March 18, 2019

Video: As Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Prepares to Meet Donald Trump, His...

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is in Washington to meet U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday. While the trip officially is focused on the joint efforts of the U.S. and Brazil to change the government of Venezuela, it is being billed by the Bolsonaro government as a “restart” of his presidency and image after multiple, serious scandals crippled the first three months of his presidency.

But when it comes to recreating his image, the timing of this trip could hardly be worse. Key news events of the last several weeks — including the arrests of two former Rio de Janeiro police officers for the March 2018 assassination of Rio City Council Councilor Marielle Franco — have highlighted the most damaging and, to many, most terrifying revelations about Bolsonaro and his three politician sons: their extensive, direct, multilayered, and deeply personal ties to the paramilitary gangs and militias responsible for Brazil’s most horrific violence.

Watch our video report on the growing, multilevel, personal, and highly disturbing links between Bolsonaro and his family on the one hand, and the country’s most violent, lawless, and murderous paramilitary gangs on the other:

Just consider how, even before the arrests of Franco’s killers last week, so many deep ties had already emerged between Bolsonaro and his sons, who won office principally on an anti-crime and anti-corruption platform, and the paramilitary gangs composed of current and former military police officers and military members. Bolsonaro himself is a former army captain who served during Brazil’s military dictatorship and left in the 1980s amid allegations of misconduct; yet, even now as the president, he still has his friends and aides address him as “Captain.”

In January, the Rio de Janeiro police executed a full-scale raid against the city’s most dangerous militia, the one that houses within it the terrifying murder-for-hire team known as “the Crime Office.” That assassin team is composed of highly trained police officers who use their specialized knowledge of investigations and assassin skills to carry out murders with very little possibility of detection, and they have long been the leading suspects in Franco’s assassination, given how professional and frighteningly efficient that murder was carried out.

The January raid resulted in the arrest of five of the top six commanders of the militia. The only one who escaped, and is still a fugitive, was the chief of that militia: ex-police captain Adriano Magalhães da Nóbrega (pictured right, from a prior arrest). Wanted for other murders, and subject to an Interpol arrest warrant, he has presided as the leader of Rio’s most terrifying militia, the one that police concluded carried out Franco’s assassination with such chilling precision.

That raid led to a shocking revelation: Unbeknownst to the public, the mother and wife of Nóbrega — one of Brazil’s most notorious gangsters — were both receiving salaries from the state. That’s because both of them were formally employed by Flávio Bolsonaro, Jair Bolsonaro’s oldest son, for the entire last decade as he served as a state representative in the Rio de Janeiro state legislature. When Jair Bolsonaro was elected president last November, Flávio moved up to the Federal Senate as a result of winning his election in Rio with a massive vote total.

Shortly after this highly incriminating connection was revealed, a dam collapsed in the interior of Brazil and tragically killed more than 200 people, understandably replacing news coverage of virtually all other events. That resulted in far less attention being paid to Flávio’s close connections to Nóbrega’s family than was deserved. So just reflect on that: Jair Bolsonaro’s son had on his official government payroll the mother and wife of one of the country’s most notorious and psychopathic paramilitary leaders, the fugitive chief of the militia responsible for the assassination of Marielle Franco, among countless other murders.

In February, Flávio’s direct and intimate ties to militias became even more glaring. Checks were found issued in the name of his campaign account signed by the sister of two twin-brother militia members, Alan and Alex Rodrigues de Oliveira, arrested in a large-scale police raid last August. Just months prior to the arrest of these two militia brothers, Flávio posted to his Instagram a photo of himself and his father, then a presidential candidate, at a birthday party for the two militia twins, congratulating them and heaping praise on the family.

In retrospect, that Flávio had such close personal connections to Rio’s militias that he put the mother and wife of its most notorious chief on his payroll should not have been surprising. As a state legislator, he twice bestowed on the top militia leaders, then police officers, formal awards and honors, praising them for their civil service to their communities.

Far worse, in 2011, Brazilian Judge Patricia Acioli, who, along with Brazil’s left-wing PSOL party, was overseeing a sweeping criminal investigation into militias and heroically sent numerous high-ranking police officers to prison, was brutally murdered outside her home, horrifying not just Brazil but the world. While all Brazilian politicians expressed horror and disgust at this brazen attack on the rule of law — showing that militias could just murder whoever they wanted, even judges sending their leaders to prison — Flávio posted a tweet that basically blamed her for her own murder, criticizing her for provoking the militias:

Jair Bolsonaro himself has a history of multiple ties to Brazil’s militias and several of its key leaders. He has twice, on the floor of the Congress, explicitly praised their death squads as good for the country’s security and crime problems. On one occasion, after various members of Congress from the northern region of Brazil warned of the growth of death squads and extrajudicial murders carried out by growing police-composed militias, Bolsonaro stood to explicitly praise them as crime-fighting patriots and declared them “welcome” in Rio de Janeiro.

Since then, those militias have taken over huge swaths of Brazil’s most critical cities, including Rio. A January investigation from The Intercept Brasil found that militias have virtually taken over the entire city.

In sum, the Bolsonaro movement has been fixated on Brazil’s crime epidemic, and anger over growing violence was arguably one of the two main factors in the rise of that movement (the other being anger over systemic political corruption). But when Bolsonaro and his family speak of crime, they almost always try to focus attention on the primarily black drug traffickers who live in the city’s poor favelas, and virtually never speak of the far more menacing, serious, and terrifying source of criminality carried out by the Bolsonaros’ ideological companions and heroes of the country’s sophisticated and skilled militias:

That Bolsonaro — despite how central his anti-crime posture is to his political popularity — is eager to praise, rather than condemn and combat, militias is not hard to understand. Those militias are ruled by his friends, neighbors, comrades, and closest associates.

The militia member who worked as Flávio’s driver for the last decade and whose large money movements — including one into the account of Jair Bolsonaro’s wife — triggered the first scandal of his presidency, ex-police Officer Fabrício Queiroz, is one of Bolsonaro’s oldest and closest friends. When police sought to question him about those money movements to the Bolsonaro family, he unsurprisingly went into hiding in the precise neighborhood, Rio das Pedras, most notorious for being commanded most thoroughly by Rio’s most violent militia.

When two of Franco’s killers were finally apprehended last week, just two days shy of the one-year anniversary of her assassination, nobody was surprised that they had both been members of Brazil’s military police. The extreme professionalism with which that murder was carried out, including the still-unexplained coincidence that numerous public security cameras on the path they chose to pursue her had been turned off in the days before the assassination, left no doubt that militias were responsible.

But almost immediately after the police announced the identity of the two assassins they arrested, ties to Bolsonaro emerged. The shooter himself, police Sgt. Ronnie Lessa, lives on the same street as Bolsonaro’s Rio house, in an exclusive gated community: an extreme coincidence given how massive and sprawling of a city Rio de Janeiro is. In other words, one of Franco’s assassins — the man who pumped four bullets into her head — turned out to be Bolsonaro’s neighbor, both of whom lived in close proximity in a very rich neighborhood despite working their entire adult lives on the public payroll.

Shortly thereafter, a photo emerged of Lessa and Bolsonaro together, posted to Lessa’s social media account. Police then confirmed that Bolsonaro’s 20-year-old son and Lessa’s daughter had been dating. While none of those facts are close to dispositive in terms of linking Bolsonaro to Franco’s murder, those are a lot of coincidental connections to have between a three-decade member of Congress and the current president of the Republic, on the one hand, and the murderers who pumped four bullets into the skull of one of Rio de Janeiro’s most prominent and inspiring left-wing politicians on the other.

As part of the police search of the assassins’ properties, the police apprehended the single largest collection of armaments in the history of Brazil’s democracy: 117 M-16 automatic rifles. Notably, they were apprehended not in the favelas on which the Bolsonaros obsessively fixate when talking about crime, but in a luxury condominium owned by a former police officer who is part of the militia that assassinated Franco and which has multiple ties to the Bolsonaro family:

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Armaments seized from the house of one of the accused assassins of Marielle Franco, including 117 M-16 automatic rifles, from Rio de Janeiro.

Photo: Rio Civil Police

Days later, the police — despite still not having apprehended the people who ordered and paid for Franco’s assassination — insinuated a political motive to her killers. Consistent with Bolsonaro’s denunciation of the sweeping investigation of militias led by Franco’s political mentor, Marcelo Freixo of the left-wing PSOL party (the same party of Jean Wyllys, the gay congressperson who last month fled Brazil and gave up his congressional term under highly specific death threats), reports emerged that Franco’s assassins were overt Bolsonaro supporters.

The police also indicated that they had seized the computers and other electronic devices of the two killers, and discovered that, subsequent to Franco’s assassination, the murderous militia pair had searched and monitored the movements of numerous human rights activists, left-wing journalists, and politicians (one of those specified by the police was my husband, David Miranda, now a congressperson from the same left-wing party as Freixo, Franco, and Wyllys).

All of this mounting evidence — most of which has been unearthed just in the 10 weeks since Bolsonaro’s January 1 inauguration — paints a deeply disturbing and dangerous picture. Brazil — the world’s fifth-largest country, with massive oil reserves and the world’s most critical environmental region in the Amazon that the current government wants to sell off to the highest industrial bidders — is in the hands of a family with multiple, close, and growing connections to the country’s most murderous, criminal, and sociopathic death squads and paramilitary forces.

As Bolsonaro meets Trump at the White House tomorrow, that meeting should be understood first and foremost within this context. Bolsonaro has quickly elevated himself to the top echelon of the world’s most thuggish, violent, and dangerous leaders. And given the stakes raised by Brazil — geopolitically, culturally, economically, environmentally, and militarily — this is clearly one of the most profoundly disturbing developments of the last year. Whatever else is true, the media focus on Bolsonaro’s presence in the White House should feature these facts prominently and centrally if the reporting is to accurately reflect who he is and what he represents.

The post Video: As Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Prepares to Meet Donald Trump, His Family’s Close Ties to Notorious Paramilitary Gangs Draw Scrutiny and Outrage appeared first on The Intercept.

National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon at the Mayflower Hotel, Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
March 10, 2019

NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Humanitarian Trucks in Venez...

National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon at the Mayflower Hotel, Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon at the Mayflower Hotel on Sept. 10, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Every major U.S. war of the last several decades has begun the same way: the U.S. Government fabricates an inflammatory, emotionally provocative lie which large U.S. media outlets uncritically treat as truth while refusing at air questioning or dissent, thus inflaming primal anger against the country the U.S. wants to attack. That’s how we got the Vietnam War (North Vietnam attacks U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin); the Gulf War (Saddam ripped babies from incubators); and, of course, the war in Iraq (Saddam had WMDs and formed an alliance with Al Qaeda).

This was exactly the tactic used on February 23, when the narrative shifted radically in favor of those U.S. officials who want regime change operations in Venezuela. That’s because images were broadcast all over the world of trucks carrying humanitarian aid burning in Colombia on the Venezuela border. U.S. officials who have been agitating for a regime change war in Venezuela – Marco Rubio, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, the head of USAid Mark Green – used Twitter to spread classic Fake News: they vehemently stated that the trucks were set on fire, on purpose, by President Nicolas Maduro’s forces.

As it always does – as it always has done from its inception when Wolf Blitzer embedded with U.S. troops  – CNN led the way in not just spreading these government lies but independently purporting to vouch for their truth. On February 24, CNN told the world what we all now know is an absolute lie:  that “a CNN team saw incendiary devices from police on the Venezuelan side of the border ignite the trucks,” though it generously added that “the network’s journalists are unsure if the trucks were burned on purpose.”

Other media outlets endorsed the lie while at least avoiding what CNN did by personally vouching for it. “Humanitarian aid destined for Venezuela was set on fire, seemingly by troops loyal to Mr Maduro,” The Telegraph claimed. The BBC uncritically printed: “There have also been reports of several aid trucks being burned – something Mr Guaidó said was a violation of the Geneva Convention.”

That lie – supported by incredibly powerful video images – changed everything. Ever since, that Maduro burned trucks filled with humanitarian aid was repeated over and over as proven fact on U.S. news outlets. Immediately after it was claimed, politicians who had been silent on the issue of Venezuela or even reluctant to support regime change began issuing statements now supportive of it. U.S. news stars and think tank luminaries who lack even a single critical brain cell when it comes to war-provoking claims from U.S. officials took a leading role in beating the war drums without spending even a single second to ask whether what they were being told were true:

But on Saturday night, the New York Times published a detailed video and accompanying article proving that this entire story was a lie. The humanitarian trucks were not set on fire by Maduro’s forces. They were set on fire by anti-Maduro protesters who threw a molotov cocktail that hit one of the trucks. And the NYT’s video traces how the lie spread: from U.S. officials who baselessly announced that Maduro burned them to media outlets that mindlessly repeated the lie.

While the NYT’s article and video are perfectly good and necessary journalism, the credit they are implicitly claiming for themselves for exposing this lie is totally undeserved. That’s because independent journalists – the kind who question rather than mindlessly repeat government claims and are therefore mocked and marginalized and kept off mainstream television – used exactly this same evidence on the day of the incident to debunk the lies being told by Rubio, Pompeo, Bolton and CNN.

On February 24, the day the lie spread, Max Blumenthal wrote from Venezuela, on the independent reporting Grazyzone site, that “the claim was absurd on its face,” noting that he “personally witnessed tear gas canisters hit every kind of vehicle imaginable in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, and I have never seen a fire like the one that erupted on the Santander bridge.” He compiled substantial evidence strongly suggesting that the trucks were set ablaze by anti-Maduro protesters, including Bloomberg video showing them using Molotov cocktails, to express serious doubts about the mainstream narrative. On Twitter, in response to Marco Rubio’s lie, he wrote:

Meanwhile, others – who use their brains to critically evaluate what the U.S. Government says when it’s trying to start a new war, rather than mindlessly recite those claims as Truth, as U.S. media stars do – used the exact same evidence cited by the NYT last night to show that it was anti-Maduro protesters, not Maduro troops, who set the trucks on fire. But they were able to do it in the hours immediately following the incident, not three weeks later – but, needless to say, they were ignored by U.S. media outlets:

Those last two tweets – using video footage to debunk the lies spread by Marco Rubio, CNN and the U.S. Government – happen to be from a correspondent with RT America. Please tell me: who was acting here as lying propagandists and agents of State TV, and who was acting like a journalist trying to understand and report the truth?

