Category Archives: Julian Assange

Haugen isn’t really a “Facebook whistleblower” and it’s dangerous to imagine she is

The enthusiasm with which much of the media and political establishment have characterised Frances Haugen as a “Facebook whistleblower” requires that we pause to consider what exactly we think the term “whistleblower” means.

Haugen has brought to the surface a fuzziness in what many of us understand by the idea of whistleblowing.

Even Russell Brand, a comedian turned soothsayer, whose critical and compassionate thinking has been invaluable in clarifying our present moment, joined in the cheerleading of Haugen, calling her a “brave whistleblower”.

But what do Brand and other commentators mean when they use that term in relation to Haugen?

Manipulative feeds

But what do Brand and other commentators mean when they use that term in relation to Haugen?

There are two clues that what Haugen is doing may not properly count as whistleblowing – and that using the term in this way degrades the status and meaning of whistleblowing in ways that are likely to be harmful to whistleblowers themselves.

The first is that there seems to be little Haugen is telling us that we do not already know – either based on our own personal experiences of using social media (does anyone really not understand yet that Facebook manipulates our feeds through algorithms?) or from documentaries like The Social Dilemma, where various refugees from Silicon Valley offer dire warnings of where social media is leading society.

We did not call that movie’s many talking heads “whistleblowers”, so why has Haugen suddenly earned a status none of them deserved? (You can read my critique of The Social Dilemma here.)

But the real problem with calling Haugen a “whistleblower” is indicated by the fact that she has been immediately propelled to the centre of a partisan political row – yet another example of tribal politics that have become such a feature of the post-Trump era.

Democrats see Haugen as a hero, blowing the whistle not only on overweening tech corporations that are taking possession of our children’s minds and subverting social solidarity but that are also fuelling dangerous Trumpian delusions that paved the way to January’s riot at the Capitol building.

Republicans, by contrast, view Haugen as a Democrat partisan, trying to breathe life into a liberal conspiracy theory – about Republicans. In their view, she is bolstering a leftwing “cancel culture” that will see wholesome conservative values driven from the online public square.

Deep, dark dungeon

Let’s set aside this tribalism for the moment (we will return to it soon) and consider first what we imagine whistleblowing involves.

Haugen has indeed used her position as a former employee in a hyper-powerful corporation – the globe-spanning tech firm Facebook – to bring to light things that were supposed to be hidden from us.

That meets most people’s basic definition of a whistleblower.

But the term “whistleblower” also implicitly includes the idea of a cost – usually a heavy one – paid by the person blowing the whistle. When you take on powerful institutions, those institutions fight back, and do so in the dirtiest ways possible when their core interests are under threat.

That is evident in the treatment of the bravest whistleblowers and those who assist them. Some are prosecuted, jailed and near-bankrupted (Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou, Craig Murray), others are driven into exile (Edward Snowden), while the unluckiest are vilified and disappeared into the modern equivalent of a deep, dark dungeon (Julian Assange).

It is by virtue of their treatment that we can be sure all these people are whistleblowers. It is because they are telling us secrets those in power are determined to keep concealed that they are forced to go through such terrible ordeals.

We might go so far as to argue that, as a rule of thumb, the more severe the penalty faced by a whistleblower, the greater threat they pose in bringing to light what is supposed to remain forever in the dark.

Hidden secrets

One problem with describing Haugen as a whistleblower is that it is far from clear that she has paid – or will pay – any kind of significant price for her disclosures.

And maybe more to the point, it seems that when she turned to 60 Minutes to help her “blow the whistle” on Facebook she knew she would have powerful allies – right up to those occupying the White House – offering her protection from any meaningful fallout from Facebook.

If reports are to be believed, she has already been signed up with the public relations firm that has represented Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman.

The support Haugen is being offered, of course, does not mean that she is not drawing attention to important matters. But it does mean that it is doubtful that “whistleblowing” is a helpful term to describe what she is doing.

This is not just a semantic issue. A lot hangs on how we use the term.

A proper whistleblower is trying to reveal the hidden secrets of the most powerful to bring about accountability and make our societies more transparent, safer, fairer places. Whistleblowing seeks to level the playing field between those who rule and those who are ruled.

At the national and international level, whistleblowers expose crimes and misdemeanours by the state, by corporations and by major organisations so that we can hold them to account, so that we, the people, can be empowered, and so that our increasingly hollow democracies gain a little more democratic substance.

But Haugen has done something different. Or at least she has been coopted, willingly or not, by those same establishment elements that are averse to accountability, opposed to the empowerment of ordinary people, and stand in the way of shoring up of democratic institutions.

Competing visions

To clarify this point, we need to understand that in our societies there are two kinds of ways power can be challenged: from outside the establishment, the power structure, that dominates our lives; or from within it.

These are two different kinds of activity, with different outcomes – both for the whistleblower and for us.

Scholars often refer to “elites” rather than one monolithic establishment to better capture the nature of power. We, as outside observers, often miss this important observation.

The establishment, in fact, any major organisation, is likely to have at least two major competing groups within it, unless it is entirely authoritarian. (Even then, leaders of dictatorial regimes have to worry about plots and coups.)

There are rival visions of what the organisation – or state – should do, how best to manage its interests and maximise its success or profits, and how best to shield it from scrutiny or reform. Those inside the organisation are united in their motivation to maintain their power, but they are often divided over how that can best be achieved.

In western societies, these opposing visions typically revolve around ideas associated with liberal and conservative values. In the case of states, that simple binary is often reinforced by electoral systems that encourage two parties, two political choices, two sets of values: Democrats versus Republicans; Labour versus Conservatives; and so on.

It is part of the establishment’s success – the way it preserves its power – that it can present these two choices as meaningful.

But, in reality, both choices support the status quo. Whichever party you vote for, you are voting for the same ideological system – currently a neoliberal version of capitalism. However you cast your vote, the same set of elites stay in power, with the same kinds of corporations funding them, and with the same revolving door between the political, media and business establishments.

Elite battles

So how does this relate to Haugen?

Our “Facebook whistleblower” is not helping to blow the whistle on the character of the power structure itself, or its concealed crimes, or its democratic deficit, as Manning and Snowden did.

She has not turned her back on the establishment and revealed its darkest secrets. She has simply shifted allegiances within the establishment, making new alliances in the constantly shifting battles between elites for dominance.

Which is precisely why she has been treated with such reverence by the 60 Minutes programme and other “liberal” corporate media and feted by Democratic party politicians. She has aided their elite faction over a rival elite faction.

Manning and Snowden challenged the very basis on which our societies are organised. They hurled a big rock into the placid lake that is the ideological background to our lives.

Manning exposed the reality of voracious war industries determined to control the resources of others at a terrible cost in human lives and blow to the ethical values to which we pay lip service. Snowden, meanwhile, showed that ultimately these same elites – whether Democrats or Republicans are formally in charge – view us as the enemy, surveilling us in secret to ensure we can never organise to replace them.

Both Manning and Snowden threatened the national security state, and were vilified by both sides of the aisle for doing so.

No left-right divide

Haugen’s relationship to power is different, and we can make sense of it only by understanding what Facebook is.

This tech giant stands at the centre of a major elite battle: between old media and new media; between traditional, analogue corporate power and new models of digital corporate power; between elites that benefit from unregulated “free” markets and those who gain their power from regulation.

Within Facebook, itself, there are battles: between those who hold to its original ambition to monetise an endlessly connected world where we all get an online loudspeaker, and those who want the platform to become even more deeply embedded within the national security state and serve its purposes.

This is not a simple Democrat versus Republican divide. Facebook and other social media platforms – with their raucous effects on public discourse and their ability to amplify non-elite voices – have had a polarising impact that has cut across the usual left-right lines.

The complex skirmishes between elites have been further complicated by the increasingly libertarian, free market impulses within the current Republican party establishment (in tension with the right’s traditional focus on conservative and family values) and the “Big Government”, identity politics-obsessed impulses within the current Democratic party establishment (in tension with the left’s traditional attachment to more liberal, free speech values).

Paradoxically for many of us, Democratic elites often appear more visibly wedded to the national security state – and have stronger allies within it – than Republican elites. Just ask Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi how they respectively feel about the intelligence agencies.

Silicon Valley elites similarly straddle this divide, with some in favour of profiting from an online free-for-all and others in favour of tight regulation.

Secret algorithms

Haugen’s “whistleblowing” on Facebook is simply her going public that she favours one side of this elite competition over the other. She is not batting for us, the public, she is assisting one set of elites against another set of elites.

Which is precisely why her message to 60 Minutes and Congress reduces to a simple one: more regulation of social media, more use of secret algorithms, more darkness rather than light.

Those politicians who want greater regulation of social media platforms to keep out independent voices and critical thinking; the billionaires who want to reassert their gatekeeping media power against the tech upstarts; the Silicon Valley visionaries who want to poke their digital tools deeper into our lives have all found an ally in Haugen.

She does not threaten the status quo, a status quo that continues to plunder the planet’s finite resources to exhaustion, that wages endless resource wars around the globe, that is driving our species to the edge of extinction. No, she is upholding a status quo that will ensure the same psychopaths remain in power, their crimes even further out of view.

That is why Haugen is not really a whistleblower, brave or otherwise. Because whistleblowers pay a heavy price for standing up for truth, for humanity, for life. She is simply shoring up one elite path of several to more corruption, more deceit, more suffering, more death.

The post Haugen isn’t really a “Facebook whistleblower” and it’s dangerous to imagine she is first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Murderous Fantasies: The US Intelligence Effort Against Assange

If there was any reason to halt a farcical train of legal proceedings, then the case against Julian Assange would have to be the standard bearing example.  Since last year, the efforts by the US government to pursue his extradition to the vicious purgatory of American justice has seen more than a fair share of obscene revelations.  While prosecutors for the US insist that the publisher must find himself in freedom land for having, incongruously, violated provisions under the Espionage Act of 1917, the broader political elements to this are impossible to shake.

From the moment classified US documents were released with daring aplomb on the WikiLeaks site, Assange was treated as a political target sneeringly condemned by Joe Biden (then Vice President) as a “cyber terrorist”.  It did not matter that he had been granted political asylum by a foreign government, or that he had exposed the vicious nature of the US war machine in foreign lands.

The central strategy of the enraged in the face of such exposure is conventionally dull.  Mock the publisher; redirect attention away from exposing the bloody mischief of empire.  In the court of public opinion, such an individual can be queered and rendered indigestible, motives rubbished, intentions trashed.  Cheeky public disclosure contrarians can be dismissed as cranks and discredited.

Once Michael Pompeo assumed the reins at the Central Intelligence Agency, WikiLeaks became something of an obsession, fascinating given Donald Trump’s sheer delight over its releases of those Democratic emails that holed Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016.  “It’s time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is,” he told an audience at the Center for Strategic and international Studies (CSIS) on April 13, 2017, “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

Such a perspective led to brazen efforts by the Spanish private security firm UC Global, hired to furnish surveillance equipment to the Ecuadorian embassy in London, to spy upon Assange and his various colleagues and confidantes.  The firm, through its chief executive David Morales, was knee-deep with the Central Intelligence Agency and delighted to be of assistance.

