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NYT ‘bounties’ non-story shows US/UK media has got so used to blaming Russia, it’s now doing it out of habit

By Paul Robinson | RT | April 20, 2021

As holes predictably appear in claims that Russia paid the Taliban to kill American soldiers, questions arise as to why such erroneous stories keep appearing in the American press. Domestic US politics provide part of the answer.

“A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories.” So ran a headline in the New York Times in August 2016. If it were only a Russian phenomenon, the world would be a much better place. Alas, the Times is far from immune from spreading “false stories” itself. From Walter Duranty’s reporting from the Soviet Union, through Judith Miller’s articles on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, up to its coverage of accusations that US President Donald Trump had colluded with the Russian government, The New York Times has had its fair share of “fake news” experiences.

“A little tiny bit flat footed,” was how the Times executive editor Dean Baquet described the newspaper when the Mueller investigation failed to find Trump guilty of collusion. “I mean, that’s what happens when a story looks a certain way for two years. Right?” added Baquet.

You have to feel a bit for him. He really believed in collusion. In his eyes, it did “look a certain way.” It was rather embarrassing when he turned out to be completely wrong.

The New York Times’ iffy relationship with reality is back in the news today. US presidential spokesperson Jen Psaki admitted that the US intelligence community was not at all convinced by accusations first aired in the Times that the Russian government had paid bounties to the Taliban in Afghanistan to kill American soldiers. Rather, it had only “low to moderate confidence” that the story was true. Psaki explained:

“The reason that they have low to moderate confidence in this judgment is in part because it relies on detainee reporting, and due to the challenging environment and also due to the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan. So it’s challenging to gather this intelligence and this data.”

The accusation against Russia appeared in The New York Times in June last year. The Times then followed up with additional stories on the same topic. “Afghan Contractor Handed Out Russian Cash to Kill Americans, Official Say,”claimed the headline of a second article. “How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy,” read the headline of a third.

Commentators soon pointed out problems. While the CIA had moderate faith in the claim, the National Security Agency didn’t. In any case, the primary sources of information were Afghan prisoners who hadn’t themselves been involved in the alleged transaction. Their claims needed to be treated with a fair degree of caution.

Others pointed out that the story didn’t make any sense from a Russian point of view. The Russian government values the stability of Afghanistan, and had consistently supported both the Afghan government and the US military presence there. There was no obvious motive for killing Americans.

Furthermore, it’s not as if the Taliban needed to be incentivised to fight America. They were already killing as many Americans as they were able to. Paying them to do what they were doing already would have been odd, to say the least.

Now, Ms. Psaki admits what people have long since suspected: that the accusation against Russia is not well-founded. But anyone with any sense realized that from the get-go. Why, then, did The New York Times report it?

The Times’ explanation is that the story was true. It didn’t say that the accusation was accurate; it merely reported the accusation. In an article on Thursday, Times reporter Charlie Savage notes that the newspaper had stated that the CIA had only “medium” confidence in the story and the NSA had “low” confidence. It had also reported that the Afghan prisoners who recounted the story hadn’t actually been present when the alleged meetings with Russians took place. In other words, The New York Times’ reporting was accurate. 

Maybe so, but that begs a question – why report a story that makes an extremely explosive allegation if you’re not at all confident that the accusation is true? Isn’t there some responsibility to hold off from repeating libelous claims until such time as you can substantiate them?

Apparently not. It seems as if the Times wanted to believe the story. It “looked a certain way,” to use Dean Baquet’s phrase. Which in turn begs another question. Why did it look that way to the Times?

The obvious answer is that it fitted the political needs of the moment. For the real target of the Russian bounty story was never Russia but Trump. Its purpose was to show that the president had in some way betrayed America’s soldiers by continuing to talk to Russia even though he had evidence that the Russians were killing Americans.

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, thus remarked, “The administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners.”Meanwhile, then presidential candidate and now president, Joe Biden, responded to the story by saying that Trump’s “entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale. It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way. It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas.”

Russia, in other words, was merely a pawn in an internal American political struggle. Sadly, though, this is far from an isolated incident. Furthermore, the Democratic Party and its backers in the USA have now become so habituated to spreading dubious stories about Russia that they seem to be unable to stop, even though the original political motivation has vanished. The Russian bounty wasn’t the first “false story” to appear, and it won’t be the last.

Paul Robinson is a professor at the University of Ottawa. He writes about Russian and Soviet history, military history, and military ethics, and is the author of the Irrussianality blog.

April 20, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , , | Leave a comment

The Media Lied Repeatedly About Officer Brian Sicknick’s Death. And They Just Got Caught.

Nancy Pelosi at a congressional tribute to the late Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick who lies in honor in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 3, 2021. (Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)
By Glenn Greenwald | April 19, 2021

It was crucial for liberal sectors of the media to invent and disseminate a harrowing lie about how Officer Brian Sicknick died. That is because he is the only one they could claim was killed by pro-Trump protesters at the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

So The New York Times on January 8 published an emotionally gut-wrenching complete fiction that never had any evidence — that Officer Sicknick’s skull was savagely bashed in with a fire extinguisher by a pro-Trump mob until he died — and, just like the now-discredited Russian bounty story also unveiled by that same paper, cable outlets and other media platforms repeated this lie over and over in the most emotionally manipulative way possible. Just watch a part of what they did and how:

As I detailed over and over when examining this story, there were so many reasons to doubt this storyline from the start. Nobody on the record claimed it happened. The autopsy found no blunt trauma to the head. Sicknick’s own family kept urging the press to stop spreading this story because he called them the night of January 6 and told them he was fine — obviously inconsistent with the media’s claim that he died by having his skull bashed in — and his own mother kept saying that she believed he died of a stroke.

But the gruesome story of Sicknick’s “murder” was too valuable to allow any questioning. It was weaponized over and over to depict the pro-Trump mob not as just violent but barbaric and murderous, because if Sicknick weren’t murdered by them, then nobody was (without Sicknick, the only ones killed were four pro-Trump supporters: two who died of a heart attack, one from an amphetamine overdose, and the other, Ashli Babbitt, who was shot point blank in the neck by Capitol Police despite being unarmed). So crucial was this fairy tale about Sicknick that it made its way into the official record of President Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, and they had Joe Biden himself recite from the script, even as clear facts mounted proving it was untrue.

Articles on this Substack, Feb. 16, 2021 and Mar. 5, 2021

Because of its centrality to the media narrative and agenda, anyone who tried to point out the serious factual deficiencies in this story — in other words, people trying to be journalists — were smeared by Democratic Party loyalists who pretend to be journalists as “Sicknick Truthers,” white nationalist sympathizers, and supporters of insurrection.

For the crime of trying to determine the factual truth of what happened, my character was constantly impugned by these propagandistic worms, as was anyone else’s who tried to tell the truth about Sicknick’s tragic death. Because one of the first people to highlight the journalistic truth here was former Trump official Darren Beattie of Revolver News and one of the few people on television willing to host doubts about the official story was Tucker Carlsonany doubts about the false Sicknick story — no matter how well-grounded in truth, facts, reason and evidence — were cast as fascism and white supremacy, and those raising questions smeared as “truthers”: the usual dreary liberal insults for trying to coerce people into submitting to their lies:

Because the truth usually prevails, at least ultimately, their lies, yet again, all came crashing down on their heads on Monday. The District of Columbia’s chief medical examiner earlier this morning issued his official ruling in the Sicknick case, and it was so definitive that The Washington Post — one of the media outlets that had pushed the multiple falsehoods — did not even bother to try to mask or mitigate the stark conclusion it revealed:

The first line tells much of the story: “Capitol Police officer Brian D. Sicknick suffered two strokes and died of natural causes a day after he confronted rioters at the Jan. 6 insurrection, the District’s chief medical examiner has ruled.” Using understatement, the paper added: “The ruling, released Monday, likely will make it difficult for prosecutors to pursue homicide charges in the officer’s death.”

This definitive finding from the medical examiner not only rids us of the Fire Extinguisher lie but also the second theory to which these media outlets resorted once they had to face the reality that they spent weeks spreading an outright lie (needless to say, they provided no real accountability or even acknowledgement for the fact that they did spread that Fire Extinguisher tale, instead just seamlessly moving to their next evidence-free claim). They changed their story to claim that pro-Trump protesters still murdered Sicknick, not with a fire extinguisher but with bear spray, which video shows at least one protester using in his vicinity.

Clockwise: Tweet of Associated Press, Jan. 29; Tweet of NBC’s Richard Engel, Jan. 9; Tweet of the Lincoln Project’s Fred Willman, Jan. 29; Tweet of The New York Times’ Nicholas Kirstof, Jan. 9

The problem with that theory is that bear spray is not usually fatal, and the medical examiner’s findings ruled out the possibility that this is what caused his death:

In an interview with The Washington Post, Francisco J. Diaz, the medical examiner, said the autopsy found no evidence the 42-year-old officer suffered an allergic reaction to chemical irritants, which Diaz said would have caused Sicknick’s throat to quickly seize. Diaz also said there was no evidence of internal or external injuries…

Diaz said Sicknick suffered two strokes at the base of the brain stem caused by a clot in an artery that supplies blood to that area of the body. Diaz said he could not comment on whether Sicknick had a preexisting medical condition, citing privacy laws.

So there goes that second fairy tale. The Post did note the medical examiner’s observation regarding Sicknick’s participation in defending the Capitol that day that “all that transpired played a role in his condition.” That of course is true: just as it is true for the two pro-Trump supporters who had heart attacks that day and the other pro-Trump supporter who died from too much amphetamine in her system, having a stressful encounter as a police officer likely played a role in why someone would have two strokes the following day. But police officers are trained for stressful encounters, and that obviously is a far cry from being able to claim that any pro-Trump supporter murdered Sicknick.

I’ll have much more on this story as it unfolds. A significant amount of media accountability is warranted. But you’re seeing why there is so much resentment and so many attacks on platforms like this one that permit journalists to report and analyze facts and dissect media narratives without being constrained by liberal orthodoxies and pieties and while remaining immune from liberal pressure tactics: it’s one of the few ways that real dissent to their lies and propaganda can be aired.

