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.

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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.

January 2, 2019

Five Weeks After the Guardian’s Viral Blockbuster Assange/Manafort S...

Five weeks ago, the Guardian published one of the most extraordinary and significant bombshells in the now two-plus-year-old Trump/Russia saga. “Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort held secret talks with Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and visited around the time he joined Trump’s campaign,” claimed reporter and best-selling “Collusion” author Luke Harding, Dan Collyns, and a very sketchy third person whose name was bizarrely scrubbed from the Guardian’s byline for its online version but appeared in the print version: Fernando Villavicencio, described by the Washington Post, discussing this mysterious discrepancy, as “an Ecuadoran journalist and activist.”

Guardian online edition (left); Guardian print edition (right)

That the Guardian story would be seen as an earth-shattering revelation – one that would bring massive amounts of traffic, attention, glory and revenue to the paper – was obvious. And that’s precisely how it was treated, as it instantly ricocheted around the media ecosystem with predictable viral speed: “The ultimate Whoa If True. It’s … [the] ballgame if true,” pronounced MSNBC’s Chris Hayes who, unlike many media figures reacting to the story, sounded some skepticism: “The sourcing on this is a bit thin, or at least obscured.”

But Hayes’ cable news colleague Ari Melber opened his MSNBC show that night excitedly touting the Guardian’s scoop while meticulously connecting all the new inflammatory dots it uncovered, asking one guest: “how does this bombshell impact the collusion part of the probe”?

From the start, the massive holes in the Guardian’s blockbuster were glaring. As I noted on the day the story published, analysts from across the political spectrum – including those quite hostile to Assange – expressed serious doubts about the article’s sourcing, internal logic, self-evidently dubious assertions and overall veracity, even as many media figures uncritically trumpeted it.

In particular:

  • How could it be that Paul Manafort, of all people, snuck into one of the most monitored, survilled, videoed and photographed buildings on the planet on three separate occasions without any of that ostensibly “smoking gun” visual evidence having emerged, including in the Guardian’s own story?
  • Why would the Guardian publish a story of this magnitude without first requiring that its Ecuadoran intelligence sources provide them with such photographic or video evidence to publish it or at least review prior to publication?
  • How could it be that Manafort’s name never appeared in any of the embassy entrance logs even though, as the Guardian itself admitted, “visitors normally register with embassy security guards and show their passports”?
  • What was the bizarre, sensationalistic reference to “Russians” that the Guardian included in its article but never bothered to explain (“separate internal document written by Ecuador’s Senain intelligence agency and seen by the Guardian lists ‘Paul Manaford [sic]’ as one of several well-known guests. It also mentions ‘Russians'”).

Five weeks later, all of these questions remain unanswered. That’s because the Guardian – which likes to pride itself on flamboyantly demanding transparency and accountability from everyone else – has refused to provide any of its own.

In lieu of addressing the increasingly embarrassing scandal, the Guardian’s top editors and reporters on this story have practically gone into hiding, ignoring all requests for comment and referring journalists to a corporate PR official who provides a statement that is as vague and bureaucratic as it is nonresponsive. It’s easier to get a substantive comment from the NSA than it is from the Guardian on this story.

The Guardian’s stonewalling appears even more unjustified given the affirmative attacks on the truth of its central claims. The former consul and first secretary at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Fidel Narváez, said emphatically in an interview with the British outlet The Canary that the Guardian story was “a fake” and provided that outlet with a formal complaint to the paper, in which he said at least one other story from the same Ecuadorian intelligence sources was also fabricated.

The Guardian’s refusal to address any of the very serious questions raised by its own article persisted even after one of the world’s largest newspapers, the Washington Post, published a major story on the paper’s debacle, noting: “one week after publication, the Guardian’s bombshell looks as though it could be a dud.”

The Post’s media reporter Paul Farhi joined the other critics of the Guardian’s story in documenting the multiple, gaping holes in its reporting, including the bizarrely disappearing and highly sketchy third reporter, the fact that “no other news organization has been able to corroborate the Guardian’s reporting to substantiate its central claim of a meeting,” that the paper began almost immediately tweaking the language of its story to soften its certainty (a practice highly unusual for a story of this significance, where responsible editors would ensure every word was accurate before publishing it), that “the story doesn’t specify the date of the alleged meeting,” that “no photos or video of Manafort entering the embassy have emerged,” and that “the Guardian is silent about whether its reporters saw any such photographic evidence.”

The Guardian’s typically public and outspoken editor-in-chief, Kath Viner, has all but disappeared since the story was published on November 27. Since then, she stopped tweeting entirely except to commemorate the November 30 death of a Guardian columnist. Harding has also tweeted just once since then. And both have ignored these questions submitted by the Intercept, as well as similar inquiries from other reporters:

None of this is an aberration. Quite the contrary, it has become par for the Trump/Russia course. One major story after the next falls apart, and there is no accountability, reckoning or transparency (neither CNN nor MSNBC, for instance, have to date bothered to explain how they both “independently confirmed” the totally false story that Donald Trump, Jr. was offered advanced access to the WikiLeaks email archive, all based on false claims about the date of an email to him from a random member of the public).

Nor is it atypical for the Guardian when it comes to its institutionally blinding contempt for on Assange: during the election, the paper was forced to retract its viral report from political reporter Ben Jacobs, who decided to assert, without any whiff of a basis, that Assange has a “long had a close relationship with the Putin regime.”

The U.S media has become very adept at outrage rituals whenever they are denounced as “Fake News.” They should spend some time trying to become as skilled in figuring out why such attacks resonate for so many.

The post Five Weeks After the Guardian’s Viral Blockbuster Assange/Manafort Scoop, No Evidence Has Emerged – Just Stonewalling appeared first on The Intercept.

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December 17, 2018

A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Isr...

A children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told she can no longer work with the public school district after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech.

The child language specialist, Bahia Amawi, is a U.S. citizen who received a master’s degree in speech pathology in 1999 and, since then, has specialized in evaluations for young children with language difficulties (see video below). Amawi was born in Austria and has lived in the U.S. for the last 30 years, fluently speaks three languages (English, German, and Arabic), and has four U.S.-born American children of her own.

Amawi began working in 2009 on a contract basis with the Pflugerville Independent School District, which includes Austin, to provide assessments and support for school children from the county’s growing Arabic-speaking immigrant community. The children with whom she has worked span the ages of 3 to 11. Ever since her work for the school district began in 2009, her contract was renewed each year with no controversy or problem.

But this year, all of that changed. On August 13, the school district once again offered to extend her contract for another year by sending her essentially the same contract and set of certifications she has received and signed at the end of each year since 2009.

She was prepared to sign her contract renewal until she noticed one new, and extremely significant, addition: a certification she was required to sign pledging that she “does not currently boycott Israel,” that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract,” and that she shall refrain from any action “that is intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.”

The language of the affirmation Amawi was told she must sign reads like Orwellian — or McCarthyite — self-parody, the classic political loyalty oath that every American should instinctively shudder upon reading:

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That language would bar Amawi not only from refraining from buying goods from companies located within Israel, but also from any Israeli companies operating in the occupied West Bank (“an Israeli-controlled territory”). The oath given to Amawi would also likely prohibit her even from advocating such a boycott given that such speech could be seen as “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel.”

Whatever one’s own views are, boycotting Israel to stop its occupation is a global political movement modeled on the 1980s boycott aimed at South Africa that helped end that country’s system of racial apartheid. It has become so mainstream that two newly elected members of the U.S. Congress explicitly support it, while boycotting Israeli companies in the occupied territories has long been advocated in mainstream venues by Jewish Zionist groups such as Peace Now and the Jewish American Zionist writer Peter Beinart.

This required certification about Israel was the only one in the contract sent to Amawi that pertained to political opinions and activism. There were no similar clauses relating to children (such as a vow not to advocate for pedophiles or child abusers), nor were there any required political oaths that pertained to the country of which she is a citizen and where she lives and works: the United States.

In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolina in protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the world — except Israel.

That’s one extraordinary aspect of this story: The sole political affirmation Texans like Amawi are required to sign in order to work with the school district’s children is one designed to protect not the United States or the children of Texas, but the economic interests of Israel. As Amawi put it to The Intercept: “It’s baffling that they can throw this down our throats, and decide to protect another country’s economy versus protecting our constitutional rights.”

Amawi concluded that she could not truthfully or in good faith sign the oath because, in conjunction with her family, she has made the household decision to refrain from purchasing goods from Israeli companies in support of the global boycott to end Israel’s decades-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Amawi, as the mother of four young children and a professional speech pathologist, is not a leader of any political movements: She has simply made the consumer choice to support the boycott by avoiding the purchase of products from Israeli companies in Israel or the occupied West Bank. She also occasionally participates in peaceful activism in defense of Palestinian self-determination that includes advocacy of the global boycott to end the Israeli occupation.

Watch the Intercept’s three-minute video of Amawi, as she tells her own story, here:

Video by Kelly West

When asked if she considered signing the pledge in order to preserve her ability to work, Amawi told The Intercept: “Absolutely not. I couldn’t in good conscience do that. If I did, I would not only be betraying Palestinians suffering under an occupation that I believe is unjust and thus become complicit in their repression, but I’d also be betraying my fellow Americans by enabling violations of our constitutional rights to free speech and to protest peacefully.”

As a result, Amawi informed her school district supervisor that she could not sign the oath. As her complaint against the school district explains, she “ask[ed] why her personal political stances [about Israel and Palestine] impacted her work as a speech language pathologist.”