The extent of Morales’s zeal alarmed a few former employees of the company, a point they were unreserved in expressing in the Old Bailey proceedings in September last year.  “Around June 2017, while I was sourcing providers for the new camera equipment, David Morales instructed that the cameras should allow streaming capabilities so that ‘our friends’ in the United States’, as Morales explicitly put it, would be able to gain access to the interior of the embassy in real time.  This request alarmed me greatly, and in order to impede the request, I claimed that remote access via streaming via the camera circuit was not technically achievable.”  That witness noted Morales’s wish to bug the entire embassy and suggested that the purpose of installing microphones had been at the behest of the United States to target Assange’s legal representatives.

This was merely the start.  One of the witnesses (for convenience, called Witness 2), revealed how Morales had asked him to “steal a nappy of a baby which according to the company’s security personnel deployed at the embassy, regularly visited Mr Assange.” The act was designed to ascertain whether, in fact, it came from “a child of the asylee.”  It was “the Americans”, Morales claimed, “who wanted to establish paternity.”

Frustrated by a lack of movement on expelling Assange from the embassy, US officials began teasing out options.  According to the second witness, “the Americans were desperate [in December 2017] and that they had even suggested that more extreme measures should be employed against the ‘guest’ to put an end to the situation of Assange’s permanence in the embassy.”  An “accident” was proposed, one that could be claimed for covering an operation “which would allow persons to enter from outside the embassy and kidnap the asylee”.  And just in case such a scenario would not unfold, another, more final suggestion was put on the table: a  handy poisoning.

As is often the nature of the modern news cycle, such damnable revelations are dips in what is otherwise a more substantive, disturbing story. It takes such reports as those of Yahoo!News to add a chilling confirmation.  To the credit of the authors, much flesh is added to the narrative. A former Trump national security official is cited as claiming that the administration was “seeing blood” after WikiLeaks published the Vault 7 files, a set of hacking tools developed by the CIA.  “This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred millions line of code,” crowed WikiLeaks in a press release at the time, “gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA.”

But the interest in gathering material on the organisation in the intelligence community began prior, inspired by the revelations of Edward Snowden in June 2013 about the warrantless and expansive surveillance programs of the National Security Agency.  Within the CIA, the Office of Transnational Issues got busy establishing its own “WikiLeaks team”.  The intelligence community was abuzz with efforts to give the publishing outfit a different designation as “information brokers”.

With the publication of leaked Democratic Party emails, the belief among some intelligence operatives that Assange “was acting in collusion with people who were using him to hurt the interests of the United States” became, according to the community’s senior lawyer Robert Litt, palpable.  With Trump taking up residence in the White House, a counterintelligence official could only remark that, “Nobody in that crew was going to be too broken up about the First Amendment issues.”

The Yahoo report is also filled with the wet dreams of adolescent functionaries pondering how the Australian might have made a dash for it.  One of these involved the prospect that Assange might be spirited away by Russian agents after being granted diplomatic status by Ecuador.  Scenarios involved crashing into any vehicle transporting Assange, snatching him and shooting the tyres of any plane intended to carry him to Moscow.  “It was going to be like a prison break movie,” one former senior administration official fantasised with relish.

Outside the embassy, the area got cluttered with spooks and operatives.  “It got to the point where every human being in a three-block radius was working for one of the intelligence services – whether they were street sweepers or police officers or security guards.”

Within some channels of the US government, concerns were aired that the rendition and kidnapping enthusiasts were getting out of hand.  The fairly obvious point was expressed by some NSC officials that any such operation would be illegal.  “You can’t throw people in a car and kidnap them,” a former national security official warned.

In the spring of 2017, assassination made it to the front of the queue as a possible remedy.  President Trump put out the feelers for some advice.  “It was viewed as unhinged and ridiculous,” a former senior CIA official is reported as saying. Another claimed that those proposing the idea “were just spitballing”, all part of an atmosphere where Trump was just being Trump.  The spit balls in question evidently lingered long enough for rough sketches to be drawn up contemplating Assange’s murder and WikiLeaks members with access to the Vault 7 trove.

Assange’s US lawyer Barry Pollack wishes that this grubby state of affairs will lead to a sensible conclusion.  “My hope and expectation is that the UK courts will consider this information and it will further bolster its decision not to extradite to the US.”  The US appeal against the refusal to extradite Assange will be doing its best to avoid such thorny, and telling, revelations.  Assange’s defence team will be doing its best to foil such efforts.

The post Murderous Fantasies: The US Intelligence Effort Against Assange first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Gaslighting The Public: Serial Deceptions By The State-Corporate Media

During last week’s Tory Cabinet reshuffle, ITV political editor Robert Peston inadvertently summed up the primary function of political journalists:

‘I simply pass on’

His tweet was in reference to a ministerial source saying that Priti Patel was ‘not looking happy’. She remained in her job as Home Secretary.

Peston’s phrase was a tragicomic echo of a remark by Nick Robinson, ITV political editor during the Iraq war, who infamously declared that:

‘It was my job to report what those in power were doing or thinking… That is all someone in my sort of job can do.’

(‘“Remember the last time you shouted like that?” I asked the spin doctor’, The Times, 16 July, 2004)

In 2012, Robinson, by now the BBC’s political editor, mourned:

‘The build-up to the invasion of Iraq is the point in my career when I have most regretted not pushing harder and not asking more questions’.1

However, Robinson’s career certainly did not appear to have been harmed having abdicated this basic responsibility of journalism; namely, holding those in power to account. After a ten-year stint as the BBC political editor, he became a presenter on the high-profile BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Peston’s counterpart at the BBC, political editor Laura Kuenssberg, also performs the required function of ‘I simply pass on’, broadcasting and amplifying the words of those in power with minimal ‘analysis’, far less critical appraisal. Relaying Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s words on the current crisis in gas supply in the UK, as he flew to New York to attend climate talks, she tweeted:

‘Speaking on the plane Johnson said..

1. gas supply probs shd be “temporary”, the squeeze is a result of world waking up from pandemic shutdowns like everyone “going to put the kettle on at the end of the TV programme” and he said he was confident in UK supply chains’

Gary Neville, the football pundit and former Manchester United defender, replied to Kuenssberg’s tweet:

‘Hi Laura do you believe this guys crap ?’

A tad blunt perhaps. But, judging by the number of ‘likes’ and ‘retweets’, it was a welcome challenge from someone with a public profile to the endless channelling by highly-paid political journalists of Johnson’s twaddle – and worse (as we will see below).

Daniel Finkelstein, the Tory peer and Times columnist, defended Kuenssberg and responded that reporting the Prime Minister’s words ‘is a part of her job’ so that the public can judge them for themselves. Three obvious glaring holes in his argument are that the BBC political editor:

(a) rarely challenges Johnson (or other government ministers) to any significant extent;

(b) provides very few perspectives or opinions from outside the narrow range of ‘mainstream’ Parliamentary debate (Labour hardly counts as an effective ‘Opposition’ under the Blair-lite Sir Keir Starmer;

(c) ignores Johnson’s many lies, falsehoods and misrepresentations which have been well-documented by several independent political observers, including Peter Oborne and Peter Stefanovic. Kuenssberg and her corporate media peers have given the Prime Minister a free pass on his serial deceptions.

There are countless examples of establishment bias by Kuenssberg (and her predecessors as BBC political editor). Recall, for example, that for years she channelled a one-sided account of Labour’s supposed antisemitism crisis, including an infamous BBC Panorama programme that was demolished as a ‘catalogue of reporting failures’ by the Media Reform Coalition. Recall, too, her evident disapproval when Jeremy Corbyn, then leader of the Labour Party, refused to give her a commitment in a BBC News television interview that he was willing to press the nuclear button to launch weapons that would cause untold death and suffering.

On 20 September, 2021, The National newspaper in Scotland reported that the flagship BBC News at Six ‘did not run a single negative news story about the UK Government’ during the previous week, 13-17 September. This was probably not an unusual week in that regard. Genuinely hard-hitting critical reporting of the Tory government is notable by its absence on BBC News and other establishment news media.

The truth is, that on one issue after another, leading journalists like Kuenssberg, Peston, and all the high-profile correspondents ‘reporting’ on politicians, the military and intelligence services spend too much time performing as mere stenographers to power. Rational and critical opposing voices are routinely ignored, marginalised or ridiculed.

Media Lens has documented and explained over the past two decades how ‘objectivity’ and ‘impartiality’ are alien concepts to state-corporate journalism. As the US commentator Michael Parenti once noted:

‘Bias in favor of the orthodox is frequently mistaken for “objectivity”. Departures from this ideological orthodoxy are themselves dismissed as ideological.’

Similarly, Matt Kennard, head of investigations at Declassified UK, a vital resource for independent journalism, put it well:

‘If you’re sympathetic to the weak, it’s activist journalism. If you’re sympathetic to the powerful, it’s objective journalism.’

The public are, in effect, constantly being subjected to gaslighting by corporate journalists purporting to inform the public what is happening around us. We are being told, explicitly and implicitly, that nothing is fundamentally wrong with the system of economics and power politics that prevail in the world. We are being misled that any serious problems that arise – even climate instability – can be ‘fixed’ by ‘incentivising’ changes to consumer behaviour, rejigging the economy by redirecting public subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables, but all still within a corporate-driven ‘market’ framework to maximise private profit, and by implementing technical ‘solutions’, such as capturing and storing carbon emissions (which have failed to live up to the grandiose PR promises made, while fossil fuel companies have received large injections of public cash from governments).

In fact, ‘mainstream’ news is characterised by serial deceptions and omissions that hide essential truths about the world. We are being drip-fed propaganda that preserves the current inequitable system of power, privilege and class – even as we hurtle towards the abyss of climate chaos.

Any one of the topics addressed here could merit a media alert in its own right. Indeed, in each case, we have done so several times before. The objective here is to provide something of an overview of the propaganda system that is leading us towards ever greater levels of inequality and misery, even human extinction; a timely reminder of what is at stake.

Endless War

Consider the recent pull-out of US troops from Afghanistan after twenty years of occupation. In an excellent article for the Morning Star, Ian Sinclair observed that BBC News and other outlets continued to promote ‘misleading narratives about the Afghan invasion and its motives’. As just one example, Sinclair highlighted Johnson’s ‘astonishingly deceitful claim’ that:

‘It was no accident that there has been no terrorist attack launched against Britain or any other Western country from Afghanistan in the last 20 years.’

Sinclair countered:

‘First, terrorist attacks have taken place in Britain and the US that have been inspired by the US-British invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.’

He continued:

‘Second, it is widely understood by intelligence agencies and experts that the West’s military intervention in Afghanistan led to a heightened terrorist threat to the West.’

Sinclair added:

‘The final problem with the government’s claim that the war stopped terrorism on the West from Afghanistan is that it’s based on a simplistic understanding of the September 11 2001 terror attacks — that it was necessary for terrorists to “have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilised nations,” as president George W Bush explained in 2006.’

