Helsinki Summit: Trump and Putin Respond to Mueller Indictments

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/07/2018 - 9:00am in

Eric Zuesse In the July 16th joint press conference between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the question arose of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officials for allegedly having engineered the theft of computer files from the Democratic National Committee and from John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman. Here is that part of the press conference, in a question that was addressed to both Presidents (and I boldface here the key end part of Putin’s presentation, and then I proceed to link to two articles which link to the evidence — the actual documents — that Putin is referring to in his response): REPORTER (Jeff Mason from Reuters): For President Putin if I could follow up as well. Why should Americans and why should President Trump believe your statement that Russia did not intervene in the 2016 election given the evidence that US Intelligence agencies have provided? Will you consider extraditing the 12 Russian officials that were indicted last week by a US Grand jury. TRUMP: …

Lift the ban on communications! Free Julian Assange!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/06/2018 - 12:53am in

by James Coga, via WSWS June 6 will mark 10 weeks since the Ecuadorian government blocked all communication by WikiLeaks’ editor Julian Assange with the outside world, including personal visitors. Assange has been trapped inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, when Quito granted him asylum in the face of a legal witch-hunt by the governments of the United States, Britain and Sweden. Britain was moving to extradite Assange to Sweden on trumped-up allegations of sexual abuse as the first step in transferring him to the US to face charges of espionage, which carry a possible death sentence. Washington had vowed to punish Assange for having exposed before the world war crimes committed by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as US intrigues against other countries. In remarks last Wednesday, Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno attempted to defend the silencing of Assange. He sought to deny—unconvincingly—that this action was the outcome of his government’s capitulation to pressure and threats by the United States. Moreno put forward an Orwellian conception of freedom of speech …

Ecuador’s Ex-President Rafael Correa Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/05/2018 - 2:20am in

Former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, in an exclusive interview with The Intercept on Wednesday morning, denounced his country’s current government for blocking Julian Assange from receiving visitors in its embassy in London as a form of “torture” and a violation of Ecuador’s duties to protect Assange’s safety and well-being. Correa said this took place in the context of Ecuador no longer maintaining “normal sovereign relations with the American government — just submission.”

Correa also responded to a widely discussed Guardian article yesterday, which claimed that “Ecuador bankrolled a multimillion-dollar spy operation to protect and support Julian Assange in its central London embassy.” The former president mocked the story as highly “sensationalistic,” accusing The Guardian of seeking to depict routine and modest embassy security measures as something scandalous or unusual.

On March 27, Assange’s internet access at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London was cut off by Ecuadorian officials, who also installed jamming devices to prevent Assange from accessing the internet using other means of connection. Assange’s previously active Twitter account has had no activity since then, nor have any journalists been able to communicate with him. All visitors to the embassy have also been denied access to Assange, who was formally made a citizen of Ecuador earlier this year.

Ecuador's President and candidate for re-election Rafael Correa, top right, and vice presidential candidate Jorge Glass, top left, accompanied by relatives, celebrate after presidential elections in Quito, Ecuador, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013. Although official results had still not been released, Correa celebrated his second re-election as Ecuador's president after an exit poll showed him leading by a wide margin. (AP Photo/Martin Jaramillo)

Rafeal Correa celebrates his overwhelming re-election win as Ecuador’s president in 2013, with his Vice President Jorge Glas.

Photo: Martin Jaramillo/AP

Assange has been confined to the embassy for almost six years, when Ecuador granted him asylum in August 2012. The grant of asylum was made on the grounds that Assange’s extradition to Sweden for a sexual assault investigation would likely result in being sent to the U.S. for prosecution, where he could face the death penalty.

From the start, Ecuador told both the U.K. and Swedish governments that it would immediately send Assange to Stockholm in exchange for a pledge from Sweden not to use that as a pretext to extradite him to the U.S., something the Swedish government had the power to do but refused.

Correa also emphasized that Ecuador, from the start, told Swedish investigators that they were welcome to interrogate Assange in their embassy, but almost five years elapsed before Swedish prosecutors — in 2016 — finally did so. Citing those facts, a United Nations panel ruled in 2016 that the actions of the U.K. government constituted “arbitrary detention” and a violation of Assange’s fundamental human rights, a decision British officials quickly said they intended to ignore.

Despite the fact that Swedish prosecutors dropped its sex crimes investigation last May (not because they concluded Assange was innocent, but because they believed further efforts to bring him to Sweden were futile), U.K. authorities have vowed to arrest him on what it claims are bail violations.

The danger for Assange thus remains high if were to leave the embassy, particularly in light of a highly threatening speech given last year by Mike Pompeo, then U.S. President Donald Trump’s CIA director and now his secretary of state, in which he labeled WikiLeaks a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” denied that its publication of documents is protected by the First Amendment, and vowed that “to give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.”

In January, doctors who examined Assange inside the embassy warned that continued confinement posed grave threats to both his physical and mental health. Assange’s mother said earlier this week that his health was “rapidly deteriorating” and had become “extremely dangerous.”

Correa cited those facts, as well as Ecuador’s legal obligations under international law to asylees, to denounce Ecuador’s denial of visitors to Assange as “basically torture.” Denial of visitors is, Correa said, “a clear violation of his rights. Once we give asylum to someone, we are responsible for his safety, for ensuring humane living conditions.” But “without communications to the outside world and visits from anyone, the government is basically attacking Julian’s mental health.”

The ex-president said he believed it could be appropriate to limit Assange’s communications if he were acting “irresponsibly” by interfering in another country’s politics. During the 2016 U.S. election, Correa said, his own government told Assange that it thought his attacks on Hillary Clinton were becoming excessive and briefly suspended his internet connection to underline its concerns.

“But that was just temporary,” said Correa. “We never intended to take away his internet for an extended period of time. That is going way too far.” Correa’s Foreign Affairs Minister Guillaume Long similarly said in an interview with The Guardian earlier this morning that he, too, believed that the denial of visitors to Assange and the blocking of his internet access for this long — believed to be due to Assange’s frequent tweeting over the Catalan independence movement in Spain — was unjust.

As for reports that Ecuador is negotiating with the U.K. government to turn over Assange, Correa said that he had no knowledge of those discussions, but said it would be “unthinkable” for Ecuador to do so without first obtaining enforceable protections for Assange’s rights, including not having the U.K. government use the bail violations as a pretext to hand over Assange to the U.S.

Emphasizing that the U.S. government has made clear that it wants to prosecute Assange for publishing newsworthy material under statutes that allow for the death penalty, Correa said any such deal that did not include protections against extradition to the U.S. would be “a terrible betrayal, a violation of the rules of asylum, and a breach of Ecuador’s responsibility to protect the safety and welfare of Julian Assange.”

During his presidency, Correa was particularly assertive about defending the sovereignty of his country from intrusions by more powerful states, particularly the U.S. In 2007, he ordered a U.S. military base on Ecuadorian soil closed unless the U.S. was willing to allow Ecuador the reciprocal right to establish a military base in Miami.

But earlier this month, Correa’s successor, the current Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno, announced that it had “recently signed an agreement focused on security cooperation [with the U.S.] which implies sharing information, intelligence topics and experiences in the fight against illegal drug trafficking and fighting transnational organized crime.” Many in Ecuador viewed that as a prelude to a return to the days when the U.S. dominated Ecuador, including with new military bases, a suspicion Moreno’s government denies.

But to Correa, Moreno is returning Ecuador to the days when it was subservient to the dictates of the U.S. government. “Everyone in Latin America knows what this agreement with the U.S. means control, intervention, spying,” he said. Given the submissive posture of the current Ecuadorian president, Correa said it would not shock him if they submitted to American and British demands regarding Assange. Correa also cited the Moreno government’s recent decision to terminate peace talks between the Colombian government and rebels on Ecuadorian soil, which the ex-president believes was done at the behest of the U.S.

