeur of this effort marks it as the greatest military achievement in all history.

The next four chapters provide a panoramic history of the first Cold War, showing how it was an avoidable tragedy.

“NATO chiefs tellingly concluded in 1950 that the Soviet armed forces had not increased since the end of the Second World War, and there were no serious ‘indications that the USSR is preparing for [war against the West].’ General Albert Greunther, Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff in Europe, stated that Soviet ‘industrial production [was] not geared to an all-out war,’” wrote the authors.

Kuzmarov and Marciano conclude that it was “the imperatives of class rule that drove the United States to expand its hegemony worldwide, the warping of the American political economy through excessive military spending, [and caused] the purges and witch hunts, and the Cold War’s adverse effect on the black community and unions.”

The final chapter delves into the Cold War’s effect on Third World nations, which suffered from proxy wars and regime change operations. The era’s victims and dissidents are spotlighted, and it is hoped that their “wisdom and courage may yet inspire a new generation of radicals”.

Again, the authors cite the rabid anti-Communist General MacArthur, of all people, who asserted that during the Cold War the US government “kept us in a perpetual state of fear—kept us in a perpetual stampede of patriotic fervor—with the cry of a grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”

The Cold War was started by Winston Churchill and Harry Truman despite having no fear of any Soviet military threat. General Walter Bedell Smith became the Central Intelligence Agency’s second director (1950-3). He had been General Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff and Truman’s ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was so confident that the Soviets would not “undertake a deliberate military attack on . . . our concentrations of aircraft at Wiesbaden [Germany]” that he would “not hesitate to go there and sit on the field myself.”

The authors’ conclusion about the Cold War:

As brutal a leader as he was, Stalin cannot be held singularly responsible for starting the Cold War if we consider that the US controlled more than 2,000 bases and 30,000 military installations at the end of the Second World War, virtually encircling the Soviet Union.

Add to that the USSR was totally impoverished, bankrupted and shattered by Nazi genocide.

US Cold War further waged ‘limited wars’ in Korea and Vietnam where it splashed oceans of napalm, defoliated the landscape, killed millions of civilians, supported drug trafficking proxies in Southeast Asia and Latin America, and unleashed chemical and likely biological warfare, while training repressive police forces in dozens of countries.

The Cold War also devastated communities of leftists and activists in the United States as a result of McCarthyite witch hunts, eroding the prospects for social democracy and included the warping of the US political economy and development of a permanent warfare state; the corruption of science, US universities, and the media; victimization of blacks; and the abuse of civil liberties…and its lingering effects on US political culture, which can be seen in the hysteria about Putin.

So what did the US get out of the Cold War? Enormous profits for military contractors like Lockheed, Boeing, General Dynamics, General Electric, Chrysler, and Hughes Aircraft. These corporations employed legions of former army officers, spent millions of dollars in lobbying, and increasingly financed the political campaigns of candidates from both major parties. US taxpayers were the ones who got fleeced. A 1959 congressional probe led by F. Edward Hébert (D-LA), a Southern conservative Democrat, found that major military contractors had defrauded the government of millions of dollars by pocketing excess profits and charging unnecessary overhead for no-bid contracts. They were given blank checks to produce weapons systems that often-proved to be faulty.

That criminal behavior continues today.

What did the people get? About 20% are poor and many suffer mal-nutrition. Americans rank number 18 in infant mortality. The nation’s infrastructure is in ruins, the schools are imprisoning students who learn far less than most other industrialized nations’ students. The blockaded and attacked small nation of Cuba has better health care and educational benefits than does the richest nation and greatest aggressor in the world.

Trillions of dollars the people could have benefited from pay for murderous projects like Operation Paperclip, which left a legacy of “ballistic missiles, Sarin gas cluster bombs, underground bunkers, space capsules and weaponized bubonic plague.” “Eight of the scientists had worked directly with Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, or Herman Goering, ten were part of the Nazi storm troopers. Six stood trial at Nuremburg…. The best-known Paperclip scientist was Werner von Braun, who was instrumental to the development of guided missiles and the U.S. space program. These operations also included [the CIA and] US army’s biological weapons program at Fort Detrick, Maryland, which led to the creation of anthrax, pest-laden bombs, and herbicides like Agent Orange, which resulted in birth deformities, cancers, and environmental damage in Southeast Asia… and Operation MK-ULTRA sponsored research in the behavioral sciences.” The CIA helped to place Nazi scientists in universities, which also trained secret police in Vietnam.

Under the mad illogic of the Cold War, the United States developed a nuclear stockpile of 22,229 warheads (or 10,948 megatons of TNT) by 1961 compared to 3,320 Soviet warheads (3,420 megatons of TNT). In 1954, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) put forth a plan to attack the Soviet Union with hundreds of bombs, turning it into “a smoking, radiating ruin at the end of two hours.” “The plan involved killing 80 percent of the population in 118 major cities, or 60 million people.” “That same year the United States began to place nuclear weapons in Europe…a clear provocation and threat from the Soviet point of view, one that ignited their own escalation of the arms race.”

The Cold War ideology intertwined with the racist McCarthyism of the times. Key African American leaders for equality, justice and peace were demonized by it—W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King. The Establishment even cajoled some black spokespersons to condemn these heroic fighters for justice, and this atmosphere aided in the assassination of King.

In the 1980s, the most popular president in US history, Ronald Reagan, was the circus master of internal conflicts throughout Central America where he backed gruesome dictators and militarists who massacred and tortured hundreds of thousands of people.

