Category Archives: Whistleblowing

Assange Is A Journalist, Should Not Be Persecuted For Publishing The Truth

Last week, rallies in support of Julian Assange were held around the world. We participated in two #AssangeUnity events seeking to #FreeAssange in Washington, DC.

This is the beginning of a new phase of the campaign to stop the persecution of Julian Assange and allow him to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London without the threat of being arrested in the UK or facing prosecution by the United States.

On April 10 2017 people gathered outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to celebrate the 11th Birthday of WikiLeaks. From Wise-Up Action: A Solidarity Network for Manning and Assange.

The Assange Case is a Linchpin For Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information in the 21st Century

The threat of prosecution against Julian Assange for his work as editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks will be a key to defining what Freedom of the Press means in the 21st Century. Should people be allowed to know the truth if their government is corrupt, violating the law or committing war crimes? Democracy cannot exist when people are misled by a concentrated corporate media that puts forth a narrative on behalf of the government and big business.

This is not the first time that prosecution of a journalist will define Freedom of the Press. Indeed, the roots of Freedom of the Press in the United States go back to the prosecution of John Peter Zenger, a publisher who was accused of libel in 1734 for publishing articles critical of the British royal governor, William Cosby. Zenger was held in prison for eight months awaiting trial. In the trial, his defense took its case directly to the jury.

For five hundred years, Britain had made it illegal to publish “any any slanderous News” that may cause “discord” between the king and his people. Zenger’s defense argued that he had published the truth about Cosby and therefore did not commit a crime. His lawyer “argued that telling the truth did not cause governments to fall. Rather, he argued, ‘abuse of power’ caused governments to fall.” The jury heard the argument, recessed and in ten minutes returned with a not guilty verdict.

The same issue is presented by Julian Assange — publishing the truth is not a crime. Wikileaks, with Assange as its editor and publisher, redefined reporting in the 21st Century by giving people the ability to be whistleblowers to reveal the abuses of government and big business. People anonymously send documents to Wikileaks via the Internet and then after reviewing and authenticating them, Wikileaks publishes them.  The documents sometimes reveal serious crimes, which has resulted in Assange being threatened with a secret indictment for espionage that could keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life.

This puts the Assange case at the forefront of 21st Century journalism as he is democratizing the media by giving people the power to know the truth not reported, or falsely reported, by the corporate media. Breaking elite control over the media narrative is a serious threat to their power because information is power. And, with the internet and the ability of every person to act as a media outlet through social and independent media, control of the narrative is moving toward the people.

WikiLeaks is filling a void with trust in the corporate media at record lows. A recent Gallup Poll found only 32% trust the media. There has been a significant drop in newspaper circulation and revenue, an ongoing decline since 1980. Also, fewer people rely on television for news.

In this environment, the internet-based news is becoming more dominant and WikiLeaks is a particular threat to media monopolization by the elites. Research is showing that independent and social media are having an impact on people’s opinions.

The threats to Julian Assange are occurring when dissent is under attack, particularly media dissent; the FBI has a task force to monitor social media. The attack on net neutrality, Google using algorithms to prevent searches for alternative media and Facebook controlling what people see are all part of the attack on the democratized media..

Free Assange: Don’t Shoot the Messenger. (Jack Taylor for Getty Images)

The Astounding Impact of WikiLeaks’ Reporting

The list of WikiLeaks’ revelations has become astounding. The release of emails from Hillary Clinton, her presidential campaign, and the Democratic National Committee had a major impact on the election. People saw the truth of Clinton’s connections to Wall Street, her two-faced politics of having a public view and a private view as well as the DNC’s efforts to undermine the campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders. People saw the truth and the truth hurt Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.

Among the most famous documents published were those provided by Chelsea Manning on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Prison and the US State Department. The Collateral Murder video among the Manning Iraq war documents shows US soldiers in an Apache helicopter gunning down a group of innocent men, including two Reuters employees, a photojournalist, and his driver, killing 16 and wounding two children. Millions have viewed the video showing that when a van pulled up to evacuate the wounded, the soldiers again opened fire. A soldier says, “Oh yeah, look at those dead bastards.”

Another massive leak came from Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower who exposed massive NSA spying in the United States and around the world. This was followed by Vault 7, a series of leaks on the Central Intelligence Agency’s activities, and Vault 8, which included source code on CIA malware activities.

WikiLeaks has also published documents on other countries; e.g., WikiLeaks published a series of documents on Russian spying.  WikiLeaks has been credited by many with helping to spark the Tunisian Revolution which led to the Arab Spring; e.g., showing the widespread corruption of the 23-year rule of the Ben Ali. Foreign Policy reported that “the candor of the cables released by WikiLeaks did more for Arab democracy than decades of backstage U.S. diplomacy.” WikiLeaks’ publications provided democracy activists in Egypt with information needed to spark protests and provided background that explained the Egyptian uprising. Traditional media publications like the New York Times relied on WikiLeaks to analyze the causes of the uprising.

WikiLeaks informed the Bahrain public about their government’s cozy relationship with the US, describing a $5 billion joint-venture with Occidental Petroleum and $300 million in U.S. military sales and how the U.S. Navy is the foundation of Bahrain’s national security.

John Pilger describes WikiLeaks’ documents, writing, “No investigative journalism in my lifetime can equal the importance of what WikiLeaks has done in calling rapacious power to account.”

Free Assange rally at the White House, June 19, 2018. From Gateway Pundit.

Assange Character Assassination And Embassy Imprisonment

Julian Assange made powerful enemies in governments around the world, corporate media, and big business because he burst false narratives with the truth. As a result, governments fought back, including the United States,  Great Britain, and Sweden, which has led to Assange being trapped in the embassy of Ecuador in London for six years.

The root of the incarceration were allegations in Sweden. Sweden’s charges against Assange were initially dropped by the chief prosecutor, two weeks later they found a prosecutor to pursue a rape investigation. One of the women had CIA connections and bragged about her relationship with Assange in tweets she tried to erase. She even published a 7-step program for legal revenge against lovers. The actions of the women do not seem to show rape or any kind of abuse. One woman held a party with him after the encounter and another went out to eat with him.  In November 2016, Assange was interviewed by Swedish prosecutors for four hours at the Ecuadorian embassy. In December 2016, Assange published tweets showing his innocence and the sex was consensual. Without making a statement on Assange’s guilt, the Swedish investigators dropped the charges in May 2017. The statute of limitations for Swedish charges will be up in 2020.

As John Pilger pointed out:

Katrin Axelsson and Lisa Longstaff of Women Against Rape summed it up when they wrote, ‘The allegations against [Assange] are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder, and destruction… The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will.’

Assange is still trapped in the embassy as he would be arrested for violating his bail six years ago. But, the real threat to Assange is the possibility of a secret indictment against him in the United States for espionage. US and British officials have refused to tell Assange’s lawyers whether there was a sealed indictment or a sealed extradition order against him. Former CIA Director, now Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo has described WikiLeaks as a non-state hostile intelligence service and described his actions as not protected by the First Amendment. In April 2017, CNN reported, “US authorities have prepared charges to seek the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.” The Obama Justice Department determined it would be difficult to bring charges against Assange because WikiLeaks wasn’t alone in publishing documents stolen by Manning but the Trump DOJ believes he could be charged as an accomplice with Edward Snowden.

When the president campaigned, Trump said he loved WikiLeaks and regularly touted their disclosures. But, in April 2017, Attorney General Jeff Session said that Assange’s arrest is a “priority.”

Time To Stop The Persecution Of Julian Assange

The smearing of Assange sought to discredit him and undermine the important journalism of WikiLeaks. Caitlin Johnstone writes that they smear him because “they can kill all sympathy for him and his outlet, it’s as good for their agendas as actually killing him.”

Even with this character assassination many people still support Assange. This was seen during the #Unity4J online vigil, which saw the participation of activists, journalists, whistleblowers and filmmakers calling for the end of Assange’s solitary confinement and his release. This was followed a week later by 20 protests around the world calling for Assange’s release.

Julian Assange has opened journalism’s democracy door; the power to report is being redistributed, government employees and corporate whistleblowers have been empowered and greater transparency is becoming a reality. The people of the United States should demand that Assange not face prosecution and embrace a 21st Century democratized media that provides greater transparency and accurate information about what government and business interests are doing. Prosecuting a news organization for publishing the truth, should be rejected and Assange should be freed.

You can support Julian Assange by spreading the word in your communities about what is happening to him and why. You can also show support for him on social media. We will continue to let you know when there are actions planned. And you can support the WikiLeaks Legal Defense Fund, run by the Courage Foundation*, at IAmWikiLeaks.org.

* Kevin Zeese is on the advisory board of the Courage Foundation.

America’s Descent Into Despotism: Finding Our Source of Power Within

The United States is in a major upheaval. Trump’s cabinet shake-up moves the country into an alarming direction. From the nomination of torturer Gina Haspel as the head of the Central Intelligence Agency to Mike Pompeo, former CIA Director and a vocal opponent of the nuclear deal with Iran as new secretary of state, his selection exposes the White House’s dangerous kill instincts.

An ultimatum came with the president’s appointment of John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations as his 3rd national security advisor. Bolton, who served in the George W. Bush administration is notorious for his hawkishness, with a great zeal for military action against Iran and North Korea. This rearranging of the deck chairs in the sinking empire signals the great calamity of foreign policy ahead with potential threats of war.

In this seeming free-fall toward despotism, what can ordinary people do? Tackling corruption of our political system and averting a doomed future requires us to truly understand the problems we are facing. The crisis of representation didn’t just arise with Trump, the new commander in chief. A glimpse of it was shown during the 2008 financial meltdown, which was covered up swiftly by bank bailouts and politics of ‘hope and change’. The truth is that seeds for dystopia have been inside this country all along. The roots of the issues that are now emerging in Trump’s America go back to the very beginning of this nation.

In its modern formation, the United States inspired the world with its torch of liberty and equality. At the same time, this beacon of light had its darkness within. From the onset, America contained internal contradictions manifested as the founder’s hypocrisy and the violation of its own ideals with genocide of natives, slavery of blacks and suppression of women. The Founding Fathers of the United States brought a victory of rejecting the power of the King’s monarchy and pioneered a path for one’s own self-determination. The concept of “a government of laws, not of men” was groundbreaking at that time. Yet without reconciling its own shadow, this nation of law failed to fully shield the republic from the tyranny of the Old World.

