Category Archives: Whistleblowing

Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All

It’s tough to be an engineering student these days, with so many new developments in modern technology and technological knowledge. The course curricula are more crowded than ever and the impact of emerging technologies is monumental. Some engineering professors worry that their students’ busy course schedules prevents them from adequately exploring the liberal arts. Without exposure to the liberal arts, engineering students will lack the broad context that will help them approach their work as a profession, not just a trade.

Pressed as they are now in their undergraduate and graduate courses, engineering students may not appreciate the pressures and challenges they will face in their work after graduation. More than handling the stress that comes from needing to meet commercial or governmental deadlines and standards, they will need to understand the ethical ramifications of their actions. Existing industry standards rarely measure up to the necessary health, safety and reliability requirements in the workplace, marketplace and the environment. Moreover, the news media and social media create an environment that shines a spotlight on the personal responsibility of the engineering professions and the obligation to blow the whistle on misdeeds.

The core curriculum for engineering students must include courses and seminars that explore the ethical responsibility of engineering. Understanding economic and political pressures and, if necessary, whistleblowing obligations are all important matters for engineers. This is the subject of Ethics, Politics, and Whistleblowing in Engineering (CRC Press), a new book edited by Rania Milleron, Ph.D and Nicholas Sakellariou, Ph.D (Rania, my niece, is a microbiologist at the Texas Department of State Health Services and Nicholas is a lecturer at California Polytechnic State University).

One of the goals of Ethics, Politics and Whistleblowing in Engineering is to make technology inclined students realize at the very beginning of their careers that the best kind of engineering comes from a foundation in the applied sciences and the humanities. This engaging book – which will interest anyone interested in professionally applied ethics, regardless of field, is full of short renditions of individual engineers as heroes or bold advocates of changing hazardous procedures and ways of doing business.

The engineers featured in this book are professionals who cannot abide working in corporations where common candor has to be called courage. They demand the right to take their conscience to work.

There are sections in this book on whistleblowing around the world, and on the too passive standards-setting roles of engineering societies (like the Society of Automotive Engineers or the Society of Mechanical Engineers).  Novel interviews with deep thinkers and beloved, creative professors, such as Princeton’s David P. Billington, who combined history and art in his rigorous courses, make a deep imprint on the reader.

Part I, titled “Engineering Leadership,” is meant to stimulate engineering educators to experiment broadly and open-mindedly in liberal education curricula, to promote unpopular but fact-based viewpoints, and to encourage students to learn about the heroic roots of engineering.

Part II recounts stories about engineers having to make excruciating decisions affecting their careers and the public safety when they take on their profit-obsessed corporate bosses or government officials.

Part III – Raising the Bar, “offers creative, concrete, and sustainable engineering solutions. In an age of designs generated by committees or computers… some think that technologists are losing their creativity and imagination.”

The appendix offers abundant resource material for engineering students and teachers. In the 1950s and 1960s, I was pushing the top executives of the auto companies to liberate their engineers to build life-saving, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient motor vehicles. As I learned more about the industry, it became clear that engineering integrity was subordinate to short-term profit goals, frivolous styling, and excessive horsepower.

Providing a climate of conscientious engineering work, instead of the all-too-frequent self-censorship that comes from top-down or myopic dictates, can save corporations from serious trouble – litigation, public anger, and subsequent loss of sales. In the U.S. auto industry, authoritarian corporate bosses presided over technological stagnation that resulted in shrinkage and bankruptcy.

The development of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence industries has occurred without an effective legal or ethical framework. As a result, we are ever reliant on the first-responders. Unfortunately, many engineers working on the front lines have abdicated their role as sentinels. Their long silence must end.

In the coming years, engineers will need a deep wellspring of professional self-respect. And our society will need to expand the laws and institutions to protect engineers when they do step up and do speak out?

This unique book, for which I have written an introduction, argues in many intriguing and compelling ways that we cannot afford to neglect the ethical dimensions of engineering.

The stakes from climate disruption to the military arms race to our public infrastructure to the health and safety of posterity and our planet are so high. So must be the expectations accorded the engineering profession everywhere in our midst.

(There are feasts of abundant references in this book for any reader to dig deeper).

For more information visit: ethicalengineering.org.

Limits of Dissent

When we think of prisons, we tend to think of Alcatraz, Bang Kwang and Belmarsh with their guard towers, iron bars and concrete. But in his forthcoming book, 33 Myths of the System, Darren Allen invites us to imagine a prison with walls made entirely of vacuous guff:

Censorship is unnecessary in a system in which everyone can speak, but only those guaranteed not to say anything worth listening to can be heard.

Is this true? For example, how easy is it to encounter genuinely uncompromised analysis locating the Guardian within a propaganda system designed to filter news, views and voices to serve powerful interests?

It is a key issue because the Guardian is the best ‘centre-left’ newspaper we have. If The Times and Telegraph define the limits of thinkable thought on the ‘mainstream’ right, then the Guardian does the same at the other end of the ‘spectrum’. In other words, the Guardian defines corporate media limits in accepting left views and voices. If it’s not in the Guardian, it’s not going to be anywhere else in the ‘mainstream’.

Are the Guardian‘s famous in-house dissidents willing and able to address this crucial issue? How about leftist firebrand Owen Jones? In November 2017, Jones lamented on Twitter:

I’m barred from criticising colleagues in my column. Weirdly this doesn’t seem to work the other way round.

Jones can tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the corporate media, as long as he doesn’t dish the dirt on his employer. Ironies inevitably abound. Last April, Jones commented:

The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.

Even as Jones was speaking out on this ‘suffocating groupthink’, his comment was being suffocated by his obligation to spare his colleagues’ blushes.

In December 2014, former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook challenged George Monbiot:

@GeorgeMonbiot Guardian, your employer, is precisely part of media problem. Why this argument [on the need for structural reform] is far from waste of energy. It’s vital.

Monbiot brazenly stonewalled:

@Jonathan_K_Cook that’s your view. I don’t share it. Most of my work exposing corporate power has been through or with the Guardian.

The Guardian: ‘Solid And Reliable’

The first rule of Guardian club, then: you do not criticise the Guardian. The second rule of Guardian club… etc.

Far greater hope for the kind of serious criticism we have in mind seems to lie with renowned dissident Glenn Greenwald who worked for the Guardian for more than a year and who helped secure a Pulitzer prize for the paper’s reporting on the NSA story. After all, unlike Jones and Monbiot, Greenwald certainly is willing to criticise the Guardian.

