#BentBritain: #UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications!

UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications ~ and , The Guardian, Wednesday 18 February 2015.

Intelligence agencies have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for past five years, government admits

Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al Saadi
The admission comes ahead of a legal challenge brought on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, over allegations that security services unlawfully intercepted their communications with lawyers.  Photograph: PA & AFP

The regime under which UK intelligence agencies, including MI5 and MI6, have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for the past five years is unlawful, the British government has admitted.

The admission that the activities of the security services have failed to comply fully with human rights laws in a second major area – this time highly sensitive legally privileged communications – is a severe embarrassment for the government.

It follows hard on the heels of the British court ruling on 6 February declaring that the regime surrounding the sharing of mass personal intelligence data between America’s national security agency and Britain’s GCHQ was unlawful for seven years.

The admission that the regime surrounding state snooping on legally privileged communications has also failed to comply with the European convention on human rights comes in advance of a legal challenge, to be heard early next month, in which the security services are alleged to have unlawfully intercepted conversations between lawyers and their clients to provide the government with an advantage in court.

The case is due to be heard before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). It is being brought by lawyers on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, who, along with their families, were abducted in a joint MI6-CIA operation and sent back to Tripoli to be tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2004.

A government spokesman said: “The concession the government has made today relates to the agencies’ policies and procedures governing the handling of legally privileged communications and whether they are compatible with the European convention on human rights.

“In view of recent IPT judgments, we acknowledge that the policies adopted since [January] 2010 have not fully met the requirements of the ECHR, specifically article 8 (right to privacy). This includes a requirement that safeguards are made sufficiently public.

“It does not mean that there was any deliberate wrongdoing on their part of the security and intelligence agencies, which have always taken their obligations to protect legally privileged material extremely seriously. Nor does it mean that any of the agencies’ activities have prejudiced or in any way resulted in an abuse of process in any civil or criminal proceedings.”

He said that the intelligence agencies would now work with the interception of communications commissioner to ensure their policies satisfy all of the UK’s human rights obligations.

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and one of the Belhaj family’s lawyers said: “By allowing the intelligence agencies free reign to spy on communications between lawyers and their clients, the government has endangered the fundamental British right to a fair trial.

“Reprieve has been warning for months that the security services’ policies on lawyer-client snooping have been shot through with loopholes big enough to drive a bus through.

“For too long, the security services have been allowed to snoop on those bringing cases against them when they speak to their lawyers. In doing so, they have violated a right that is centuries old in British common law. Today they have finally admitted they have been acting unlawfully for years.

“Worryingly, it looks very much like they have collected the private lawyer-client communications of two victims of rendition and torture, and possibly misused them. While the government says there was no ‘deliberate’ collection of material, it’s abundantly clear that private material was collected and may well have been passed on to lawyers or ministers involved in the civil case brought by Abdel hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, who were ‘rendered’ to Libya in 2004 by British intelligence.

“Only time will tell how badly their case was tainted. But right now, the government needs urgently to investigate how things went wrong and come clean about what it is doing to repair the damage.”

Government sources, in line with all such cases, refuse to confirm or deny whether the two Libyans were the subject of an interception operation. They insist the concession does not concern the allegation that actual interception took place and say it will be for the investigatory powers tribunal hearing to determine the issue.

An updated draft interception code of practice spelling out the the rules for the first time was quietly published at the same time as the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruling against GCHQ earlier this month in the case brought by Privacy International and Liberty.

The government spokesman said the draft code set out enhanced safeguards and provided more detail than previously on the protections that had to be applied in the security agencies handling of legally privileged communications.

The draft code makes clear that warrants for snooping on legally privileged conversations, emails and other communications between suspects and their lawyers can be granted if there are exceptional and compelling circumstances. They have to however ensure that they are not available to lawyers or policy officials who are conducting legal cases against those suspects.

Exchanges between lawyers and their clients enjoy a special protected status under UK law. Following exposure of widespread monitoring by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, Belhaj’s lawyers feared that their exchanges with their clients could have been compromised by GCHQ’s interception of phone conversations and emails.

To demonstrate that its policies satisfy legal safeguards, MI6 were required in advance of Wednesday’s concession to disclose internal guidance on how intelligence staff should deal with material protected by legal professional privilege.

The MI6 papers noted: “Undertaking interception in such circumstances would be extremely rare and would require strong justification and robust safeguards. It is essential that such intercepted material is not acquired or used for the purpose of conferring an unfair or improper advantage on SIS or HMG [Her Majesty’s government] in any such litigation, legal proceedings or criminal investigation.”

The internal documents also refer to a visit by the interception commissioner, Sir Anthony May, last summer to examine interception warrants, where it was discovered that regulations were not being observed. “In relation to one of the warrants,” the document explained, “the commissioner identified a number of concerns with regard to the handling of [legal professional privilege] material”.

Amnesty UK’s legal programme director, Rachel Logan, said: “We are talking about nothing less than the violation of a fundamental principle of the rule of law – that communications between a lawyer and their client must be confidential.

“The government has been caught red-handed. The security agencies have been illegally intercepting privileged material and are continuing to do so – this could mean they’ve been spying on the very people challenging them in court.

“This is the second time in as many weeks that government spies have been rumbled breaking the law.”


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#Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the #West’s modern crimes!

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes ~ Ben White, The Nation, February 14, 2015.

Like many children, 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman suffered from nightmares. In his dreams, he would see flying “death machines” that turned family and friends into burning charcoal. No one could stop them, and they struck any place, at any time.

Unlike most children, Mohammed’s nightmares killed him.

Three weeks ago, a CIA drone operating over Yemen fired a missile at a car carrying the teenager, and two others. They were all incinerated. Nor was Mohammed the first in his family to be targeted: drones had already killed his father and brother.

Since president Barack Obama took office in 2009, the US has killed at least 2,464 people through drone strikes outside the country’s declared war zones. The figure is courtesy of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which says that at least 314 of the dead, one in seven, were civilians.

Recall that for Obama, as The New York Times reported in May 2012, “all military-age males in a strike zone” are counted “as combatants” – unless “there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent”.

It sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

The week after Mohammed’s death, on February 5, Mr Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast, and discussed the violence of ISIL.

“Lest we get on our high horses”, said the commander-in-chief, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

These comments prompted a (brief) media storm, with Mr Obama accused of insulting Christians, pandering to the terrorist enemy, or just bad history.

In fact, the president was simply repeating a point often made by liberals since September 11, namely, that all religions have blots on their copy book through the deeds of their followers.

One of the consequences, however, of this invocation of the Crusades – unintended, and all the more significant for it – is to seal away the West’s “sins”, particularly vis-à-vis its relationship to the Middle East, in events that took place a thousand years ago.

The Crusades were, in one sense, a demonstration of raw military power, and a collective trauma for the peoples of the regions they marched through and invaded.

In the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, a witness described how the Europeans ordered “all the Saracen dead to be cast outside because of the great stench, since the whole city was filled with their corpses”.

He added: “No one ever saw or heard of such slaughter of pagan people, for funeral pyres were formed from them like pyramids.”

Or take the Third Crusade, when, on August 20, 1191, England’s King Richard I oversaw the beheading of 3,000 Muslim prisoners at Acre in full view of Saladin’s army.

Just “ancient history”? In 1920, when the French had besieged and captured Damascus, their commander Henri Gourard reportedly went to the grave of Saladin, kicked it, and uttered: “Awake Saladin, we have returned! My presence here consecrates the victory of the Cross over the Crescent.”

But the US president need not cite the Crusades or even the colonial rule of the early 20th century: more relevant reference points would be Bagram and Fallujah.

Bagram base in Afghanistan is where US soldiers tortured prisoners to death – like 22-year-old taxi driver and farmer Dilawar. Before he was killed in custody, Dilawar was beaten by soldiers just to make him scream “Allah!”

Five months after September 11, The Guardian reported that US missiles had killed anywhere between 1,300 and 8,000 in Afghanistan. Months later, the paper suggested that “as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the US intervention”.

When it was Iraq’s turn, the people of Fallujah discovered that US forces gave them funerals, not democracy. On April 28, 2003, US soldiers massacred civilian protesters, shooting to death 17 during a demonstration.

When that city revolted against the occupation, the residents paid a price. As Marines tried to quell resistance in the city, wrote The New York Times on April 14, 2004, they had “orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not”.Months later, as the Marines launched their November assault on the city, CNN reported that “the sky…seems to explode”.

In their bombardment and invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US and UK armed forces rained fiery death down on men, women and children. Prisoners were tortured and sexually abused. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. No one was held to account.

It is one thing to apologise for the brutality of western Crusaders a thousand years ago. It is quite another to look at the corpses of the victims of the imperialist present, or hear the screams of the bereaved.

In his excellent book The Muslims Are Coming, Arun Kundnani analysed the “politics of anti-extremism”, and describes the two approaches developed by policymakers and analysts during the “war on terror”.

The first approach, which he refers to as “culturalism”, emphasises “what adherents regard as inherent features of Islamic culture”. The second approach, “reformism”, is when “extremism is viewed as a perversion of Islam’s message”, rather than “a clash of civilisations between the West’s modern values and Islam’s fanaticism”.

Thus the American Right was angry with Mr Obama, because for them, it is about religion – or specifically, Islam. Liberals, meanwhile, want to locate the problem in terms of culture.

Both want to avoid a discussion about imperialism, massacres, coups, brutalities, disappearances, dictatorships – in other words, politics.

As Kundnani writes: when “the concept of ideology” is made central, whether understood as “Islam itself or as Islamist extremism”, then “the role of western states in co-producing the terror war is obscured”.

The problem with Mr Obama’s comments on the Crusades was not, as hysterical conservatives claimed, that he was making offensive and inaccurate analogies with ISIL; rather, that in the comfort of condemning the past, he could mask the violence of his own government in the present.

The echoes of collective trauma remain for a long time, and especially when new wounds are still being inflicted. Think it is farfetched that Muslims would still care about a 1,000-year-old European invasion? Then try asking them about Guantanamo and Camp Bucca instead.

Ben White is a journalist and author of Israeli Apartheid

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes
Pep Montserrat for The National

#CIA #Torture and the Myth of Never Again: The Persecution of John Kiriakou!

Torture and the Myth of Never Again: The Persecution of John Kiriakou ~  Thursday December 11, 2014, FIREDOGLAKE.

No one except John Kiriakou is being held accountable for America’s torture policy. And John Kiriakou didn’t torture anyone, he just blew the whistle on it.

In a Galaxy Far, Far Away

The United States sanctioned acts of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency and others. The acts took place in secret prisons (“black sites”) against persons detained indefinitely without trial. They were described in detail and explicitly authorized in a series of secret torture memosdrafted by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Steven Bradbury, senior lawyers in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. (Office of Legal Counsel attorneys technically answer directly to the DOJ, which is supposed to be independent from the White House, but obviously was not in this case.) Not one of those men, or their Justice Department bosses, has been held accountable for their actions.

Some tortured prisoners were killed by the CIA. Attorney General Eric Holder announced recently that no one would be held accountable for those murders either. “Based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths,” he said, “the Department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Jose Rodriguez, a senior CIA official, admitted destroying videotapes of potentially admissible evidence, showing the torture of captives by operatives of the U.S. government at a secret prison thought to be located at a Vietnam-War-era airbase in Thailand. He was not held accountable for deep-sixing this evidence, nor for his role in the torture of human beings.