Supremacy of reason

The unredeemed darkness found in America’s troubled past was a force inside Western civilization that tries to define history, subjugating other perspectives to its single vision. Europe, with its ethos of separation and objectivity set out to conquer the world, spreading its influence across many continents. This domineering power of reason found its new front of exploration in the New World.

America, driven by the monotheistic goal of Manifest Destiny, expanded its territory with brutality. It swallowed what is edible, assimilating immigrants one by one to its conception of what is civil, while spitting out those that it considered impalatable, relegating them into three-fifths of a person or exterminating them from the earth altogether as savages.

This maddened head centricity was manifested in the structure of a new government. Sheldon Wolin, author of Democracy Inc noted how the framers of the Constitution created a so-called managed democracy, a system that favored elite rule and that “the American political system was not born a democracy, but born with a bias against democracy” (2008, p. 228).

The intellectual elites regarded the democratic majority rule as an irrational force and they feared the tyranny of popular majorities. While the faculty of reason positioned itself as a supreme force, a potential to account its autocratic power was found inside America.

The sovereign power of We the People

Expressed in the preamble of the Constitution “We the People” was faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. This was an intention to shift from the model of government that acts as authority of their lives to one that places power in the hands of ordinary people. In this government established under the rule of the people, the source of legitimacy was not derived from a god or king, but was meant to come from people themselves.

This arrangement of governance was not granted from above. It was first demanded by those who opposed the ratification of the 1787 Constitution that lacked the guarantee of individual liberties. The proponents of the Bill of Rights articulated essential parts of the sovereign power of We the People as a freedom of expression; freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. By building upon First Amendment rights, further efforts emerged from below. From abolitionists’ defiance and the women’s suffrage movement to civil rights and free speech movements, people’s determination for individual autonomy persisted.

Assault on this power of ordinary people intensified with the rise of corporate power in the ‘60s. Manifest Destiny is now carried out with Nike’s slogan of “just do it”. With limited liability and having no human beings in charge, the abstraction of the head inside transnational corporations took flight from the communal ground, plundering their way into the globe, without ever having to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. Giant corporations became a sponsor for this managed democracy, gaining control over media to manipulate public perception, keeping American voters in hostage with the lesser of the two evils charade politics.

WikiLeaks, the rise of cryptographic direct action

In the political winter of the post-911 war on terror, as fear and apathy spread around the globe, a new civic force surfaced online. The waves of whistleblowers began shedding light on the collaborative secrecy of elites that deceive and manipulate the public behind a façade of democracy.

WikiLeaks, with its motto of “privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful”, opened a floodgate of a free flow of information. This world’s first global Fourth Estate embodies the philosophy of cypherpunks– a loosely tied group of online privacy advocates who saw the potential of cryptography to shift the balance of power between individuals and the state. With the idea that cryptography is the “ultimate form of non-violent direct action” (2012, p. 5), WikiLeaks founder and editor in chief Julian Assange built the system of scientific journalism that would give everyday people around the world tools to combat military might and confront the madness of fallen reason that censors free speech.

The invention of the anonymous drop box was truly revolutionary. It enabled anyone to send information securely without a trace of his or her identity. Through the robust decentralized infrastructure built around this game changing technology, WikiLeaks was able to provide unprecedented source protection in the history of journalism. Here, the organization that derived its source of inspiration in American founding ideas, freed the First Amendment that had been captured through a corporate monopoly and co-optation of the media, making it available to people all around the world.

It is through WikiLeaks’ adamant commitment to the principle of free press that former U.S. Army intelligence analyst and whistleblower Chelsea Manning was able to exercise uncompromising free speech and engage in the American tradition of civil disobedience. Manning, whom the late attorney and President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner described as the “conscience of our nation”, let the American public see the US imperialism in action in the Middle East.

In her request for a presidential pardon, Manning stated her commitment to the ideal of America, saying how she was willing to pay the price if it would make this country be “truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.” Through her non-violent cryptographic direct action, she helped America find its conscience.

One individual’s act of courage brought another. Inspired by Manning, Edward Snowden came forward to inform people about the NSA’s mass surveillance. In one of the addresses he made, Snowden also described his act as a public service and connected it with Dr. King’s non-violent civil disobedience. Through his whistleblowing, the former NSA contractor defended individual privacy as fundamental civil rights for all people and tried to preserve the world where people can share creativity, love and friendship freely without every conversation and interaction being monitored and recorded.

Whistleblowers and their faith in ordinary people

From WikiLeaks disruptions to Snowden revelations, courageous act of truth-tellers renewed the faith in the wisdom of ordinary people to govern themselves. Both Manning and Snowden believed in the public’s right to know and held a view that when people are informed, they can make changes and determine their own destiny.

Faith is different than mere belief. It is not about one blindly trusting or passively accepting something. Faith is an active will that requires one to choose out of themselves to believe in something. When established media and trusted institutions failed, Manning chose to put her trust in the journalistic organization that was little known at that time. When the government’s internal mechanisms of accountability were broken, combined with the betrayal of Obama’s campaign promises and his war on whistleblowers, Snowden turned to American journalists whom he could trust by his own judgment of the integrity of their work. They placed faith not in political leaders or authority but in fellow men and women.

It is to this faith in the ability for the wise and knowledgeable public to govern themselves that fearless journalism responded. WikiLeaks, the publisher of last resort, kept its promise to the source by publishing full archives with maximum political impact and bringing information back to the historical record. By doing so, it has become an enemy of the most powerful government in the world, being subjected to legal and extra-legal pressure. Through honoring Snowden’s wishes, journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Barton Gellman broke the story of NSA surveillance and led the Guardian’s independent journalism, making the established media fulfill its duty. In the aftermath of Snowden’s disclosures, when this young whistleblower was stranded in Hong Kong, WikiLeaks demonstrated its extraordinary source protection with journalist Sarah Harrison risking her own liberty to help Snowden attain asylum.

With this faith given by peers, citizens around the world who have been distrusted by their own governments and made powerless began to claim their own power. By recognizing that someone believed in them and sacrificed their lives so that they can be free, they were able to believe in their own ability to protect those they love and preserve rights that they cherish. The will to respond to this faith in one another made it possible for ordinary people to carry out extraordinary acts.

Bitcoin, Innovation without Permission

Contagious courage lit by people’s faith created a fellowship that can withstand the state violence. It began to shift the balance of power, replacing the source of legitimacy from trusted institutions to ordinary people’s trust in one another. As the network of resistance grew, new attacks emerged. Following the release of U.S. diplomatic cables in 2010, WikiLeaks faced the unlawful financial blockade imposed by Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union. When this economic sanction starved the whistleblowing site, destroying 95% of their revenue, the flow of autonomy that helped the organization circumvent economic censorship came from fellow cypherpunks.

Bitcoin, as a peer-to-peer electronic cash was the holy grail of cypherpunks. With its defining feature of censorship resistance and permissionlessness, Bitcoin makes free speech an app that can be distributed across borders and used by anyone regardless of nationality, religion, race, gender or economic status. Here, imagination from computer science redeemed the reason that lost its connection to the heart, by synthesizing bits of isolated knowledge that had created separation and injustice, transforming them into a higher order of unification.

Networks of equal peers emerging around this invention opened up a new avenue of dissent in a form of decentralization. Adam Back, notable cryptographer whose work was cited in the Bitcoin white paper, described cypherpunks as “a state of mind” and explained its philosophy of “writing code” as a “proactive approach to societal change by doing: building and deploying tech – rather than by lobbying politicians or asking permission.”

This path toward decentralization was first taken by the creator of this technology. The anonymity of Satoshi Nakamoto represents the power of ordinary people. Through an act of publishing the white paper under a pseudonymous name and making the protocol open source, the mysterious author gave up ownership and simultaneously gave users control of the software, making it possible for each individual to use it as a tool to govern themselves.

What is enshrined in a piece of mathematics is wisdom of ordinary people that understands that man is corruptible, as well as perfectible and recognizes the security holes inherent in the existing model of governance that requires trust in third parties. It is the wisdom of history that teaches us how the best way to secure the system is not to have levers of control in the first place through which power concentrates, leading to despotism. With a consensus algorithm placed as a foundation, laws can be built that is more immune to man’s fallen nature. With this, idea of a government of laws, not of men can be truly realized. Governance of We the People now becomes possible, where rules of law are validated by consensus of ordinary people as opposed to elected officials having power over them.

Andreas Antonopoulos, a technologist and one of the respected figures in Bitcoin, in his talk titled “Courage to Innovate”, captured new enthusiasm and passion ignited around this technology in a phrase “innovation without permission” and connected it with civil disobedience. He reminded the audience how “almost every important innovation in history starts out being illegal or unregulated” and interesting technology started out with people who forgot to ask permission. Describing technology’s core invention as a platform to scale trust, Antonopoulos described how this is a system that makes it possible for people to make social decisions without hierarchy, whether it is government bureaucracy, corporations or any other institution. This system Antonopoulos characterized as “rules without rulers” is being built by people around the world without central coordination.

Claiming our revolutionary spirit

Our Founding Fathers, no matter how imperfect they were, brought us ideas conceived in a revolutionary spirit. The genius of the Constitution is that it makes fundamental laws and principles of government amendable. The highest law of the land preserved space for people to not accept authority imposed on them and even to revolt against it when it is necessary, by giving ordinary people means to change rules. America indeed was founded on rebelliousness and distrust of their own government, demonstrated in the Declaration that reads “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive… it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and institute a new Government…”

The government brought by our forebears not only allowed dissent, but depended on our rebellion. The realization of the Constitution as the fulfillment of ideals in the Declaration required individuals with a strong and independent mind. It demanded people to develop moral courage to defend these ideals against special interests of single groups or nations and any adversarial forces that try to deny them.

From the civil rights movement to whistleblowers at the frontier of digital liberation, we have seen the awakening of revolutionary spirit in people’s courageous civic action upholding the ideals of this country. The networks from below expands, converging together to build a new global civil society. Bitcoin developers around the world put their knowledge and skills together, making improvement proposals and fixing bugs, striving to meet the demands of all users.

Innovation without permission is enlivening entrepreneurship. Instead of waiting for problems to be solved by politicians or corporate CEOs, working class began to have faith in their ability to make changes, finding strength and resources within themselves. Around this currency, a new economy is now being bootstrapped, with startups and new businesses hiring people and providing them with skills and knowledge, while many other industries are stagnating.