The New York Times, in a now-”updated” article, Jan. 8, 2021

Truth matters. Noble lies are never justified no matter the cause, especially in journalism. But these employees of corporate media outlets have been taught the exact opposite model: that their primary obligation is to please and flatter the partisan agenda and political sensibilities of their audience even if it means lying or recklessly spreading unproven theories to do it. That is their profit model. And they have trained their audiences to want and expect this and that is why they never feel compelled to engage in any self-critique or accountability when they get caught doing this: their audiences want to be lied to — they are grateful for it — and would prefer that they not admit they did it so that their partisan interests will not be undermined.

What is most depressing about this entire spectacle is that, this time, they exploited the tragic death of a young man to achieve their tawdry goals. They never cared in the slightest about Officer Brian Sicknick. They had just spent months glorifying a protest movement whose core view is that police officers are inherently racist and abusive. He had just become their toy, to be played with and exploited in order to depict the January 6 protest as a murderous orgy carried out by savages so primitive and inhuman that they were willing to fatally bash in the skull of a helpless person or spray them with deadly gases until they choked to death on their own lung fluids. None if it was true, but that did not matter — and it still does not to them — because truth, as always, has nothing to do with their actual function. If anything, truth is an impediment to it.

April 19, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , | 5 Comments

“A Sign Of Progress”: How A Tiny Corporate Media Clique Inverted Reality During Brazil’s 2016 Coup

BRASIL WIRE | APRIL 17, 2021

On the fifth anniversary of Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, the role foreign media played in propagandising for it still warrants further investigation.

Little of international media coverage of Brazil’s 2016 coup and its centrepiece, the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, has dated well. But one opinion piece in US newspaper the New York Times stands out as emblematic of the inverted reality being presented to the world, as Brazil’s first female president was facing a right-wing plot to remove her and her progressive government from office.

Written by Op-Ed contributor, the Associated Press Rio correspondent, Juliana Barbassa, it was headlined “Why Brazil’s Corruption Scandal Is a Sign of Progress”. It was published on March 15, 2016, one month before the first congressional vote to impeach Dilma Rousseff and with the campaign against her at full tilt.

At this point it was already apparent to any serious analyst that something was very wrong. Anti-Coup protests were occurring in equal frequency and numbers to the yellow and green demonstrations for Dilma’s impeachment, yet the article begins: “Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets over the weekend to protest their government and to send a message to the country’s political class: No one is untouchable. Brazil’s politicians should take that to heart. The Federal Police temporarily detained Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president, for questioning earlier this month in connection with a huge — and expanding — graft investigation. President Dilma Rousseff, Mr. da Silva’s handpicked successor, could be next.”

Media consumers who consider themselves engaged with world affairs would have no doubt seen an article like this one in the paper of record, taken it at face value, and have had no idea how wrong it was, nor how incestuous its conception.

They might consult multiple trusted sources and see this inversion of reality corroborated. They wouldn’t know that the most prominent English language reporters were meeting regularly and sharing notes. For example, on the very same day, the Guardian published an editorial calling for Rousseff to resign.

They could look at news agency Reuters, and see something broadly in line with what they had read in the NYT.

They wouldn’t know that Brian Winter, until recently the Reuters Brazil correspondent, now worked indirectly on behalf of Chevron, one of the principal lobbyists for, and beneficiaries of the coup. They wouldn’t know that both Winter and Brazil bureau chief Todd Benson had recently left Reuters following a scandal in which it was seen to have censored information that was considered favourable to Dilma and the Workers Party.

They wouldn’t know that the Reuters correspondent had got the NYT pieces’ author, Juliana Barbassa, a job at oil, agribusiness, banking and mining industry lobby Council of the Americas‘ in-house magazine Americas Quarterly, from where she became the New York Times’ Latin America and Caribbean desk editor.

They wouldn’t know that the author’s husband Chris Gaffney, was a primary source for Dave Zirin’s character assassination of Lula, Dance with the Devilwho, living in a penthouse apartment on Rio’s Botofogo bay, used the World Cup as a platform to attack the PT from a radical left standpoint.

They wouldn’t know that the Brazil bureau chief at Associated Press, Brad Brooks, was personally forbidding staff from use the word Coup/Golpe to describe what was happening in Brazil, regardless of their belief, and even on their private Facebook pages.

They wouldn’t know that a group of young and influential Brazilian reporters, including those from AP, had been taken on all expenses paid trips to the US, for briefings at the State Department, to learn about “sustainable funding models”.

Finally, they might look for opinions from across the political spectrum.

They wouldn’t know that ostensibly leftist voices they may have followed in Brazil were funded by corporate philanthropy from Ford Foundation, Pierre Omidyar and OSF, nor that they were closer professionally and socially to this same group of corporate reporters than they were the actual Brazilian left. This promiscuity can be confirmed by reading hundreds of friendly bar-setting twitter engagements with AS/COA Americas Quarterly editor and Alvaro Uribe / FHC biographer Brian Winter, by journalists such as New Yorker’s Alex Cuadros and LA Times correspondent Vincent Bevins during Dilma’s impeachment, and in the lead up to Lula’s arrest two years later.

This appearance of consensus fed into foreign television, as US comedy writers used the NYT as their principal source. Brian Mier writes: “Even John Oliver made a joke about Dilma Rousseff and Petrobras corruption. It wasn’t based on facts, but helped his liberal US audience feel comfortable about the illegal impeachment of Brazil’s first woman President and subsequent US corporate oil grab.” Daniel Hunt adds “Don’t ever doubt the cumulative effect foreign media coverage can have on the actual political scenario inside a country like Brazil, which is uniquely fixated with how it is covered abroad. All the liberals were sharing this nonsense at the time of Rousseff’s impeachment.”

It was only after the April 2016 congressional vote, from which Jair Bolsonaro launched his 2018 presidential bid that the hand-wringing began, from a cluster of mostly US media professionals who had shown no critical analysis as the campaign against Dilma raged, from her re-election in October 2014, right through to her impeachment.

Maybe a fascist elected as president wasn’t the outcome they imagined, but with no tanks on the street, the 2016 coup was staged in the media, which late Brazilian journalist Paulo Henrique Amorim labeled, The 4th Power. Brazil is living with the deadly consequences now, and every journalist who endorsed, normalized and enabled a subversion of democracy, who went along with the narratives of right-wing regime change, holds a degree of culpability.

Not only did their often brazen propaganda actually influence opinion within Brazil’s media classes, together they created a screen of editorial cover which stunted international solidarity for Rousseff and her centre-left government in their hour of need. This was no unfortunate accident; it was an ethical and journalistic disgrace, with observers as actors.

There is no “They wouldn’t know” on the reporters’ part, and this is not hindsight. Some people were paid to be wrong.

April 19, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , | Leave a comment

Journalists, Learning They Spread a CIA Fraud About Russia, Instantly Embrace a New One

By Glenn Greenwald | April 16, 2021

That Russia placed “bounties” on the heads of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan was one of the most-discussed and consequential news stories of 2020. It was also, as it turns out, one of the most baseless — as the intelligence agencies who spread it through their media spokespeople now admit, largely because the tale has fulfilled and outlived its purpose.

The saga began on June 26, 2020, when The New York Times announced that unnamed “American intelligence officials” have concluded that “a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops.” The paper called it “a significant and provocative escalation” by Russia. Though no evidence was ever presented to support the CIA’s claims — neither in that original story nor in any reporting since — most U.S. media outlets blindly believed it and spent weeks if not longer treating it as proven, highly significant truth. Leading politicians from both parties similarly used this emotional storyline to advance multiple agendas.

The story appeared — coincidentally or otherwise — just weeks after President Trump announced his plan to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2020. Pro-war members of Congress from both parties and liberal hawks in corporate media spent weeks weaponizing this story to accuse Trump of appeasing Putin by leaving Afghanistan and being too scared to punish the Kremlin. Cable outlets and the op-ed pages of The New York Times and Washington Post endlessly discussed the grave implications of this Russian treachery and debated which severe retaliation was needed. “This is as bad as it gets,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Then-candidate Joe Biden said Trump’s refusal to punish Russia and his casting doubt on the truth of the story was more proof that Trump’s “entire presidency has been a gift to Putin,” while Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) demanded that, in response, the U.S. put Russians and Afghans “in body bags.”

What was missing from this media orgy of indignation and militaristic demands for retaliation was an iota of questioning of whether the story was, in fact, true. All they had was an anonymous leak from “intelligence officials” — which The New York Times on Thursday admitted came from the CIA — but that was all they needed. That is because the vast majority of the corporate sector of the press lives under one overarching rule:

When the CIA or related security state agencies tell American journalists to believe something, we obey unquestioningly, and as a result, whatever assertions are spread by these agencies, no matter how bereft of evidence or shielded by accountability-free anonymity, they instantly transform, in our government-worshipping worldview, into a proven fact — gospel — never to be questioned but only affirmed and then repeated and spread as far and wide as possible.

That has been the dynamic driving the relationship between the corporate press and the CIA for decades, throughout the Cold War and then into the post-9/11 War on Terror and invasion of Iraq. But it has become so much more extreme in the Trump era. As the CIA became one of the leading anti-Trump #Resistance factions — a key player in domestic politics to subvert the presidency of the 45th President regarded by media figures as a Hitler-type menace — the bond between the corporate press and the intelligence community deepened more than ever. It is not an exaggeration to call it a merger: so much so that a parade of former security state officials from the CIA, NSA, FBI, DHS and others was hired by these news outlets to deliver the news. The partnership was no longer clandestine but official, out in the open, and proud.