Reagan’s administration supplied over $100 million in weapons to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries, whom Reagan dubbed as “freedom fighters” in the style of the American founding  fathers. In January 1984, CIA agent Duane Clarridge inaugurated a program to mine Nicaragua’s harbors. Two Nicaraguans were killed and fifteen sailors were injured. The World Court condemned the US for mining the harbor in Managua, which caused death and destruction. Its verdict was ignored just as was the verdict that Reagan had sponsored the Iran-Contra crime and defied his own congress that prohibited military support to the Contras. That “patriotic operation” included sending weapons to Iran, which was at war with Iraq, and the US was allied with Iraq.

The crimes of the Cold War are too long for any book review, but the authors do their best to re-reveal them. They point out that during the first Cold War:

The Soviet Union was a perfect foil for the United States because the absence of political freedom could be played up for propaganda purposes. The true danger, however, was that Communism represented an alternative to capitalist industrialization, structured around a command economy, attractive to Third World nations that equated capitalism with colonialism.

Putin’s Russia fulfills a similar function in US demonology…[bad] Russia helps to reaffirm US national identity and visions of exceptionalism and righteousness at a time of escalating domestic crises, and helps rationalize the expansion of NATO and maintenance of huge military budgets. The result is that we are again threatened with the outbreak of a Third World War, with the United States again bearing considerable responsibility.

Without a movement supporting the sovereign rights of Russia and all nations, US politicians and the mass media hypnotize ordinary people with the false slogans that the US fights for democracy; i.e., majority rule. The June 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that 87 percent of Russians have confidence in Putin; 58 percent of Russians say they are satisfied with their country’s direction. The New York Times, however, depicts Putin as a new Tsar, a threat to global stability.

So much for majority rule!

Kuzmarov and Maricano point out that the masses of Russians appreciate their elected leader because he turned the country back to them after the Yeltsin-Clinton plundering. “After the collapse of the Soviet Union, GDP in Russia plunged by forty percent, people lost their social benefits, 75 percent were plunged into poverty, longevity for men dropped to about fifty-seven years and disease epidemics revived. The 1990s was a horrible decade, though the New York Times extolled Boris Yeltsin as a ‘key defender of Russia’s hard-won democratic reforms” and “enormous asset for the U.S.’” Today, economic and social conditions have greatly improved.

The authors provide a wonderful index. They are meticulous in documenting how Establishment politicians and militarists are recreating the Red Scare witch-hunt of the 40s-50s. One of numerous ironies is that its early advocates were Republican Party hawks such as Senator Joe McCarthy and his chief aide Roy Cohn. The right-wing fanatic Cohn was also a key player in the murder of the heroes Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Then he became a loyal friend and lawyer of Donald Trump.

This “gay homophobe, the anti-Semitic Jew, the self-serving, self-loathing one-time chief counsel and henchman of red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy of 1950s infamy…got Trump his tax breaks for Trump Tower. ‘Donald calls me 15 to 20 times a day,’ Cohn said in 1980 to reporter Marie Brenner,” so wrote Michael Kruse for Politico Magazine.

Today, the loudest of new Red Scare proponents are Democratic Party spokespeople and their comrades in the military, the Deep State and the media. Repeating history as a farce, the rekindled Cold War atmosphere makes those who explain Putin’s truly benign motives are subjected to neo-McCarthyite attacks.

The one bone I must pick with the authors is their placement of Bernie Sanders in the same category with protestors against this new Cold War scenario. They write:

As the Bernie Sanders campaign, Occupy Wall Street, and spinoffs like the Democracy Spring movement have reminded us, the priorities of US government elites in both the Republican and Democratic parties are not the same as those of the public at large. Greedy, ideologically driven plutocrats want open markets, control of world resources, and access to military bases that could enable the extension of corporate interests, power, and U.S. hegemony. The public at large wants peace, security, a healthy environment, and access to good jobs, which plutocratic interests threaten at every turn.

Bernie Sanders, however, is no different than other Cold Warriors. He has backed all the Establishment wars for decades. He only voted against the Iraq war but then voted for funding it. Sanders supports Clinton, the Democratic Party and Russiaphobia. The first priority of every person who wishes to live in a peaceful world with justice and equality is to oppose wars of aggression for domination and profit.

I concur with the authors’ final words:

We believe that our only hope remains the development of a citizens’ campaign for peace and justice along the lines of the anti-Vietnam War movement, one capable of restoring some sanity to our foreign policy. We must do everything in our power to try to stop the new Cold War, which threatens even more damage to humanity than the first one, started by Woodrow Wilson following the Russian Revolution and extended by Harry S. Truman & Co.

Fact-Checking the Establishment’s “Fact-Checkers”: How the “Fake News” Story is Fake News

It would be an understatement to say that during U.S. President Donald Trump’s term in office, the issue of truth and falsehoods has been a central topic of political discourse. It was a reoccurring issue throughout the 2016 election and has only continued following his unlikely triumph. While naïve liberals who fetishize Trump would have us believe he is the first political figure to ever lie routinely, the real radical departure of the numerous false statements that seemed to propel, rather than hinder, his success was their lack of refinement and unpredictability.

Shortly after Trump took the oath of office, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway infamously used the phrase “alternative facts” while defending Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s dispute of the attendance drop at the inauguration ceremony from predecessor Barack Obama. The low-hanging fruit of Conway’s remarks were widely interpreted as an instance of ‘Orwellian doublespeak’, but the kernel of truth in them was missed by the self-styled ‘respectable’ media of the establishment who hide behind a guise of objectivity and self-appointed expertise while positioning themselves as omniscient arbiters of truth. Spicer’s claim was indeed an obvious lie, yet the general accuracy of Conway’s point was that what one considers ‘factual’ often comes down to worldview.