So everything the New York Times so proudly reported last night has been known for weeks, and was already reported in great detail, using extensive evidence, by a large number of people. But because those people are generally skeptical of the U.S. Government’s claims and critical of its foreign policy, they were ignored and mocked and are generally barred from appearing on television, while the liars from the U.S. Government and their allies in the corporate media were, as usual, given a platform to spread their lies without any challenge or dissent, just like the manual for how to maintain State TV intructs.

Indeed, none of the people questioning the original claim about the burning trucks, or citing this evidence to argue that the U.S. Government and its Venezuelan ally Guaidó were lying, ever made it onto national television to present their dissent. They weren’t allowed on. To the extent they were acknowledged at all, it was to defame them as Maduro apologists – for telling the truth – just as those who tried to combat the propaganda of 2002 and 2003 were smeared as being pro-Saddam. Only Rubio, Bolton, Pompeo, and various other U.S. officials were permitted to spread their lies without any challenge.

That’s particularly notable since the Russian Government, a long-time ally of the Maduro government, themselves published the evidence showing this was a lie. Claims from the Russian or Venezuelan governments deserves as much skepticism as the claims of any other government, but they at least deserve to be heard. But the corporate U.S. media – precisely because it is State TV even as it is loves to accuse others of being that – never airs the views of governments adverse to the U.S. Government except in the most cursory and mocking way:

It should be noted that this is not the first time outrights lies were spread by the U.S. Government and the U.S. media to inflame regime change against Venezuela. A photograph of a bridge between Colombia and Venezuela was broadcast all over the world as proof that Maduro was blocking humanitarian aid.

But the CBC – to their great credit – published a long apology noting that they, too, had fallen for this propaganda by publishing the photo of the bridge to support this narrative when, in fact, that bridge had been closed years earlier due to tensions between the two countries. Few, if any, of the U.S. media outlets that spread that lie offered a similar correction or apology.

Equally false is the widespread, popular media claim that Maduro has refused to allow any humanitarian aid to enter Venezuela. That, too, is an outright lie. The Venezuelan government has allowed substantial amounts of aid into their country from countries that have not threatened to overthrow the President with an external coup; Maduro has only blocked trucks and planes from entering that come from those countries (the U.S, Brazil, Colombia) that have been threatening Venezuela. something any country would do.

Indeed, both the Red Cross and the United Nations expressed concerns about “humanitarian aid” from the U.S. on the ground that it was a pretext for regime change and would politicize humanitarian aid). Even NPR recognized that “the U.S. effort to distribute tons of food and medicine to needy Venezuelans is more than just a humanitarian mission. The operation is also designed to foment regime change in Venezuela — which is why much of the international aid community wants nothing to do with it.”

That concern is obviously valid given the history of Elliott Abrams, the envoy leading U.S. policy in Venezuela, of exploiting “humanitarian aid” as a scam to smuggle weapons and other tools to overthrow Latin American governments he dislikes – another fact rarely if ever mentioned in U.S. media reports.

What we have here is classic Fake News – spread on Twitter, by U.S. officials and U.S. media stars – with the clear and malicious intent to start a war. But no western proponents of social media censorship will call for their accounts to be cancelled nor call for their posts to be deleted. That’s because “Fake News” and the war against it is strictly a means of combating propaganda by U.S. adversaries; the U.S. and its allies maintain extensive programs to spread Fake News online and none of those anti-Fake News crusaders call for those to be shut down.

And the next time claims are made about Venezuela designed to fuel regime change and wars, the independent journalists and analysts who were absolutely right in this instance – who recognized and documented the lies of the U.S. Government weeks before the New York Times did – will again be ignored or, at best, mocked. Meanwhile, those in the media and Foreign Policy Community who uncritically amplified and spread this dangerous lie will be treated as the Serious People whose pronouncements are the only ones worth hearing. With rare exception, dissent on Venezuela will continue to be barred.

That’s because the U.S. media, by design, does not permit dissent on U.S. foreign policy, particularly when it comes to false claims about U.S. adversaries. That’s why skeptics of U.S. regime change in Venezuela, or dissenters on the prevailing orthodoxies about Russia, have largely been disappeared from mainstream media outlets, just as they were in 2002 and 2003.

That’s not because U.S. media stars are ordered to do this. They don’t need to be ordered. They know propaganda is their job. More to the point, they are über-patriotic jingoists who revere U.S. officials and thus do not possess a single cell of critical thinking in their brain. That’s why they have TV programs in the first place. If they weren’t this way, they wouldn’t be on TV, as Noam Chomsky put it to the BBC’s Andrew Marr so perfectly in this short clip from many years ago (the whole three-minute context, well worth watching, is here). This tells the whole story of this sordid affair in Venezuela:

The post NYT’s Exposé on the Lies About Burning Humanitarian Trucks in Venezuela Shows How US Govt and Media Spread Fake News appeared first on The Intercept.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., listen to the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
March 5, 2019

The House Democrats’ “Rebuke” of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For ...

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., listen to the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer listen to the State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 30, 2018.

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

GOP Congressman Steve King has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for sixteen years, yet Democrats – who controlled the House for four of those years and now control it again – never formally rebuked or condemned him until last month (they did so at the same time that Republicans removed him from his Committee assignments due to a long history of white supremacist remarks).

By extremely stark contrast, Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar – the first black Muslim woman ever elected to the Congress – has served in the House for a little more than two months, and House Democratic leaders have already formally condemned her once and are preparing to so again, this time even more harshly and officially, on Wednesday.

On February 11, the House Democratic leadership, responding to statements made by Omar about large donors and AIPAC driving pro-Israel policies, issued a joint statement condemning Omar for what they called her “use of anti-Semitic tropes,” adding that her “prejudicial accusations about Israel’s defenders” are “deeply offensive.” They then demanded: “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

Omar then issued a statement of her own in which she “unequivocally apologized” for unintentionally invoking “anti-Semitic tropes,” but made crystal clear that “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics” – whether it be AIPAC, as well as the NRA or the fossil fuel industry – was one she would continue to aggressively address and combat.

The Congresswoman quickly made good on her promise to continue speaking out about AIPAC’s toxic influence, the destructive and immoral support given to Israel by the U.S., and the subordination of Americans’ Constitutional rights and the country’s national interests to that foreign nation.

Speaking last Wednesday in Washington at a town hall meeting with several other progressive House members, Congresswoman Omar was asked about the use of the “anti-semitism” label to shut down debate over Israel. In reply, she said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

That remark created a new outburst of anti-Semitism accusations against Omar, initially provoked by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait, whose column carried the most sensationalistic and misleading headline possible: “Ilhan Omar Accuses Israel Hawks of ‘Allegiance to a Foreign Country.'”

That, in turn, led numerous AIPAC-supporting Democratic House members to again denounce her for anti-Semitism, leading to this exchange with a Democratic House colleague who had accused her of “prejudice” and “bigotry”:

From there, members of Congress in both parties who have devoted their career to dutifully supporting the AIPAC agenda began once again ganging up to denounce Omar, accuse her of anti-Semitism, and demand apologies and denunciations. Right-wing charlatans such as Ben Shapiro – who have built lucrative careers pretending to be advocates of free discourse and who reflexively mock complaints of racism and bigotry as overly-sensitive snowflake fragility – fueled the fire because, this time, it was their own group that they perceived was being criticized.

The culmination of all of this was the meek, subservient and highly predictable announcement by Democratic House leaders that they once again intend to formally “rebuke” Omar, this time in the form of a House resolution. “Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats will take floor action Wednesday in response to controversial remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar about Israel, the second such rebuke of the freshman Democrat from party leaders in recent weeks,” Politico reported.

There are so many points to be made about this episode, each of which could justify its own entire article. It is, for instance, beyond dispute that what Omar is saying is true given that the very first bill passed by the U.S. Senate this year was one that allowed punishment for American citizens who boycott Israel, while U.S. citizens in 26 states are formally punished for boycotting this foreign nation, as we reported last month in the case of a Texas elementary speech pathologist who lost her job for refusing to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel (to keep her job with Texas, she’s allowed to boycott any other nation or even an American state: just not this one favored foreign nation).

Thus far, the two federal courts to rule on such laws have struck them down as unconstitutional violations of the free speech rights of American citizens on behalf of Israel.

How can anyone possibly pretend that it’s invalid or offensive to observe, as Congresswoman Omar did, that some in America demand allegiance to a foreign nation when American citizens are allowed to boycott American states but are punished for boycotting this one specific foreign nation?

Then there’s the fact that so many prominent American Jews have themselves explicitly and proudly acknowledged both their political activism in the U.S. is shaped by a devotion to Israel. Indeed, the leading billionaire funder of both the Democratic Party and the Clintons, Haim Saban, has previously described himself this way to the New York Times: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Hillary Clinton’s key political consultant for her 2008 presidential run, Hank Sheinkopf, who is Jewish, said this to the New York Sun in 2007 when asked why Democratic presidential candidates who were otherwise anti-war were so hawkish when it came to Iran: “New York is the ATM for American politicians. Large amounts of money come from the Jewish community. If you’re running for president and you want dollars from that group, you need to show that you’re interested in the issue that matters most to them.”

That AIPAC – along with the NRA, Wall Street and Silicon Valley – is one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, and works to ensure that members of Congress act favorably toward Israel, is so obviously true that no person in good faith could dispute it. A film about the Israel lobby produced by Al Jazeera but subsequently self-censored was leaked to Electronic Intifada and it contains multiple scenes of AIPAC and other pro-Israel activists boasting of how they use money and lobbying power to force Congress to serve Israeli interests.

None of this is remotely controversial to anyone who knows how Washington works – which includes, first and foremost, all the cowards in the House about to formally denounce Omar, yet again, for the crime of telling this truth.

Indeed, countless prominent Jewish writers, including supporters of Israel, have long said exactly what Omar is accused of having said: that the key goal of the Israel Lobby is to indue, cajole and force U.S. politicians to maintain loyalty to this foreign country. Long-time Israel supporter and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote in 2011 something far more extreme than anything Congresswoman Omar has ever said: a standing ovation for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the U.S. Congress, Friedman wrote, was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.” Friedman mocked Mitt Romney’s views on Israel by writing: “America’s role is to just applaud whatever Israel does, serve as its A.T.M. and shut up. We have no interests of our own. ”

Indeed, the New York Times itself, in news reports, has often described members of U.S. Congress as acting with what the Paper of Record calls “allegiance to Israel”:

Let’s repeat what the New York Times said in its news article from 2015: “allegiance to Israel has long had nearly unanimous support in Congress.” And let’s repeat what the top funder of the Democratic Party and the Clintons, the billionaire Haim Saban, said: “I’m a one-issue guy and my issue is Israel.”

Now: why have House Democrats never denounced any of those prominent people – including key funders of their own party and the New York Times – for saying things on this topic far more extreme than Omar has? One can’t help suspect that it is somehow easier and more tempting to denounce a black Somali immigrant in a hijab who is the first black Muslim woman elected to Congress for her comments on Israel than it is any of those other people, even though their comments went way beyond anything she said on the topic.

But the most important point regarding the House Democrats’ resolution to “rebuke” Omar is this: the resolution includes a long list of comments which it denounces as anti-Semitic – many, if not most, of which are indeed anti-Semitic – which Ilhan Omar never said or even implied. That’s the fraud at the heart of what Democrats are doing: they’re purporting to denounce Omar by enacting a resolution that condemns a series of comments about Jews that she never uttered. Here are the key examples of anti-Semitism which the Democrats’ resolution denounces:

Congresswoman Omar never said anything like this. Unlike Haim Saban, Tom Friedman, and various AIPAC lobbyists, she never accused Jews of having allegiance to Israel. She never remotely insinuated that Jews are not or cannot be patriotic Americans. She never blamed Jews for anything, let alone “justif[ied] the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology.”

Indeed, it’s grotesque to associate Omar with comments of this sort. In fact, the irony here is glaring: what is actually bigoted, the real bigots, are those who are exploiting Omar’s status as a black Muslim and Somali immigrant to link her to a series of anti-Semitic sentiments that she has never expressed, and that have nothing whatsoever to do with the critiques she’s voiced about US/Israel policy since entering Congress.

All of this is being accomplished by a deceitful sleight of hand that conflates The Israeli Government and its American supporters (the group that Omar has actually criticized) with Jews (a group that Omar has never criticized). Again, the irony here is glaring: what’s actually anti-Semitic is to conflate the Israel Government and those who support it with Jews: that’s something being done by Democratic House leaders, not by Congresswoman Omar.

“Supporters of Israel” is not synonymous with “Jews.” It’s actually offensive to suggest that’s the case, but that’s the premise of the Democrats’ House resolution, those denouncing Congresswoman Omar and those distorting her comments.

Indeed, huge numbers of Israel’s most vehement and devoted critics – including advocates of the movement to boycott Israel – are themselves Jews. That’s why so many prominent Jews have spoken out in support of Congresswoman Omar.

Meanwhile, Israel supporters, in the U.S. and around the world, are far more often non-Jews than Jews. Many are evangelicals, who support Israel due to religious dogma: because they believe God wants Israel united in the hands of Jews before Jesus returns to earth and sends all non-Christians (including Jews) to hell and allows Christians to reign supreme on earth. Some are just militarists who value Israel’s cooperation with U.S. imperialism. Who do you think was responsible for the law in Texas barring anyone from working for the state if they support a boycott of Israel?