John Kiriakou Alone

The one man in the whole archipelago of America’s secret horrors who went to jail is former CIA officer John Kiriakou. Of the untold numbers of men and women involved in the whole nightmare show of those years, only one.

And of course, he didn’t torture anyone.

The charges against Kiriakou alleged that in answering questions from reporters about suspicions that the CIA tortured detainees in its custody, he violated the Espionage Act, once an obscure World War I-era law that aimed at punishing Americans who gave aid to the enemy. It was passed in 1917 and has been the subject of much judicial and Congressional doubt ever since. Kiriakou is one of six government whistleblowers who have been charged under the Act by the Obama administration. From 1917 until Obama came into office, only three people had ever charged in this way.

The Obama Justice Department claimed the former CIA officer “disclosed classified information to journalists, including the name of a covert CIA officer and information revealing the role of another CIA employee in classified activities.”

The charges resulted from a CIA investigation. That investigation was triggered by a filing in January 2009 on behalf of detainees at Guantanamo that contained classified information the defense had not been given through government channels, and by the discovery in the spring of 2009 of photographs of alleged CIA employees among the legal materials of some detainees at Guantanamo. According to onedescription, Kiriakou gave several interviews about the CIA in 2008. Court documents charge that he provided names of covert Agency officials to a journalist, who allegedly in turn passed them on to a Guantanamo legal team. The team sought to have detainees identify specific CIA officials who participated in their renditions and torture. Kiriakou was accused of providing the identities of CIA officers that may have allowed names to be linked to photographs.

The real “offense” in the eyes of the Obama administration was quite different. In 2007, Kiriakou became a whistleblower. He went on record as the first (albeit by then, former) CIA official to confirm the use of waterboarding of al-Qaeda prisoners as an interrogation technique, and then to condemn it as torture. He specifically mentioned the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah in that secret prison in Thailand. Kiriakou also ran afoul of the CIA over efforts to clear for publication a book he had written about the Agency’s counterterrorism work.

If Kiriakou had actually tortured someone himself, even to death, there is no possibility that he would be in trouble. In the national security state that rules the roost in Washington, talking out of turn about a crime has become the only possible crime.

Facing decades away from his family and young children, Kiriakou agreed to a plea bargain and is still in prison serving a 30-month sentence.

Never Again

For years it was the policy of the United States of America to torture and abuse its enemies or, in some cases, simply suspected enemies. It has remained a U.S. policy, even under the Obama administration, to employ “extraordinary rendition” — that is, the sending of captured terror suspects to the jails of countries that are known for torture and abuse, an outsourcing of what we no longer want to do.

Techniques that the U.S. hanged men for at Nuremburg and in post-war Japan were employed and declared lawful. To embark on such a program with the oversight of the Bush administration, learned men and women had to have long discussions, with staffers running in and out of rooms with snippets of research to buttress the justifications being so laboriously developed. The CIA undoubtedly used some cumbersome bureaucratic process to hire contractors for its torture staff. The old manuals needed to beupdated, psychiatrists consulted, military survival experts interviewed, training classes set up.

Videotapes were made of the torture sessions and no doubt DVDs full of real horror were reviewed back at headquarters.

Torture techniques were even reportedly demonstrated to top officials inside the White House. Individual torturers who were considered particularly effective were no doubt identified, probably rewarded, and sent on to new secret sites to harm more people.

America just didn’t wake up one day and start slapping around some Islamic punk. These were not the torture equivalents of rogue cops. A system, a mechanism, was created. That we now can only speculate about many of the details involved and the extent of all this is a tribute to the thousands who continue to remain silent about what they did, saw, heard about, or were associated with. Many of them work now at the same organizations, remaining a part of the same contracting firms, the CIA, and the military. Our torturers.

What is it that allows all those people to remain silent? How many are simply scared, watched what happening to John Kiriakou and thought: not me, I’m not sticking my neck out to see it get chopped off.They’re almost pathetically forgivable, even if they are placing their own self-interest above that of their country.

But what about the others, the ones who remain silent about what they did or saw or aided and abetted in some fashion because they still think it was the right thing to do? The ones who will do it again when another frightened president asks them to? Or even the ones who enjoyed doing it?

The same Department of Justice that hunted down the one man who spoke against torture from the inside still maintains a special unit, 60 years after the end of WWII, dedicated to hunting down the last few at-large Nazis. They do that under the rubric of “never again.” The truth is that same team needs to be turned loose on our national security state. Otherwise, until we have a full accounting of what was done in our names by our government, the pieces are all in place for it to happen again. There, if you want to know, is the real horror.

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Peter Van Buren writes about current events at blog. His book,Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now from Amazon

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| How the West Created the Islamic State … With a Little Help From Our Friends!

How the West Created the Islamic State … With a Little Help From Our Friends  ~ Nafeez Ahmed,  bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar.

Part 1 – OUR TERRORISTS

“This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated,” Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference in August.

Military action is necessary to halt the spread of the ISIS/IS “cancer,” said President Obama. Yesterday, in his much anticipated address, he called for expanded airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, and new measures to arm and train Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces.

“The only way to defeat [IS] is to stand firm and to send a very straightforward message,” declared Prime Minister Cameron. “A country like ours will not be cowed by these barbaric killers.”

Missing from the chorus of outrage, however, has been any acknowledgement of the integral role of covert US and British regional military intelligence strategy in empowering and even directly sponsoring the very same virulent Islamist militants in Iraq, Syria and beyond, that went on to break away from al-Qaeda and form ‘ISIS’, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or now simply, the Islamic State (IS).

Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.

Now despite Pentagon denials that there will be boots on the ground – and Obama’s insistence that this would not be another “Iraq war” – local Kurdish military and intelligence sources confirm that US and German special operations forces are already “on the ground here. They are helping to support us in the attack.” US airstrikes on ISIS positions and arms supplies to the Kurds have also been accompanied by British RAF reconnaissance flights over the region andUK weapons shipments to Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Divide and rule in Iraq

“It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs,” said one US government defense consultant in 2007. “It’s who they throw them at – Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

Early during the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US covertly supplied arms to al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents even while ostensibly supporting an emerging Shi’a-dominated administration.

Pakistani defense sources interviewed by Asia Times in February 2005 confirmed that insurgents described as “former Ba’ath party” loyalists – who were being recruited and trainedby “al-Qaeda in Iraq” under the leadership of the late Abu Musab Zarqawi – were being supplied Pakistan-manufactured weapons by the US. The arms shipments included rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, ammunition, rockets and other light weaponry. These arms “could not be destined for the Iraqi security forces because US arms would be given to them”, a source told Syed Saleem Shahzad – the Times’ Pakistan bureau chief who, “known for his exposes of the Pakistani military” according to the New Yorker, was murdered in 2011. Rather, the US is playing a double-game to “head off” the threat of a “Shi’ite clergy-driven religious movement,” said the Pakistani defense source.

This was not the only way US strategy aided the rise of Zarqawi, a bin Laden mentee and brainchild of the extremist ideology that would later spawn ‘ISIS.’

The JSOC insignia

According to a little-known November report for the US Joint Special Operations University(JSOU) and Strategic Studies Department, Dividing Our Enemies, post-invasion Iraq was “an interesting case study of fanning discontent among enemies, leading to ‘red-against-red’ [enemy-against-enemy] firefights.”

While counterinsurgency on the one hand requires US forces to “ameliorate harsh or deprived living conditions of the indigenous populations” to publicly win local hearts and minds:

“… the reverse side of this coin is one less discussed. It involves no effort to win over those caught in the crossfire of insurgent and counterinsurgent warfare, whether by bullet or broadcast. On the contrary, this underside of the counterinsurgency coin is calculated to exploit or create divisions among adversaries for the purpose of fomenting enemy-on-enemy deadly encounters.”

In other words, US forces will pursue public legitimacy through conventional social welfare while simultaneously delegitimising local enemies by escalating intra-insurgent violence, knowing full-well that doing so will in turn escalate the number of innocent civilians “caught in the crossfire.” The idea is that violence covertly calibrated by US special operations will not only weaken enemies through in-fighting but turn the population against them.

In this case, the ‘enemy’ consisted of jihadists, Ba’athists, and peaceful Sufis, who were in a majority but, like the militants, also opposed the US military presence and therefore needed to be influenced. The JSOU report referred to events in late 2004 in Fallujah where “US psychological warfare (PSYOP) specialists” undertook to “set insurgents battling insurgents.” This involved actually promoting Zarqawi’s ideology, ironically, to defeat it: “The PSYOP warriors crafted programs to exploit Zarqawi’s murderous activities – and to disseminate them through meetings, radio and television broadcasts, handouts, newspaper stories, political cartoons, and posters – thereby diminishing his folk-hero image,” and encouraging the different factions to pick each other off. “By tapping into the Fallujans’ revulsion and antagonism to the Zarqawi jihadis the Joint PSYOP Task Force did its ‘best to foster a rift between Sunni groups.’”

Yet as noted by Dahr Jamail, one of the few unembedded investigative reporters in Iraq after the war, the proliferation of propaganda linking the acceleration of suicide bombings to the persona of Zarqawi was not matched by meaningful evidence. His own search to substantiate the myriad claims attributing the insurgency to Zarqawi beyond anonymous US intelligence sources encountered only an “eerie blankness”.

US soldiers in Fallujah

The US military operation in Fallujah, largely justified on the claim that Zarqawi’s militant forces had occupied the city, used white phosphorous, cluster bombs, and indiscriminate air strikes to pulverise 36,000 of Fallujah’s 50,000 homes, killing nearly a thousand civilians, terrorising 300,000 inhabitants to flee, and culminating in a disproportionate increase in birth defects, cancer and infant mortality due to the devastating environmental consequences of the war.

To this day, Fallujah has suffered from being largely cut-off from wider Iraq, its infrastructure largely unworkable with water and sewage systems still in disrepair, and its citizens subject to sectarian discrimination and persecution by Iraqi government backed Shi’a militia and police. “Thousands of bereaved and homeless Falluja families have a new reason to hate the US and its allies,” observed The Guardian in 2005. Thus, did the US occupation plant the seeds from which Zarqawi’s legacy would coalesce into the Frankenstein monster that calls itself “the Islamic State.”

Bankrolling al-Qaeda in Syria

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business,” he told French television: “I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”

Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials, confirmed that as of 2011, US and UK special forces training of Syrian opposition forces was well underway. The goal was to elicit the “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.”

Since then, the role of the Gulf states – namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan (as well as NATO member Turkey) – in officially and unofficiallyfinancing and coordinating the most virulent elements amongst Syria’s rebels under the tutelage of US military intelligence is no secret. Yet the conventional wisdom is that the funneling of support to Islamist extremists in the rebel movement affiliated to al-Qaeda has been a colossal and regrettable error.

The reality is very different. The empowerment of the Islamist factions within the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) was a foregone conclusion of the strategy.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) greets Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L), United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan (2nd L) and British Foreign Minister William Hague, in Tunis

In its drive to depose Col. Qaddafi in Libya, NATO had previously allied itself with rebels affiliated to the al-Qaeda faction, the Islamic Fighting Group. The resulting Libyan regime backed by the US was in turn liaising with FSA leaders in Istanbul to provide money and heavy weapons for the anti-Assad insurgency. The State Department even hired an al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan militia group to provide security for the US embassy in Benghazi – although they had links with the very people that attacked the embassy.