However, the 9-11 attacks were planned initially in Germany, training was implemented in the US and most of the hijackers were Saudi. A recent article in CovertAction Magazine noted that:

‘The invasion of Afghanistan was launched following the NATO invocation of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, but eventually it emerged that the report presented to NATO by U.S. Ambassador Frank Taylor contained no actual forensic evidence to support the assertion that the terror attacks had been orchestrated in Afghanistan.’

The 7 July 2005 bomb attacks in London, and the Manchester Arena bombing and London Bridge attacks in 2017, required no ‘safe haven’ for terrorists to commit atrocities in Britain.

Sinclair summed up:

‘The omissions and distortions that have been made by politicians about Afghanistan over the last few weeks, echoed by much of the media, have been so big and unremitting it’s easy to start questioning one’s own grip on reality.’

But following corporate news media daily can have precisely that effect. In gaslighting media audiences, ‘mainstream’ news routinely skews the agenda in favour of what Washington and its allies wish to project. Thus, as Julie Hollar noted in a piece for US-based media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), the corporate media only rediscovered Afghan women and their human rights when US troops left:

‘[corporate media] coverage gives the impression that Afghan women desperately want the US occupation to continue, and that military occupation has always been the only way for the US to help them. But for two decades, women’s rights groups have been arguing that the US needed to support local women’s efforts and a local peace process. Instead, both Democrat and Republican administrations continued to funnel trillions of dollars into the war effort, propping up misogynist warlords and fueling violence and corruption.’

Hollar continued:

‘The US did not “rescue” Afghan women with its military invasion in 2001, or its subsequent 20-year occupation. Afghan women need international help, but facile and opportunistic US media coverage pushes toward the same wrong kind of help that it’s been pushing for the last two decades: military “assistance,” rather than diplomacy and aid.’

She concluded:

‘For more than 20 years, US corporate media could have listened seriously to Afghan women and their concerns, bringing attention to their own efforts to improve their situation. Instead, those media outlets are proving once again that Afghan women’s rights are only of interest to them when they can be used to prop up imperialism and the military industrial complex.’

FAIR has summarised a 20-year-long pattern of corporate media self-censorship, scapegoating and stenography since 9-11. The US ‘war on terror’ has likely killed more than one million people at a cost of $8 trillion, according to Brown University’s Costs of War project. The report states:

‘Several times as many more have been killed as a reverberating effect of the wars – because, for example, of water loss, sewage and other infrastructural issues, and water-related disease.’

Cost of War co-director Stephanie Savell said:

‘Twenty years from now, we’ll still be reckoning with the high societal costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars – long after US forces are gone.’

The corporate media played a major role in bringing about this catastrophe, then covering it up afterwards.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is continuing its immoral mission to prosecute Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks co-founder and publisher, for telling the truth about US crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Assange rightly said in 2011 that the US goal was ‘an endless war, not a successful war’. The aim is to line the pockets of the narrow sector of society that profits from the military-industrial complex, at the expense of the general population.

In a piece for Newsweek, Daniel Ellsberg, Alice Walker and Noam Chomsky wrote that:

‘When Assange published hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010, the public was given an unprecedented window into the lack of justification and the futility of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The truth was hidden by a generation of governmental lies. Assange’s efforts helped show the American public what their government was doing in their name.’

As we have noted in previous media alerts, Assange’s continued incarceration and long-term confinement, described as torture by Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, is a damning indictment of Western ‘democracy’.

Political commentator Philip Roddis observes astutely that ‘Western democracy is ninety-five percent bogus’ because:

‘(a) democracy implies consent, (b) consent is meaningless if not informed, and (c) informed consent implies truly independent media. That last we do not have when they are “large corporations selling privileged audiences to other large corporations” [quoting Noam Chomsky].’

A recurring feature of ‘democracy’ and its ‘free press’ is judicious silence or quiet mumbling when a ‘mistake’ is made. Consider the BBC’s limited apology, and dearth of follow-up by almost all media, when the BBC conceded its coverage of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma on 7 April, 2018 was ‘seriously flawed’.

As we have described in numerous media alerts, the corporate media declared with instant unanimity and certainty that Syria’s President Bashar Assad was responsible for the attack. One week later, the US, UK and France launched missiles on Syria in response to the unproven allegations. Since then, there has been a mounting deluge of evidence, in particular from whistleblowers, that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN poison gas watchdog, has perpetrated a cover-up to preserve the Western narrative that Assad gassed civilians in Douma.

Mail on Sunday columnist Peter Hitchens had complained to the BBC following last November’s Radio 4 broadcast of ‘Mayday: The Canister On The Bed’, which propagated the official Western narrative of the attack. In particular, Hitchens had objected to the slurs against an anonymous OPCW whistleblower named ‘Alex’. The BBC had claimed that ‘Alex’ only cast doubt on the official narrative because he had been promised $100,000 by WikiLeaks. The claim was false, as the BBC later admitted. There was no evidence to suggest that ‘Alex’, described as ‘a highly qualified and apolitical scientist’, was motivated by anything other than a desire for truth in sharing his doubts about the attack.

Aaron Maté, an independent journalist with The Grayzone, has vigorously and repeatedly pursued the story, shaming both ‘mainstream’ media and most progressive media outlets who, like the corporate media, have blanked the scandal. He recently wrote a devastating account of the deceptions and evasions by OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias when appearing before the UN. Now, in a must-watch interview with Jimmy Dore about the BBC’s apology, Maté said that the BBC only retracted part of its attack on the OPCW whistleblowers and that ‘the retraction only scratches the surface of its deceit.’

Steve Sweeney, international editor of the Morning Star, noted in response to the BBC’s apology on its Douma coverage that:

‘None of the major British newspapers such as The Times, The Telegraph, or the liberal mouthpiece for war with a human face, The Guardian, gave it column space despite the serious nature of the matter.’

The Stark Reality Of Newspeak

But, of course, ‘we’ are the ‘good guys’. And when evidence emerges to the contrary, it is shunted to the margins or buried. Other countries might be ‘belligerent’, but not us. Hence the deeply skewed reporting of the recent ‘Aukus pact’ between the US, UK and Australia which will provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. This was largely presented by state-corporate news, including the BBC and the Guardian, as a ‘defence’ deal to ‘counter’ China in its ‘belligerent behaviour’ in the Indo-Pacific.

BBC News at Ten declared on 16 September:

‘The deal will deliver nuclear-powered submarines to the Australian navy to promote stability in the Indo-Pacific region which has come under increasing pressure from China.’

The BBC might as well admit that they are reading out press releases on behalf of Western power.

An online BBC News article included the deceptive wording:

‘Aukus is being widely viewed as an effort to counter Beijing’s influence in the contested South China Sea.’

The weasel phrase ‘widely viewed’ is newspeak for ‘the view from Washington and London’.

Likewise, the Guardian dutifully carried the official US-UK view and framed its reporting accordingly:

‘In Washington, the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, made clear that the administration had chosen to close ranks with Australia in the face of belligerent Chinese behaviour.

‘Austin said he had discussed with Australian ministers “China’s destabilising activities and Beijing’s efforts to coerce and intimidate other countries, contrary to established rules and norms”, adding: “While we seek a constructive results-oriented relationship with [China], we will remain clear-eyed in our view of Beijing’s efforts to undermine the established international order.”’

Imagine if western journalists regularly wrote news reports about the plentiful examples of belligerent US behaviour. And about America’s destabilising activities and efforts to coerce and intimidate other countries, contrary to established rules and norms. But that would be real journalism. Instead, a Guardian editorial oozed its approval:

‘A firm and unified response to China’s actions by democratic nations is both sensible and desirable.’

There was no mention in any of the current reporting, as far as we could see, that the UK is set to increase its number of nuclear warheads by over 40 per cent, breaking international law. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is encouraging the public to report the UK government to the UN.

This behaviour by the UK is no exception. ‘We’ routinely flout the law on arms, nuclear or conventional. Andrew Feinstein and Alexandra Smidman recently reported for Declassified UK, that Britain’s ‘robust’ arms export controls are a fiction:

‘In practice, UK controls on arms exports are all but voluntary, and Britain routinely arms states abusing human rights and those at war.

‘Britain exported more than £11-billion worth of arms around the world in 2019 but UK ministers claim this trade is properly administered in a mantra that goes like this:

‘“HM Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We consider all export applications thoroughly against a strict risk assessment framework and keep all licences under careful and continual review as standard.”’

However, Feinstein and Smidman pointed out that:

‘These contentions are not true and the stark, unavoidable reality is that the British government and its weapons manufacturers, between whom there is a symbiotic relationship, repeatedly violate domestic law and international agreements on arms controls with no repercussions.’

In short:

‘The British arms industry, politicians, the military and intelligence services can all essentially do what they want, with limited scrutiny and virtually no accountability.’

As just one damning example: in supplying arms and other support, including military training and maintenance services to Saudi Arabia, Britain is an active contributor to the brutal Saudi subjugation of the Yemeni people.

The UK also defies its own arms exports criteria in relation to Israel, to whom the UK has sold military equipment worth more than £400 million since 2015. Even this year’s deadly Israeli attacks in Gaza caused no let-up in UK sales to Israel.

These are all yet more examples of the gaslighting that state-corporate news media are guilty of: the constant framing of the UK as a ‘defender’ and ‘promoter’ of ‘security’ and ‘stability’, while the state and military companies pursue arms sales and a wider foreign policy that kills and endangers people abroad and at home.

‘Nothing Is Moving’ On Climate

Almost inevitably, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg makes a return in this alert for another dishonourable mention. ‘Boris Johnson aims to push for more climate action during trip’, she gushed after travelling as part of a press pack with him and his entourage on a plane headed to New York for climate talks. She wrote that Johnson was ‘delighted’ to be:

‘acting as the host of the government plane he has had repainted with the Union Jack on the tail, urging journalists to approve of the new paint job.’

But the most significant ‘paint job’ here was the BBC’s depiction of Johnson as some kind of climate hero. ‘Brokering climate deals a political priority’, was one headline in Kuenssberg’s report. She added:

‘the prime minister’s main task on this trip to New York is to push other countries to make more meaningful promises on cash and climate.’

The notion that Johnson, who has frequently cast doubt on global warming and made derogatory remarks about ‘bunny-hugging’, is a true champion of climate and environmental protection is bogus and dangerous. As recently as December 2015, when it was unseasonably warm, he published a Telegraph piece titled, ‘I can’t stand this December heat, but it has nothing to do with global warming’.

He wrote:

‘We may all be sweating in the winter air, but remember, we humans have always put ourselves at the centre of cosmic events.’

Referring to the leaders of state who had been at the 2015 Paris climate talks, Johnson added:

‘I am sure that those global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation.

‘There may be all kinds of reasons why I was sweating at ping-pong [in December] – but they don’t include global warming.’

The reference to ‘ping-pong’, and his flippant remarks on the climate talks, suggest the whole thing was all just a game to Johnson; a ‘jolly wheeze’ to provide ammo to churn out another newspaper column.

In this month’s Cabinet reshuffle, Johnson appointed Anne-Marie Trevelyan as his new International Trade Secretary. She had previously rejected climate science in a series of tweets between 2010 and 2012, stating in one:

‘Clear evidence that the ice caps aren’t melting after all, to counter those doom-mongers and global warming fanatics.’