Solutions to the crisis of representation are within us. Ordinary people, through freely associating with one another, can now give birth to the rule of a real democracy, securing Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness for all.

The Isolation of Julian Assange is the Silencing of Us All

In this letter, twenty-seven writers, journalists, film-makers, artists, academics, former intelligence officers and democrats call on the government of Ecuador to allow Julian Assange his right of freedom of speech.

If it was ever clear that the case of Julian Assange was never just a legal case, but a struggle for the protection of basic human rights, it is now.

Citing his critical tweets about the recent detention of Catalan president Carles Puidgemont in Germany, and following pressure from the US, Spanish and UK governments, the Ecuadorian government has installed an electronic jammer to stop Assange communicating with the outside world via the internet and phone.

As if ensuring his total isolation, the Ecuadorian government is also refusing to allow him to receive visitors. Despite two UN rulings describing his detention as unlawful and mandating his immediate release, Assange has been effectively imprisoned since he was first placed in isolation in Wandsworth prison in London in December 2010. He has never been charged with a crime. The Swedish case against him collapsed and was withdrawn, while the United States has stepped up efforts to prosecute him. His only “crime” is that of a true journalist — telling the world the truths that people have a right to know.

Under its previous president, the Ecuadorian government bravely stood against the bullying might of the United States and granted Assange political asylum as a political refugee. International law and the morality of human rights was on its side.

Today, under extreme pressure from Washington and its collaborators, another government in Ecuador justifies its gagging of Assange by stating that “Assange’s behaviour, through his messages on social media, put at risk good relations which this country has with the UK, the rest of the EU and other nations.”

This censorious attack on free speech is not happening in Turkey, Saudi Arabia or China; it is right in the heart of London. If the Ecuadorian government does not cease its unworthy action, it, too, will become an agent of persecution rather than the valiant nation that stood up for freedom and for free speech. If the EU and the UK continue to participate in the scandalous silencing of a true dissident in their midst, it will mean that free speech is indeed dying in Europe. This is not just a matter of showing support and solidarity. We are appealing to all who care about basic human rights to call on the government of Ecuador to continue defending the rights of a courageous free speech activist, journalist and whistleblower.

We ask that his basic human rights be respected as an Ecuadorian citizen and internationally protected person and that he not be silenced or expelled.

If there is no freedom of speech for Julian Assange, there is no freedom of speech for any of us — regardless of the disparate opinions we hold.

We call on President Moreno to end the isolation of Julian Assange now.

List of signatories (in alphabetic order):

Pamela Anderson, actress and activist
Jacob Appelbaum, freelance journalist
Renata Avila, International Human Rights Lawyer
Sally Burch, British/Ecuadorian journalist
Alicia Castro, Argentina’s ambassador to the United Kingdom 2012-16
Naomi Colvin, Courage Foundation
Noam Chomsky, linguist and political theorist
Brian Eno, musician
Joseph Farrell, WikiLeaks Ambassador and board member of The Centre for Investigative Journalism
Teresa Forcades, Benedictine nun, Montserrat Monastery
Charles Glass, American-British author, journalist, broadcaster
Chris Hedges, journalist
Srecko Horvat, philosopher, Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM25)
Jean Michel Jarre, musician
John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Lauri Love, computer scientist and activist
Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst, Presidential advisor
John Pilger, journalist and film-maker
Angela Richter, theater director, Germany
Saskia Sassen, sociologist, Columbia University
Oliver Stone, film-maker
Vaughan Smith, English journalist
Yanis Varoufakis, economist, former Greek finance minister
Natalia Viana, investigative journalist and co-director of Agencia publica, Brazil
Ai Weiwei, artist
Vivienne Westwood, fashion designer and activist
Slavoj Žižek, philosopher, Birkbeck Institute for Humanities

Inglorious Snitching: Adrián Lamo, Chelsea Manning, and Patriotism

The hacking community, like poets, tend to be irritable tribesmen and women. Their modus operandi functions on the stab, the enthusiastic penetration of insecure computer systems and mockery. Their role is as much to instruct as it is to disrupt.

To that end, such figures cut different forms. There is the lonesome soul finding solace in being a nuisance, or the idealist intent on revealing a compromised state of affairs (those working for Anonymous, by way of example). It was questionable whether Adrián Lamo was of the latter breed. According to his father, Mario, he lacked malice though not initiative. “Everything he did was out of curiosity.” Lamo’s views of his own activities suggested less a case of hacking than finding “different ways of seeing.”

Dead at 37 at his Kansas apartment on Wednesday in circumstances that barely struck an interest for most scribblers of the monopoly press, Lamo established his initial claim as one who hacked the Old Gray Lady. In breaking into the New York Times network in 2003, Lamo proceeded to run up $300,000 in data research fees by means of fake usernames, essentially adding himself to the paper’s payroll.

Cingular Wireless, Microsoft and Yahoo! were also accessed, the latter being notable for receiving touch-ups and satirical readjustments to news articles. After an 18 month investigation by the FBI, he was subsequently arrested and convicted for computer fraud, spending time in house arrest.

The now notorious James B. Comey, who was then the US attorney in Manhattan, was less than impressed. “It’s like someone kicking in your front door while you’re on vacation and running up a $300,000 bill on your phone, and then telling you when you arrive home that he had performed a useful service by demonstrating that your deadbolt wasn’t secure enough.”

It was with Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley, with whom he struck historical, if tainted gold. Lamo’s name had ventured far enough to reach the troubled army private who had, over time, amassed a sizeable trove of classified documents noting everything from brutal military engagements to diplomatic gossip in State Department cables. Lamo assumed the role of compromised confessor, drawing upon what he regarded as boasts by Manning.

Lamo, it seemed, had undergone a Damascene conversion. During the course of messaging Manning, a patriotic instinct had taken a gripping hold, though when exactly is unclear. This, from an individual who had shown little sign of it prior. Chat logs obtained via AOL Instant Messenger were thereby surrendered to the FBI, forever marking Lamo as an informant. Manning was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking some 700,000 government records, a term which was commuted by President Barack Obama in January 2017.

An explanation for his motives was quick to come. In a 2011 interview that ran in the film WikiSecrets, Lamo claimed a belief that Manning “couldn’t possibly have vetted over a quarter of a million documents”. She had merely assured herself “that they didn’t contain anything that would cause human harm.”

This criticism on vetting – or its absence – which has varying degrees of plausibility in the scope of information warfare, has also been levelled at WikiLeaks. Such is the distribution, and in some cases relocation, of power when it comes to revealing classified materials. Detractors prefer the deference to paternalism: only the traditional state and its operatives are fit to assess the quality of those secrets.

That aspect of harm, claims Lamo, was understood after his conviction. He was, on reflection, not merely dealing with computer systems, “just ones and zeros” but flesh and blood individuals who might be effected. He had not taken into account the “human cost”. But in becoming an informant, Lamo had decided to inflict another variant of harm – that of terrorising whistleblowers, notably to WikiLeaks, into revealing the dirty laundry of state entities.

This conformed rather neatly with the strategy outlined by the US Army Counterintelligence Center in 2008, whose own classified, and leaked report to WikiLeaks, proclaimed the organisation “a potential force protection, counterintelligence, operational security (OPSEC), and information security (INFOSEC) threat to the US Army.”

A vital strategy here entailed outing, targeting and ruining confidential sources and informants. “Successful identification, prosecution, termination of employment, and exposure of persons leaking the information by the governments and businesses affected by information posted by Wikileaks.org would damage and potentially destroy this center of gravity and deter others form taking similar actions.”

In life, Lamo remained itinerant. He moved repeatedly, and remained homeless for long stretches. “He was a believer,” claimed self-professed colleague and friend Lorraine Murphy, “in the Geographic Cure. Whatever goes wrong in your life, moving will make it better.”

He certainly engendered, if postings on his Facebook profile are anything to go by, strong impressions amongst those who knew him. “He was gifted with a brilliant curious mind that sprouted on a compassionate and loving heart,” goes a note from Saulo.

His name in the battlefield of public engagement was something else. For Julian Assange, he was no less an FBI snitch and poseur. “Lamo, a fake journalist, petty conman & betrayer of basic human decency, promised alleged source [Chelsea Manning] journalistic protection, friendship and support, then sold him to the FBI.”

Lamo’s mother responded with typical maternal distress. Being in the Ecuadorean embassy, speculated Mary Atwood Lamo, had denatured the publisher. “Perhaps if you dealt with what you need to personally, you might feel less mean-spirited and more able to exhibit the ‘basic human decency’ you endorse in your own words and behaviour, Mr. Assange.”

As for Lamo’s death, few eyebrows have been raised, though the conspiratorial wilderness may well dredge up something in due course. “There’s nothing suspicious about his death,” claimed Wichita police officer Charley Davidson. Toxicology tests will only yield results after some weeks, and the Regional Forensic Science Center is still numb on the cause of death.

Lamo’s underreported passing suggests one object lesson: no plaques are made to the tattler, the squealer, the snitch. To them is only owed suspicion, the sense that you might well turn at any given moment. The counterfeit currency that is patriotism only goes so far. The rest is less history than a concerted forgetting.

How “Operation Merlin” Poisoned U.S. Intelligence on Iran

The CIA’s “Operation Merlin,” which involved providing Iran with a flawed design for a nuclear weapon and resulted in an alleged whistleblower going to prison, was the perfect example of creating intelligence in order to justify operations, reports Gareth Porter.

*****

Jeffrey Sterling, the case officer for the CIA’s covert “Operation Merlin,” who was convicted in May 2015 for allegedly revealing details of that operation to James Risen of the New York Times, was released from prison in January after serving more than two years of a 42-month sentence. He had been tried and convicted on the premise that the revelation of the operation had harmed U.S. security.

The entire case against him assumed a solid intelligence case that Iran had indeed been working on a nuclear weapon that justified that covert operation.

But the accumulate evidence shows that the intelligence not only did not support the need for Operation Merlin, but that the existence of the CIA’s planned covert operation itself had a profound distorting impact on intelligence assessment of the issue. The very first U.S. national intelligence estimate on the subject in 2001 that Iran had a nuclear weapons program was the result of a heavy-handed intervention by Deputy Director for Operations James L. Pavitt that was arguably more serious than the efforts by Vice-President Dick Cheney to influence the CIA’s 2002 estimate on WMD in Iraq.