Last year, CNN confirmed that CIA officials operating secretly out of the Benghazi embassy were being forced to take extra polygraph tests to keep under wraps what US Congressman suspect was a covert operation “to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.”

With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, otherreports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.”

The National thus confirmed the existence of another command and control centre in Amman, Jordan, “staffed by western and Arab military officials,” which “channels vehicles, sniper rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns, small arms and ammunition to Free Syrian Army units.” Rebel and opposition sources described the weapons bridge as “a well-run operation staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations and Arabian Gulf states, the latter providing the bulk of materiel and financial support to rebel factions.”

The FSA sources interviewed by The National went to pains to deny that any al-Qaeda affiliated factions were involved in the control centre, or would receive any weapons support. But this is difficult to believe given that “Saudi and Qatari-supplied weapons” were being funneled through to the rebels via Amman, to their favoured factions.

Classified assessments of the military assistance supplied by US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar obtained by the New York Times showed that “most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups… are going to hardline Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”

Lest there be any doubt as to the extent to which all this covert military assistance coordinated by the US has gone to support al-Qaeda affiliated factions in the FSA, it is worth noting that earlier this year, the Israeli military intelligence website Debkafile – run by two veteran correspondents who covered the Middle East for 23 years for The Economist – reported that: “Turkey is giving Syrian rebel forces, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, passage through its territory to attack the northwestern Syrian coastal area around Latakia.”

In August, Debkafile reported that “The US, Jordan and Israel are quietly backing the mixed bag of some 30 Syrian rebel factions”, some of which had just “seized control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, the only transit point between Israeli and Syrian Golan.” However, Debkafile noted, “al-Qaeda elements have permeated all those factions.” Israel has provided limited support to these rebels in the form of “medical care,” as well as “arms, intelligence and food…

“Israel acted as a member, along with the US and Jordan, of a support system for rebel groups fighting in southern Syria. Their efforts are coordinated through a war-room which the Pentagon established last year near Amman. The US, Jordanian and Israeli officers manning the facility determine in consultation which rebel factions are provided with reinforcements from the special training camps run for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and which will receive arms. All three governments understand perfectly that, notwithstanding all their precautions, some of their military assistance is bound to percolate to al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is fighting in rebel ranks. Neither Washington or Jerusalem or Amman would be comfortable in admitting they are arming al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in southern Syria.”

This support also went to ISIS. Although the latter was originally founded in Iraq in October 2006, by 2013 the group had significantly expanded its operations in Syria working alongside al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra until February 2014, when ISIS was formally denounced by al-Qaeda. Even so, experts on the region’s Islamist groups point out that the alleged rift between al-Nusra and ISIS, while real, is not as fraught as one might hope, constituting a mere difference in tactics rather than fundamental ideology.

ISIS fighters pose for the camera

Officially, the US government’s financial support for the FSA goes through the Washington DC entity, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), Syrian Support Group (SSG) which was incorporated in April 2012. The SSG is licensed via the US Treasury Department to “export, re-export, sell, or supply to the Free Syrian Army (‘FSA’) financial, communications, logistical, and other services otherwise prohibited by Executive Order 13582 in order to support the FSA.”

In mid-2013, the Obama administration intensified its support to the rebels with a new classified executive order reversing its previous policy limiting US direct support to only nonlethal equipment. As before, the order would aim to supply weapons strictly to “moderate” forces in the FSA.

Except the government’s vetting procedures to block Islamist extremists from receiving US weapons have never worked.

A year later, Mother Jones found that the US government has “little oversight over whether US supplies are falling prey to corruption – or into the hands of extremists,” and relies “on too much good faith.” The US government keeps track of rebels receiving assistance purely through “handwritten receipts provided by rebel commanders in the field,” and the judgement of its allies. Countries supporting the rebels – the very same which have empowered al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists – “are doing audits of the delivery of lethal and nonlethal supplies.”

Thus, with the Gulf states still calling the shots on the ground, it is no surprise that by September last year, eleven prominent rebel groups distanced themselves from the ‘moderate’ opposition leadership and allied themselves with al-Qaeda.

By the SSG’s own conservative estimate, as much as 15% of rebel fighters are Islamists affiliated to al-Qaeda, either through the Jabhut al-Nusra faction, or its breakaway group ISIS. But privately, Pentagon officials estimate that “more than 50%” of the FSA is comprised of Islamist extremists, and according to rebel sources neither FSA chief Gen Salim Idris nor his senior aides engage in much vetting, decisions about which are made typically by local commanders.

Part 2 – THE LONG WAR

Follow the money

Media reports following ISIS’ conquest of much of northern and central Iraq this summer have painted the group as the world’s most super-efficient, self-financed, terrorist organisation that has been able to consolidate itself exclusively through extensive looting of Iraq’s banks and funds from black market oil sales. Much of this narrative, however, has derived from dubious sources, and overlooked disturbing details.

One senior anonymous intelligence source told Guardian correspondent Martin Chulov, for instance, that over 160 computer flash sticks obtained from an ISIS hideout revealed information on ISIS’ finances that was completely new to the intelligence community.

“Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875m [£515m],” said the official on the funds obtained largely via “massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012.” Afterwards, “with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5bn to that.” The thrust of the narrative coming from intelligence sources was simple: “They had done this all themselves. There was no state actor at all behind them, which we had long known. They don’t need one.”

“ISIS’ half-a-billion-dollar bank heist makes it world’s richest terror group,” claimed the Telegraph, adding that the figure did not include additional stolen gold bullion, and millions more grabbed from banks “across the region.”

This story of ISIS’ stupendous bank looting spree across Iraq made global headlines but turned out to be disinformation. Senior Iraqi officials and bankers confirmed that banks in Iraq, including Mosul where ISIS supposedly stole $430 million, had faced no assault, remain open, and are guarded by their own private security forces.

How did the story come about? One of its prime sources was Iraqi parliamentarian Ahmed Chalabi – the same man who under the wing of his ‘Iraqi National Congress’ peddled false intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda.

In June, Chalabi met with the US ambassador to Iraq, Robert Beecroft, and Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran. According to sources cited by Buzzfeed in June, Beecroft “has been meeting Chalabi for months and has dined at his mansion in Baghdad.”

Follow the oil

But while ISIS has clearly obtained funding from donors in the Gulf states, many of its fighters having broken away from the more traditional al-Qaeda affiliated groups like Jabhut al-Nusra, it has also successfully leveraged its control over Syrian and Iraqi oil fields.

In January, the New York Times reported that “Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources”, bolstering “the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels had “seized control of the oil and gas fields scattered across the country’s north and east,” while more moderate “Western-backed rebel groups do not appear to be involved in the oil trade, in large part because they have not taken over any oil fields.”

Yet the west had directly aided these Islamist groups in their efforts to operationalise Syria’s oil fields. In April 2013, for instance, the Times noted that al-Qaeda rebels had taken over key regions of Syria: “Nusra’s hand is felt most strongly in Aleppo”, where the al-Qaeda affiliate had established in coordination with other rebel groups including ISIS “a Shariah Commission” running “a police force and an Islamic court that hands down sentences that have included lashings.” Al-Qaeda fighters also “control the power plant and distribute flour to keep the city’s bakeries running.” Additionally, they “have seized government oil fields” in provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hasaka, and now make a “profit from the crude they produce.”

Lost in the fog of media hype was the disconcerting fact that these al-Qaeda rebel bread and oil operations in Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and Hasaka were directly and indirectly supported by the US and the European Union (EU). One account by the Washington Post for instance refers to a stealth mission in Aleppo “to deliver food and other aid to needy Syrians – all of it paid for by the US government,” including the supply of flour. “The bakery is fully supplied with flour paid for by the United States,” the Post continues, noting that local consumers, however, “credited Jabhat al-Nusra – a rebel group the United States has designated a terrorist organisation because of its ties to al-Qaeda – with providing flour to the region, though he admitted he wasn’t sure where it comes from.”

And in the same month that al-Qaeda’s control of Syria’s main oil regions in Deir al-Zour and Hasaka was confirmed, the EU voted to ease an oil embargo on Syria to allow oil to be sold on international markets from these very al-Qaeda controlled oil fields. European companies would be permitted to buy crude oil and petroleum products from these areas, although transactions would be approved by the Syrian National Coalition. Due to damaged infrastructure, oil would be trucked by road to Turkey where the nearest refineries are located.

“The logical conclusion from this craziness is that Europe will be funding al-Qaeda,”said Joshua Landis , a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.

Just two months later, a former senior staffer at the Syria Support Group in DC, David Falt, leaked internal SSG emails confirming that the group was “obsessed” with brokering “jackpot” oil deals on behalf of the FSA for Syria’s rebel-run oil regions.

“The idea they could raise hundreds of millions from the sale of the oil came to dominate the work of the SSG to the point no real attention was paid to the nature of the conflict,” said Falt, referring in particular to SSG’s director Brian Neill Sayers, who before his SSG role worked with NATO’s Operations Division. Their aim was to raise money for the rebels by selling the rights to Syrian oil.

Tacit complicity in IS oil smuggling

Even as al-Qaeda fighters increasingly decide to join up with IS, the ad hoc black market oil production and export infrastructure established by the Islamist groups in Syria has continued to function with, it seems, the tacit support of regional and western powers.

According to Ali Ediboglu, a Turkish MP for the border province of Hatay, IS is selling the bulk of its oil from regions in Syria and Mosul in Iraq through Turkey, with the tacit consent of Turkish authorities: “They have laid pipes from villages near the Turkish border at Hatay. Similar pipes exist also at [the Turkish border regions of] Kilis, Urfa and Gaziantep. They transfer the oil to Turkey and parlay it into cash. They take the oil from the refineries at zero cost. Using primitive means, they refine the oil in areas close to the Turkish border and then sell it via Turkey. This is worth $800 million.” He also noted that the extent of this and related operations indicates official Turkish complicity. “Fighters from Europe, Russia, Asian countries and Chechnya are going in large numbers both to Syria and Iraq, crossing from Turkish territory. There is information that at least 1,000 Turkish nationals are helping those foreign fighters sneak into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) is allegedly involved. None of this can be happening without MIT’s knowledge.”

Similarly, there is evidence that authorities in the Kurdish region of Iraq are also turning a blind eye to IS oil smuggling. In July, Iraqi officials said that IS had begun selling oil extracted from in the northern province of Salahuddin. One official pointed out that “the Kurdish peshmerga forces stopped the sale of oil at first, but later allowed tankers to transfer and sell oil.”

State of Law coalition MP Alia Nasseef also accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of secretly trading oil with IS: “What is happening shows the extent of the massive conspiracy against Iraq by Kurdish politicians… The [illegal] sale of Iraqi oil to ISIS or anyone else is something that would not surprise us.” Although Kurdish officials have roundly rejected these accusations, informed sources told the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraqi crude captured by ISIS was “being sold to Kurdish traders in the border regions straddling Iraq, Iran and Syria, and was being shipped to Pakistan where it was being sold ‘for less than half its original price.’”