For the U.S. political establishment, there is only one acceptable worldview. The terrifying significance of Trump’s victory, which defied their so-called expert polling and turned the New York Times forecast needle 180-degrees, is that the propaganda arm of mainstream media has become irrelevant and the American political system is collapsing. Hillary Clinton’s defeat was the culmination of a steady, inevitable process as evening news audiences have been shrinking for years while print media has approached near obsolescence. Simultaneously, more and more people are turning to alternative sources for news and information, albeit some of it unfortunate.

The introduction of the term “fake news” into the political lexicon has been deliberate and is a desperate attempt by the establishment to maintain its grip on the flow of knowledge. It was strategically re-appropriated by Trump himself, who frequently accuses mainstream media of reporting misinformation. Unfortunately, what he deems “fake news” is merely that which undermines him politically or personally, but there is a truth at the core of his crude attacks on the press. Trump’s labeling of mainstream media as “the enemy of the people” was unintentionally accurate only because he was referring to that which undercuts his own power. Nevertheless, it is an appropriate label considering that 90% of mass media — newspapers, magazines, books, radio, television, film studios, and internet news content — is owned by just six conglomerates in General Electric, News Corp, CBS, Disney, Viacom and Time Warner. Some like G.E. are contracted by the Pentagon.

Frankfurt School critical theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno once wrote of ‘the culture industry’, or how the mechanized standardization of popular culture homogenizes everyday life under capitalism. They would likely cringe at the very idea of the “fake news” phenomenon, which implies that what mass media typically produces is “real.” A billionaire reality television star becoming President is itself the perfect apotheosis of a society governed by a deceptive mass media rendering it docile. Unsurprisingly, the fourth estate was only interested in superficially reducing Trump’s attack on their credibility to his propensity to behave like a despot, something which in their counterfeit world only exists in other countries.

Not only does mass media provide the public with what comic George Carlin called an ‘illusion of choice’, but it acts as a dictation machine for the military-industrial complex. Most notably, virtually all the major news outlets parroted the lies of the Bush administration with its fabrication of evidence that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction to sell the U.S. invasion of Baghdad in 2003. Its monumental failure to hold the Bush administration accountable has directly correlated with the rapidly declining public trust in the media ever since. Perhaps the reason the phrase resonated with voters during the election is because it generally acknowledged the enormous gap between the reported world and the actual one they live in. The late Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote the definitive manual on the media’s propaganda function and social engineering in Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.

In reality, the phrase “fake news” was inserted into the mass political consciousness by the leading US spy agencies, who clearly favored a Clinton victory, through mass media to stoke fears of ‘domestic disinformation’ being spread on social networks by the Russian government. Just as in the lead-up to the Iraq War, major news outlets have simply repeated, instead of scrutinizing, the intelligence community’s unproven claims that Moscow manipulated voters by spreading ‘disinformation’ to influence the election. As a result, the meaning of the expression has been redefined to discredit any news from a political viewpoint that challenges the status quo. The media’s strings have been pulled by a modern equivalent of the C.I.A.’s Operation Mockingbird influence campaign during the Cold War which appears to have been resurrected for its sequel.

Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, was equally responsible for the idiom’s ubiquitous usage and weaponized it in the same manner — not to identify actual disinformation, but to denote any claims, true or false, which tarnished her image. Clinton dismissed the significance of the WikiLeaks release of transcripts of her speeches to Goldman Sachs and leaked emails which exposed her conspiring with the Democratic National Committee for the party’s nomination against her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders. As a diversion, the genuine leaks were conflated with wild speculation on the right-wing fringe about her health and a debunked conspiracy about a child sex ring at a D.C. pizzeria. However, Clinton and the media never disputed the leak origins and authenticity.

This left the American voter a choice between a far right demagogue speaking to their confused grievances, or a career politician with close ties to a constellation of global financiers who professed to be a champion of women’s rights as she accepted millions from Persian Gulf monarchies that stone women to death for committing adultery. Unfortunately for Hillary, it was easy to tell she would be more comfortable at a Bilderberg Group meeting than at your local feminist bookstore. None of this is to say that Trump isn’t cut from the same cloth, but he expertly cast himself as an outsider up against an elite and they played right into his hand.

The foremost purveyor of truly damaging false news has been liberal flagship, the Washington Post. Owned by the world’s wealthiest man in technocrat Jeff Bezos, whose company Amazon provides the C.I.A. with its cloud infrastructure through a $600 million contract with the Defense Department, it is structurally incompatible for such an asset to ever be critical of the military-industrial complex without working against its financial incentive. Despite that enormous and undisclosed conflict of interest, the Post openly collaborated with the C.I.A. to leak unverified claims by anonymous officials that Russia ‘cyber meddled’ to undermine the democratic process in favor of a Trump victory. In a paradigm of yellow journalism, WaPo published such unreliable hearsay uncritically while keeping the evidence and sources entirely secret. They presented the accusations as if they should be taken at face value based on the intelligence community’s supposed infallibility, as if to wipe clean the collective memory of the Iraq War and the disclosures of the NSA’s global surveillance program.

The Washington Post also promoted PropOrNot, an anonymously written website that labeled dozens of news sites, some of which this author has written for, as “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The site alleges that the spreading of articles by the targeted outlets somehow influenced the election, when the overlapping characteristic between the pages smeared was not support for Donald Trump or opposition to Hillary Clinton, but a critical regard for U.S. foreign policy across the political spectrum. PropOrNot also advertises a section entitled ‘related projects’ which mostly lists similar “fact-checking” websites promoted by Google and Facebook. Pseudo-analysis of news has become another weapon of choice for the establishment’s psychological warfare, but unlike grassroots watchdog groups who hold journalism under a critical microscope such as Media Lens and Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, “fact-checking” sites mechanically repeat the pre-approved narratives of corporate media without exception.