As for the “spying” allegations in the Guardian article, Correa said that the newspaper took a customary and standard security arrangement, and tried to make it appear sinister and scandalous. “Of course we provided security to Assange in the embassy,” Correa said. “It was our duty under the law to do so. We had the U.K. government threatening to break into the embassy. We spent what amounts to a small amount of money to provide security.”

Correa said that unlike the U.S., which surrounds its embassies with massive military protection, Ecuador does not have the means to do that. “So, when we have special security needs, we hire private firms to provide it. There is nothing unusual about this. It would have been a violation of our duties if we did not.” Correa said his government hired a well-known security firm based in Spain, UC Global, to provide those services, but the current government replaced it with an Israeli firm. “But those services are still being provided by the current government,” Correa said.

As for The Guardian’s claim that Assange himself breached Ecuadorian cybersecurity systems to read emails and documents from Ecuadorian officials, Correa said the claim seemed “absurd,” adding that The Guardian “presented no evidence for this, just an anonymous source.” Conceding that it was possible that Assange had managed to hack into various government systems, he emphasized that he had no knowledge that any such spying by Assange had taken place nor has he seen any evidence for this claim.

The former president stressed that he had been given virtually no chance to respond to The Guardian’s allegations before publication of its article. “They sent it to some email address in Ecuador very shortly before they published the story,” said Correa, who is currently in Belgium. “I did not see the email until after the story was published. They seemed to want to make a sensationalized story, not any serious report to find out the truth.” Correa said he would provide The Intercept with the email sent by The Guardian; upon receipt from Correa, this article will be updated to include it.

Correa continues to believe that asylum for Assange is not only legally valid, but also obligatory. “We don’t agree with everything Assange has done or what he says,” Correa said. “And we never wanted to impede the Swedish investigation. We said all along that he would go to Sweden immediately in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the U.S., but they would never give that. And we knew they could have questioned him in our embassy, but they refused for years to do so.” The fault for the investigation not proceeding lies, he insists, with the Swedish and British governments.

But now that Assange has asylum, Correa is adamant that the current government is bound by domestic and international law to protect his well-being and safety. Correa was scathing in his denunciation of the treatment Assange is currently receiving, viewing it as a byproduct of Moreno’s inability or unwillingness to have Ecuador act like a sovereign and independent country.

Top photo: Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, makes a statement from a balcony of the Equador Embassy in London on Aug. 19, 2012.

The post Ecuador’s Ex-President Rafael Correa Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” appeared first on The Intercept.

The League of Assad-Loving Conspiracy Theorists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/04/2018 - 6:56pm in

So the global capitalist ruling classes’ War on Dissent is now in full swing. With their new and improved official narrative, “Democracy versus the Putin-Nazis,” successfully implanted in the public consciousness, the corporatocracy have been focusing their efforts on delegitimizing any and all forms of deviation from their utterly absurd and increasingly paranoid version of reality.

The Democratic Party is suing Russia, the Trump campaign, and Wikileaks (seriously … they’ve filed an actual lawsuit in an actual court of law an everything) for launching “an all-out assault on democracy” by publishing the DNC’s emails, “an act of unprecedented treachery,” according to Party Chairman Tom Perez. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, having already spent the last six years in a room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London to avoid being arrested by the British authorities, extradited to the United States, and imprisoned for the remainder of his natural life, has been cut off from the outside world in order to prevent him from further “interfering” with democracy by expressing his opinions.

In Syria, where the “international community” has been battling the “global terrorist threat” by supporting moderate jihadist militias intent on overthrowing the government and establishing a fundamentalist theocracy, the corporate media have been hard at work sanctifying the official story of the “chemical weapons attack” in Douma. According to this story, Bashar al-Assad, an uncooperative brutal dictator whom the corporatocracy has been trying to replace with a more cooperative brutal dictator, dropped a lot of chlorine gas bombs (and possibly sarin, the deadly nerve agent), onto a house full of innocent babies. He did this on the eve of victory over those moderate jihadist militias the “international community” has been supporting in their eight-year attempt to take over his country, slaughter him and his entire family, mount their severed heads on spikes, implement nationwide Sharia law, and then go out hunting homosexuals and heretics to gruesomely behead on YouTube. The evacuation of these freedom fighters was already being negotiated, but Assad didn’t want to miss his last chance to sadistically gas a lot of women and children and have the Western corporate media broadcast his war crimes throughout the world, or something more or less along those lines.

This gratuitous baby-gassing massacre could not be allowed to go unpunished, so Emmanuel Macron and other senior members of the “international community” hauled Trump in off a golf course somewhere (or wrestled him away from the Gorilla Channel) and ordered him to order a completely pointless one hundred fifty million dollar series of “retaliatory” missile strikes on assorted uninhabited buildings containing zero chemical weapons and of absolutely no strategic value. The corporate media and their paid menagerie of military experts and other talking heads took to the airwaves to celebrate this demonstration of international “resolve,” as did investors in Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics.

The celebrations were short-lived, however, as the corporate media needed to immediately turn their attention to aggressively countering the malicious disinformation campaign being waged by the infamous International Putin-Nazi Propaganda Network (i.e., anyone capable of critical thinking). Reports by journalists actually in Syria, like Robert Fisk of The Independent, casting doubt on the official story needed to be strenuously ignored, ridiculed, and delegitimized. Fisk, a respected, award-winning journalist who has covered the Middle East for over four decades, had clearly been duped by his Putin-Nazi minders into publishing pro-Assad propaganda. Just as clearly, any actual Syrians contradicting the official story (which the corporate media had scrupulously fact-checked with the US military and intelligence agencies) had been intimidated into doing so by Putin-Nazi-Assadist death squads.

But Fisk and the Syrians are small potatoes compared to the discord-sowing threat posed by the International League of Assad-Loving Twitter Conspiracy Theorists, a decentralized network of “anti-Western,” “pro-Assad,” extremist traitors led by people like Sarah Abdallah, a shadowy figure whose current whereabouts the BBC is still trying to pinpoint (and presumably report to MI6), and Vanessa Beeley, an independent journalist who writes about Syria for an “extreme right” website, speaks to “fringe groups,” and has appeared on RT, which the BBC is at pains to remind us is a “state-owned” media organization.

This nefarious network of dissension-sowers is also responsible for the “4000 percent increase” in Putin-Nazi propaganda in the wake of the Poisoned Porridge Attack that “Russia” carried out in Salisbury in March, in which operatives allegedly smeared the doorknob of a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter with oatmeal laced with Novichok, “the deadliest nerve agent ever devised,” instead of, well, you know, just shooting the guy, or throwing him out of an upper-floor window. Despite the potency of this lethal nerve agent, which, for some reason, “can only be made in Russia,” both victims are expected to completely recover. Tragically, their cat and guinea pigs, having also managed to survive the attack, were slowly starved to death by the police, presumably out of an abundance of caution.

In any event, according to the diligent, authoritative investigative journalists at The Guardian, following this brazen porridge attack, “automated bots” “based in Russia,” like @Partisangirl and @Ian56789, spread Putin-Nazi disinformation to millions of unknowing Twitter users in an attempt to “undermine the international system” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). As it turns out, @Partisangirl is just a human being and not a robot at all, and @Ian56789 is just a feisty British pensioner who is tired of being routinely lied to by the government and the corporate media … unless, of course, he’s a sleeper agent just posing as a feisty pensioner, which he hasn’t been able to conclusively disprove to the satisfaction of the corporate media. (Watch Ian being interrogated by a Sky News Russian Bot-Hunting Team and judge his loyalties for yourself!)