The latest example is his response to the paper’s recent, front-page claim that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange met former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort at least three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy. The Guardian article, which appears to be a stellar example of ‘fake news’, was apparently intended to bolster claims that Assange had conspired with Trump, and with Trump’s supposed Russian allies, to fatally damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to become US president. Greenwald commented:

The reason it will be so devastating to the Guardian if this story turns out false is because the Guardian has an institutional hatred for Assange. They’ve proven they’ll dispense with journalistic standards for it. And factions within Ecuador’s government know they can use them.

Speaking to The Canary, Fidel Narváez a former consul and first secretary at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, insisted that the Guardian‘s claims are entirely false:

It is impossible for any visitor to enter the embassy without going through very strict protocols and leaving a clear record: obtaining written approval from the ambassador, registering with security personnel, and leaving a copy of ID. The embassy is the most surveilled on Earth; not only are there cameras positioned on neighbouring buildings recording every visitor, but inside the building every movement is recorded with CCTV cameras, 24/7. In fact, security personnel have always spied on Julian and his visitors. It is simply not possible that Manafort visited the embassy.

The Washington Post reported this week:

One week after publication, the Guardian’s bombshell looks as though it could be a dud.

No other news organization has been able to corroborate the Guardian’s reporting to substantiate its central claim of a meeting. News organizations typically do such independent reporting to confirm important stories.

WaPo noted that the Guardian ‘has stood by the story, albeit somewhat halfheartedly. It has said little to defend itself amid mounting criticism’.

Indeed, the Guardian has so far merely commented:

This story relied on a number of sources. We put these allegations to both Paul Manafort and Julian Assange’s representatives prior to publication. Neither responded to deny the visits taking place. We have since updated the story to reflect their denials.

But in fact WikiLeaks did deny that the visits took place in a tweeted response to one of the Guardian authors of the article.

In an attempt to encourage a more serious response, Greenwald sent a series of excellent, challenging questions to Guardian editor Kath Viner and journalist Luke Harding. Greenwald has pointed to huge holes in the story and condemned the paper’s hatred of Assange. However, Greenwald has also commented that, apart from the issue of Assange, ‘the Guardian’ is ‘an otherwise solid and reliable paper’. He has repeatedly affirmed this view:

Like I said, I think the Guardian is a solid paper that has good journalists and does good work, and I wouldn’t derive any pleasure from seeing its reputation obliterated by a debacle of this magnitude, though I do think it’d be deserved if the story proves to be false.

He even said:

I think the Guardian is an important paper with great journalists. I hope the story turns out true. But the skepticism over this story is very widespread, including among Assange’s most devoted haters, because it’s so sketchy. If Manafort went there, there’s video. Let’s see it.

Former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook responded:

And finally, in a bizarre tweet, Greenwald opined, “I hope the story [maligning Assange] turns out true” – apparently because maintenance of the Guardian’s reputation is more important than Assange’s fate and the right of journalists to dig up embarrassing secrets without fear of being imprisoned.

Cook indicated the clear limits of Greenwald’s dissent by providing the kind of rare, honest analysis that explains the Guardian‘s role within the propaganda system:

What this misses is that the Guardian’s attacks on Assange are not exceptional or motivated solely by personal animosity. They are entirely predictable and systematic. Rather than being the reason for the Guardian violating basic journalistic standards and ethics, the paper’s hatred of Assange is a symptom of a deeper malaise in the Guardian and the wider corporate media.

Even aside from its decade-long campaign against Assange, the Guardian is far from “solid and reliable”, as Greenwald claims. It has been at the forefront of the relentless, and unhinged, attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for prioritising the rights of Palestinians over Israel’s right to continue its belligerent occupation. Over the past three years, the Guardian has injected credibility into the Israel lobby’s desperate efforts to tar Corbyn as an anti-semite. See here, here and here.

Similarly, the Guardian worked tirelessly to promote Clinton and undermine Sanders in the 2016 Democratic nomination process – another reason the paper has been so assiduous in promoting the idea that Assange, aided by Russia, was determined to promote Trump over Clinton for the presidency.

The Guardian’s coverage of Latin America, especially of populist leftwing governments that have rebelled against traditional and oppressive US hegemony in the region, has long grated with analysts and experts. Its especial venom has been reserved for leftwing figures like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, democratically elected but official enemies of the US, rather than the region’s rightwing authoritarians beloved of Washington.

The Guardian has been vocal in the so-called “fake news” hysteria, decrying the influence of social media, the only place where leftwing dissidents have managed to find a small foothold to promote their politics and counter the corporate media narrative.

The Guardian has painted social media chiefly as a platform overrun by Russian trolls, arguing that this should justify ever-tighter restrictions that have so far curbed critical voices of the dissident left more than the right.

On November 29, we tweeted Greenwald:

Hi @ggreenwald, you have consistently soft-pedalled your criticism of your former colleagues at the Guardian, most recently describing the paper as “solid and reliable'” Will you respond to @Jonathan_K_Cook’s astute and rational criticism of your position?’

At time of writing the tweet has received 57 retweets and 82 likes. Greenwald has been tweeting and must have seen some of these responses and yet has chosen not to reply. We would guess that he finds himself in a pickle: if he attempts to defend his false claim that the Guardian is ‘solid and reliable’, he will be shot down in flames for the reasons described above by Cook. And if he agrees with Cook’s analysis, he risks alienating former colleagues and important allies on the paper.

The conclusion, then, is that Greenwald is following so many Guardian and other ‘mainstream’ journalists before him in simply blanking reasonable, rational questions.

Greenwald and the Progressive Left

Despite defending us against critics in the past, and despite the fact that we are writing from a similar political viewpoint inspired by Noam Chomsky, for whom he has expressed immense admiration, Greenwald has almost completely ignored our work. We cannot remember that he has ever retweeted our media alerts or retweeted any of our tweets (there may have been one or two exceptions). Our Twitter search ‘from:ggreenwald “medialens”‘ suggests very little interest or interaction from his side. We saw no point in sending him a review copy of our new book, Propaganda Blitz, about which Chomsky has said: ‘Great book. I have been recommending it.’ (Email to Media Lens, November 22, 2018) We, on the other hand, have cited, praised and tweeted Greenwald’s work many times.

One might certainly ask why Greenwald would bother with a two-man, tinpot operation? Who are we? But it does seem extraordinary to us that Greenwald comments so much on the UK press whilst apparently ignoring writers who are indisputably the most honest, important and popular critics of the UK press, and of the Guardian in particular.

John Pilger is arguably the finest political journalist of our time and certainly the most high-profile critic of UK corporate media, especially the Guardian. No-one else who has appeared regularly in ‘mainstream’ newspapers and on national TV comes close to matching the honesty and accuracy of Pilger’s criticism. As far as we are aware, Greenwald ignores Pilger’s work. Using the Twitter search engine, we checked for mentions of Pilger, ‘from:ggreenwald “pilger”‘, and found zero mentions in any of Greenwald’s 50,000 tweets. This is exactly like a UK dissident critically analysing US media without mentioning Chomsky or Edward Herman.