In case anyone needs reminding, here’s a partial list of the ex-spooks who served as media figures in the Trump years:

John Brennan, James Clapper, Chuck Rosenberg, Michael Hayden, Frank Figliuzzi, Fran Townsend, Stephen Hall, Samantha Vinograd, Andrew McCabe, Josh Campbell, Asha Rangappa, Phil Mudd, James Gagliano, Jeremy Bash, Susan Hennessey, Ned Price, Rick Francona…

Also Michael Morell, John McLaughlin, John Sipher, Thomas Bossert, Clint Watts, James Baker, Mike Baker, Daniel Hoffman, Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes, David Preiss, Evelyn Farkas, Tony Blinken, Mike Rogers, “Alex Finley,” Malcolm Nance…

The first goal this story served was to weaponize it in the battle waged by pro-war House Democrats and their neocon GOP allies to stop Trump’s withdrawal plan from Afghanistan. How, they began demanding upon publication of the CIA/NYT story, can we possibly leave Afghanistan when the Russians are trying to kill our troops? Would that not be a reckless abdication to the Kremlin of this country that we own, and would withdrawal not be a reward to Putin after we learned he was engaged in such dastardly plotting to kill our sons and daughters?

In late June, this alliance of pro-war House Democrats — funded overwhelmingly by military contractors — and the Liz-Cheney-led neocon wing announced amendments to the military budget authorization process that would defund Trump’s efforts to withdraw troops from either Afghanistan or Germany (where they had been stationed for decades to defend Western Europe against a country, the Soviet Union, that ceased to exist decades ago). They instantly weaponized the NYT/CIA story as their primary argument.

The record-breaking $740 billion military budget was scheduled to be approved by the House Armed Services Committee in early July. In a joint statement with Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) on June 29 — the day the NYT story appeared — Liz Cheney proclaimed that “we remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces.” One of the Democrats’ most pro-war House members, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), announced on July 1 (three days after the NYT story) his own amendment to block any troop withdrawal from Germany, citing “increasing Russian aggression.”

On July 1 and 2, the House Armed Services Committee held its hearings and votes — I watched all fourteen hours and reported on it in a series of articles and a 90-minute video report — and it not only approved this massive military budget but also both amendments to bar troop withdrawal. Over and over, the union of pro-war Democrats and Cheney-led neocon Republicans steamrolled the anti-war faction of left-wing and right-wing war opponents (led by Congressmembers Ro Khanna (D-CA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Matt Gaetz (R-FL)), and repeatedly used the Russia bounty story to justify continuation of the longest war in America’s history. This little speech from Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) was illustrative of how this CIA story was used all day:

The U.S. media was somehow more militaristic and blindly trusting about this CIA story than even this pro-war union of lawmakers. That the CIA’s leaked claim to The New York Times should even be questioned at all — given that it was leaked anonymously and was accompanied by exactly zero evidence — is not something that even crossed their journalistic minds.

These people who call themselves “journalists” do not view pronouncements from the U.S. security state as something that prompts skepticism let alone requires evidence before believing. The officials who run those agencies are their friends, partners and colleagues — those they most revere — and their every utterance is treated as Gospel. If — after watching them behave this way the last five years without pause — you think that is an exaggeration, watch this short video compilation produced by The Daily Caller to see for yourself how they instantly converted this CIA “Russia bounty” leak into proven fact that nobody, least of all them, should question:

As usual, the media figure most loudly and dramatically enshrining the CIA leak about Russia as Proven Truth was the undisputed Queen of demented conspiracy theories, jingoistic rhetoric, and CIA propaganda: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

Over and over, she devoted melodramatic segments to denouncing the unparalleled evil of Russian treachery in Afghanistan (because the U.S. would never pay bounties to kill Russian soldiers in Afghanistan), at no point pausing her histrionics for even a second or two to wonder whether evidence ought to be presented before telling the millions of #Resistance liberals who watch her show that she is vouching for the truth of this story.

Predictably, now that this CIA tale has served its purpose (namely, preventing Trump from leaving Afghanistan), and now that its enduring effects are impeding the Biden administration (which wants to leave Afghanistan and so needs to get rid of this story), the U.S. Government is now admitting that — surprise! — they had no convincing evidence for this story all along.

The Daily Beast on Thursday was the first to notice that “the Biden administration announced that U.S. intelligence only had ‘low to moderate’ confidence in the story after all.” The outlet added: “that means the intelligence agencies have found the story is, at best, unproven—and possibly untrue.” The Guardian also reported that “US intelligence agencies have only ‘low to moderate confidence’ in reports last year that Russian spies were offering Taliban militants in Afghanistan bounties for killing US soldiers.” NBC News went even further, citing Biden’s campaign attacks on Trump for failing to punish Putin for these bounties, and noting: “Such a definitive statement was questionable even then…. They still have not found any evidence, a senior defense official said Thursday.”

What made this admission particularly bizarre — aside from rendering weeks of decrees from media figures and politicians humiliatingly reckless and baseless — is that the Biden administration continued to assert this claim as truth as recently as Thursday. When announcing new sanctions aimed at Moscow and diplomatic expulsions of Russian diplomats — primarily in response to allegations of Russian hacking — the White House said “it was responding to reports that Russia encouraged Taliban fighters to injure or kill coalition forces in Afghanistan.” The official White House announcement of the retaliation said explicitly that “the Administration is responding to the reports that Russia encouraged Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan based on the best assessments from the Intelligence Community (IC)” — a claim for which the IC itself admits it has only “low to moderate confidence” is even true.

When asked about this glaring contradiction yesterday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave an answer that barely rose to the level of cogency, yet she clearly admitted the lack of evidentiary basis for this long-standing CIA/media tale:

That there is no evidence for this media-laundered CIA story is not something we learned only yesterday. It has been obvious for many months. In September, NBC News — as Maddow was in the midst of her performative sadness and indignation over the story on its cable network — noted:

Two months after top Pentagon officials vowed to get to the bottom of whether the Russian government bribed the Taliban to kill American service members, the commander of troops in the region says a detailed review of all available intelligence has not been able to corroborate the existence of such a program.

“It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told NBC News. McKenzie oversees U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. continues to hunt for new information on the matter, he said.

“We continue to look for that evidence,” the general said. “I just haven’t seen it yet.

That was what made the refusal to question this story all along so maddening. Not only was no evidence presented to support the CIA’s assertions — something that, by itself, should have prevented every real journalist from endorsing its truth — but commanders in Afghanistan were saying months ago they could not find convincing evidence for it. That is what The Daily Beast meant in Thursday’s report when it said “there were reasons to doubt the story from the start” — not just the lack of evidence but also that “the initial stories emphasize[d] its basis on detainee reporting” and “the bounties represented a qualitative shift in recent Russian engagements with Afghan insurgents.” NBC News on Thursday also said that “such a definitive statement was questionable even then.”

But these doubts were virtually non-existent in most media reports. Indeed, one of the New York Times reporters who broke the story publicly attacked me as a conspiracy theorist back in September when I cited that NBC News story about the lack of evidence while pointing out what a crucial role this uncorroborated story played in stopping troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and claiming Trump was beholden to Putin. And while The Daily Beast on Thursday said there were reasons to doubt the story from the start, that same outlet was one of the most vocal and aggressive in pushing the story as true:

Even worse, other media outlets — led by The Washington Post — purported to have “independently confirmed” the NYT/CIA tale of Russian bounties. Twice in the last year, I have written about this bizarre practice where media outlets purport to “independently confirm” one another’s false stories by doing nothing more than going to the same anonymous sources who whisper to them the same things while providing no evidence. Yet they use this phrase “independent confirmation” to purposely imply that they obtained separate evidence corroborating the truth of the original story:

For months, pro-war members of both parties and leading members of the NYT/CNN/MSNBC media axis pushed a story — an inflammatory, dangerous one — based on nothing more than the say-so of anonymous CIA operatives. How can anyone do this who knows even the bare minimum about what this agency does and what its function is: to spread disinformation not just to foreign countries but the domestic population as well? It is both mystifying and toxic. But for people who call themselves “journalists” to repeat, over and over, evidence-free CIA claims, telling those who trust them to believe it, is nothing short of repulsive.

If you think that, upon learning yesterday’s news, there was any self-reflection on the part of the media figures who spread this, or that they felt chastened about it in any way, you would be very, very wrong. In fact, not only did few if any admit error, but they did exactly the same thing on Thursday about a brand new evidence-free assertion from the U.S. Government concerning Russia: they mindlessly assumed it true and then stated it to millions of people as fact. They are not embarrassed to get caught spreading false CIA propaganda. They see their role, correctly, as doing exactly that.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, run by Biden’s Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, issued a short Press Release about its targeting of Russian-Ukrainian political consultant, Konstantin Kilimnik, with new sanctions. One sentence of this press release asserted a claim that the Mueller investigation, after searching for eighteen months, never found: namely, that “Kilimnik provided the Russia intelligence services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy” that he received from then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Is it true that Kilimnik passed this polling data to the Kremlin? Maybe. But there is no way for a rational person — let alone someone calling themselves a “journalist” — to conclude that it is true. Why? Because, like the CIA tale about Russian bounties — a claim they learned yesterday had no evidence — this is nothing more than a U.S. Government assertion that lacks any evidence.

Do you think journalists learned the lesson that they just had rubbed in their faces hours before about the foolishness of assuming official statements to be true with no evidence? Of course that is a rhetorical question: too many to count instantly proclaimed that this story was true without spending an ounce of mental energy to question if it was or apply any skepticism. Here’s Maddow’s MSNBC comrade showing how this is done:

Do you see what Hayes just did there? It is vital not to lose sight of how irresponsible and destructive this behavior is just because it is now so common. He saw a Press Release from a U.S. Government agency, read an assertion that it contained in one sentence, had no evidence that this assertion was true, but nonetheless “reported” it as if it were proven fact to millions of people in a predictably viral tweet.

Hayes was far from alone. I cannot count how many employees of corporate media outlets did the same: read the Treasury Department’s Press Release and, without pausing for a second, proclaimed it to be true. Indeed, the two MSNBC hosts who follow Hayes’s nightly news program explicitly described this evidence-free Press Release as “confirmation”— confirmation!

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell celebrating an evidence-free Treasury Department Press Release as “confirmation,” Apr. 15, 2021

Let’s set aside the absurdity of treating this as some shocking revelation even if it were true. Just like the oozing historical ignorance of pretending that there would be something astonishing about Russians paying for the killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan when the CIA just last week explicitly boasted of having done the same to Russian soldiers in Afghanistan, what is this Treasury Press Release supposed to prove that is so breathtaking and scandalous: that the Kremlin could not possibly have obtained polling data about the U.S. electorate had Manafort not provided it to them? That they never would have known that Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were swing states without an elaborate plot of collusion to learn this from the Trump campaign?