People can, of course, change their minds when confronted by cast-iron evidence and solid arguments. Johnson himself said this month that ‘the facts change and people change their minds’. But the facts had not changed. Certainly not since 1988 when the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was set up and renowned climate scientist James Hansen testified to the US Congress about the already-known dangers of climate instability.

Moreover, how sincere can someone like Johnson be with his appalling track record? Has his understanding around the serious reality and implications of catastrophic climate change really changed? Or does he just say whatever he believes is politically expedient to retain his grip on power?

In April 2021, Johnson waffled about ‘building back greener’ after the pandemic.

‘It’s vital for all of us to show that this is not all about some expensive, politically correct, green act of bunny hugging.

‘What I’m driving at is this is about growth and jobs.’

Experienced observers of political rhetoric will recognise that ‘jobs’ is often newspeak for ‘corporate profits’.

Johnson’s insincerity and disregard for those he considers beneath him surfaced once more in the grossly insensitive remarks he made in ‘joking’ about Margaret Thatcher’s ‘green legacy’. During a visit to a windfarm off the Aberdeenshire coast in July, he was asked if he would set a deadline for ending fossil fuel extraction. He replied with what he clearly thought was a witty remark:

‘Look at what we’ve done already. We’ve transitioned away from coal in my lifetime.

‘Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we’re now moving rapidly away from coal altogether.’

Continuing his track record of serial deceptions, Johnson boasted this month that:

‘The fact is the UK is leading the world [in tackling the climate crisis] and you should be proud of it.’

The Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was scathing of this ‘lie’ that has been channelled repeatedly by Johnson and other cabinet ministers ahead of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow this November:

‘There’s a lie that the UK is a climate leader and that they have reduced their emissions by 45 per cent since 1990.’

She pointed out that the statistics do not include the UK’s share of emissions from international aviation, shipping and imported goods:

‘Of course, if you don’t include all emissions of course the statistics are going to look much nicer. I’m really hoping that we stop referring to the UK as a climate leader, because if you look at the reality that is simply not true. They are very good at creative carbon accounting, I must give them that, but it doesn’t mean much in practice.’

Rational analysis also shows that none of the world’s major economies – in particular, the entire G20 (which includes the UK) – is in line with the Paris Agreement on climate.

The watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analysed the policies of 36 countries, as well as the 27-nation European Union, and found that all major economies were off track to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The countries together make up 80 per cent of the world’s emissions.

Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, a CAT partner, warned that:

‘there has been little to no improvement: nothing is moving. Anyone would think they have all the time in the world, when in fact the opposite is the case.’

The lack of seriousness given by UK broadcasters to the crisis is evident in the results of a recent study that showed that the word ‘cake’ appeared 10 times more on British television than ‘climate change’ in 2020 while ‘dog’ was mentioned 22 times more. Mentions of climate change and global warming fell by 10 per cent and 19 per cent respectively compared with 2019, the report from BAFTA-backed sustainability initiative Albert found.

Joanna Donnelly of Met Éireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, told viewers of the ‘Claire Byrne Live’ programme on Irish television that:

‘when it comes to climate change, we are in an emergency situation’

Irish journalist John Gibbons highlighted the TV clip on Twitter, praising Donnelly’s forthright words, adding:

‘We’re in a Code Red national/global emergency, might be a good time to start acting like it (yes, media friends, that means YOU)’

A soberly-worded, but terrifying, assessment of climate change risk published last week by Chatham House warned that, unless countries dramatically increase their commitments in carbon cuts:

‘many of the climate change impacts described in this research paper are likely to be locked in by 2040, and become so severe they go beyond the limits of what nations can adapt to.’

The report added that:

‘Any relapse or stasis in emissions reduction policies could lead to a plausible worst case of 7°C of warming by the end of the century’

That prospect is terrifying. John Schellnhuber, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, warned a decade ago that:

‘the difference between two degrees and four degrees [of global warming] is human civilisation.’

In other words, we are potentially talking about the end of human life as we know it; perhaps even human extinction.

James Hansen, the previously mentioned climate expert, remains sceptical about a truly successful outcome of COP26 in Glasgow. He wrote earlier this month:

‘The bad news: we approach the gas bag season – the next Conference of the Parties (COP26) is scheduled for November 1-12.  Gas bag politicians won’t show you the data that matter because that would reveal their miserable performances.  Instead, they set climate goals for their children while adopting no polices that would give such goals a chance.  Some of them may have been honestly duped about the science and engineering, but many must be blatant hypocrites.’ 2

Other than the ever-present risk of nuclear war, there is no greater threat to humanity than the climate crisis. And there is no more damning example of gaslighting by state-corporate media when they tell us we can trust governments and corporations to do what is required to avert catastrophe.

  1. Nick Robinson, ‘Live From Downing Street’, Bantam Books, London, 2012, p. 332
  2. James Hansen, ‘August Temperature Update & Gas Bag Season Approaches’, email, 14 September 2021.
The post Gaslighting The Public: Serial Deceptions By The State-Corporate Media first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Sorry Cover-Up for US Mass Murder

AP Photo / Kirsty Wigglesworth, File

So a top US commander has come clean on primetime TV about the killing of 10 civilians in Afghanistan with a drone missile. Seven of the victims were children packed into a car.

CentCom General Kenneth McKenzie said the deadly strike was a “tragic mistake” and he offered his “deep condolences”. In an unprecedented televised press conference, the general said he took personal responsibility for the atrocity and that there would be financial compensation paid out to the victims’ families.

He didn’t offer his resignation though, which might seem appropriate for someone taking responsibility for such a heinous event. Neither did the Pentagon commander explain how compensation would be arranged given that the US evacuated from Afghanistan on 30 August with no officials now present in the country.

General McKenzie went to great lengths in his press conference to claim that the vehicle was surveilled carefully for several hours before the drone missile was launched, killing all the occupants. He presented a graphic to illustrate the detailed movements of the targeted car near Kabul international airport on 29 August. This was the day after a suicide bomber killed 13 US troops at the airport along with over 100 Afghan civilians trying to join the frenzied American airlift.

This handout photo courtesy of the US Air Force obtained on November 7, 2020 shows an armed MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) as it flies over the Nevada Test and Training Range on July 15, 2019. © AFP 2021 / Haley Stevens/US Air Force

The general emphasised how his staff were under immense time pressure when they were assessing the target whom they believed was an ISIS terror team on its way to bomb the airport again.

What is objectionable about McKenzie’s apology live on TV is the impression of an exceptional error by US forces.

The reality is that civilians are routinely murdered by US drones in Afghanistan and several other countries where the Pentagon is operating, oftentimes illegally in violation of international law. Killing innocent people is not an “exceptional error” for US forces, it is the norm.

Daniel Hale, a former US Air Force analyst who turned whistleblower, was imprisoned in July for revealing the horror of civilian casualties from drone strikes in Afghanistan. He told a judge that 90 percent of victims were innocent civilians. Hale said he was sickened by the indiscriminate slaughter. For his truth-telling, he is now behind bars.

The use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles was expanded under the Obama administration and they were deployed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Libya. Obama personally selected targets every week in briefings from the CIA in what became known as “Terror Tuesdays”.

U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley discusses the end of the military mission in Afghanistan during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2021 © REUTERS / Evelyn Hockstein

It was claimed that during the Obama drone assassination programme that the total number of civilians mistakenly killed was just 117. That figure was derided as a gross underestimate. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism puts a more accurate death toll at six times higher. Even the latter may be an underestimate.

Hale, the whistleblower, was prosecuted and jailed by the Trump administration. Public calls for a pardon have been so far ignored by the Biden administration.

The fate of truth-tellers who reveal the murderous nature of US military occupations in foreign countries is to be buried behind bars. Julian Assange’s biggest “crime” was showing to the world the systematic killing of civilians by US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Assange is being held in a maximum-security prison in England awaiting the outcome of an extradition order by the US where he faces 175 years in jail for “espionage”.

People like Julian Assange and Daniel Hale are heroes who should be venerated publicly and given lifetime awards.

Meanwhile, the real criminals are given primetime TV to parade their insipid apologies while taking no responsibility for the murder. Saying “sorry” means nothing when the killings will go on and on. It’s just a sorry cover-up for US imperialism and its routine war crimes.

US soldiers stand guard behind barbed wire as Afghans sit on a roadside near the military part of the airport in Kabul on August 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban’s military takeover of Afghanistan © AFP 2021 / Wakil Kohsar

Unlike many other US drone murders of civilians that are brushed away into oblivion, the killing of 10 civilians in Kabul only came to light because one of the victims worked for a US charity. Otherwise, the Pentagon would have ensured that the atrocity was buried in a bureaucratic cover-up. The innocent victims like the truth-tellers are always buried.

General McKenzie’s “honourable” mea culpa is sick performance art. It is aimed at reassuring the American public that we really are the good guys who rarely commit atrocities. And when we do, then it is an exceptional “tragic mistake” for which we are truly “sorry”. That gives US imperialism a license to continue criminal wars, aggression, occupations and Mass Murder Inc.

The post Sorry Cover-Up for US Mass Murder first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Targeting the Medical Evidence: The US Challenge on Assange’s Health

The desperate attempt by the US imperium to nab Julian Assange was elevated to another level on August 11 in a preliminary hearing before the UK High Court.  The central component to this gruesome affair was the continuing libel of the expert witness upon which District Justice Vanessa Baraitser placed so much emphasis in her January 4 decision not to extradite the WikiLeaks publisher.

The prosecution effort was intended to add more strings to their bow.  The US had already been given leave to appeal in July on the basis that the judge erred in law by deciding that Assange’s extradition would be oppressive.  This particular fatuous argument assumes that Baraitser was being too presumptuous about the appalling conditions that would face the publisher.  Why, they lament, did she not seek the relevant assurances from the US authorities?  If she had, they would have promised that Special Administrative Measures would not be imposed on Assange in pre-trial detention or in prison.  Nor would he find himself degrading in the appalling conditions of a Supermax facility.

This dubious undertaking was made alongside others, including the assurance that Assange would receive appropriate clinical and psychological treatment as recommended by the relevant clinician, and that he would qualify under the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.  Doing so would enable him to be transferred to Australia with the approval of the US Department of Justice.   The obvious question to ask here, and one put by the defence at the time, was why the prosecution had avoided giving these assurances at the extradition trial itself.

The judges looked favourably upon the prosecutor’s arguments that Professor Michael Kopelman’s evidence was possibly given undue weight.  Kopelman had not disclosed to the district court his knowledge of Assange’s relationship with Stella Moris and the existence of their two children.  Not doing so meant he had misled the court.

According to Clair Dobbin QC from the Crown Prosecution Service, Kopelman had given an undertaking to the court via a signed declaration that he would be an impartial expert witness.   He had been informed about his obligation to the court not to withhold information that might colour the evidence provided.  “If an expert has misled the court, he has failed in his duty.”  The district judge had failed to “appreciate the significance of the fact that Kopelman was willing to mislead”.

