Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Thu Dec 29, 2016 5:37 am

Dugin’s Occult Fascism and the Hijacking of Left Anti-Imperialism and Muslim Anti-Salafism
by Wahid Azal
February 10, 2016

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Eurasian Thunderbolt flag.

In his September 2015 CounterPunch piece, “A New Chapter in the Fascist Internationale,” Alexander Reid Ross highlighted the state of the Fascist Internationale in recent times, underscoring the role of Russian fascist and Fourth Position theorist Alexander Dugin and his networks in it. What is however not widely appreciated about the current state of activities by these Duginist networks, especially in social media, is their active recruitment efforts among the Left as well as among disparate groups of anti-Salafist Shiʿi and Sunni Muslims, particularly among supporters of the Resistance Axis. Rather than a legitimate alliance, this turn of events is arguably an attempt to muddy waters by certain behind the scenes power brokers that could potentially fracture (or otherwise neutralize) a united front against Empire from the grassroots and eventually redirect it to more sinister ends. Here a heretofore undiscussed facet of this development will be broached (a guiding feature informing the subtext of Duginism’s ‘beyond left and right’ ideological catchall); and, that is, the Duginist appropriation of a primarily western occultist framework (and specifically the worldview of Chaos magic) and its transformation by the Duginists into a strategy for political action in the service of the Fascist Internationale.

Whither Dugin’s Traditionalism?

Many discussions around Alexander Dugin in print have outlined his vast, often contradictory, influences, background and ideological trajectory. For example, Dugin’s ‘Traditionalism’ or ‘neo-Traditionalism’ – i.e. his adherence to the ideas of French Sufi Muslim convert René Guénon (d. 1951) and the Italian Julius Evola (d. 1974) – has been detailed by Mark Sedgwick and others (see, for instance, Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World, 2004: chapter 12). However, at least in more recent years, Dugin’s Traditionalism appears to be overstated, since his fanatical (almost messianic) Heideggerianism – face to face with the dismissive, often overtly hostile, views held by many eminent figures of the Traditionalist school towards Martin Heidegger – has seemingly placed him outside of the proverbial neo-Traditionalist pale. Comments made in an early chapter of his 2014 book, ‘Martin Heidegger: The Philosophy of Another Beginning’ (2014: 18), where Heidegger has been elevated by Dugin to the status of a culminating eschatological figure on par with the prophet of Islam, only reinforces such negatively held views about Dugin’s ‘anti-Traditionalism’ among some contemporary neo-Traditionalists.

As such Alexander Dugin’s purported Traditionalism, which used to serve at one point as his biographical headliner, is no longer a reliable feature which can be taken uncritically and at face value. If he once was, as of now at least, Dugin is no longer a neo-Traditionalist in any meaningful sense, which makes the use and appropriation of the term by North American white nationalist acolytes of Dugin, such as Matthew Heimbach, hold even less validity. Therefore, to continue discussing Dugin’s current ideas and stances in light of Guénonian-Evolian Traditionalism can in fact be misleading because he has in recent times moved in the opposite direction and into what some neo-Traditionalists would probably characterize as ‘counter-initiatic currents’ and the ‘Counter-Tradition’.

Chaos Magic as the True Duginist weltanschauung

The misanthropic ideas of British occultist and satanist Aleister Crowley (d. 1947) do however inform both the Duginist world view and its contemporary praxis. Indeed it is within the worldview of Chaos magic specifically (which is a spawn of Crowley’s Thelemic philosophy) where much of the paradoxes and seeming contradictions of the Duginist weltanschauung – and especially in its Fourth Positionist catchall of ‘beyond right or left’ – must be sought, since this is (whether explicitly articulated or not) the actual animating locus of the Duginist far-right praxis, beginning with its choice of symbology, i.e. his Eurasian flag of eight white or yellow thunderbolts (or arrows) shaped in a radial pattern and set behind a black background. This symbol by itself is alternatively referred to in Chaos magic as the ‘wheel of chaos’, ‘the symbol of chaos’, ‘arms of chaos’, ‘the arrows of chaos’, ‘the chaos star’, ‘the chaos cross’, ‘the chaosphere’ or ‘the symbol of eight’. Somewhat reminiscent of the Thule Society and then Hitler’s own appropriation of the swastika from the writings of Theosophical Society founder H.P. Blavatsky (d. 1891), Dugin derives his design from the popularizations of it made by western Chaos magicians during the 1970s-1980s who themselves appropriated it from the work of British science fiction and fantasy novelist Michael Moorcock.