But the far more important point is the U.S. media’s willingness — their subservient eagerness — to obediently treat U.S. government pronouncements as Truth. Just like with the Russia bounty story, where there were ample reasons to doubt it from the start, the same is true of this Treasury Press Release. To begin with, if this were such a smoking gun “confirming” collusion, why did the Mueller investigation after eighteen months of highly aggressive subpoena-driven investigative activity not discover it?

Let’s express this as clearly as it can be expressed. Any journalist who treats unverified stories from the CIA or other government agencies as true, without needing any evidence or applying any skepticism, is worthless. Actually, they are worse than worthless: they are toxic influences who deserve pure contempt. Every journalist knows that governments lie constantly and that it is a betrayal of their profession to serve as mindless mouthpieces for these security agencies: that is why they will vehemently deny they do this if you confront them with this accusation. They know it is a shameful thing to do.

But just look at what they are doing: exactly this. These are not journalists. They are obsequious spokespeople for the CIA and other official authorities. Even when they learn that they deceived millions of people by uncritically repeating a story that the CIA told them was true, they will — on the very same day that they learn they did this — do exactly the same thing, this time with a one-paragraph Treasury Department Press Release. These are agents of disinformation: state media. And when they speak, you should listen to them with the knowledge of what they really are, and treat them accordingly.

April 17, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia, Timeless or most popular, Video | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The CIA Used To Infiltrate The Media. Now The CIA Is The Media.

By Caitlin Johnstone | April 16, 2021

Back in the good old days, when things were more innocent and simple, the psychopathic Central Intelligence Agency had to covertly infiltrate the news media to manipulate the information Americans were consuming about their nation and the world. Nowadays, there is no meaningful separation between the news media and the CIA at all.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald just highlighted an interesting point about the reporting by The New York Times on the so-called  “Bountygate” story the outlet broke in June of last year about the Russian government trying to pay Taliban-linked fighters to attack US soldiers in Afghanistan.

“One of the NYT reporters who originally broke the Russia bounty story (originally attributed to unnamed ‘intelligence officials’) say today that it was a CIA claim,” Greenwald tweeted. “So media outlets – again – repeated CIA stories with no questioning: congrats to all.”

Indeed, NYT’s original story made no mention of CIA involvement in the narrative, citing only “officials,” yet this latest article speaks as though it had been informing its readers of the story’s roots in the lying, torturingdrug-runningwarmongering Central Intelligence Agency from the very beginning. The author even writes “The New York Times first reported last summer the existence of the C.I.A.’s assessment,” with the hyperlink leading to the initial article which made no mention of the CIA. It wasn’t until later that The New York Times began reporting that the CIA was looking into the Russian bounties allegations at all.

This would be the same “Russian bounties” narrative which was discredited all the way back in September when the top US military official in Afghanistan said no satisfactory evidence had surfaced for the allegations, which was further discredited today with a new article by The Daily Beast titled “U.S. Intel Walks Back Claim Russians Put Bounties on American Troops“.

The Daily Beast, which has itself uncritically published many articles promoting the CIA “Bountygate” narrative, reports the following:

It was a blockbuster story about Russia’s return to the imperial “Great Game” in Afghanistan. The Kremlin had spread money around the longtime central Asian battlefield for militants to kill remaining U.S. forces. It sparked a massive outcry from Democrats and their #resistance amplifiers about the treasonous Russian puppet in the White House whose admiration for Vladimir Putin had endangered American troops.

But on Thursday, the Biden administration announced that U.S. intelligence only had “low to moderate” confidence in the story after all. Translated from the jargon of spyworld, that means the intelligence agencies have found the story is, at best, unproven—and possibly untrue.

So the mass media aggressively promoted a CIA narrative that none of them ever saw proof of, because there was no proof, because it was an entirely unfounded claim from the very beginning. They quite literally ran a CIA press release and disguised it as a news story.

This allowed the CIA to throw shade and inertia on Trump’s proposed troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Germany, and to continue ramping up anti-Russia sentiments on the world stage, and may well have contributed to the fact that the agency will officially be among those who are exempt from Biden’s performative Afghanistan “withdrawal”.

In totalitarian dictatorships, the government spy agency tells the news media what stories to run, and the news media unquestioningly publish it. In free democracies, the government spy agency says “Hoo buddy, have I got a scoop for you!” and the news media unquestioningly publish it.

In 1977 Carl Bernstein published an article titled “The CIA and the Media” reporting that the CIA had covertly infiltrated America’s most influential news outlets and had over 400 reporters who it considered assets in a program known as Operation Mockingbird. It was a major scandal, and rightly so. The news media is meant to report truthfully about what happens in the world, not manipulate public perception to suit the agendas of spooks and warmongers.

Nowadays the CIA collaboration happens right out in the open, and people are too propagandized to even recognize this as scandalous. Immensely influential outlets like The New York Times uncritically pass on CIA disinfo which is then spun as fact by cable news pundits. The sole owner of The Washington Post is a CIA contractor, and WaPo has never once disclosed this conflict of interest when reporting on US intelligence agencies per standard journalistic protocol. Mass media outlets now openly employ intelligence agency veterans like John Brennan, James Clapper, Chuck Rosenberg, Michael Hayden, Frank Figliuzzi, Fran Townsend, Stephen Hall, Samantha Vinograd, Andrew McCabe, Josh Campbell, Asha Rangappa, Phil Mudd, James Gagliano, Jeremy Bash, Susan Hennessey, Ned Price and Rick Francona, as are known CIA assets like NBC’s Ken Dilanian, as are CIA interns like Anderson Cooper and CIA applicants like Tucker Carlson.

This isn’t Operation Mockingbird. It’s so much worse. Operation Mockingbird was the CIA doing something to the media. What we are seeing now is the CIA openly acting as the media. Any separation between the CIA and the news media, indeed even any pretence of separation, has been dropped.

This is bad. This is very, very bad. Democracy has no meaningful existence if people’s votes aren’t being cast with a clear understanding of what’s happening in their nation and their world, and if their understanding is being shaped to suit the agendas of the very government they’re meant to be influencing with their votes, what you have is the most powerful military and economic force in the history of civilization with no accountability to the electorate whatsoever. It’s just an immense globe-spanning power structure, doing whatever it wants to whoever it wants. A totalitarian dictatorship in disguise.

And the CIA is the very worst institution that could possibly be spearheading the movements of that dictatorship. A little research into the many, many horrific things the CIA has done over the years will quickly show you that this is true; hell, just a glance at what the CIA was up to with the Phoenix Program in Vietnam will.

There’s a common delusion in our society that depraved government agencies who are known to have done evil things in the past have simply stopped doing evil things for some reason. This belief is backed by zero evidence, and is contradicted by mountains of evidence to the contrary. It’s believed because it is comfortable, and for literally no other reason.

The CIA should not exist at all, let alone control the news media, much less the movements of the US empire. May we one day know a humanity that is entirely free from the rule of psychopaths, from our total planetary behavior as a collective, all the way down to the thoughts we think in our own heads.

May we extract their horrible fingers from every aspect of our being.

April 16, 2021 Posted by | Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Timeless or most popular | , , | Leave a comment

White House admits lack of confidence in DEBUNKED story about Russian bounties – after Biden repeatedly used it to attack Trump

RT | April 15, 2021

With Donald Trump safely ousted, US intelligence agencies now admit they have only “low to moderate confidence” that Russia offered bounties on US troops in Afghanistan – yet still demand that the Kremlin answer for the crimes.

“The US intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against US coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019, including through financial incentives and compensation,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Thursday.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the new assessment in a press briefing, saying reports on the bounties “were enough of a cause of concern that we wanted our intelligence community to look into” the matter. That assessment found “low to moderate confidence” that the allegations were true, she said.

The latest official view marks a sharp contrast to last June, when the New York Times reported as fact – based on anonymous sourcing – that Russia had offered such bounties for Taliban-linked militants to attack US forces. Other outlets “confirmed” the report – which in mainstream-media-speak means that anonymous sources reiterated the allegations to them, not that anything was verified to be true.

With election season heating up, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and other politicians used the issue to bludgeon President Trump for failing to punish Russia. “His entire presidency has been a gift to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, but this is beyond the pale,” Biden said in September. “It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”

Asked on Thursday whether President Biden – in light of the current doubts over the allegations against Russia – regretted using the bounty story to attack Trump, Psaki said, “I’m not going to speak to the previous administration.”

Trump and members of his administration had repeatedly pointed out that the bounty allegations were unverified. While the media reporting on the issue cited unidentified “intelligence” officials, the nation’s top intelligence and military chiefs said on the record that the claims were unverified. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, among other officials, told members of Congress in July that the allegations were unconfirmed.

Months of investigation by the US military failed to yield a different answer. Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, the commander who oversees US troops in Afghanistan, said in September that the military had found nothing to corroborate the bounty allegations. At that point, the probe included a review of every attack on US troops in Afghanistan in the past several years, none of which were linked to Russian incentive payments.

And yet, even as the White House walked back the intelligence community’s assessment of the alleged bounties on Thursday, partly blaming “challenging operating environments,” Psaki suggested that Russia should still be forced to explain its conduct.

“This information really puts the burden on Russia and the Russian government to explain their engagement here,” she said. The unidentified senior official who briefed reporters added that Russia must “take steps to address this disturbing pattern of behavior,” although allegations of that behavior remain in doubt.

The new assessment was offered on the same day that Biden imposed new sanctions against Russian individuals and organizations, as well as expelling 10 Moscow diplomats. The unidentified senior official told reporters that the sanctions were for election interference and the SolarWinds hacking incident – the Kremlin has denied being involved in either case – and added that US concerns over the bounties have been conveyed to Russia in “strong direct messages” through diplomatic, intelligence, and military channels.

Observers on social media noted that the reassessment of the bounty story should further discredit MSM outlets for attacks on Trump that later proved to be false or dubious. Journalist Aaron Mate said today’s White House statements mark “another blockbuster humiliation” for “Russia-gate disinformation outlet” the Daily Beast.