And then there’s the international Far Right movements – from Eastern Europe to Brazil – who are almost entirely non-Jewish yet are fanatical Israel supporters due to shared animus for Muslims and admiration for Israel’s authoritarian and militaristic mindset. Extremist support for Israel is a major prong of the Far Right Bolsonaro movement in Brazil, because of the evangelical fanatics, authoritarians, and anti-Muslim militarists which compose that coalition. A huge part of support for the Israeli Government has nothing to do with Jews but rather ideology, militarism, and evangelical dogma.

So it is completely dishonest – in fact, defamatory and offensive – to suggest that Congresswoman Omar was speaking of Jews when she denounced those who are supporters of Israel and who demand that she and other U.S. lawmakers prioritize this foreign nation above the interests of their own constituents. Many, if not most, of those who are doing that are not Jewish at all. That’s what makes the Democrats’ proposed resolution “rebuking” her so deceitful: without naming her, therefore depriving her of the opportunity to defend herself, it implicitly attributes to her a series of highly incendiary comments about Jews that she never remotely made.

In fact, if one were to apply the warped reasoning of the House Democrats’ resolution to its logical conclusions, then one would have to also condemn Congresswoman Omar for also being anti-Muslim. That’s because she has repeatedly voiced very similar criticisms of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, specifically complaining that Saudi money has corrupted Washington and caused policy makers to be beholden to the Saudi monarchy – comments which, strikingly, nobody purported to find offensive:

Why weren’t these anti-Saudi comments offensive, including the ones pointing out that Saudi money influences Washington? Because eEveryone understands that Omar’s criticisms of the government of Saudi Arabia and her observation that Saudi money influences pro-Saudi policies does not in any way reflect animus toward Muslims. Everyone is capable of understanding the distinction between “the Saudi governments and its supporters” and “Muslims.” It should not be any more difficult to understand the distinction between “the Israeli governments and its supporters” (which Omar criticized) and “Jews” (who she did not criticize, even implicitly).

But that recognition, as unassailably logical as it is, assumes that the denunciation of Congresswoman Omar is grounded in good faith. It’s grounded in everything but that. We all owe a huge debt of gratitude to Democratic Congressman Juan Vargas of California who, when denouncing Congresswoman Omar, made abundantly clear what her real offense was: namely, the crime of questioning the policy of U.S. support for Israel. As he so revealingly put it:

That is exactly the Washington rule that Congresswoman Omar violated: “questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.” And that’s exactly the rule that the House Democratic leadership is enforcing, just as AIPAC demanded, by acting so quickly to denounce one of their own members yet again.

The time to put a stop to this repressive punishment for even questioning U.S. policy toward Israel has long passed. AIPAC representatives are already threatening to remove Omar – along with Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Alexander Ocasio-Cortez – from Congress for the crime of criticizing Israel, something they’ve succeeded doing in the past. One response many have embraced in the face of AIPAC’s threats and the Democrats’ cowardice is to donate money to Omar’s campaign fund, as a way of denying AIPAC and its supporters the power to punish those who dare to criticize Israel and U.S. support for that foreign country.

But whatever else is true, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the House Democratic leadership are defaming Omar by implicitly attributing to her comments that she never made, all with the goal of deterring and punishing anyone who dares to debate these policies. No matter one’s views on Israel, such behavior should be treated with the opposition and scorn it deserves.

The post The House Democrats’ “Rebuke” of Rep. Ilhan Omar is a Fraud For Many Reasons, Including its Wild Distortion of Her Comments appeared first on The Intercept.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks at a political rally to kick off his 2020 U.S. Presidential Campaign at Brooklyn College in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, NY, March 2, 2019. This is the second time Bernie Sanders runs for President of the United States.Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)
March 3, 2019

MSNBC Yet Again Broadcasts Blatant Lies, This Time About Bernie Sander...

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, speaks at a political rally to kick off his 2020 U.S. Presidential Campaign at Brooklyn College in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, NY, March 2, 2019. This is the second time Bernie Sanders runs for President of the United States.Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a political rally to kick off his 2020 U.S. Presidential Campaign at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn on March 2, 2019.

Photo: Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via AP

MSNBC is a dishonest political operation, not a news outlet. It systematically and deliberately refuses to adopt a defining attribute of a news outlet: a willingness to acknowledge factual errors, correct them, and apologize. That they not only allow their lies to stand uncorrected but reward their employees who do it most frequently – especially when those lies are directed at adversaries of the Democratic Party – proves that they are, first and foremost, a political arm of the Democratic establishment.

The most recent example is as glaring as it is malicious. On Saturday in Brooklyn, Bernie Sanders delivered his first speech for his 2020 presidential campaign in front of thousands of people. MSNBC broadcast the speech live, and anyone can watch the full 2-hour event, or just Sanders’ full 35-minute speech, on YouTube.

As a result, there’s no confusion possible about what was said. Everyone can see it with their own eyes.

Before Sanders spoke, he was introduced by a series of speakers including three African-Americans: South Carolina State Rep. Terry Alexander (who spoke of Sanders’ life-long commitment to equal justice and opportunity), former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner (who heralded Sanders’ long-time commitment to racial justice and his status as “only one of two white elected officials” who supported Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign run in 1984), and racial justice activist (and Intercept columnist) Shaun King (who described in detail Sanders’ history as an anti-racist and civil rights activist in the 1960s and his decades-long devotion to issues of racial equality).

After Sanders’ speech, MSNBC immediately asked its panel for its reaction. The first person they turned to was Zerlina Maxwell, who the host identified only as an “MSNBC analyst.” What the host omitted, but which Maxwell herself acknowledged, was that she was a paid official for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign against Sanders: that, revealingly, is the first person MSNBC had opine on Sanders’ speech.

After the host noted that Maxwell was making gestures of disapproval throughout Sanders’ speech and asked her what the cause was, Maxwell proceeded to state demonstrable lies about that speech. She said:

To be very serious about it, I clocked it. He did not mention race or gender until 23 minutes into the speech. And just for point of comparison, I went back and looked at Elizabeth Warren’s opening speech, for example. She mentions race and discrimination in the first paragraph. So that’s a big difference.

That is a big difference. It’s also a total lie. Sanders mentioned race, gender and discrimination multiple times at the beginning of his speech and long before the 23-minute mark, as anyone who actually watched it – which presumably includes all the MSNBC personalities on that panel who sat silently as this lie was broadcast – obviously knew was a lie. For good measure, Maxwell repeated the same lie she told on MSNBC in a tweet that she posted:

All one needs to do to prove this is an obvious lie is look at the video of Sanders’ speech – which the MSNBC panel had just done as it allowed Maxwell to deceive its audience this way.

Before Sanders even began the substance of his speech, he thanked those who introduced him, saying of Shaun King’s anti-racist activism: “All over this country – and I’m going to say a few words about it today and more tomorrow – people understand that we have a broken criminal justice system, and there are few people in America fighting more than Shaun to change that system.”

In the very first sentence Sanders spoke to define his 2020 campaign – which came, at the latest, at the 5-minute mark even if one counts all the cheering, chanting and obligatory acknowledgments that preceded the substance of the speech – Sanders proclaimed that the core message of his campaign is that “the underlying principles of our government” will “not be racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious bigotry.” He then vowed: “this campaign is going to end all of that.” Watch it for yourself:

The very next passage of Sanders’ speech – at most six minutes into it – the Senator vowed that “the principles of our government will be based on justice: on economic justice, on social justice, on racial justice, on environmental justice”:

Sanders then devoted several minutes to denouncing the inequities, unfairness and destructive effects of America’s criminal justice system and the Drug War, contrasting the severe punishment meted out to low-level marijuana and other small-time offenders to the full-scale protection and even bailout for the Wall Street tycoons who crashed the economy in 2008. His other principal policy focus during that part of the speech was what he regards as the evils of Trump’s immigration policies and the xenophobia that drives it.

The disparate treatment of the criminal justice system, as I documented in my 2011 book on that topic, is racially motivated at its core, and while Sanders did not explicitly use the word “race” in discussing it, he did so – again – immediately after when, at the 20-minute mark, he said Trump “wants to divide us up based on the color of our skin, based on where we were born, based on our gender, based on our religion or sexual orientation.” The Sanders campaign at its core, he said, is about doing “exactly the opposite. We’re going to bring our people together: black and white, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, gay and straight, men and women.”

At the 22-minute mark, Sanders, as he’s been reluctant to do for most of his political career, shared his personal experiences that shaped his political ideology, including not only his working-class background but also his father’s experience as an immigrant from Poland fleeing not just “crushing poverty” but also “widespread anti-Semitism,” a decision that saved his father, since “virtually his entire family was wiped out by Hitler and Nazi barbarism.”

In sum, Sanders did not just mention race and gender once in his speech before the 23-minute mark Maxwell claimed, but did so repeatedly. It was not only the major theme of the speakers who introduced him but a primary theme of his own speech from the start: both explicitly railing against the evils of “racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and religious bigotry” and vowing to usher in “social justice and racial justice,” but also launching full-scale, vehement attacks on the policies – inequities in the criminal justice system and immigration abuses – that have as their primary targets racial and religious minorities.

It is, needless to say, perfectly legitimate for MSNBC to devote its airtime to critiquing what Sanders said about race and gender: to claim it’s insufficient or insincerely held or superficial. But what is indisputably unacceptable is for MSNBC to outright lie about Sanders’ speech by stating categorically that “he did not mention race or gender until 23 minutes into the speech.” That is simply a lie, and it’s a lie that would have been instantly recognizable as such to anyone who watched the speech.

Indeed, it is utterly inconceivable that both MSNBC and Maxwell are unaware that what they said about Sanders’ speech both on air and later on Twitter is false. Tweet after tweet directed at them documented this in clear and indisputable terms:

Despite all this, there is no correction from MSNBC or Maxwell: par for the course for this DNC operation masquerading as a news outlet.

Indeed, as is almost always true for MSNBC, all of these pleas that they correct their false claim have been steadfastly ignored – no correction issued – because, as I’ve repeatedly documented, lying about adversaries of the Democratic establishment is not merely tolerated or permitted at MSNBC, but is encouraged and rewarded. That’s why they purposely had the very first person to comment on Sanders’ kick-off campaign speech be a paid Clinton 2016 campaign official highly embittered toward Sanders, and it’s why MSNBC does not correct lies no matter how loudly, clearly, or indisputably you document those lies to them.

News outlets correct lies. Slimy political operations deliberately use lies to advance their agenda and smear their adversaries. MSNBC has proven over and over again that they are decisively in the latter category. This is just the latest but by no means the only or even worst example.

The post MSNBC Yet Again Broadcasts Blatant Lies, This Time About Bernie Sanders’ Opening Speech, and Refuses to Correct Them appeared first on The Intercept.

February 8, 2019

Jeff Bezos Protests the Invasion of his Privacy as Amazon Builds a Spr...

The National Enquirer has engaged in behavior so lowly and unscrupulous that it created a seemingly impossible storyline: the world’s richest billionaire and a notorious labor abuser, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, as a sympathetic victim.

On Thursday, Bezos published emails in which the Enquirer’s parent company explicitly threatened to publish intimate photograph of Bezos and his mistress, which were apparently exchanged between the two through their iPhones, unless Bezos agreed to a series of demands involving silence about the company’s conduct.

In a perfect world, none of the sexually salacious material the Enquirer was threatening to release would be incriminating or embarrassing to Bezos: it involves consensual sex between adults that is the business of nobody other than those involved and their spouses. But that’s not the world in which we live: few news events generate moralizing interest like sex scandals, especially among the media.

The prospect of naked selfies of Bezos would obviously generate intense media coverage and all sorts of adolescent giggling and sanctimonious judgments. The Enquirer’s reports of Bezos’ adulterous affair seemed to have already played at least a significant role, if not the primary one, in the recent announcement of Bezos’ divorce from his wife of 25 years.

Beyond the prurient interest in sex scandals, this case entails genuinely newsworthy questions because of its political context. The National Enquirer was so actively devoted to Donald Trump’s election that the chairman of its parent company admitted to helping make hush payments to kill stories of Trump’s affairs, and received immunity for his cooperation in the criminal case of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, while Bezos, as the owner of the steadfastly anti-Trump Washington Post, is viewed by Trump as a political enemy.

All of this raises serious questions, which thus far are limited to pure speculation, about how the National Enquirer obtained the intimate photos exchanged between Bezos and his mistress. Despite a lack of evidence, MSNBC is already doing what it exists to do – implying with no evidence that Trump is to blame (in this case, by abusing the powers of the NSA or FBI to spy on Bezos). But, under the circumstances, those are legitimate questions to be probing (though responsible news agencies would wait for evidence before airing innuendo of that sort).

If the surveillance powers of the NSA, FBI or other agencies were used to obtain incriminating information about Bezos due to their view of him as a political enemy – and, again, there is no evidence this has happened – it certainly would not be the first time. Those agencies have a long and shameful history of doing exactly that, which is why the Democratic adoration for those agencies, and the recent bipartisan further empowerment of them, was so disturbing.

Indeed, one of the stories we were able to report using the Snowden documents, one that received less attention that it should have, is an active NSA program to collect the online sex activities, including browsing records of porn site and sex chats, of people regarded by the U.S. Government as radical or radicalizing in order to use their online sex habits to destroy their reputations. This is what and who the NSA, CIA and FBI are and long have been.

If Bezos were the political victim of surveillance state abuses, it would be scandalous and dangerous. It would also be deeply ironic.

That’s because Amazon, the company that has made Bezos the planet’s richest human being, is a critical partner for the U.S. Government in building an ever-more invasive, militarized and sprawling surveillance state. Indeed, one of the largest components of Amazon’s business, and thus one of the most important sources of Bezos’ vast wealth and power, is working with the Pentagon and the NSA to empower the U.S. Government with more potent and more sophisticated weapons, including surveillance weapons.