In 2011, Jonathan Cook won the prestigious Martha Gellhorn special award for journalism. We have cited above his powerful criticism of the Guardian, lent even more weight by the fact that he worked as a staff journalist at the paper for five years. Cook tells us he has never seen Greenwald mention or retweet anything he has written. In 2014, Greenwald did make a positive comment in response to criticism from Cook:

I’ve long been a fan of your work as well…

Curiously, this ‘fan’ does not even follow Cook on Twitter.

The British historian Mark Curtis is another rare, honest critic of corporate media. Chomsky commented on his book, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (Serpent’s Tail, 2010):

Unearthing this largely hidden history is a contribution of the highest significance, and could hardly be more timely.

Curtis is also highly critical of the Guardian. Last month, he tweeted:

All decent writers must now reflect: do you really want to contribute to an outlet producing utter fabrications in service of the state? Even retweeting G [Guardian] articles should stop, IMO.

Curtis told us he has never seen Greenwald mention or tweet his work.

By contrast, Greenwald can often be found applauding and retweeting Guardian journalists and commentators like Owen Jones and George Monbiot, and, of course, former New Statesman political editor and Guardian contributor, Mehdi Hasan, who now publishes in The Intercept alongside Greenwald. Is Greenwald so reluctant to alienate the Guardian that he is steering clear of UK media analysts who are strongly critical of the paper?

None of this is intended as condemnation of Greenwald.  Perhaps he is right to maintain friendly relations with powerful allies when facing so many heavyweight political enemies in the US. But it is a rare form of cognitive dissonance that praises both the Guardian and Chomsky.

The key point, for us, which has nothing to do with lefter-than-thou sniping, is that this indicates the extraordinary extent to which the best, supposedly ‘centre-left’ media are protected from rational criticism. Even a comparatively honest, Chomskyite journalist like Greenwald is either not willing or not able to tell the whole truth about a paper that has done enormous harm in supporting Blair (still now), attacking Corbyn, and in promoting Perpetual War with endless nonsense about ‘our’ supposed ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians in oil-rich countries like Iraq and Libya. The Guardian has, at last, begun responding to the climate extinction crisis with some urgency, but it has long downplayed the gravity of the crisis and the truth of corporate denialism, while simultaneously promoting high status consumerism and fossil fuel advertising.

And this is why the Guardian and other liberal media are held in such absurdly high regard: very few journalists indeed are willing to subject them to the serious criticism they deserve.

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

The Power of the Documentary

At the same time that John Pilger makes his keynote speech to open his The Power of Documentary Film Festival, you can read the text here.

Breaking the Silence

The Power of the Documentary is an unusual film festival, because its aim is to break a silence that extends across much of film-making, the arts and journalism.

By silence I mean the exclusion of ideas that might change the way we see our world, or help us make sense of it.

There are 26 films in this festival and each one pushes back a screen of propaganda – not just the propaganda of governments but of a powerful groupthink of special interests designed to distract and intimidate us and which often takes its cue from social media and is the enemy of the arts and political freedom.

Documentary films that challenge this are an endangered species. Many of the films in the festival are rare. Several have never been seen in this country. Why?

There’s no official censorship in Australia, but there is a fear of ideas. Ideas of real politics. Ideas of dissent. Ideas of satire. Ideas that go against the groupthink. Ideas that reject the demands of corporatism. Ideas that reach back to the riches of Australia’s hidden history.

It’s as if our political memory has been hi-jacked, and we’ve become so immersed in a self-regarding me-ism that we’ve forgotten how to act together and challenge rapacious power that is now rampant in our own country and across the world.

(pause)

The term “documentary” was coined by the Scottish director John Grierson. “The drama of film,” he said, “is on your doorstep. It is wherever there is exploitation and cruelty.”

I like those words: “on your doorstep”.

What they say is that it’s the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary people that has given us the documentary film at best. That’s the difference.

A documentary is not reality TV.  Political documentary is not the consensual game played by politicians and journalists called “current affairs”.

Great documentaries frighten the powerful, unnerve the compliant, expose the hypocritical.

Great documentaries make us think, and think again, and speak out, and even take action.

Tomorrow at the MCA, we’ll show a documentary called Harvest of Shame directed by Susan Steinberg and Fred Friendly and featuring the great American journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Made in 1960, this film helped pave the way to the first Civil Rights laws that finally ended slavery in the United States, though not the oppression borne of slavery.  It has great relevance in the Age of Donald Trump, and Theresa May and Scott Morrison.

On 9th December, we’ll show a remarkable film entitled I am Not Your Negro, in which the writer James Baldwin speaks not only for African-Americans but for those who are cast aside everywhere, and these include the First Nations people of Australia, still invisible in the country that is unique only because of them.

Next week, at the Riverside, we’ll  show The War Game.

The War Game was made for the BBC in 1965 by Peter Watkins, a brilliant young film-maker then in his early 20s.

Watkins achieved the impossible — he re-created the aftermath of a nuclear attack on a town in southern England. It’s true reality; it’s surreal; it’s truth.

No one has ever matched Peter Watkins’ achievement, or the direct challenge of his art to the insanity of nuclear war.

What he did was so authentic it terrified the BBC, which banned The War Game from television for 23 years.

In one sense, this was the highest compliment. His grainy 48-minute film had scared the powerful out of their wits.

They knew this film would change minds and cause people to question Cold War policies. They knew it would even turn people away from war itself, and save lives.

Today, not a frame of The War Game has been altered — yet it’s right up to date.

Not since the 1960s have we been as close to the risks and provocations and mistakes that beckon nuclear war. The news won’t tell you that. The incessant alerts on your smart phone won’t tell you that. That’s what I mean by ‘silence’.

Governments in Australia – a country with no enemies – seem determined to make an enemy out of China, a nuclear armed power, because that’s what America wants.

The propaganda is like a drumbeat. Our TV and newspapers have joined a chorus of American admirals and self-appointed experts and spooks in demanding we take the final steps to a confrontation with China and Russia.

Donald Trump’s vice president, a religious fanatic called Mike Pence, destroyed this month’s APEC conference with his demands for conflict with China.

Not a single voice in Australia’s privileged, deferential elite spoke out against this madness.

Well paid journalists have become gormless cyphers of the propaganda of war: lies known these days as fake news and spread by the intelligence agencies.

How shaming for my craft.

The aim of this festival is to break that collusive silence  –  not only with The War Game but with documentaries like The War You don’t See and The Coming War on China.