Had Dobbin bothered going through Baraitser’s judgment in detail she would have found a different picture.  The justice had described the concealment as “misleading and inappropriate in the context of [Kopelman’s] obligations to the court, but an understandable human response.”  This did not prevent her accepting the neuropsychiatrist’s view that “Assange suffers from recurrent depressive disorder, which was severe in December 2019, and sometimes accompanied by psychotic features (hallucinations), often with ruminative suicidal ideas.”  Nor had the concealment impaired Baraitser’s judgment, given that she already knew of the existence of Moris and the children before reading “the medical evidence or heard evidence on the issue.”

Defence counsel Edward Fitzgerald QC reiterated these points to the High Court bench.  The lower court was fully apprised of the evidence in its entirety, including two psychiatric reports and personal testimony.  Taken together, Kopelman could not be said to have breached his duty to the court.  As Fitzgerald explained, there was no “tactical advantage being gained” in Kopelman not disclosing the existence of Moris or the children in the first report but a very serious concern about their welfare given the threat posed by UC Global.  That particularly ignominious security firm was tasked by US authorities to bug the Ecuadorian embassy in London, attempted to make off with a diaper of one of Assange’s children for DNA testing, and chewed over the option of abducting or poisoning the publisher.

The effect of Kopelman’s concealment upon the evidence, the court found, could be raised in appeal by the prosecution.  As one of the two justices presiding, Lord Justice Holroyde reasoned, “Given the importance to the administration of justice of a court being able to rely on the impartiality of an expert witness, it is in my view arguable that more details and critical consideration should have been given to why [Kopelman’s] ‘understandable human response’ gave rise to a misleading report.”

The High Court also accepted the submission by the prosecution that it could argue that the district judge had erred in assessing the medical evidence on Assange’s suicide risk.  Dobbin, as she did at the extradition trial, continued the rubbishing campaign against Assange’s mental wellbeing.  “It really requires a mental illness of a type that the ability to resist suicide has been lost.  Part of the appeal will be that Assange did not have a mental illness that came close to being of that nature and degree.”

Too much weight, the prosecution contended in written submissions, had been given to Kopelman and the evidence of Dr. Quinton Deeley, the latter finding that Assange could be placed at the “high functioning end” of the autism spectrum.  Too little consideration had been given to the evidence from the prosecution witnesses, forensic psychiatrists Seena Fazel and Dr. Nigel Blackwood.  Along the way, the prosecution did its best to misrepresent Deeley’s evidence, arguing that he had prescribed the suicide risk as arising from a rational and voluntary choice. This ignored the actual court evidence which considered the combined circumstances of both Assange’s autism and the conditions of his detention.  When taken together, the risk of suicide risk was a high one.

The troubling feature of the High Court decision is that it facilitates an assault on a lower judge’s assessment of expert evidence, something even Holroyde admitted to be exceptional.  This point was forcefully made by the defence in written submissions: the prosecution’s attack on Baraitser’s preference for the medical evidence furnished by the defence witnesses failed “to recognise the entitlement of the primary decision maker to reach her own decision on the weight to be attached to the expert evidence of the defence on the one hand and the prosecution experts on the other.”

To assume that granting the US grounds to challenge Kopelman and the way Baraitser read the medical evidence as matters of justice are matters of farce, not fact.  After the hearing, Assange reminded Fitzgerald via video link from Belmarsh Prison that the human rights dimension in the case was unavoidable: Kopelman had simply wished to protect his client’s children from harm.  Reference to the discovery of guns found in the home of David Morales, the director of UC Global, was made.  The brand and serial numbers of the weapons had been effaced.

If justice was an appropriate consideration in this politicised case, which has featured surveillance by a superpower, privacy breaches, harassment and even suggested kidnapping or assassination of a publisher, Assange would be free.  Instead, the US imperium has been given more room to wriggle.

The post Targeting the Medical Evidence: The US Challenge on Assange’s Health first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Craig Murray’s jailing is the latest move in a battle to snuff out independent journalism

Craig Murray, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, the father of a newborn child, a man in very poor health and one who has no prior convictions, will have to hand himself over to the Scottish police on Sunday morning. He becomes the first person ever to be imprisoned on the obscure and vaguely defined charge of “jigsaw identification”.

Murray is also the first person to be jailed in Britain for contempt of court in half a century – a period when such different legal and moral values prevailed that the British establishment had only just ended the prosecution of “homosexuals” and the jailing of women for having abortions.

Murray’s imprisonment for eight months by Lady Dorrian, Scotland’s second most senior judge, is, of course, based entirely on a keen reading of Scottish law rather than evidence of the Scottish and London political establishments seeking revenge on the former diplomat. And the UK supreme court’s refusal on Thursday to hear Murray’s appeal despite many glaring legal anomalies in the case, thereby paving his path to jail, is equally rooted in a strict application of the law, and not influenced in any way by political considerations.

Murray’s jailing has nothing to do with the fact that he embarrassed the British state in the early 2000s by becoming that rarest of things: a whistleblowing diplomat. He exposed the British government’s collusion, along with the US, in Uzbekistan’s torture regime.

His jailing also has nothing to do with the fact that Murray has embarrassed the British state more recently by reporting the woeful and continuing legal abuses in a London courtroom as Washington seeks to extradite Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, and lock him away for life in a maximum security prison. The US wants to make an example of Assange for exposing its war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and for publishing leaked diplomatic cables that pulled the mask off Washington’s ugly foreign policy.

Murray’s jailing has nothing to do with the fact that the contempt proceedings against him allowed the Scottish court to deprive him of his passport so that he could not travel to Spain and testify in a related Assange case that is severely embarrassing Britain and the US. The Spanish hearing has been presented with reams of evidence that the US illegally spied on Assange inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he sought political asylum to avoid extradition. Murray was due to testify that his own confidential conversations with Assange were filmed, as were Assange’s privileged meetings with his own lawyers. Such spying should have seen the case against Assange thrown out, had the judge in London actually been applying the law.

Similarly, Murray’s jailing has nothing to do with his embarrassing the Scottish political and legal establishments by reporting, almost single-handedly, the defence case in the trial of Scotland’s former First Minister, Alex Salmond. Unreported by the corporate media, the evidence submitted by Salmond’s lawyers led a jury dominated by women to acquit him of a raft of sexual assault charges. It is Murray’s reporting of Salmond’s defence that has been the source of his current troubles.

And most assuredly, Murray’s jailing has precisely nothing to do with his argument – one that might explain why the jury was so unconvinced by the prosecution case – that Salmond was actually the victim of a high-level plot by senior politicians at Holyrood to discredit him and prevent his return to the forefront of Scottish politics. The intention, says Murray, was to deny Salmond the chance to take on London and make a serious case for independence, and thereby expose the SNP’s increasing lip service to that cause.

Relentless attack

Murray has been a thorn in the side of the British establishment for nearly two decades. Now they have found a way to lock him up just as they have Assange, as well as tie Murray up potentially for years in legal battles that risk bankrupting him as he seeks to clear his name.

And given his extremely precarious health – documented in detail to the court – his imprisonment further risks turning eight months into a life sentence. Murray nearly died from a pulmonary embolism 17 years ago when he was last under such relentless attack from the British establishment. His health has not improved since.

At that time, in the early 2000s, in the run-up to, and early stages of, the invasion of Iraq, Murray effectively exposed the complicity of fellow British diplomats – their preference to turn a blind eye to the abuses sanctioned by their own government and its corrupt and corrupting alliance with the US.

Later, when Washington’s “extraordinary rendition” – state kidnapping – programme came to light, as well as its torture regime at places like Abu Ghraib, the spotlight should have turned to the failure of diplomats to speak out. Unlike Murray, they refused to turn whistleblower. They provided cover to the illegality and barbarism.

For his pains, Murray was smeared by Tony Blair’s government as, among other things, a sexual predator – charges a Foreign Office investigation eventually cleared him of. But the damage was done, with Murray forced out. A commitment to moral and legal probity was clearly incompatible with British foreign policy objectives.

Murray had to reinvent his career, and he did so through a popular blog. He has applied the same dedication to truth-telling and commitment to the protection of human rights in his journalism – and has again run up against equally fierce opposition from the British establishment.

Two-tier journalism

The most glaring, and disturbing, legal innovation in Lady Dorrian’s ruling against Murray – and the main reason he is heading to prison – is her decision to divide journalists into two classes: those who work for approved corporate media outlets, and those like Murray who are independent, often funded by readers rather than paid big salaries by billionaires or the state.

According to Lady Dorrian, licensed, corporate journalists are entitled to legal protections she denied to unofficial and independent journalists like Murray – the very journalists who are most likely to take on governments, criticise the legal system, and expose the hypocrisy and lies of the corporate media.

In finding Murray guilty of so-called “jigsaw identification”, Lady Dorrian did not make a distinction between what Murray wrote about the Salmond case and what approved, corporate journalists wrote.

That is for good reason. Two surveys have shown that most of those following the Salmond trial who believe they identified one or more of his accusers did so from the coverage of the corporate media, especially the BBC. Murray’s writings appear to have had very little impact on the identification of any of the accusers. Among named individual journalists, Dani Garavelli, who wrote about the trial for Scotland on Sunday and the London Review of Books, was cited 15 times more often by respondents than Murray as helping them to identify Salmond’s accusers.

Rather, Lady Dorrian’s distinction was between who gets protected when identification occurs. Write for the Times or the Guardian, or broadcast on the BBC, where the audience reach is enormous, and the courts will protect you from prosecution. Write about the same issues for a blog, and you risk being hounded into prison.

In fact, the legal basis of “jigsaw identification” – one could argue the whole point of it – is that it accrues dangerous powers to the state. It gives permission for the legal establishment to arbitrarily decide which piece of the supposed jigsaw is to be counted as identification. If the BBC’s Kirsty Wark includes a piece of the jigsaw, it does not count as identification in the eyes of the court. If Murray or another independent journalist offers a different piece of the jigsaw, it does count. The obvious ease with which this principle can be abused by the establishment to oppress and silence dissident journalists should not need underscoring.

And yet this is no longer Lady Dorrian’s ruling alone. In refusing to hear Murray’s appeal, the UK supreme court has offered its blessing to this same dangerous, two-tiered classification.

Credentialed by the state

What Lady Dorrian has done is to overturn traditional views of what constitutes journalism: that it is a practice that at its very best is designed to hold the powerful to account, and that anyone who engages in such work is doing journalism, whether or not they are typically thought of as a journalist.

That idea was obvious until quite recently. When social media took off, one of the gains trumpeted even by the corporate media was the emergence of a new kind of “citizen journalist”. At that stage, corporate media believed that these citizen journalists would become cheap fodder, providing on-the-ground, local stories they alone would have access to and that only the establishment media would be in a position to monetise. This was precisely the impetus for the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section, which in its early incarnation allowed a varied selection of people with specialist knowledge or information to provide the paper with articles for free to increase the paper’s sales and advertising rates.

The establishment’s attitude to citizen journalists, and the Guardian’s to the “Comment is Free” model, only changed when these new journalists started to prove hard to control, and their work often highlighted, inadvertently or otherwise, the inadequacies, deceptions and double standards of the corporate media.