These are just a few examples of how the global capitalist ruling classes and their mouthpieces in the corporate media have been generating an atmosphere of mindless hysteria and paranoia in the service of drawing “a line in the sand” between neoliberalism (i.e., global capitalism) and any and all forms of dissent therefrom. They’ve been at this, relentlessly, for almost two years now, since they recognized they were being confronted with a bona fide widespread “populist” insurgency against the hegemony of global capitalism, not just in the Greater Middle East, but right in the heart of the Western empire.

I’ve been writing about this since 2016, so I’m not going to try to rehash all that here. The short version is, Western societies are being divided into two opposing camps … two extremely broad ideological camps, both of which encompass the traditional political division into left and right. Let’s call camp number one “the Normals” (i.e., those who support and conform to the values and ideology of global capitalism, regardless of whether they identify as conservatives, liberals, neoliberals, neoconservatives, or anything else). Let’s call camp number two “the Extremists” (i.e., those opposing global capitalism, or not conforming to its ideology, regardless of whether they identify as socialists, communists, anarchists, fascists, anti-fascists, jihadists, or whatever).

While, of course, real political conflict still takes place within each of these two broad camps, the global capitalist ruling classes are less concerned with the “left/right” equation than they are with “Normal/Extremist” equation. This is the battle they are fighting currently. Short some sort of miraculous event, it is a battle they are going to win. They are going to win it by demonizing anyone opposing global capitalism as one or another form of “extremist” … an Islamic terrorist, an Antifa terrorist, a white supremacist, a Black identity extremist, an anti-Semite, a conspiracy theorist, an Assad apologist, a Russian bot, a Putin-Nazi propagandist … or whatever. It doesn’t really matter which labels they use. The point is, anyone not conforming to the global capitalist version of reality is an enemy of all that is normal and good.

In an atmosphere of mass hysteria and paranoia (like the one we’re living in at the moment), the authorities’ narratives do not have to make sense, or stand up to any type of real scrutiny. Their primary purpose is not to deceive, but rather, to demarcate an ideological territory of acceptable belief, expression, and emotion to which “normal” people are expected to conform. Beyond the boundaries of that territory lies the outer darkness of “abnormality” and “extremism,” which no “normal” person wants anything to do with. To avoid being cast into this outer darkness, people will conform to the most absurd and paranoid nonsense you can possibly imagine. The global capitalist ruling classes know this, which is why they don’t care if you disprove their narratives on Twitter or some “disreputable” website they’ve rendered virtually invisible anyway. They are not debating the facts or the truth … they are marking the boundaries of that “normal” territory, and herding frightened people into it.

This article in Haaretz by Alexander Reid Ross, a lecturer at Portland State University who has been publishing (or attempting to publish) a series of rather paranoid pieces smearing people he disagrees with as neo-Strasserist sleeper agents, provides an extreme but clear example of what Western governments and the corporate media have been doing, albeit on a much subtler level. Read the piece through if you can possibly stand it. You will be told how people like Michael Savage, Rania Khalek, Alex Jones, Breitbart’s entire UK office, Cenk Ugyur, Max Blumenthal, Caitlin Johnstone, Glenn Greenwald, The Nation‘s Stephen F. Cohen, Tucker Carlson, Vanessa Beeley (again), various British fascists, Jeremy Corbyn, and that modern-day Rasputin, Lyndon LaRouche, are all parts of the insidious Putin-Nazi plot to … well, I’m not sure, exactly, but I’m pretty sure it has something to do with killing Jews and gassing babies.

Would you like to be associated with people like that … Assad-loving, Putin-supporting Nazis? No? Then stop and think very carefully before sharing, “liking,” or commenting on this essay.

CJ Hopkins
First published in CounterPunch, April 25, 2018.


CJH 2017 300DISCLAIMER: The preceding essay is entirely the work of our in-house satirist and self-appointed political pundit, CJ Hopkins, and does not reflect the views or opinions of the Consent Factory, Inc., its staff, or any of its agents, subsidiaries, or assigns. If, for whatever inexplicable reasons, you appreciate Mr. Hopkins’ work and would like to support it, please go to his Patreon page (where you can contribute as little $1 a month), or send a contribution to his PayPal account, so that maybe he’ll stop coming around our offices trying to hit our staff up for money. Alternatively, you could purchase his novel, Zone 23, which we hear is pretty funny, or any of his subversive stage plays, or come find him in Berlin and buy him a beer. He’s been known to frequent an assortment of extremely suspicious RUSSIAN establishments in Kreuzberg. Here he is at one of them, waiting to seditiously eat a plate of pelmeni or something.

Assange, Wikileaks and Shooting the Messenger

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 22/04/2018 - 4:32am in

Julian Assange

So, as you have probably heard, Ecuador, which has Julian Assange in its London embassy, has restricted all communication by him to outsiders save his lawyers. No visitors, no phone, no email.

They have even gone so far as to install radio jammers.

The proximate cause of this is that Assange supported Catalan independence and Spain is furious.

The Intercept has a long piece on Assange’s silencing by Ecuador, and I’d appreciate it if you read it. (The debunking of the “Catalan independence is caused by Russia” is particularly necessary in these hysterical days.)

I’m aware that a lot of people, and especially these days, a lot of left wingers who loved him when he was goring right wingers other than Hillary Clinton, hate him, but this is ludicrous.

Catalan independence has a long history in Spain.

And, more to the point, it is legitimate to support people’s right to vote themselves out of countries they don’t want to be in. You may not agree with that, you may think people shouldn’t have that right of self-determination, but it’s a strongly ethical position with a lot of support.

To silence someone for speaking such an opinion is pathetic, and that it is done due to obvious political pressure doubly so.

Wikileaks has been a net positive for the world. A lot of people don’t believe this, but in almost all cases that comes down to disliking WHO Wikileaks has hurt with particular revelations.

Like it or not, the DNC leaks were legitimate news: the DNC interfered in the Democratic primaries to help one candidate, and people should know that: that is information in the public interest.

If  you don’t want to be outed for doing shitty things against the public interest, don’t do them. And if doing shitty things against the public interest helps you lose an election you should have won, well, Jesus, do I have to spell this out further?

Meanwhile the DNC has decided to sue Wikileaks for publishing the DNC material: material that was clearly in the public interest. (Also the Russian government, Trump, yadda, yadda).

Again, hate Wikileaks or not, publishing the material (and the DNC does not claim that Wikileaks participated in the hack) is a legitimate journalistic enterprise, well covered by press freedom.

Folks, rights do not belong only to people you like for ends you agree with. That’s why they are rights.

As for the DNC and the Democratic party, their continued desire to blame everyone but themselves for their loss in 2016 bodes ill. Oh, they’ll back into power in this years mid-terms, and possibly in 2020, but that will remain all they can do: win when Republicans shoot themselves in the foot.

Remember that 2008 was Democrats to lose, Republicans were reviled. (And, though people forget it, for over a month towards the end of the campaign, Obama was behind. He did his best to lose it.) Then, while Obama stayed in power, Republicans took most State houses, governorships, the House and Senate.

Now I hear squealing about how Sanders shouldn’t run in 2020. The reason given is rarely just his age (which is a legitimate concern) it’s usually something like “some of his followers say nasty things” and “he’s divisive”, which is amusing, because he’s the most popular politician in the country, regularly polls as beating Trump by the largest margin of any likely 2020 Democratic candidate, and yeah, if you care, is more popular with blacks and women than he is with white males.

Assange is a side-issue. A boogeyman. And for all that Russia did some stuff, so is Russia. America’s pathologies are American in origin, at most they are taken advantage of by outsiders. The same is true of Spain.

Shoot the messenger, if you must, the message remains the same. Clean your house.