(pause)

And the festival is proud to feature Australian documentaries that have broken silences: Dennis O’Rourke’s haunting Half Life, and Curtis Levy’s The President Versus David Hicks — and Salute, Matt Norman’s film about his uncle, Peter Norman, the most courageous and least known of our sporting heroes.

Mark Davis’s film, Journey into Hell, was one of the first to report the persecution of the Rohingya in Thailand and Burma.

I shall be in conversation with Mark at the MCA next Wednesday. I urge you to come and hear this distinguished Australian journalist and film-maker.

This coming Friday, the 30th, the festival will welcome Alec Morgan, who will introduce his historic film, Lousy Little Sixpence.  This landmark documentary revealed the secrets and suffering of the Stolen Generation of Indigenous Australia.

We owe a debt to Alec Morgan, who made his film in the early 1980s, around the time Henry Reynolds published his epic history of Indigenous resistance, The Other Side of the Frontier. Together, they turned on a light in Australia.

Alec’s film has never been more relevant. Last week the NSW parliament passed a law which, for many Aboriginal people, brings back the whole nightmare of the Stolen Generation. It allows the adoption of their children. It allows Pru Goward’s troopers to turn up at dawn and take babies from birth tables. It was barely news, and it’s a disgrace.

I have made 61 documentaries. My first, The Quiet Mutiny, will be shown immediately after this talk. Filmed in 1970 when I was a young war reporter, The Quiet Mutiny revealed a rebellion sweeping the US military in Vietnam. The greatest army was crumbling. Young soldiers were refusing to fight and even shooting their officers.

When The Quiet Mutiny was first broadcast in Britain, the American ambassador, Walter Annenberg, a close friend of President Nixon, was apoplectic. He complained bitterly to the TV authorities and demanded that something be done about me. I was described as a “dangerous subversive”.

This is certainly the highest honour I have ever received, and tonight I bestow it on all the film makers in this festival. They, too, are dangerous subversives, as all documentary film-makers ought to be.

One of them is the Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez whose film, The Golden Dream, will be shown at the MCA on 2nd December.

This wonderful film takes us on a perilous journey through Central America to the US border. It could not be more relevant.

The heroes are children: the kind of children Peter Dutton and Scott Morrison and Donald Trump would call “illegal migrants”.

I urge you to come and see this film and to reflect on the crimes our own society commits against children and adults sent to our Pacific concentration camps: Nauru, Manus Island and Christmas Island: places of shame.

Of course, many of us are bothered by the outrages of Nauru and Manus. We write to the newspapers and hold vigils. But then what?

One film in the festival attempts to answer this question.

On 6th December, we’ll show Death of a Nation: the Timor Conspiracy, which the late David Munro and I made 25 years ago.

David and I filmed undercover in East Timor when that nation was in the grip of the Indonesian military. We were witnesses to the destruction of whole communities while the Australian government colluded with the dictatorship in Jakarta.

This documentary became part of one of the most effective and inspiring  public movements we’ve known in Australia. The aim was to help rescue East Timor.

There is a famous sequence in Death of a Nation in which Gareth Evans, foreign minister in the Labor governments of the 80s and 90s, gleefully raises a glass of champagne to toast his Indonesian counterpart, Ali Alatas, as they fly in an RAAF plane over the Timor Sea.

The pair of them had just agreed to carve up the oil and gas riches of East Timor.

They were celebrating an act of piracy.

Earlier this year, two principled Australians were charged under the draconian Intelligence Services Act.  They are whistleblowers.

Bernard Collaery is a lawyer, a former distinguished member of the ACT government and a tireless champion of refugees and justice. Collaery’s crime was to have represented an intelligence officer in ASIO, known as Witness K, a man of conscience.

They revealed that the government of John Howard had spied on East Timor so that Australia could defraud a tiny, impoverished nation of the proceeds of its natural resources.

Today, the Australian government is trying to punish these truth tellers no doubt as an example to us all — just as it tried to suppress the truth about Australia’s role in the genocide in East Timor, and in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, just as it has colluded with Washington to silence the courageous Australian publisher Julian Assange.

Why do we allow governments, our governments, to commit great crimes, and why do so many of us remain silent?

This is a question for those of us privileged to be allowed into people’s lives and to be their voice and seek their support. It’s a question for film-makers, journalists, artists, arts administrators, editors, publishers.

We can no longer claim to be bystanders. Our responsibility is urgent, and as Tom Paine famously wrote: “The time is now.”

Charges under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange

Those with a stake in the hustling racket of empire have little time for the contrariness that comes with exposing classified information.  Those who do are submitted to a strict liability regime of assessment and punishment: you had the information (lawfully obtained or otherwise) but you released it for public deliberation.  Ignorance remains a desensitising shield, keeping the citizenry in permanent darkness.

Critics indifferent to the plight of Julian Assange have seen his concerns for prosecution at the hands of US authorities as the disturbed meditations of a sexualised fantasist.  He should have surrendered to the British authorities and, in turn, to the Swedish authorities.  It was either insignificant or irrelevant that a Grand Jury had been convened to sniff around the activities of WikiLeaks to identify what, exactly, could be used against the organisation and its founder.

Cruelty and truth are often matters of excruciating banality, and now it is clearer than ever that the United States will, given the invaluable chance, net the Australian publisher and WikiLeaks founder to make an example of him.  This man, who dirtied the linen of state and exposed the ceremonial of diplomatic hypocrisy, was always an object of interest, notably in the United States.  “He was,” confirmed Andrea Kendall-Taylor, former deputy national intelligence officer for Russia under the director of national intelligence, “a loathed figure inside the government.”

Whether it was the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Department of Justice, or the specific army of investigators assembled by special counsel Robert Mueller III to weasel out material on the Trump-Russia connection, Assange remains a substantial figure who needs to be captured, sealed and disappeared.  Forget any such references to journalism and being a truth teller with obsessive tendencies; for these officials, Assange had become a calculating machine in the information market, a broker in state details and activities, trading and according value to subject matters of his choice.

A gnawing fascination for US authorities persists on whether Assange has a direct, cosy line to the Kremlin.  Fashioned as such, it can be used as a weapon against President Donald J. Trump, and a cover for Democratic villainy and incompetence.  In terms of scale and endeavour, WikiLeaks has been kitted out in the outfit of a guerrilla information organisation. This exceedingly flattering description may well have given Assange a flush of pride, but it assumes a measure of disproportionate influence.  It also ignores the vital issue of how public discussion, which may well translate into voting patterns, can alter policy.  (This, it should be added, remains the big hypothetical: does such information induce an altered approach, or simply reaffirm prejudice and predisposition?  The flat-earth theorist is hardly going to be moved by anything that would conflict or challenge.)