The referees of truth endorsed by big tech all don the misleading disclaimer that they have no political affiliations or funding from biased organizations. Take, for instance, the highly cited FactCheck.org, owned by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and bankrolled by its endowment, the Annenberg Foundation. The late billionaire publishing tycoon Walter H. Annenberg is perhaps most known for his massive painting collection donated to prominent museums and his financial support for the arts. However, he spent much of his life in philanthropy for the purpose of rehabilitating the family reputation tarnished by his crooked father, Moses “Moe” Annenberg, who was convicted in one of the largest tax fraud cases in U.S. history during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.

Moe Annenberg started his career working for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst as a distribution manager where he hired mobsters like Lucky Luciano to terrorize their competitors. He later became a media mogul himself using the same illicit tactics until he was indicted for his financial misconduct in 1939. The young Walter Annenberg worked for his father and initially faced similar charges, but they were dropped after the elder Annenberg pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison. While his father took the rap, Walter Annenberg was free to continue to build the family fortune and eventually a media empire, using his riches to carry on the family legacy of tax evasion in the form of charitable donations. The scam of philanthropy is a practice typical of the ultra-wealthy who mask their influence on global affairs under the phony banner of altruism.

Walter Annenberg later became a diplomat as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom under President Richard Nixon and was even knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, whom he frequently hosted at the Annenberg family’s 200-acre estate along with numerous other figures in high society, from Ronald and Nancy Reagan to the deposed Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza. Despite FactCheck.org’s endorsement from Silicon Valley oligarchs as an impartial source, it turns out the Annenberg Foundation also made huge financial donations to the Clinton Foundation over the years and could not be more in the service of the powers that be.

Google also advertises the U.S.-government funded Polygraph.info as a reputable source, a site launched by the C.I.A.’s Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty and Voice of America “news” organizations. RFE/FL is currently based in Prague but was previously headquartered in West Germany during the Cold War where it broadcast its anti-communist propaganda to undermine the Soviet Union. Polygraph.info now serves a similar purpose of information warfare in cyberspace for the revived Cold War 2.0 while presenting itself as a fact-checking source to counter “Russian propaganda” outlets. The C.I.A. openly admitted the true character of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty and its origins on its own website:

On June 1, 1949, a group of prominent American businessmen, lawyers, and philanthropists — including Allen Dulles, who would become Director of Central Intelligence in 1953 — launched the National Committee for Free Europe (NCFE) at a press release in New York. Only a handful of people knew that NCFE was actually the public face of an innovative “psychological warfare” project undertaken by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). That operation — which soon gave rise to Radio Free Europe — would become one of the longest running and successful covert action campaigns ever mounted by the United States.

Meanwhile, the most dubious of all the advocated verification sites is the popular domain Snopes.com. Snopes was founded in the mid-90s originally as Urban Legends Reference Pages, a site started by an apparently ordinary California couple, David and Barbara Mikkelson, to ‘debunk’ urban folklore. Its moniker comes from a fictional family in the Snopes trilogy of novels by renowned modernist writer William Faulkner. In the series, the Snopes family consists of disturbed relatives who commit murder, pedophilia, bestiality, pornography, racism, theft, corruption and other misdeeds. Thus, anyone ‘exposed’ by the site making claims it determines to be false are likened to a seedy member of the Snopes family.

Despite its bottom-up outward appearance, the site never breaks from mainstream news accounts of events. For example, Snopes maintains that the well-documented allegations of ties between the volunteer rescue organization Syrian Civil Defense, AKA the White Helmets, and terrorist groups participating in the Syrian Civil War is “false.” It does not address that there are multiple videos of White Helmets members facilitating and participating in executions, celebrating with militants of Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front, and dumping the bodies of Syrian Arab Army soldiers. The issue is clearly still a matter of dispute among the journalism community as many credible figures, from Seymour Hersh to John Pilger, have expressed skepticism about the group, but Snopes per usual made a one-sided determination. It may be able to disprove tabloid fodder or the likes of Breitbart and InfoWars, but it is no authority on matters of geopolitics and should not be irresponsibly promoted as such. Maybe it should stick to its roots debunking popular myths about whether or not earwigs crawl into human ears.

Since the site expanded to include politics and world events, it became extremely popular over time and now averages millions of views. In the meantime, Barbara and David Mikkelson have gone through a bitter divorce and the latter has retained control of the site, hiring a team of assistants allegedly from its message board to replace his ex-wife. Although it claims to have a tiny staff, Snopes somehow manages to produce an extremely prolific amount of investigative articles. Given its scope and body of work, it is difficult to believe it is only receiving its financial support from ad revenue and GoFundMe campaigns alone or is as small an operation as it claims. Until recently it was in an ongoing legal battle with Proper Media, an advertising agency with a 50% stake in its ownership which for a time put its future in jeopardy.

Snopes does admit to accepting $100,000 from Facebook for participating in their fact-checking partnership effort following the 2016 election. Rather than being punished for its mishandling of the private information of tens of millions of profiles, the social media giant is being rewarded for its failure to protect user privacy from data breaching. Earlier this year, Facebook announced it had partnered with the Atlantic Council, an elite Washington think tank funded by the U.S. State Department, NATO, foreign governments like United Arab Emirates, weapons contractor Lockheed Martin, oil giant Chevron, and features Henry Kissinger on its board of directors. In a disturbing corporate-state collaboration, Silicon Valley has been empowered to be the umpire of determining authentic news and given the authority to stifle subversive content with no oversight or legal ramifications. All of this begs the question — who fact-checks the “fact checkers”? Who gets to determine what is or what isn’t “fake news”? The ruling elite, apparently.