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The DNC’S Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks Poses a Serious Threat to Press Freedom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 21/04/2018 - 11:52am in

The Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit this afternoon in a Manhattan federal court against the Russian government, the Trump campaign, and various individuals it alleges participated in the plot to hack its email servers and disseminate the contents as part of the 2016 election. The DNC also sued WikiLeaks for its role in publishing the hacked materials, though it does not allege that WikiLeaks participated in the hacking or even knew in advance about it; its sole role, according to the DNC’s lawsuit, was publishing the hacked emails.

The DNC’s suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit — that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it “willfully and intentionally disclosed” the DNC’s communications (paragraph 183) — would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of “economic espionage” (paragraph 170):

It is extremely common for media outlets to publish or report on materials that are stolen, hacked, or otherwise obtained in violation of the law. In October 2016 — one month before the election — someone mailed a copy of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax returns to the New York Times, which published parts of it even though it is illegal to disclose someone’s tax returns without the taxpayer’s permission; in March 2017, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did the same thing with Trump’s 2005 tax returns.

In April, 2016, the Washington Post obtained and published a confidential internal memo from the Trump campaign. Media outlets constantly publish private companies’ internal documents. Just three weeks ago, BuzzFeed obtained and published a secret Facebook memo outlining the company’s internal business strategies, the contents of which were covered by most major media outlets.

Some of the most important stories in contemporary journalism have come from media outlets obtaining and publishing materials that were taken without authorization or even in violation of the law. Both the New York Times and Washington Post published thousands of pages from the top-secret Pentagon Papers after Daniel Ellsberg took them without authorization from the Pentagon — and they won the right to publish them in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Guardian and the Washington Post won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for publishing and reporting on huge numbers of top-secret documents taken by Edward Snowden from the National Security Agency. The Guardian, the New York Times, and numerous papers from around the world broke multiple stories by publishing classified classified documents downloaded by Chelsea Manning without authorization and sent to WikiLeaks. In 2016, more than 100 newspapers from around the world published and reported on millions of private financial documents known as the Panama Papers, which were taken without authorization from one of the world’s biggest offshore law firms and revealed the personal finances of people around the world.

In sum, investigative journalism frequently entails media outlets receiving documents and other private information from people who have stolen them or otherwise broke the law to obtain and release them. To convert that into a legal transgression or part of an unlawful racketeering plot — as the DNC lawsuit seeks to do — is to turn a core part of journalism into something illegal.

Media figures have constantly sounded the alarm about threats to press freedom each time Donald Trump posts an insulting tweet about various media personalities. But the DNC’s lawsuit — just like the attempts of the Obama and Trump DOJs to criminalize and prosecute whistleblowing under the Espionage Act — is an actual grave threat to those press freedoms.

What the DNC is counting on is that contempt for WikiLeaks and Julian Assange is so intense in official Washington that it will drown out the obvious menace this lawsuit poses to basic press freedom, or that journalists will be afraid to object out of fear that it will look like they are siding with a despised-in-Washington organization that has been accused by Trump CIA officials (without evidence) of being “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

But just as one should object to torture and the denial of due process for Guantánamo detainees — even if some of the people detained there are actually terrorists who have killed people — one’s personal feelings about Assange and WikiLeaks should be totally irrelevant to recognizing and sounding the alarm about how dangerous the DNC’s legal theory is.

Nor does it matter at all whether one views WikiLeaks as “real journalists” — whatever that might mean. The First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press is not just for media corporations; it is not applicable only to a select group of people called “journalists,” but rather operates to protect an activity when engaged in by anyone. It protects everyone who wishes to publish information that informs the public on matters of public interest.

Even WikiLeaks’ most devoted critics and enemies are constrained to acknowledge that WikiLeaks’ publications in general — and its disclosure of at least some of the DNC and Podesta emails, in particular — informed the public about matters legitimately in the public interest. That’s why literally every major media outlet reported on their contents, why those documents forced the resignation of five top DNC officials and the firing of a CNN commentator, and why the DNC itself believes, as evidenced by this lawsuit, that it changed perceptions of Hillary Clinton.

That the Constitution and basic precepts of press freedom bar the attempt to convert WikiLeaks’ publication into something illegal was a fact embraced by the Obama administration. The Obama DOJ was eager to prosecute WikiLeaks for publishing hundreds of thousands of State Department cables and classified war logs from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But it knew that it was barred from doing so if all it could demonstrate was that WikiLeaks published stolen information.

As a result, the Obama DOJ knew that its only chance to prosecute WikiLeaks was if it could prove that Assange actually participated in and abetted what the government regarded as the theft by Chelsea Manning of those documents; so it tried hard, as the New York Times reported in 2010, to prove that Assange did more than just receive and publish the stolen documents:

Justice Department officials are trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped the analyst, Pfc. [Chelsea] Manning to extract classified military and State Department files from a government computer system. If he did so, they believe they could charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them. … But while prosecutors have used such laws to go after leakers and hackers, they have never successfully prosecuted recipients of leaked information for passing it on to others — an activity that can fall under the First Amendment’s strong protections of speech and press freedoms.

The Obama DOJ could never find evidence that anyone from WikiLeaks actually helped Manning take the documents. They concluded that WikiLeaks’ role was confined to receiving and then publishing the materials Manning took. As a result, the Obama DOJ decided that it could not prosecute WikiLeaks because to do so would be to threaten all press freedom. After all, if it were criminal for WikiLeaks to publish those documents, why wasn’t it also a crime for the New York Times and The Guardian to do so? As the Washington Post put it in 2013:

The Justice Department has all but concluded it will not bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for publishing classified documents because government lawyers said they could not do so without also prosecuting U.S. news organizations and journalists, according to U.S. officials. …  [O]fficials said that although Assange published classified documents, he did not leak them, something they said significantly affects their legal analysis. …

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

In 2017, after Trump CIA Director Mike Pompeo threatened to do everything possible to destroy WikiLeaks, including prosecuting it, former Obama DOJ spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Twitter that the threats were “hollow” because the U.S. government knows that it is not illegal for someone merely to publish documents, even if the documents are stolen:

That a grave threat to press freedoms would be posed by any attempts to render illegal WikiLeaks’ publication of stolen material was also widely recognized many major media outlets, which strongly editorialized against it. The Washington Post Editorial Page, for instance, published an 2010 editorial headlined “Don’t Charge WikiLeaks”:

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

No media outlet can function, indeed journalism cannot function, if it becomes illegal to publish secret materials taken by a source without authorization or even illegally. The Obama DOJ — which was not exactly a bastion of press freedom protection, and which despised Assange as much as anyone — wisely recognized this fact, when it decided that it could not prosecute WikiLeaks for publishing stolen materials without severely endangering press freedoms.

The DNC, unfortunately, is not nearly as wise — nor nearly as worried — about destroying press freedom in the U.S. The theory it embraced today to sue WikiLeaks for publishing documents is a far more serious menace than any of Donald Trump’s insulting tweets about Chuck Todd. It deserves condemnation and scorn by anyone who actually cares about press freedom.

The post The DNC’S Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks Poses a Serious Threat to Press Freedom appeared first on The Intercept.

How Shoddy Reporting and Anti-Russian Propaganda Coerced Ecuador to Silence Julian Assange

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/04/2018 - 11:53pm in

Julian Assange has been barred from communicating with the outside world for more than three weeks. On March 27, the government of Ecuador blocked Assange’s internet access and barred him from receiving visitors other than his lawyers. Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, when Ecuador granted him asylum due to fears that his extradition to Sweden as part of a sexual assault investigation would result in his being sent to the U.S. for prosecution for his work with WikiLeaks. In January of this year, Assange formally became a citizen of Ecuador.

As a result of Ecuador’s recent actions, Assange — long a prolific commentator on political debates around the world — has been silenced for more than three weeks, by a country that originally granted him political asylum and of which he is now a citizen. While Ecuador was willing to defy Western dictates to hand over Assange under the presidency of Rafael Correa — who was fiercely protective of Ecuadorian sovereignty even if it meant disobeying Western powers — his successor, Lenín Moreno, has proven himself far more subservient, and that mentality — along with Moreno’s increasingly bitter feud with Correa — are major factors in the Ecuadorian government’s newly hostile treatment of Assange.