Both the New York Times and Washington Post revealed last Friday that prosecutors had inadvertently let a rather sizeable cat out of the security bag. (That feline escapee was noted by Seamus Hughes, a terrorism expert at the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.) As with so much with matters of secrecy, errors made lead to information gained.  In the filing of a case unrelated to Assange, Assistant US Attorney General Kellen S. Dwyer informed the relevant judge to keep the matter at stake sealed, claiming that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Dwyer, whose remit also includes investigating WikiLeaks, had bungled.  “The court filing,” claimed a meek Joshua Stueve of the US attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, “was made in error.  This was not the intended name for this filing.”

What is not known is the nature of the charges and what events they might cover.  Do they date back to the days of Cablegate or feature updates with the Vault 7 revelations showing the range of cyber tools deployed by the CIA to penetrate mobile devices and computers?  Or do they feature the trove of hacked Democratic emails which constitute a feature of the Mueller investigation?  Charges might well centre on using 18 USC §641, which makes it unlawful for a person to receive any record or thing of value of the United States with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing that it was stolen.  But even there, the issue of press protections would apply.

Prosecutors have previously flirted with conspiracy, theft of government authority and purported violations of the Espionage Act, but the Obama administration, for all its enthusiasm in nabbing Assange kept coming up against that irritating bulwark of liberty, some would say impediment, known as the First Amendment.  Prosecute Assange, and you would be effectively prosecuting the battlers of the Fourth Estate, however withered they might be.

The free speech amendment, however, does not trouble current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who, as CIA director, claimed that, “We have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.”

A niggling concern here lies in Justice Department regulations, as amended by Eric Holder in 2015, which cover the obtaining of information and records from, making arrests of, and bringing charges against members of the press.  As Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Matthew Kahn and Benjamin Wittes point out in Lawfare, one exception stands out with sore attention: “The protections of the policy do not extent to any individual or entity where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the individual entity is … [a] foreign power or an agent of a foreign power”, so defined in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The mania in packaging, ribbon and all, of Assange with those in the Kremlin becomes clear. To make  him a foreign threat takes him outside the scope of press protection, at least when it comes to those desperately drafted regulations.

Since US voters cannot be trusted by the country’s corporate owners and the parties of business to act with any degree of maturity and intelligence, it has been assumed by the political classes that they must have been swayed and manipulated by a foreign power.  Or fake news.  Or news.  That assessment obviates any issue as to whether the Clinton machinery within the Democratic Party did its fair share of manipulation and swaying – but then again, quibbles can’t be had, nor hairs split on this point.  Keeping it local, and attacking the Great Bear fused with Satan that is Russia, frosted with new Cold War credentials, remains the low-grade, convenient alibi to justify why the backed horse did not make it to the finishing line.  To Assange would be small though consoling compensation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Assange, Ecuador and the Dangers of Farce

This is the next stage of the Julian Assange chronicles: from the summit of information disclosures and meddlesome revelations on classified state matters, the Australian rabblerouser now finds himself the subject of a new round of jokes and ribbing.  WikiLeaks, in short, must be wary of the dangers posed by a new campaign of farce.

Satire, humour and ad hominem attacks can have the effect of wounding and deflating.  When directed against dissidents from the vantage point of tradition, the effect can be calculating and delegitimising.  For Chelsea Manning, a querulous attitude to the US military, a confused matter of gender and lingering resentment were furnished as weapons against her role as a genuine whistleblower.  Whistleblowers, or so goes this line of reasoning, cannot suffer “delusions of grandeur”.  They must be calm, focused, and scrupulously clean.

Assange, as with others associated with the vocation of exposing the asymmetrical nature of power and its impacts, has found himself repeatedly depicted in fashions that supposedly undermine the rationale for transparency politics.   He is an enemy of conventional forms of stratified power, and must duly account for dirtying that sty in advancing an approach that insists upon transnational networks “which function,” writes Raffi Khatchadourian, “outside norms of state sovereignty that have held for centuries.”

Joan Smith, chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Panel, provided an exemplary demonstration of how an attempted diminution of a legacy can work.  In a graceless attack on Assange in 2016, she showed a damnable political immaturity. Her clumsily fashioned assault dismissed international protections against arbitrary detention or matters of political prosecution; none of these, she suggested, applied to Assange.

No mention of Cablegate, or any other expansive document release, features; Assange was merely a molesting ego-maniac who needed to front legal processes as others who had been accused of assault, “including the comedian Bill Cosby who has just been told that prosecutors in the US can proceed with a sexual assault charge dating back to 2004.”  Assange was “a fugitive from justice, a man with such an inflated ego that he believes himself beyond the law.”

The restoration of basic entitlements to Assange at the Ecuadorean embassy (modest, restricted internet access being one of them), where he remains a troublesome tenant, has provided another round for comic skewering.  Now, the razors of satire have been deployed in various measures that seek as much to render his historical contributions to whistleblowing and journalism a matter of mirth rather than worth.  In one sense, this returns Assange to a time immemorial function of palace politics: to be the jester, is to reveal the truth.

It all began with the new “house rules” of the Ecuadorean embassy, which restore conditional access to the Internet.  Not following these newly minted conditions “could lead to the termination of the diplomatic asylum granted by the Ecuadorean state”.

While such injunctions might be sensible for many citizens, they grate with the publisher who has made it both his hobby and work to disrupt international relations and rubbish the façade of diplomatic decency.  In an act of substantive neutering in that regard, he had to avoid any activity, according to the Ecuadorean government memorandum, “considered as political or interfering with the internal affairs of other states.”

The memorandum also made it clear that the embassy was going to target “unauthorised equipment”, reserving “the right to authorise security personnel to seize equipment” or request British authorities to enter the premises to do so.

This was not all.  In the language of an irritable nurse, the memorandum urged Assange to observe basic levels of hygiene (cleaning his own bathroom, including after himself and his guests), a behavioural requirement rich with imputation, and could not hope for embassy payments towards his food, laundry or other costs for his stay from December 1, 2018 onwards.  Quarterly medical check-ups would cease being covered.

He also had to ensure continued adequate care for his feline companion, one whose name has altered over time in the name, ostensibly, public relations. “When Castro died,” explained Assange, “we started calling it Cat-stro.”  (Currently, the name Michi seems to be preferred.)

Where this instagrammed, tweeted creature came from is unclear, though it invariably supplies his observers with salivating prospects for speculation.  One story run for tabloid consumption is that the cat was a gift from his children; another, told to Khatchadourian, was that the tale was a handy concoction designed to gull.  The embassy is, however, clear.  He had to take care of the cat’s “well-being, food and hygiene”. Not doing so risked having to surrender the animal to care.