In response, Amawi’s supervisor promised that she would investigate whether there were any ways around this barrier. But the supervisor ultimately told Amawi there were no alternatives: Either she would have to sign the oath, or the district would be legally barred from paying her under any type of contract.

Because Amawi, to her knowledge, is the only certified Arabic-speaking child’s speech pathologist in the district, it is quite possible that the refusal to renew her contract will leave dozens of young children with speech pathologies without any competent expert to evaluate their condition and treatment needs.

“I got my master’s in this field and devoted myself to this work because I always wanted to do service for children,” Amawi said. “It’s vital that early-age assessments of possible speech impairments or psychological conditions be administered by those who understand the child’s first language.”

In other words, Texas’s Israel loyalty oath requirement victimizes not just Amawi, an American who is barred from working in the professional field to which she has devoted her adult life, but also the young children in need of her expertise and experience that she has spent years developing.

The anti-BDS Israel oath was included in Amawi’s contract papers due to an Israel-specific state law enacted on May 2, 2017, by the Texas State Legislature and signed into law two days later by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill unanimously passed the lower House by a vote of 131-0, and then the Senate by a vote of 25-4.

When Governor Abbott signed the bill in a ceremony held at the Austin Jewish Community Center, he proclaimed: “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”

The bill’s language is so sweeping that some victims of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated Southwest Texas in late 2017, were told that they could only receive state disaster relief if they first signed a pledge never to boycott Israel. That demand was deeply confusing to those hurricane victims in desperate need of help but who could not understand what their views of Israel and Palestine had to do with their ability to receive assistance from their state government.

The evangelical author of the Israel bill, Republican Texas State Rep. Phil King, said at the time that its application to hurricane relief was a “misunderstanding,” but nonetheless emphasized that the bill’s purpose was indeed to ensure that no public funds ever go to anyone who supports a boycott of Israel.

At the time that Texas enacted the law barring contractors from supporting a boycott of Israel, it was the 17th state in the country to do so. As of now, 26 states have enacted such laws — including blue states run by Democrats such as New York, California, and New Jersey — while similar bills are pending in another 13 states.

This map compiled by Palestine Legal shows how pervasive various forms of Israel loyalty oath requirements have become in the U.S.; the states in red are ones where such laws are already enacted, while the states in the darker shade are ones where such bills are pending:

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Palestine Legal

The vast majority of American citizens are therefore now officially barred from supporting a boycott of Israel without incurring some form of sanction or limitation imposed by their state. And the relatively few Americans who are still free to form views on this hotly contested political debate without being officially punished are in danger of losing that freedom as more and more states are poised to enact similar censorship schemes.

One of the first states to impose such repressive restrictions on free expression was New York. In 2016, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order directing all agencies under his control to terminate any and all business with companies or organizations that support a boycott of Israel. “If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you,” Cuomo proudly tweeted, referring to a Washington Post op-ed he wrote that touted that threat in its headline.

As The Intercept reported at the time, Cuomo’s order “requires that one of his commissioners compile ‘a list of institutions and companies’ that — ‘either directly or through a parent or subsidiary’ — support a boycott. That government list is then posted publicly, and the burden falls on [the accused boycotters] to prove to the state that they do not, in fact, support such a boycott.”

Like the Texas law, Cuomo’s Israel order reads like a parody of the McCarthy era:

What made Cuomo’s censorship directive particularly stunning was that, just two months prior to issuing this decree, he ordered New York state agencies to boycott North Carolina in protest of that state’s anti-LGBT law. Two years earlier, Cuomo banned New York state employees from all non-essential travel to Indiana to boycott that state’s enactment of an anti-LGBT law.

So Cuomo mandated that his own state employees boycott two other states within his own country, a boycott that by design would harm U.S. businesses, while prohibiting New York’s private citizens from supporting a similar boycott of a foreign nation upon pain of being barred from receiving contracts from the state of New York. That such a priority scheme is so pervasive — whereby boycotts aimed at U.S. businesses are permitted or even encouraged but boycotts aimed at Israeli businesses are outlawed — speaks volumes about the state of U.S. politics and free expression: none of it good.

Following Cuomo, Texas’s GOP-dominated state legislature, and numerous other state governments controlled by both parties, the U.S. Congress, prodded by AIPAC, began planning its own national bills to use the force of law to punish Americans for the crime of supporting a boycott of Israel. In July of last year, a group of 43 senators — 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats — supported a law, called the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720), introduced by Democratic Sen. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, that would criminalize participation in any international boycott of Israel.

After the American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement vehemently condemning Cardin’s bill as an attack on core free speech rights, one which “would punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs,” numerous Senators announced that they were re-considering their support.

But now, as The Intercept reported last week, a modified version of the bill is back and pending in the lame-duck session: “Cardin is making a behind-the-scenes push to slip an anti-boycott law into a last-minute spending bill being finalized during the lame-duck session.”

The ACLU has also condemned this latest bill because “its intent and the intent of the underlying state laws it purports to uphold are contrary to the spirit and letter of the First Amendment guarantee of freedoms of speech and association.” As the ACLU warned in a recent action advisory:

While that “new version clarifies that people cannot face jail time for participating in a boycott,” the ACLU insists that “it still leaves the door open for criminal financial penalties” for anyone found to be participating in or even advocating for a boycott of Israel.

More dangerous attacks on free expression are difficult to imagine. Nobody who claims to be a defender of free speech or free expression — on the right, the left, or anything in between — can possibly justify silence in the face of such a coordinated and pure assault on these most basic rights of free speech and association.

One common misconception is that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech only bars the state from imprisoning or otherwise punishing people for speaking, but does not bar the state from conditioning the receipt of discretionary benefits (such as state benefits or jobs) on refraining from expressing particular opinions. Aside from the fact that, with some rare and narrow exceptions, courts have repeatedly held that the government is constitutionally barred under the First Amendment from conditioning government benefits on speech requirements — such as, say, enacting a bill that states that only liberals, or only conservatives, shall be eligible for unemployment benefits — the unconstitutional nature of Texas’s actions toward Bahia Amawi should be self-evident.

Imagine if, instead of being forced by the state to vow never to boycott Israel as a condition for continuing to work as a speech pathologist, Amawi were instead forced to pledge that she will never advocate for LGBT equality, or never will engage in activism in support of or opposition to gun rights or abortion restrictions (by joining the NRA or Planned Parenthood), or never subscribe to Vox or the Daily Caller, or will never participate in a boycott of Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, or Russia due to vehement disagreement with those governments’ policies.

The tyrannical free speech denial would be self-evident and, in many of those comparable cases, the trans-ideological uproar would be instantaneous. As Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, warned: “[T]his template could be re-purposed to bar contracts with individuals or groups affiliated with or supportive of any political cause or organization — from the political Left or Right — that the majority in a legislature or the occupant of a governor’s office deemed undesirable.”

Recall that in 2012, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to block zoning permits allowing Chick-fil-A to expand, due to his personal disagreement with the anti-LGBT activism of that company’s top executive. As I wrote at the time in condemning the unconstitutional nature of the Chicago Mayor’s actions: “If you support what Emanuel is doing here, then you should be equally supportive of a Mayor in Texas or a Governor in Idaho who blocks businesses from opening if they are run by those who support same-sex marriage — or who oppose American wars, or who support reproductive rights, or who favor single-payer health care, or which donates to LGBT groups and Planned Parenthood, on the ground that such views are offensive to Christian or conservative residents.”

Those official efforts in Chicago (followed by mayors of other liberal cities) to punish Chick-fil-A due to its executive’s negative views on LGBT equality were widely condemned even by liberal commentators, who were horrified that mayors would abuse their power to condition zoning rights based on a private citizen’s political viewpoints on a controversial issue. Obviously, if a company discriminated against LGBT employees in violation of the law, it would be legitimate to act against them, but as Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum correctly noted, this was a case of pure censorship: “there’s really no excuse for Emanuel’s and [Boston Mayor Thomas] Menino’s actions… you don’t hand out business licenses based on whether you agree with the political views of the executives. Not in America, anyway.”

The ACLU of Illinois also denounced the effort by Chicago against Chick-fil-A as “wrong and dangerous,” adding: “we oppose using the power and authority of government to retaliate against those who express messages that are controversial or averse to the views of current office holders.” That, by definition, is the only position that a genuine free speech defender can hold — regardless of agreement or disagreement with the specific political viewpoint being punished.

Last week, the ACLU’s Senior Legislative Counsel Kate Ruane explained why even the modified, watered-down, fully bipartisan version of the Israel oath bill pending in the U.S. Congress, and especially the already enacted bills in twenty-six states of the kind that just resulted in Amawi’s termination, are a direct violation of the most fundamental free speech rights:

This is a full-scale attack on Americans’ First Amendment freedoms. Political boycotts, including boycotts of foreign countries, have played a pivotal role in this nation’s history — from the boycotts of British goods during the American Revolution to the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the campaign to divest from apartheid South Africa. And in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware, the Supreme Court made clear that the First Amendment protects the right to participate in political boycotts.

The lawsuit which Amawi filed similarly explains that “economic boycotts for the purposes of bringing about political change are entrenched in American history, beginning with colonial boycotts on British tea. Later, the Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on boycotts to combat racism and spur societal change. The Supreme Court has recognized [in Claiborne] that non-violent boycotts intended to advance civil rights constitute ‘form[s] of speech or conduct that [are] ordinarily entitled to protection under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.'”