In her memoir, Hillary Clinton made it clear what constitutes fake news — the release of her emails and transcripts of speeches revealing her corruption and subservience to Wall Street. WikiLeaks’ reporting was never impugned, however, therefore what constitutes “fake news” is actually real news or anything that threatens those in power. Instead of encouraging media literacy, the working class is regarded with utter disdain by the establishment who have made clear they must control what the public is allowed to see because they can no longer be trusted to make the correct decision; i.e., vote for the candidate favored by the military-intelligence apparatus. The true purpose behind the “fact-checking” PSY-OP is to stigmatize criticism of the neocon political establishment as a whole and liken anyone who does so to those who believe global warming is a hoax or that the earth is flat.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that Trump, like Barack Obama before him, has only expanded the U.S. war machine as President. Unlikely it may seem to many, however, during the campaign he was the ‘peace candidate’ relative to Hillary Clinton. American voters certainly saw it that way and it may have just tipped the scales of the election. Last year, an academic study was released which made the argument entitled Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House? Its summary states:

Increasingly, a divide is emerging between communities whose young people are dying to defend the country, and those communities whose young people are not. In this paper we empirically explore whether this divide — the casualty gap — contributed to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November 2016. The data analysis presented in this working paper finds that indeed, in the 2016 election Trump was speaking to this forgotten part of America. Even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump. Our statistical model suggests that if three states key to Trump’s victory — Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — had suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House.

One must ascribe to chaos theory to see the forest through the trees in the Trump era. The significance of his victory is that it has been an enormous ‘shock to the system’ where the permitted political space has been opened to anti-establishment narratives across the spectrum. A similar shakeup came ten years ago in the form of the financial crash and not coincidentally the Occupy Wall St. and the Tea Party emerged. While it has the unfortunate side effect of emboldening the worst elements on the far right, it also has the potential to revitalize a left that was, sans Occupy, largely dormant under Obama. Those in power are well aware and the current wave of censorship is not about preventing a Trump re-election so much as it is about neutralizing the left.

The failures of the left throughout the past century, more specifically that of socialism, can also come from within. Social democrats betrayed the working class and participated in the slaughter of WWI until the Bolsheviks ended it. The left of today must be willing to learn from its mistakes more quickly. For example, many have expressed excitement that Bernie Sanders is partnering with Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis to counter the rise of ultra-nationalism worldwide, as far rightist Jair Bolsanaro was just elected the President of Brazil. Yet the social democracy that Sanders and Varoufakis advocate is only the most modest New Dealism to reform capitalism and make it more humane. However relatively progressive it may seem, it will likely prove no match for either the ruling class or the up-and-coming wave of far right populism. The fact that Sanders uses the Nordic model should be enough to know their limitations. Although he wisely jumped ship, it was Varoufakis’ elected SYRIZA coalition in Greece which completely betrayed its constituency by capitulating to EU austerity and NATO expansion. History indicates that only a real alternative in genuine socialism and a working class willing to become militant will the promise of emancipatory politics ever be fulfilled.

Canada: Preferring Military Might over Peaceful Discussion in Korea

Who prefers military might over peaceful discussion to settle a long festering international dispute? Canada, it seems.

It may surprise some that a Canadian general is undercutting inter-Korean rapprochement while Global Affairs Canada seeks to maintain its 70-year old war footing, but that is what the Liberal government is doing.

At the start of the month Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre told a Washington audience that the North Koreans were “experts at separating allies” and that a bid for a formal end to the Korean war represented a “slippery slope” for the 28,500 US troops there. “So what could an end-of-war declaration mean? Even if there is no legal basis for it, emotionally people would start to question the presence and the continued existence of the United Nations Command,” said Eyre at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. “And it’s a slippery slope then to question the presence of U.S. forces on the peninsula.”

The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created to fight the Korean War in 1950, Eyre became deputy commander of the UNC at the end of July. He joined 14 other Canadian officers with UNC.

Responsible for overseeing the 1953 armistice agreement, UNC has undercut Korean rapprochement. At the start of the month the Financial Times reported, “the US-spearheaded United Nations Command has in recent weeks sparked controversy in host nation South Korea with a series of moves that have highlighted the chasm between Seoul’s pro-engagement attitude to Pyongyang and Washington’s hard line.”  In August, for instance, the UN force blocked a train carrying South Korean officials from crossing the Demilitarized Zone as part of an initiative to improve relations by modernizing cross-border railways.

As it prepares to concede operational control over its forces to Seoul in coming years, Washington is pushing to “revitalize” UNC, which is led by a US General who simultaneously commands US troops in Korea. According to the Financial Times, the UN force “serves to bolster and enhance the US’s position in north-east Asia at a time when China is rising.” To “revitalize” UNC the US is pressing the 16 countries that deployed soldiers during the Korean War to increase their military contribution going forward, a position argued at a Vancouver gathering in January on promoting sanctions against the North.

In other words, Ottawa and Washington would prefer the existing state of affairs in Korea because it offers an excuse for keeping tens of thousands of troops near China.

As part of reducing tensions, ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons and possibly reunifying their country, the two Korean governments have sought a formal end to the Korean War. It’s an initial step in an agreement the Korean leaders signed in April and last month they asked the UN to circulate a peace declaration calling for an official end to hostilities. But, Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has responded gingerly to these efforts. In response to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement to seek a formal end to the Korean War in April Freeland said, “we all need to be careful and not assume anything.”