It should be noted here that both the number eight as well as the color black play a pivotal role in all neo-Nazi/far-right symbology, not to mention that the ‘wheel of chaos’ itself maintains striking similarities to the well known ‘sun wheel’ symbol used by the SS and many contemporary neo-Nazis (likewise the symbol of the old Spanish Falangists). In his own defence, Dugin would probably assert that the number eight also holds important correspondences within esoteric Christianity as well where it refers to Christ. However, his obvious (or dubious, rather) choice of the ‘wheel of chaos’ over the cross would tend to refute that claim. In addition, as a self-proclaimed Russian nationalist, it is not clear exactly why Alexander Dugin would choose his chief symbol from sources located within the tradition of British occultism rather than from those of his native Russia or, for that matter, from the Eastern Orthodox Christianity that he claims to adhere to. This point alone, we believe, further reinforces the allegations regarding Dugin’s anti-traditionalism, while simultaneously locating him in a very different universe altogether than the one he claims to be speaking for.

Be that as it may, such behaviour in itself would be quite consistent with Chaos magic’s basic dictum regarding the malleability of all beliefs and their pliability as tools in the hands of the Chaos magician. Here it is the Nietzschean ‘will to power’ in-itself that becomes the prime motivation of the black magus turned political activist. Emerging from this, the next significant formula of Chaos magic is that of a continual paradigm shift or the constant arbitrary changing of beliefs, where holding contradictory positions simultaneously becomes the vehicle for self-realization and understanding of the coincidentia oppositorum underlying all phenomena. As a spiritual practice there are numerous correlations and comparisons that can be made with this specific idea among many traditions around the globe (i.e. Taoist, Sufi, Tantric, Zen, Hermeticism, etc.), and in and of itself it is neutral. Except that with Dugin and his acolytes the issue is not linked specifically to any spiritual practice and its realization per se but rather it is purely about political praxis and the will to power in its crudest form. In other words, for Dugin the alchemical laboratory and its ars operativa resides not in the self but rather in the greater world and the theatre of politics where the black magus acts to immanentize the eschaton and where this eschaton represents the inversion of all values.

The Philosopher’s Stone for Dugin is thus power over the world for its own sake and not over the self. This, including other features of his thinking, is what informs the paradigmatic ‘beyond left and right’ catchall latched on to by the Duginists. It is also what makes Duginism particularly dangerous as an ideology and a movement. In other words, in this worldview where Chaos magic acts as the ideological primum mobile, occultist principles are made to serve a fundamentally fascist political program. Some would also call this a form of Satanism and yet another manifestation of the very modernity and ‘materialist West’ that Alexander Dugin has otherwise railed against. Arguably, and whatever else Dugin says to criticize and distance himself from it, Hitlerian National Socialism attempted precisely the very same thing – animated also, as it was, by almost identical underlying ideological concerns and motivations.


That said, René Guénon alleged about Blavatsky and her Theosophical Society that during the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were essentially acting in the capacity of a colonialist trojan horse put up by the imperial British secret services in order to infiltrate and disrupt the traditional religious sub-cultures of the sub-continent (see his, Theosophy: The History of a Pseudo-Religion, 2004). Given Dugin’s networks in Iran, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere in the Islamic world, not to mention Eastern Europe, it is not entirely out of the realm of possibility that similar patterns and inducements may be motivating and underlying the Duginists’ recruitment agenda whereby Dugin himself can be seen as the new Blavatsky with his networks the successor to the Theosophical Society-cum-British imperial trojan horse. Certainly their attempt to further break down the already fractured left/right spectrum in Europe in order to recruit for the far-right appears to speak to it directly given that their unambiguous racist and reactionary rhetoric on the immigration/refugee crisis, on the face of things, otherwise defies the alliances they have made inside the Islamic world among Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and other sectors of the Resistance Axis.