CNN host Jake Tapper was another target of ridicule. “No one should be surprised that Jake Tapper was leading the charge on yet another nonsensical story fabricated by him and other resistance clowns in the media,” journalist Arthur Schwartz said on Twitter.

Schwartz also took a shot at the original purveyor of the story, tweeting: “Hey New York Times PR, you going to let the public know who lied to these reporters? Or did they make it up themselves.”

April 16, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | , | 1 Comment

How Bellingcat Launders National Security State Talking Points into the Press

By Alan Macleod | MintPress News | April 9, 2021

AMSTERDAM — Investigative site Bellingcat is the toast of the popular press. In the past month alone, it has been described as “an intelligence agency for the people” (ABC Australia ), a “transparent” and “innovative” (New Yorker ) “independent news collective,” “transforming investigative journalism” (Big Think ), and an unequivocal “force for good” (South China Morning Post ). Indeed, outside of a few alternative news sites, it is very hard to hear a negative word against Bellingcat, such is the gushing praise for the outlet founded in 2014.

This is troubling, because the evidence compiled in this investigation suggests Bellingcat is far from independent and neutral, as it is funded by Western governments, staffed with former military and state intelligence officers, repeats official narratives against enemy states, and serves as a key part in what could be called a “spook to Bellingcat to corporate media propaganda pipeline,” presenting Western government narratives as independent research.

Citizen journalism staffed with spies and soldiers

An alarming number of Bellingcat’s staff and contributors come from highly suspect backgrounds. Senior Investigator Nick Waters, for example, spent three years as an officer in the British Army, including a tour in Afghanistan, where he furthered the British state’s objectives in the region. Shortly after leaving the service, he was hired by Bellingcat to provide supposedly bias-free investigations into the Middle East.

Former contributor Cameron Colquhoun’s past is even more suspect. Colquhoun spent a decade in a senior position in GCHQ (Britain’s version of the NSA), where he ran cyber and Middle Eastern terror operations. The Scot specializes in Middle Eastern security and also holds a qualification from the U.S. State Department. None of this, however, is disclosed by Bellingcat, which merely describes him as the managing director of a private intelligence company that “conduct[s] ethical investigations” for clients around the world — thus depriving readers of key information they need to make informed judgments on what they are reading.

Bellingcat fails to inform its readers of even the most glaring conflicts of interest

There are plenty of former American spooks on Bellingcat’s roster as well. Former contributor Chris Biggers, who penned more than 60 articles for the site between 2014 and 2017, previously worked for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — a combat support unit that works under the Department of Defense and the broader Intelligence Community. Biggers is now the director of an intelligence company headquartered in Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington (close to other semi-private contractor groups like Booz Allen Hamilton), that boasts of having retired Army and Air Force generals on its board. Again, none of this is disclosed by Bellingcat, where Biggers’s bio states only that he is a “public and private sector consultant based in Washington, D.C.”

For six years, Dan Kaszeta was a U.S. Secret Service agent specializing in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and for six more he worked as program manager for the White House Military Office. At Bellingcat, he would provide some of the intellectual ammunition for Western accusations about chemical weapons use in Syria and Russia’s alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal.

Kaszeta is also a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank funded by a host of Western governments as well as weapons contractors such as Airbus, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Its president is a British field marshal (the highest attainable military rank) and its senior vice president is retired American General David Petraeus. Its chairman is Lord Hague, the U.K.’s secretary of state between 2010 and 2015.

Bellingcat Sergei Skripal

A Bellingcat article covering the alleged poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a story covered heavily by the organization. Alexander Zemlianichenko | AP

All of this matters if a group is presenting itself as independent when, in reality, their views align almost perfectly with the governments funding them. But yet again, Bellingcat fails to follow basic journalism ethics and inform readers of these glaring conflict of interests, describing Kaszeta as merely the managing director of a security company and someone with 27 years of experience in security and antiterrorism. This means that unless readers are willing to do a research project they will be none the wiser.

Other Bellingcat contributors have similar pasts. Nour Bakr previously worked for the British government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office while Karl Morand proudly served two separate tours in Iraq with the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division.

Government and intelligence officials are the opposite of journalists. The former exist to promote the interests of power (often against those of the public) while the latter are supposed to hold the powerful to account on behalf of the people. That is why it is so inappropriate that Bellingcat has had so many former spooks on their books. It could be said that ex-officials who have renounced their past or blown the whistle, such as Daniel Ellsberg or John Kiriakou, have utility as journalists. But those who have simply made the transition into media without any change in positions usually serve only the powerful.

Who pays the piper?

Just as startling as its spooky staff is Bellingcat’s source of funding. In 2016 its founder, Eliot Higgins, dismissed the idea that his organization got money from the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED) as a ludicrous conspiracy theory. Yet, by the next year, he openly admitted the thing he had laughed off for so long was, in fact, true (Bellingcat’s latest available financial report confirms that they continue to receive financial assistance from the NED). As many MintPress readers will know, the NED was explicitly set up by the Reagan administration as a front for the CIA’s regime-change operations. “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” said the organization’s co-founder Allen Weinstein, proudly.

Higgins himself was a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, NATO’s quasi-official think tank, from 2016 to 2019. The Atlantic Council’s board of directors is a who’s who of state power, from war planners like Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell to retired generals such as James “Mad Dog” Mattis and H.R. McMaster. It also features no fewer than seven former CIA directors. How Higgins could possibly see taking a paid position at an organization like this while he was still the face of a supposedly open and independent intelligence collective as being at all consistent is unclear.

Bana Alabed, an outsoken anti-Assad child activist, promotes Bellingcat at an Atlantic Council event. Photo | Twitter

Other questionable sources of income include the Human Rights Foundation, an international organization set up by Venezuelan activist Thor Halvorssen Mendoza. Halvorssen is the son of a former government official accused of being a CIA informant and a gunrunner for the agency’s dirty wars in Central America in the 1980s and the cousin of convicted terrorist Leopoldo Lopez. Lopez in turn was a leader in a U.S.-backed coup in 2002 and a wave of political terror in 2014 that killed at least 43 people and caused an estimated $15 billion worth of property damage. A major figure on the right-wing of Venezuelan politics, Lopez told journalists that he wants the United States to formally rule the country once President Nicolas Maduro is overthrown. With the help of the Spanish government, Lopez escaped from jail and fled to Spain last year.

Imagine, for one second, the opposite scenario: an “independent” Russian investigative website staffed partially with ex-KGB officials, funded by the Kremlin, with most of their research focused on the nefarious deeds of the U.S., U.K. and NATO. Would anyone take it seriously? And yet Bellingcat is consistently presented in corporate media as a liberatory organization; the Information Age’s gift to the people.

The Bellingcat to journalism pipeline

The corporate press itself already has a disturbingly close relationship with the national security state, as does social media. In 2019, a senior Twitter executive was unmasked as an active duty officer in the British Army’s online psychological operations unit. Coming at a time when foreign interference in politics and society was the primary issue in U.S. politics, the story was, astoundingly, almost completely ignored in the mainstream press. Only one U.S. outlet of any note picked it up, and that journalist was forced out of the profession weeks later.

Increasingly, it seems, Bellingcat is serving as a training ground for those looking for a job in the West’s most prestigious media outlets. For instance, former Bellingcat contributor Brenna Smith — who was recently the subject of a media storm after she successfully pressured a number of online payment companies to stop allowing the crowdfunding of the Capitol Building insurrectionists — announced last month she would be leaving USA Today and joining The New York Times. There she will meet up with former Bellingcat senior investigator Christiaan Triebert, who joined the Times’ visual investigations team in 2019.

The Times, commonly thought of as the United States’ most influential media outlet, has also collaborated with Bellingcat writers for individual pieces before. In 2018, it commissioned Giancarlo Fiorella and Aliaume Leroy to publish an op-ed strongly insinuating that the Venezuelan state murdered Oscar Perez. After he stole a military helicopter and used it to bomb government buildings in downtown Caracas while trying to ignite a civil war, Perez became the darling of the Western press, being described as a “patriot” (The Guardian ), a “rebel” (Miami Herald ), an “action hero” (The Times of London ), and a “liberator” (Task and Purpose ).

Until 2020, Fiorella ran an opposition blog called In Venezuela despite living in Canada. Leroy is now a full-time producer and investigator for the U.K.-government network, the BBC.

Bad news from Bellingcat

What we are uncovering here is a network of military, state, think-tank and media units all working together, of which Bellingcat is a central fixture. This would be bad enough, but much of its own research is extremely poor. It strongly pushed the now increasingly discredited idea of a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Syria, attacking the members of the OPCW who came forward to expose the coverup and making some bizarre claims along the way. For years, Higgins and other members of the Bellingcat team also signal-boosted a Twitter account purporting to be an ISIS official, only for an investigation to expose the account as belonging to a young Indian troll in Bangalore. A leaked U.K. Foreign Office document lamented that “Bellingcat was somewhat discredited, both by spreading disinformation itself, and by being willing to produce reports for anyone willing to pay.”

Ultimately, however, the organization still provides utility as an attack dog for the West, publishing research that the media can cite, supposedly as “independent,” rather than rely directly on intelligence officials, whose credibility with the public is automatically far lower.

Oliver Boyd-Barrett, professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University and an expert in the connections between the deep state and the fourth estate, told MintPress that “the role of Bellingcat is to provide spurious legitimacy to U.S./NATO pretexts for war and conflict.” In far more positive words, the CIA actually appears to agree with him.

“I don’t want to be too dramatic, but we love [Bellingcat],” said Marc Polymeropoulos, the agency’s former deputy chief of operations for Europe and Eurasia. “Whenever we had to talk to our liaison partners about it, instead of trying to have things cleared or worry about classification issues, you could just reference [Bellingcat’s] work.” Polymeropoulos recently attempted to blame his headache problems on a heretofore unknown Russian microwave weapon, a claim that remarkably became an international scandal. “The greatest value of Bellingcat is that we can then go to the Russians and say ‘there you go’ [when they ask for evidence],” added former CIA Chief of Station Daniel Hoffman.