In December, 2017, Amazon boasted that it had perfected new face-recognition software for crowds, which it called Rekognition. It explained that the product is intended, in large part, for use by governments and police forces around the world. The ACLU quickly warned that the product is “dangerous” and that Amazon “is actively helping governments deploy it.”

“Powered by artificial intelligence,” wrote the ACLU, “Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces.” The group warned: “Amazon’s Rekognition raises profound civil liberties and civil rights concerns.” In a separate advisory, the ACLU said of this face-recognition software that Amazon’s “marketing materials read like a user manual for the type of authoritarian surveillance you can currently see in China.”

BuzzFeed obtained documents showing details of Amazon’s work in implementing the technology with the Orlando Police Department, ones that “reveal the accelerated pace at which law enforcement is embracing facial recognition tools with limited training and little to no oversight from regulators or the public.” Citing Amazon’s work to implement the software with police departments, the ACLU explained:

With Rekognition, a government can now build a system to automate the identification and tracking of anyone. If police body cameras, for example, were outfitted with facial recognition, devices intended for officer transparency and accountability would further transform into surveillance machines aimed at the public. With this technology, police would be able to determine who attends protests. ICE could seek to continuously monitor immigrants as they embark on new lives. Cities might routinely track their own residents, whether they have reason to suspect criminal activity or not. As with other surveillance technologies, these systems are certain to be disproportionately aimed at minority communities.

Numerous lawmakers, including Congress’ leading privacy advocates, wrote a letter in July, 2018, expressing grave concerns about how this software and similar mass-face-recognition programs would be used by government and law enforcement agencies. They posed a series of questions based on their concern that “this technology comes with inherent risks, including the compromising of Americans’ right to privacy, as well as racial and gender bias.”

In a separate article about Amazon’s privacy threats, the ACLU explained that the group “and other civil rights groups have repeatedly warned that face surveillance poses an unprecedented threat to civil liberties and civil rights that must be stopped before it becomes widespread.”

Amazon’s extensive relationship with the NSA, FBI, Pentagon and other surveillance agencies in the west is multi-faceted, highly lucrative and rapidly growing. Last March, the Intercept reported on a new app that Amazon developers and British police forces have jointly developed to use on the public in police work, just “the latest example of third parties aidingautomating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary.”

Beyond allowing police departments to “store citizens’ crime reports on Amazon’s servers, rather than those operated by the police,” the Amazon products “will allow users to report crimes directly to their smart speakers,” an innovation David Murakami Wood, a scholar of surveillance, warned “serves as a startling reminder of the growing reach that technology companies have into our daily lives, intimate habits, and vulnerable moments — with and without our permission.”

Then there are the serious privacy dangers posed by Amazon’s “Ring” camera products, revealed in the Intercept last month by Sam Biddle. As he reported, Amazon’s Ring, intended to be a home security system, has “a history of lax, sloppy oversight when it comes to deciding who has access to some of the most precious, intimate data belonging to any person: a live, high-definition feed from around — and perhaps inside — their house.”

Among other transgressions, “Ring provided its Ukraine-based research and development team virtually unfettered access to a folder on Amazon’s S3 cloud storage service that contained every video created by every Ring camera around the world.” Biddle added: “This would amount to an enormous list of highly sensitive files that could be easily browsed and viewed. Downloading and sharing these customer video files would have required little more than a click.”About the Ring surveillance in particular, the ACLU explained:

Imagine if a neighborhood was set up with these doorbell cameras. Simply walking up to a friend’s house could result in your face, your fingerprint, or your voice being flagged as “suspicious” and delivered to a government database without your knowledge or consent. With Amazon selling the devices, operating the servers, and pushing the technology on law enforcement, the company is building all the pieces of a surveillance network, reaching from the government all the way to our front doors.

Bezos’ relationship with the military and intelligence wings of the U.S. Government is hard to overstate. Just last October, his company, Blue Origin, won a $500 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to help develop military rockets and spy satellites. Bezos personally thanked them in a tweet, proclaiming how “proud” he is “to serve the national security space community.”

Then there’s the patent Amazon obtained last October, as reported by the Intercept, “that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice.” In particular, it would enable anyone using the product to determine a person’s accept and likely place of origin: “The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent.”

All of this is taking place as Amazon vies for, and is the favorite to win, one of the largest Pentagon contracts yet: a $10 billion agreement to provide exclusive cloud services to the world’s largest military. CNN reported just last week that the company is now enmeshed in scandal over that effort, specifically a formal investigation into “whether Amazon improperly hired a former Defense Department worker who was involved with a $10 billion government contract for which the tech company is competing.”

Bezos’ relationship with the military and spying agencies of the U.S. Government, and law enforcement agencies around the world, predates his purchase of the Washington Post and has become a central prong of Amazon’s business growth. Back in 2014, Amazon secured a massive contract with the CIA when the spy agency agreed to pay it $600 million for computing cloud software. As the Atlantic noted at the time, Amazon’s software “will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.”

Given how vital the military and spy agencies now are to Amazon’s business, it’s unsurprising that the amount Amazon pays to lobbyists to serve its interests in Washington has exploded: quadrupling since 2013 from $3 million to almost $15 million last year, according to Open Secrets.

Jeff Bezos is as entitled as anyone else to his personal privacy. The threats from the National Enquirer are grotesque. If Bezos’ preemptive self-publishing of his private sex material reduces the unwarranted shame and stigma around adult consensual sexual activities, that will be a societal good.

But Bezos, given how much he works and profits to destroy the privacy of everyone else (to say nothing of the labor abuses of his company), is about the least sympathetic victim imaginable of privacy invasion. In the past, hard-core surveillance cheereladers in Congress such as Dianne Feinstein, Pete Hoekstra, and Jane Harmon became overnight, indignant privacy advocates when they learned that the surveillance state apparatus they long cheered had been turned against them.

Perhaps being a victim of privacy invasion will help Jeff Bezos realize the evils of what his company is enabling. Only time will tell. As of now, one of the world’s greatest privacy invaders just had his privacy invaded. As the ACLU put it: “Amazon is building the tools for authoritarian surveillance that advocates, activists, community leaders, politicians, and experts have repeatedly warned against.”

The post Jeff Bezos Protests the Invasion of his Privacy as Amazon Builds a Sprawling Surveillance State For Everyone Else appeared first on The Intercept.

February 3, 2019

NBC News, to Claim Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard, Relies on Firm Just ...

NBC News published a predictably viral story Friday, claiming that “experts who track websites and social media linked to Russia have seen stirrings of a possible campaign of support for Hawaii Democrat Tulsi Gabbard.”

But the whole story was a sham: the only “experts” cited by NBC in support of its key claim was the firm, New Knowledge, that just got caught by the New York Times fabricating Russian troll accounts on behalf of the Democratic Party in the Alabama Senate race to manufacture false accusations that the Kremlin was interfering in that election.

To justify its claim that Tulsi Gabbard is the Kremlin’s candidate, NBC stated: “analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted ‘chatter’ related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns.”

What NBC – amazingly – concealed is a fact that reveals its article to be a journalistic fraud: that same firm, New Knowledge, was caught just six weeks ago engaging in a massive scam to create fictitious Russian troll accounts on Facebook and Twitter in order to claim that the Kremlin was working to defeat Democratic Senate nominee Doug Jones in Alabama. The New York Times, when exposing the scam, quoted a New Knowledge report that boasted of its fabrications: “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the [Roy] Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.'”

At the same time that New Research’s CEO, Jonathan Morgan, was fabricating Russian troll accounts and using them to create a fraudulent appearance that Putin was trying to defeat the Democratic Senate candidate, he was exploiting his social media “expertise” to claim that Russians were interfering in the Alabama Senate election. In other words, Morgan used his own fake Russian accounts to lie to the public and deceive the national media into believing that Kremlin-linked accounts were trying to defeat the Democratic Senate candidate when, in fact, the accounts he was citing were ones he himself had fabricated and controlled.

Even worse, Morgan’s firm is behind one of the recent Senate reports on Russian social media election interference as well as the creation of “Hamilton 68,” the pseudo-data-driven dashboard constantly used by U.S. media outlets to claim that its enemies are supported by the Kremlin (that tool has so been abused that even some of its designers urged the media to stop exaggerating its meaning). During the Alabama race, Morgan – in a tweet he deleted once his fraud was exposed – cited the #Hamilton68 data that he himself manipulated with his fake Russian accounts to claim that Russia was interfering in the Alabama Senate race:

In response to this scam being revealed, Facebook closed the accounts of five Americans who were responsible for this fraud, including Morgan himself, the “prominent social media researcher” who is the CEO of New Knowledge. He also touts himself as a “State Dept. advisor, computational propaganda researcher for DARPA, Brookings Institution.”

Beyond Morgan’s Facebook suspension, the billionaire funder and LinkedIn founder who provided the money for the New Knowledge project, Reid Hoffman, apologized and claimed he had no knowledge of the fraud. The victorious Democratic Senate candidate who won the Alabama Senate race and who repeatedly cited New Knowledge’s fake Russian accounts during the election to claim he was being attacked by Russian bots, Doug Jones, insisted he had no knowledge of the scheme and has now called for a federal investigation into New Knowledge.

This is the group of “experts” on which NBC News principally relied to spread its inflammatory, sensationalistic, McCarthyite storyline that Gabbard’s candidacy is supported by the Kremlin.

While NBC cited a slew of former FBI and other security state agents to speculate about why the Kremlin would like Gabbard, its claim that “experts” have detected the “stirrings” of such support came from this discredited, disgraced firm, one that just proved it specializes in issuing fictitious accusations against enemies of the Democratic Party that they are linked to Russia. Just marvel at how heavily NBC News relies on the disgraced New Knowledge to smear Gabbard as a favorite of Moscow:

Experts who track inauthentic social media accounts, however, have already found some extolling Gabbard’s positions since she declared.

Within a few days of Gabbard announcing her presidential bid, DisInfo 2018, part of the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge, found that three of the top 15 URLs shared by the 800 social media accounts affiliated with known and suspected Russian propaganda operations directed at U.S. citizens were about Gabbard.

Analysts at New Knowledge, the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election, told NBC News they’ve spotted “chatter” related to Gabbard in anonymous online message boards, including those known for fomenting right-wing troll campaigns. The chatter discussed Gabbard’s usefulness.

“A few of our analysts saw some chatter on 8chan saying she was a good ‘divider’ candidate to amplify,” said New Knowledge’s director of research Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge.

What’s particularly unethical about the NBC report is that it tries to bolster the credentials of this group by touting it as “the company the Senate Intelligence Committee used to track Russian activities in the 2016 election,” while concealing from its audience the fraud that this firm’s CEO just got caught perpetrating on the public on behalf of the Democratic Party.

The only other so-called “expert” cited by NBC in support of its claim that Russian accounts are supporting Gabbard is someone named “Josh Russell,” who NBC identified as “Josh Russel.” Russell, or Russel, is touted by NBC as “a researcher and ‘troll hunter’ known for identifying fake accounts.” In reality, “Russel” is someone CNN last year touted as an “Indiana dad” and “amateur troll hunter” with a full-time job unrelated to Russia (he works as programmer at a college) and whose “hobby” is tracing online Russian accounts.

So beyond the firm that just got caught in a major fraudulent scam fabricating Russian support to help the Democratic Party, that’s NBC’s only other vaunted expert for its claim that the Kremlin is promoting Gabbard: someone CNN just last year called an “amateur” who traces Russian accounts as a “hobby.” And even there, NBC could only cite Russel (sic) as saying that “he recently spotted a few clusters of suspicious accounts that retweeted the same exact text about Gabbard, mostly neutral or slightly positive headlines.”

NBC also purported to rely on its own highly sophisticated analysis by counting the number of times Gabbard was mentioned by RT, Sputnik and Russia Insider, and then noting what it seems to regard as the highly incriminating fact that “Gabbard was mentioned on the three sites about twice as often as two of the best known Democratic possibilities for 2020, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, each with 10 stories.”

But in contrast to Gabbard, who announced her intent to run for President almost a month ago, neither Biden nor Sanders has done so. Perhaps that fact, rather than – as one of the NBC reporters adolescently gushed: “The Kremlin already has a crush on Tulsi Gabbard” – is what explains the greater amount of coverage?

In any event, NBC News, to smear Gabbard as a Kremlin favorite, relied on a group that it heralded as “experts” without telling its audience about the major fraud which this firm just got caught perpetrating in order – on behalf of the Democratic Party – to fabricate claims of Kremlin interference in the Alabama Senate race.

That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC/MSNBC, neocons and the intelligence community has been, is and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party – whether on the left or the right – as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin (a key target will undoubtedly be, indeed already is, Bernie Sanders).

To accomplish this McCarthyite goal, this Democratic Party coalition of neocons, intelligence operatives and NBC stars will deceive, smear and even engage in outright journalistic deception, as NBC (once again) just proved with this report.

The post NBC News, to Claim Russia Supports Tulsi Gabbard, Relies on Firm Just Caught Fabricating Russia Data for the Democratic Party appeared first on The Intercept.

January 25, 2019

VIDEO: The Dramatic Scandal Swallowing the Bolsonaro Presidency and Wh...

A dramatic, multi-level and increasingly dark scandal has been engulfing the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro for the last month. It began just weeks after his stunning November victory but before he was inaugurated on January 1, and has completely paralyzed his presidency ever since. Just this week in Davos, which Brazil planned to unveil its new face to foreign capital, Bolsonaro and his top ministers left a long-scheduled press conference empty to avoid answering questions about any of this, causing empty chairs abandoned by dear, rather than vibrant investor-friendly policies, to be the face of the new government.

The scandal most centrally involves President Bolsonaro’s eldest son, Flavio, who has long been a State Deputy from Rio de Janeiro but was just elected to the Federal Senate with a massive vote total in the last election. The scandal began with the discovery of highly suspicious payments into and out of the account of Flavio’s driver, a former police officer and long-time friend of President Bolsonaro’s.