Russia, the European refugee crisis and far-right Duginist geopolitics in action

Now, the instrumental role of NATO in the collapse of the Libyan state in 2011; the Syrian war that is now going into its fifth year; ISIS; Ukraine, and, above all, the European refugee crisis appears to have provided the Duginists a rare opportunity to exploit existing splits arising among cross-sections of the western antiwar Left as well as among activists in the Muslim community itself in order to recruit among these groups. This is especially in evidence in the recent talking points adopted by a number of otherwise progressive and left-leaning pundits who regularly appear on RT (Russia Today) and elsewhere in the alternative media where their usually consistent antiwar stance with regard to Syria specifically (and western imperialism generally) has, in paradoxical fashion, given way instead to a melange of reactionary narratives over the European refugee crisis. In short, we have a situation where certain progressives (and even some Muslims) have adopted the contemporary white supremacist kulturkampf rhetoric of fascists and fellow travellers that largely victimizes Mid East/North African immigrants and asylum seekers in Europe, and where rightwing hysteria over a perceived threat to ‘European culture’ and ‘its way of life’ is uncritically repeated, to varying degrees, parrot fashion.

Whereas some blame Russian state policy directly for such recent developments, the point of view of the present author is that such a turn of events ultimately benefits the agendas of Empire itself rather than Russia specifically such that these Duginists may in fact be sheepdogging for long-term Anglo-American Atlanticist policy initiatives rather than specifically Russian ones. Be that as it may, rumours abound that the Russian state has been a generous donor (and in a few cases has even outright financed for protracted periods) fascist/far-right groups such as Jobbik in Hungary and the Golden Dawn in Greece. Since 2014 in Germany, for instance, the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), the NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands) and PEGIDA are alleged to have received substantial financial support from Moscow as a means of destabilizing Merkel and the German center who were key actors in the sanctions imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in March 2014. Similarly is held regarding Le Pen’s Front National in France. Certainly much of the anti-immigration/anti-refugee jingoism published regularly on the pages of RT (Russia Today) as of that time would on the face of things tend to support the allegations.

However, even with that, it is not clear exactly how such policies would strategically benefit Putin’s Russia in the long term either, since these very same forces that Russia ostensibly supports at the moment could quite easily be marshalled at any given point in the future by its Anglo-American geopolitical rival and used against Russia itself, as the case of Ukraine amply demonstrates. Certainly it can be argued that Russia and the Anglo-American Atlanticists are using competing far-right proxies against each other’s interests on the continent as a form of asymmetrical warfare, with Germany as one of the key battlegrounds and the refugee issue as the linchpin. But then this would tend to indicate some kind of split in the Fascist Internationale while also explaining one reason for the aggressive recruitment efforts presently undertaken by the Duginists (especially among Muslims and disenchanted Leftists without a home) on social media and elsewhere. Nevertheless in Greece, for instance, it was not with the Golden Dawn but with Syriza that Dugin personally invested the most time, and Syriza’s role during 2015 in further fracturing consensus among the Anglo-European Left has undeniably been a critical one.

Much more can be said, but whatever rhetoric the Duginists spin among assorted activist communities to draw them in, on its own merits Duginism is neither authentically anti-imperialist nor does it genuinely hold any leftwing values. Nor, for that matter, is it Traditionalism either. Rather, on all fronts Duginism actually represents a carefully smokescreened form of fascist white separatism, which is to say yet another ideological permutation of Euro-American white supremacy that has organized itself into a movement. Dugin’s own skewed definition of Eurasia, where in this scheme Eurasia merely represents the horizontal landmass between Vladivostok and Lisbon (and where all of south-west and south-east Asia are categorically excluded from it), reinforces the fact. As such the seductive dangers represented by Duginism and its networks to any united front against Empire among the anti-imperialist Left and anti-Salafist Muslims cannot be underestimated.

Wahid Azal is an independent scholar and political commentator living in Berlin, Germany. He can be reached on his email at wahidazal66@gmail.com
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Thu Dec 29, 2016 8:52 pm

UNCLASSIFIED

Guideposts from Just War Theory: Managing Covert Political Action
by James A. Barry
Central Intelligence Agency
1993

In 1954, at the height of US concern about the threat from international communism, President Eisenhower appointed a panel to make recommendations regarding covert political action as an instrument of foreign policy. The panel, named after its chairman, General Jimmy Doolittle, included the following statement in its report:

It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever costs. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the US is to survive, longstanding American concepts of "fair play" must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated means than those used against us. It may become necessary that the American people be made acquainted with, understand and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.1