Yet many of the recent media claims about Assange that have caused this standoff — which have centered on the alleged role of Russia in the internal Spanish conflict over Catalan independence — range from highly dubious to demonstrably false. The campaign to depict Catalan unrest as a plot fueled by the Kremlin, Assange and even Edward Snowden have largely come from fraudulent assertions in the Spanish daily El País and  highly dubious data claims from the so-called Hamilton 68 dashboard. The consequences of these false and misleading claims — this actual “fake news” — have been multifaceted and severe, not just for Assange, but for diplomatic relations among multiple countries.

The Guardian reported last week that doctors who recently visited Assange concluded his health condition has become “dangerous.” The journalist Stefania Maurizi of La Repubblica yesterday confirmed that Assange “is still in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and unable to access the internet and to receive visitors,” while the official WikiLeaks account provided further details about the restrictions Assange faces:

Ordinarily, Western commentators would be lining up to denounce a country like Ecuador for blocking the communications and internet access of one of its own citizens. But because the person silenced here is Assange, whom they hate, their heartfelt devotion to the sacred principles of free speech and a free press vanish.

(When Ecuador first granted asylum to Assange, both the Ecuadorian government and Assange’s lawyers have always said that Assange would board the next flight to Stockholm if the Swedish government gave assurances it would not extradite him to the U.S. Although Swedish prosecutors last year dropped the sex assault investigation into Assange, Trump CIA Director Mike Pompeo has vowed to do everything possible to destroy WikiLeaks and prevent it from publishing further, while the U.K. government — an ally of the Trump administration — has vowed to arrest Assange on bail charges if he leaves the embassy.)

Evidence has now emerged that the cutting off of Assange’s communications with the outside world is the byproduct of serious diplomatic pressure being applied to the new Ecuadorian president, pressure that may very well lead, perhaps imminently, to Assange being expelled from the embassy altogether. The pressure is coming from the Spanish government in Madrid and its NATO allies, furious that Assange has expressed opposition to some of the repressive measures used to try to crush activists in support of Catalan independence.

The day after blocking Assange’s communications with the outside world, Ecuador issued a statement alleging that Assange’s public statements are “putting at risk” Ecuador’s relations with other states. The Ecuadorian government has previously expressed dissatisfaction with some of Assange’s political activities and statements, but the breaking point appears to have been a series of tweets from Assange about the arrest in Germany earlier this month of former President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont.

Beginning in September, Assange had been tweeting regularly about the referendum for independence in Catalonia. Back then, Ecuador released a statement criticizing these tweets and emphasizing that “Ecuadorian authorities have reiterated to Mr. Assange his obligation not to make statements or activities that could affect Ecuador’s international relations.”

But why did these tweets about Catalonia, of all of Assange’s tweets about politics in other countries and the role he played in the 2016 U.S. election, lead — after five years — to such a response? And why now? And why and how did the West succeed in convincing so many of its citizens that the movement for Catalan independence — which has been a source of internal conflict in Spain for years — was now suddenly fueled by a Kremlin plot with Putin as the puppet master?

The answers provide a vivid example of how claims about “fake news,” Western propaganda, and disinformation can be used as a tactic for political manipulation. The circumstances leading to recent events extend beyond Julian Assange and understanding them requires background on political pressures in Spain, Ecuador, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and how these intersect with Assange’s case.

The tensions between Ecuador and Assange center on the debate in Spain over Catalan independence. On October 1, 2017, the autonomous region of Catalonia held a referendum for independence. The Spanish government declared this referendum illegal. Protests and arrests of Catalan activists ensued, as well as the seizure of ballots and raids on polling stations by the government in Madrid.

In the midst of this crisis, former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González reportedly requested that Spain’s most powerful media conglomerate, Grupo PRISA, which owns El País, “offer a firm response” to the independence movement in Catalonia. The media corporation complied, devoting its full resources to opposing Catalan secession.

El País, days later, began depicting Catalan activists as a tool of the Kremlin. The paper published an article alleging that not only Assange, but also Edward Snowden, were helping Russian propaganda networks spread “fake news” about Catalonia. El País repeated these claims in subsequent stories, which were echoed in reports from other anti-separatist organizations, such as the Spanish think tank Elcano Royal Institute, Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab, and NATO’s StratCom.

El País, Sept. 25, 2017

Once El País endorsed these fantastical allegations — that Assange and Snowden were helping to lead a Kremlin campaign to promote Catalan separatism — they were cited by or brought before legislative bodies around the world, in Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. But while these accusations are being taken seriously, they — like many claims about “fake news” and foreign online propaganda campaigns — are not being critically scrutinized or journalistically verified, and have little evidentiary support.

When pressed, many of those advancing these claims admit they have no definitive evidence of Russian government interference during the referendum in Catalonia, capable of citing only what they regard as biased reporting from RT and Sputnik. This exchange, from a House of Commons hearing on “fake news,” illustrates this point:

Yet — as they do with most Western problems these days — they continue to depict the conflict in terms of Russian propaganda because, they themselves acknowledge, they cannot comprehend the tensions in Spain except as a Kremlin operation. As Mira Milosevich-Juaristi from Elcano said when testifying before the Comisión Mixta de Seguridad Nacional in Spain: “The complexity and combination and coordination, which all occur at the same time, need an actor either governmental or near the government to coordinate it.”

Accusations that online support for Catalan independence was a Russian plot led by Assange and Snowden became a widespread belief. From the start, it was based overwhelmingly on a crude “dashboard” calling itself “Hamilton 68″ that is maintained by the Alliance for Securing Democracy. The “dashboard” purports to track “the activities of 600 Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence efforts online.”

That Catalonia was trending among the supposedly pro-Kremlin accounts monitored by the dashboard was offered by El País as what the paper called “definitive proof” — definitive proof — “that those who mobilize the army of pro-Russian bots have chosen to focus on the Catalan independence movement.”

But from its inception, the dubiousness of Hamilton 68 was self-evident. As The Intercept reported when the group was first formed, it was a brand-new foreign policy advocacy organization created by the exact people with the worst records of lying and militarism in Washington: Bill Kristol, former CIA officials, GOP hawks, and Democratic Party neocons.

Even worse, Hamilton 68 was, and remains, incredibly opaque about its methodology, refusing even to identify which accounts they designate as “promoting Russian influence online.” These marked accounts not only include “accounts that clearly state they are pro-Russian or affiliated with the Russian government,” but also “accounts run by people around the world who amplify pro-Russian themes either knowingly or unknowingly” (which often includes any dissent from the U.S. foreign policy orthodoxies endorsed by the neocons and CIA officials who created the group, now branded as “pro-Russian”).

Despite all of these glaring reasons for skepticism, U.S. media outlets repeatedly ingested the claims of this brand-new, sketchy group about what “Russian bots” are saying without an iota of critical thought or questioning, constructing one headline after the next based exclusively on the claims of this murky, shady group. As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi recently documented, “More and more often now, the site’s pronouncements turn into front-page headlines.”

But in recent months, the credibility of Hamilton 68 has been widely challenged. Journalists and researchers have identified numerous inaccurate stories that were based on Hamilton 68 data, examined the involvement of highly ideological actors in the development of the tool, and questioned the “secret methodology” of Hamilton 68 and specifically its bizarre refusal to disclose the list of 600 accounts on which it bases its data. Some additionally note that the narrative about Russian bots and trolls is increasingly used as a tool to discredit a wide variety of legitimate political movements around the world.