Each new discovery has escalated the scandal’s seriousness: one unexplained deposit was found going into the account of President Bolsonaro’s wife, Michelle; both the driver and Flavio himself began using highly suspicious maneuvers to try to stymie the investigation; the amounts of the suspicious transfers began rapidly increasing to $US 2 million; and then deposits were found going into Flavio’s accounts in small increments of multiple deposits in rapid succession: at times up to 10 cash deposits made within 3 minutes, the hallmark of money laundering and evading banking regulations.

But two recent events have converted what looked to be a classic scandal of money laundering and kickbacks into something much more ominous and terrifying. Earlier this week, Rio de Janeiro police arrested five members of Brazil’s most dangerous militia: one linked to the 2018 assassination of City Councilwoman Marielle Franco of the left-wing PSOL party. As it turned out, Flavio Bolsonaro formally praised two of the leading members of that militia; gave an award to the militia’s chief; and, most astonishingly of all, kept the mother and the daughter of the militia chief on his payroll for the last ten years. That the Bolsonaro family has been discovered to have such close and intimate ties with militias, including the one involved in Marielle Franco’s brutal assassination, stunned the country.

Then, on Thursday, Brazil’s only LGBT member of Congress, the long-time leftist critic of Bolsonaro Jean Wyllys who just won a third term in the November election, announced that he has fled the country, and will not assume his office due to serious threats to his life. In explaining why he fears for his life, Wyllys specifically cited these new revelations that the Bolsonaro family is linked to the militia blamed for the death of Franco, who was in the same party as Wyllys (my husband, David Miranda, is a Rio de Janeiro City Councilman in that same party and, as the alternate behind Wyllys, will now assume Wyllys’ seat in Congress, becoming the only LGBT member of the lower house).

Earlier this week, prior to Wyllys’ stunning announcement, we produced a short video documenting the key facts of this genuinely shocking scandal that has paralyzed the Bolsonaro presidency before it could even begin and, today, drove the country’s only LGBT Congress member not only from office but from the country. Watch:

The post VIDEO: The Dramatic Scandal Swallowing the Bolsonaro Presidency and Which Just Drove an LGBT Congressman to Flee Brazil appeared first on The Intercept.

January 20, 2019

Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures o...

Buzzfeed was once notorious for traffic-generating “listicles”, but has since become an impressive outlet for deep investigative journalism under editor-in-chief Ben Smith. That outlet was prominently in the news this week thanks to its “bombshell” story about President Trump and Michael Cohen: a story that, like so many others of its kind, blew up in its face, this time when the typically mute Robert Mueller’s office took the extremely rare step to label its key claims “inaccurate.”

But in homage to BuzzFeed’s past viral glory, following are the top ten worst media failures in two-plus-years of Trump/Russia reporting. They are listed in reverse order, as measured by the magnitude of the embarrassment, the hysteria they generated on social media and cable news, the level of journalistic recklessness that produced them, and the amount of damage and danger they caused. This list was extremely difficult to compile in part because news outlets (particularly CNN and MSNBC) often delete from the internet the video segments of their most embarrassing moments. Even more challenging was the fact that the number of worthy nominees is so large that highly meritorious entrees had to be excluded, but are acknowledged at the end with (dis)honorable mention status.

Note that all of these “errors” go only in one direction: namely, exaggerating the grave threat posed by Moscow and the Trump circle’s connection to it. It’s inevitable that media outlets will make mistakes on complex stories. If that’s being done in good faith, one would expect the errors would be roughly 50/50 in terms of the agenda served by the false stories. That is most definitely not the case here. Just as was true in 2002 and 2003, when the media clearly wanted to exaggerate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and thus all of its “errors” went in that direction, virtually all of its major “errors” in this story are devoted to the same agenda and script:

10. RT Hacked Into and Took Over C-SPAN (Fortune)

On June 12, 2017, Fortune claimed that RT had hacked into and taken over C-SPAN and that C-SPAN “confirmed” it had been hacked. The whole story was false:

 

9. Russian Hackers Invaded the U.S. Electricity Grid to Deny Vermonters Heat During the Winter (WashPost)

On December 30, 2016, the Washington Post reported that “Russian hackers penetrated the U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont,” causing predictable outrage and panic, along with threats from U.S. political leaders. But then they kept diluting the story with editor’s notes – to admit that the malware was found on a laptop not connected to the U.S. electric grid at all – until finally acknowledging, days later, that the whole story was false, since the malware had nothing to do with Russia or with the U.S. electric grid:

 

8. A New, Deranged, Anonymous Group Declares Mainstream Political Sites on the Left and Right to be Russian Propaganda Outlets and WashPost Touts its Report to Claim Massive Kremlin Infiltration of the Internet (WashPost)

On November 24, 2016, the Washington Post published one of the most inflammatory, sensationalistic stories to date about Russian infiltration into U.S. politics using social media, accusing “more than 200 websites” of being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season, with combined audiences of at least 15 million Americans.” It added: “stories planted or promoted by the disinformation campaign [on Facebook] were viewed more than 213 million times.”

Unfortunately for the paper, those statistics were provided by a new, anonymous group that reached these conclusions by classifying long-time, well-known sites – from the Drudge Report to Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute. – as “Russian propaganda outlets,” producing one of the longest Editor’s Note in memory appended to the top of the article (but not until two weeks later, long after the story was mindlessly spread all throughout the media ecosystem):

 

7. Trump Aide Anthony Scaramucci is Involved in a Russian Hedge Fund Under Senate Investigation (CNN)

On June 22, 2017, CNN reported that Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci was involved with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, under Senate investigation. He was not. CNN retracted the story and forced the three reporters who published it to leave the network.

 

6. Russia Attacked U.S. “Diplomats” (i.e. Spies) at the Cuban Embassy Using a Super-Sophisticated Sonic Microwave Weapon (NBC/MSNBC/CIA)

On September 11, 2017, NBC News and MSNBC spread all over its airwaves a claim from its notorious CIA puppet Ken Dilanian that Russia was behind a series of dastardly attacks on U.S. personnel at the Embassy in Cuba using a sonic or microwave weapon so sophisticated and cunning that Pentagon and CIA scientists had no idea what to make of it.

But then teams of neurologists began calling into doubt that these personnel had suffered any brain injuries at all – that instead they appear to have experienced collective psychosomatic symptoms – and then biologists published findings that the “strange sounds” the U.S. “diplomats” reported hearing were identical to those emitted by a common Caribbean male cricket during mating season.

 

5. Trump Created a Secret Internet Server to Covertly Communicate with a Russian Bank (Slate)

 

4. Paul Manafort Visited Julian Assange Three Times in the Ecuadorian Embassy and Nobody Noticed (Guardian/Luke Harding)

On November 27, 2018, the Guardian published a major “bombshell” that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had somehow managed to sneak inside one of the world’s most surveilled buildings, the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and visit Julian Assange on three different occasions. Cable and online commentators exploded.

Seven weeks later, no other media outlet has confirmed this; no video or photographic evidence has emerged; the Guardian refuses to answer any questions; its leading editors have virtually gone into hiding; other media outlets have expressed serious doubts about its veracity; and an Ecuadorian official who worked at the embassy has called the story a complete fake:

 

3. CNN Explicitly Lied About Lanny Davis Being Its Source – For a Story Whose Substance Was Also False: Cohen Would Testify that Trump Knew in Advance About the Trump Tower Meeting (CNN)

On July 27, 2018, CNN published a blockbuster story: that Michael Cohen was prepared to tell Robert Mueller that President Trump knew in advanced about the Trump Tower meeting. There were, however, two problems with this story: first, CNN got caught blatantly lying when its reporters claimed that “contacted by CNN, one of Cohen’s attorneys, Lanny Davis, declined to comment” (in fact, Davis was one of CNN’s key sources, if not its only source, for this story), and second, numerous other outlets retracted the story after the source, Davis, admitted it was a lie. CNN, however, to this date has refused to do either:

2. Robert Mueller Possesses Internal Emails and Witness Interviews Proving Trump Directed Cohen to Lie to Congress (BuzzFeed)

 

1. Donald Trump Jr. Was Offered Advanced Access to the WikiLeaks Email Archive (CNN/MSNBC)

The morning of December 9, 2017, launched one of the most humiliating spectacles in the history of the U.S. media. With a tone so grave and bombastic that it is impossible to overstate, CNN went on the air and announced a major exclusive: Donald Trump, Jr. was offered by email advanced access to the trove of DNC and Podesta emails published by WikiLeaks – meaning before those emails were made public. Within an hour, MSNBC’s Ken Dilanian, using a tone somehow even more unhinged, purported to have “independently confirmed” this mammoth, blockbuster scoop, which, they said, would have been the smoking gun showing collusion between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over the hacked emails (while the YouTube clips have been removed, you can still watch one of the amazing MSNBC videos here).

There was, alas, just one small problem with this massive, blockbuster story: it was totally and completely false. The email which Trump, Jr. received that directed him to the WikiLeaks archive was sent after WikiLeaks published it online for the whole world to see, not before. Rather than some super secretive operative giving Trump, Jr. advanced access, as both CNN and MSNBC told the public for hours they had confirmed, it was instead just some totally pedestrian message from a random member of the public suggesting Trump, Jr. review documents the whole world was already talking about. All of the anonymous sources CNN and MSNBC cited somehow all got the date of the email wrong.

To date, when asked how they both could have gotten such a massive story so completely wrong in the same way, both CNN and MSNBC have adopted the posture of the CIA by maintaining completing silence and refusing to explain how it could possibly be that all of their “multiple, independent sources” got the date wrong on the email in the same way, to be as incriminating – and false – as possible. Nor, needless to say, will they identify their sources who, in concert, fed them such inflammatory and utterly false information.

Sadly, CNN and MSNBC have deleted most traces of the most humiliating videos from the internet, including demanding that YouTube remove copies. But enough survives to document just what a monumental, horrifying, and utterly inexcusable debacle this was. Particularly amazing is the clip of the CNN reporter (see below) having to admit the error for the first time, as he awkwardly struggles to pretend that it’s not the massive, horrific debacle that it so obviously is:

 


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Dishonorable Mention:

  • ABC News’ Brian Ross is fired for reporting Trump told Flynn to make contact with Russians when he was still a candidate; in fact, Trump did that after he won.
  • The New York Times claimed Manafort provided polling data to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a person “close to the Kremlin”; in fact,he provided them to Ukrainians, not Russians.
  • Crowdstrike, the firm hired by the DNC, claimed they had evidence that Russia hacked Ukrainian artillery apps; they then retracted it.
  • Bloomberg and the WSJ reported Mueller subpoenaed Deustche Bank for Trump’s financial records; the NYT said that never happened.
  • Rachel Maddow devoted 20 minutes at the start of her show to very melodramatically claiming a highly sophisticated party tried to trick her by sending her a fake Top Secret document modeled after the one published by the Intercept, and said it could only have come from the U.S. Government (or the Intercept) since the person obtained the document before it was published by us and thus must have had special access to it; in fact, Maddow and NBC completely misread the metadata on the document; the fake sent to Maddow was created after we published the document, and was sent to her by a random member of the public who took the document from the Intercept’s site and doctored it to see if she’d fall for an obvious scam. Maddow’s entire timeline, on which her whole melodramatic conspiracy theory rested, was fictitious.
  • The U.S. media and Democrats spent six months claiming that all “17 intelligence agencies” agreed Russia was behind the hacks; the NYT finally retracted that in June, 2017: “The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”
  • AP claimed on February 2, 2018, that the Free Beacon commissioned the Steele Dossier; they thereafter acknowledged that was false and noted, instead: “Though the former spy, Christopher Steele, was hired by a firm that was initially funded by the Washington Free Beacon, he did not begin work on the project until after Democratic groups had begun funding it.”
  • The national media have offered multiple, conflicting accounts of how and why the FBI investigation into Trump/Russia began.
  • Widespread government and media claims that accused Russian agent Maria Butina offered “sex for favors” were totally false (and scurrilous).
  • After a Russian regional jet crashed on February 11, 2018, shortly after it took off from Moscow, killing all 71 people aboard, Harvard Law Professor and frequent MSNBC contributor Laurence Tribe strongly implied Putin purposely caused the plane to go down in order to murder Sergei Millian, a person vaguely linked to George Papadopoulos and Jared Kushner; in fact, Millian was not on the plane nor, to date, has anyone claimed they had any evidence that Putin ordered his own country’s civilian passenger jet brought down.

 

Special mention:

As I’ve said many times, the U.S. media has become quite adept at expressing extreme indignation when people criticize them; when politicians conclude that it is advantageous to turn the U.S. media into their main adversary; and when people turn to “fake news” sites.

If, however, they were willing to devote just a small fraction of that energy to examining their own conduct, perhaps they would develop the tools necessary to combat those problems instead of just denouncing their critics and angrily demanding that politicians and news consumers accord them the respect to which they believe they are entitled.

The post Beyond BuzzFeed: The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump/Russia Story appeared first on The Intercept.

January 14, 2019

The FBI’s Investigation of Trump as a “National Security Threat”...

Last week, the New York Times reported that the FBI, in 2017, launched an investigation of President Trump “to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security” and specifically “whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests.” The story was predictably treated as the latest in an endless line of Beginning-of-the-End disasters for the Trump presidency, though – as usual – this melodrama was accomplished by steadfastly ignoring the now-standard, always-buried paragraph pointing out the boring fact that no actual evidence of guilt has yet emerged:

The lack of any evidence of guilt has never dampered the excitement over Trump/Russia innuendo, and it certainly did not do so here. Beyond being construed as some sort of vindication for the most deranged version of Manchurian Candidate fantasies – because, after all, the FBI would never investigate anyone unless they were guilty – the FBI’s investigation of the President as a national security threat was also treated as some sort of unprecedented event in U.S. history. “This is, without exception, the worst scandal in the history of the United States,” pronounced NBC News’ resident ex-CIA operative, who – along with a large staple of former security state agents employed by that network – is now paid to “analyze” and shape the news.