In counseling such a radical departure from American norms, the authors of the Doolittle report adopted an argument that appears in hindsight to be extreme. But in the context of the times, it was consistent with several overlapping schools of thought in international affairs that formed the basis for many Cold War policies. The first was the "realist" tradition in international affairs, which traces its origins from the Greek historian Thucydides through the philosophies of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza and Rousseau to modern theorists such as Hans Morgenthau and Reinhold Neibuhr. Although realists differ significantly in their views, they tend to emphasize the primacy of power in international affairs, and to exclude morality from considerations of making foreign policy.2 Modern realism encompasses views ranging from George Kennan's proposals to combat communism through a patient policy of containment and a low-profile approach to moral issues to Henry Kissinger's opportunistic use of moral language coupled with a belief that moral norms could not govern the conduct of states. Reinforcing the views of the early Cold War realists were the arguments of ideological crusaders who conceived of the struggle with communism as kind of holy war, as well as those of American nationalists who, like General Sherman, believed that "war is hell" and that the merciful thing is in fact to wage it ruthlessly. Members of these several groups supported the need for covert action against communism either because they believed that the exceptional circumstances of the times required it or because they judged that it was simply one of the methods that states used to struggle with each other.3

But it is clear that even the authors of the Doolittle Report were uncomfortable with the "repugnant philosophy" that they deemed necessary. Indeed, although covert political action became an important tool of US policy America never completely abandoned its moral traditions. The threat of international communism, however, became a compelling rationale for covert action, to the extent that many operations needed no more specific justification. Thus the Cold War, and the perceived severity of the Soviet threat, made it possible for policymakers to ignore competing ethical considerations when they endorsed covert actions.

This Cold War rationale began to crumble in the late 1960s with popular opposition to the Vietnam War and the subsequent revelation in Congressional inquiries of abuses by the CIA. The result was that greater attention has been paid to the process of managing covert actions. Until recently, however, despite changes in decisionmaking and oversight mechanisms, the Soviet threat was a dominant consideration in most covert action decisions.

Covert Action and the New World Order

Since the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the abortive coup in the Soviet Union, and the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the confluence of ideological, nationalist and realist thought that formed a compelling rationale for covert action in the early Cold War period has lost more validity. In a dangerous world, however, presidents probably will not eschew this particular element of foreign policy, even in a "new world order." The Persian Gulf War shows that aggression by hostile states remains a threat to US interests, and other challenges such as terrorism, narcotics trafficking and the potential for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are likely to motivate the US to consider covert responses. What frame of reference, then, should replace the Cold War philosophy that has shaped covert action policy since the founding of the CIA?

Although the ideological crusade, American nationalism and political realism dominated US thinking about international affairs in the immediate post-World War II era, there are other enduring philosophical traditions. Some emphasize the ends of policy (utilitarianism and Marxism); others are "rule-based" (international law and Kant's rationalism are in this category4).

One of the "rule-based" traditions has received greater attention in recent years. This is the natural law tradition, and in particular its rules regarding the use of force by states, which fall under the rubric of "Just War Theory." Just War Theory was used extensively by the Bush Administration in explaining its decision to go to war, under UN auspices, against Iraq.5 More recently, a symposium of jurists, philosophers, theologians, government officials and military officers affirmed that Just War Theory is useful in deliberations regarding low-intensity conflict.6

Just War Theory

The origins of the Just War Theory can be traced to Saint Augustine in the 4th century A.D., and especially to Saint Thomas Aquinas, who extended and codified it in the 13th century. Just War Theory is in essence a set of guidelines for going to war (the so-called jus ad bellum), and for the conduct of hostilities (jus in bello).7 Though largely associated with Catholic scholars, Just War Theory is not a religious teaching per se, but rather part of a tradition of theological and philosophical thought, dating from Aristotle, that emphasized the importance of ethical processes in decisionmaking.