Now, Lady Dorrian has put the final nail in the coffin of citizen journalism. She has declared through her ruling that she and other judges will be the ones to decide who is considered a journalist and thereby who receives legal protections for their work. This is a barely concealed way for the state to license or “credentialise” journalists. It turns journalism into a professional guild with only official, corporate journalists safe from legal retribution by the state.

If you are an unapproved, uncredentialed journalist, you can be jailed, as Murray is being, on a similar legal basis to the imprisonment of someone who carries out a surgical operation without the necessary qualifications. But whereas the law against charlatan surgeons is there to protect the public, to stop unnecessary harm being inflicted on the sick, Lady Dorrian’s ruling will serve a very different purpose: to protect the state from the harm caused by the exposure of its secret or most malign practices by trouble-making, sceptical – and now largely independent – journalists.

Journalism is being corralled back into the exclusive control of the state and billionaire-owned corporations. It may not be surprising that corporate journalists, keen to hold on to their jobs, are consenting through their silence to this all-out assault on journalism and free speech. After all, this is a kind of protectionism – additional job security – for journalists employed by a corporate media that has no real intention to challenge the powerful.

But what is genuinely shocking is that this dangerous accretion of further power to the state and its allied corporate class is being backed implicitly by the journalists’ union, the NUJ. It has kept quiet over the many months of attacks on Murray and the widespread efforts to discredit him for his reporting. The NUJ has made no significant noise about Lady Dorrian’s creation of two classes of journalists – state-approved and unapproved – or about her jailing of Murray on these grounds.

But the NUJ has gone further. Its leaders have publicly washed their  hands of Murray by excluding him from membership of the union, even while its officials have conceded that he should qualify. The NUJ has become as complicit in the hounding of a journalist as Murray’s fellow diplomats once were for his hounding as an ambassador. This is a truly shameful episode in the NUJ’s history.

Free speech criminalised

But more dangerous still, Lady Dorrian’s ruling is part of a pattern in which the political, judicial and media establishments have colluded to narrow the definition of what counts as journalism, to exclude anything beyond the pap that usually passes for journalism in the corporate media.

Murray has been one of the few journalists to report in detail the arguments made by Assange’s legal team in his extradition hearings. Noticeably in both the Assange and Murray cases, the presiding judge has limited the free speech protections traditionally afforded to journalism and has done so by restricting who qualifies as a journalist. Both cases have been frontal assaults on the ability of certain kinds of journalists – those who are free from corporate or state pressure – to cover important political stories, effectively criminalising independent journalism. And all this has been achieved by sleight of hand.

In Assange’s case, Judge Vanessa Baraitser largely assented to US claims that what the Wikileaks founder had done was espionage rather than journalism. The Obama administration had held off prosecuting Assange because it could not find a distinction in law between his legal right to publish evidence of US war crimes and the New York Times and the Guardian’s right to publish the same evidence, provided to them by Wikileaks. If the US administration prosecuted Assange, it would also need to prosecute the editors of those papers.

Donald Trump’s officials bypassed that problem by creating a distinction between “proper” journalists, employed by corporate outlets that oversee and control what is published, and “bogus” journalists, those independents not subject to such oversight and pressures.

Trump’s officials denied Assange the status of journalist and publisher and instead treated him as a spy who colluded with and assisted whistleblowers. That supposedly voided the free speech protections he constitutionally enjoyed. But, of course, the US case against Assange was patent nonsense. It is central to the work of investigative journalists to “collude” with and assist whistleblowers. And spies squirrel away the information provided to them by such whistleblowers, they do not publicise it to the world, as Assange did.

Notice the parallels with Murray’s case.

Judge Baraitser’s approach to Assange echoed the US one: that only approved, credentialed journalists enjoy the protection of the law from prosecution; only approved, credentialed journalists have the right to free speech (should they choose to exercise it in newsrooms beholden to state or corporate interests). Free speech and the protection of the law, Baraitser implied, no longer chiefly relate to the legality of what is said, but to the legal status of who says it.

A similar methodology has been adopted by Lady Dorrian in Murray’s case. She has denied him the status of a journalist, and instead classified him as some kind of “improper” journalist, or blogger. As with Assange, there is an implication that “improper” or “bogus” journalists are such an exceptional threat to society that they must be stripped of the normal legal protections of free speech.

“Jigsaw identification” – especially when allied to sexual assault allegations, involving women’s rights and playing into the wider, current obsession with identity politics – is the perfect vehicle for winning widespread consent for the criminalisation of the free speech of critical journalists.

Corporate media shackles

There is an even bigger picture that should be hard to miss for any honest journalist, corporate or otherwise. What Lady Dorrian and Judge Baraitser – and the establishment behind them – are trying to do is put the genie back in the bottle. They are trying to reverse a trend that over more than a decade has seen a small but growing number of journalists use new technology and social media to liberate themselves from the shackles of the corporate media and tell truths audiences were never supposed to hear.

Don’t believe me? Consider the case of Guardian and Observer journalist Ed Vulliamy. In his book Flat Earth News, Vulliamy’s colleague at the Guardian, Nick Davies, tells the story of how Roger Alton, editor of the Observer at the time of the Iraq war, and a credentialed, licensed journalist if ever there was one, sat on one of the biggest stories in the paper’s history for months on end.

In late 2002, Vulliamy, a veteran and much trusted reporter, persuaded Mel Goodman, a former senior CIA official who still had security clearance at the agency, to go on record that the CIA knew there were no WMD in Iraq – the pretext for an imminent and illegal invasion of that country. As many suspected, the US and British governments had been telling lies to justify a coming war of aggression against Iraq, and Vulliamy had a key source to prove it.

But Alton spiked this earth-shattering story and then refused to publish another six versions written by an increasingly exasperated Vulliamy over the next few months, as war loomed. Alton was determined to keep the story out of the news. Back in 2002 it only took a handful of editors – all of whom had risen through the ranks for their discretion, nuance and careful “judgment” – to make sure some kinds of news never reached their readers.

Social media has changed such calculations. Vulliamy’s story could not be quashed so easily today. It would leak out, precisely through a high-profile independent journalist like Assange or Murray. Which is why such figures are so critically important to a healthy and informed society – and why they, and a few others like them, are gradually being disappeared. The cost of allowing independent journalists to operate freely, the establishment has understood, is far too high.

First, all independent, unlicensed journalism was lumped in as “fake news”. With that as the background, social media corporations were able to collude with so-called legacy media corporations to algorithm independent journalists into oblivion. And now independent journalists are being educated about what fate is likely to befall them should they try to emulate Assange or Murray.

Asleep at the wheel

In fact, while corporate journalists have been asleep at the wheel, the British establishment has been preparing to widen the net to criminalise all journalism that seeks to seriously hold power to account. A recent government consultation document calling for a more draconian crackdown on what is being deceptively termed “onward disclosure” – code for journalism – has won the backing of Home Secretary Priti Patel. The document implicitly categorises journalism as little different from espionage and whistleblowing.

In the wake of the consultation paper, the Home Office has called on parliament to consider “increased maximum sentences” for offenders – that is, journalists – and ending the distinction “between espionage and the most serious unauthorised disclosures”. The government’s argument is that “onward disclosures” can create “far more serious damage” than espionage and so should be treated similarly. If accepted, any public interest defence – the traditional safeguard for journalists – will be muted.

Anyone who followed the Assange hearings last summer – which excludes most journalists in the corporate media – will notice strong echoes of the arguments made by the US for extraditing Assange, arguments conflating journalism with espionage that were largely accepted by Judge Baraitser.

None of this has come out of the blue. As the online technology publication The Register noted back in 2017, the Law Commission was at the time considering “proposals in the UK for a swingeing new Espionage Act that could jail journalists as spies”. It said such an act was being “developed in haste by legal advisers”.

It is quite extraordinary that two investigative journalists – one a long-term, former member of staff at the Guardian – managed to write an entire article in that paper this month on the government consultation paper and not mention Assange once. The warning signs have been there for the best part of a decade but corporate journalists have refused to notice them. Similarly, it is no coincidence that Murray’s plight has also not registered on the corporate media’s radar.

Assange and Murray are the canaries in the coal mine for the growing crackdown on investigative journalism and on efforts to hold executive power to account. There is, of course, ever less of that being done by the corporate media, which may explain why corporate outlets appear not only relaxed about the mounting political and legal climate against free speech and transparency but have been all but cheering it on.

In the Assange and Murray cases, the British state is carving out for itself a space to define what counts as legitimate, authorised journalism – and journalists are colluding in this dangerous development, if only through their silence. That collusion tells us a great deal about the mutual interests of the corporate political and legal establishments, on the one hand, and the corporate media establishment on the other.

Assange and Murray are not only telling us troubling truths we are not supposed to hear. The fact that they are being denied solidarity by those who are their colleagues, those who may be next in the firing line, tells us everything we need to know about the so-called mainstream media: that the role of corporate journalists is to serve establishment interests, not challenge them.

The post Craig Murray’s jailing is the latest move in a battle to snuff out independent journalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The US Appeals the Assange Ruling

It took over half a year, but the US government’s case against Julian Assange continues its draining grind.  Even the Biden administration, which claims to tolerate a free press and truthful dialogue with the fourth estate, has decided to exhaust its legal options in seeking the publisher’s scalp.

On July 7, the UK High Court of Justice agreed to hear the appeal from the US government on narrow grounds, though no date has been set for those proceedings.  The Crown Prosecution Service, representing the US government, is challenging District Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s ruling that Assange not be extradited for health and medical reasons.

That judgment accepted the defence’s evidence that Assange was a suicide risk, and that the conditions of detention in a US supermax prison facility might well exacerbate it.  There was also a “real risk that … Assange will be subject to restrictive special administrative measures [SAMs].”  The result of such measures would see his mental health “deteriorate to the point where he will commit suicide with the ‘single minded determination’ described by Dr [Quinton] Deeley.”  She was further “satisfied that Mr Assange’s suicidal impulses will come from his psychiatric diagnoses rather than his own voluntary act.”  Given such evidence “it would be oppressive to extradite [Assange] to the United States of America.”

The submissions by the prosecution are not publicly available, but have been reviewed by Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof.  They contend that the judge erred in law in determining that Assange’s extradition was oppressive.  The judge should have also been forthcoming to the US government of her concerns or “provisional view” of the risk posed to Assange and sought relevant “assurances”.

This latter point is disingenuous; the case by the US Department of Justice was based on shoddy assertions by prosecutors and expert witnesses who betrayed their ignorance about the role played by SAMs and supermax prison conditions.  But in making their appeal, the prosecutors were all sweetness, suggesting that SAMs would not be imposed on Assange in pre-trial detention or, should he be convicted, in prison.  Feeling the need to draw the line somewhere, they would not promise that other forms of isolation of administrative segregation would not be used.  While Assange would not necessarily find himself incarcerated at the ADX Florence in Colorado, it would depend on any “future act” that would qualify.

As for how Assange would be treated medically, the CPS made another weak promise that he would “receive clinical and psychological treatment as is recommended by a qualified clinician employed or retained by the prison.”

The prosecutors were also willing to give another assurance they refused to test at trial.  Assange would be allowed to avail himself of the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons in brokering a prisoner transfer to Australia.  The DoJ would give their consent to any such arrangement.