The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Trump is far from the first time that the FBI has monitored, surveilled and investigated U.S. elected officials who the agency had decided haroberd suspect loyalties and were harming national security. The FBI specialized in such conduct for decades under J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the agency for 48 years and whose name the agency’s Washington headquarters continues to feature in its name (see photo above).

Perhaps the most notable case was the Hoover-led FBI’s lengthy counterintelligence investigation of the progressive Henry Wallace, both when he served in multiple cabinet positions in the Franklin Roosevelt administration and then as FDR’s elected Vice President. The FBI long suspected that Wallace harbored allegiances to the Kremlin and used his government positions to undermine what the FBI determined were “U.S. interests” for the benefit of Moscow and, as a result, subjected Wallace to extensive investigation and surveillance.

Nelson Rockefeller, left, coordinator of commercial and cultural relations among the American republics, chats with Senor Dr. Don Adrian Recinos, center, minister from Guatemala to the United States and Vice President Henry Wallace, right, at the National Press Club dinner party for Latin-American diplomats and leaders in Washington, D.C., April 19, 1941. (AP Photo)

Nelson Rockefeller, left, chats with Senor Dr. Don Adrian Recinos, center, minister from Guatemala to the United States and Vice President Henry Wallace, right, at the National Press Club dinner party for Latin-American diplomats and leaders in Washington, D.C., April 19, 1941.

AP

Wallace was regarded by the FBI as having suspect loyalties because, as Vice President, he repeatedly insisted that the threat posed by Moscow was being exaggerated. He often accused the U.S. Government of disseminating propaganda about Russian leaders. He urged less belligerent and more cooperative relations with the Russian government. He opposed efforts to confront Russian influence it its own region.

And, because of these pro-peace beliefs, Wallace frequently ended up on the same side as the Kremlin when it came to foreign policy disputes. That Wallace was frequently critical of the oppression of Russian leader Josef Stalin made little difference: his dissent from prevailing U.S. foreign policy orthodoxy on how to deal with Russia made him suspect in the eyes of the FBI as a possible “national security threat,” a witting or unwitting Kremlin stooge or even as a traitor.

What particularly infuriated Hoover and other Russia hawks was a 1946 speech Wallace gave criticizing U.S. belligerence toward Moscow, while urging better relations. As the hawkish Truman ramped up hostilities toward Russia, Wallace delivered a speech in Madison Square Garden entitled “The Way to Peace,” vehemently criticizing this militaristic and aggressive approach, a speech that caused Truman to force Wallace’s resignation one week later and which intensified FBI suspicions that Wallace was a Kremlin tool (emphasis added):

Up till now peace has been negative and unexciting. War has been positive and exciting. . . . During the past year or so, the significance of peace has been increased immeasurably by the atom bomb, guided missiles, and air-planes which soon will travel as fast as sound. . . .

Make no mistake about it – the British imperialistic policy in the Near East alone, combined with Russian retaliation, would lead the United States straight to war unless we have a clearly defined and realistic policy of our own.

Neither of these two great powers wants war now, but the danger is that whatever their intentions may be, their current policies may eventually lead to war. To prevent war and insure our survival in a stable world, it is essential that we look abroad through our own American eyes and not through the eyes of either the British Foreign Office or a pro-British or anti-Russian press. . . .

We must not let our Russian policy be guided or influenced by those inside or outside the United States who want war with Russia. . . .

The real peace treaty we now need is between the United States and Russia. On our part, we should recognize that we have no more business in the political affairs of eastern Europe than Russia has in the political affairs of Latin America, western Europe, and the United States.  We may not like what Russia does in eastern Europe. Her type of land reform, industrial expropriation, and suppression of basic liberties offends the great majority of the people of the United States. . . .

But whether we like it or not the Russians will try to socialize their sphere of influence just as we try to democratize our sphere of influence. . . . Let’s get this straight, regardless of what Mr. Taft or Mr. Dewey may say, if we can overcome the imperialistic urge in the Western world, I’m convinced there’ll be no war. . . .

In the United States an informed public opinion will be all-powerful. Our people are peace-minded. But they often express themselves too late – for events today move much faster than public opinion. The people here, as everywhere in the world, must be convinced that another war is not inevitable. And through mass meetings such as this, and through persistent pamphleteering, the people can be organized for peace – even though a large segment of our press is propagandizing our people for war in the hope of scaring Russia. And we who look on this war-with-Russia talk as criminal foolishness must carry our message direct to the people – even though we may be called communists because we dare to speak out.

I believe that peace – the kind of a peace I have outlined tonight – is the basic issue, both in the congressional campaign this fall and right on through the presidential election in 1948. How we meet this issue will determine whether we live not in “one world” or “two worlds” – but whether we live at all.

To this very day, many of the same people who accuse Trump of being a Kremlin pawn still accuse Wallace of being the same thing, often for the same reasons. In October, 2016, Vox published an accusatory article about Henry Wallace by Will Moreland of the Brookings Institution designed to compare him to Trump when it came to potentially treasonous servitude toward Russia.

Moreland claimed that Wallace “shares Trump’s fate of being too blinded by his self-messianic vision to realize he too had become a Kremlin pawn.” To justify this accusation, Moreland – citing Wallace’s 1946 pro-peace speech – explicitly compared Trump’s desire for better relations with Moscow to Wallace’s similar desire and used it to claim that both Wallace and Trump were Kremlin stooges and assets, whether “witting” or otherwise. In Vox, Moreland wrote:

In Wallace’s mind, responsibility for the acrimonious relations between the United States and the Soviet Union fell on Washington. Like Trump, Wallace saw Russia as a partner. Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s actions in Eastern Europe and his authoritarian reign at home could be patched over for common goals. . . .

As Howard Norton of the Baltimore Sun reported at the time, there emerged “a growing and spreading conviction among New Dealers and other ‘liberals’ that Wallace, wittingly or unwittingly, is playing Moscow’s game and is hurting rather than helping the cause of peace.”

Wallace was unwitting, at least vis-à-vis the larger agenda behind Stalin’s endorsement. As with Trump today, the Kremlin was adroitly manipulating Wallace. . . . It is a time for engagement, not retrenchment, and for a leader with the judgment to recognize friends from adversaries — a judgment Donald Trump, like Henry Wallace before him, clearly lacks.

That the FBI conducted an extensive counterintelligence investigation of Wallace was unknown until 1983 – eighteen years after his death. Citing reporting by the Des Moines Register, the New York Times explained that “Wallace was watched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation while he was Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of Commerce for Harry S. Truman, and also in his 1948 run for the Presidency” and that “the bureau opened Wallace’s mail, tapped his supporters’ telephones and used informers and agents to trail him in search of ”possible Communist or pro-Soviet ties.'”

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Even decades later, the FBI still refuses to release all of its investigative files on Wallace; as FOIA warrior Emma Best noted last night, the FBI “is still fighting to not release the files.” But many of the files are now declassified and online, and one can read the voluminous tracking by FBI agents of Wallace’s movements during the time he was the elected Vice President of the United States – all because his dissenting, pro-peace views on Russia made his patriotism suspect in the eyes of Hoover and his agents.

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For decades, the FBI also maintained a massive dossier on long-time liberal Senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern – first because he was suspected of Kremlin sympathies andt hen because he was a critic of the FBI. Among other things, the FBI, while relentlessly tracking his life, discovered that McGovern had fathered a child out of wedlock, and in the words of USA Today, “somehow, the material ended up with President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign – possibly leaked by the bureau’s longtime director, J. Edgar Hoover.”

It is not difficult to understand what is so ominous and even tyrannical about the FBI investigating domestic political figures whose loyalties they regard as “suspicious,” and whose political career they regard as a “national security threat,” simply because those politicians express policy positions about U.S. adversaries that the FBI dislikes or regards as insufficiently belligerent.

It’s the FBI’s job to investigate possible crimes under the law or infiltration by foreign powers, not ideological sins. If a politician adopts policy views that are “threatening” to U.S. national security or which is unduly accommodating to America’s adversaries or “enemies,” that’s not a crime and the FBI thus has no business using its vast investigative powers against a politician who does that.

That’s why it’s so easy to see that Hoover’s investigative scrutiny of Henry Wallace, and George McGovern, and an endless array of domestic dissenters, was so anti-democratic and dangerous. If a politician adopts “threatening” policy views or is too subservient toward or accommodating of a foreign adversary, it’s the job of the American voting public or Congress in its political oversight and lawmaking role to take action, not the FBI’s job to criminalize policy differences through investigations.

It should not be difficult for a rational brain free of partisan muck to see this same principle at play when it comes to the FBI’s investigation of Trump on the ground that he may be, in the eyes of FBI officials, a “national security threat.” Even if you’re someone who hates Trump’s overtures toward Russia or even believes that they are the by-product of excessive subservience to the Kremlin, the dangers of having the FBI take on the role of investigating that rather than the political wings of the U.S. political system should be obvious – as obvious as they are in the case of Henry Wallace and George McGovern.

Obviously, if there is reason to suspect that actual crimes have been committed – such as, say, Trump officials collaborating with Russia to hack into email inboxes or otherwise engaging in illegal deals with foreign powers – then it’s not just permissible but vital that the FBI investigate such allegations.

That’s why I’ve been a vigorous defender from the start of having a full-scale investigation into those allegations with the evidence publicly disclosed: so that we can know what happened rather than relying on self-serving, evidence-free, anonymous leak snippets laundered through MSNBC and the Washington Post. As I wrote in March, 2017 about Trump/Russia claims: “A formal, credible investigation into all these questions, where the evidence is publicly disclosed, is still urgently needed.”

But the FBI investigation revealed by the New York Times is separate from the Mueller investigation or even questions of collusion. It’s clearly based, at least in part, on the FBI’s disagreements with Trump’s foreign policy views and the agency’s assessment that such policies fail to safeguard “U.S. interests” as the FBI defines them. The NYT notes that among the events that prompted the investigation were that Trump “refused to criticize Russia on the campaign trail,” that the GOP “softened its convention platform on the Ukraine crisis in a way that seemed to benefit Russia,” and that Trump decided to fire the FBI’s director, Jim Comey.

The NYT article is clear that at least some of the agents involved in this investigation, including the former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, vigorously disagreed with Trump’s view of Russia that it is less of a threat than many in Washington believed (a view which the Vox article identified as making Trump similar to Henry Wallace):

Many involved in the case viewed Russia as the chief threat to American democratic values.

“With respect to Western ideals and who it is and what it is we stand for as Americans, Russia poses the most dangerous threat to that way of life,” Ms. Page told investigators for a joint House Judiciary and Oversight Committee investigation into Moscow’s election interference.

The person elected by the U.S. electorate to make foreign policy for the United States and to determine “America’s interests” was Donald Trump, not the FBI. It’s the role of elected officials in the White House and Congress, not the unelected police agents who report to them, to decide what is and is not in “America’s interests.”

If Trump’s foreign policy is misguided or “threatening,” that’s a matter for the Congress and/or the American public, not the FBI. However “threatening” one regards Trump’s foreign policy relating to Russia, the FBI’s abuse of its powers to investigate an elected official due to disagreement with his ideology or foreign policy views is at least just as dangerous, it not more so, and the fact that those policy disagreements are characterized as “national security threats” does not make those actions any less threatening or abusive – whether for Trump, Henry Wallace or George McGovern.

It’s certainly possible, as the always-smart Harvard Law Professor and former Bush DOJ official Jack Goldsmith wrote at Lawfare, that the FBI had far more grounds that is currently known for opening this investigation. But based on what we do know, Goldsmith adeptly argues, there is a potentially disturbing incident of serious overreach of the FBI’s role and grave abuse of its vast investigative powers. While Goldsmith is clear that he is not yet adopting this view – in part because some facts are unknown and in part because the Constitutional issues are murky – he lays out what the potential dangers are (emphasis added):

The reason the FBI step might have been imprudent is that it was premised on an inversion of the normal assumptions of Article II of the Constitution. . . .

It is not unusual for a president to make controversial policy decisions that could, in some quarters, be viewed as causing harm to the national security interests of the United States. For example, many saw George W. Bush’s decisions in the war on terrorism, or Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Iran and Cuba, as harming U.S. national security. Many believe that most of Trump’s foreign policy constitutes a similar threat—his attacks on allies and international institutions, his lies and erratic behavior, and the like. But the FBI obviously would not open a counterintelligence investigation for these matters.

They would not do so because these actions—and indeed the very determination of the U.S. interest in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy—are presidential prerogatives. . . . Because the president determines the U.S. national security interest and threats against it, at least for the executive branch, there is an argument that it makes no sense for the FBI to open a counterintelligence case against the president premised on his being a threat to the national security. The president defines what a national security threat is, and thus any action by him cannot be such a threat, at least not for purposes of opening a counterintelligence investigation. . . .

The FBI cannot act in a way that is legally premised on second-guessing the president’s national security bona fides. On this view, the FBI can fully investigate Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, including matters involving the president, as it has been doing for a while now. But it cannot cross the line of taking investigative steps premised on the president’s threat to national security. The Constitution leaves crossing that line up to Congress and the American people. . . . 

First, presidents and their delegates all the time engage in controversial contacts with foreign leaders and with their intelligence agents that sharply change the direction of U.S. foreign policy concerning matters that some critics believe shows undue fealty towards a foreign power. Think of some critics’ view of Nixon’s opening with China or, again, of Obama’s with Iran and Cuba. Or imagine that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is elected in 2020 and brings controversial foreign policy views to the presidency.

One danger in the what the FBI apparently did is that it implies that the unelected domestic intelligence bureaucracy holds itself as the ultimate arbiter—over and above the elected president who is the constitutional face of U.S. intelligence and national security authority—about what actions do and don’t serve the national security interests of the United States. It further suggests that the FBI claims the authority to take this step on the basis of the president’s exercise of another clear presidential prerogative—the firing of the FBI director in connection with the Russia investigation, which the Times says was the final predicate for the FBI’s action. . . .