It is precisely such antics – and for Assange, being in a restricted abode for six years should entitle him some measure of frivolity – that provide morsels for distraction.  Information wars can reach the high summit of austere seriousness in exposing state mendacity, or they can plummet into depictions of distracting farce.

Farce and the staged absurd is something that is bound to shadow Assange in this latest bout, even if a certain tart historical legacy is assured.  Having now launched a lawsuit against Ecuador’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on claimed violations of constitutional rights, Assange is being mocked for being unable to understand the appointed translator.  “According to the English-speaking Assange,” goes an acerbic Seamus Bellamy, “his self-righteous blather differs from what the rest of the English-speaking world gets along with.”  Judge Karina Martinez conceded that the court had erred in appointing a translator not adept in picking up the Australian accent which, for Assange, was sufficiently thick to warrant consideration.  This is vintage Assange: amidst the undergrowth of seriousness comes an element of the absurd with a good twist of truth.

Banning Chelsea Manning: The Dubious Tests of Character

National security advocates have been crotchety ever since the release of Chelsea Manning for a sentence they hoped would go the full, crushing 35 years.  Her sins were intimately tied up with making WikiLeaks the publisher of fame, less than fortune: the disclosure of 750,000 classified diplomatic and military documents which revealed, to various degrees, the inner workings of the US military industrial complex.  But a moment of enlightenment prevailed, and President Barack Obama deemed her case suitable for commutation in one of his last executive acts.

While the idea of a celebrity whistleblower is rife with problems (the stereotype is usually that of an insecure, inconspicuous figure, a persecuted shrinking violet), Manning has managed to become one since her release in May 2017.  Identity politics has been grafted upon the political necessaries of exposing injustices and atrocities.  Data security has been paired with transgender politics.

In Australia, joined (even chained?) to the hip of the US imperium, not all are revelling in Manning, the spiller of secrets big and small.  The simple conclusion they reach is that she should be barred from entering the country.  She was a military intelligence analyst gone bad, and for those reasons, should be treated as such.  “Despite the media breathlessly describing Manning as a whistleblower,” penned a sceptical Rodger Shanahan of the Lowy Institute, “she is far from that.  In fact, if she thought she was a whistleblower she could have availed herself of the 1988 Military Whistleblowers Act.”

For Shanahan, being a whistleblower requires you to be an ascetic person of scrupulous credentials, and free of confusion.  Most of all, you must be bureaucratically minded, a team player who uses internal channels laid out by the managers.  Manning was not aggrieved by US military practice, he surmises, merely “downloading material from the classified system for onforwarding to WikiLeaks” within two weeks of her first deployment. (How unprincipled!)

Shanahan’s attempt to demolish Manning’s credentials are typical of an individual who believes in the constipated restrictions imposed on the meaning of whistleblower.  The first is a charmingly naïve assumption that the Military Whistleblowers Act somehow immunises the discloser from prosecution, casting a cordon of iron clad protection from venal employers.  Even more importantly, there is an assumption that internal disclosures made by the morally worried and concerned work, a cynic’s ploy to pretend to be an idealist.

What matters in that approach is to keep abuses within the corrupt family, to exclude prying eyes and, most importantly of all, to let matters of redress and reform drift into splendid inertia.  Actual changes and means to hold agents responsible for abuse tend to happen from the outside, the shock of the new.  Little wonder, then, that such catalysts – in this case Manning, and then her provision to WikiLeaks – are treated as such crass and vulgar acts, disruptive and therefore in need of containment.

What is problematic for Manning is that certain records speak volumes to immigration officials.  They are not to be considered in context; what matters is the fact of a conviction, not the extenuating circumstances that could excuse, or at least mitigate, the reasons for it. Good character, to that end, is ever slippery, but officialdom demands certitude.

Section 501 of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) permits the minister power to refuse a person a visa on grounds of character if they have been sentenced to prison for one year or longer.  The bar is low, with a visa refusal possible if the minister “reasonably suspects that the person does not pass the character test; and the person does not satisfy the Minister that the person passes the character test.”

The notice from the Department of Home Affairs to Manning notes how it “holds information about your criminal history listed at the end of this notice, which indicates that you have a substantial criminal record within the meaning of that term as defined in s. 501(7) of the Migration Act”.  The character test, for that reason, was not satisfied.

Digital Rights Watch chairman Tim Singleton Norton, on peering into the crystal ball of decision making in the home ministry, smells the intrusive hand of power.  The ban was “nothing more than a political stunt designed to appease the current US administration, and an unnecessary imposition on the movement of a world-renowned civil rights activist.”

Not all in the Australian political classes are comatose to Manning’s broader contributions.  The Australian Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale and Labor equality spokeswoman Louise Pratt have lobbied the Morrison government on the subject of providing Manning a visa. The organiser of her speaking tour, Think Inc., has been particularly keen that immigration minister David Coleman and home affairs minister Peter Dutton apply their “ministerial discretion to allow Ms Manning entry into Australia.”

Think Inc.’s application seeking re-evaluation of Manning’s visa application argues that, “she poses no threat to members of the Australian community.  Think Inc. believes Ms Manning is entitled to freedom of expression and political opinion which are the foundations of a free and democratic society and fundamental human rights.”

The organisation is attempting to win the argument on the ideas front, wonderful if those listening care for them. “Ms Manning,” claims the director Suzi Jamil, “offers formidable ideas and an insightful perspective which we are hoping to bring to the forefront of Australian dialogue.”  These include “data privacy, artificial intelligence and transgender rights.” Hugh de Kretser of the Human Rights Law Centre has been blunter: “She’s generating vital debate around issues like mass surveillance of citizens by governments.  The visa should be granted.”

Jamil, perhaps prudently, avoided those other ideas that have stuck in the craw of establishment toadies: that Manning represents the oft needed instability caused by openness and transparent shocks of information to those fanatical about secrecy.

Americans Are as Spacey as Ever

The white race – and I mean Israeli, Iberian, Slovak, Anglo-Saxon, Caucasian, and the lot of us – is crazy. We do not need Susan Sontag to declare the white race as cancer on the world to ramify the point, since it’s been more than 50 years since she declared:

If America is the culmination of Western white civilization, as everyone from the Left to the Right declares, then there must be something terribly wrong with Western white civilization. This is a painful truth; few of us want to go that far. … The truth is that Mozart, Pascal, Boolean algebra, Shakespeare, parliamentary government, baroque churches, Newton, the emancipation of women, Kant, Marx, Balanchine ballets, et al., don’t redeem what this particular civilization has wrought upon the world. The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone—its ideologies and inventions—which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself.