The full story the interaction between the CIA operation and intelligence analysis, shows, moreover, that Pavitt had previously fabricated an alarmist intelligence analysis for the Clinton White House on Iran’s nuclear program in late 1999 in order to get Clinton’s approval for Operation Merlin.

Pavitt Plans Operation Merlin

The story of Operation Merlin and the suppression of crucial intelligence on Iran’s nuclear intentions cannot be understood apart from the close friendship between T Pavitt and CIA Director George Tenet. Pavitt’s rise in the Operations Directorate had been so closely linked to his friendship with Tenet that the day after Tenet announced his retirement from the CIA on June 3, 2004, Pavitt announced his own retirement.

Soon after he was assigned to the CIA’s Non-Proliferation Center (NPC) in 1993 Pavitt got the idea of creating a new component within the Directorate of Operations to work solely on proliferation, as former CIA officials recounted for Valerie Plame Wilson’s memoir, Fair Game.  Pavitt proposed that the new proliferation division would have the authority not only to collect intelligence but also to carry out covert operations related to proliferation, using its own clandestine case officers working under non-official cover.

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, left, leaves the Alexandria Federal Courthouse on January 26, 2016 with his wife Holly, center, and attorney Barry Pollack, after being convicted on all nine counts he faced of leaking classified information to a reporter. (Photo: Kevin Wolf/AP)

Immediately after Tenet was named Deputy Director of the CIA in 1995, Pavitt got the new organization within the operations directorate called the Counter-Proliferation Division, or CPD. Pavitt immediately began the planning for a major operation targeting Iran. According to a CIA cable declassified for the Sterling trial, as early as March 1996 CPD’s “Office of Special Projects” had already devised a scheme to convey to the Iranians a copy of the Russian TBA-486 “fireset” – a system for multiple simultaneous high explosive detonations to set off a nuclear explosion.  The trick was that it had built-in flaws that would make it unworkable.

A January 1997 declassified cable described a plan for using a Russian émigré’ former Soviet nuclear weapons engineer recruited in 1996 to gain “operational access” to an Iranian “target.”  The cable suggested that it would be for the purpose of intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program, in the light of the fact that the agency had not issued a finding that Iran was working on nuclear weapons.

But in mid-March 1997 the language used by CPD to describe its proposed covert operation suddenly changed.  Another declassified CPD cable from May 1997 said the ultimate goal was “to plant this substantial piece of deception information on the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”  That shift in language apparently reflected Tenet’s realization that the CIA would need to justify the proposed covert operation to the White House, as required by legislation.

With his ambitious plan for a covert operation against Iran in his pocket, Pavitt was promoted to Associate Deputy Director of Operations in July 1997.  On February 2, 1998, CPD announced to other CIA offices, according to the declassified cable, to announce that a technical team from one of the national laboratories had finished building the detonation device that would include “multiple nested flaws,” including a “final fatal flaw” ensuring “that it will not detonate a nuclear weapon.”

An official statement from the national lab certifying that fact was a legal requirement for the CIA to obtain the official Presidential “finding” for any covert operation required by legislation passed in the wake of the Iran-Contra affair.

Pavitt obtained the letter from the national laboratory in mid-1999 a few weeks after it was announced he would be named Deputy Director of the CIA for Operations.

But that left a final political obstacle to a presidential finding: the official position of the CIA’ s Intelligence Directorate remained that Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program.  The language of the CIA’s report to Congress for the first half of 1999, which was delivered to Congress in early 2000, contained formulations that showed signs of having been negotiated between those who believed Iran just have a nuclear weapons program and those who did not.

The report referred to nuclear-related projects that “will help Iran augment its nuclear technology infrastructure, which in turn would be useful in supporting nuclear weapons research and development.” The shift from “will” to “would” clearly suggested that nuclear weapons work was not yet an established fact.

A second sentence said, “expertise and technology gained, along with the commercial channels and contacts established-even from cooperation that appears strictly civilian in nature-could be used to advance Iran’s nuclear weapons research and developmental program.” That seemed to hint that maybe Iran already had such a nuclear weapons program.

That was not sufficient for Tenet and Pavitt to justify a covert nuclear weapons program involving handing over a fake nuclear detonation device.  So the dynamic duo came up with another way around that obstacle. A new intelligence assessment, reported in a front page article by James Risen and Judith Miller in the New York Times on January 17, 2000, said the CIA could no longer rule out the possibility that Iran now had the capability to build a bomb – or even that it may have actually succeeded in building one.

Risen and Miller reported that Tenet had begun briefings for Clinton administration officials on the new CIA assessment in December 1999 shortly after the document was completed, citing “several U.S. officials” familiar with it.  The Tenet briefings made no mention of any evidence of a bomb-making program, according to the sources cited by the Times.  It was based instead on the alleged inability of U.S. intelligence to track adequately Iran’s acquisition of nuclear technology and materials from the black market.

But the new assessment had evidently not come from the Intelligence Directorate. John McLaughlin, then Deputy Director for Intelligence, said in e-mail response to a query that he did not recall the assessment.  And when this writer asked him whether it was possible that he would not remember or would not have known about an intelligence assessment on such a high profile issue, McLaughlin did not respond. Pavitt and Tenet had obviously gone outside the normal procedure for an intelligence assessment in order to get around the problem of lack of support for their thesis from the analysts.

A declassified CIA cable dated November 18, 1999 instructed the Russian émigré to prepare for a possible trip to Vienna in early 2000, indicating that Tenet hoped to get the finding within a few weeks. Clinton apparently did give the necessary finding in early 2000; in the first days of March 2000 the Russian émigré dropped the falsified fireset plans into the mail chute of the Iranian mission to the United Nations in Vienna.

Pavitt Suppresses Unwelcome Iran Nuclear Intelligence

Pavitt’s CPD was also managing a group of covert operatives who recruited spies to provide information on weapons of mass destruction in Iran and Iraq.  CPD not only controlled the targeting of the operatives working on those accounts but the distribution of their reports.  CPD’s dual role thus represented a serious conflict of interest, because the CPD had a vested interest in an intelligence estimate that showed Iran had an active nuclear weapons program, and it could prevent intelligence analysts from getting information that conflicted with that interest.

That is exactly what happened in 2001. One especially valuable CPD operative, who was fluent in both Farsi and Arabic, had begun recruiting agents to provide intelligence on both Iran and Iraq since 1995. His talents had been recognized by the CPD and by higher levels of the Operations Directorate:  by 2001 he had been promised an intelligence medal and a promotion to GS14 – the second highest grade level in the civil service.

But that same year the operative reported very important intelligence on the Iran nuclear issue that would have caused serious problems for Pavitt and CPD and led ultimately to his being taken out of the field and being fired.

In a November 2005 court filing in a lawsuit against Pavitt, the unnamed head of CPD and then CIA Director Porter Goss, the operative, identified only as “Doe” in court records, said that one of his most highly valued “human assets” – the CIA term for recruited spies – had given him very important intelligence in 2001. That information was the subject of three crucial lines of the key paragraph in the operative’s complaint that were redacted at the demand of the CIA. For years “Doe” sought to declassify the language that had been redacted, but the CIA had fought it.

It was assumed in press accounts at the time that the redacted lines were related to Iraq.  But the lawyer who handled the lawsuit for “Doe,” Roy Krieger, revealed to this writer in interviews that the redacted lines revealed that the CIA “human asset” in question was an Iranian, and that he had told “Doe” that the Iranian government had no intention of “weaponizing” the uranium that it was planning to enrich.

It was the first intelligence from a “highly-valued” U.S. spy – one who was known to be in a position to know he claimed to know – on Iran’s intentions regarding nuclear weapons to become available to the U.S. intelligence community. “Doe” reported what the spy had said to his supervisor at CPD, according to the court filing, and the supervisor immediately met with Pavitt and the head of CPD. After that meeting the CPD supervisor ordered “Doe” not to prepare any written report on the matter and assured him that Pavitt and the head of the CPD would personally brief President Bush on the intelligence.

But “Doe” soon learned from his own contacts at CIA headquarters that no such briefing ever took place. And “Doe” was soon instructed to terminate his relationship with the asset.  After another incident involving intelligence he had reported on WMD in Iraq that had also conflicted with the line desired by the Bush administration, CIA management took “Doe” out of the field, put him in a headquarters job and denied him the intelligence medal and promotion to GS-14 that he had been promised, according to his court filing. The CIA fired “Doe” without specifying a reason in 2005.

Pavitt did not respond to requests for an interview for this story both at the Scowcroft Group and, after he retired, at his home in McLean, Virginia.

The intervention by Pavitt to prevent the intelligence from Doe’s Iranian asset from circulating within the U.S. government came as the intelligence community was working on the 2001 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program. That NIE concluded that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon, but the finding was far from being clear-cut. Paul Pillar, the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and North Africa, who was involved in the 2001 NIE, recalled that the intelligence community had no direct evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. “We’re talking about things that are a matter of inference, not direct evidence,” Pillar said in an interview with this writer.

Furthermore he recalls that there was a deep divide in the intelligence community between the technical analysts, who tended to believe that evidence of uranium enrichment was evidence of a weapons program, and the Iran specialists, including Pillar himself, who believed Iran had adopted a “hedging strategy” and had made no decision in favor or a nuclear weapon. The technical analysts at the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence Non-Proliferation and Arms Control (WINPAC), were given the advantage of writing the first draft not only on Iranian technical capabilities but on Iranian intentions – a subject on which it had no real expertise – as well, according to Pillar.

The introduction of the intelligence from a highly credible Iranian intelligence asset indicating no intention to convert its enriched uranium into nuclear weapons would arguably have changed the dynamic of the estimate dramatically.  It would have meant that one side could cite hard intelligence from a valued source in support of its position, while the other side could cite only their own predisposition.

Pillar confirmed that no such intelligence report was made available to the analysts for the 2001 NIE. He noted just how rarely the kind of intelligence that had been obtained by “Doe” was available for an intelligence estimate. “Analysts deal with a range of stuff,” he said, “from a tidbit from technical intelligence to the goldmine well-placed source with an absolutely credible account,“ but the latter kind of intelligence “almost never comes up.”

After reading this account of the intelligence obtained by the CPD operative, Pillar said he is not in a position to judge the value of the intelligence from the Iranian asset, but that the information from the CPD Iranian asset “should have been considered by the NIE team in conjunction with other sources of information.”

That lead to a series of estimates that assumed Iran had a nuclear weapons program.