[A]t one time, under J. Edgar Hoover, it secretly collected intelligence information on the president and other elected officials and used that secret information to influence the behavior of those officials. This is an ever-present danger with any intelligence bureaucracy in a democracy. A second adverse effect of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the president is that it gives credence to these types of concerns about the contemporary FBI—especially if the FBI opened a counterintelligence file on the president and did not notify him, as I suspect happened in the Trump case. . . . 

As I have noted many times, one of President Trump’s most nefarious skills is to act in norm-busting ways that cause people and institutions to respond to him in norm-busting ways. If indeed the FBI took the unprecedented step of opening a counterintelligence investigation directed at the president premised on his threat to national security, I hope the bureau had much stronger evidence for doing so than the Times story provided—and I hope that something of investigative substance actually turned on it. Otherwise, the step strikes me as deeply imprudent.

This argument, and the entire affair, underscores two crucial paradoxes of the Trump era. The first is that our discourse manically shifts from claim that only maniacal and conspiratorial losers believe that there is such a thing as a “Deep State” in the glorious democracy of the United States, to prayers that the Deep State save us from Trump, and then back again. The core attribute of a Deep State is, to use Goldsmith’s words for what may have happened here, an “unelected domestic intelligence bureaucracy holds itself as the ultimate arbiter—over and above the elected president who is the constitutional face of U.S. intelligence and national security authority—about what actions do and don’t serve the national security interests of the United States.” Such a state of affairs is at least as dangerous for U.S. democracy as anything Trump is doing with Russia.

Even former members of the Deep State themselves – such as former GCHQ agent Matt Tait – are warning of the possible dangers of what the FBI did here:

The second paradox is the one Goldsmith so perfectly described: “one of President Trump’s most nefarious skills is to act in norm-busting ways that cause people and institutions to respond to him in norm-busting ways.”

It was a dangerous and shameful moment when J. Edgar Hoover investigated U.S. politicians as potential traitors and stooges because he believed they were too deferential and subservient to Russia, or because their advocated plans for peace with Moscow were “contrary to American interests.” It’s no better when the agency housed in the headquarters that, revealingly, still bears Hoover’s name does the same today.

The post The FBI’s Investigation of Trump as a “National Security Threat” is Itself a Serious Danger. But J. Edgar Hoover Pioneered the Tactic appeared first on The Intercept.

January 11, 2019

As Democratic Elites Reunite With Neocons, The Party’s Voters Are Be...

President Trump’s December 18 announcement that he intends to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria produced some isolated support in the anti-war wings of both parties, but largely provoked bipartisan outrage among in Washington’s reflexively pro-war establishment.

Both GOP Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the country’s most reliable war supporters, and Hillary Clinton, who repeatedly criticized President Obama for insufficient hawkishness, condemned Trump’s decision in very similar terms, invoking standard War on Terror jargon.

But while official Washington united in opposition, new polling data from Morning Consult/Politico shows a large plurality of Americans support Trump’s Syria withdraw announcement: 49% support to 33% opposition.

That’s not surprising given that Americans by a similarly large plurality agree with the proposition that “the U.S. has been engaged in too many military conflicts in places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan for too long, and should prioritize getting Americans out of harm’s way” far more than they agree with the pro-war view that “the U.S. needs to keep troops in places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to help support our allies fight terrorism and maintain our foreign policy interests in the region.”

But what is remarkable about the new polling data on Syria is that the vast bulk of support for keeping troops in that Middle Eastern country come from Democratic Party voters, while Republicans and independents overwhelming favor their removal. The numbers are stark: of people who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, only 26% support the withdraw of troops from Syria, while 59% oppose it. Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76%-14%.

A similar gap is seen among those who voted Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections (28% support withdraw while 54% oppose it), as opposed to the widespread support for withdraw among 2018 GOP voters: 74%-18%.

Identical trends can be seen on the question of Trump’s announced intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, where Democrats are far more supportive of keeping troops in Afghanistan than Republicans and independents.

This case is even more stark since President Obama ran in 2008 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan and bring home all troops. Throughout the Obama years, polling data consistently showed that huge majorities of Democrats favored a withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan:

With Trump rather than Obama now advocating troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, all of this has changed. The new polling data shows far more support for troop withdrawal among Republicans and independents, while Democrats are now split or even opposed. Among 2016 Trump voters, there is massive support for withdrawal: 81%-11; Clinton voters, however, oppose the removal of troops from Afghanistan by a margin of 37% in favor and 47% opposed.

This latest poll is far from aberrational. As the Huffington Post’s Ariel Edwards-Levy documented early this week, separate polling shows a similar reversal by Democrats on questions of war and militarism in the Trump era.

While Democrats were more or less evenly divided early last year on whether the U.S. should continue to intervene in Syria, all that changed once Trump announced his intention to withdraw, which provoked a huge surge in Democratic support for remaining. “Those who voted for Democrat Clinton now said by a 42-point margin that the U.S. had a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria involving ISIS,” she wrote, “while Trump voters said by a 16-point margin that the nation had no such responsibility” (similar trends can be seen among GOP voters, whose support for intervention in Syria has steadily declined as Trump moved away from his posture of the last two years – escalating bombing in both Syria and Iraq and killing far more civilians, as he repeatedly vow to do during the campaign – to his return to his other campaign pledge to remove troops from the region).

This is, of course, not the first time that Democratic voters have wildly shifted “beliefs” based on the party affiliation of the person occupying the Oval Office. The party’s base spent the Bush/Cheney years denouncing War on Terror policies such as assassinations, drones and Guantanamo as moral atrocities and war crimes, only to suddenly support those policies once they became hallmarks of the Obama presidency.

But what’s happening here is far more insidious. A core ethos of the anti-Trump #Resistance has become militarism, jingoism, and neoconservatism. Trump is frequently attacked by Democrats using long-standing Cold War scripts wielded for decades against them by the Far Right: Trump is insufficiently belligerent with U.S. enemies; he’s willing to allow the Bad Countries to take over by bringing home U.S. soldiers; his efforts to establish less hostile relations with adversary countries is indicative of weakness or even treason.

At the same time, Democratic policy elites in Washington are once again formally aligning with neoconservatives even to the point of creating joint foreign policy advocacy groups (a reunion that pre-dated Trump). The leading Democratic Party think tank, the Center for American Progress, donated $200,000 to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and has multi-level alliances with warmongering institutions. By far the most influential liberal media outlet, MSNBC, is stuffed full of former Bush/Cheney officials, security state operatives and agents, while even the liberal stars are notably hawkish (a decade ago, long before she went as far down the pro-war and Cold Warrior rabbit hole which she now occupies, Rachel Maddow heralded herself as a “national security liberal” who is “all about counterterrorism”).

All of this has resulted in a new generation of Democrats, politically engaged for the first time as a result of fears over Trump, being inculcated with values of militarism and imperialism, trained to view once-discredited, war-loving neocons such as Bill Kristol, Max Boot and David Frum and former CIA and FBI leaders as noble experts and trusted voices of conscience. It’s inevitable that all of these trends would produce a party that is increasingly pro-war and militaristic, and polling data now leaves little doubt that this transformation – which will endure long after Trump is gone – is well under way.

The post As Democratic Elites Reunite With Neocons, The Party’s Voters Are Becoming Far More Militaristic and Pro-War than Republicans appeared first on The Intercept.

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January 7, 2019

NBC and MSNBC Blamed Russia for Using “Sophisticated Microwaves” t...

NBC News and MSNBC specialize in repeating and disseminating what U.S intelligence officials tell them to say and then calling that servitude “reporting.” Those two networks really are the all-but-official outlets for CIA messaging. And this status has led their brightest on-air stars to broadcast a series of extremely consequential stories that turned out to be humiliatingly wrong.

This stenographic and highly jingoistic practice of mindlessly reciting the whispered claims of anonymous “intelligence officials” is what notoriously led the New York Times and other leading U.S. media outlets to deceive the country into believing Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz’s fairy tales about Iraqi WMDs and Jeffrey Goldberg’s tales about Saddam’s alliance with Al Qaeda.

But while many of those outlets apologized for that behavior and vowed to avoid it in the future, NBC and MSNBC have committed themselves to it with greater vigor than ever, as evidenced by the increasing prominence of their national security reporter Ken Dilanian, whose entire career has been defined by repeating what the CIA tells him to say – and has thus been plagued by one embarrassing false story after the next.

On Friday, veteran national security William Arkin announced his departure from those networks, blasting them as stenographic servants of the security state agencies and pro-war propaganda. Noting that ex-generals and CIA officials dominate the NBC/MSNBC airwaves, Arkin wrote: “in many ways NBC just began emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable,” adding: “the national security leaders and generals we have are allowed to do their thing unmolested.”

We now have what might be the most vivid, reckless and dangerous illustration yet of how NBC and MSNBC functions. If their behavior weren’t so journalistically shameful and destructive, this would be darkly humorous.

Last September – on the symbolically meaningful date of September 11 – NBC and MSNBC breathlessly trumpeted what they regarded as a major exclusive scoop: that Russia is “the main suspect” in what the network called “mysterious attacks” that led to “brain injuries” in U.S. personnel in Cuba.” They put CIA loyalist Ken Dilanian on the air to explain – based, needless to say, on the script given to him by intelligence officials who, as always, are shielded from accountability by them with anonymity – that “sophisticated microwaves or another type of electromagnetic weapon were likely used on the U.S. government workers” and that it was Russia which likely engineered the attack. Watch their dramatic scoop in all of its glory:

It would be impossible to parody that. Permit me to highlight my favorite line from Dilanian: “The other interesting thing that we’re reporting here is that one of the technologies used to injure these American spies and diplomats was some kind of microwave weapon, that is so sophisticated, that the Americans don’t even fully understand it.” Yes: those poor American CIA officials who are such innocent naifs that they are not even aware of the latest developments in villainous technological weaponry.

Throughout the day, MSNBC hyped its exciting scoop about the mysterious attack on the U.S. “diplomats” (peace-seeking “diplomats” in Cuba presumably do things like create fake Twitter networks to lure young Cubans into receiving U.S propaganda encouraging them to destabilize their own country).

One six-minute segment led by Andrea Mitchell – who began the report by announcing that “intelligence officials now believe that Russia is the leading suspect, and it was no accident.” – featured Bush/Cheney Deputy National Security Adviser Juan Zarate (who now, needless to say, works for NBC News as an “analyst”) along with reporter Josh Lederman, who said Russia’s guilt is “now more than just a theory. They’re the main suspect.” And, he said, Russia’s guilt is “backed up by” interceptions of Russians’ communications.

As this discussion unfolded, the graphic on MSNBC’s screen was crafted for its most sensationalistic expression: Russia is the “main suspect” in the “brain injury attacks” on American diplomats:

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Mitchell then invited Zarate to explain the real significance of this story, and the former Bush/Cheney official-turned-NBC-analyst obliged: “The Cold War never ended for many in the Cuban government, including parts of the Russian government, including President Putin.” Zarate warned that this attack is just part of Moscow’s increasing aggression, including in South America, “yet another vector of attack from the Russia.”

Mitchell, with her sternest voice tone, underscored how villainous this all was: “This is not an accident. This is not a microwave listening device gone bad. This is an attack — against American diplomats and intelligence officers, and this was targeting.”

That night, on NBC News’ nightly broadcast, Mitchell condensed all these scary developments for the network news audience:

So for the last four months, thanks to NBC News’s eagerness to mindlessly repeat whatever CIA officials tell them to say, Americans were led to believe that Russia purposely caused serious “brain injuries” in dozens of U.S. “diplomats” – spies acting under diplomatic cover – through dastardly electromagnetic or microwave weapons that are so sophisticated and devious that not even the most advanced Pentagon scientists could understand what new horrific horrors the Kremlin had inflicted on peace-loving Americans.

Some media outlets expressed skepticism of NBC’s claims. Buried way down deep in an 11,000-word November article in from the usually hawkish-on-Russia New Yorker was this note of caution:

In September, NBC News reported that U.S. intelligence agencies considered Russia to be the main suspect, citing evidence from communications intercepts. But intelligence officials, in interviews with The New Yorker, insisted that they still had no evidence of Russian complicity.

So while NBC claimed that U.S. intelligence agencies had intercepted communications between Russian officials where they acknowledged their guilt for this attack, those same agencies insisted to the New Yorker “that they still had no evidence of Russian complicity.” Did any of that make MSNBC or NBC go re-visit their story and tell their viewers of this rather significant doubt raised by the New Yorker? Do you even need to ask?

Instead, NBC and MSNBC used hours of airtime and numerous pages to spread highly inflammatory claims across their numerous media platforms, all blaming Russia for an extremely serious attack on the U.S. – all because their CIA masters told them to do it. This is what NBC and MSNBC are, their function and mission:

And, needless to say, journalists from other mainstream outlets accepted these claims on blind faith, as exemplified by this Daily Beast reporter:

One U.S. Senator used the NBC report to urge that Russia be classified as a “terrorist” state:

That the NBC/MSNBC storyline suffered a major hit this week is a rather dramatic understatement. Two scientists, Alexander Stubbs of Berkeley and Fernando Montealegre-Z of the UK’s University of Lincoln have published their findings about one key part of the evidence about this incident, under this title:

In 2017, Associated Press obtained and published recordings of the sounds the embassy personnel complained of hearing. Rather than being the by-product of some sort of Bond-villain weapon cooked up in Kremlin laboratories, the scientists concluded that the sounds match those made by a specific species of Caribbean crickets during mating season:

As shown here, the calling song of the Indies short-tailed cricket (Anurogryllus celerinictus) matches, in nuanced detail, the AP recording in duration, pulse repetition rate, power spectrum, pulse rate stability, and oscillations per pulse. . . . This provides strong evidence that an echoing cricket call, rather than a sonic attack or other technological device, is responsible for the sound in the released recording. Although the causes of the health problems reported by embassy personnel are beyond the scope of this paper, our findings highlight the need for more rigorous research into the source of these ailments, including the potential psychogenic effects, as well as possible physiological explanations unrelated to sonic attacks.