Who can justify that — as a condition for working with speech-impaired and developmentally disabled children — Amawi is forced by the state to violate her conscience and renounce her political beliefs by buying products from a country that she believes (in accordance with the UN) is illegally and brutally occupying land that does not belong to it? Whether or not you agree with her political view about Israel and Palestine, every American with an even minimal belief in the value of free speech should be vocally denouncing the attack on Amawi’s free speech rights and other Americans who are being similarly oppressed by these Israel-protecting censorship laws in the U.S.

As these Israel oath laws have proliferated, some commentators from across the ideological spectrum have noted what a profound threat to free speech they pose. The Foundation for Middle East Peace’s Friedman, for instance, explained that “it requires little imagination to see how criminalizing Americans’ participation in political boycotts of Israel could pave the way for further infringements to Americans’ right to support or join internationally-backed protests on other issues.” She correctly described such laws as “a free speech exception for Israel.”

The libertarian lawyer Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, similarly warned: “It is not a proper function of law to force Americans into carrying on foreign commerce they personally find politically objectionable, whether their reasons for reluctance be good, bad, or arbitrary.”

National Review’s Noah Daponte-Smith last year denounced the Cardin bill seeking to criminalize advocacy of the Israel Boycott as “so mind-bogglingly stupid that it’s hard to know exactly what to say about it,” adding that the bill “penalizes political beliefs and so is both unconstitutional and unconscionable.” The conservative writer continued: “The senators who currently support it should be, quite frankly, ashamed of themselves; they have lost sight of one of the founding principles of American government, allowing it to be overshadowed by the spectral world of the Israeli–Palestinian dispute.”

Meanwhile, though, there is an entire pundit class that has made very lucrative careers from posing as defenders and crusaders for free speech — from Jonathan Chait, Bill Maher, and Bari Weiss to the glittering renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web — who fall notoriously silent whenever censorship is aimed at critics of Israel (there are some rare exceptions, such as when Chait tweeted about Cardin’s bill: “BDS is awful, but this bill criminalizing it sounds insane and unconstitutional”).

CNN’s recent firing of Marc Lamont Hill due to his pro-Palestine speech, and the threats from the chairman of Temple University’s Board of Trustees to fire Hill from his tenured position over his contempt for the views expressed in that speech, produced not a word of protest from this crowd. The same was true of the University of Illinois’s costly decision to rescind a teaching offer to Palestinian-American Professor Steven Salaita for the thought crime of condemning Israel’s bombing of Gaza.

But as The Intercept has repeatedly documented, the most frequent victims of official campus censorship are not conservative polemicists but pro-Palestinian activists, and the greatest and most severe threat posed to free speech throughout the west is aimed at Israel critics — from the arresting of French citizens for the “crime” of wearing Boycott-Israel t-shirts to Canadian boycott activists being overtly threatened with prosecution to the partial British criminalization of the boycott of Israel.

Put simply, it is impossible to be a credible, effective, genuine advocate of free speech and free discourse without objecting to the organized, orchestrated, sustained onslaught of attacks on the free speech and free association rights undertaken specifically to protect the Israeli government from criticism and activism. Self-professed free speech defenders who only invoke that principle when their political allies are targeted are, by definition, charlatans and frauds. Genuine free speech advocates object to censorship even when, arguably especially when, the free speech rights of their political adversaries are assaulted.

Anyone who stands by silently while Bahia Amawi is forced out of the profession she has worked so hard to construct all because of her refusal to renounce her political views and activism — while the young children she helps are denied the professional support they need and deserve — can legitimately and accurately call themselves many things. “Free speech supporter” is most definitely not one of them.

The post A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath, Now Mandatory in Many States — So She Lost Her Job appeared first on The Intercept.

December 2, 2018

WATCH: Addiction, Depression, the Opioid Epidemic: What Are They Telli...

The Drug War’s systemic failures have become so glaring and tragic that, even as that war rages on globally, many of the world’s most mainstream voices now advocate what was, until very recently, regarded as fringe and radical: the legalization, or at least decriminalization, of all drugs, not just marijuana. But while these macro-policy debates have finally become more rational and honest when it comes to data and policy outcomes, there is still far too little media attention paid to the human aspects of these debates: what are the underlying causes of addiction and why is it worsening?; what is responsible for the skyrocketing rates of depression around the world and suicide in the U.S.?; and why are communities ravaged by economic deprivation so vulnerable to the opioid epidemic and the pharmaceutical industry that exploits it?

The answers to these questions are not just psychological, spiritual and medical but political: very political. It is extremely difficult to devise effective policy solutions to a problem when one does not understand its underlying causes: in this case, among the leading causes of many of these pathologies are policy choices in economics, the penal system, and resource distribution. Moreover, disturbing trends in addiction, mental health problems, and the opioid crisis reveal crucial signals – warning signs – about human trends that explain many of the most consequential political changes and thus would be dangerous to continue to ignore.

Two of the most innovative and provocative books on these topics over the last several years have been written by the British author Johann Hari: “Chasing the Scream,” which argued that “everything you know about addiction is wrong,” and produced one of the most viral and fascinating TED Talks in the history that medium, and “Lost Connections,” about how modern political developments, including internet culture, are increasing rates of human depression while also exacerbating its individual and societal harms.

Hari was in Brazil this month in connection with the Portuguese-language release of “Chasing the Scream,” a perfectly timed tour given that the country just elected as President an authoritarian extremist, Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to wage a bloody and violent war against drug dealers as his principal solution the country’s crime epidemic. I spoke last week with Hari for 45 minutes about all of these topics and regard it as one of the most interesting and thought-provoking discussions I’ve had as a journalist reporting on these matters. The full discussion can be seen below:

The post WATCH: Addiction, Depression, the Opioid Epidemic: What Are They Telling Us? A Discussion With Johann Hari. appeared first on The Intercept.

November 30, 2018

CNN Submits to Right-Wing Outrage Mob, Fires Marc Lamont Hill Due to h...

CNN on Thursday afternoon fired its commentator, Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill, after right-wing defenders of Israel objected to a speech Professor Hill gave at the U.N. on Wednesday in defense of Palestinian rights. CNN announced the firing just twenty-four hours after Hill delivered his speech.

Hill’s firing from CNN is a major victory for the growing so-called “online call-out culture” in which people who express controversial political views are not merely critiqued but demonized online and then formally and institutionally punished after a mob consolidates in outrage, often targeting their employes with demands that they be terminated. Hill’s firing, conversely, is a major defeat for the right to advocate for Palestinian rights, to freely critique the Israeli government, and for the ability of journalism and public discourse in the U.S. generally to accommodate dissent.

Conservatives claimed to be offended, traumatized and hurt by Hill’s political views on Israel and Palestine, which they somehow construed as being anti-semitic, and demanded that CNN fire him as punishment for the expression of those opinions. CNN honored the demands of those claiming to be victimized by exposure to Hill’s viewpoints by firing him as a political analyst.

On Wednesday, Hill appeared at an event of the U.N. Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, commemorating the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. During his speech, he accused the Israeli Government of practicing “settler colonialism” and apartheid, supported the international boycott movement against Israel (modeled on the one that ended South African apartheid in the 1980s), and called for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea.”

The right-wing outrage machine sprung into immediate action. The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein accused Hill of a “long history of anti-Semitism,” adding: “The phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ has been a rallying cry for Hamas and other terrorist groups seeking the elimination of Israel, as a Palestinian state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea would mean that Israel would be wiped off the map.”

Some on the pro-Israel right who agitated for Hill’s firing have previously mocked what they call “outrage culture,” in which people are fired for controversial comments. The Washington Examiner’s Executive Editor and fanatical Israel defender, Seth Mandel, has long denounced and ridiculed such “mobs,” angrily objecting, for instance, when Disney recently fired director James Gunn for provocative Twitter remarks about pedophilia. Mandel used similarly derisive language (“internet outrage machine”) to denounce the removal by Business Insider of a column by Daniella Greenbaum that many found to be hurtful and traumatizing because it was, they insisted, transphobic.

Yet the very same Seth Mandel who finds “outrage mobs” so offensive when they target people who have similar political views to his own helped lead his own “internet outrage mob” to have Hill fired. This Stalwart Champion of Free Expression posted a series of tweets directed at CNN claiming that Hill was an anti-Jewish bigot and an advocate of genocide, and then posted multiple childish tweets with gifs celebrating Hill’s firing.

There are few people more craven or contemptible than those who pretend to support free expression and oppose the attempts of “internet mobs” to have those they disagree with fired, only to instantly change positions when it comes to those whose views diverge from their own. Seth Mandel is the poster child for such principle-free, duplicitous frauds, but he is far from alone.

Our discourse, our newsrooms, and our academic institutions are now drowning with people who demand that any speech be banned and suppressed that they regard as “hurtful,” “offensive,” “traumatizing,” or fostering a feeling of being “unsafe.” But what they really mean is that they want speech suppressed that they and those who agree with them find “hurtful” and “traumatizing.” Speech that makes their political enemies feel offended, uncomfortable or unsafe is heralded as brave and provocative.

That double standard is unsustainable. It’s empty and depraved. It is certain to consume not just one’s political enemies but also one’s political allies, as CNN’s firing of Marc Lamont Hill just demonstrated.