In 2004, a large cache of purported Iranian documents showing alleged Iranian research related to nuclear weapons was turned over to German intelligence, which the Bush administration claimed came from the laptop of an Iranian scientist or engineer. But former senior German Foreign Official Karsten Voigt later revealed to this writer that the whole story was a fabrication, because the documents had been given those documents by the Mujahedin-E Khalq, the Iranian opposition group that was known to have publicized anti-Iran information fed to it by Israel’s Mossad.

Those documents led directly to another CIA estimate in 2005 asserting the existence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, which in turn paved the way for all the subsequent estimates – all of which were adopted despite the absence of new evidence of such a program.  The CIA swallowed the ruse repeatedly, because it had already been manipulated by Pavitt.

Operation Merlin is the perfect example of powerful bureaucratic interests running amok and creating the intelligence necessary to justify their operations. The net result is that Jeffrey Sterling was unjustly imprisoned and that the United States has gone down a path of Iran policy that poses serious – and unnecessary – threats to American security.

• First published at Consortium News

The UK’s Hidden Role in Assange’s Detention

It now emerges that the last four years of Julian Assange’s effective imprisonment in the Ecuadorean embassy in London have been entirely unnecessary. In fact, they depended on a legal charade.

Behind the scenes, Sweden wanted to drop the extradition case against Assange back in 2013. Why was this not made public? Because Britain persuaded Sweden to pretend that they still wished to pursue the case.

In other words, for more than four years Assange has been holed up in a tiny room, policed at great cost to British taxpayers, not because of any allegations in Sweden but because the British authorities wanted him to remain there. On what possible grounds could that be, one has to wonder? Might it have something to do with his work as the head of Wikileaks, publishing information from whistleblowers that has severely embarrassed the United States and the UK?

In fact, Assange should have walked free years ago if this was really about an investigation – a sham one at that – into an alleged sexual assault in Sweden. Instead, as Assange has long warned, there is a very different agenda at work: efforts to extradite him onwards to the US, where he could be locked away for good. That was why UN experts argued two years ago that he was being “arbitrarily detained” – for political crimes – not unlike the situation of dissidents we support in other parts of the world.

According to a new release of emails between officials, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, wrote to Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service on 18 October 2013, warning that Swedish law would not allow the case to be continued. This was, remember, after Sweden had repeatedly failed to take up an offer from Assange to interview him at the embassy in London, as had happened in 44 other cases between Sweden and Britain.

Ny wrote to the CPS: “We have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks. This would affect not only us but you too in a significant way.”

Three days later, suggesting that legal concerns were far from anyone’s mind, she emailed the CPS again: “I am sorry this came as a [bad] surprise… I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend.”

In a similar vein, proving that this was about politics, not the law, the chief CPS lawyer handling the case in the UK, had earlier written to the Swedish prosecutors: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”

In December 2013, the unnamed CPS lawyer wrote to Ny: “I do not consider costs are a relevant factor in this matter.” This was at a time when it had been revealed that the policing of Assange’s detention in the embassy had cost Britain at that point £3.8 million. In another email from the CPS, it was noted: “Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

These are only fragments of the email correspondence, after most of it was destroyed by the CPS against its own protocols. The deletions appear to have been carried out to avoid releasing the electronic files to a tribunal hearing a freedom of information request.

Other surviving emails, according to a Guardian report last year, have shown that the CPS “advised the Swedes in 2010 or 2011 not to visit London to interview Assange. An interview at that time could have prevented the long-running embassy standoff.”

Assange is still holed up in the embassy, at great risk to his physical and mental health, even though last year Sweden formally dropped an investigation that in reality it had not actually been pursuing for more than four years.

Now the UK (read US) authorities have a new, even less credible pretext for continuing to hold Assange: because he “skipped bail”. Apparently the price he should pay for this relatively minor infraction is more than five years of confinement.

London magistrates are due to consider on Tuesday the arguments of Assange’s lawyers that he should be freed and that after so many years the continuing enforcement of the arrest warrant is disproportionate. Given the blurring of legal and political considerations in this case, don’t hold your breath that Assange will finally get a fair hearing.

Remember too that, according to the UK Foreign Office, Ecuador recently notified it that Assange had received diplomatic status following his successful application for Ecuadorean citizenship.

As former British ambassador Craig Murray has explained, the UK has no choice but to accept Assange’s diplomatic immunity. The most it can do is insist that he leave the country – something that Assange and Ecuador presumably each desire. And yet the UK continues to ignore its obligation to allow Assange his freedom to leave. So far there has been zero debate in the British corporate media about this fundamental violation of his rights.

One has to wonder at what point will most people realise that this is – and always was – political persecution masquerading as law enforcement.

A Genuine Actor: Francesco Serpico

There are unconscious actors among them and involuntary actors; the genuine are always rare, especially genuine actors.
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Any artist [person] who goes in for being famous in our society must know that it is not he who will become famous, but someone else under his name, someone who will eventually escape him and perhaps someday will kill the true artist [person] in him.
– Albert Camus, “Create Dangerously”

It ain’t me you’re lookin for, babe.
– Bob Dylan, “It Ain’t Me, Babe:, Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964

Enter

The set was real but illusionary: A legendary old New England hotel dressed festively for Christmas and the holiday season.  Norman Rockwell’s magical realism. The lobby full with merriment, the cozy fire dancing to the sweet sound of violin and piano Christmas music mixed with a subtle alcoholic fragrance.  Main Street U.S.A.  Snow on the street and the classic strains of “White Christmas” in the inner air.  A mythic setting for meeting a legendary actor.

But as I entered the dimly lit set, the legend was nowhere to be seen.  I approached the spot where the musicians were playing and didn’t see him in the room opposite.  Then, as I was greeting two actors with bit parts that I knew (unconscious actors, I should add), out of the shadows came a laughing Russian spy obviously dressed as a Russian spy, one red star on his hat, walking stick in hand.  He and I were there to have a drink and enjoy the music that would allow us to talk privately without being overheard.  A few hours earlier he had sent me a strange message from Epicurus:  “It is impossible to lead a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living pleasantly (‘justly’ meaning to prevent a person from harming or being harmed by another).”

What did this cryptic message mean? The day before I had met a leading expert on the CIA on the same set and we had discussed the criminal activities of the Agency, how they dissembled and lied in their self-declared mission to defeat communism everywhere, even where it didn’t exist.  Those people were great at creating false myths, counter-myths, and Hollywood/media narratives to discombobulate a public already lost in an entertainment culture.  Now I was meeting this crazy Russian whom I heard say to some passing actors that he was a communist, and then he said something in Latin that totally perplexed them, which made him laugh.  A woman approached him and said she liked his hat.  Again he replied in Latin with a Russian accent and her face dropped.  Then we all laughed. She blushed, the scent of flirtation in the badinage. Was this guy serious or a comic having fun?

Off to the bar he and I went for some vino, wisecracks spewing from the mad Russian’s mouth. Heads turned to watch our passage, for even on this movie set, his costume stood out.

The True Man

As we settled in a corner with our drinks, a joyous warmth enveloped us.  Play-acting was fun.  Francesco was good at it.  Here in the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, no one took him for the legendary New York City Detective, Frank Serpico, shot in the face for being a whistleblower before the word became commonplace, and made mythic through the 1973 movie, Serpico.  To the people surrounding us, he was just an amusing guy in an interesting hat, a man having fun with a buddy.

At a round table in front of the chairs we were sitting in, a group of six middle-aged adults sat playing cards. They were not conversing. Frank mentioned that they reminded him of those pictures of dogs playing cards.  He got up and asked them if they were playing for high stakes.  They laughingly said no, just for amusement.  And what game were they playing? I asked.  A children’s game, the woman said. It was a perfect scene from a spoof, and Frank whispered to me, “The masses are deluded with TV, Hollywood, and children’s games.  Let’s bark.”

“Become who you are,” advised Nietzsche.  Frank had done that; had always done it, despite decades of having to escape the mythic masked man Hollywood had made of him when Al Pacino played him in 1973, creating the legendary persona behind which the real person is expected to disappear, held hostage by the mask. While all persons are, by definition, masked, the word person being derived from the Latin, persona, meaning mask, there are those who are nothing but masks – hollow inside.  Empty.  No one home.  Unconscious and involuntary actors living out a script written by someone else.  Not Frank Serpico. He has consistently been an unmasker, a truth-teller exposing the fraud that is so endemic in this society of illusions and delusions where lying is the norm.

The Lone Ranger

Frank has always understood masks. When he was an undercover cop, he used his play acting skills to save his life.  In the recent documentary film, “Frank Serpico,” directed by Antonino D’Ambrosio, he says he told himself: “You’re going on the stage tonight.  The audience is out there.  I told myself I was an actor and I had to sell my role.  I got my training in the streets of New York where I played many roles from a doctor to a derelict and how well I played those roles my life depended on it.” His acting skills were his protection, but these acts were performed in the service of protecting the citizens he had vowed to protect.  Genuine acts.

Shakespeare was right, of course, “all the world’s a stage,” though I would disagree with the bard that we are “merely” players.  It does often seem that way, but seeming is the essence of the actor’s show and tell.  But who are we behind the masks?  Who is it uttering those words coming through the masks’ mouth holes (the per-sona, Latin, to sound through). In Frank’s case, the real man is not hard to find. Never was. From a young age he was incorruptible. When he became a cop and took his oath, he was the same honest guy, though not fully aware of the dishonesty that pervades society at all levels.

When this honest cop was lying in a pool of his own blood on the night of February 3, 1971, having been shot in the face in a set-up carried out by fellow cops, Frank Serpico heard a voice that said, “It’s all a lie.” In that moment as he fought for his life, he realized a truth he had previously sensed but never fully grasped in its awful reality. His honesty, his refusal to be a corrupt cop like so many others, his allegiance to the sacred oath he took when he became a police officer, was returned with a violent snarl by the liars he walked among. And in that moment he was determined to live and return their lies with more truth, which he did in his subsequent eloquent testimony to the Knapp Commission that was investigating police corruption in the New York Police Department because of him.

The After Life

But then came the rest of his life, not a small thing.  Lionized and damned as a “rat” by many cops, recreated through the superb actor’s mask of Al Pacino in the film Serpico, his legend was created by the celebrity machine.  His truth was turned into a Hollywood myth; a true American hero became a cool movie star.  But unlike a movie actor or entertainer, he was still Frankie the honest boy who became an honest cop, and he wanted to become who he was, not an actor playing someone else.