Bellingcat certainly seems to pay particular attention to the crimes of official enemies. As investigative journalist Matt Kennard noted, it has only published five stories on the United Kingdom, 17 on Saudi Arabia, 19 on the U.S. (most of which are about foreign interference in American society or far-right/QAnon cults). Yet it has 144 on Russia and 244 under its Syria tag.

In his new book “We Are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People,” the outlet’s boss Higgins writes: “We have no agenda but we do have a credo: evidence exists and falsehoods exist, and people still care about the difference.” Yet exploring the backgrounds of its journalists and its sources of funding quickly reveals this to be a badly spun piece of PR.

Bellingcat looks far more like a bunch of spooks masquerading as citizen journalists than a people-centered organization taking on power and lies wherever it sees them. Unfortunately, with many of its proteges travelling through the pipeline into influential media outlets, it seems that there might be quite a few masquerading as reporters as well.

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles.

April 15, 2021 Posted by | Book Review, Deception, Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Inventing Pretexts to Bash Russia

By Stephen Lendman | April 9, 2021

Establishment media provide press agent services for US imperial interests.

Russia bashing again surfaced in support of political nobody, convicted embezzler Navalny.

Along with grand theft of millions of dollars for self-enrichment, he’s unindicted but guilty of sedition, serving as a CIA/NED asset, and operating as an unregistered US foreign agent — a nation waging war on Russia by other means that could turn hot by accident or intent.

Navalny got off easily. Instead of longterm imprisonment for betraying his country and grand theft, he was sentenced to 2.8 years imprisonment.

He’s interned in central Russia about 80 miles from Moscow.

According to the lying machine NYT, his imprisonment “poses a lethal risk to his health (sic).”

Calling him Putin’s “preeminent political opponent” reinvented reality, a Times specialty.

So is serial lying. Last summer en route to Moscow, he fell ill from a metabolic disorder, what Russian doctors diagnosed when treating and stabilizing him.

No “poisoning with a military nerve agent” occurred, no “assassination attempt,” no attempt to harm him in any way.

Just the opposite! Russian doctors saved him from what may have been severe hypoglycemia, or insulin shock, a serious health risk for anyone with diabetes like Navalny.

Nearly a week ago, he began hunger-striking over alleged failure by prison authorities to provide medical treatment sought.

On Monday, prison doctors diagnosed a respiratory ailment. In response, he was moved to an infirmary for treatment.

If poisoned by a military grade nerve agent, he’d have died in minutes.

If Russia wanted him dead, he’d have been eliminated long ago.

Despite his criminality and overall unacceptable action, Moscow respects the rule of law — polar opposite how the US-dominated West operates, waging endless wars on humanity at home and abroad.

Navalny fully recovered, returned to Moscow voluntarily, was arrested for violating terms of his suspended sentence, and is paying the price.

He warrants no leniency, sympathy, or support for his criminality.

Establishment media backing is all about inventing any pretext to bash Russia and Vladimir Putin personally — a preeminent world leader in stark contract to his unindicted Western counterparts for crimes of war, against humanity, and other criminality too serious to ignore.

Turning reality on its head like the Times, WaPo falsely claimed Navalny is being “slowly killed” by Russia (sic).

His temperature is slightly elevated at 100.5. He’s coughing, and may be suffering from a respiratory illness.

Saying he’ll continue hunger-striking despite being ill makes him responsible if his condition worsens.

Former US political prisoner Maria Butina visited Navalny’s prison ward with an RT camera crew, saying the following:

“I’m tired of the complaining. He is in one of the best penal colonies in Russia.”

His treatment is polar opposite Butina’s horrific ordeal — imprisoned and brutally mistreated for being a Russian national in police state USA at the wrong time.

US dirty war on Russia by other means takes many forms — including politicized arrests, imprisonments, and brutal mistreatment under harsh gulag conditions.

Arrested by the FBI in July 2018, Butina was detained without bond and falsely charged with operating as an unregistered Russian agent — a bald-faced Big Lie.

At the time, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova denounced her arrest, detention, and mistreatment, calling it part of (a US) campaign to “stoke Russophobic hysteria.”

Despite innocent of bogus charges against her and posing no flight risk, she was denied bail, largely held in suffocating solitary confinement, and given no proper medical care – aiming to break her will by gross mistreatment.

Numerous other Russian nationals languish unjustly in Washington’s gulag longterm — guilty of nothing but their “wrong” nationality.

A Final Comment

Last October, Russia’s OPCW representative Alexander Shuglin said the following:

Despite unjustifiable demands by Russophobic Western officials, Moscow “does not owe anything to anybody” in response to groundless accusations of poisoning Navalny, adding:

“We do not need to explain ourselves to (Western officials) and we are not going to.”

“Until we receive documents, materials, samples, physical evidence that – as alleged by those accusing us – proving that a toxic agent was found in Alexei Navalny’s tests, until they sit down at the negotiating table with us for an engaged expert-level dialogue, we will treat everything that is going on in the context of this incident as a vociferous propaganda campaign of lies, or, simply, a low-grade provocation.”

To the present day, Russia never received information it requested from Berlin where Navalny was treated —nothing in cahoots with US dark forces to unacceptably bash Russia, part of their long war by other means.

April 9, 2021 Posted by | Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

They’re Not Even Trying to Make Sense Now

By Patrick Armstrong | Strategic Culture Foundation | March 31, 2021

The US intelligence community published a report on 10 March, widely reported in the US free speech news media, on foreign interference in the US election (how many oxymorons so far?). The report establishes a new level of idiocy on the long-running “Russiagate” nonsense.

The idiocy began when Trump, campaigning, remarked that it would be better to get along with Russia than not. A sentiment that would not have surprised Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan or any of the others who recognised that, like it or not, Moscow was a fact. A fact that had to be dealt with, talked to, negotiated with so as to produce the best possible result. Why? Well, apart from the diplomatic reality that it is better to get on with your neighbours, the fact that the USSR/Russia was a nuclear power that could obliterate the USA was adequate reason to keep communications alive. If relations could be improved, all earlier US Presidents would agree, so much the better. But for Trump – the outsider – to dare to say so was an outrage. Or more accurately, a hook on which to hang enough simulated outrage to cost him the election. Then, upsetting all expectations, he won. Immediately pussy hat protests, blather about tax returns, Electoral College speculations, 25th Amendment, psychiatrists opining unfitness (COVFEFE: Bizarre Trump Behavior Raises More Mental Health Questions): an entire industry was created to get Trump out, or, if he couldn’t be got out, then at least prevented from doing any of the things he campaigned on. All the swamp creatures were mobilised. The most enduring of these efforts was the Russia allegation. A Special Counsel was created to investigate Russia, Trump and the election. Leaks from this and other investigations fuelled outrage and talk shows.

One of the indications that the story was actually an information operation and not based on fact was its imprecision. Was Trump merely too friendly with Putin, or was he his puppet? Was Trump just a fool to think that relations with Russia could be improved, or was he following instructions? In short, was he a dupe or a traitor? How exactly had Russia interfered in the election and to what effect? Had a few voters been influenced or had the result been completely determined by Moscow? In short was Moscow running the USA or just trying to? Proponents of these crackpot theories never quite specified what they were talking about – it was all suggestion, innuendo, rumours and promises of future devastating revelations. Some of the highlights of the campaign: Keith Olberman shouting Russian scum! Morgan Freeman solemnly intoning that we were at war, and, night after night, Rachel Maddow spewing conspiracies. Some media headlines: Opinion: Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian assetTrump is ‘owned by Putin’ and has been ‘laundering money’ for Russians, claims MSNBC’s Donny DeutschMueller’s Report Shows All The Ways Russia Interfered In 2016 Presidential ElectionA media firestorm as Trump seems to side with Putin over US intelligenceTrump and Putin, closer than everAll signs point the same way: Vladimir Putin has compromising information on Donald Trump. And so on. Four years of non-stop nonsense promising, tomorrow, or the next day, the final revelation that would disgrace Trump and rid the country of him forever: my personal favourite is this mashup of TV hairstyles telling us that the walls were closing in. Information war. Propaganda. Fake news.

All this despite the fact that the story as presented simply made no sense at all. As I pointed out in December 2017, if Moscow had wanted to nobble Clinton, it had far more potent weapons at its disposal than a too-late revelation of finagling inside the DNC.

And it wasn’t just TV talking heads; the US intelligence community participated. There were two laughable “intelligence assessments”. The DHS/FBI report of 29 December 2016 carried this stunning disclaimer:

This report is provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not provide any warranties of any kind regarding any information contained within.

The DNI report of 6 January 2017 devoted nearly half its space to a four-year-old rant about RT and admitted that the one Agency that would really know had only “moderate confidence”. In short: ignore the first report, and don’t take the second one seriously. Were people inside these organisations trying to tell us it was all phoney? No matter, the anti-Trump conspiracy shrieked out the reports immediately.

One by one, it fell apart. Mueller, despite the prayer candles, came up with nothing. The “Dirty Dossier” was a fraud. The impeachment for something that Biden actually did failed. These dates should be remembered – Crowdstrike CEO Shawn Henry told the House committee that he had no evidence on 5 December 2017; this classified testimony was not made public until 7 May 2020. Simply put: the key allegation, the trigger for all the excitement and investigations that followed, was a lie, many people knew it was a lie, the lie was kept secret for 884 days. But the lie served its purpose.

There were no investigations of this fraud, only pseudo investigations that went nowhere. When the Republicans had a majority on the House of Representatives there were serious investigations but the testimonies – like Henry’s – were kept secret because they were “classified”. When the Democrats gained control, there were continual boasts that the evidence of collusion was overwhelming, but nothing happened either. Trump’s first Attorney General recused himself and the investigation was conducted by the conspirators. His second Attorney General promised much, set up a Special Counsel, but nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing: a junior conspirator had his knuckles rapped for faking a FISA warrant. In short, the Deep State ran the clock out: the swamp drained Trump.