The zenith of this insanity, of course, encompasses the world leaders of all those European nations, the UK, Australia, that demented cabal in Tel Aviv, the amazing daft of Americanos, and the entire lot who works the wormhole of destruction and continuing hollowing out with that soft shoe power of money, might and ethos that states “we don’t need no stinking ethics . . . and we kill the world at will.”

I’m working daily with homeless veterans, and the reality of what it means to have Trump or Clinton or Bernie or any of them in the leeching single party of Demons-RepubliRats running the show is that it’s a prostitute’s game of the highest order: homeless with property debts, evictions, miles and miles of contracts to pay back worthless schooling (degrees), mental health not being treated, crimes invented and prosecuted against them, endless toil in lines of bureaucracy, the trauma of substance abuse and then sobriety, the end game of just wanting to get a cheap house to call home to fortify against the constant chatter of the money launderers and repo men.

Reality is Americans in large part are broken, man, and their progeny are a hop, skip and a jump from disability classification, as each new birth is a crap-shoot of this or that physiological, genetic and mental impingement. Debilitating and lifelong scarlet letters of Double D-B-C-E at birth stitched on their Triple X sleeveless Budweiser T-shirts.

Disabled/Debt-ridden, Broken/Blank-Bankrupted, and Crippled/Corrupted, Epigenetic/ER-prone, at birth, as the psychological torturers bring to us more and more hormone-disrupting, DNA-warping, mental-draining and spiritual-tapping goods and services that have shackled us to a system of obsolescence, delusion, propaganda, and penury. We are not a united nation of anything but belief in the cartoonish ideology we are Number One and Ever-Conquering, yet the Chinese-made bombs bursting in air, hormone-drenched spare ribs, and GMO/pesticide-infused high fructose corn syrup Everything Goes Better with CocaCola on that one static day, July 4, push us to believe the lies, the big lie and the impending extinction of our own history.

Pondering the universe of delusional thinking, I am only 61, yet I feel like Rip Van Winkle, or worse, living my last third of life (if I get that lucky) inside the slipstream of human depravity on every level – from the bowels of the belly of the beast, to the syphilitic thinking of the star chamber levelers with their billions, their bots, their vision of a world tied to their modified DNA strains, existing someplace floating on ten thousand tethered space stations, near the reflection of their apple of their Dystopian eye, Mars.

A world colluding with the masters of consumption, addiction to fossil fuels, chemicals, wars, brain-barrier hacking entertainment, and the concomitant insanity of carving away species after species, while polluting precious fresh water, razing coral reefs, over-harvesting oceans, and living lifestyles where the cracked calories of cooked HomoConsumpithectus’ food and the endless pitching withdrawals of HomoRetailopithectus’ proclivity to sex, drugs, gambling, shopping, stupidity will forever shape the death of Earth’s ecosystems as we have known them up close and personal and through the bio-paleo-chemical microscopic records we have set as marching orders for our scientists and ecologists who are inevitably ignored at every turn of the Point Zero One Percent’s gluttony and narcissism.

The dream and the hope are now a requiem, lost on the flow of sperm through the epididymis, as we further unlock the barriers to a healthy society: how even the lumbering, pigsty physiology of the progenitor sperm donator HomoConsumopithectus can express the further quickening of the zygote’s snowball’s chance in hell gestating into anything but a cancer-seeded, on-the-spectrum, continual chronic fatigue syndrome child.

The number of people on planet earth – not just in the Chronic Exceptional Diseased America – with chronic illness and dripping concentration and retrograde humanity – is huge, largely tied to the superstition of  fascist religion and unending exploitation of each square acre of god’s green earth. This new normal of fear-at-birth and flagging-constitutions whereby the human race is racing away from the solutions to the disease of the mind and the pollution of land-atmosphere-air-water is not only unholy and denuding of spirit, but exactly what the Captains of Industry and Masters of the Gigabytes and Algorithms desire.

Choices, man: flipping burgers or humping backpacks in the US Military; lifetime debt for meaningless college degrees or the drudgery of working two or three jobs in the service and precarious economy; dealing into the game of American Castes or isolating in a world of addiction, pollution and surveillance?

Choices turning Americans into spies and enemies, suckers and marks, a deployed army of tens of millions ball-and-chained to the disease of fearing a worthy death in order to overthrow the powers, the militaries, and the mad men and women crafting the biggest lies since a resurrection and second coming.

Oddly, working with homeless veterans battling meth, opioids, booze, PTSD, disabilities from military service, and a cart-load of criminal convictions, I still come out daily with a sense of purpose and confidence that one man, one woman, can do something revolutionary, even in this I-Spy Sicko World of Plastic Futures. It’s the forest, not the single tree, that is diseased. The unending stupidity of the collective, whereby we allow the mighty dollar to hold sway over everything – trillions spent on the military’s implements of welfare/warfare while our collective mouths rot; the millions upon millions of babies born with birth defects and learning disabilities because we can’t muster up a collective” Hell No We Aren’t Going to Take These” chemicals sprayed on and in everything.

A study in mice conducted by researchers at Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) suggests that a woman’s risk of anxiety and dysfunctional social behavior may depend on the experiences of her parents, particularly fathers, when they were young. The study, published online in Biological Psychiatry, suggests that stress caused by chronic social instability during youth contributes to epigenetic changes in sperm cells that can lead to psychiatric disorders in female offspring across multiple generations.

Obese male mice and normal weight female mice produce female pups that are overweight at birth through childhood, and have delayed development of their breast tissue as well as increased rates of breast cancer.

The findings, published online June 24 in Scientific Reports by Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers, come from one of the first animal studies to examine the impact of paternal obesity on future generations’ cancer risk.

The researchers say they’ve found evidence that obesity changes the microRNA (miRNA) signature—epigenetic regulators of gene expression—in both the dad’s sperm and the daughter’s breast tissue, suggesting that miRNAs may carry the epigenetic information from obese dads to their daughters.

We are looking at a globe that navel gazes at these cretins – Multimillionaire Obamas, Clintons, Bush, and the deadly misanthropic billionaires club of the Gates-Bezos-Trump-Adelson- et al, and the dirty dealings of Madison Avenue, Wall Street, Holly-Dirt and the like. The attention span is square on the Tweet or the argumentative average American who will question a thousand PhDs working on climate change with his or her community college education.

So, no matter how homogenized the elites’ churned-out mush is, for instance, proclaiming how the world is so much less violent now than fifty years ago (another troll, Stephen Pinker), the reality is the white race is bent on hobbling the rest of the world with the pollution, indentured servant status, and disease creation to feed the most violent time in history of constant structural violence, mass incarceration, mass delusion, mass toxin-creating, hyper-caste generating. We are here, in a process of withering away, slowly, as this Tinhorn Country pokes holes in any common fabric the world holds sacred.