As I’ve often noted, the most baffling and repellent trait of censorship advocates is that they somehow convince themselves that the censorship standards they champion will only be used against the ideas they hate, and that the ideas they like will somehow be protected. As Matt Taibbi has been repeatedly documenting, this is the warped self-delusion that led liberals to demand that Silicon Valley companies censor political speech only to now be shocked and angry that much of that online censorship is being directed at leftist and even liberal sites.

As I reported late last year, liberal demands that Facebook remove content that supposedly incites violence resulted, predictably, in the removal of thousands of Palestinian pages at the demands of the Israel government, while very few Israeli pages suffered similar repression. Censorship advocates reap what they sow, and it usually ends up consuming them and their own allies. It may be karmic justice, but it does massive damage to the ability to have free discourse, the right of dissent, and the flow of unpopular views.

Obviously, as a private corporation, CNN has the legal right to fire Hill – just as Google had the right to fire James Damore, Facebook has the legal right to ban Palestinians, Twitter had the legal right to ban various right-wing polemicists, and ABC had the legal right to fire Roseanne Barr. The question is not one of legality but politics and ethics: what are the consequences from demanding that adults be shielded from offensive ideas even in places where offense, upset and so-called “trauma” are inevitable?

The accusations launched against Hill – that his comments are anti-semitic and constitute advocacy of genocide – are so disingenuous and blatantly false that one is reluctant even to dignify them with a substantive critique. But the damage done to Hill’s reputation by this pro-Israel, pro-censorship internet mob requires that it be done.

Hill defended himself quite adeptly in a series of tweets explaining his speech. In sum, this shameful and cowardly action by CNN demonstrates two vital truths about free speech that have been proven over and over yet are so often ignored:

(1) Israeli citizens have greater liberty to criticize the Israel government than U.S. citizens have to criticize the Israeli government; in other words, criticisms of Israel that are common and mainstream in Israel are banned and punished in the U.S.; and

(2) the greatest threat to free speech in the west, and the most frequent and common form of censorship on college campuses, is aimed at those who criticize Israel and defend Palestinians, to the point where advocating for the boycott is a criminal offense; the firing of Professor Hill is just the latest data point proving his.

It is a requirement in U.S. discourse about Israel and Palestine that an absolute lie be affirmed: namely, that it’s still possible for a viable “two-state solution” to be created, where Palestine and Israel live side-by-side as sovereign states. The undeniable reality – that is now widely recognized in both Israel and Palestine, even as it’s forbidden to be acknowledge in mainstream U.S. precincts (CNN) – is that illegal Israeli settlements have grown so rapidly and have eaten up so much Palestinian land in the West Bank that such a solution is now essentially impossible, a fact even the U.N. acknowledges:

That leaves only two realistic choices: either (a) a single state “from the river to the sea” in which Israelis as a minority have full political rights while Palestinians are segregated and treated and repressed as second-class citizens, the very definition of “apartheid,” or (b) a single state “from the river to the sea” in which both Israelis and Palestinians share full and equal political rights.

Professor Hill, like all morally decent people, opposes apartheid. Therefore, he advocates a single state in which both Palestinians and Israelis have equal political rights. What is actually offensive is not Professor Hill’s comments but rather the suggestion that it is “anti-semitic” or constitutes advocacy of “genocide” to support equal political rights for all human beings, including Palestinians.

Indeed, Israel’s own former Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has repeatedly warned that Israelis will be a full-fledged “apartheid” state if it continues to exercise dominion over Palestinians. There is no doubt that Israel is well down that path. Professor Hill opposes that path – because it’s classic apartheid and repression, and it’s nothing short of reprehensible to accuse him of being a Jew-hater for his advocacy of basic principles of human rights and self-determination.

Moreover, Hill’s argument that it has long been viewed as acceptable for repressed and occupied groups to resist their occupiers, including through the use of violence, is indisputably true as a historical matter. Does anyone believe that if the Chinese Army invaded and occupied U.S. soil tomorrow that it would be immoral for Americans to resist by all means, including violence?

But this underscores a crucial point I’ve long noted: all forms of Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation are deemed immoral in U.S. discourse. If Palestinians attack Israeli soldiers occupying their land, that’s called “terrorism.” If they advocate non-violent protest moments such as boycotts, that’s called “anti-semitism,” and is even criminalized in many places in the west, and punished on U.S. college campuses. If they hold peaceful protests on the border in their open-air prison in Gaza and have their own teenagers gunned down by Israeli snipers, that’s cheered as Israeli self-defense.

The only permissible position in U.S. discourse is the demand that Palestinians meekly submit to Israeli occupation. Any proffered justifications for Palestinian resistance are not just condemned but punished, as Professor Hill just learned.

This is not the first time CNN has fired one of its journalists for expressing views deemed “offensive” and “hurtful” by Israel defenders: recall that in 2010, CNN ended the 20-year career of Octavia Nasr, its Atlanta-based Senior Middle East News Editor Octavia Nasr, for the crime of expressing condolences and admiration upon the death of one of the Shiite world’s most beloved religious figures, highly controversial due to his affiliation with Hezbollah.

All that said, it is undeniably true that are many people – Jews and others – who felt genuinely offended, hurt, unsafe and even traumatized by Hill’s remarks. I know people in my own family, and life-long friends, who insist, with great credibility and sincerity, to experience all of those negative emotions when they hear someone advocating a one-state solution or a boycott of Israel as Professor Hill did this week.

Their offense, their hurt, their trauma, are real, at least in the very loose and sloppy ways those terms are now commonly used in the Age of Millennials to indicate negative reactions to political views one dislikes. It’s now quite common even in the places where ideas are meant to flow most freely – such as newsrooms and academic institutions – to demand that content be suppressed or punished if its expression “traumatizes” someone or makes them feel offended and “unsafe.” Though this self-protective mentality is often attributed to liberal millennials, it is in fact widely invoked across ideologies and generations to justify censorship.

Recall that in 2014, the University of Illinois rescinded its teaching offer to Palestinian-American Professor Steven Salaita after he posted tweets harshly criticizing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Israel’s horrific, civilian-slaughtering attack on Gaza. That happened because pro-Israel donors, trustees and students claimed that they felt “traumatized” and offended by Salaita’s political views. Here’s how the New York Times explained Salaita’s punishment:

“What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois,” Ms. Wise wrote last month, “are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them.”

“It’s about feeling safe on campus,” Noah Feingold, a member of a pro-Israel student group, told The Forward. “This is a professor who tweeted that if you support Israel, you’re an awful person.”

This demand – used to justify Salatia’s effective firing as a scholar – that, even as an adult, one has the right at all times to feel “safe” from the expression of offensive ideas was the same one used by the right-wing movement during the Bush 43 years to try to have pro-Arab professors fired at Columbia University (a movement which newfound free expression activist Bari Weiss not only defended but helped to lead), on the ground that Jewish students felt “unsafe” and “traumatized” by the ideas they expressed:

If you’re someone who demands that speech be suppressed or punished if it’s “hurtful” or “offensive,” or that adults have the right to be shielded from “traumatizing” ideas that make them feel “unsafe,” you should congratulate yourself – regardless of your ideology – for your great victory in having Hill fired from CNN. There really is no doubt that the opinions he expressed, just as was true for Salaita and Nasr, were hurtful, traumatic and offensive to many.

But that’s the nature of having free thought and vibrant debate among adults: ideas that are offensive will sometimes be aired; adults will sometimes feel negative emotions from hearing the viewpoints of others; traumatizing events and thoughts will sometimes be discussed; journalism and political expression will sometimes be upsetting.

Nobody gets to create a standard where ideas that are “hurtful” and “traumatizing” to them are barred, whereas ideas that have the same effect on their political adversaries are permitted or celebrated. You either support a standard in which one has the right to engage in free political expression without punishment or you recognize that you are one who is laying the groundwork for this never-ending bickering, in which various online mobs relentlessly, and with increasing success, ensure that anyone expressing views they find upsetting are fired.

The post CNN Submits to Right-Wing Outrage Mob, Fires Marc Lamont Hill Due to his “Offensive” Defense of Palestinians at the UN appeared first on The Intercept.

Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at US District Court on June 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Manafort faces charges including conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy against the United States. Manafort was the first to be indicted by Special Counsel Robert Muller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Today's hearing includes Manafort's arraignment on new charges concerning attempts to tamper with potential witnesses via an encrypted messaging platform. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
November 27, 2018

It Is Possible Paul Manafort Visited Julian Assange. If True, There Sh...

Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at US District Court on June 15, 2018 in Washington, DC. - Manafort faces charges including conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy against the United States. Manafort was the first to be indicted by Special Counsel Robert Muller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Today's hearing includes Manafort's arraignment on new charges concerning attempts to tamper with potential witnesses via an encrypted messaging platform. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Paul Manafort arrives for a hearing at U.S. District Court on June 15, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The Guardian today published a blockbuster, instantly viral story claiming that anonymous sources told the newspaper that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort visited Julian Assange at least three times in the Ecuadorian Embassy, “in 2013, 2015 and in spring 2016.” The article – from lead reporter Luke Harding, who has a long-standing and vicious personal feud with WikiLeaks and is still promoting his book titled “Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House” – presents no evidence, documents or other tangible proof to substantiate its claim, and it is deliberately vague on a key point: whether any of these alleged visits happened once Manafort was managing Trump’s campaign.