Ran it out quite successfully too: relations with Russia got worse and Trump himself was hamstrung. His orders were ignored everywhere: on investigating the conspiracy and on removing troops; here’s an insider telling us that the Pentagon ignored his orders on Afghanistan. He was stonewalled on Syria: “We were always playing shell games to not make clear to our leadership how many troops we had there.” The “most powerful man in the world” was blocked on almost every initiative and the long false Russia connection story was a powerful weapon in the conspiracy to impede his attempts to change course.

In 2021 Trump left office and there was no need to mention any of it again. But here’s where it gets really stupid. In December 2020, the NYT solemnly told us: Russian Hackers Broke Into Federal Agencies, U.S. Officials Suspect: In one of the most sophisticated and perhaps largest hacks in more than five years, email systems were breached at the Treasury and Commerce Departments. Other breaches are under investigation. At the same time we were equally solemnly told by US officials “The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history”.

In short, we are supposed to believe that

in 2016 the Russian hacked nothing but the election

and in 2020 they hacked everything but the election.

How stupid do they think we are? Even stupider evidently. Instead of retiring the Trump/Russia/collusion/interference nonsense when it had achieved its purpose, the Intelligence Community Assessment on Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections takes us right back down the rabbit hole. I haven’t read it and certainly don’t intend to (see oxymoron above), but Matt Taibbi has and eviscerates it here; he’s read far enough to have mined this gem “Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact”. (Is this a hint from insiders that it’s all fake?) The report claims that Putin authorised, and various Russian government entities conducted, a campaign to denigrate Biden. Specifically by using Ukrainian sources to talk about corruption of Biden and his son Hunter; despite the video of Biden boasting about firing the investigator, we’re assured that this is all disinformation. And the consumers of the NYT and CNN will believe what they were told. Or, actually, will believe what they weren’t told: the media kept quiet. (Now that’s interference and interference that actually might have changed votes.) The report goes on to say that China did something or other and Iran, Hezbollah, Cuba and Venezuela also chipped in. But fortunately no foreign actor did anything to affect the technical part of the election.

The US security organs expect us to believe,

giving no proof,

that there was lots of malign activity

which had no effect on the election whatsoever.

Which is telling us they think we’re even stupider. Russia swung the election four years ago but forgot how to this time? Putin’s attempt to keep Trump in was blocked by security measures adopted when his tool was President? This time Putin wanted Biden in? Russia’s efforts on behalf of Trump were countered by China’s on behalf of Biden and Iran’s interference broke the tie? But then, information operations don’t have to make sense, they just have to create an impression: Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela do bad things to good people.

Oh, and the latest is that Moscow cultivated Trump for over 40 years, Imagine that: in 1980 they were so perceptive as to see the future importance of a property developer; who’ve they got lined up in the wings now? And Rachel Maddow is back at the old stand pushing some conspiracy theory about Trump, Putin and COVID. I guess it’s not yet time to put away the tinfoil hats.

As I have said before, English needs a whole new set of words for the concept “stupid”: the old ones just don’t have the power any more.

March 31, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Russophobia | | 1 Comment

Covid-19 cases decrease in Texas as governor’s ‘NEANDERTHAL THINKING’ apparently hasn’t caused a predicted virus catastrophe

RT | March 30, 2021

Nearly three weeks on from Texas ending its mask mandate and other Covid-19 measures – leading to Governor Greg Abbott being called a murderer by media and politicians – there’s no sign of the sky falling on the Lone Star State.

In fact, Texas just posted a record low in its rate of positive Covid-19 tests, at less than 5.3%, and hospitalizations are at the lowest level since last October. Deaths are at the lowest level in four months. Since March 2, the day Abbott announced that state Covid-19 restrictions would end the following week, the seven-day average for new infections has dropped 48%, to a nearly six-month low of 3,774.

No one is claiming that infections and other Covid-19 measures are down in Texas specifically because Abbott decided “we no longer need government running our lives,” but the absence of predicted catastrophe is providing a shining example for those who argue that states that keep their economies open fare just as well on pandemic performance as those that lock their people down and destroy livelihoods.

Texas, in fact, is seeing declines in Covid-19 cases just as New York and New Jersey – states with such draconian measures that business owners were literally taken to jail for refusing to obey – are once again suffering the highest infection rates in the country. New Jersey has seen a 37% surge in new cases in the past month, to 23,600 weekly.

The juxtaposition in statistics is clearly flipped the wrong way for President Joe Biden, who earlier accused Abbott and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves of “Neanderthal thinking” for lifting their coronavirus restrictions, and other doomsayers. And by the way, Mississippi’s Covid-19 case rate is down 57% in the past month, to a seven-day average of 254.

Abbott set off a wave of Republican governors freeing their citizens from mask mandates, which Vanity Fair called a “bold plan to kill another 500,000 Americans.” Biden’s fellow Democrat, California Governor Gavin Newsom, called Abbott “absolutely reckless.” Mainstream media hero Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to Biden, called Abbott’s decision “inexplicable,” while author Kurt Eichenwald said it was “murderous.”

Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa accused the governor of being “anti-human” and predicted that hospitals would be jammed with Covid patients.

That hasn’t happened so far, and Texas has posted 18 straight days of improving case numbers since the restrictions officially ended on March 10. But US mainstream media outlets have responded to the counter-narrative phenomenon mostly by ignoring it.

Instead of telling the Texas story, the New York Times breathlessly warned on Monday that case numbers in Republican-controlled Florida had ticked up 8% from two weeks ago, to nearly 5,000 infections a day. Hospitalizations and deaths remained down, the Times conceded, and the increase in cases paled in comparison to those in New York and New Jersey.

But the outlet warned that Florida is a “bellwether for the nation” and falsely said it was “furthest along in lifting restrictions.” Iowa and Montana lifted their restrictions in early February, and some GOP-led states didn’t have mask mandates to begin with.

And rather than rethinking the efficacy of tight Covid-19 mitigation measures, lockdown proponents suggest that the recent case increases in New York and New Jersey mean that their apparently ineffective rules need to be tougher. New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to “stick to the science, trust the experts and pause planned reopenings now.” Biden said Monday that a national increase in Covid cases may stem from people “letting up on precautions.”

March 30, 2021 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , | Leave a comment

Congress, in a Five-Hour Hearing, Demands Tech CEOs Censor the Internet Even More Aggressively

By Glenn Greenwald | March 26, 2021

Over the course of five-plus hours on Thursday, a House Committee along with two subcommittees badgered three tech CEOs, repeatedly demanding that they censor more political content from their platforms and vowing legislative retaliation if they fail to comply. The hearing — convened by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Chair Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), and the two Chairs of its Subcommittees, Mike Doyle (D-PA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) — was one of the most stunning displays of the growing authoritarian effort in Congress to commandeer the control which these companies wield over political discourse for their own political interests and purposes.

As I noted when I reported last month on the scheduling of this hearing, this was “the third time in less than five months that the U.S. Congress has summoned the CEOs of social media companies to appear before them with the explicit intent to pressure and coerce them to censor more content from their platforms.” The bulk of Thursday’s lengthy hearing consisted of one Democratic member after the next complaining that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Google/Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey have failed in their duties to censor political voices and ideological content that these elected officials regard as adversarial or harmful, accompanied by threats that legislative punishment (including possible revocation of Section 230 immunity) is imminent in order to force compliance (Section 230 is the provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that shields internet companies from liability for content posted by their users).

Republican members largely confined their grievances to the opposite concern: that these social media giants were excessively silencing conservative voices in order to promote a liberal political agenda (that complaint is only partially true: a good amount of online censorship, like growing law enforcement domestic monitoring generally, focuses on all anti-establishment ideologiesnot just the right-wing variant). This editorial censoring, many Republicans insisted, rendered the tech companies’ Section 230 immunity obsolete, since they are now acting as publishers rather than mere neutral transmitters of information. Some Republicans did join with Democrats in demanding greater censorship, though typically in the name of protecting children from mental health disorders and predators rather than ideological conformity.

As they have done in prior hearings, both Zuckerberg and Pichai spoke like the super-scripted, programmed automatons that they are, eager to please their Congressional overseers (though they did periodically issue what should have been unnecessary warnings that excessive “content moderation” can cripple free political discourse). Dorsey, by contrast, seemed at the end of his line of patience and tolerance for vapid, moronic censorship demands, and — sitting in a kitchen in front of a pile of plates and glasses — he, refreshingly, barely bothered to hide that indifference. At one point, he flatly stated in response to demands that Twitter do more to remove “disinformation”: “I don’t think we should be the arbiters of truth and I don’t think the government should be either.”

Zuckerberg in particular has minimal capacity to communicate the way human beings naturally do. The Facebook CEO was obviously instructed by a team of public speaking consultants that it is customary to address members of the Committee as “Congressman” or “Congresswoman.” He thus began literally every answer he gave — even in rapid back and forth questions — with that word. He just refused to move his mouth without doing that — for five hours (though, in fairness, the questioning of Zuckerberg was often absurd and unreasonable). His brain permits no discretion to deviate from his script no matter how appropriate. For every question directed to him, he paused for several seconds, had his internal algorithms search for the relevant place in the metaphorical cassette inserted in a hidden box in his back, uttered the word “Congressman” or “Congresswoman,” stopped for several more seconds to search for the next applicable spot in the spine-cassette, and then proceeded unblinkingly to recite the words slowly transmitted into his neurons. One could practically see the gears in his head painfully churning as the cassette rewound or fast-forwarded. This tortuous ritual likely consumed roughly thirty percent of the hearing time. I’ve never seen members of Congress from across the ideological spectrum so united as they were by visceral contempt for Zuckerberg’s non-human comportment:


But it is vital not to lose sight of how truly despotic hearings like this are. It is easy to overlook because we have become so accustomed to political leaders successfully demanding that social media companies censor the internet in accordance with their whims. Recall that Parler, at the time it was the most-downloaded app in the country, was removed in January from the Apple and Google Play Stores and then denied internet service by Amazon, only after two very prominent Democratic House members publicly demanded this. At the last pro-censorship hearing convened by Congress, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) explicitly declared that the Democrats’ grievance is not that these companies are censoring too much but rather not enough. One Democrat after the next at Thursday’s hearing described all the content on the internet they want gone: or else. Many of them said this explicitly.