Often, these media stories based on Hamilton 68, that fuel hysteria over Russian control of the west, are founded upon a poor understanding of what can and cannot be affirmed based on the data. The U.S. media’s abuse of this data finally caused even one of the creators of Hamilton 68 to express frustration with these inaccurate conclusions based on the most superficial understanding of the data, saying: “It’s somewhat frustrating because sometimes we have people make claims about it or whatever — we’re like, that’s not what it says, go back and look at it.”

Misunderstanding social media analytic tools is a common problem in fake news reporting and can lead to erroneous conclusions with real political consequences. One illustrative example is the claim by El País – in its seminal article depicting Catalan independence as fueled by the Kremlin — that “a detailed analysis of 5,000 of Assange’s followers on Twitter provided by TwitterAudit, reveals that 59% are false profiles.”

El País’s claim is a demonstrable, obvious fraud. This assertion was entirely inaccurate because the data was from an inactive account with no tweets. Assange created a personal account years ago, but only started using it to tweet for the first time on February 14, 2017. But the Twitter Audit data used by El País to make this extraordinary claim — that Assange’s following is mostly composed of bots — is from February 2014, three years before anything was tweeted from the account.

To put it mildly, the archaic data used by El Pais regarding Assange’s account is wildly inaccurate for claims about his current followers. After reassessing @JulianAssange’s followers on November 24, 2017, Twitter Audit now shows that 92% of his followers are real.

Twitter Audit still claims that 8% of Assange’s followers are bots or otherwise fake, but this is relatively low considering that recent scientific studies estimate that “between 9% and 15% of active Twitter accounts are bots.”

It is also low relative to the results for other accounts with many followers. For example, Twitter Audit estimates that 25% of the @el_pais followers, 17% of @BarackObama’s followers, 27% of @RealDonaldTrump’s followers, and 48% of @EmmanuelMacron’s followers (as of nine months ago) may be fake accounts. Social media tools like Twitter Audit generally only provide rough heuristics, which are meaningless in isolation.

Correctly interpreting the results of social media analytics tools requires not only closely examining the data and understanding the limitations of the tools, but also comparing to known benchmarks from scientific studies and controls.

One example of this dubious methodological approach is the claim from both El País and DFRLab that a particular tweet by Julian Assange spread suspiciously quickly. On September 15, Assange tweeted: “I ask everyone to support Catalonia’s right to self-determination. Spain cannot be permitted to normalize repressive acts to stop the vote.”

El País argued, in the excerpt provided above, that “in the case of the tweet from Assange, as with many of his messages on the social media platform, it received 2,000 retweets in an hour and obtained its maximum reach – 12,000 retweets, in less than a day. The fact that the tweet went viral so quickly is evidence of the intervention of bots, or false social media profiles, programmed simply to automatically echo certain messages.”

The claim that retweet rates should gradually accelerate over time may make intuitive sense, but neither El País nor DFRLab provided any citations to research on these dynamics. In fact, at least one study has found that these supposedly intuitive hypotheses about retweet rates are wrong, and instead “half of retweeting occurs within an hour, and 75% under a day.” In the case of this particular tweet from Assange, only one-sixth of the retweets occurred in the first hour.

The overall spread of the tweet is also normal relative to Assange’s other tweets. Each of Julian Assange’s tweets between August 1 and December 12, 2017 was seen by 232,249.63 people on average. The specific tweet that El País scrutinized received 761,410 impressions (that is, this particular tweet was shown to other Twitter users 761,410 times). This is a bit higher than normal, but not disproportionately so; Assange’s most popular tweets regularly receive 3 or 4 million impressions, 4 to 6 times as many as the tweet that El País said must have been amplified by bots.

Shoddy claims of this sort could be avoided if journalists reporting on “fake news” attempted to follow reliable empirical methods in even a basic way — or at least the commands of basic rationality — by verifying whether the behavior that is claimed to be unusual actually is out of the ordinary. It is especially important to use valid methodology when reporting on allegedly “fake news” because misleading the public due to mistakes or exaggerated claims can lead to escalation of political tensions; ironically, deceitful attempts to identify and warn of the menace of Fake News, such as those peddled here by El Pais, can easily transform into a dissemination of Fake News.

(A full report with more detailed data regarding these empirical claims was recently submitted by one of the authors of this article, McGrath, to the U.K. Committee on Fake News.)

Reciting claims that match a commonly stated narrative, such as Russian interference in various western problems, is no substitute for fact-based analysis. One of the more methodologically unsound tactics used is to depict not only RT and Sputnik, but anyone who is quoted or even retweeted by them, as assisting in the spread of Russian state propaganda. During his testimony for the U.K. fake news committee, David Alandete from El Pais stated that “RT and Sputnik are at the center of this. Assange and Snowden are a very handy source for them; anything that Assange says is a quote and a headline.”

Assange was mentioned multiple times in RT and Sputnik’s coverage about Catalonia, but the stories quoting Assange comprised only a small minority of their discussions of these political events. Analysis of Sputnik and RT’s stories based on both Media Cloud’s data and their tweets reveal that only 1% to 3% of RT and Sputnik’s stories about Catalonia also mention Assange. Additionally, most of these references to Assange are centered around a few isolated quotes and events, in contrast to RT and Sputnik’s continuous coverage of the situation in Catalonia more generally.

Rather ironically (given the claims about bots and trolls promoting messages about independence in Catalonia), there is clear evidence of Twitter bots spreading messages about the crisis in Spain — but those were non-Russian bots and they were spreading propaganda that was opposed to Catalan independence. This is hardly the first time that Western governments and its allies have been caught using fake online activity to spread Western propaganda, but few western commentators care except when Russia or other U.S. adversaries do it.

Whatever else is true, it is likely that bot manipulation has been used in inflame the crisis in Spain — but they have been used to spread anti-Catalan messaging in line with Madrid authorities. On September 11, 2017, the user with the name @marilena_madrid tweeted a link to a story that Spain’s ABC published several months previously, which emphasized Puigdemont’s lack of legitimacy with EU institutions: a key anti-independence theme from Madrid authorities:

This @marilena_madrid tweet was retweeted over 15,000 times, but “liked” only 99 times. Researchers working on Twitter bot detection have discovered that bots often have low likes-to-tweets ratios of exactly this type:

In contrast to Assange’s tweets, which receive 1.14 “likes” per retweet on average — reflecting that they are spread overwhelmingly by actual humans — this anti-Catalan tweet from @marilena_madrid has a “likes” per retweet ratio of only 0.0062. A large number of the retweeters have random gibberish usernames such as @M9ycMppdvp5AhJb, @hdLrUNkGitXyghQ, and @fQq96ayN3rikTw, which also indicates that they may be bots.

Most of the accounts that retweeted @marilena_madrid, as well as @marilena_madrid’s account itself, now appear to be suspended by Twitter. Unfortunately, it is not possible to view data about suspended accounts except from on pages previously archived or cached, so there is limited data to study this particular set of bots in more detail. Thus, it is not possible to assess if this was an individual who had their tweets promoted by bots, a social media strategy by ABC to spread their stories with bots and trolls, or a state-sponsored propaganda campaign. Nevertheless, this case exemplifies the need for more multisided analysis about who is really using bot campaigns to propagandize the public.

It is certainly likely that one could find some actual Russian bots posting messages supportive of Catalan independence, but the magnitude has been wildly exaggerated by El Pais and many other Western institutions to the point of fabrication.

If, as appears to be true, these unsupported allegations about spreading disinformation during the referendum in Catalonia are being used as a tool for political manipulation in the case of Julian Assange, it is working. The escalation of tensions with Spain, which has strong diplomatic ties to Ecuador, threatens Assange’s asylum in a way that the longstanding pressure from the United States and United Kingdom could not. The intersection of these issues has lead to a rapidly deteriorating diplomatic situation, founded in part on exaggerated and inaccurate claims of disinformation during the referendum in Catalonia, where Ecuador is being forced to choose between maintaining their relations with other states and upholding Assange’s asylum.