Assange’s defence lawyers were terse in rejecting the contention.  “They had every opportunity to offer such an assurance at the extradition hearing, since the relevant Council of Europe treaty has been in operation for many years.”  Any such proceeding pursuant to the treaty, in any case, “could not take place until the conclusion of the trial and all appellate processes, which are obviously likely to be very prolonged.”  As this was taking place, the publisher would face conditions of isolation “in an alien and hostile environment far from his family.”

The prosecutors further sought to weaken Varaitser’s judgment by again targeting the testimony of Professor Michael Kopelman, whose evidence they had failed to discredit at trial.  That less than noble effort involved claiming that Assange “had a strong incentive to feign or exaggerate his symptoms” aided by his consultation of “scientific journals”.   The prosecution also accused Kopelman of a lack of partiality “by deliberately concealing information that he had been told about Mr Assange’s partner Stella Moris, and their children.”  Judge Baraitser found the concealment “misleading and inappropriate in the context of his obligations to the court, but an understandable human response.”  She accepted Kopelman’s view that “Assange suffers from recurrent depressive disorder, which was severe in December 2019, and sometimes accompanied by psychotic features (hallucinations), often with ruminative suicidal ideas.”

The defence countered in their submission against the appealing prosecutors that Baraitser had not erred in law in concluding that Assange’s “suicidal impulses” would stem from his “psychiatric condition” and would not be the result of “his own voluntary act.”   The “attack” on Kopelman also failed to “recognise the entitlement of the primary decision maker to reach her own decision on the weight to be attached to the expert evidence of the defence on the one hand and the prosecution experts on the other.”

In a statement in response to the High Court decision, Moris responded by recounting the miscellany of glaring defects in the case against her partner: the fabricated testimony of lead DoJ witness Sigurdur Thordarson; nefarious suggestions that Assange be assassinated by US agents; surveillance of his legal team and the theft of legal documents; and, for good measure, threats against the family.  “The case is rotten to the core, and nothing that the US government can say about his future treatment is worth the paper it is written on.” Such a presumption is virtually beyond rebuttal.

The post The US Appeals the Assange Ruling first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Thordarson’s Fabrications: Another Hole in the Julian Assange Prosecution

The tyrannical, brutal cynicism of keeping Julian Assange in Belmarsh prison remains one of the more inglorious marks of the British legal system and, it should be said, its sponsors and colluders. Having won his case against extradition to the US, if only in deeply qualified terms, the UK keeps the WikiLeaks publisher banged up as the appeals process stutters.

The case against Assange could have been thrown out under any number of grounds. Unfortunately, the judgment halting his extradition to the US on 17 charges based on the Espionage Act and one charge of computer intrusion was framed in purposely narrow terms, ignoring the patently political nature of the proceedings.  Were it not for District Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s January 4 ruling accepting the state of his precarious health, risk of suicide and the dangerous conditions he would face in the US legal system, the publisher would no doubt be facing special administrative measures and, most likely, the life-sucking interior of a supermax.

A central, and impairing problem in the ruling, was its comfortable acceptance of virtually everything submitted by the prosecution, including the contention that Assange was no journalist, and that he conspired with various associates to hack and make off with classified material.  The judgment also refused to consider – given the ongoing investigation in Spain against the security firm UC Global – that the Central Intelligence Agency had compromised the legal credibility of proceedings by bugging Assange’s privileged conversations in the Ecuadorian embassy.  “This court has no access to the information discovered from this investigation,” reasoned a dismissive Baraitser.  Sordid proposals by US intelligence officials to abduct or assassinate Assange, adduced in court by two anonymous witnesses formerly in the employ of UC Global, could be dismissed as having no bearing on the case.

As if this was not sufficient to sink the matter and open the prison doors of Belmarsh to the founder of WikiLeaks, another dire revelation was made in the Icelandic biweekly Stundin on June 26.  A vital prosecution witness wished to come clean on his testimony.  Sigurdur “Siggi” Thordarson, that sketchiest of characters, admitted that the testimony gleefully used by US prosecutors had been riddled by fabrications.

In 2011, Thordarson piqued the interest of the FBI after planning a DDoS attack on an Icelandic website in concert with Hector Xavier Monsegur (“Sabu”).  Monsegur, posing as a member of the hacking outfit LulzSec, had become an informant for the FBI.  With touted links to WikiLeaks and Assange (Thordarson was not the shy, retiring type), the FBI sought the teenager’s services.  Thordarson had, in fact, been a noisy volunteer tasked with raising money for the organisation.  During the course of his revenue raising operations, he embezzled over $50,000.

Not content with these additions to his resume, the teenager shamelessly rode the WikiLeaks reputation train, making contacts with journalists, being subsidised on trips where he could claim to be an official representative of the organisation.  During this time, he pilfered material from WikiLeaks, copying the documents of Renata Avila, a lawyer assisting Assange and the organisation.

The DoJ indictment does not explicitly name Thordarson or the Icelandic nexus, but little is left to the imagination, given that Assange was visiting Iceland “in early 2010” to aid the country’s politicians and media outlets prepare the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative.  The IMMI resolution, unanimously adopted in the Icelandic Parliament on June 16, 2011, aimed to make Iceland a safe haven for journalists and whistleblowers by protecting freedom of expression and freedom of information.

The indictment alleges that Assange, in early 2010 and while in contact with Chelsea Manning for reasons of obtaining “classified information […] met a 17-year old in NATO Country-1 (‘Teenager’), who provided [him] with data stolen from a bank.”  The indictment goes on to claim that Assange asked the “Teenager” in question “to commit computer intrusions and steal additional information, including audio recordings of phone conversations between high-ranking officials of the government of NATO Country-1, including members of the Parliament of NATO Country-1.”

This nasty filling to the superseding indictment expanded the allegedly conspiratorial nature of Assange’s conduct, a measure undoubtedly designed to tag a few more years to any prison sentence that would be handed down.  This would also blacken Assange’s journalistic credentials and any claims to free speech protections.

No longer a callow teenager and having served time for financial fraud and sexually abusing minors, Thordarson told Stundin “that Assange never asked him to hack or to access phone recordings of MPs.”  He now insists that he had “received some files from a third party who claimed to have recorded MPs and had offered to share them with Assange without having any idea what they actually contained.”  Thordarson failed to go through the files, or even verify whether they had audio recordings as claimed by the third party source.  The allegation that Assange instructed him to access computers in order to find such recordings is also dismissed as false.

The Stundin article also delves into the chat logs and new documents “never before published”.  While Thordarson did gather them himself – a warning of self-partiality there – they do cover conversations with WikiLeaks staff and his unauthorised contact with various hacking groups, connections made when moderating the online IRC WikiLeaks forum.

The logs are not flattering.  They reveal a person prone to embellishment and mendacity.  The big headed “Siggi” considered himself a “chief of staff”, the fictional director of communications in WikiLeaks, and second in pecking order in terms of finding recruits for the organisation. Independently of WikiLeaks, he urged hackers to target Icelandic entities and websites with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.  Thordarson, roguishly, gives the impression that such conduct was expected of him by Assange, though there is no evidence that he was ever spurred on to do so.  Further to that point, any purported instructions by Assange to pursue such an enterprise would have been at odds with his fruitful relationship with Icelandic politicians and press outlets at that point.

The sinister conclusion to draw here, notably through the FBI link, is that a DDoS attack was conducted against the websites of several Icelandic government entities with the approval of US authorities.  Linking Monsegur to the supposedly WikiLeaks-directed Thordarson would be one way of implicating Assange.  The US authorities, reasons Ögmundur Jónasson, Iceland’s Interior Minister at the time, “were trying to use things here [in Iceland] and use people in our country to spin a web, a cobweb that would catch Julian Assange.”

Despite having chalked up a decent prison record and possessing the profile of a fully-fledged sociopath, Thordarson was revisited by US authorities in 2019.  The prosecution of Assange, seen as a legal and risky cul-de-sac by Obama era officials, became a priority for President Donald Trump’s Attorney General William Barr.  In May 2019 Siggi was offered an immunity deal by the DoJ’s deputy assistant attorney general in the department’s National Security Division, Kellen S. Dwyer.  In addition to giving Thordarson immunity from prosecution by US authorities for his testimony, Stundin revealed the guarantee by the DoJ that they “would not share any such information to other prosecutorial or law enforcement agencies.”  Iceland’s law enforcement authorities would be kept in the dark.

The Stundin exposé might have been an early birthday present of sorts for Assange, who turned 50 on July 3.  But instead of hearing news of an impending release, the Australian publisher had to content himself with faithful commemorations held in his honour and sketchy coverage about these latest revelations in the mainstream press.  The UK continues to remain Washington’s deputised jailor, while Thordarson, emboldened by his agreement with the DoJ, continues his habitual forgeries.

The post Thordarson’s Fabrications: Another Hole in the Julian Assange Prosecution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Remarkable Silence: Media Blackout After Key Witness Against Assange Admits Lying

As we have pointed out since Media Lens began in 2001, a fundamental feature of corporate media is propaganda by omission. Over the past week, a stunning example has highlighted this core property once again.

A major witness in the US case against Julian Assange has just admitted fabricat­ing key accusati­ons in the indictment against the Wikileaks founder. These dramatic revelations emerged in an extensive article published on 26 June in Stundin, an Icelandic newspaper. The paper interviewed the witness, Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, a former WikiLeaks volunteer, who admitted that he had made false allegations against Assange after being recruited by US authorities. Thordarson, who has several convictions for sexual abuse of minors and financial fraud, began working with the US Department of Justice and the FBI after receiving a promise of immunity from prosecution. He even admitted to continuing his crime spree while working with the US authorities.

Last summer, US officials had presented an updated version of their indictment against Assange to Magistrate Court Judge Vanessa Baraitser at the Old Bailey in London. Key to this update was the assertion that Assange had instructed Thordarson to commit computer intrusions or hacking in Iceland.

As the Stundin article reported:

‘The aim of this addition to the indictment was apparently to shore up and support the conspiracy charge against Assange in relation to his interactions with Chelsea Manning. Those occurred around the same time he resided in Iceland and the authors of the indictment felt they could strengthen their case by alleging he was involved in illegal activity there as well. This activity was said to include attempts to hack into the computers of members of [the Icelandic] parliament and record their conversations.

‘In fact, Thordarson now admits to Stundin that Assange never asked him to hack or access phone recordings of MPs.’

Judge Baraitser’s ruling on 4 January, 2021 was against extradition to the US. But she did so purely on humanitarian grounds concerning Assange’s health, suicide risk and the extreme conditions he would face in confinement in US prisons.

The Stundin article continued:

‘With regards to the actual accusations made in the indictment Baraitser sided with the arguments of the American legal team, including citing the specific samples from Iceland which are now seriously called into question.

‘Other misleading elements can be found in the indictment, and later reflected in the Magistrate’s judgement, based on Thordarson’s now admitted lies.’

The Stundin article further details Thordarson’s lies and deceptions, including mispresenting himself as an official representative of WikiLeaks while a volunteer in 2010-2011, even impersonating Assange, and embezzling more than $50,000 from the organisation.