For its part, WikiLeaks vehemently and unambiguously denies the claim. “Remember this day when the Guardian permitted a serial fabricator to totally destroy the paper’s reputation,” the organization tweeted, adding: “WikiLeaks s willing to bet the Guardian a million dollars and its editor’s head that Manafort never met Assange.” The group also predicted: “This is going to be one of the most infamous news disasters since Stern published the ‘Hitler Diaries.'”

While certain MSNBC and CNN personalities instantly and mindlessly treated the story as true and shocking, other more sober and journalistic voices urged caution and skepticism. The story, wrote WikiLeaks critic Jeet Heer of the New Republic, “is based on anonymous sources, some of whom are connected with Ecuadorian intelligence. The logs of the embassy show no such meetings. The information about the most newsworthy meeting (in the spring of 2016) is vaguely worded, suggesting a lack of certitude.”

There are many more reasons than the very valid ones cited by Heer to treat this story with great skepticism, which I will outline in a moment. Of course it is possible that Manafort visited Assange – either on the dates the Guardian claims or at other times – but since the Guardian presents literally no evidence for the reader to evaluate, relying instead on a combination of an anonymous source and a secret and bizarrely vague intelligence document it claims it reviewed (but does not publish), no rational person would assume this story to be true.

But the main point is this one: London itself is one of the world’s most surveilled, if not the most surveilled, cities. And the Ecuadorian Embassy in that city – for obvious reasons – is one of the most scrutinized, surveilled, monitored and filmed locations on the planet.

In 2015, Wired reported that “the UK is one of the most surveilled nations in the world. An estimated 5.9 million CCTV cameras keep watch over our every move,” and that “by one estimate people in urban areas of the UK are likely to be captured by about 30 surveillance camera systems every day.” The World Atlas proclaimed that “London is the most spied-on city in the world,” and that “on average a Londoner is captured on camera about 300 times daily.”

For obvious reasons, the Ecuadorian Embassy in central London where Assange has been living since he received asylum in 2011 is subjected to every form of video and physical surveillance imaginable. Visitors to that embassy are surveilled, photographed, filmed and recorded in multiple ways by multiple governments – at least including both the Ecuadorians and the British and almost certainly by other governments and entities. Not only are guests who visit Assange required to give their passports and other identification to be logged, but they also pass through multiple visible cameras – to say nothing of the invisible ones – on their way to visit Assange, including cameras on the street, in the lobby of the building, in the reception area of the Embassy, and then in the rooms where one meets Assange.

In 2015, the BBC reported that “Scotland Yard has spent about £10m providing a 24-hour guard at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed asylum there,” and that “between June 2012 and October 2014, direct policing costs were £7.3m, with £1.8m spent on overtime.”

Meanwhile, just a few months ago, the very same Guardian that now wants you to believe that a person as prominent as Manafort visited Assange without having you see any video footage proving this happened, itself claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy, employing an international security company and undercover agents to monitor his visitors, embassy staff and even the British police,”

This leads to one indisputable fact: if Paul Manafort (or, for that matter, Roger Stone), visited Assange at the Embassy, there would be ample amounts of video and other photographic proof demonstrating that this happened. The Guardian provides none of that.

So why would any minimally rational, reasonable person possibly assume these anonymous claims are true rather than waiting to form a judgment once the relevant evidence is available? As President Obama’s former national security aide and current podcast host Tommy Vietor put it: “If these meetings happened, British intelligence would almost certainly have video of him entering and exiting,” adding: “seems dubious.”

There are, as I noted, multiple other reasons to exercise skepticism with this story. To begin with, the Guardian, an otherwise solid and reliable paper, has such a pervasive and unprofessionally personal hatred for Julian Assange that it has frequently dispensed with all journalistic standards in order to malign him. One of the most extreme of many instances occurred in late 2016 when the paper was forced to retract a remarkably reckless (but predictably viral) Ben Jacobs story that claimed, with zero evidence, that “Assange has long had a close relationship with the Putin regime.”

Then there are the glaring omissions in today’s story. As noted, every guest visiting Assange is logged in through a very intricate security system. While admitting that Manafort was never logged in to the embassy, the Guardian waves this glaring hole away with barely any discussion or attempt to explain it: “Visitors normally register with embassy security guards and show their passports. Sources in Ecuador, however, say Manafort was not logged.”

Why would Manafort visit three times but never be logged in? Why would the Ecuadorian government, led by leftist Rafael Correa, allow life-long right-wing GOP operative Paul Manafort to enter their embassy three times without ever once logging in his visit? The Guardian has no answer. They make no attempt to explain it or even offer theories. They just glide over it, hoping that you won’t notice what a massive hole in the story this omission is.

It’s an especially inexcusable omission for the Guardian not to discuss its significance given that the Guardian itself obtained the Embassy’s visitors logs in May, and – while treating those logs as accurate and reliable – made no mention of Manafort’s inclusion on them. That’s because his name did not appear there (nor, presumably, did Roger Stone’s).

The language of the Guardian story also raises all sorts of questions. Aside from an anonymous source, the Guardian claims it viewed a document prepared by the Ecuadorian intelligence service Senain. The Guardian does not publish this report, but instead quotes a tiny snippet that, as the paper put it, “lists ‘Paul Manaford [sic]’ as one of several well-known guests. It also mentions ‘Russians.'”

That claim – that the report not only asserts Manafort visited Assange but “mentions ‘Russians'” – is a rather explosive claim. What does this report say about “Russians”? What is the context of the inclusion of this claim? The Guardian does not bother to question, interrogate or explain any of this. It just tosses the word “Russians” into its article in connection with Manafort’s alleged visits to Assange, knowing full well that motivated readers will draw the most inflammatory conclusions possible, thus helping to spread the Guardian’s article all over the internet and generate profit for the newspaper, without bothering to do any of the journalistic work to justify the obvious inference they wanted to create with this sloppy, vague and highly manipulative paragraph.

Beyond that, there are all sorts of internecine battles being waged inside the Ecuadorian Government that provide motive to feed false claims about Assange to the Guardian. Senain, the Ecuadorian intelligence service that the Guardian says showed it the incriminating report, has been furious with Assange for years, ever since WikiLeaks published files relating to the agency’s hacking and malware efforts. And as my May interview with former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa revealed, there are all sorts of internal in-fighting within the government over WikiLeaks, and the most hostile anti-Assange elements have been regularly dumping anti-Assange material with Harding and the Guardian, knowing full well that the paper’s years-long, hateful feud with WikiLeaks ensures a receptive and uncritical outlet.

In sum, the Guardian published a story today that it knew would explode into all sorts of viral benefits for the paper and its reporters even though there are gaping holes and highly sketchy aspects to the story.

It is certainly possible that Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and even Donald Trump himself “secretly” visited Julian Assange in the Embassy. It’s possible that Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un joined them.

And if any of that happened, then there will be mountains of documentary proof in the form of videos, photographs, and other evidence proving it. Thus far, no such evidence has been published by the Guardian. Why would anyone choose to believe that this is true rather than doing what any rational person, by definition, would do: wait to see the dispositive evidence before forming a judgment?

The only reason to assume this is true without seeing such evidence is because enough people want it to be true. The Guardian knows this. They knew that publishing this story would cause partisan warriors to excitedly spread the story, and that cable news outlets would hyperventilate over it, and that they’d reap the rewards regardless of whether the story turned out to be true or false. It may be true. But only the evidence, which has yet to be seen, will demonstrate that one way or the other.

The post It Is Possible Paul Manafort Visited Julian Assange. If True, There Should Be Ample Video and Other Evidence Showing This. appeared first on The Intercept.

November 21, 2018

Trump’s Amoral Saudi Statement is a Pure and Honest Expression of De...

Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a statement proclaiming that, notwithstanding the anger toward the Saudi Crown Prince over the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, “the United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region.” To justify his decision, Trump cited the fact that “Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world” and claimed that “of the $450 billion [the Saudis plan to spend with U.S. companies], $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors.”

This statement instantly and predictably produced pompous denunciations pretending that Trump’s posture was a deviation from, a grievous violation of, long-standing U.S. values and foreign policy rather than what it actually and obviously is: a perfect example – perhaps stated a little more bluntly and candidly than usual – of how the U.S. has conducted itself in the world since at least the end of World War II.

The reaction was so intense because the fairy tale about the U.S. standing up for freedom and human rights in the world is one of the most pervasive and powerful prongs of western propaganda, the one relied upon by U.S. political and media elites to convince not just the U.S. population but also themselves of their own righteousness, even as they spend decades lavishing the world’s worst tyrants and despots with weapons, money, intelligence and diplomatic protection to carry out atrocities of historic proportions.

After all, if you have worked in high-level foreign policy positions in Washington, or at the think thanks and academic institutions that support those policies, or in the corporate media outlets that venerate those who rise to the top of those precincts (and which increasingly hire those security state officials as news analysts), how do you justify to yourself that you’re still a good person even though you arm, prop up, empower and enable the world’s worst monsters, genocides, and tyrannies?

Simple: by pretending that you don’t do any of that, that such acts are contrary to your system of values, that you actually work to oppose rather than protect such atrocities, that you’re a warrior and crusader for democracy, freedom and human rights around the world.

That’s the lie that you have to tell yourself: so that you can look in the mirror without instantly feeling revulsion, so that you can show your face in decent society without suffering the scorn and ostracization that your actions merit, so that you can convince the population over which you have ruled that the bombs you drop and the weapons with which you flood the world are actually designed to help and protect people rather than slaughter and oppress them.