One of the scientists, Dr. Stubbs, emphasized the certainty of their findings in an interview with the New York Times: “I can say fairly definitively is that the A.P.-released recording is of a cricket, and we think we know what species it is.” The villain behind the noises is the male indies short-tailed cricket, pictured below in what NBC News may soon use as his Interpol mugshot:

The first line of the 2017 AP report about the noises heard by U.S. personnel in Cuba suggested that the perpetrators may not be Putin scientists but rather tropical insects: “It sounds sort of like a mass of crickets,” AP said of the sounded recorded by embassy personnel. None of these caveats ever made their way into NBC’s Russia-did-it fear-mongering.

Indeed – contrary to the sensationalistic MSNBC screen graphics – serious doubt has been cast on whether U.S. “diplomats” in Cuba even suffered brain injuries at all. As the Guardian’s Science Editor, Ian Sample, reported in August: “Claims that US diplomats suffered mysterious brain injuries after being targeted with a secret weapon in Cuba have been challenged by neurologists and other brain specialists.”

The Guardian was referring to “four separate letters to the Journal of the American Medical Association” from “groups of doctors specialising in neurology, neuropsychiatry and neuropsychology” that “described what they believed were major flaws in the study” commissioned by the U.S. Government that originally claimed that brain injuries were detected. These experts all insisted that the original doctors “misinterpreted test results, overlooked common disorders that might have made the workers feel sick, or dismissed psychological explanations for their symptoms.”

Those doubts match the vehement denials not only from Cuban officials but also Cuba’s top neurological specialists that any type of brain injuries were even demonstrated. In May, the Guardian noted that “some scientists have questioned whether attacks even took place and say the wide range of symptoms reported by the embassy staff could be explained by a number of common medical conditions, or be driven by psychological factors in the high-stress environment the staff work in.”

Moreover, Luis Velázquez, the neurologist who serves as president of the highly regarded Cuban Academy of Sciences, “asked the US and Canadian national science academies for a joint scientific inquiry to examine the evidence behind the alleged attacks.”

But in jingoistic NBC/MSNBC world, statements and claims from officials of the Bad Countries – the ones disliked by the U.S. Government – are not merely to be assumed false but are to be ignored entirely. Only assertions from officials with noble intelligence agencies of the United States of American – with their well-earned reputation for truth-telling and integrity – are to be treated as Truth and uncritically blasted all over the world.

None of these recent revelations constitute dispositive proof exonerating Russia or negating that an attack took place. It’s possible that all of those neurological specialists independently objecting to the U.S. government-commissioned study claiming “brain injuries” are simply overlooking clear evidence of neurological damage. It’s possible that unidentifiable, highly sophisticated, non-audible weaponized microwaves or electromagnetic missiles were the culprit, not the sounds identified by the U.S. spies or, as NBC calls them, “diplomats.” It’s possible that Putin and his mad KGB scientists have harnessed the ability to control male short-tailed crickets and cause them to emit brain-harming mating sounds on command and target them at Moscow’s enemies. All of this is possible.

But what is certain is that the sustained, flamboyant, uncritical, breathless, CIA-subservient reporting from NBC and MSNBC on-air personalities – pinning the blame for an obviously serious attack on a nuclear-armed power that it has spent two years attempting to depict as a Grave Threat to the U.S. with very few caveats or doubts – was reckless, dangerous and journalistically unethical. And it’s just the latest in a series of attempts by the U.S. media to scare the population about Russia by fabricating attacks launched by the Kremlin that never actually happened: from invading Vermont’s electric grid and using mainstream news sites to infiltrate American minds with Kremlin propaganda to hacking into C-SPAN to take over the airwaves and hacking elections systems in 21 states.

Thus far, not a single NBC or MSNBC reporter who hyped the Russia-did-it story – Ken Dilanian, Andrea Mitchell, Josh Lederman – has bothered to tweet these scientific findings that, at the very least, raise major doubts about the accuracy of their huge and highly consequential story that the repeatedly hyped. That’s how the U.S. media functions: sensationalistic stories produce massive benefits, while there are zero consequences, or even an obligation to acknowledge error, when they turn out to be doubtful of even false.

MSNBC used this scary story to have one of its “analysts” – a former Bush/Cheney national security official – declare that “the Cold War never ended for many in the Cuban government, including parts of the Russian government, including President Putin.” That the U.S. is in a New Cold War – or never left the last one – is clearly a prevailing orthodoxy among prominent U.S. media figures; just this week Washington Post columnist Anne Appelbaum, invoked classic Cold War clichés to declare that “Moscow may be on the cusp of becoming, once again, a full-fledged imperial capital, absorbing and ruling over multiple countries.”

It’s bad enough to be so reckless with such dangerous rhetoric. But when this is all accomplished through the shoddiest of “reporting” – mindlessly repeating what anonymous intelligence officials tell journalists to say without a whiff of evidence – then it’s clear that the same journalistic pathologies that led to front-page reports of Saddam’s nuclear stockpile and alliance with Osama bin Laden continue to shape corporate journalism today, particularly at NBC and MSNBC.

The post NBC and MSNBC Blamed Russia for Using “Sophisticated Microwaves” to Cause “Brain Injuries” in U.S. “Diplomats” in Cuba. The Culprits Were Likely Crickets. appeared first on The Intercept.

January 3, 2019

Veteran NBC/MSNBC Journalist Blasts the Network for Being Captive to t...

A veteran national security journalist with NBC News and MSNBC blasted the networks in a Monday email for becoming captive and subservient to the national security state, reflexively pro-war in the name of stopping Trump, and now the prime propaganda instrument of the War Machine’s promotion of militarism and imperialism. As a result of NBC/MSNBC’s all-consuming militarism, he said, “the national security establishment not only hasn’t missed a beat but indeed has gained dangerous strength” and “is ever more autonomous and practically impervious to criticism.”

The NBC/MSNBC reporter, William Arkin, is a long-time, prominent war and military reporter, perhaps best known for his groundbreaking, three-part Washington Post series in 2010, co-reported with two-time Pulitzer winner Dana Priest, on how sprawling, unaccountable and omnipotent the national security state has become in the post-9/11 era. When that three-part investigative series, entitled “Top Secret America,” was published, I hailed it as one of the most important pieces of reporting of the War on Terror, because while [w]e chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, this is the Real U.S. Government:  functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization.”


Arkin has worked with NBC and MSNBC over the years, and continuously since 2016. But yesterday he announced that he was leaving the network in a long, emphatic email denouncing the networks for their superficial and reactionary coverage of national security, for becoming fixated on trivial Trump outbursts of the day to chase profit and ratings, and – most incriminating of all – for becoming the central propaganda arm of the CIA, the Pentagon and FBI in the name of #Resistance, thus inculcating an entire new generation of liberals, paying attention to politics for the first time in the Trump era, to “lionize” those agencies and their policies of imperialism and militarism.

That MSNBC and NBC have become Security State Central has been obvious for quite some time. The network consists of little more than former CIA, NSA and Pentagon officials as news “analysts”; ex-Bush/Cheney national security and communication officials as hosts and commentators, and the most extremists pro-war neocons constantly bashing Trump (and critics of Democrats generally) from the right, using the Cheney/Rove playbook on which they built their careers to accuse Democratic Party critics and enemies of being insufficient patriotic, of being a traitor for America’s official Enemies, of abandoning America’s hegemonic role in the world.

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MSNBC host, former Bush/Cheney 04 Communications Director Nicole Wallace, speaks to McCain ’08 campaign strategist Steve Schmidt

MSNCB’s star national security reporter, Ken Dilanian, was widely mocked by media outlets for years for being an uncritical CIA stenographer before he became a beloved NBC/MSNBC reporter (where his mindless servitude to his CIA masters has produced some of the network’s most humiliating debacles). The cable network’s key anchor, Rachel Maddow, once wrote a book on the evils of endless wars without Congressional authorization but now routinely depicts anyone who wants to end those illegal wars as reckless weaklings and traitors.

Some of the most beloved and frequently featured MSNBC commentators are the most bloodthirsty pro-war militarists from the War on Terror: David Frum, Jennifer Rubin, Ralph Peters, and Bill Kristol (who was just giddily and affectionately celebrated with a playful nickname bestowed on him: Lil Bill). In early 2018, NBC hired former CIA chief John Brennan to serve as a “senior national security and intelligence analyst,” where the rendition and torture advocate joined – as Politico’s Jack Shafer noted – a long litany of former security state officials at the network, including “Chuck Rosenberg, former acting DEA administrator, chief of staff for FBI Director James B. Comey, and counselor to former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III; Frank Figliuzzi, former chief of FBI counterintelligence; Juan Zarate, deputy national security adviser under Bush.”

As Shafer noted, filling your news and analyst slots with former security state officials as MSNBC and NBC have done is tantamount to becoming state TV, since “their first loyalty—and this is no slam—is to the agency from which they hail.” As he put it: ” Imagine a TV network covering the auto industry through the eyes of dozens of paid former auto executives and you begin to appreciate the current peculiarities.”

All of this led Arkin to publish a remarkable denunciation of NBC and MSNBC in the form of an email he sent to various outlets, including the Intercept. Its key passages are scathing and unflinching in its depiction of those networks as pro-war propaganda outlets who exist to do little more than amplify and serve the security state agencies that are most devoted to opposing Trump, including their mindless opposition to Trump’s attempts (with whatever motives) to roll back some of the excesses of imperialism, aggression and U.S. involvement in Endless War, as well as to sacrifice all journalistic standards and skepticism about generals and the U.S war machine if doing so advances their monomaniacal mission of denouncing Trump. As Arkin wrote (emphasis added):

My expertise, though seeming to be all the more central to the challenges and dangers we face, also seems to be less valued at the moment. And I find myself completely out of synch with the network, being neither a day-to-day reporter nor interested in the Trump circus….

To me there is also a larger problem: though they produce nothing that resembles actual safety and security, the national security leaders and generals we have are allowed to do their thing unmolested. Despite being at “war,” no great wartime leaders or visionaries are emerging. There is not a soul in Washington who can say that they have won or stopped any conflict. And though there might be the beloved perfumed princes in the form of the Petraeus’ and Wes Clarks’, or the so-called warrior monks like Mattis and McMaster, we’ve had more than a generation of national security leaders who sadly and fraudulently have done little of consequence. And yet we (and others) embrace them, even the highly partisan formers who masquerade as “analysts”. We do so ignoring the empirical truth of what they have wrought: There is not one county in the Middle East that is safer today than it was 18 years ago. Indeed the world becomes ever more polarized and dangerous….

Windrem again convinced me to return to NBC to join the new investigative unit in the early days of the 2016 presidential campaign. I thought that the mission was to break through the machine of perpetual war acceptance and conventional wisdom to challenge Hillary Clinton’s hawkishness. It was also an interesting moment at NBC because everyone was looking over their shoulder at Vice and other upstarts creeping up on the mainstream. But then Trump got elected and Investigations got sucked into the tweeting vortex, increasingly lost in a directionless adrenaline rush, the national security and political version of leading the broadcast with every snow storm. And I would assert that in many ways NBC just began emulating the national security state itself – busy and profitable. No wars won but the ball is kept in play.

I’d argue that under Trump, the national security establishment not only hasn’t missed a beat but indeed has gained dangerous strength. Now it is ever more autonomous and practically impervious to criticism. I’d also argue, ever so gingerly, that NBC has become somewhat lost in its own verve, proxies of boring moderation and conventional wisdom, defender of the government against Trump, cheerleader for open and subtle threat mongering, in love with procedure and protocol over all else (including results). I accept that there’s a lot to report here, but I’m more worried about how much we are missing. Hence my desire to take a step back and think why so little changes with regard to America’s wars. ….

In our day-to-day whirlwind and hostage status as prisoners of Donald Trump, I think – like everyone else does – that we miss so much. People who don’t understand the medium, or the pressures, loudly opine that it’s corporate control or even worse, that it’s partisan. Sometimes I quip in response to friends on the outside (and to government sources) that if they mean by the word partisan that it is New Yorkers and Washingtonians against the rest of the country then they are right.

For me I realized how out of step I was when I looked at Trump’s various bumbling intuitions: his desire to improve relations with Russia, to denuclearize North Korea, to get out of the Middle East, to question why we are fighting in Africa, even in his attacks on the intelligence community and the FBI.  Of course he is an ignorant and incompetent impostor. And yet I’m alarmed at how quick NBC is to mechanically argue the contrary, to be in favor of policies that just spell more conflict and more war. Really? We shouldn’t get out Syria? We shouldn’t go for the bold move of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula?  Even on Russia, though we should be concerned about the brittleness of our democracy that it is so vulnerable to manipulation, do we really yearn for the Cold War? And don’t even get me started with the FBI: What? We now lionize this historically destructive institution?

That an entire generation of Democrats paying attention to the politics for the first time is being instilled with formerly right-wing Cold Warrior values of jingoism, über-patriotism, reverence for security state agencies and prosecutors, a reckless use of the “traitor” accusation to smear one’s enemies, and a belief that neoconservatives embody moral rectitude and foreign policy expertise has long been obvious, and deeply disturbing. These toxins will endure long beyond Trump, particularly given the now full-scale unity between the Democratic establishment and neocons.

Still, that a network insider has blown the whistle on how all this works, and how MSNBC and NBC have become Ground Zero for these political pathologies of militarism and servitude to security state agencies, while not surprising,  is nonetheless momentous given how detailed and emphatic he is in his condemnations.

The post Veteran NBC/MSNBC Journalist Blasts the Network for Being Captive to the National Security State and Reflexively Pro-War to Stop Trump appeared first on The Intercept.