Aquinas specified three conditions for the decision to go to war: the action must be ordered by proper authority, the cause must be just, and the authority must have a right intention of promoting good or avoiding evil.8 Other authorities subsequently added three further criteria: the action must be a last resort and all peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted, there must be a reasonable probability of success, and the evil and damage which the war entails must be proportionate to the injury it is designed to avert or the injustice which occasions it.9

Once these conditions are met, the belligerent is subject to two further constraints in seeking his military objectives: his actions must be directed against the opponent, not against innocent people; and the means of combat must be proportionate to the just ends envisioned and must be under the control of a competent authority.10

The first of these constraints has been further refined, under the "principle of double effect," to encompass situations in which injury to innocent parties is unavoidable. Aquinas formulated the principle as follows:

There is nothing to hinder one act having two effects, of which one only is the intention of the agent, while the other is beside his intention. But moral acts receive their species from what is intended, not from what is beside the intention, as that is accidental.11


Under this principle, then, a belligerent may, if there is good reason, be justified in permitting incidental evil effects. The conditions governing this, however, are held by most commentators to be exceedingly strict. For example, the action taken must not be evil in itself; the good effect, and not the evil effect, must be intended, and the good effect must not arise out of the evil effect, but both must arise simultaneously from the action taken.12

Modern political theorists have continued the Just War tradition, and focused primarily on the criterion of just cause. Currently, the majority school of thought appears to favor the view that the only justifiable cause for armed conflict is to repel aggression. Traditionally, however, there were two other acceptable causes: to retake something wrongfully taken and to punish wrongdoing.13 Another area of debate has been whether forcible intervention in another state could be justified in order to reform that state's political system, for example in the case of flagrant human-rights abuses.14

The Theory and Covert Action

But what can an arcane theological and philosophical doctrine that is more than 1,600 years old and which was codified to regulate war during the Middle Ages have to do with covert action following the collapse of communism? At least one former practitioner, William Colby, has argued that "a standard for selection of covert actions that are just can be developed by analogy with the longstanding efforts to differentiate just from unjust wars."15 Perhaps more to the point, former Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) William Webster has noted that in its deliberations the CIA's Covert Action Review Group explores three key questions regarding a proposed covert action: "Is it entirely consistent with our laws? Is it consistent with American values as we understand them? And will it make sense to the American people?"16 With respect to the last two considerations, a reformulation of the Just War criteria in common-sense terms would probably appeal to the American people. It seems fair to conclude that the people would want the government to undertake covert actions only if:

The action is approved by the President, after due deliberation within the Executive Branch and with the full knowledge and concurrence of appropriate members of the Congress.
The intentions and objectives are clearly spelled out, reasonable, and just.
There is a reasonable probability of success.
The methods envisioned are commensurate with the objectives.


Moreover, in conducting covert action, it is reasonable to presume that the American people would approve of methods that minimize physical, economic, or psychological injury to innocent people and that are appropriate to the threat and under firm US control.17

Formulated this way, the Just War guidelines seem to be directly applicable to covert paramilitary operations or other actions involving the use of violence or coercion. Those who advocate or approve such covert actions, however, bear the additional burden of demonstrating why they must be conducted covertly. As ethicist Sissela Bok has pointed out, every state requires a measure of secrecy to defend itself, but when secrecy is invoked citizens lose the ordinary democratic checks on those matters that can affect them most strongly.18 In addition, a special problem of operational control can arise when intermediaries (agents) are employed — because their aims may differ from ours, and because the chain of command may be ambiguous or unreliable.19 Finally, most covert actions will necessarily lack the public legitimacy and legal status under international law of a declared, justifiable war. This makes it incumbent on those advocating such actions to take into account the consequences of possible public misunderstanding and international opprobrium.

The Chile Case

It would appear that a framework similar to the Just War Theory could be useful in evaluating covert actions that result in economic dislocation, distortion of political processes or manipulation of information, because these cause suffering or moral damage, as war causes physical destruction.20 To explore this, consider how the guidelines would have applied to two instances of covert US intervention in Chile, in 1964 and 1970.21

The 1964 Election Operation

As part of its worldwide buildup of covert action capabilities in the early 1950s, the CIA established a capacity to conduct covert propaganda and political influence operations in Chile. In 1961, President Kennedy established a hemispheric policy to promote the growth of democratic institutions, the Alliance for Progress. That same year, the President became convinced that the Chilean Christian Democratic Party shared his belief in democratic social reform and seemed to have the organizational competence to achieve their common goals. It lacked the resources, however, to compete with the extremist parties of the left and right.