An official statement in August from Iraq’s Oil Ministry warned that any oil not sanctioned by Baghdad could include crude smuggled illegally from IS:

“International purchasers [of crude oil] and other market participants should be aware that any oil exports made without the authorisation of the Ministry of Oil may contain crude oil originating from fields under the control of [ISIS].”

“Countries like Turkey have turned a blind eye to the practice” of IS oil smuggling, said Luay al-Khateeb, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, “and international pressure should be mounted to close down black markets in its southern region.” So far there has been no such pressure. Meanwhile, IS oil smuggling continues, with observers inside and outside Turkeynoting that the Turkish government is tacitly allowing IS to flourish as it prefers the rebels to the Assad regime.

According to former Iraqi oil minister Isam al-Jalabi, “Turkey is the biggest winner from the Islamic State’s oil smuggling trade.” Both traders and oil firms are involved, he said, with the low prices allowing for “massive” profits for the countries facilitating the smuggling.

Buying ISIS oil?

Early last month, a tanker carrying over a million barrels in crude oil from northern Iraq’s Kurdish region arrived at the Texas Gulf of Mexico. The oil had been refined in the Iraqi Kurdish region before being pumped through a new pipeline from the KRG area ending up at Ceyhan, Turkey, where it was then loaded onto the tanker for shipping to the US. Baghdad’s efforts to stop the oil sale on the basis of its having national jurisdiction were rebuffed by American courts.

In early September, the European Union’s ambassador to Iraq, Jana Hybášková, told the EU Foreign Affairs Committee that “several EU member states have bought oil from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist organisation that has been brutally conquering large portions of Iraq and Syria,” according to Israel National News. She however “refused to divulge the names of the countries despite being asked numerous times.”

A third end-point for the KRG’s crude this summer, once again shipped via Turkey’s port of Ceyhan, was Israel’s southwestern port of Ashkelon. This is hardly news though. In May,Reuters revealed that Israeli and US oil refineries had been regularly purchasing and importing KRG’s disputed oil.

Meanwhile, as this triangle of covert oil shipments in which ISIS crude appears to be hopelessly entangled becomes more established, Turkey has increasingly demanded that the US pursue formal measures to lift obstacles to Kurdish oil sales to global markets. The KRG plans to export as much as 1 million barrels of oil a day by next year through its pipeline to Turkey.

The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline: Iraqi Kurdistan alone could hold up to 45 billion barrels of oil, allowing exports of up to 4 million barrels a day in the next decade if successfully brought to production

Among the many oil and gas firms active in the KRG capital, Erbil, are ExxonMobil and Chevron. They are drilling in the region for oil under KRG contracts, though operations have been halted due to the crisis. No wonder Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker that Obama’s air strikes and arms supplies to the Kurds – notably not to Baghdad – effectively amount to “the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal – as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example – are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company.” The Kurds are now busy working to “quadruple” their export capacity, while US policy has increasingly shifted toward permitting Kurdish exports – a development that would have major ramifications for Iraq’s national territorial integrity.

To be sure, as the offensive against IS ramps up, the Kurds are now selectively cracking down on IS smuggling efforts – but the measures are too little, too late.

A new map

The Third Iraq War has begun. With it, longstanding neocon dreams to partition Iraq into three along ethnic and religious lines have been resurrected.

White House officials now estimate that the fight against the region’s ‘Islamic State’ will lastyears, and may outlive the Obama administration. But this ‘long war’ vision goes back to nebulous ideas formally presented by late RAND Corp analyst Laurent Muraweic before the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board at the invitation of then chairman Richard Perle. That presentation described Iraq as a “tactical pivot” by which to transform the wider Middle East.

Brian Whitaker, former Guardian Middle East editor, rightly noted that the Perle-RAND strategy drew inspiration from a 1996 paper published by the Israeli Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, co-authored by Perle and other neocons who held top positions in the post-9/11 Bush administration.

The policy paper advocated a strategy that bears startling resemblance to the chaos unfolding in the wake of the expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ – Israel would “shape its strategic environment” by first securing the removal of Saddam Hussein. “Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and ‘roll back’ Syria.” This axis would attempt to weaken the influence of Lebanon, Syria and Iran by “weaning” off their Shi’ite populations. To succeed, Israel would need to engender US support, which would be obtained by Benjamin Netanyahu formulating the strategy “in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the cold war.”

The 2002 Perle-RAND plan was active in the Bush administration’s strategic thinking on Iraq shortly before the 2003 war. According to US private intelligence firm Stratfor, in late 2002, then vice-president Dick Cheney and deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz had co-authored a scheme under which central Sunni-majority Iraq would join with Jordan; the northern Kurdish regions would become an autonomous state; all becoming separate from the southern Shi’ite region.

The strategic advantages of an Iraq partition, Stratfor argued, focused on US control of oil:

“After eliminating Iraq as a sovereign state, there would be no fear that one day an anti-American government would come to power in Baghdad, as the capital would be in Amman [Jordan]. Current and potential US geopolitical foes Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria would be isolated from each other, with big chunks of land between them under control of the pro-US forces.Equally important, Washington would be able to justify its long-term and heavy military presence in the region as necessary for the defense of a young new state asking for US protection – and to secure the stability of oil markets and supplies. That in turn would help the United States gain direct control of Iraqi oil and replace Saudi oil in case of conflict with Riyadh.”

The expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ has provided a pretext for the fundamental contours of this scenario to unfold, with the US and British looking to re-establish a long-term military presence in Iraq in the name of the “defense of a young new state.”

In 2006, Cheney’s successor, Joe Biden, also indicated his support for the ‘soft partition’ of Iraq along ethno-religious lines – a position which the co-author of the Biden-Iraq plan, Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, now argues is “the only solution” to the current crisis.

Also in 2006, the Armed Forces Journal published a map of the Middle East with its borders thoroughly re-drawn, courtesy of Lt. Col. (ret.) Ralph Peters, who had previously been assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence where he was responsible for future warfare. As for the goals of this plan, apart from “security from terrorism” and “the prospect of democracy”, Peters also mentioned “access to oil supplies in a region that is destined to fight itself.”

In 2008, the strategy re-surfaced – once again via RAND Corp – through a report funded by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command on how to prosecute the ‘long war.’ Among its strategies, one scenario advocated by the report was ‘Divide and Rule’ which would involve:

“… exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.”

Simultaneously, the report suggested that the US could foster conflict between Salafi-jihadists and Shi’ite militants by:

“… shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes… as a way of containing Iranian power and influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.”

One way or another, some semblance of this plan is in motion. Last week, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman told US secretary of state John Kerry:

“Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion.”

Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He has contributed to two major terrorism investigations in the US and UK, the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest, and has advised the Royal Military Academy Sandhust, British Foreign Office and US State Department, among government agencies.

Nafeez is a regular contributor to The Guardian where he writes about the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among many others.

Nafeez’s just released new novel, ZERO POINT, predicted a new war in Iraq to put down an al-Qaeda insurgency.

| Q and A: The modern day heroes of investigative journalism!

Q and A: The modern day heroes of investigative journalism ~ John Pilger, Al Jazeera.

John Pilger discusses the role of the media in the contemporary context of whistleblowers and war.

According to Pilger, the biggest threat to the so-called security establishment is still WikiLeaks [AP]
As part of an ongoing series of interviews for the radio show “Le Mur a Des Oreilles; conversations for Palestine“, Frank Barat talks to John Pilger, one of the most influencial journalist of the last few decades, about the war in Syria, the colonisation of Palestine, the relationship between the corporate media and government propaganda and the actions of a few very brave men, Snowden, Assange and Manning.

FB: Quick question before we start, have you finished working on a new film?

JP: Yes, I’ve almost just finished a new film, which will be premiered at the National Film Theatre here on October 3 and shown on the ITV network on the December 17. It is called “Utopia” and it is about Indigenous Australia and the secret of Australia and the way Australia has embraced an Apartheid without giving due acknowledgment for having done so. It is a subject I have written and made films about over the years but this is quite an epic film.

FB: Let’s start, so Syria is regularly headline news at the moment, what do you make of the corporate media reporting on the issue and as a reporter, do you recognise yourself in this type of journalism?

JP: Well, I’ve never recognised myself being the kind of journalism that misrepresents the Middle East as a matter of routine. I don’t see how any journalist can recognise himself or herself. This is not to say that there are not good reporters, good journalists that work in the Middle East but we rarely glimpse them in what we call the mainstream, that’s a miss known there is no mainstream of course and you’ve described it correctly as corporate media, we rarely glimpse these honourable exceptionsThere is a kind of Kissinger’s style to a lot of the reporting in the way that Kissinger made almost an art form of hypocrisy and looking the other way while the United States went about its rapacious business in the Middle East and the way he gave an impunity to Israel which we have to understand, if we are to understand, the problems of the Middle East and how they might be solved but it’s almost as if Israel doesn’t exist and yet it is the core of the problem.

FB: Would it be a fair portrayal if I say to you that I can’t really see a difference between corporate media reporting on Syria and Government propaganda? It seems like they are the same sort of arms of the same Institutions in a way.

JP: Most of the mainstream reporting is simply an extension of what I would call an establishment prevailing view, it is not necessarily the government but generally speaking, it is the government point of view. The mainstream broadcasters for example made no secret of the fact that they framed their political and to a large degree the International coverage on how the political class, the Westminster class in Britain deals with politics and international affairs. So, you have a political reporter, he is limited to report in Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament, a so called diplomatic correspondent is limited to really reporting what the Foreign Office does. So they are by almost their own definition simply echoes of what the government or the establishment point of view.

FB: Talking about journalists such as yourself that we normally call investigative journalists, it seems like it is a dying breed, would you say that people like Snowden and Assange are the new journalists nowadays?

JP: I don’t think it is a dying breed, I think there is a great enthusiasm among young journalists to really be real journalists, in fact investigating journalist is a modern invention really, I mean journalism should be about investigating but people who do the hard work finding out things and encouraging whistle blowers and so on they are there. You’ve got people in the United States like Jeremy Scahill and Gareth Porter.Gareth Porter especially who writes only on the Internet, he is an excellent investigating journalist. So, you know, we exist, we are not dying off, we are always under threat, I suspect we always were.

What we’ve done always in the past is recognise that our greatest source has been a whistle blower, I mean the source of great scoops, great revelations, is not always but mostly someone from within, a sort of conscientious objector, Bradley Manning played that part with great distinction and courage. Snowden is an absolute exemplar of this and I suspect, in fact I know that he represents many others within, the so-called security establishment. The biggest threat is probably still WikiLeaks because it has provided a method by which leakers can leak also blowers can blow. It has a pretty moral principle behind it which Julien Assange has often expressed. So, I would regard them as part of a kind of a band of brothers and sisters if you like, journalists, whistle blowers. It is very interesting, one of the most interesting document which wikiLeaks leaked a few years ago from the Ministry of Defence in London was a document which I think entitled something like how to stop leaks and of course it was leaked, it described the biggest threats to all the wonderful things we hold here in the West, there were 3 major threats. The third threat was Russian spies, believe it or not, the second threat was terrorists but the major threats above all were investigative journalists.

FB: Coming back to the Middle East, you’ve reported on Palestine for many years. How difficult is it to report on Palestine and what do you make of channels such as the BBC calling for impartiality on the issue? Can a journalist be impartial when the situation is so unbalanced on the ground?