Stephen Pinker is wrong about the World of Enlightened Peoples Is Less Violent, easily beaten down here by a splendid writer:

There is something repellently absurd in the notion that war is a vice of “backward” peoples. Destroying some of the most refined civilizations that have ever existed, the wars that ravaged south-east Asia in the second world war and the decades that followed were the work of colonial powers. One of the causes of the genocide in Rwanda was the segregation of the population by German and Belgian imperialism. Unending war in the Congo has been fueled by western demand for the country’s natural resources. If violence has dwindled in advanced societies, one reason may be that they have exported it.

Then again, the idea that violence is declining in the most highly developed countries is questionable. Judged by accepted standards, the United States is the most advanced society in the world. According to many estimates the US also has the highest rate of incarceration, some way ahead of China and Russia, for example. Around a quarter of all the world’s prisoners are held in American jails, many for exceptionally long periods. Black people are disproportionately represented, many prisoners are mentally ill and growing numbers are aged and infirm. Imprisonment in America involves continuous risk of assault by other prisoners. There is the threat of long periods spent in solitary confinement, sometimes (as in “supermax” facilities, where something like Bentham’s Panopticon has been constructed) for indefinite periods – a type of treatment that has been reasonably classified as torture. Cruel and unusual punishments involving flogging and mutilation may have been abolished in many countries, but, along with unprecedented levels of mass incarceration, the practice of torture seems to be integral to the functioning of the world’s most advanced state.

Funny stuff, that which precipitates my noggin: Was reading this writer’s (Karl Schroeder) take on what it means to Escape the Default Future When Writing Science Fiction:

There’s a term that futurists use: “the default future.” The default future is what we assume is going to happen, as a matter of obvious fact. Its assumptions are so deeply ingrained that we don’t even know they’re there. For instance, current popular culture typically imagines one of just three possible future Earths: an Orwellian dystopia, a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or a space-faring urban hypercivilization.

But should we? Sharing the wealth among nine billion will be hard. In many nations, birth-rates are on the decline. Shouldn’t we encourage that trend?

Here’s a proposal: let’s get smaller. Imagine a future where the economy is increasingly automated and taps into the infinite resources of outer space; and where humanity shares a core of common goods such as Universal Basic Income, Universal Healthcare, and free education. These aren’t fantasies, they’re trends. Now add to this mix a naturally declining population that retains its genetic diversity. The formula for our future becomes: more and more wealth, divided among fewer and fewer people.

In material terms alone, the results are staggering. Imagine if your family owned Paris? Or was responsible for tending the Catskill Mountains? What does wealth mean when robotics, automation and AI mean that each person can have, not money or an income, but his or her own economy? When kids learn history by reenacting the Battle of the Somme with real robot armies? When you don’t watch movies, you have the entire story including sets, car chases and crowd scenes, played out for you by troops of android players?

And here we are, these elitists and thought experimenters, sticking their intellectual tongues out at us, the majority of us, 6 billion-plus, pontificating about a world that is less violent or one that can be depopulated for a cool million, or how better the world is with a point-zero-zero-one Percent controlling us with their flimflam ideas, their products, their tools of oppression, their war is peace simulated psycho-babble. We are subject to their whims, their marketing, and their disease-generating ideologies — arrogance, chauvinism, immorality, all things filtered through the American lens/ White Race’s Lens, that is.

So I come to the end of this screed, precipitated by the daily sin of living and working in America as my fellow Americans (sic) become more and more punch drunk crazy on their own self-admiration. But also catalyzed by some insipid article,

New archaeological research from The Australian National University (ANU) has found that Homo erectus, an extinct species of primitive humans, went extinct in part because they were ‘lazy’.

The premise is that Homo erectus failed to mine better materials to be more efficient (killers) and more widely spread-out hunters. Ironically, the fool’s errand is we as a society/ dominator civilization are absolutely lazy when it comes to our daftness around this collapsing planet, dying ecosystems and soon-to-be-extinct millions of species. Climate change and mitigating that existential crisis, which we have failed tremendously at, we have proven our Homo Sapiens ilk as both lazy and lazier than any Homo erectus that may have been eliminated by more warring and consumptive species, now,  HomoConsumpithectus.

Terms like least effort strategies and they did not have that sense of wonder we have come from this Australian anthropologist’s mouth in his dusting off of Homo erectus gathering sites.

The arrogance of this thinking, that they — Homo erectus — knew the better stone was there but decided against it because they felt they had enough adequate raw materials and decided against rarefied tool making. He goes on to say that the stone tool makers of later periods, including early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, “who were climbing mountains to find good quality stone and transporting it over long distances,” outstripped our progenitor clan Homo erectus as survivors.

Shipton (the Aussie) states this is a failure to progress technologically, and as their environment dried out into a desert, the Homo erectus species’ population’s demise was inevitable.

Ironic, really, now as we Homo/Retail/Consumo-Sapiens have worked so hard to rape the planet and chug out toxins and greenhouse gases that we are failing more than any other past species in our line to grapple with this greenhouse gas inevitability —

The study, “Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As for what to do to prevent a hothouse Earth, it’s easier said than done: Decarbonize the world economy, end deforestation, improve farming techniques and promote carbon-capture technologies, among other recommendations.

This can “only be achieved and maintained by a coordinated, deliberate effort by human societies to manage our relationship with the rest of the Earth system, recognizing that humanity is an integral, interacting component of the system,” according to the study. “Humanity is now facing the need for critical decisions and actions that could influence our future for centuries, if not millennia.”

This is August 2018, and yet, my slipstream life intersects daily sometimes dozens of times with the chauvinism of partial truths, counter-intuitive stasis, collective unknowing, and frequent mistruths.

I have new ways to teach and work with this blind thinking, but in one sense, I find the white race in America log-jammed, and even around sincere and fairly robustly interested folk, there are blind sides.

Imagine, we eat apples year round. Sometimes apples in the store are 14 months old, meaning we are tricked into eating foods out of season, out of our own bio-region. Apples are picked, then warehoused away in a place where oxygen is cut back to a low percentage, the temperature is just a touch above 32 degrees, and the skins sprayed on with fungicides. The problem is that these apples lose their antioxidant power quickly —  polyphenols.

The apple is a microcosm of the entire broken system of addiction to oil, embedded energy out the roof, bad choices, and what that Australian anthropologist might want to look at sociologically by seeing his own species, and his own brethren — science and technology —  as the perpetrators of humanity’s demise. But, oh, we are a busy-busy species, making those Homo erectus die-offs look like the ultimate slackers!