Two Global Affairs Canada statements released last month on the “North Korea nuclear crisis” studiously ignored the Koreas’ push for an official end to hostilities. Instead they called for “sanctions that exert pressure on North Korea to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs completely, verifiably and irreversibly.” The second statement said UN Security Council sanctions “must … remain in place until Pyongyang takes concrete actions in respect of its international obligations.”

Global Affairs’ position flies in the face of South Korea, Russia, China and other nations that have brought up easing UN sanctions on North Korea. Washington, on the other hand, is seeking to tighten sanctions.

Partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the big pond at the start of the year. In April Ottawa also sent a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan from which British, Australian and US forces monitor the North’s efforts to evade UN sanctions. A September Global Affairs Canada statement titled “Canada renews deployment in support of multinational initiative to enforce UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea” noted: “A Canadian Armed Forces maritime patrol aircraft will return to the region to help counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling, in particular its use of ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products. In addition, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary, on operations in the area as part of Canada’s continued presence in the region, was named to contribute to this effort.”

Rather than undermine Korean rapprochement, Ottawa should call for an official end to the 70-year old war and direct the Canadians in UNC to support said position. Canada should welcome peace in Korea even if it may trouble those seeking to maintain 30,000 US troops to “contain” China.

Canada: Preferring Military Might over Peaceful Discussion in Korea

Who prefers military might over peaceful discussion to settle a long festering international dispute? Canada, it seems.

It may surprise some that a Canadian general is undercutting inter-Korean rapprochement while Global Affairs Canada seeks to maintain its 70-year old war footing, but that is what the Liberal government is doing.

At the start of the month Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre told a Washington audience that the North Koreans were “experts at separating allies” and that a bid for a formal end to the Korean war represented a “slippery slope” for the 28,500 US troops there. “So what could an end-of-war declaration mean? Even if there is no legal basis for it, emotionally people would start to question the presence and the continued existence of the United Nations Command,” said Eyre at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace. “And it’s a slippery slope then to question the presence of U.S. forces on the peninsula.”

The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created to fight the Korean War in 1950, Eyre became deputy commander of the UNC at the end of July. He joined 14 other Canadian officers with UNC.

Responsible for overseeing the 1953 armistice agreement, UNC has undercut Korean rapprochement. At the start of the month the Financial Times reported, “the US-spearheaded United Nations Command has in recent weeks sparked controversy in host nation South Korea with a series of moves that have highlighted the chasm between Seoul’s pro-engagement attitude to Pyongyang and Washington’s hard line.”  In August, for instance, the UN force blocked a train carrying South Korean officials from crossing the Demilitarized Zone as part of an initiative to improve relations by modernizing cross-border railways.

As it prepares to concede operational control over its forces to Seoul in coming years, Washington is pushing to “revitalize” UNC, which is led by a US General who simultaneously commands US troops in Korea. According to the Financial Times, the UN force “serves to bolster and enhance the US’s position in north-east Asia at a time when China is rising.” To “revitalize” UNC the US is pressing the 16 countries that deployed soldiers during the Korean War to increase their military contribution going forward, a position argued at a Vancouver gathering in January on promoting sanctions against the North.

In other words, Ottawa and Washington would prefer the existing state of affairs in Korea because it offers an excuse for keeping tens of thousands of troops near China.

As part of reducing tensions, ridding the peninsula of nuclear weapons and possibly reunifying their country, the two Korean governments have sought a formal end to the Korean War. It’s an initial step in an agreement the Korean leaders signed in April and last month they asked the UN to circulate a peace declaration calling for an official end to hostilities. But, Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland has responded gingerly to these efforts. In response to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement to seek a formal end to the Korean War in April Freeland said, “we all need to be careful and not assume anything.”

Two Global Affairs Canada statements released last month on the “North Korea nuclear crisis” studiously ignored the Koreas’ push for an official end to hostilities. Instead they called for “sanctions that exert pressure on North Korea to abandon its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs completely, verifiably and irreversibly.” The second statement said UN Security Council sanctions “must … remain in place until Pyongyang takes concrete actions in respect of its international obligations.”

Global Affairs’ position flies in the face of South Korea, Russia, China and other nations that have brought up easing UN sanctions on North Korea. Washington, on the other hand, is seeking to tighten sanctions.

Partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the big pond at the start of the year. In April Ottawa also sent a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan from which British, Australian and US forces monitor the North’s efforts to evade UN sanctions. A September Global Affairs Canada statement titled “Canada renews deployment in support of multinational initiative to enforce UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea” noted: “A Canadian Armed Forces maritime patrol aircraft will return to the region to help counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling, in particular its use of ship-to-ship transfers of refined petroleum products. In addition, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary, on operations in the area as part of Canada’s continued presence in the region, was named to contribute to this effort.”

Rather than undermine Korean rapprochement, Ottawa should call for an official end to the 70-year old war and direct the Canadians in UNC to support said position. Canada should welcome peace in Korea even if it may trouble those seeking to maintain 30,000 US troops to “contain” China.

The “Economy” of Espionage: Witness K, East Timor and Reframing Whistleblowers

Intelligence and the law ought to work together. Often they do synchronise. Sometimes they clash.   Indeed, it was with some levity that Justice Mason commented on this vexed relationship when ruling on the Australian Secret Intelligence Service’s (ASIS) botched training session at the Sheraton Hotel, Melbourne, in November 1983.