JP:  Well, they don’t mean impartial, it is just a term that has been drained of all its diction meaning, it has no meaning, impartial means partial actually, it means putting a cross as I described the Western point of view and being very very aware of that unless you put across on the Israeli point of view you are going to be in trouble within your own organisations, the BBC is a particular example, you know I made a film about this in which there were producers which I have known personally talked about being terrified of a call from the Israeli Embassy. The routine intimidation of the BBC has produced without too much difficulty I have to say, has produced a partiality that they describe as impartiality, it is a sort of a Orwellian expression, there is no impartiality. In the language used, so you have a BBC report in which you have two narratives in Palestine you know, the “Israeli – Palestine” conflict and so on. There is very very rarely reporting that is framed within the law. Say it was framed within the law there would be no question of how Palestine would come out and how Israel would come out because Israel is the most lawless state in the world and what it is doing in Palestine is entirely lawless. It’s never framed in terms of law, it’s never framed in terms of dare I say what is right or wrong; it is framed in terms of an equal conflict, which it is, of course not.

FB: You made a film called “Palestine is still the issue” in 2003, if you had to make one again today, what title would you give it and why?

JP: Well, the first film I made about Palestine was in 1974 and it was called “Palestine is still the issue”, the next film I made was in 2002 “Palestine is still the issue” and if I make one now it would be called “Palestine is still the issue” for the obvious reason.

FB: You mentioned words before, for journalists and for propaganda purposes from governments or mainstream media, how important are words? You talked about Orwellian words, it seems they can actually change the meaning of wars, they would call a “massacre” a “pacification”,”ethnic cleansing” becomes “moving borders” etc, can you tell us something about that?

JP: It comes down to much more basic that the word war. A war implies that there are two kind of more or less equal states or army facing each other. So going to war in Syria, having a war in Syria, you hear that time and time again, there is no war in Syria, there is a war going on in Syria but it is a civil war, but as far as the West is concerned there is no such things as going to war because apart from trying to defend itself, Syria will be attacked just as there were no war in Iraq. A war was created, a sectarian war that was the consequence of what was a massive attack and invasion. The same thing happened in 1991, I saw the state of the Iraqi army shortly before that and it was not equipped or able to defend itself or a country or whatever. Yes, it could go on an invade Kuwait but there was no real defence there. Again, that was not a war, they did not call it a war, they called it an invasion. So they are invasion, they are rapacious, they are aggressive, they are lawless.

In Vietnam, the world involvement was used, I remember that, in the Americans press. The US involvement in Vietnam you know is a useless word, it doesn’t really mean anything. In fact, it was the US invasion of South Vietnam, the country was meant to be defending, that term was almost never used.

FB: One of your last film that is called “The war you don’t see”, the people we often don’t see are the people on the ground, the people that are fighting imperialism, fighting for an intervention. Following our interview tonight, we are going to talk to a woman activist from Nablus, a Lady called Beesan Ramadan, what would be your message to people on the ground that are suffering from Western interventions?

JP: I think we all depend on people like that; we all draw inspiration from them because it is just remarkable to me and inspiring. The Palestinians keep going, those who attack them again and again, the Israelis and Americans and former Israelis, Americans, Europeans and so on. These constant attacks on Palestine have not even divided the Palestinians yet, I mean, yes, Gaza has been physically divided from the West Bank, the Occupied Territories but even that division between people in Gaza and people in the West Bank as well as class division, of course there are but the fact that the Palestinian people keep going and this is a spectacle I find very moving, that Palestinian children going to school all dressed up in their school uniforms making their way through rubbleoften having had disturbed nights and perhaps disturbing themselves by the attacks on them by the Israelis and so on.

So, because Palestine is still the issue, because unless there is a settlement, unless there is justice that is the key word, justice for the Palestinian people (when I said settlement I mean a just one), there is not going to be peace really in the region or in the broader world so we depend on the people there to keep going.

FB: Thanks John, thanks again.

John Pilger is an award winning Australian journalist and broadcaster/documentary maker primarily based in Britain.

Frank Barat is a human rights activist based in London, UK and is coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

________________________________________________________________________

Propaganda Dummies1

Mushroom 3

| Bradley Manning judge deliberates as experts predict ‘double-digit’ sentence!

Bradley Manning judge deliberates as experts predict ‘double-digit’ sentence ~  in Fort Meadetheguardian.com.

Manning unlikely to be given 90-year maximum, analysts say, but soldier can expect susbtantial prison term for leaking material.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning. Law professor Eugene Fidell said: ‘The minimum is zero. Other than that, it is totally down to the judge’s discretion.’ Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty

Bradley Manning, the US soldier responsible for the largest military leak in American history, can expect to face a substantial portion of his adult life in prison, legal experts say.

The army private, who was convicted last month of passing an enormoustrove of classified documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, is facing a maximum possible sentence of 90 years in jail when he is sentenced this week.

Few military lawyers believe the judge presiding the 25-year-old’s court martial will administer the maximum punishment, which would amount to a life sentence.

However, experts consulted by the Guardian said Manning could expect to be jailed for at least 10 years, and possibly two or three decades.

Manning was convicted of passing more than 700,000 documents to WikiLeaks. He was found guilty of 20 counts, several under the Espionage Act, but acquitted of the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy”.

The judge presiding over his court martial at Forte Meade military base, Colonel Denise Lind, who was due to begin deliberating on Monday, recently granted most elements of a defence motion that merged some of the 20 counts for which Manning has been found guilty, on grounds that they repeat each other.

Without it, Manning would have been facing a maximum jail term of 136 years in jail.

Predicting any sentence in a court martial is notoriously difficult. Unlike in civilian courts, where there are often federal tariffs or sentencing guidelines, nothing in the Manual for Courts-Martial – the rulebook for military trials – aids the judge in determining the appropriate punishment.

“All that exists is the maximum sentence,” said Eugene Fidell, a law professor at Yale. “And the minimum is zero. Other than that, it is totally down to the judge’s discretion.” He added that Manning was fortunate a judge would determine his jail-sentence. “A jury could do anything, they could really have thrown the book at him.”

What makes the Manning case particularly difficult to forecast is the scale and nature of his leaks, which are without precedent.

When he was stationed in Iraq in 2010, Manning passed 250,000 State Department cables and 470,000 Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield logs to Wikileaks, as well as other classified material.

The transparency website published material on its website and also shared documents with a consortium of news organisations led by the Guardian.

Fidell predicted Manning would receive a “double-digit” sentence, but said anything up to 20 years was also feasible. He said he would be “quite surprised” if Manning was jailed for longer than three decades.

Lind, who is expected to decide Manning’s sentence shortly, has given no clues about which way she might be leaning.

“The judge has a tremendous amount of discretion. She could sentence anything from a nominal time to 90 years,” said Liza Goitein, who co-directs the Brennan Center for Justice‘s Liberty and National Security Program.

“She has not really tipped her hand, in any way, either through any of the individual rulings or the verdict,” Goitein said. However, on Friday, in a series of written findings released after the prosecution finished their sentencing arguments, Lind provided a harsh summary of Manning’s actions.

“Manning’s conduct was of a heedless nature that made it actually and imminently dangerous to others,” Lind told the court. “His conduct was both wanton and reckless.”

The sentencing phase of the trial, which functions like a second, mini-trial, at which both defence and prosecution make their case for the appropriate punishment, concludes Monday.

In recent weeks, the soldier’s defence team tried to show that his judgment at the time he passed information to WikiLeaks was impaired by his fragile emotional state, as he struggled with his gender identity disorder in an unforgiving military culture.

In mitigation, the defence reveal how Manning’s senior officers missed a series of “red flags” that, the argued, should have prompted senior officers to revoke the soldier’s classified security access.

The prosecution faced a series of setbacks in its bid to establish the extent of damage caused by the leaks.

A military witness conceded there was no evidence individuals had been killed by enemy forces after having been named in the releases, while Lind, in a rare victory for the defence, limited the admissibility of evidence regarding the “chilling effects” Manning’s actions had on US diplomacy.

“From what I’ve read, the sentencing hearing went as well as it could have for Bradley Manning,” Gotein said. “In the open sessions, the government really struggled to show any material harm that was admissible.”

She and other experts who have watched the case unfold said Manning’s decision last week to show remorse for his actions is likely to aid his case for a more lenient punishment.

Manning surprised some observers when he read out a statement in court last Wednesday, expressing remorse and apologising for actions that “hurt the United States“.

“While it might have broken the hearts of his followers to hear him say he regretted he did what he did, that is exactly what he needed to do in order to cut down his sentence,” Goitein said. “Depending on the judge, it can be quite important for a defendant to show some remorse, and some appreciation of the wrongfulness of his actions. It could conceivably be significant.”

But Lind will have to decide whether she believes Manning is really contrite, and not merely apologising as a pragmatic bid for a shorter sentence.

Just six months ago, in February, when Manning admitted to leaking most of the classified material, he offered more of a defence of his actions. In a statement read out to the court, Manning spoke of his shock at the “delightful bloodlust” displayed by military personnel in a video of a 2007 attack by a US helicopter gunship in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters journalists.

At that time, he told the judge, he believed that releasing classified material to stimulate a debate about wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was “the right thing to do”.

Gotein declined to offer a firm prediction for Manning’s jail term, but added: ‘The charges are so serious, and there are so many of them, that is hard for me to see him getting away with less than 20 years.”

The 20-year marker has become something of an unofficial barometer for those closely following the case. If the prosecution had accepted Manning’s partial guilty plea back in February, he could have been sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison.

Some of Manning’s supporters say privately that any sentence short than 20 years will be considered something of a victory. However, that threshold is, compared to the history of other cases brought against government leakers, extraordinary.

Daniel Ellsberg, who before Manning was perhaps the best known government whistleblower, was charged under the Espionage Act for photocopying documents about America’s involvement in Vietnam, saw the case against him collapse in 1973.

The Obama administration has overseen a much-criticised clampdown on leakers and the journalists they provide information to, although so far only a small number have been convicted, and sentences have been relatively short.

Shamai K Leibowitz, who gave secret FBI transcripts of a conversation recorded at the Israeli embassy to a blogger, was sentenced to 20 months in prison after admitting disclosing classified information.

John Kiriakou, who pleaded guilty last year to disclosing classified information about the government’s use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique, was sentenced to 30 months.

But no other leaker in US history is known to have released anything like the amount of classified information as Manning.

Jesselyn Radack, from the Government Accountability Project, which works with whistleblowers, said her personal view was that the three years Manning has already served in detention should be enough, and that he should be let free.

Radack, a former Justice Department whistleblower, was never prosecuted, despite a 10-year investigation into information she passed to Newsweek about an American who was interrogated after being captured in Afghanistan.

She said the Manning prosecution was a “show trial”, and part of a wider effort by the Obama administration to discourage officials from passing information to journalists.

She said she would be “happily stunned” if Manning was given fewer than 20 years, a sentence that would be viewed as a “victory of sorts”.

“The US government wants to send out a message,” Radack said. “You choose your conscience over not only your career, but your very freedom.”

Whatever sentence Manning receives, it will be reduced by the more than three years because of the time he has already spent in custody since his arrest in May 2010.