That’s why it was so necessary – to the point of being more like a physical reflex than a conscious choice – to react to Trump’s Saudi statement with contrived anger and shock rather than admitting the truth that he was just candidly acknowledging the core tenets of U.S. foreign policy for decades. The people who lied to the public and to themselves by pretending that Trump did something aberrational rather than completely normal were engaged in an act of self-preservation as much as propagandistic deceit, though both motives were heavily at play.

The New York Times Editorial Page, as it so often does, topped the charts with pretentious, scripted moral outrage. “President Trump confirmed the harshest caricatures drawn by America’s most cynical critics on Tuesday when he portrayed its central objectives in the world as panting after money and narrow self-interest,” bellowed the paper, as though this view of U.S. motives is some sort of jaded fiction invented by America-haters rather than the only honest, rational description of the country’s despot-embracing posture in the world during the lifespan of any human being alive today.

The paper’s editorial writers were particularly shocked that “the statement reflected Mr. Trump’s view that all relationships are transactional, and that moral or human rights considerations must be sacrificed to a primitive understanding of American national interests.” To believe – or pretend to believe – that it is Mr. Trump who pioneered the view that the U.S. is willing and eager to sanction murder and savagery by the regimes with which it is most closely aligned as long as such barbarism serves U.S interests signifies a historical ignorance and/or a willingness to lie to one’s own readers so profound that no human language is capable of expressing the depths of those delusions. Has the New York Times Editorial Page ever heard of Henry Kissinger?

So extensive is the active, constant and enthusiastic support by the U.S. for the world’s worst monsters and atrocities that comprehensively citing them all, in order to prove the ahistorical deceit of yesterday’s reaction to Trump’s statement, would require a multi-volume book, not a mere article. But the examples are so vivid and clear that citing just a few will suffice to make the point indisputable.

In April of this year, Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the dictator of Guatemala during the 1980s, died. The New York Times obituary, noting that he had been convicted of genocide for “trying to exterminate the Ixil ethnic group, a Mayan Indian community whose villages were wiped out by his forces,” explained that “in the panoply of commanders who turned much of Central America into a killing field in the 1980s, General Ríos Montt was one of the most murderous.” The obituary added: “In his first five months in power, according to Amnesty International, soldiers killed more than 10,000 peasants.”

The genocide-committing General Rios Montt was a favorite of President Ronald Reagan, one of the closest figures the U.S. has to a secular saint, after whom many monuments and national institutions are still named. Reagan not only armed and funded Rios Montt but heaped praise on him far more gushing than anything Trump or Jared Kushner has said about the Saudi Crown Prince. The Washington Post’s Lou Cannon reported in 1982 that “on Air Force One returning to Andrews Air Force Base [from South America], [Reagan] said Rios Montt had been getting ‘a bum rap’ and ‘is totally dedicated to democracy in Guatemala.'”

At a press conference standing next to the mass murderer, Reagan hailed him as “a man of great personal integrity and commitment,” who really “wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice.” What about all those unfortunate acts of mass slaughter against Guatemalan peasants? That, said President Reagan, was justified, or at least understandable, because the General was “faced with a challenge from guerrillas armed and supported from those outside Guatemala.”

Trump’s emphasis yesterday on the Saudis’ value in opposing Iran provoked particular anger. That anger is extremely odd given that the iconic and notorious photograph of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Haddam took place in 1983, when Rumsfeld was dispatched to Baghdad to provide arms and other weapons to the Iraqi regime in order to help them fight Iran.

This trip, Al Jazeera noted when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, all happened while “Iraq was at war with Iran and was using chemical weapons. Human rights abuses were practised on large sections of the Iraqi population.” The U.S. nonetheless “renewed the hand of friendship [with Saddam] through the special envoy Rumsfeld” because “Washington wanted Iraq’s friendship to stymie Iran” – exactly the rational cited yesterday by Trump for continuing friendly relations with Riyadh (The Saudis “have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran,” said Trump).

As for the Saudis themselves, they have long been committing atrocities on par with and far worse than the Khashoggi killing both within their borders and outside, and their partnership with U.S. Presidents has only flourished. As the Saudis beheaded dissidents and created the planet’s worst humanitarian crisis by slaughtering Yemeni civilians without mercy or restraint, President Obama not only authorized the sale of a record amount of weapons to Saudi tyrants, but also cut short his visit to India, the world’s largest democracy, where he was delivering lectures about the paramount importance of human rights and civic freedoms, in order to travel to Riyadh to meet with top U.S. leaders from both political political parties to pay homage to the murderous Saudi King who had just died (only in the last month of his presidency, with an eye toward his legacy, did Obama restrict some arms to the Saudis after allowing those weapons to freely flow for eighteen months during the destruction of Yemen).

UK Prime Minister David Cameron – perhaps Obama’s only worthy competitor when it came to simultaneously delivering preening speeches about human rights while arming the world’s worst human rights abusers – actually ordered UK flags flown at half-mast in honor of the noble Saudi despot. All of this took place at roughly the same time that Obama dispatched his top officials, including his Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to pay homage to the rulers of Bahrain after they and the Saudis crushed a citizen uprising seeking greater freedoms.

In 2012, Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa came to Washington – fresh off of massacring his own citizens seeking greater freedoms – and, in the words of Foreign Policy, “he left with hands full of gifts from the U.S. State Department, which announced new arms sales to Bahrain today.” How did the Obama administration justify all of this? By invoking exactly the same rationale Trump cited yesterday for his ongoing support of the Saudis: that although the U.S. did not approve of such upsetting violence, its “national security interests” compelled its ongoing support. From Foreign Policy (italics added):

The crown prince’s son just graduated from American University, where the Bahraini ruling family recently shelled out millions for a new building at AU’s School of International Service. But while he was in town, the crown prince met with a slew of senior U.S. officials and congressional leaders, including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain, as well as several other Washington VIPs.

On Friday afternoon, the State Department announced it was moving forward on a host of sales to the Bahraini Defense Forces, the Bahraini National Guard, and the Bahraini Coast Guard. The State Department said the decision to move forward with the sales was made solely in the interest of U.S. national security, but outside experts see the move as meant to strengthen the crown prince in his struggle inside the ruling family.

“We’ve made this decision, I want to emphasize, on national security grounds,” a senior administration official told reporters on a Friday conference call. “We’ve made this decision mindful of the fact that there remain a number of serious, unresolved human rights issues in Bahrain, which we expect the government of Bahrain to address.”

In 2011, Americans gathered around their TV sets to cheer the inspiring Egyptian protesters gathering in Tahir Square to demand the ouster of the brutal Egyptian tyrant Hosni Mubarak. Most TV announcers neglected to remind excited American viewers that Mubarak had managed to remain in power for so long because their own government had propped him up with weapons, money and intelligence. As Mona Eltahawy put it in the New York Times last year: “Five American administrations, Democratic and Republican, supported the Mubarak regime.”

But in case anyone was confused about the U.S. posture toward this incomparably heinous Egyptian dictator, Hillary Clinton stepped forward to remind everyone of how U.S. officials have long viewed such tyrants. When asked in an interview about how her own State Department had documented Egypt’s record of severe, relentless human rights abuses and whether this might affect her friendship with its rulers, Secretary Clinton gushed: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.”

How can anyone pretend that Trump’s praise for the Saudis is some kind of aberration when Hillary Clinton literally heralded one of the planet’s most murderous and violent despots as a personal friend of her family? A Washington Post Editorial at the time proclaimed that “Clinton continues to devalue and undermine the U.S. diplomatic tradition of human rights advocacy” and that “she appears oblivious to how offensive such statements are to the millions of Egyptians who loathe Mr. Mubarak’s oppressive government and blame the United States for propping it up.”

But this just shows the repetitive, dreary game U.S. elites have been playing for decades. Newspaper editorialists and think tank scholars pretend that the U.S. stands opposed to tyranny and despotism and feigns surprise each time U.S. officials lend their support, weaponry and praise to those same tyrants and despots.

And lest anyone try to distinguish Trump’s statement yesterday on the ground that it was false – that it covered up for bad acts of despotic allies by refusing to admit the Crown Prince’s guilt for Khashoggi’s murder – let us recall when Clinton’s successor as Secretary of State, John Kerry, defended Mubarak’s successor, Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, by denying that he had implemented “a coup” when he overthrew Egypt’s elected President in 2013. Instead, proclaimed Kerry, the Sisi-led Egyptian generals, by removing the elected leader, were simply attempting to “restore democracy” – the exact same lie told by the New York Times Editorial Page when right-wing Venezuelan generals in 2002 removed that country’s elected President, Hugo Chávez, only for that paper to hail that coup as a restoration of democracy.

In 2015, as the human rights abuses of the Sisi regime worsened even further, the New York Times reported: “with the United States worried about militants in Sinai and Libya who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, American officials also signaled that they would not let their concerns with human rights stand in the way of increased security cooperation with Egypt.

Sound familiar? It should: it’s exactly the rationale Trump invoked yesterday to justify ongoing support for the Saudis. In 2015, the Egyptian dictatorship – as it was murdering dissidents en masse – openly celebrated the flow of U.S. weapons to the regime:

None of this recent, ugly history – and this is only a tiny excerpt of it (excluding, just to name a few examples, U.S. support for the 20th Century’s greatest monsters from Indonesia’s Suharto to death squads in El Salvador and U.S. killing of its own citizens to U.S. support for Israeli occupation and apartheid) – justifies what Trump did on Tuesday. But what it does do is give the lie to the flamboyant claims that Trump has somehow vandalized and degraded U.S. values and U.S. foreign policy rather than what he actually did: upheld their core tenets and explained them to the public with great candor and clarity.