Police work was his “calling,” he told me.  It is a word with deep religious roots.  A vocation (Latin, vocare, to call).  The mythographer Joseph Campbell has written eloquently of “the call” in The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  When one is called by this mysterious voice that many call God, this call to adventure and authenticity – the hero’s way, he terms it – one is faced with a choice whether to accept or refuse.  Campbell writes:

[It] signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.  This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.

From the start of his police work, Frank sensed he was moving in “a zone unknown” and danger lurked along the way, but he had accepted the call.  Like the heroes in all the authentic myths, he could not be sure where it was all leading.  He came to realize that it led to the depths of hell, the frightening underworld through which the hero must transit or perish.  The dark night of the soul.  A near death experience at the hands of the monsters.  Unimaginable torments.

Let Me Be Frank

But dawn broke slowly, the same rosy-fingered dawn that greeted Odysseus as he contemplated the next step on his journey “home” from the war zone.  So Frank left home, set sail for Europe, and although a wounded warrior, he took up the rest of his life.  “Some may say I’m full of it,” he said to me, “but my life has been like a serendipitous dream, one scene after another.”  This may surprise those who think of him only as Frank Serpico, the heroic and honest cop.  But that was a role he played, something he did, not who he was. He has led a colorful, exciting, and adventurous life, but not because of the movie and book about his cop’s life.  His name Frank, after all, means a free man, and Frank is the epitome of a free-spirited soul, always trying to escape others’ definitions of him.  Sitting with our wine amid the music, he said:

I wanted to be who I was before the shooting.  Back then I knew more people and they knew me.  Friends.  Afterwards they made me into their own image.  They were looking for perfection, but I wasn’t perfect.  So I became more guarded and felt I was living under a microscope.  Even among friends, if we were playing a game in which you could make up things, like a word game, and pretend just for fun, and I did it like them, they would look at me as if I couldn’t, that if I did, I was betraying myself as the honest cop.  I had become the legendary honest cop to them, not Frank, a guy who had lived up to his oath to be an honest cop, but who was also a regular person, not a celebrity.  So I’ve had to deal with people being drawn to me because they think I’m a celebrity.  I’m not an actor.  I’m the real thing.

I was drawn to him because I sensed he was a compañero, similar to old, authentic friends I had grown up with in the Bronx.  Guys with consciences, not crooks.  Friends who could laugh and joke around.  From our first meeting we connected: each of us dressed in individual camouflage – he, the bearded, aging Village hippie, concealing a conscience-stricken Italian-American kid from Brooklyn; me, sporting the look of an Irish-American something from the Bronx, concealing a conscience-stricken radical thinker and writer.  Birds of a feather under different plumage, costumes concealing our true identities.  Real play acting.

And then there was that Catholic thing.  Both of us products of New York Catholic families and schools.  Thus conscience does not necessarily make cowards of us all. It also calls to us be honest, brave, and frank, despite the corruption of religious institutions.  Nietzsche again:  “‘Christianity’ has become something fundamentally different from what its founder did and desired….What did Christ deny?  Everything that is today called Christian.”  Frank hated school, and when he attended St. Francis Prep he was beaten by a religious Brother.  Then, when this teacher died and was being waked, Frank looked at him in the coffin and found himself, to his own amazement, crying for the man.  “That’s how deep it goes into you,” he said to me, “you end up crying for your tormentor.”  And while I understood his point of criticism that a corrupt society reaches into the cradle to poison us from the start, I thought there was more to it, some deep human empathy in that boy’s soul.  In the man’s.  Like Nietzsche, I sense in Frank a Romantic at heart.  He once wrote a poem in which he said:

I was taught religion and all about race
I was taught so well I felt out of place

But now I am a man and have no one to blame
So I must forget words like guilty, stupid, and shame.

And with the help of my soul I’ll remember the way
And get back where I was on that very first day.

Then he added in prose:

The God I believe in is not just my God, but the God of all beings no matter what language they speak….I have no use for man-made religion….They profane the name of Christ but none follow in his footsteps save a few perhaps like St Francis and even Vincent Van Gogh.

The few: St. Francis and Van Gogh.  Telling choices.  The wounded artist with a primal sympathy for the poor and the saint who drew animals to him out of love for all beings.  St. Francis Prep where Frank was first wounded by a sadist, a sign of things to come.  And later, the lover of nature who lives in the country and feeds birds that eat out of his hands.  The man who has written a beautiful essay about Henry David Thoreau.  And the artist/genuine actor who writes, plays musical instruments, has acted in theatre, is producing a film about former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, another maverick who has also come in for severe criticism.

The Lying Rats

“What has been your reaction over the years to having been harshly criticized as a “rat” by so many N.Y. cops?” I asked him.

“I took it as a joke,” he said.  “I am a rat.  It’s my Chinese zodiac sign.”  But turning more serious, he added, “I never broke bread with these people, so I never could rat on them.  I was never a part of them.  In fact, when I was asked to wear a wire to record guys I worked with, I said absolutely not.  I wasn’t out to catch individuals, but to warn of corruption throughout the system, from bottom to top in the Police Department.  It’s the system I wanted to change, so in no way was I ever a rat.”

“What sustained you all these years?  Was it faith, love, family – what?

”It was wine, women, and song,” he replied with a smile, as he held up his glass for a toast.

As we were walking through the crowded lobby, a woman was rocking in a rocking chair.  Frank burst into song about a rocking chair to amuse me; then told me he was once sitting outside a café and someone approached him to act in a production of William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life.  He said to the guy, “But I’m not an actor.”  “But you look the part of the Arab in the play,” was the reply.  So he took the part of the unnamed Arab and got to recite the most famous lines: “No foundation all the way down the line. No foundation all the way down the line.”  A refrain that echoes Frank’s take on American society today.  “It’s all a lie” or “No foundation all the way down the line” – little difference.

Until we see through the charade of social life and realize the masked performers are not just the politicians and celebrities, not only the professional actors and the corporate media performers, but us, we won’t grasp the problem.  Lying is the leading cause of living death in the United States.  We live in a society built of lies; lying and dishonesty are the norm.  They are built into the fabric of all our institutions.

Later he quoted for me the preface to that play, words dear to his heart:

In the time of your life, live – so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or any life your life touches.  Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away.  Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world.  Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and kindly heart.  Be the inferior of no man, or of any man be superior.  Remember that every man is a variation of yourself.  No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart.  Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungod-liness or evil.  These, understand.  Have no shame in being kindly and gentle but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret.  In the time of your life, live – so that in the wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.

A Genuine Actor

And so I came to understand those words of Epicurus that this Thoreau-like bon-vivant had sent me.  A pleasant life must be a just life, and if one is wise, and if one prevents people from harming or being harmed by others, one has chosen wisely and well.  That is the way of the genuine actor.  As Nietzsche meant it, a genuine actor is an original, one whose entire life is a work of art in which one begets oneself, or becomes who one is, as the Latin root of genuine (gignere, to give birth, to beget) implies.  In a world of phony actors, Frank Serpico, the real man, stands out.

He stood out long ago when he so courageously came forward to light a lamp of truth on the systemic corruption within the NYPD, and despite paying a severe price in suffering that almost cost him his life, he continues to speak out. Having spent a decade in exile in Europe where he entered into deep self-reflection (“There’s nothing outside that isn’t inside,” he says), he returned “home” still passionately committed to shining a light on all that is evil but taken for normality that harms people physically and spiritually.

To this day his conscience gives him no rest.  He is still fighting by lending his name and presence to cases of police corruption, injustice, racism, the silencing of dissidents, etc. He does not live in the past.  A while ago he protested with some NYC cops the deplorable treatment of the football player Colin Kaepernick by the National Football League.  Just recently he spoke out for justice in the egregious 2004 police fatal shooting of Michael Bell, Jr. in the family driveway in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Supporting a video being distributed to 10,000 registered voters in a quest to get a public inquest, Frank wrote:

This video equals the cell phone footage that captured the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina.  Such compelling and condemning evidence of a cover-up and abuse can no longer be ignored.  For the sake of justice in American policing, Attorney General Brad Schimel and DA Michael Graveley must reopen this investigation if society’s trust in their police is ever to be restored.

But before anyone gets caught up in hero worship of the genuine hero that Frank is (not a pseudo-hero deceptively created by the celebrity and propaganda apparatus), his parting words are worth remembering.  In this corrupt society, you had best not get ensnared in mythic fantasies about heroes coming to the rescue. It ain’t him, babe, it ain’t him you’re looking for.

When you see injustice and corruption, when you open your eyes and see lying and deceit everywhere, you must be your own hero; you must be courageous and act.  “Take care of it yourself,” he says.

Or in the words of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, a book that serendipitously fell into his hands when he was alone in a friend’s humble chalet in the Swiss Alps and shocked him with its relevance to his own experience: “‘This is my way, where is yours?’ thus I answered those who asked me ‘the way.’  For the way, that does not exist.”

In Memoriam: Dr. Shiv Chopra 1933-2018


Growing up in India during the war, Shiv Chopra was shaped by two of Mahatma Gandhi’s guiding principles: “Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the state becomes lawless or corrupt,” and “the first step in fighting injustice is to make it visible.”

On January 7, the former Health Canada scientist and whistle-blower who believed “we should take food out of the economic equation” quietly succumbed to cancer in a Kanata hospice, surrounded by family. Online tributes continue to pour in from all over the world in response to the loss of Chopra’s courageous voice from the front lines of food safety activism.

A microbiologist and drug safety regulator with the Bureau of Veterinary Drugs for 35 years, Chopra is best remembered for leading the resistance to government and bio-tech industry pressure including agro-chemical giant Monsanto to approve bovine growth hormone (rBGH) and other veterinary drugs of questionable human safety. Monsanto insisted on Health Canada’s approval after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rubber-stamped the drugs for licensing.

But Chopra and fellow scientists Margaret Haydon and Gérard Lambert refused, pointing to gaps in Monsanto’s human safety data. The in-house controversy hit the fan at parliamentary committee hearings in 1998, where Chopra delivered unflinching – many say heroic – testimony that blew the lid off government and industry complicity in Health Canada’s controversial drug approval process.

His unflinching insistence on “my duty to speak out” made him the darling of the non-GMO movement, but he refused to wear the hero’s mantle.

“Canadians owe Shiv Chopra a great deal,” Council of Canadians chair Maude Barlow said in a recent Ottawa Citizen interview.