A further 112 days will be deducted as part of a pre-trial ruling in which Lind compensated Manning for the excessively harsh treatment he endured at the Quantico marine base in Virginia between July 2010 and April 2011.

He is also entitled to an automatic appeal to the army court of criminal appeals, which could take place within about six months of his sentencing.

Still, he is probably preparing himself for the possibility that he might not leave prison before he is an old man.

The recent disclosures of top-secret documents about the National Security Agency, released by whistleblower Edward Snowden, may complicate matters.

Fidell said there is now growing pressure to send a message that dissuades future “copycat leakers”.

“Having the Snowden case happen in this way is very poor timing for private Manning,” he said. “I’m sure the judge reads newspapers. The existence of the Snowden case, I think, raises the stakes.”

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BradM1

| Manning, Snowden + the gods of war: Don’t believe the hype!

The gods of war: don’t believe the hype ~ Neil Harrison, COUNTERFIRE.

The US empire’s illusion of benign omnipotence has been broken by the heroic acts of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden writes Neil Harrison.

 

In god we trust

 

The grotesque climax to the manifest destiny dream. Invisible in the sky, malevolent and capricious, an Old Testament-style god rains arbitrary, brutal fate upon unsuspecting civilians.

On that Baghdad street, on that day, god existed. The Reuters journalist and his driver, gunned down for carrying an extended camera lens; the father killed taking his children to school; his children – injured and forced to witness their father’s abject death. For all of these people and more, god existed that day and his name was America.

 

Bradley ManningBradley Manning

Of course, this was the footage which finally convinced the troubled Private Bradley Manning to begin a campaign of, in his own words, “shattering the fantasy.” Thanks to Manning, no serious observer of this video, or of USA foreign policy in general, could now continue to indulge in the fantasy of America as the world’s friendly policeman, not without excercising some serious double-think. Especially not while listening to the Apache helicopter‘s crew gloat and laugh as they kill and maim innocents (it somehow gets worse the more you see it).

 

Arguably, the video was the most important thing that Bradley Manning leaked before his arrest and incarceration. Footage of other Apache helicopter attacks in Iraq were already available on Youtube, transcripts from the attack had already been printed elsewhere in a book and the world already knew that the Reuters journalists had been killed by American forces, but images and sounds have a visceral impact which mere words often lack. A worldwide, large-scale audience was, for this particular video, guaranteed by the involvement of Wikileaks – Julian Assange‘s flair for understated drama publicly piled up embarassment for the US military. Headline status meant that millions could now no longer continue with the ‘fantasy’ anymore than they could ‘unsee’ the footage. Therefore, by the time Manning’s subsequent leaks (including the war logs and the notorious diplomatic cables) came to light, they were being registered by a global public already primed with enlightened eyes and a deep sense of scepticism.

The convergence of a multitude of factors provided Manning with motive and opportunity to inflict one of the biggest clusterfucks in the American god-machine’s history of propaganda war- US government paranoia post 9/11 meant that, due to their insistence on inter-department ‘sharing,’ anyone with clearance could access virtually all government information. Manning’s genius with computers allowed him to trawl for his quarry with ease. Moreover, he felt desperately isolated. In the Mesopotamian desert, thousands of miles from home, among unsympathetic colleagues – it was far from the perfect situation for a very young man suffering deep personal turmoil. Most importantly of all, however, and the thing we should remember above all else, is that Private Bradley Manning cared.

He cared that he may have been complicit in a regime which employed (or contracted out) torture, “I was actively involved in something that I was completely against…” He cared that his fellow Americans were deliberately being kept ignorant of the true nature of their government’s foreign policy, I want people to see the truth…without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public. Manning cared enough to risk pissing off a god.

 

Edward SnowdenEdward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower. Photograph: Guardian

As this week’s verdict of guilty on twenty counts (though, symbolically, not ‘aiding the enemy,’ which begs the question – if no ‘enemy’ was ‘aided’ where the hell is the crime?) could potentially result in over 130 years jail time for him, and bearing in mind the dreadful incarceration he has already endured, this god is at pains to ensure few follow suit.

 

The American god-machine sent its son to the Middle-east. Once there, he made a stand for truth and human compassion. For his sacrifice he is now being symbolically martyred. Does this sound familiar? You would be forgiven for finding these comparisons somewhat contrived (put it down to artistic licence). However, before dismissing the notion entirely, consider a couple of further examples.

Firstly, thanks to the actions of another brave whistleblower, Edward Snowden, we now know something of American pretensions to omnipotence. America’s National Security Agency, it is becoming ever more apparent, are now able to read private emails and listen in on telephone conversations not only in the US. but across the globe. For reasons of security, in order to protect you, the NSA needs to be able to hear your weekly takeaway order. America-god knows your favourite pizza toppings. Feel safer?

Finally, there exists the reality of ritual appeasement. In Slavoj Zizek‘s The Year of Dreaming Dangerouslyhe describes how the US must:

‘…suck up a daily influx of one billion dollars from other nations to pay for its consumption and is, as such, the universal Keynesian consumer that keeps the world economy running. (So much for the anti-Keynesian economic ideology that seems to predominate today!) This influx, which is effectively like the tithe paid to Rome in antiquity (or the gifts sacrificed to the Minotaur by the Ancient Greeks), relies on a complex economic mechanism: the US is “trusted” as the safe and stable center, so that all the others, from the oil-producing Arab countries to Western Europe and Japan, and now even the Chinese, invest their surplus profits in the US. Since this trust is primarily ideological and military, not economic, the problem for the US is how to justify its imperial role – it needs a permanent state of war, thus the “war on terror,” offering itself as the universal protector of all other “normal” (not “rogue”) states.'[1]

Herein lies the truth of the matter. America is not a god, it simply wears this diguise of ‘justification,’ therefore maintaining the inflated faux-capacity, to attempt to behave like one. In truth, the US is becoming increasingly desperate to appease and control its own economic god.

But who benefits from this global arrangement? The American people? Maybe we should ask the citizens of Detroit that one?

If we in the ‘liberal’ West really are benefitting from this international tithe-paying/war-making economic regime, then at least now, thanks to Manning and Snowden, we can appreciate the true cost it incurs. Perhaps we may yet glimpse our own future therein, because the only people who have ever genuinely benefitted, who will ever benefit, from the system Zizek describes, are in a tiny and exclusive minority. In the words of Allen Ginsberg, they are:

The Secret,

The Drunk,

The Brutal,

The Dirty Rich.

Describing the way in which “emancipatory politics,” such as socialism or feminism, work “by reaching for a future,” Terry Eagleton invokes [2] a useful image:

“[They insert] the thin end of the wedge of the future into the heart of the present. They represent a bridge between present and future , a point where the two intersect.”

This is exactly what Manning and Snowden have achieved. They have given us a brief view of a future in which no state can be unaccountable for its actions, however clandestine, however obscure its motives – not even the most powerful on Earth.

Our immediate task for the future is to continue forcing the ‘wedge,’ to ensure that the illusion continues to be shattered. Let no motive of those who would make war go uninterogated. Let no action of those who hoard wealth at the expense of the pain, suffering and even the lives of others go unchallenged. This is how best to honour the bravery and sacrifices of Manning, Snowden and others like them. This is how we will display our solidarity with them as they face uncertain futures. This is how we will consign the gods to history.

Notes

[1] Slavoj Zizek, The Year of Dreaming Dangerously, p. 10

[2] Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right p. 69

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BradM1

| Bradley Manning cleared of ‘aiding the enemy’ but guilty of most other charges!

Bradley Manning cleared of ‘aiding the enemy’ but guilty of most other charges ~  at Fort Meade, theguardian.com.

• Pfc. Manning convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations
Acquitted of most serious ‘aiding the enemy’ charge
• Army private faces maximum jail sentence of 130 years

Bradley Manning at Fort Meade

Bradley Manning has already spent 1,157 days in detention since his arrest in May 2010. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Bradley Manning, the source of the massive WikiLeaks trove of secret disclosures, faces a possible maximum sentence of more than 130 years in military jail after he was convicted of most charges on which he stood trial.

Colonel Denise Lind, the military judge presiding over the court martial of the US soldier, delivered her verdict in curt and pointed language. “Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty,” she repeated over and over, as the reality of a prolonged prison sentence for Manning – on top of the three years he has already spent in detention – dawned.

The one ray of light in an otherwise bleak outcome for Manning was that he was found not guilty of the single most serious charge against him – that he knowingly “aided the enemy”, in practice al-Qaida, by disclosing information to the WikiLeaks website that in turn made it accessible to all users including enemy groups.

Lind’s decision to avoid setting a precedent by applying the swingeing “aiding the enemy” charge to an official leaker will invoke a sigh of relief from news organisations and civil liberties groups who had feared a guilty verdict would send a chill across public interest journalism.

The judge also found Manning not guilty of having leaked an encrypted copy of a video of a US air strike in the Farah province of Aghanistan in which many civilians died. Manning’s defence team had argued vociferously that he was not the source of this video, though the soldier did admit to later disclosure of an unencrypted version of the video and related documents.

Lind also accepted Manning’s version of several of the key dates in the WikiLeaks disclosures, and took some of the edge from other less serious charges. But the overriding toughness of the verdict remains: the soldier was found guilty in their entirety of 17 out of the 22 counts against him, and of an amended version of four others.

Manning was also found guilty of “wrongfully and wantonly” causing to be published on the internet intelligence belonging to the US, “having knowledge that intelligence published on the internet is accesible to the enemy”. That guilty ruling could still have widest ramifications for news organisations working on investigations relating to US national security.

The verdict was condemned by human rights campaigners. Amnesty International’s senior director of international law and policy, Widney Brown, said: “The government’s priorities are upside down. The US government has refused to investigate credible allegations of torture and other crimes under international law despite overwhelming evidence.

“Yet they decided to prosecute Manning who it seems was trying to do the right thing – reveal credible evidence of unlawful behaviour by the government. You investigate and prosecute those who destroy the credibility of the government by engaging in acts such as torture which are prohibited under the US Constitution and in international law.”

Ben Wizner, of the American Civil LIberties Union, said: “While we’re relieved that Mr Manning was acquitted of the most dangerous charge, the ACLU has long held the view that leaks to the press in the public interest should not be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

“Since he already pleaded guilty to charges of leaking information – which carry significant punishment – it seems clear that the government was seeking to intimidate anyone who might consider revealing valuable information in the future.”

In a statement to the Guardian, Manning’s family expressed “deep thanks” to his civilian lawyer, David Coombs, who has worked on the case for three years. They added: “While we are obviously disappointed in today’s verdicts, we are happy that Judge Lind agreed with us that Brad never intended to help America’s enemies in any way. Brad loves his country and was proud to wear its uniform.”

Once the counts are added up, the prospects for the Manning are bleak. Barring reduction of sentence for mitigation, which becomes the subject of another mini-trial dedicated to sentencing that starts tomorrow, Manning will face a substantial chunk of his adult life in military custody.

He has already spent 1,157 days in detention since his arrest in May 2010 – most recently in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas – which will be deducted from his eventual sentence.