The pattern of events seen here is not specific to Julian Assange, Ecuador, Spain, or any one country. It is a global, systemic problem. This situation an illustrative example of what happens when political tensions around internal divisions, in this case Spain and Catalonia, build and break. In the aftermath, people struggle to explain what they see as an injustice, and conclude that some foreign person or group interfered to bring about a problematic situation by spreading propaganda or disinformation.

This narrative grows and shifts the focus away from internal problems and divisions by unifying people against this new external enemy, much the way patriotism surges during a war. This sentiment can then be exploited as a tactic of manipulation for those seeking to support their own agendas, and leveraged to pressure external parties. It is also an extremely powerful tool for stigmatizing any internal, domestic dissent aligned with, if not controlled by, the foreign villain. Meanwhile, internal tensions continue to build and conflicts escalate, with their actual causes ignored in favor of pleasing, simplistic, self-vindicating storylines about foreign interference.

Correction: April 20, 2018
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Spanish newspaper ABC was owned by Grupo PRISA. It is owned by Vocento.

Top photo: People gather to protest against the National Court’s decision to imprison civil society leaders without bail in Barcelona, Spain on Oct. 17, 2017.

The post How Shoddy Reporting and Anti-Russian Propaganda Coerced Ecuador to Silence Julian Assange appeared first on The Intercept.

The smoking gun

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/02/2018 - 2:00pm in



The consensus (except at Fox News and the White House) is that the Adam Schiff memo just released utterly destroys the Nunes Memo, which the Trumpites have been trumpeting for two weeks as proving that the FBI is corrupt. That’s certainly the way it reads to me: every single charge made by Nunes (based, please note, on documents he hadn’t seen) is clearly refuted. No, the Steele Dossier was not essential to obtaining the FISA warrant against Carter Page; the FBI was already on him. No, the source of that memo was not concealed from the FISA court; judges can read footnotes, and the DNC wasn’t specifically named because that would have been an unjustified bit of “unmasking” domestic players caught in intelligence dramas.  No, those warrants (the original and  three extensions) weren’t approved by some rogue Democratic judge, but by two GWB appointees, one GHWB appointee, and one Reagan appointee. And so on and so forth.

To my eyes, there’s a much bigger fact in the Schiff memo. It was already in the record, but I hadn’t noticed it before, and I can find only one published reference to it – from Joe Uchill at The Hill – and no published source draws what seems to me the two strong inferences: that the DNC/DCCC/Podesta hacks were carried out by or for Russian intelligence, and that the Trump campaign very likely knew that and helped cover it up.

The key background fact is that, whatever the Troll Farm was or wasn’t doing, and whether it was or wasn’t doing it in direct collusion with the Trump campaign, whoever stole three caches of Democratic emails – from the DNC, the DCCC, and John Podesta – and sent them off to WikiLeaks for posting made a decisive difference in the outcome of the election; Trump mentioned “WikiLeaks” 141 times in the last month of the campaign alone.

According to the new memo (matching facts already on the record) the FBI first became aware that Russians were messing with the election through the antics of George Papadopoulos, one of the Trump campaign’s initial team of five foreign-policy advisers. Papadopoulos (it has been reported elsewhere)  drunkenly boasted to an Australian diplomat in April of 2016 about his conversations with a skeezy London-based Maltese quasi-academic named Josef Mifsud, and the Australian passed the word along to the U.S.(That’s one reason the FBI didn’t need the Steel Dossier to get started looking into Russian election meddling; another was that the Bureau already had its eyes on Carter Page, another Trump foreign policy adviser, as a Russian asset.)

The Schiff memo points to the Statement of Offense filed by Mueller’s office when Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. He had told the Bureau that, at the time he first spoke with Mifsud (in March), he had no connection to the Trump campaign. But that turns out to be false.

Defendant PAPADOPOULOS claimed that his interactions with an
overseas professor, who defendant PAPADOPOULOS understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials, occurred before defendant PAPADOPOULOS became a foreign policy adviser to the Campaign. … In truth and in fact, however, defendant PAPADOPOULOS learned he would be an advisor to the Campaign in early March, and met the professor on or about March 14, 2016; the professor only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign.

But the real kicker is in that ellipsis:

Defendant PAPADOPOULOS acknowledged that the professor had told him about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” (Emphasis added.)

The drunken boast was in April. The obscure “DCLeaks” website didn’t publish the products of the DNC hack until June, and WikiLeaks didn’t publish them until July. (The Podesta material came out even later, timed to step on the “grab ’em by the pussy” story.) If Mifsud wasn’t telling Papadopoulos the truth, or Papadopoulos wasn’t reporting accurately what Mifsud had told him, how could Papadopoulos have known in April about “thousands of emails” damaging to Clinton that weren’t published (19,000 of them) until three months later?

And unless Papadopoulos kept silent to the Trump campaign people he was trying to impress about the stuff he was blabbing to random diplomats, then the Trump people also must have known, when that stuff starting showing up on WikiLeaks, that it was the product of a Russian intelligence exploit. So when the Trump campaign spent the fall scoffing at the idea that Russia was involved in the WikiLeaks material – when Trump himself in September suggested that the hacker might have been “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” – they were knowingly helping to cover up a crime. (In the technical parlance of the federal criminal law, that’s called a “no-no.”)

Even in the unlikely event that Trump & Co. didn’t actually know what Papadopoulos knew, his agreement to the Statement of Offense pretty much clinches the answer to the question “Who did the hacks?” So let’s stop talking about whether the Troll Farm could have swung the election.

The War on Dissent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 26/01/2018 - 7:58pm in

Just when you thought the corporatocracy couldn’t possibly get more creepily Orwellian, the Twitter Corporation starts sending out emails advising that they “have reason to believe” we have “followed, retweeted,” or “liked the content of” an account “connected to a propaganda effort by a Russia government-linked organization known as the Internet Research Agency.” While it’s not as dramatic as the Thought Police watching you on your telescreen, or posters reminding you “Big Brother Is Watching,” the effect is more or less the same.

And if that’s not creepily Orwellian enough for you, Facebook has launched a Ministry of Counterspeech, manned by “a dedicated counterterrorism team” of “former intelligence and law-enforcement officials,” to “disrupt ideologies underlying extremism” (see Chris Hedges’ recent essay for details). The Google Corporation is systematically disappearing, deranking, and maliciously misrepresenting non-corporate news and opinion sources, and the “thought criminals” who contribute to them. Meanwhile, the corporate media continue to pump out Russia paranoia propaganda like this Maddow segment on MSNBC about “the remarkable number of Russian financiers who’ll be rubbing elbows with the Trump team in Davos.”

These are just the latest salvos in the corporate establishment’s War on Dissent, an expanded version of the War on Terror, which they’ve been relentlessly waging for over a year now. As you may have noticed, the ruling classes have been using virtually every propaganda organ at their disposal to whip up mass hysteria over a host of extremely dubious threats to “the future of democracy” and “democratic values,” Russia being foremost among them, followed closely by white supremacy, then a laundry list of other “threats,” from Julian Assange to Bernie Bros to other, lesser “sowers of division.”

This propaganda campaign is part and parcel of the roll-out of a new “official narrative.” If it wasn’t so completely depressing, I would say it is awe-inspiring to watch. This full-spectrum type of mass indoctrination, or “reality adjustment,” doesn’t happen that often. It used to only happen on the national level, typically during times of war, when the ruling classes of nation states needed to temporarily unite their populaces and demonize their enemy. It is happening now on a global level, for the second time in the 21st Century.