Here’s Mason J: “There is an air of unreality about this stated case. It has the appearance of a Law School moot based on an episode taken from the adventures of Maxwell Smart”. In that case, the High Court decided the identities of the ASIS operatives could be disclosed to the police, but, perhaps, ought not be. While their identities remained concealed, their antics were revealed: thus Mason’s comments.

It’s now three decades later. ASIS operatives are again in the public spotlight and before the courts. Although this time the hijinks has been revealed by one of their own. Moreover, the consequences of this case are more solemn than the Sheraton incident. It is a story about blowing-the-whistle on the entanglement of intelligence, politics and commercial interests. It is also a story about exposing where all three unite, and what happens when they do.

To set the scene some context is in order. It’s 2004. The government of John Howard authorises ASIS to clandestinely bug the offices of the East Timorese Prime Minister and his cabinet in Dili. By doing so Australian officials are able to covertly record internal discussions revealing the East Timorese negotiating position and strategy over the maritime boundaries of an oil and gas treaty known as ‘Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea’ (CMATS). Over its lifetime, that treaty is estimated to have a multi-billion-dollar value, and it was a much-needed source of revenue to the East Timorese government and people.

At this point, keep in mind East Timor is not a hostile country toward Australia. It’s more ally than adversary. Also keep in mind that the Timor bugging operation occurred not too long after the Bali terrorist bombings in Indonesia had killed over 200 people. It also occurred shortly after the bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, by the terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah. Terrorism in the region was thus imposed on the minds and screens of the public and security agencies alike. One might, then, ask legitimate questions about where Australia’s intelligence priorities lay and how intelligence resources were allocated.

Key point (1): Private economic priorities tend to prevail. It would appear that ever-malleable concept, national security, became a metonym for private commercial gain. The covertly obtained information clearly gave the Australian government an advantage over the East Timorese, in the negations. Indeed, the direction and authorisation to conduct the Timorese bugging operation was rationalised under the justification that it was in the interests of Australia’s ‘economic well-being’ (could one even say: advantage?). But this is highly contentious. Specifically because the principal beneficiary of the treaty, to which Australia obtained an undue (possibly illegal) advantage through the intelligence gleaned from the negotiations, would have gone to a private consortium led by Woodside Petroleum. But more on this shortly.

First, a deeper question needs addressing: how is covertly bugging the East Timorese government in the interests of Australia’s economic well-being when the pecuniary benefits of the treaty would have gone to a private consortium? Answers, indeed, became rather vague.

When quizzed on this very issue, the former Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (that supposed impartial body responsible for oversight of the intelligence community), Dr Vivian Thom, had trouble explaining the difference between spying for national security and spying for private commercial gain. ‘National economic well-being’, Thom averred, ‘is a broad umbrella’ and the differentiation is not always clear. ‘Australia’s national security, foreign relations or national economic wellbeing are overlapping categories. You cannot always clearly differentiate between the three’, she said.

Matters of setting intelligence priorities are just as nebulous. As Dr Thom stated, it is up to the Executive or National Security Committee of cabinet (NSC) to decide what is an appropriate intelligence requirement. ‘Let us first remember’, Dr Thom reminds us, ‘that it has to reach the threshold of being in accordance with the government’s requirements. The government’s requirements for intelligence are set by the National Security Committee of cabinet’.

Key point (2): It might not surprise, then, that the NSC is hardly what could be called ‘bi-partisan’ in constitution. Consider the implications of the ‘quotation marks’. It’s comprised entirely of members of the incumbent government. It’s chaired by the PM. And, it sits within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.  The leader of the Opposition can be asked to sit in on major decisions, but such courtesies do not extend to any Independents or Greens. Likewise, its decisions do not require the endorsement of the full cabinet. The government’s assurances that an intelligence agency has been directed to act in the national interest must be taken a face value — a fool’s gold standard of accountability and transparency. Just as Dr Thom explained. In her view, ASIS collected intelligence in line with requirements set by the government. In short, ASIS did what the government asks it to do. Nothing to see here. Next question, please.

Little wonder, then, that after becoming aware of the bugging the East Timorese government protested. It declared Australia’s conduct had rendered the treaty invalid under international law because the negotiations had not been undertaken in good faith. When it comes to the economics of espionage, Uberrima Fides, (the notion of acting in the utmost good faith) appears as flexible as national security.

Using parliamentary privilege, Andrew Wilkie made his feelings about the matter quite clear. The result, as he aptly put it, was ‘one of the richest countries in the world forced East Timor, the poorest country in Asia, to sign a treaty which stopped them obtaining their fair share of oil and gas revenue’. East Timor’s Prime Minister, Rui Maria Araujo, concurred, calling such actions a ‘moral crime’, while former President, Xanana Gusmao, referred to the matter as a ‘criminal act’.

Some intelligence personnel held similar qualms about the operation.  But, just pause for a moment to remember what happens to intelligence personnel that take a stand, or blow that shrieking tin-whistle on the alleged improper use of intelligence.

Still memorable is the resignation of former ONA officer, Andrew Wilkie, due to Australia’s use (or ‘alleged’ misuse) of intelligence to justify the case for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. History tells us what happened here. Does Mr Bolt ring any bells? But that inquiry only took twelve years to become public, and then there was nothing to see there either.

One might also consider the cases of Lance Collins and Martin Toohey or even the most despicable circumstances that led to the death of Mervin Jenkins. And these are just cases that are known to the public.

Now consider the case of Witness K. You might have some clairvoyance of where this is going? K is a former distinguished and decorated ASIS Officer that was directly involved in the Timor bugging operation. K initially sought advice from the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) after being ‘constructively dismissed’ from ASIS in 2008. Again, read between the quotation marks.