A further 112 days will be taken off the sentence as part of a pre-trial ruling in which Lind compensated him for the excessively harsh treatment he endured at the Quantico marine base in Virginia between July 2010 and April 2011. He was kept on suicide watch for long stretches despite expert opinion from military psychiatrists who deemed him to be at low risk of self-harm, and at one point was forced to strip naked at night in conditions that the UN denounced as a form of torture.

Lind has indicated that she will go straight into the sentencing phase of the trial, in which both defence and prosecution lawyers will call new witnesses. This is being seen as the critical stage of the trial for Manning’s defence: the soldier admitted months ago to being the source of the WikiLeaks disclosures, and much of the defence strategy has been focused on attempting to reduce his sentence through mitigation.

With that in mind, the soldier’s main counsel, David Coombs, is likely to present evidence during the sentencing phase that Manning was in a fragile emotional state at the time he began leaking and was struggling with issues over his sexuality. In pre-trial hearings, the defence has argued that despite his at times erratic behaviour, the accused was offered very little support or counselling from his superiors at Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad.

The outcome will now be pored over by government agencies, lawyers, journalists and civil liberties groups for its implications for whistleblowing, investigative reporting and the guarding of state secrets in the digital age. By passing to WikiLeaks more than 700,000 documents, Manning became the first mass digital leaker in history, opening a whole new chapter in the age-old tug-of-war between government secrecy and the public’s right to information in a democracy.

Among those who will also be closely analysing the verdict are Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has disclosed the existence of secret government dragnets of the phone records of millions of Americans, who has indicated that the treatment of Manning was one reason for his decision to seek asylum in another country rather than face similar aggressive prosecution in America. The British government will also be dissecting the courtroom results after the Guardian disclosed that Manning is a joint British American citizen.

Another party that will be intimately engaged with the verdict is WikiLeaks, and its founder, Julian Assange. They have been the subject of a secret grand jury investigation in Virginia that has been looking into whether to prosecute them for their role in the Manning disclosures.

WikiLeaks and Assange were mentioned repeatedly during the trial by the US government which tried to prove that the anti-secrecy organisation had directly steered Manning in his leaking activities, an allegation strongly denied by the accused. Prosecutors drew heavily on still classified web conversations between Manning and an individual going by the name of “Press Association”, whom the government alleges was Assange.

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Whistleblowing B

white-houseA

| WE STEAL SECRETS: ALEX GIBNEY, WIKILEAKS & JULIAN ASSANGE!

WE STEAL SECRETS: ALEX GIBNEY, WIKILEAKS & JULIAN ASSANGE ~

Robert Manne,  THE MONTHLY 2013.

 

Medium length read 3500 words

Alex Gibney is one of America’s most celebrated and respected documentary film-makers. His major work about Julian AssangeWe Steal Secrets: The story of WikiLeaks, has just been released, presumably to coincide with Bradley Manning’s trial for treason before an American military court. 

Nothing concerning Assange is straightforward. Even before the film’s release a wild war of words broke out between WikiLeaks and Gibney. WikiLeaks accused Gibney of bias, ignorance and character assassination. To prove its point it published a detailed, annotated version of the film script, based on an audio recording. In response, Gibney has accused Assange of paranoia, a self-destructive desire for control and an inability to accept even legitimate criticism. Gibney’s powerful, accomplished and vivid film will for some time help shape opinion, especially among those members of the liberal Left on whom Assange now most relies. So in the conflict between them, it matters who is right.

Stripped of detail, most films tell a simple moral tale. Gibney’s goes like this. As a teenager, Assange is an audacious, underground computer hacker. Eventually, he is convicted and punished lightly. At this time, Assange is a humanitarian, anarchist revolutionary. He is interested in “crushing bastards”, a David determined to smite Goliath. In his 30s, he creates a whistleblower organisation, WikiLeaks, to do so. Its first really important success is the exposure of a banking scandal in Iceland.

In Iraq, a junior intelligence analyst, Bradley Manning, becomes aware of WikiLeaks. Manning is struggling with a personal crisis of gender identity. In the US intelligence environment after September 11, the “need-to-know” rule about access to classified information has been replaced by “need-to-share”. As a result, Manning is in possession of massive amounts of raw intelligence data. Some of the things he sees shock him. In his unstable state, he secretly passes hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, perhaps because of Assange’s persuasive powers. Abandoned by Assange, Manning unburdens his tormented soul and speaks of his crime in online chats with a supposed pro-WikiLeaks hacker, Adrian Lamo. Painfully torn between loyalty to the US and loyalty to Manning, Lamo chooses the US – and fame. Manning is arrested and then treated shamefully. The film’s sympathies are with him. He is somewhat ambiguously a hero and altogether unambiguously a victim.

The film’s sympathies, we discover halfway through, are not with Assange. In publishing Manning’s material about American war crimes he is no doubt brave, perhaps crazy-brave, but he is also many other things. One accusation follows another. Assange, we are told, lives in a digital world where real human beings do not matter. In favouring the release of the unredacted Afghan war logs he is indifferent to whether the Afghan sources mentioned in them live or die. They are, after all, collaborators. The Manning leaks turn Assange into a global star. He enjoys this newfound celebrity rather too much. We see him being made up for a television appearance and admiring photographs of himself in the press. In Sweden he has sex with two women. When they go to the police with complaints about coercion or a deliberately torn condom, he claims he is the victim of a “smear campaign” or, possibly, a CIA “honey trap” operation. Assange fantasises tiresomely about secret surveillance of himself. He exaggerates or even imagines a “secret plot” to extradite him to the US on charges of espionage. This provides his excuse for fighting extradition to Sweden to face the music and then for seeking political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

In Gibney’s moral tale, Assange may deserve praise for publishing Manning’s revelations. His enemies in the US administration and on the ideological Right may have used inflammatory rhetoric about cyber-terrorism or even assassination against him. But it is his character flaws that have tarnished his achievements and destroyed his organisation. Assange believes the purity of his motives justifies his many ruthless and dishonest actions. Even worse, under his leadership WikiLeaks as an organisation has become a mirror image of those it once opposed – secretive, authoritarian, intolerant, unjust.

This conclusion, as reached in We Steal Secrets, rests on a false foundation: that Assange’s present fears about extradition to the US are groundless or grossly exaggerated. We are told in a single sentence that Assange was once investigated by the US Department of Justice on possible espionage charges, and are later reminded that after two years no charges had been filed. This misunderstanding distorts almost everything we learn from the moment Julian Assange’s troubles commence, following WikiLeaks’ publication of the Bradley Manning material. In November 2010 the US Attorney-General, Eric Holder, announced a major criminal investigation into WikiLeaks. In Virginia a grand jury was empanelled. According to a leaked secret email from a former deputy chief of counterterrorism inside the State Department’s security service, in February 2011 a sealed indictment against Assange was issued. Two years later, on 26 March 2013, the US Attorney’s office for the eastern district of Virginia confirmed that the grand jury investigation “remains ongoing”.

No one could tell from watching We Steal Secrets that, ever since the empanelling of the grand jury, Assange has had excellent reason to believe that if extradited to the United States he will be in danger of spending the remainder of his life in one of its prisons. Assange’s fears are not fanciful, as Gibney suggests, but genuine and well founded.

Diminishing Assange’s fears is problematic for another reason. Assange challenged the world’s most powerful state by publishing the material Manning sent to WikiLeaks. Since then, he has relied upon a team of legal advisers, the unconditional loyalty of his tight circle of insiders, and his own high-level political skills to avoid extradition and its consequences. Not recognising the peril that Assange faces, and the steps he has taken to resist it, systematically distorts Gibney’s analysis of his main subject – the history of WikiLeaks over the last two and a half years.

Gibney might have understood this better if Assange had been willing to be interviewed. He was not. Two stories exist about the failure of their protracted negotiation. In We Steal Secrets Gibney tells us that Assange informed him that $1 million was the going rate for an interview, leading his audience to believe that money was a principal reason for Assange’s non-participation. Gibney also tells us that Assange suggested he might co-operate if Gibney acted as a spy reporting on his interview subjects. WikiLeaks’ annotations to the script provide an alternative version of the negotiation. Assange acknowledges that in their talks he told Gibney about the £800,000 he had once been offered by the BBC. In the circumstance, this was a careless boast but not a demand for payment. In the course of their conversations, Gibney told Assange about his interviews with high-ranking US officials, like Michael Hayden, the former CIA director. Assange admits that he told Gibney of his interest in learning about their plans for his extradition and trial. This was an understandable if foolish suggestion. Yet Gibney fails to tell his audience about the main reason for Assange’s unwillingness to be interviewed. Assange was appalled at the misrepresentations of previous documentaries about him and WikiLeaks. They were not just galling but also dangerous. He and his supporters faced serious legal and political risk.

To tell the inside story of WikiLeaks without interviewing Assange or any of his loyal supporters, Gibney was forced to rely on some of the insiders who have either been dismissed from WikiLeaks, like the German Daniel Domscheit-Berg, or who have defected, like James Ball, the young Englishman. Assange is a charismatic leader of a besieged organisation. It cannot have been easy for Domscheit-Berg or Ball to part company with Assange gracefully or without guilt. For this reason, the danger of relying uncritically on such witnesses ought to have been obvious. The evidence ofWe Steal Secrets suggests that for Gibney it was not.

Take the evidence of James Ball, who describes to Gibney his reaction to being asked by Assange to sign a non-disclosure agreement. “I found this a little awkward – being asked by a transparency organisation to sign exactly the kind of document used to silence whistleblowers around the world. It seemed pretty troubling and so I refused.” It is an apparently telling judgement. There are, however, problems with it. It is an oversimplification to call WikiLeaks a transparency organisation. WikiLeaks is based on the idea of seeking to expose corruption by guaranteeing its sources not transparency but absolute anonymity. This is one reason non-disclosure agreements might be needed. Nor is it reasonable to expect transparency from a tiny organisation under threat from an almighty state. Even more obviously, as Assange has proven, Ball did in fact sign a first non-disclosure agreement, on 23 November 2010. Ball also claims, damagingly, that Assange did not distinguish between donations to WikiLeaks and to his Swedish legal defence. “No one knows now whether money going to WikiLeaks is going to Julian or elsewhere.” As WikiLeaks shows in its annotations, donors were offered a clear choice. “You can help support Julian’s defence fund and/or contribute to WikiLeaks.” Donations were audited by a firm of accountants.

Even more importantly, in the final minutes of the film, Gibney relies uncritically on the interpretative judgements of those insiders who have fallen out with Assange. It is Domscheit-Berg who argues that “WikiLeaks has become what it detests and what it actually tried to rid the world of.” And it is James Ball who identifies what is called “‘noble cause corruption’; essentially you do things which, if anyone else did [them], you would recognise aren’t OK … but because you know you’re a good guy, it’s different for you.” These statements, being partly defensive and self-justificatory, are hardly objective and authoritative.