Despite parliamentary assurances to the contrary, Chopra and his colleagues were subject to severe reprisals from their Health Canada bosses for going public. They would eventually be fired for subordination, receiving notice in the mail on the same day in 2004.

Ian Bron, a researcher with Canadians for Accountability, says Chopra “had an ethical code that disregarded the (senior) status of others and he needed to be made an example of. Textbook stuff.”

Chopra was a model scientist who came up against systemic racism and government misconduct almost the moment he entered the civil service in 1968, transforming himself over the years into an anti-corruption warrior inside the health services branch.

The parliamentary hearings produced a list of recommendations around Health Canada’s drug approval process. But none were ever implemented, according to Chopra, who in 2014 founded the Canadian Council on Food Safety and Health to carry on his advocacy for food safety and sustainable agriculture.

After years of grievances and appeals, an adjudicator ordered the reinstatement of Lambert and Haydon but not Chopra. But his son Anil says that his father wasn’t really fighting to get his job back.

“The case didn’t really matter to him. I think that’s lost on a lot of people. We would say to him that he had already won,” says Anil. “You can’t undo that kind of movement, that kind of legacy. That’s what kept him going. He wanted to make sure Canada was a better place after he left.”

• Article first published in NOW magazine

• Photos by Canadian Council on Food Safety and Health

From Gandhi to Catalans, the Revolutionary Movement of Peacemakers

As Trump’s dangerous move on Iran’s nuclear deal and his provocative reaction to North Korea undercut diplomacy, tension is rising for World War III. Discord in the international community has been amplified in conflicts of identity politics across America. Greed and power-seeking leaders’ ambition for profits never end. With ever-increased military budgets, combined with tax cuts for the rich and slashes in health care and public funds, the legacy of imperialism is carried on. Uncertainty created by economic stagnation is generating frustration and anxiety, which is turned into anger and fear. These emotions are then channeled to harness a false sense of nationalism and white supremacy.

In the air of hostility that surrounds us, it is tempting for people to shun those who have opposing views and to respond to hate with even more hate. Resistance can easily be relegated to reactionary rallies. Protests quickly turn into an ideological battle of us versus them, which often results in violence. Yet for real social change to happen, it is imperative for all of us to overcome this loathing toward different views and work together.

There is a force within each person that can counter the hatred that seeks to separate us. Mahatma Gandhi recognized this as the power of peace and applied it to create nonviolent civil disobedience that led to India’s independence from British rule. Now, more than a half century later, a similar peaceful resistance has emerged.

Recently, leading up to the independence referendum on October 1 in Catalonia, Spain’s richest province, Spanish police engaged full force to stop the voting. WikiLeaks founder and editor in chief Julian Assange, who has remained confined to the Ecuadorian embassy in London for more than five years, acknowledged the peaceful act of self-determination by the Catalonian people in facing this police violence. Calling it “the most disciplined Gandhian project since Gandhi,” he said that “its results will spread everywhere.” Peace is a revolutionary force that largely remains untapped. How can social movements be created by this innate transformative power and bring harmony to this divided world?

The great law of peace

The same force of peace that guided Gandhi to fight against the oppression of Britain was present at the beginning of the United States. In history classes, many learned about the American Revolution and the War of Independence, where founders bravely fought for separation from King George. We all know America was founded on revolutionary spirit, but little is known about the quiet strength behind a fiery passion of war at the birth of a nation.

Early colonists, after settling into this New World, interacted with indigenous people. Historians have consistently noted how the original framers of the US Constitution like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin greatly admired the core concepts of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy and their democratic governance that was based on a vision of peace. So what does peace mean?

From Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace to John Lennon’s popular song Give Peace a Chance, the word “peace” is in our everyday vocabulary. Many of us make slogans, carry banners of peace, and march in the streets. In our culture, peace seems to have become a mere symbol and has come to simply indicate the opposite of violence or a lack of conflict. Native Americans had a different conception of peace. Philosopher Jacob Needleman1 described how to them, it is “not as something passive, not as a mere absence of conflict, but as a force that can harmonize the actions and impulses of human life in all their multiplicity and opposition to each other” (p. 215). Peace, to Native Americans, is at the center of their way of life.

Needleman recognized how this peace diverges from European religious and ethical principles that work in duality and supports the “radical separation of the good (however it is understood) and the evil (that which resists the good)” (p. 198). He noted how peace conceived by Native Americans acknowledges interconnectedness of good and evil and it “includes all the forces of life,” even “what we often call ‘evil’” (p. 195). He then described for them “to be at peace means to be at peace with one’s conscience” (p. 196).

The First Nation’s conception of peace calls on each to recognize and respect each other’s differences, even the opinions and viewpoints of those we disagree with or condemn. The Great Law of Peace protects independence and individual liberty, while at the same time bases decision-making processes on consensus rather than majority rule. This wisdom of peace was not only at the root of Native American governance, but also influenced the formation of the US government—in particular, the key concept of decentralized power that was secured by the separation of power and checks and balances incorporated into the US Constitution.

Lost ideals and call for love

This peace placed at the foundation of America is a radical acceptance of differences that recognizes all equally in their uniqueness. Out of this fertile soil that embraces diverse seeds sprang the sprouts of inalienable rights. These include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that were promised in the Declaration of Independence.

Yet this revolutionary idea of peace that enlightened the mind and lit the hearts of early settlers seems to have been cast off by the shadow of the old world of monarchy. As Frederick Douglass reminded us in his famous speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro,” America became “false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.” From the onset, with internal contradictions in the genocide of natives, slavery of Blacks, and the oppression of women, the nation diverged from the ground upon which it stood. The promise of equality in the Declaration became empty words. History, with absence of authors who can take responsibility for their creative power, remained asleep to its potential and fell prey to the darkness within.

As the republic expanded, with a focus on material happiness and short-term pleasure through acquisition, the force of peace retreated into the background. Yet it continued to speak to the hearts of ordinary people who still listened to the cries in the wilderness, awakening impulses for social change.

In the 1840s, women’s suffrage gained strength. Through the emergence of feminism, nature began to speak its silent language of peace. Some recognized the influence of the Iroquois principles of democracy, in which women played an important role. In the mid-1950s, mass protests erupted against racial segregation and discrimination in the southern states, which launched the nationwide civil rights movement. Martin Luther King Jr. found the power of peace that Gandhi had discovered. In his effort to liberate Black people in the struggle for civil rights, he inspired the nation through a true message of peace—its unifying force of love even for one’s enemies. In his speech delivered in 1957 in Montgomery, Alabama, Dr. King said:

Somewhere, somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.

Such is the decentralized power of peace. It inspires all to yield the urge for power in order to open a space for others to come forward, a principle necessary for democratic dialogue.

Rage against the machine

The ’60s brought the further destruction of the democratizing force of peace and at the same time created a resurgence of peacemakers. As the country engaged in military action overseas, the opposition to US involvement in the Vietnam War quickly organized anti-war protests. Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1969 at Woodstock struck a chord in the hearts of many, letting people hear “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” over Vietnam.

As the nation began seeking for answers blowing in the wind, a massive student movement kicked off at UC Berkeley. In the launch of the free speech movement (FSM), Joan Baez, who led the first group of protesters into Sproul Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, echoed Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence. She reminded the crowd of the commitment to act with love in the heart and that students were going to be “nonviolent in thought, word, and deed”.2

The clash of two forces became visible in images of flowers placed in gun barrels. As the youth turned to the hardened America represented by armed police, for a moment a breath of peace was brought back to resuscitate this dying culture. Yet this power of peace upheld by childlike innocence alone was not enough to confront the growing beast of the military industrial complex, which with its insatiable hunger consumes all into its soulless capitalism. As Mario Savio, the spokesperson for the FSM depicted in his passionate speech in December 1964, the “operation of the machine becomes so odious.”

As the rise of corporate power rolled back most progress that consumer advocate groups had made, the rage against this machine was quietly building up. Decades later, a call for an uprising came from southern Mexico, one of the poorest parts of the world, where indigenous people were treated like animals and abandoned by Western neoliberal economic policies. On January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, the people in Chiapas revolted against the Mexican government. This ignited the revolutionary power of peace on the streets of Seattle in 1999. The protest against the World Trade Organization (WTO) spawned a cycle of global social justice movements. Yet this victory was short-lived and the enthusiasm for a different world was crushed by the Bush era’s “war on terror” and a draconian crackdown of dissent, creating a chilling effect and moved society toward a more authoritarian state.

The age of cypherpunk

In the moral ice age of the post-911 world, a new front of courage emerged from the internet. In April 2010, with the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, an unknown website burst onto the global stage. When the government’s internal mechanism of checks and balance had been broken, WikiLeaks opened an avenue for a new accountability. Through this whistleblowing platform, patriotic and liberty-loving men and women found a way to restore the peace of a nation by each choosing to be at peace with their conscience.

Empowered by the vision of cypherpunks, a group that advocates social change with the use of strong cryptography, WikiLeaks engaged in nonviolent information warfare, freeing speech that is censored and oppressed. With its radical acceptance of speech in all forms, backed by innovative technology, WikiLeaks made the First Amendment available to the whole world.

From the election in Kenya and the Icelandic revolution to the Arab Spring and Occupy movements, WikiLeaks’ publications sparked contagious courage, helping open a future where ordinary people armed with knowledge began claiming the power of peace that was for so long stripped away and denied. History that was awakened through this courage is still moving.

Now in Catalonia, as Assange observed, significant events were happening that would change the “relationship between population and state in Western Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” As the Spanish government seized election literature, shut down websites, and threatened politicians as well as the offices of newspapers, the Catalan president gave his people instructions on how to circumvent this blockade and obstruction of free speech. Assange then noted: “When #Catalonia‘s press is Tweeting how to use proxies to avoid voting censorship we are in the age of cypherpunk.” He then provided technical support for people in Catalonia to communicate and organize securely, as they faced Spanish oppression for their right to vote for the referendum.

Currency of radical acceptance

The unchecked power of the dominant elite continues, engaging in the suppression of free speech through economic censorship. Along with control of public media and police, the Spanish government has been trying to seize control of Catalonia’s finances. Assange, who had firsthand experience of this kind of financial warfare with private companies’ illegal banking blockade of WikiLeaks, called people’s attention to the network of resistance that has been steadily growing online.