This episode also exposes one of the great scams of the Trump era. The very same people who have devoted their careers to supporting despotism, empowering tyranny, cheering on atrocities, and justifying U.S. imperialism are masquerading as the exact opposite of what they are in order to pave their path back to power where they can continue to pursue all of the destructive and amoral policies they now so grotesquely pretend to oppose.

Anyone who objects to exposure of this deceit – anyone who invokes empty clichés such as “whataboutism” or “hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue” in order to enable this scam to go undetected – has no business staking moral claim to any values of truth or freedom. People who demand that this deceit go unnoticed are revealing themselves as what they are: purely situational opponents of tyranny and murder who pretend to hold such values only when doing so undermines their domestic political opponents and enables their political allies to be restored to power where they can continue the same policies of murder, tyranny-support and atrocity-enabling that they have spent decades defending.

If you want to denounce Trump’s indifference to Saudi atrocities on moral, ethical or geo-political grounds – and I find them objectionable on all of those grounds – by all means do so. But pretending that he’s done something that is at odds with U.S. values or the actions of prior leaders or prevailing foreign policy orthodoxies is not just deceitful but destructive.

It ensures that these very same policies will endure: by dishonestly pretending that they are unique to Trump, rather than the hallmarks of the same people now being applauded because they are denouncing Trump’s actions in such a blatantly false voice, all to mask the fact that they did the same, and worse, when they commanded the levers of American power.

The post Trump’s Amoral Saudi Statement is a Pure and Honest Expression of Decades-Old “U.S. Values” and Foreign Policy Orthodoxies appeared first on The Intercept.

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November 16, 2018

As the Obama DOJ Concluded, Prosecution of Julian Assange For Publishi...

The Trump Justice Department inadvertently revealed in a court filing that it has charged Julian Assange in a sealed indictment. The disclosure occurred through a remarkably amauetrish cutting-and-pasting error in which prosecutors unintentionally used secret language from Assange’s sealed charges in a document filed in an unrelated case. Although the document does not specify which charges have been filed against Assange, the Wall Street Journal reported thatthey may involve the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information.”

Over the last two years, journalists and others have melodramatically claimed that press freedoms were being assaulted by the Trump administration due to trivial acts such as the President spouting adolescent insults on Twitter at Chuck Todd and Wolf Blitzer or banning Jim Acosta from White House press conferences due to his refusal to stop preening for a few minutes so as to allow other journalists to ask questions. Meanwhile, actual and real threats to press freedoms that began with the Obama DOJ and have escalated with the Trump DOJ – such as aggressive attempts to unearth and prosecute sources – have gone largely ignored if not applauded.

But prosecuting Assange and/or WikiLeaks for publishing classified documents would be in an entirely different universe of press freedom threats. Reporting on the secret acts of government officials or powerful financial actors – including by publishing documents taken without authorization – is at the core of investigative journalism. From the Pentagon Papers to the Panama Papers to the Snowden disclosures to publication of Trump’s tax returns to the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, some of the most important journalism over the last several decades has occurred because it is legal and constitutional to publish secret documents even if the sources of those documents obtained them through illicit or even illegal means.

The Obama DOJ – despite launching notoriously aggressive attacks on press freedoms – recognized this critical principle when it came to WikiLeaks. It spent years exploring whether it could criminally charge Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing classified information. It ultimately decided it would not do so, and could not do so, consistent with the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment. After all, the Obama DOJ concluded, such a prosecution would pose a severe threat to press freedom because there would be no way to prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents without also prosecuting the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian and others for doing exactly the same thing.

As the Washington Post put it in 2013 when it explained the Obama DOJ’s decision not to prosecute Assange:

Justice officials said they looked hard at Assange but realized that they have what they described as a “New York Times problem.” If the Justice Department indicted Assange, it would also have to prosecute the New York Times and other news organizations and writers who published classified material, including The Washington Post and Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

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Last year, the Trump DOJ under Jeff Sessions, and the CIA under Mike Pompeo, began aggressively vowing to do what the Obama DOJ refused to do – namely, prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents. Pompeo, as CIA Director, delivered one of the creepiest and most anti-press-freedom speeches heard in years, vowing that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us,” adding that WikiLeaks has “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice,” but: “they may have believed that, but they are wrong.”

Remarkably, the speech by Donald Trump’s hand-picked CIA chief and long-time right-wing Congressman sounded like (and still sounds like) the standard Democratic view when they urge the Trump administration to prosecute Assange. But at the time of Pompeo’s speech, Obama DOJ spokesman Matt Miller insisted to me that such promises to prosecute Assange were “hollow,” because the First Amendment would bar such prosecutions:

But the grand irony is that many Democrats will side with the Trump DOJ over the Obama DOJ. Their emotional, personal contempt for Assange – due to their belief that he helped defeat Hillary Clinton: the gravest crime – easily outweighs any concerns about the threats posed to press freedoms by the Trump administration’s attempts to criminalize the publication of documents.

This reflects the broader irony of the Trump era for Democrats. While they claim out of one side of their mouth to find the Trump administration’s authoritarianism and press freedom attacks so repellent, they use the other side of their mouth to parrot the authoritarian mentality of Jeff Sessions and Mike Pompeo that anyone who published documents harmful to Hillary or which have been deemed “classified” by the U.S. Government ought to go to prison.

During the Obama years, the notion that Assange could be prosecuted for publishing documents was regarded as so extreme and dangerous that even centrist media outlets that despised him sounded the alarm for how dangerous such a prosecution would be. The pro-national-security-state Washington Post editorial page in 2010, writing under the headline “Don’t Charge WikiLeaks,” warned:

Such prosecutions are a bad idea. The government has no business indicting someone who is not a spy and who is not legally bound to keep its secrets. Doing so would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations that vet and verify material and take seriously the protection of sources and methods when lives or national security are endangered.

In contrast to Democrats, Republicans have been quite consistent about their desire to see WikiLeaks prosecuted. As Newsweek noted in 2011: “Sarah Palin urged that Assange be ‘pursued with the same urgency we pursue Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders,’ and The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol wants the U.S. to ‘use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators.’” Some Democratic hawks, such as Joe Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein, joined the likes of Palin and Kristol in urging WikiLeaks prosecution, but the broad consensus in Democratica and liberal circles was that doing so was far too dangerous for press freedoms.

What has changed since that Obama-era consensus? Only one thing: in 2016, WikiLeaks published documents that reflected poorly on Democrats and the Clinton campaign rather than the Bush-era wars, rendering Democrats perfectly willing, indeed eager, to prioritize their personal contempt for Assange over any precepts of basic press freedoms, civil liberties, or Constitutional principles. It’s really just as simple – and as ignoble – as that.

It is this utterly craven and authoritarian mentality that is about to put Democrats of all sorts in bed with the most extremist and dangerous of the Trump faction as they unite to create precedents under which the publication of information – long held sacrosanct by anyone caring about press freedoms – can now be legally punished.

Recall that the DNC itself is currently suing WikiLeaks and Assange for publishing the DNC and Podesta emails they received: emails deemed newsworthy by literally every major media outlet, which relentlessly reported on them. Until this current Trump DOJ criminal prosecution of Assange, that DNC lawsuit had been the greatest Trump-era threat to press freedoms – because it seeks to make the publication of documents, which is the core of journalism, legally punishable. The Trump DOJ’s attempts to criminalize those actions is merely the next logical step in this descent into a full-scale attack on basic press rights.

The arguments justifying the Trump administration’s prosecution of Assange are grounded in a combination of legal ignorance, factual falsehoods, and dangerous authoritarianism.

The most common misconception is that unlike the New York Times and the Washington Post, WikiLeaks can be legitimately prosecuted for publishing classified information because it’s not a “legitimate news outlet.” Democrats who make this argument don’t seem to care that this is exactly the view rejected as untenable by the Obama DOJ.

To begin with, the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment isn’t confined to “legitimate news outlets” – whatever that might mean. The First Amendment isn’t available only to a certain class of people licensed as “journalists.” It protects not a privileged group of people called “professional journalists” but rather an activity: namely, using the press (which at the time of the First Amendment’s enactment meant the literal printing press) to inform the public about what the government was doing. Everyone is entitled to that constitutional protection equally: there is no cogent way to justify why the Guardian, ex-DOJ-officials-turned-bloggers, or Marcy Wheeler are free to publish classified information but Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are not.

Beyond that, WikiLeaks has long been recognized around the world as a critical journalistic outlet. They have won prestigious journalism awards including the Martha Gellhorn Prize for excellence in journalism as well as Australia’s top journalism award. Beyond that, it has partnered with the planet’s leading newspapers, including the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais and others, to publish some of the most consequential stories of the last several decades One does not need to be a “legitimate journalism outlet” to enjoy the press freedom protections of the First Amendment, but even if that were the case, WikiLeaks has long possessed all indicia of a news outlet.


Then there’s the claim that WikiLeaks does more than publish documents: it helps its sources steal them. This was the claim made last night by former CIA agent John Sipher when trying to justify the Trump DOJ’s actions in response to concerns from a journalist about the threats to press freedom this would pose:

What Sipher said there is a complete fabrication. When the Obama DOJ explored the possibility of prosecuting Assange, that was the theory it tested: that perhaps it could prove that WikiLeaks did not merely passively receive the documents from Chelsea Manning but collaborated with her on how to steal them.