Assange’s spectacular fallings-out have not only been with former WikiLeaks insiders. Almost as bruising were those with some of his mainstream media partners at the New York Times and the Guardian. Gibney does not pretend to explain why these explosions occurred. He allows the Australian journalist Mark Davis to record the hypocrisy and condescension of the New York Times, which first published WikiLeaks’ material and then ridiculed Assange before abandoning him to his fate. More questionably, it is one of Assange’s most implacable enemies, Nick Davies of the Guardian, the hero of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, who makes some of the film’s most damaging charges. On screen, Davies bristles with aggression towards Assange. He is the film’s most important witness regarding Assange’s supposed indifference to the fate of the Afghan sources named in the US war logs. In this dispute between Davies and Assange, the evidence is mixed. In We Steal Secrets Davies claims that Assange told him in a personal conversation that if Afghans were collaborators with the Americans they deserved to die. Assange has always denied using such words, though he uses as his defence the eyewitness testimony of a Der Spiegel journalist concerning a quite different occasion, a dinner conversation involving a second detested Guardianjournalist, David Leigh. In another instance regarding the Afghan-indifference accusation, Assange is on firmer ground. Davies tells Gibney of his “amazement” when he heard Assange tell journalists at a press conference on 25 July 2010 about his harm minimisation strategy. “Julian had no harm minimisation in place.” The WikiLeaks annotations quote from an article published in the Guardian that very morning, in part written by Davies, which outlined clearly WikiLeaks’ strategy for harm minimisation. Almost everyone agrees that Assange’s first impulse – to publish the Afghan war logs unredacted – was wrong. But it was a lesson he learnt and never consciously repeated.

There are also legitimate questions about the film’s account of the Swedish sexual allegations. Some arise from the way Gibney has edited material from contemporary interviews with Assange. In one, Assange is shown to be saying: “I have never said this is a honey trap. I have never said it’s not a honey trap.” And shortly after: “There are powerful interests that have incentives to promote these smears.” Here is a fuller version of the interview Gibney draws upon:

Assange: I have also never criticised these women. We don’t know precisely what pressures they have been under, exactly. There are powerful interests that have incentives to promote these smears. That doesn’t mean that they got in there in the very beginning and fabricated them.

Interviewer: So you’re not suggesting this was a honey trap?

Assange: I have never said that this is a honey trap.

Interviewer: You don’t believe it?

Assange: I have never said it’s not a honey trap. I’m not accusing anyone until I have proof.

The differences between the original interview and the comments seen on screen are subtle but significant. Gibney’s misleading edit underpins the scathing assessment by Davies that follows directly and which carries the film’s final interpretative weight: “What Julian did was to start the little snowball rolling down the hill, that this was some kind of conspiracy.” Davies is hardly an objective witness on this matter. Responsible for the first analysis in the British press of the leaked Swedish police report concerning the allegations, his competence and fair-mindedness were immediately challenged by Assange and his supporters. One of his most acerbic critics was Guy Rundle, in an article in this magazine. Several months after its publication, a still-enraged Davies threw a glass of wine in Rundle’s face.

Far more importantly, Gibney misleads his audience about the reason Assange has fought so fiercely to avoid extradition to Sweden. The interpretation he favours is best expressed by one of Assange’s Swedish accusers, Anna Ardin: “He has locked himself up to avoid coming to Sweden to answer a few pretty simple questions.” This is utterly unconvincing. There is direct evidence that the US is delaying action until the conclusion of the Swedish cases. Indeed, Assange’s lawyers believe that US legal authorities are compelled to wait for decisions on both the request for extradition from Britain and the hearing in Sweden of possible charges before moving on Assange. Those interested can find their detailed reasoning in the tightly argued and cogent document, ‘Extraditing Assange’. In these circumstances Assange is, to put it mildly, right to be cautious. One false move might earn him a lifetime in jail. In We Steal Secrets, Gibney breezily ignores all this. He claims rather that “members of Assange’s legal team admitted that it would be easier for the United States to extradite Assange from Britain.” At best, this is a vast oversimplification. Gibney relies here on an interview fragment from Baroness Helena Kennedy, who has since told Assange that she has been misrepresented.

The wronged party in We Steal Secrets is Bradley Manning. Once more, however, there are problems about the way Gibney presents the crucial evidence. There are only two direct sources for Manning’s state of mind at the moment of his fateful decision to pass on to WikiLeaks hundreds of thousands of military and diplomatic documents: his confessional chat logs with Adrian Lamo, where the emphasis is on his crisis of gender identity, and his statement before the military court at Fort Meade on 28 February this year, in which he outlines lucidly the political reasons for his disillusionment with his country’s behaviour and decision. Because Gibney relies exclusively on the confessional chat logs, his audience is led to believe that it was profound psychological breakdown rather than sincerely held political principle that best explains Manning’s motives. Although Assange and many of his supporters argue that interest in Manning’s psychic state is prurient or irrelevant to Gibney’s story, and that Manning should be seen as nothing but a principled war crimes whistleblower, with Manning, at the moment of his critical decision, the personal and the political were self-evidently and inscrutably entangled. Nonetheless it seems wrong and puzzling for Gibney to omit the best evidence we have of Manning’s political motivation. Nor can Gibney argue that Manning’s testimony came too late to be included. One small detail in the film – Manning’s claim that he approached both the Washington Post and the New York Times before approaching WikiLeaks – proves that Gibney had read Manning’s statement to the court in time.

At its conclusion, We Steal Secrets tries to drive a moral wedge between Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. James Ball suggests that Manning turned to his betrayer, Lamo, only because he was abandoned by WikiLeaks. This is simply untrue. In his statement to the court, Manning spoke about the many long and enjoyable conversations he had with his contact at WikiLeaks, whom he called “Nathaniel”. In this testimony Manning does not identify “Nathaniel”. The Lamo chat logs suggest that almost certainly he was Assange. Further to Ball, Assange’s most bitter enemy, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, offers a contrast between the situations facing Assange and Manning: “We must get away from this understanding that we see Julian as the saviour, as some noble guru, as some new hero or some new pop star or whatever that’s going to change all of it … Bradley Manning is the courageous guy. He is the one that took all the risk and, in the end, now is suffering.”

In the moral economy of We Steal Secrets, Domscheit-Berg’s words come close to serving as a final judgement. They also involve several telling distortions. Assange and Manning have been loyal to each other throughout what is their mutual crisis. The risks facing Assange are very real, and if there is one quality in him that cannot possibly be doubted, it is his quite extraordinary courage.

Shortly before this film was released, the New Yorker launched a whistleblower drop-box coded by another young electronic freedom fighter, Aaron Swartz, who earlier this year took his life rather than face trial following a grand jury indictment for illegally downloading large numbers of academic articles. And, at the time of writing, the world learnt that the American government had been secretly collecting the phone, email and text records of its citizenry, a practice that Al Gore described as “obscenely outrageous”. Julian Assange is the fearless and imaginative inventor of a political means by which individuals in the electronic age can expose the encroachment and corruption of state and corporate power. For this reason, he seems to me to deserve far more sympathy and credit than is found in Alex Gibney’s superficially impressive but ultimately myopic film.

Robert Manne appears in We Steal Secrets, having written a major profile of Julian Assange for this magazine in 2011.

Robert Manne's picture

Robert Manne

Robert Manne is a professor of politics at La Trobe University and has twice been voted Australia’s leading public intellectual. He is the author ofLeft, Right, Left: Political Essays, 1977-2005 and Making Trouble. Visit hisblog. See also The Stolen Generations – a documentary collection

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Manning Rationale

Manning Tragedy

| Exceptional Hypocrisy: The Good Germans in Government!

“Treason is a word that dictators love to hurl at dissidents, and when both Cheney and Feinstein bring it back into favor, you know that courageous whistle-blowers like Snowden are not the enemy.”

What a disgrace. The U.S. government, cheered on by much of the media, launches an international manhunt to capture a young American whose crime is that he dared challenge the excess of state power. Read the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and tell me that Edward Snowden is not a hero in the mold of those who founded this republic. Check out the Nuremberg war crime trials and ponder our current contempt for the importance of individual conscience as a civic obligation.

Yes, Snowden has admitted that he violated the terms of his employment at Booz Allen Hamilton, which has the power to grant security clearances as well as profiting mightily from spying on the American taxpayers who pay to be spied on without ever being told that is where their tax dollars are going. Snowden violated the law in the same way that Daniel Ellsberg did when, as a RAND Corporation employee, he leaked the damning Pentagon Papers study of the Vietnam War that the taxpayers had paid for but were not allowed to read. 

In both instances, violating a government order was mandated by the principle that the United States trumpeted before the world in the Nuremberg war crime trials of German officers and officials. As Principle IV of what came to be known as the Nuremberg Code states: “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

That is a heavy obligation, and the question we should be asking is not why do folks like Ellsberg, Snowden and Bradley Manning do the right thing, but rather why aren’t we bringing charges against the many others with access to such damning data of government malfeasance who remain silent?

Is there an international manhunt being organized to bring to justice Dick Cheney, the then-vice president who seized upon the pain and fear of 9/11 to make lying to the public the bedrock of American foreign policy? This traitor to the central integrity of a representative democracy dares condemn Snowden as a “traitor” and suggest that he is a spy for China because he took temporary refuge in Hong Kong.

The Chinese government, which incidentally does much to finance our massive military budget, was embarrassed by the example of Snowden and was quick to send him on his way. Not so ordinary folk in Hong Kong, who clearly demonstrated their support of the man as an exponent of individual conscience. 

So too did Albert Ho, who volunteered his considerable legal skills in support of Snowden, risking the ire of Hong Kong officials. Ho, whom The New York Times describes as “a longtime campaigner for full democracy [in Hong Kong], to the irritation of government leaders of the territory,” is an example of the true democrats around the world who support Snowden, contradicting Cheney’s smear.

But U.S. Democrats have also been quick to join the shoot-the-messenger craze, ignoring the immense significance of Snowden’s revelations. Take Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. Fool me once and shame on her, fool me dozens of times, as Feinstein has, and I feel like a blithering idiot having voted for her. After years of covering up for the intelligence bureaucracy, Feinstein is now chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and clearly for some time has been in a position to know the inconvenient truths that Snowden and others before him have revealed.

Did she know that the NSA had granted Booz Allen Hamilton such extensive access to our telephone and Internet records? Did she grasp that the revolving door between Booz Allen and the NSA meant that this was a double-dealing process involving high officials swapping out between the government and the war profiteers? Did she know that the security system administered by Booz Allen was so lax that young Snowden was given vast access to what she now feels was very sensitive data? Or that private companies like Booz Allen were able to hand out “top security” clearances to their employees, and that there now are 1.4 million Americans with that status?

As with her past cover-ups of government lying going back to the phony weapons of mass destruction claims made to justify the Iraq War, Feinstein, like so many in the government, specializes in plausible deniability. She smugly assumes the stance of the all-knowing expert on claimed intelligence success while pretending to be shocked at the egregious failures. She claims not to have known of the extent of the invasion of our privacy and at the same time says she is assured that the information gained “has disrupted plots, prevented terrorist attacks. …” If so, why did she not come clean with the American public and say this is what we are doing to you and why?

Instead, Feinstein failed horribly in the central obligation of a public servant to inform the public and now serves as prosecutor, judge and jury in convicting Snowden hours after his name was in the news: “He violated the oath, he violated the law. It’s treason,” she said.

Treason is a word that dictators love to hurl at dissidents, and when both Cheney and Feinstein bring it back into favor, you know that courageous whistle-blowers like Snowden are not the enemy.

Click here to check out Robert Scheer’s new book,“The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street.”

Keep up with Robert Scheer’s latest columns, interviews, tour dates and more at www.truthdig.com/robert_scheer.

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MAN FREE

SshhIsrael