But K suspected that his dismissal was more in relation to concerns he raised about the East Timor bugging operation. The IGIS advised K that he could seek private counsel regarding a means of redress. (The IGIS denies having ever received K’s complaint.)

K thereafter sought the advice of distinguished lawyer, Bernard Collaery. After investigating K’s claims, Collaery, determined that the Timor operation likely fell outside ASIS’s remit under the Intelligence Services Act 2001, and likely breached section 334 of the Criminal Code of the Australian Capital Territory 2002. (Alleged reason: the instructions to bug the Timorese buildings were given in Canberra). Collaery and K then sought to have the matter brought before the International Court of Justice, at the Hague.

But the mousetrap slapped. On 3 December 2013, under warrant issued by the Attorney General, ASIO raided Witness K’s home and confiscated his passport, while also raiding the offices of Mr Collaery seizing documents and electronic data relevant to the case. K was thus stymied from leaving the country and providing any testimony.

Key point (3): As Senator Rex Patrick, rightly argues, ‘the government is trying to prosecute people for revealing its crimes’. This is fairly clear: The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions subsequently filed criminal charges against Witness K and Bernard Collaery, for breaching section 11.5 of the Criminal Code and section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act. While the Attorney General theoretically has the power to stop these legal proceedings under the Judiciary Act 1903, he did the opposite.

But, not only did the Attorney General, Christian Porter, consent to the prosecution, the prosecution is now seeking to have the judicial proceeding conducted without commentary, under the provisions of the National Security Information Act 2004. If this occurs, details of the proceeding will remain concealed. The actions of the government may never be heard in an open court. As K might just find out, the law can beat you with its own gavel.

Disturbing point: here is what makes this case so much more distasteful. Aside from the unscrupulous nature of the bugging operation and the persecution of whistleblowers and their legal representatives, there is a glaring impression of government impropriety.

As it turns out, the minister with statutory responsibility for authorising the ASIS bugging operation, former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, went on to consult for Woodside Petroleum after he left parliament in 2008. Note that he took a retainer, too. Several other political links can be established. Again, perceptions are important.  Former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ashton Calvert later obtained a position on its Board of Directors. Other DFAT officers at the time of the Timor operation, including Brendan Augustin and John Prowse, are alleged to have latter worked for Woodside at the managerial level.1 Likewise, the Howard government’s Minister for Resources and Energy, during the Timor operation, Ian MacFarlane, now sits on the Board of Directors. After resigning from his position as National Secretary of the Australian Labor Party, Gary Grey went on to be Woodside’s principal strategic advisor and later joined the Executive Board.2

It is on this point that the proximity between intelligence, policy, and commercial interests seem to have blurred (dissolved?) considerably. By 2007, Grey was holding the Federal position of Minister for Natural Resources Energy and Tourism in the Gillard government. The inequity is clear. Those that speak out are exiled and punished; others appear to act with impunity.

There are significant implications to be realised here. First, there is a conspicuous absence of options available to intelligence personnel that decide to speak out about any impropriety. Whistleblower protections are somewhat muted.

Some protections do fall under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID). But consider what legal scholars, Keiran Hardy and George Williams, have to say about that:

Requirements under the PID will be particularly difficult to satisfy where the information being disclosed relates to the conduct of intelligence agencies. This is because special restrictions on information connected with intelligence agencies due to the greater risk involved to national security.

Essentially what this means: the Australian intelligence community is excluded from any whistleblower protections.

Likewise, limited protections can be found in section 79 of the Crimes Act that provide for disclosures made in the interests of the Commonwealth. But, disclosures about one friendly nation spying upon another are unlikely to be revealed in the Commonwealth’s interest. Overall there are fairly minimal (at best) protections for whistleblowers that disclose security information because of the special status given to intelligence information, and that broad umbrella—‘national security’.

But the Timor case gives rise to other significant issues One is the possibility of an Australian intelligence agency being abused not just for political ends, but also for private commercial gain. One more is the perception that ASIS activities seem to have been aligned with the commercial interests of a private company. Ultimately, the perceived impartiality of ASIS could be diminished.

My key point: the act of whistleblowing is always framed as one of political rebellion, rather than political reform.

Indeed, perceptions of impropriety become evident by posing the simple question: did this ASIS intelligence operation serve the Australian public interest, those of a minister, or a private company? What becomes apparent is that national security is working as a metonym for commercial economic advantage.

There are significant moral and legal questions that need addressing. Witness K and Bernard Collaery are accused of conspiring to reveal secret information. Yet, there in no evidence available that Australia’s national security has ever been compromised by the incident. Nonetheless, proceedings for the case began in the ACT Magistrates Court on 12 September. It lasted 15 minutes before the directives were adjourned. The Attorney General wants that case to be conducted behind closed doors. The defence wants only that which is essential to the preservation of K’s anonymity and national security heard in confidence.

What is remarkable is that three decades ago, Justice Mason, when ruling on the ASIS—Sheraton incident, may have unwittingly summoned a prophecy. ‘For the future,’ he said, ‘the point needs to be made loudly and clearly, that if counter-espionage activities involve breaches of the law they are liable to attract the consequences that ordinarily flow from breaches of the law.’  Whether his prophecy comes true remains to be seen. The case was due to resume on 29 October 2018, but it has been ‘delayed’ until November 1.

  1. See, Fernandes, C., Island Off the Coast of Asia, Instruments of Statecraft in Australian Foreign Policy, (Monash University Publishing: Victoria, 2018): 125-126.
  2. See Cleary, P. Shakedown, Australia’s Grab for Timor Oil, (Allen & Unwin, NSW, Australia, 2007), pp. 93-94.