The first time it happened on a global level was 2001-2002, when the War on Terror narrative was launched to supplant the defunct Cold War narrative that had functioned since the end of World War II. The End of History/New World Order narrative, which had served as a kind of ideological stop-gap from 1990 to 2001, never really sold that well. It was far too vague, and there was no clear enemy. The global capitalist ruling classes (which now reigned unopposed over the entire planet) needed a new official narrative to unite, not just a nation, or region, but everyone within the new global market. This narrative needed a convincing enemy that would function on a global level. “Terrorism” is that enemy.

In the official War on Terror narrative, the term “terrorism” does not refer to any type of actual terrorism (although of course such terrorism does occur) as much as to “terrorism” as a general concept, an essentially meaningless pejorative concept, one which can be expanded to include almost anything and anyone the ruling classes need it to … which is what is taking place at the moment. It is being expanded, rather dramatically, to include virtually any type of dissent from global capitalist ideology. In order to understand what’s happening, we need to understand how terms like “terrorism” and “extremism” function ideologically, not just as terms to dehumanize “bad guys” but to designate a type of ur-antagonist, one that conforms to the official narrative. So let’s take a few minutes and try to do that.

The key to understanding both the original War on Terror official narrative and the expanded variation we are being sold currently is the fact that terrorism is an insurgent tactic employed by weaker militant forces against a ruling government or occupation force. This makes it the perfect bogeyman (in essence, the only bogeyman) for our brave new global capitalist world, where global capitalism takes the place of that “ruling government or occupation force.”

I’ve written a number of essays about this, so I won’t reiterate all that here. The short version is, we no longer live in a world where nation-against-nation conflict is driving the course of political events. We live in a world where global capitalism is driving the course of political events. The economies of virtually every nation on the planet are hopelessly interdependent. Capitalist ideology pervades all cultures, despite their superficial differences. It is a globally hegemonic system, so it has no external enemies. None. The only threats it faces are internal. Its “enemies” are, by definition, insurgent … in other words, “extremist” or “terrorist.”

This even holds true for the Russia paranoia the ruling classes are pumping out currently … it’s all just part of the “reality adjustment,” and the launch of the new official narrative, not a prelude to war with Russia. The USA is not going to war with Russia. The notion is beyond ridiculous. Have you noticed, despite all their warlike verbiage, that no one has put forth a single scenario in which war between Russia and the West makes sense? That’s because it doesn’t make sense. Not for Russia, the USA, or anyone else. This is why “the Russian threat” is being marketed as an “attack on democratic values” and “an attempt to sow division,” and so on. Because the war the corporatocracy is waging is not a war against Russia, the nation. The war they are fighting is a counter-insurgency, an ideological counter-insurgency. “Russia” has just been added to the list of “terrorists” and “extremists” who “hate us for our freedom.”

Thus, our new official narrative is actually just a minor variation on the original War on Terror narrative we’ve been indoctrinated with since 2001. A minor yet essential variation. From 2001 to 2016, the constant “terrorist threat” we were facing was limited to Islamic terrorism, which made sense as long as the corporatocracy was focused on restructuring the Middle East. White supremacist terrorism was not part of the narrative, nor was any other form of terrorism, as that would have just confused the audience.

That changed, dramatically, in 2016.

The Brexit referendum and the election of Trump alerted the global capitalist ruling classes to the existence of another dangerous insurgency that had nothing to do with the Greater Middle East. While they were off merrily destabilizing, restructuring, privatizing, and debt-enslaving, resentment of global capitalism had grown into a widespread neo-nationalist backlash against globalization, the loss of sovereignty, fiscal austerity, and the soulless, smiley-face, corporate culture being implemented throughout the West and beyond. That this backlash is reactionary in nature does not change the fact that it is an insurgency … just as Islamic fundamentalism is. Both insurgencies are doomed attempts to revert to despotic social systems (nationalist in one case, religious in the other) and so reverse the forward march of global capitalism. The global capitalist ruling classes are not about to let that happen.

The corporatocracy wasted no time in dealing with this new insurgency. They demonized and hamstrung Trump, as they’ll continue to do until he’s well out of office. But Trump was never the significant threat. The significant threat is the people who elected him, and who voted for Brexit, and the AfD, and Sanders, and Mélenchon, and Corbyn, and who just stayed home on election day and refused to vote for Hillary Clinton. The threat is the attitude of these people. The insubordinate attitude of these people. The childish attitude of these people (who naively thought they could challenge the most powerful empire in the annals of human history … one that controls, not just the most fearsome military force that has ever existed, but the means to control “reality” itself).

The corporatocracy is going to change that attitude, or it is going to make it disappear. It is in the process of doing this now, using every ideological weapon in its arsenal. The news media. Publishing. Hollywood. The Internet. Intelligence agencies. Congressional inquiries. Protests. Marches. Twitter’s “advisory emails.” Google’s manipulation of its search results. Facebook’s “counterspeech” initiative. Russiagate. Shitholegate. Pornstargate. The ruling class is sending us a message. The message is, “you’re either with us or against us.” The message is, “we will tolerate no dissent, except for officially sanctioned dissent.” The message is, “try to fuck with us, and we will marginalize you, and demonize you, and demonetize you, and disappear you.”

The message is, “we control reality, so reality is whatever the fuck we say it is, regardless of whether it is based in fact or just some totally made-up story we got The Washington Post to publish and then had the corporate media repeat, over and over, for fourteen months.” If that doesn’t qualify as full-blown Orwellian, I’m not sure what, exactly, would.

I wish I had some rallying cry to end this depressing assessment with, but I have no interest in being one of these Twitter-based guerrilla leaders who tell you we can beat the corporatocracy by tweeting and donating to them on Patreon, and then going about our lives as “normal.” It’s probably going to take a little more than that, and the obvious truth is, the odds are against us. That said, I plan to make as much noise about The War on Dissent as humanly possible, until they marginalize me out of existence … or the corporate-mediated simulation that so many of us take for existence these days.

What do you say, want to join me?

CJ Hopkins
First published in CounterPunch, January 26, 2018.


CJH 2017 300DISCLAIMER: The preceding essay is entirely the work of our in-house satirist and self-appointed political pundit, CJ Hopkins and does not reflect the views or opinions of the Consent Factory, Inc., its management, staff, or any of its agents, subsidiaries, or assigns. If, for whatever inexplicable reasons, you appreciate Mr. Hopkins’ work and would like to support it, please go to his Patreon page and give him as little $1 a month (or send your donation to his PayPal account), so that maybe he’ll stop coming around our offices trying to hit our staff up for money. Alternatively, you could purchase his debut novel, Zone 23, which we hear is pretty funny, or any of his subversive stage plays, or come find him in Berlin and buy him a beer. He’s been known to frequent a number of extremely suspicious RUSSIAN establishments in Kreuzberg. Here he is at Datscha, waiting to seditiously eat a plate of pelmeni or something.

Dear Chelsea Manning: birthday messages from Edward Snowden, Terry Gilliam and more

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 17/12/2014 - 4:23am in

The jailed whistleblower turns 27 this week. Supporters including Joe Sacco, Vivienne Westwood, JM Coetzee, Michael Stipe and Slavoj Žižek sent her letters, poems and drawings. Luke Harding introduces their work

On Wednesday, Chelsea Manning – heroine, whistleblower and inmate – turns 27. She has been behind bars for four years and eight months, ever since her arrest for leaking ­classified US documents. There isn’t much prospect that she will be released any time soon. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence, with the earliest possibility of parole being in 2021. She has appealed to Barack Obama for a pardon. It seems unlikely he will grant it.

It is against this gloomy and unpropitious backdrop that leading writers, artists and public figures from around the world are today sending Chelsea birthday greetings. Their contributions include letters, poems, drawings and original paintings. Some are philosophical – yes, that’s you, Slavoj Žižek – others brief messages of goodwill. A few are ­movingly confessional.

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