The invention of Bitcoin was the holy grail of cypherpunks. With features of permissionless, censorship resistant, and unseizable transactions, it was envisioned to become stateless currency that preserves the individual liberty of all. The white paper of this revolutionary decentralized money was published in 2008. It became operational in 2009.

The Iroquois’ law of peace codified in the wampum belt is now being coded into software. It becomes an armory that is made much more secure and immutable to any foreign or domestic attacks. Here, the First Nation’s vision of great peace that inspired its democratic confederation seems to have found its realization in the open source protocol of the consensus algorithm. Security expert and author Andreas M. Antonopoulos calls Bitcoin’s governance model “leaderless”—that which creates decentralized power. He describes how the system motivates people to come to consensus at a very high level and decisions are made by the circle of five constituents: miners, developers, wallets, merchants, and users.

As the era of cypherpunk opened up, the tyranny of the incumbent legacy system gathered up its power to define a new digital age on its own terms. Western liberal democracy, with the arms of technology and transnational corporations, has now expanded throughout the world, placing all into an elaborate web of a financial industrial complex. In this artificial machination of the world, money that has been used as a weapon to wage war and exploit can be automated, with humans no longer in charge. With mass surveillance and control, it can create a total dystopia. Here, the Great Law of Peace enshrined in a piece of mathematics can offer a shield for ordinary people to defend themselves against the sword of power that seeks to control and enslave all living beings into institutional hierarchies.

With Bitcoin, the First Amendment becomes an app that can be distributed across borders indiscriminately to anyone, including those condemned as enemies. Stewarded by developers around the world committed to the shared ideals of cypherpunk, Bitcoin makes its transactions from country to country, from belief to belief, from opinion to opinion, and traverses the way of peace. Having demonstrated its unbreakable integrity for the last eight years, the protocol of radical acceptance continues to evolve, providing an alternative to tyranny without fighting, by each engaging in the creative act of innovation.

As governments all over the world become destructive and old systems begin to crumble, new networks are being made by linking the knowledge of computer science with the wisdom of the First Nations, who have lived in harmony with nature. Now, the West and natives, two minds from the same roots that once diverged paths can come together to begin a new civilization. By each choosing freely to chart the way of peacemaking, social movements can be created. People walking side by side bring this world toward a more perfect union, founded upon a principle of equality that allows everyone to be free.

  1. Needleman, J. (2002). American soul: Rediscovering the wisdom of the founders. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
  2. Nagler, M. N. The search for a nonviolent future: A promise of peace for ourselves, our families, and our world. Maui, HI: Inner Ocean, 2004, p. 202.

Campaign Finance and other Rackets

If you haven’t already, you should check out the article by The New Yorker, “How Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr., Avoided a Criminal Indictment.” To be brief, the Trump family was under investigation in 2012 by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for misleading potential buyers about their Trump SoHo property.

This is being overly concise, but the investigation was dropped after Trump’s attorney made a $25,000 donation to the campaign of the Manhattan District Attorney, Cyrus Vance.

That report by The New Yorker was essentially overshadowed in the media cycle due to another story related to Cyrus Vance. Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer donated $10,000 to Vance’s campaign days after the sexual assault case against Weinstein was dropped.

Anyhow, that monetary figure of $25,000 is a relevant number as it was the amount of money donated from the Donald J. Trump foundation to the Political Action Committee (PAC) of Florida Attorney General, Pam Bondi. Bear in mind, Pam Bondi personally sought a donation from Donald Trump six days before it was received and this occurred while her staff was considering a case against Trump University. Predictably, that case never came to fruition and Bondi was named as a top member of Trump’s transition team.

To be clear, it’s illegal for charities to make political donations. Furthermore, Trump’s organization didn’t properly disclose the source of the contribution by listing another group with a similar name. Despite this horribly unethical and illegal behavior, Donald Trump was merely fined $2,500 by the IRS.

The issue of campaign finance receives a rather cursory level of media attention during every presidential election cycle. However, there are numerous lower-level races, the type that only policy wonks seem to follow, in which the issue is virtually ignored by the press. Unfortunately, these elections fly under the radar of the average voter, such as District Attorney or State Attorney General, even though these are positions that have a tremendous impact on our society.

During the campaign, Donald Trump openly stated that he personally knew the ins and outs of how special interests have corrupted the system. After all, with a smirk, he also alluded to his own role in this systemic corruption, without providing exact details. Hence, that type of rhetoric appealed to his base because they believed that he would reform the system.

Obviously, that hasn’t happened and that brings us back to the present with the latest articles from The New Yorker. This is fantastic investigative journalism. In fact, the content is so impressive that it may leave you wishing that our government officials were acting in the same manner.

Here’s the bitter truth. Often times, the heavy lifting of an important investigation gets spiked at the end by an ambitious bureaucrat. In both of these stories, the Manhattan District Attorney overruled his staff and dropped the case. Suffice it to say, the prison industrial complex is a finely tuned machine as long as the defendants aren’t wealthy white-collar criminals or the social elite.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, like most others in the country, has a history of implementing a two-tiered justice system. Nonetheless, Cyrus Vance had received a lot of positive press as a “progressive” prosecutor by simply recognizing the problems. For instance, in 2014 he allowed the Vera Institute to examine the complete records of his office to examine racial disparities, which earned him a lot of kudos in liberal circles.

However, Vance’s office has seemingly only practiced “progressivism” when it involved wealthy defendants, such as when it dropped the case against Harvey Weinstein despite possessing an audio tape of Weinstein admitting to committing the crime.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has aggressively prosecuted misdemeanor offenses, with minorities being the primary targets. Last year, black and Hispanic defendants were convicted of marijuana possession in Manhattan at rates of 51% and 46% respectively. Whereas, white defendants were only convicted 23% of the time for the same offense. That was the widest disparity in all five boroughs.

This is the same office that is supposed to preside over Wall Street, yet not a single executive of a “Too Big to Fail” bank faced criminal charges after the 2008 mortgage-fraud scandal. The lack of action can’t be blamed on a lack of evidence. Instead, there were several highly-credible whistleblowers who came forward with solid information that should have resulted in putting many white-collar criminals behind bars and creating legal consequences for predatory behavior in the future.

In particular, Matt Taibbi profiled a JPMorgan Chase whistleblower, Alayne Fleischman, who singlehandedly gave a slam-dunk case to the DOJ. However, in the end, Jamie Dimon negotiated a settlement in which the company avoided any criminal charges, didn’t have to admit to any wrongdoing, and the financial penalty essentially served as a tax write-off.

That wasn’t a one-off situation as there were several other whistleblowers who risked their careers all for naught, such as Citigroup executive Richard M. Bowen. However, time and again, the DOJ avoided Wall Street’s power players like the plague. Instead, New York’s prosecutors have built solid careers by targeting vice crimes, such as drugs, gambling, and prostitution. After all, it’s a wise career decision for bureaucrats to avoid confronting our nation’s most powerful white-collar criminals because there’s a better payday in the future. (This is one of the themes of my book series, Rackets.)

One of the central causes behind this systemic corruption is the revolving door between government and the private sector. After serving as the U.S. Attorney General in the aftermath of the largest financial scandal in our nation’s history, Eric Holder returned to the private practice and a multi-million dollar salary.

In fairness, it would be inaccurate to single-out Holder as the only former DOJ official to cash-in on his way out. Holder’s former Assistant Attorney General, Lanny Breuer, went to the same firm for reportedly $4 million a year. In fact, there were other members of Holder’s team at the DOJ who returned to Covington & Burling, which happens to be one of the top defense firms for Wall Street’s high-profile clientele.

There are many ways in which the revolving door has corrupted our system. Most notably, there has been a mass exodus from Capitol Hill to K Street. Remarkably, there are now 434 former members of Congress working as professional lobbyists and the conflict of interest is obvious. Congressmen can make much more money on the backend as lobbyists as long as they play ball for the special interest groups while in office.

This type of quid pro quo relationship is quite visible with government regulators as well. There are too many examples to list in an article, but the current opioid crisis may be the most relevant. It’s no secret that various drug manufacturers and distributors played a major role in the current problem. On the other hand, it isn’t widely known that the DEA regulates those drugs and sets the maximum production levels. The DEA continued setting higher production quotas while the crisis escalated. Bear in mind, many of the former DEA officials who were directly involved in these regulations subsequently found lucrative work with the same drug companies.

Then again, Barack Obama was supposed to “fundamentally transform” the way Washington D.C. functioned. In a campaign speech, he promised to “turn the page on policies that put greed and irresponsibility by Wall Street before the hard work and sacrifice of folks on Main Street.” Understandably, it’s much easier to read a speech than to implement actual political reforms at the highest level. However, Obama never acted upon the progressive rhetoric that launched him into office. Thus, he’s now quite welcome on Wall Street. As a matter of fact, it was reported recently that the Obamas are considering purchasing an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Their potential new home is only a ten-minute drive from Wall Street, which would be very convenient for his next paid speaking gig. As a reminder, just three months after leaving office, Obama accepted a $400,000 speaking fee from the investment bank, Cantor Fitzgerald. Sure, he can read a teleprompter with the best of them, but no one can truly justify such speaking fees in the free market, particularly Wall Street firms that are laser-focused on profitability. That is, unless, such fees are actually helpful for a firm’s bottom line. Hence, there’s no other way to look at such exorbitant fees as anything other than part of an unofficial kickback scheme.

Hillary Clinton deservedly took a lot of flak for participating in this corrupt practice, which, in her case, functioned like a preemptive bribe. Conversely, Obama’s $400,000 speaking gig was more like payment for services rendered. By the way, that $400,000 figure is very symbolic because Obama vetoed a bill that would have reduced pensions for former presidents if their incomes surpass $400,000. Even more symbolic, he vetoed that bill on his last possible day in office.

Obviously, these types of speeches involving former presidents or presidential candidates capture much media coverage. However, this paid-speaking racket is also fairly common among our nation’s most prominent former financial regulators. For instance, Ben Bernanke, the past chairman of the Federal Reserve who presided over the banking industry in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, received $250,000 for a single speech after leaving office. He’s not alone. Virtually, every high-level official from the Federal Reserve or the Treasury Department has participated in this shady practice, including Timothy Geithner, Alan Greenspan, Larry Summers, among many more.

To wrap up, Donald Trump accurately labeled our political system as a “rigged game,” but there may be a bright spot. Trump’s numerous blunders and scandals seem to be providing the public with a valuable education about the flaws of our government. With luck, this newfound attention may force some necessary reforms.