But the Obama DOJ concluded that this theory would not justify prosecution because – contrary to the lie told by Sipher – there was absolutely no evidence that Assange worked with Manning to steal the documents. As the Post put it: “officials said that although Assange published classified documents, he did not leak them, something they said significantly affects their legal analysis.”

The same is true of WikiLeaks’ publication of the DNC and Podesta emails. Nobody has ever presented evidence of any kind that WikiLeaks worked on the hacking of those emails. There is no evidence that WikiLeaks ever did anything other than passively receive pilfered documents from a source and then publish them – exactly as the New York Times did when it received the stolen Pentagon Papers, and exactly as the Guardian and the Washington Post did when it received the Snowden documents.

Moreover, journalists often do more than passively receive information, but instead frequently work with sources before publication of articles: encouraging, cajoling, and persuading them to provide more information. Accepting the theory that a journalist can be prosecuted for doing more than merely passively receiving information – something that nobody has even proved Assange did – would itself gravely threaten to criminalize core aspects of journalism.

Then there’s the claim that WikiLeaks somehow stopped being a real journalism outlet because it acted to help one of the presidential campaigns at the expense of of the other. This is just another version of the false argument that only “Real Journalists” – whatever that might mean, whoever gets to decide that – enjoy the right to use a free press to disseminate information. That claim is pure legal ignorance.

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s true that WikiLeaks acted to help the Trump campaign and therefore should be disqualified from the protections of the First Amendment. To see how pernicious this argument is, look at how it was recently expressed by former Pentagon official Ryan Goodman and Obama WH Counsel Bob Bauer in justifying the prosecution of WikiLeaks:

It is clear from disclosures by an internal WikiLeaks critic and other materials that Julian Assange targeted Hillary Clinton and sought to work with the Trump campaign and the Russians to secure her defeat. This is not a “legitimate press function.” And the conflation of Wikileaks’ plan of campaign attack with standard journalistic activity undermines important distinctions critical to the protection of the free press.

Just ponder the implications of this incredibly restrictive definition of journalism. It would mean that any outlets that favor one candidate over another, or one political party over another, are not engaged in “legitimate press functions” and therefore have no entitlement to First Amendment protections.

Does anyone on the planet doubt that outlets such as MSNBC and Vox favor the Democratic Party over the Republican Party, and the people they employ as journalists spent the last year doing everything they can to help the Democrats win and the Republicans lose? Does anyone doubt that MSNBC and Vox journalists spent 2016 doing everything in their power to help Hillary Clinton win and Donald Trump lose? No person with even the most minimal amount of intellectual honesty could deny that they did so.

Does this mean that Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein – by virtue of favoring one political party over the other – are not real journalists, that they are not engaged in “legitimate press functions,” and thus do not enjoy the protections of the First Amendment, meaning they can be prosecuted by the Trump DOJ without the ability to claim the rights of a free press? To state that proposition is to illustrate the tyrannical impulses underlying it. As Marcy Wheeler, otherwise sympathetic to the arguments made by the Goodman/Bauer article, put it:

As Dan Froomkin wrote in response to that article, he finds some of Assange’s actions “despicable” and “abhorred the heedless, unedited publication of the non-newsworthy and personally hurtful” emails that were released (I have expressed similar highly critical views about WikiLeaks’ publication decisions). But Froomkin nonetheless recognizes that “Assange remains a journalist” and that “In the Trump era, when the president of the United States is using his office to attack journalists and journalism itself, the First Amendment is a key bulwark of liberty.” That’s how people who actually care about press freedom – rather than pretend to care about it when doing so suits their political interests of the moment – will reason.

But that’s exactly the point. Neither the most authoritarian factions of the Trump administration behind this prosecution, nor their bizarre and equally tyrannical allies in the Democratic Party, care the slightest about press freedoms. They only care about one thing: putting Julian Assange behind bars, because (in the case of Trump officials) he revealed U.S. war crimes and because (in the case of Democrats) he revealed corruption at the highest levels of the DNC that forced the resignation of the top 5 officials of the Democratic Party and harmed the Democrats’ political reputation.

They’re willing to create a precedent that will criminalize the core function of investigative journalism because – even as they spent two years shrilly denouncing that most trivial “attacks on press freedom” – they don’t actually care about that value at all. They want to protect only the journalism that advances their political interests, while putting people behind bars who publish information that undermines their political interests. It is this authoritarian, noxious mentality that has united the worst elements of the Trump administration and the Democratic Party that pretends to find tyrannical actions objectionable but is often the leaders in defending them.

The post As the Obama DOJ Concluded, Prosecution of Julian Assange For Publishing Documents Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedom appeared first on The Intercept.

November 7, 2018

The Remarkable Participation and Efficiency of Brazil’s Elections Pr...

The systemic, nationwide voting problems plaguing Tuesday night’s midterm election in the U.S. appear all the more disgraceful – and deliberate – when compared to the two remarkably efficient national elections just conducted in Brazil last month.

That a country that is poorer than the U.S., with a much shorter history of democracy, can hold such seamless, fair, participatory and efficient elections proves that the opposite outcome in the U.S. – massive voter disenfranchisement, multi-hour voting lines, pervasive machine malfunctions, elections that are not decided until weeks after the election –  are very easily avoided and thus likely intentional.

Brazil’s national elections are comparable in size to the U.S’s. Although Brazil’s population is slightly less than the U.S.’s – the U.S. is the world’s third most-populous country with a population of roughly 325 million, while Brazil is in fifth place with roughly 210 million – Brazil has mandatory voting, a lower voting age (16), and automatic voting registration for citizens, which means vote totals are comparable. In Brazil’s October 28 run-off presidential election, roughly 110 million votes were cast, in the same range of last night’s U.S. vote total.

Yet Brazil’s elections are plagued by virtually none of the problems that mar the credibility U.S. elections year after year. On October 7, Brazil held the first-round of its presidential elections, which – like in the U.S. midterms – also included electing an entirely new lower federal house of Congress, a portion of the federal Senate, and governorships and state house races in all 26 Brazilian states and its federal district.

Like all Brazilian elections, the Oct. 7 national vote was held on Sunday, the day the fewest number of people have to work, ensuring maximum voter participation. Polling closed at 5 p.m. All of the votes were fully counted, and all the results fully known, by 8:30 p.m. that night. There were no lingering unknown outcomes, weeks of uncounted votes, widespread claims of voter disenfranchisement, multi-hour lines spread around blocks, or obstacles to registering.

The October 28 runoff, which elected Jair Bolsonaro as President and also decided the run-off races for governor in multiple states, was even smoother. Votes are electronically counted all day, but the totals are not released until the last poll closes. By the time the last state closed its polls – at 6:00 p.m. – more than 90% of the votes were already counted, and the totals instantly released. Thus, the outcome of the presidential race and most of the gubernatorial races were known within minutes after the polls closed, and they were all fully determined within two hours of the polls closing.

Then there’s the issue of voter participation. Voting is legally mandatory: every citizen over the age of 16 is automatically eligible to vote, and those over 18 are required to do so, facing a trivial fine for failing to do so (absent a valid justification). They are free to vote for “none of the candidates” or leave their ballot blank, but it is a legal duty. Still, in the last election, roughly 20% of voters violated that law and abstained from voting. But that means that 80% of the adult population voted – a far higher participatory rate than any election in the U.S.

That’s because everything about the structure of Brazil’s election system – set forth in the 1989 Constitution it enacted after it exited its military dictatorship – is designed to maximize, not suppress, voter participation. All citizens are automatically registered. Voting is mandatory. The elections are held on the day – Sunday – that ensures working people have the fewest barriers to voting, not in the middle of the week that is not a working holiday. Machine voting is uniformed throughout the country’s 27 States.

Brazil generally, and its politics specifically, are plagued with countless grave problems, as I’ve reported on over the last several years. It’s a country beset by a convergence of hideous political, social and economic crises caused by a broken ruling class, all exacerbated by severe wealth inequality.

But that’s the point. If Brazil – an extremely young democracy with far less wealth than the U.S. and intense political, economic and social pathologies – can hold basically efficient, seamless, fast, vibrantly participatory and smooth national elections on a massive scale, as it just did twice last month, then so, obviously, could the U.S.

The fact that the U.S. against last night did not, and does not, suggests quite strongly that this “failure” is actually deliberate. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez frequently noted about the arcane and hidden voting systems in New York – including purposely holding primary elections to ensure as few votes as possible – incumbents use voter suppression as a key tactic for remaining in power, and for preventing marginalized groups from participating:

Every two years in November, people in the U.S. watch with horror and outrage as they see endless lines, people being turned away from voting booths, rampant technological malfunctions, and vote counts that linger for weeks with no certain outcome. Those emotions quickly dissipate and thus the same problems repeat themselves every two years.

There should be no doubt that all of this is quite deliberate, and fixable with relative ease. That Brazil, plagued by an endless stream of systemic political and social problems, can nonetheless hold national elections that are so efficient and fair, proves that all that is missing in the U.S. is the desire to fix this.

The post The Remarkable Participation and Efficiency of Brazil’s Elections Proves how Shameful, and Deliberate, is the Chaos and Suppression in the U.S. appeared first on The Intercept.