At one point toward the end of the hearing, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), in the context of the January 6 riot, actually suggested that the government should create a list of groups they unilaterally deem to be “domestic terror organizations” and then provide it to tech companies as guidance for what discussions they should “track and remove”: in other words, treat these groups the same as ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Words cannot convey how chilling and authoritarian this all is: watching government officials, hour after hour, demand censorship of political speech and threaten punishment for failures to obey. As I detailed last month, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the state violates the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee when they coerce private actors to censor for them — exactly the tyrannical goal to which these hearings are singularly devoted.

There are genuine problems posed by Silicon Valley monopoly power. Monopolies are a threat to both political freedom and competition, which is why economists of most ideological persuasions have long urged the need to prevent them. There is some encouraging legislation pending in Congress with bipartisan support (including in the House Antitrust Subcommittee before which I testified several weeks ago) that would make meaningful and productive strides toward diluting the unaccountable and undemocratic power these monopolies wield over our political and cultural lives. If these hearings were about substantively considering those antitrust measures, they would be meritorious.

But that is hard and difficult work and that is not what these hearings are about. They want the worst of all worlds: to maintain Silicon Valley monopoly power but transfer the immense, menacing power to police our discourse from those companies into the hands of the Democratic-controlled Congress and Executive Branch.

And as I have repeatedly documented, it is not just Democratic politicians agitating for greater political censorship but also their liberal journalistic allies, who cannot tolerate that there may be any places on the internet that they cannot control. That is the petty wannabe-despot mentality that has driven them to police the “unfettered” discussions on the relatively new conversation app Clubhouse, and escalate their attempts to have writers they dislike removed from Substack. Just today, The New York Times warns, on its front page, that there are “unfiltered” discussions taking place on Google-enabled podcasts:

New York Times front page, Mar. 26, 2021

We are taught from childhood that a defining hallmark of repressive regimes is that political officials wield power to silence ideas and people they dislike, and that, conversely, what makes the U.S. a “free” society is the guarantee that American leaders are barred from doing so. It is impossible to reconcile that claim with what happened in that House hearing room over the course of five hours on Thursday.

March 28, 2021 Posted by | Civil Liberties | , , | 1 Comment

To Western Media, Prosecuting Bolivian Coup Leaders Is Worse Than Leading a Coup

BY JOE EMERSBERGER | FAIR | MARCH 23, 2021

One can imagine an editor of the London-based Guardian (3/17/21) shaking her head sadly as she typed the headline: “Cycle of Retribution Takes Bolivia’s Ex-President From Palace to Prison Cell.”  The subhead told readers, “Jeanine Áñez’s government once sought to jail the country’s former leader Evo Morales for terrorism and sedition—now she faces the same charges.”

The Guardian article by Tom Phillips wants us to lament an alleged incapacity of Bolivian governments to stop persecuting opponents once they take office. We are told that Áñez’s government did it, and that now the government of President Luis Arce (elected in a landslide win on October 18, 2020) is also doing it.

The article’s premise is a lie, and the liberal Guardian has hardly been the only outlet spreading it, with help from Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), whom Philips quoted. A team effort between Western media and NGOs like HRW often reinforces the views of the US government (FAIR.org8/23/188/31/185/31/2o11/3/18).

Áñez was a US-backed dictator installed after a military coup sent democratically elected President Evo Morales fleeing Bolivia for his life on November 10, 2019.  Once in power, Áñez immediately promised security forces legal immunity as they massacred dozens of protesters. She is now charged with terrorism (in addition to sedition and criminal conspiracy) over her attempt to keep power by terrorizing the public. Her arrest is good news to people who support democracy and human rights.

But now, as when the coup took place in 2019, the most obvious conclusions are evaded when they are incompatible with US foreign policy (FAIR.org11/11/19). It should surprise nobody that US officials have made statements depicting her arrest as political persecution.

Fighting to spring an ex-dictator

In downgrading the coup that installed Áñez to a mere allegation made against Áñez, Reuters (3/13/21), the Financial Times (3/13/21), the Washington Post (3/13/21), CNN (3/15/21) and Canada’s National Post (3/13/21) have all run articles quoting HRW’s Vivanco criticizing her arrest. CNN quoted him:

The arrest warrants against Añez and her ministers do not contain any evidence that they have committed the crime of “terrorism.” For this reason, they generate well-founded doubts that it is a process based on political motives.

The Washington Post article, whose headline alleged a “crackdown on opposition,” used a shorter version of the same quote from Vivanco.

While all the articles described the coup as an allegation, CNN stands out for getting the most ridiculous with its denialism:

Then-head of the Bolivian Armed Forces, Cmdr. Williams Kaliman, asked Morales to step down to restore stability and peace; Morales acquiesced on November 10 “for the good of Bolivia.”

But political allies maintain he was removed from power as part of a coup orchestrated by conservatives, including Áñez.

Did Kaliman need to be filmed putting a gun directly to Morales’ head for CNN to admit it was a coup?

Adding to the disinformation loop from his own platform on Twitter, Vivanco spread an Americas Quarterly op-ed  by Raul Peñaranda (3/16/21) that denounced the arrest of Áñez. Peñaranda once said that Bolivia’s democracy was “saved” the day Morales was overthrown, and his recent op-ed depicts the November 2019 coup as a legal transfer of power.

In 2019, the military publicly “urged” Morales to resign, as both the military and police made clear they would not protect him from violent right-wing protesters, some of whom ransacked his house.  Áñez, a right-wing senator whose party received only 4% of the national vote in the 2019 legislative elections, had the presidential sash placed on her by military men, while lawmakers from Evo Morales’ party (Movimineto al Socialismo, or MAS), the majority in the legislature, were absent: some in hiding, others refusing to attend without guarantees of their safety and their families’.

Ignoring all that, the Guardian article by Tom Philips refers to “claims the former senator [Áñez] was involved in plotting the right-wing coup that Bolivia’s current government claims brought her to power.” (My emphasis.) Editors are usually big fans of concision. The highlighted words should have been deleted. An added benefit would have been accuracy.

Of course, it’s easier to deny that Áñez was involved in plotting the coup that put her in power (hardly a stretch) if you do not even accept that a coup took place. Reuters placed scare quotes around the word “coup” in headlines about Áñez’s arrest: “Bolivian Ex-President Áñez Begins Four-Month Detention Over ‘Coup’ Allegations” (3/16/21); “ Bolivian Ex-President Áñez Begins Jail Term as Rights Groups Slam ‘Coup’ Probe” (3/14/21).

Reuters (3/14/21) and CNN (3/15/21) also uncritically reported the thoroughly debunked pretext for the coup. CNN reported, “Though an international audit would later find the results the 2019 election could not be validated because of ‘serious irregularities,’ [Morales] declared himself the winner, prompting massive protests around the country.” (The “international audit” is the OAS’s widely debunked report.) Reuters simply stated that the Organization of America States (OAS) “was an official monitor of the 2019 election and had found it fraudulent.”

Cycle of dishonesty

The coup was incited by transparently dishonest claims repeatedly made by OAS monitors about the presidential election won by Morales on October 20, 2019. Three days after the election, they claimed there was a “drastic,” “inexplicable” and “hard to explain” increase in Morales’ lead in the vote count (FAIR.org12/17/19).

The Washington, DC–based Center for Economic and Policy Research immediately pointed out that this was utter nonsense. But in the crucial months following Morales’ ouster, outlets like Reuters constantly shielded the OAS from devastating criticism. Eventually, expert criticism of the OAS continually mounted and disrupted the media silence. Details from the election results in 2020, in which Evo Morales’ party triumphed by an even greater margin than in 2019, further exposed OAS dishonesty.

Like Reuters, the widely quoted Jose Miguel Vivanco of HRW spread fraud claims when it mattered most in 2019. The day after the election won by Morales, Vivanco  tweeted in Spanish that “everything indicates that [Evo Morales]  intends to steal the election.” As late as December 2019, HRW executive director Ken Roth was also promoting OAS claims without the slightest trace of scepticism. Months into the murderous illegitimate rule of Áñez, Vivanco explicitly referred to Bolivia as a “democracy.” He did so in a Spanish-language interview with BrujulaDigital  (5/15/20), an outlet edited by Raul Peñaranda, the coup supporter whose Americas Quarterly op-ed Vivanco recently promoted on Twitter. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Vivanco constantly refers to the governments of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, and President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua–two democratically elected presidents the US government wants overthrown–as “dictaduras” (dictatorships).

The New York Times editorial board openly supported the coup that ousted Morales in 2019:

The forced ouster of an elected leader is by definition a setback to democracy, and so a moment of risk. But when a leader resorts to brazenly abusing the power and institutions put in his care by the electorate, as President Evo Morales did in Bolivia, it is he who sheds his legitimacy, and forcing him out often becomes the only remaining option. That is what the Bolivians have done, and what remains is to hope that Mr. Morales goes peacefully into exile in Mexico and to help Bolivia restore its wounded democracy.

So predictably enough, a Times article (3/12/21) about the recent Áñez arrest referred vaguely to the utterly debunked OAS fraud claims (“a contested vote count”) and took the same kind of dishonest stance as HRW and other Western media by equating a US-backed dictatorship to a democratically elected government whose ouster the US supported: “Both Mr. Morales and Ms. Añez used the judiciary to go after their critics.”

The Washington Post editorial board (3/18/21) came out with a wild defense of  Añez, headlined: “The Bolivian Government Is on a Lawless Course. Its Democracy Must Be Preserved.” Most ominously, the editorial said, “The Biden administration should lead a regional effort to preserve democratic stability in this long-suffering country, lest crisis turn into catastrophe.” Informed people may laugh at this for a few seconds–until they remember that Bolivia’s people could eventually face lethal US sanctions for daring to hold murderers to account. Left unchallenged, that’s the catastrophe that propaganda like this could bring about.

Brutal dictators supported by Washington have no reason to doubt that establishment journalists and big NGOs will try very hard to keep them out of jail. Removing the threat of US -backed coups from the world will involve a constant struggle against Western media and the sources they present to us as reliable.

March 26, 2021 Posted by | Fake News, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | 1 Comment