By August 2011, Thordarson was being pursued by WikiLeaks staff trying to locate the missing funds. In fact, Thordarson had arranged for the money to be sent to his private bank account by forging an email in Assange’s name. That month, Thordarson sought a way out by contacting the US Embassy in Iceland, offering to be an informant in the case against Assange.

Stundin noted:

‘within 48 hrs a private jet landed in Reykjavik with around eight [US] agents who quickly set up meetings with Thordarson and with people from the Icelandic State Prosecutors office and the State Police Commissioner.’

But it turned out that the US officers did not have permission from the Icelandic government to operate in the country and Ögmundur Jónasson, then Iceland’s minister of interior, ordered them to leave. Meanwhile, the FBI were allegedly complicit in DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks on the websites of several Iceland government institutions. The FBI had then approached Icelandic authorities, promising to assist them in preventing any future such attacks. In reality, the approach was a ruse to fool Iceland into cooperation in an attempt to entrap Assange.

Jónasson said that the Americans:

‘were trying to use things here [in Iceland] and use people in our country to spin a web, a cobweb that would catch Julian Assange.’

The US officials left Iceland, flying to Denmark, but taking with them their new informant and ‘star witness’, Thordarson.

Stundin reported:

The meeting in Denmark was the first of a few where the FBI enthusiastically embraced the idea of co-operation with Thordarson. He says they wanted to know everything about WikiLeaks, including physical security of staff. They took material he had gathered, including data he had stolen from WikiLeaks employees and even planned to send him to England with a wire. Thordarson claimed in interviews he had refused that particular request. It was probably because he was not welcomed anymore as he knew WikiLeaks people had found out, or were about to firmly establish, that he had embezzled funds from the organization.’

However:

‘After months of collaboration the FBI seem to have lost interest. At about the same time charges were piling up against Thordarson with the Icelandic authorities for massive fraud, forgeries and theft on the one hand and for sexual violations against underage boys he had tricked or forced into sexual acts on the other.

‘After long investigations Thordarson was sentenced in 2013 and 2014 and received relatively lenient sentences as the judge took into account that he changed his plea at court and pleaded guilty to all counts.’

The article continued:

‘Incarceration did not seem to have an intended effect of stopping Thordarson from continuing his life of crime. It actually took off and expanded in extent and scope in 2019 when the Trump-era DoJ [Department of Justice] decided to revisit him, giving him a formal status as witness in the prosecution against Julian Assange and granting him immunity in return from any prosecution.’

A ‘Sociopath’ Who ‘Lied To Get Immunity’

Under President Obama, the US Department of Justice had decided against indicting Assange, despite devoting huge resources to building a case against him. The stumbling block was ‘The New York Times Problem’: the difficulty in distinguishing between WikiLeaks publications and NYT publications of the same material. In other words, prosecuting WikiLeaks would pose grave First Amendment risks for even ‘respectable’ media such as the NYT.

But this changed after Trump took office. Stundin explained:

‘President Donald Trump’s appointed Attorney general William Barr did not share these concerns, and neither did his Trump-appointed deputy Kellen S. Dwyer. Barr, who faced severe criticism for politicizing the DoJ on behalf of the president, got the ball rolling on the Assange case once again. Their argument was that if they could prove he was a criminal rather than a journalist the charges would stick, and that was where Thordarson’s testimony would be key.

‘In May 2019 Thordarson was offered an immunity deal, signed by Dwyer, that granted him immunity from prosecution based on any information on wrong doing they had on him. The deal, seen in writing by Stundin, also guarantees that the DoJ would not share any such information to other prosecutorial or law enforcement agencies. That would include Icelandic ones, meaning that the Americans will not share information on crimes he might have committed threatening Icelandic security interests – and the Americans apparently had plenty of those but had over the years failed to share them with their Icelandic counterparts.’

Thordarson’s offer of an immunity deal came the month following Assange’s forced removal from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, most likely with US connivance, and subsequent incarceration in the high-security Belmarsh prison.

It is not clear from the Stundin article why Thordarson has now decided to come clean. But the Stundin journalists noted that a psychiatric assessment that had been submitted to an Icelandic court before he was sentenced diagnosed him as a sociopath:

‘incapable of remorse but still criminally culpable for his actions. He was assessed to be able to understand the basic difference between right and wrong. He just did not seem to care.’

In a new blog piece discussing these revelations, Craig Murray, who had reported from the Old Bailey during the Assange extradition hearing, referred back to the final day of proceedings. Magistrate Baraitser had refused to accept an affidavit from Assange’s solicitor Gareth Peirce addressing the updated indictment on the grounds it was out of time:

‘The affidavit explained that the defence had been unable to respond to the new accusations in the United States government’s second superseding indictment, because these wholly new matters had been sprung on them just six weeks before the hearing resumed on 8 September 2020.

‘The defence had not only to gather evidence from Iceland, but had virtually no access to Assange to take his evidence and instructions, as he was effectively in solitary confinement in Belmarsh. The defence had requested an adjournment to give them time to address the new accusations, but this adjournment had been refused by Baraitser.

‘She now refused to accept Gareth Peirce’s affidavit setting out these facts.’

Even before the Stundin article was published five days ago, Thordarson’s testimony should have already been recognised as suspect, to say the least. As WikiLeaks noted last year:

‘The “Star Witness” of the new superseding indictment is a diagnosed sociopath/ convicted conman/ child abuser/ FBI informant who was found guilty in Iceland of impersonating #Assange

The recent Stundin revelations that the updated US indictment against Assange rests on now-admitted lies means that the FBI case is demonstrably a travesty.

US policy analyst Gareth Porter noted:

‘It’s now clearer than ever before that the U.S. indictment of #Assange is based on fraud. A key accuser admits he lied to the help set up Assange. How much evidence does the Justice Department need stop this criminal abuse of power?’

As the famous US whistleblower Edward Snowden tweeted:

‘This is the end of the case against Julian Assange.’

Or, as journalist Glenn Greenwald followed up, more realistically:

‘It should be.’

Jennifer Robinson, a human rights attorney who has been advising Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010, told Democracy Now:

‘The factual basis for this case has completely fallen apart.’

Robinson pointed out:

‘the evidence from Thordarson that was given to the United States and formed the basis of the second, superseding indictment, including allegations of hacking, has now been, on his own admission, demonstrated to have been fabricated [our emphasis]. Not only did he misrepresent his access to Julian Assange and to WikiLeaks and his association with Julian Assange, he has now admitted that he made up and falsely misrepresented to the United States that there was any association with WikiLeaks and any association with hacking.

‘So, this is just the latest revelation to demonstrate why the U.S. case should be dropped.’

Robinson expanded:

‘it’s significant that the initial indictment for Julian Assange related only to the publications back in 2010, 2011, the Chelsea Manning publications. It was a second, superseding indictment, introduced by the Trump administration, which was based upon Thordarson’s evidence [our emphasis]. Now, any lawyer and even any layperson would be looking at evidence from a convicted felon, who had been convicted of forgery, fraud and sexual abuse allegations associated with minors. That is a problematic source. Now we have him admitting that he lied to the FBI about that evidence. This raises serious concerns about the integrity of this investigation and the integrity of this criminal prosecution, and serious questions ought to be being asked within the Department of Justice about this prosecution and the fact that it is continuing at all.’

The headline of the article accompanying Robinson’s interview put it succinctly:

‘U.S. Case Against Julian Assange Falls Apart, as Key Witness Says He Lied to Get Immunity’

Tumbleweed In The ‘MSM’

But all of this is seemingly of no interest to the ‘mainstream’ media. We have not found a single report by any ‘serious’ UK broadcaster or newspaper. Journalist Matt Kennard, head of investigations at Declassified UK, observed fully two days after the story broke:

‘I don’t think one US or UK newspaper has reported this. The free press is incredible.’

Several days on, the ‘mainstream’ media silence is truly remarkable. As we remarked via Twitter:

‘The discipline, or blindness, to ignore awkward facts is a reliable feature of corporate “journalism”’

Of course, it is possible that we have missed something, somewhere in the ‘MSM’; perhaps a brief item at 3am on the BBC World Service. But in a sane world, Stundin’s revelations about a key Assange witness – that Thordarson lied in exchange for immunity from prosecution – would have been headline news everywhere, with extensive media coverage on BBC News at Six and Ten, ITV News, Channel 4 News, front-page stories in the Times, Telegraph, the Guardian and more. The silence is quite extraordinary; and disturbing. Caitlin Johnstone described it as a ‘weird, creepy media blackout’:

‘not one major western media outlet outside of Iceland has reported on this massive and entirely legitimate news story. A search brings up coverage by Icelandic media, by Russian media, and by smaller western outlets like Democracy NowWorld Socialist WebsiteConsortium NewsZero Hedge and some others, but as of this writing this story has been completely ignored by all major outlets who are ostensibly responsible for informing the public in the western world.’

Johnstone continued:

‘It’s not that those outlets have been ignoring Assange altogether these last few days either. Reuters recently published an interview with Assange’s fiance Stella Moris. Evening Standard has a recent article out on Assange’s plans to marry Moris in Belmarsh, as does Deutsche Welle. It’s just this one story in particular that they’ve been blacking out completely.’

She offered an explanation for the silence across the media:

‘they’re all generally following the lead of just a handful of top-tier publications like The New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Wall Street Journal and The Guardian. If just those few outlets decide to ignore a major news story that’s inconvenient for the powerful (either by persuasion, infiltration or by their own initiative), then no one else will either. As far as the media-consuming public is concerned, it’s like the major news story never happened at all.’

More fundamentally:

‘Western mass media outlets are propaganda. They are owned and controlled by wealthy people in coordination with the secretive government agencies tasked with preserving the world order upon which the media-owning plutocrats have built their kingdoms, and their purpose is to manipulate the way the mainstream public thinks, acts and votes into alignment with the agendas of the ruling class.

‘You see this propaganda in the way things are reported, but you also see it in the way things are not reported. Entire news stories can be completely redacted from mainstream attention if they are sufficiently inconvenient for the mechanisms of empire, or only allowed in via platforms like Tucker Carlson Tonight and thereby tainted and spun as ridiculous right-wing conspiracy theories.’

Our polite challenges to Paul Royall, editor of BBC News at Six and Ten, and Katharine Viner, editor of the Guardian, went unanswered, despite multiple retweets and follow-up queries by other Twitter users. Of course, this is the standard non-response of even the ‘best’ state-corporate media to uncomfortable questions.

As we have often observed, the establishment media relentlessly warn of the insidious nature of ‘fake news’: a claim that does have a seed of validity. But it is the state-corporate media themselves who are the primary purveyors of fake news. As Tim Coles, author of ‘Real Fake News’, commented:

‘Whenever people in power tell you that fake news is undermining democracy, they really mean that alternative sources of information are challenging their grip on power.’

In fact, the most dangerous component of ‘MSM’ fake news is arguably propaganda by omission. In ostensible ‘democracies’, the public cannot make informed decisions, and take appropriate action, when the crimes of ruling elites are kept hidden by a complicit media.

The post A Remarkable Silence: Media Blackout After Key Witness Against Assange Admits Lying first appeared on Dissident Voice.