During 1961, the CIA established relationships with key political parties in Chile, as well as propaganda and organizational mechanisms. In 1962, the Special Group (the interagency body charged with reviewing covert actions) approved two CIA proposals to provide support to the Christian Democrats. The program was modeled on that conducted in Italy in the late 1940s and 1950s, and it was intended to strengthen center-democratic forces against the leftist challenge from Salvador Allende, who was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba. When President Johnson succeeded Kennedy, he continued the covert subsidies, with the objective of making Chile a model of democracy, as well as preventing the nationalization by a leftist government of the Chilean components of American multinational corporations.

The Chilean presidential election of 1964 came down to a battle between Allende and Eduardo Frei Montalva, a liberal Christian Democrat. The election was viewed with great alarm in Washington. The New York Times compared it to the Italian election of 1948, when the communists had threatened to take over the country through the ballot box and the US had intervened covertly to support democratic parties. Similarly, in 1964 the Johnson administration intervened in Chile, according to the Church Committee Report, to prevent or minimize the influence of Chilean communists or Marxists in the government that would emerge from the election. Cord Meyer, a former CIA covert action manager, argues that the intervention was for the purpose of preserving the Chilean constitutional order.

In considering the 1964 election operations, the Johnson administration used the established mechanism, the interagency Special Group. By 1963, according to Professor Gregory Treverton, the Special Group had developed criteria for evaluating covert action proposals. All expenditures of covert funds for the 1964 operation (some $3 million in all) were approved by the Group. (There is no indication that the Congress approved these expenditures, or was even informed in detail of the operation.) In addition, an interagency committee was set up in Washington to manage the operation, and it was paralleled by a group in the US Embassy in Santiago. Meyer contends that covert intervention on behalf of Christian Democratic candidates had wide support in the administration, and the Church Committee confirms that the covert action was decided upon at the highest levels of government.

During the early 1960s, the US pursued a dual-track policy in Chile, conducting covert action in support of broader, overt objectives. Overtly, the US undertook a variety of development programs, and Chile was chosen to become a showcase of such programs under the Alliance for Progress. Between 1964 and 1969, Chile received well over $1 billion in direct, overt US aid — more per capita than any other country in the hemisphere. Moreover, funding to support the Frei candidacy was funnelled overtly through the Agency for International Development, as well as secretly through the CIA. Frei also received covert aid from a group of American corporations known as the Business Group for Latin America. Thus, the US used a variety of mechanisms to assist Frei. Covert support apparently was justified by the US Government on the grounds that Frei would be discredited if it were known that even more substantial support was flowing from the US.

That the 1964 covert action had a reasonable probability of success is evident from the outcome — Frei won a clear majority (56 percent) of the vote. According to Church Committee records, a CIA post mortem concluded that the covert campaign had a decisive impact. It is not clear from the available records whether a calculation of the likelihood of success was a specific part of the decisionmaking process. According to Treverton, the CIA was required under Special Group procedures to make such an estimate, and it is likely that its view would have been optimistic, because by the mid-1960s the Agency had managed to penetrate all significant elements of the Chilean Government and political parties.

In the 1964 operation, the CIA used virtually its entire arsenal of nonlethal methods:

Funds were passed through intermediaries to the Christian Democrats for their own use.
The CIA provided a consultant to assist the Christian Democrats in running an American-style campaign, which included polling, voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives.
Political action operations, including polls and grassroots organizing, were conducted among slum dwellers, peasants, organized labor, and dissident Socialists.
CIA-controlled assets placed propaganda in major Chilean newspapers and on radio, erected wall posters, passed out political leaflets, and organized demonstrations. According to the Church Committee, some of this propaganda used "scare tactics" to link Allende to Soviet and Cuban atrocities.
Other assets manufactured "black propaganda," material falsely purporting to be from Allende and his supporters, and intended to discredit them.22


Significant constraints were imposed, however. Paramilitary and other lethal methods were not used. The CIA explicitly rejected a proposal from the Chilean Defense Council to carry out a coup if Allende won. The Department of State turned down a similar proposal from a Chilean Air Force officer. Moreover, the Special Group turned down an offer from a group of American businessmen to provide funds for covert disbursement by the CIA. According to the Church Committee, the Group considered this "neither a secure nor an honorable way of doing business."

The 1970 Elections and "Track II"

Under Chilean law, Frei could not serve two consecutive terms as president. As the 1970 elections approached, the US faced a dilemma. The Christian Democrats had drifted to the left, and they were out of step with the Nixon administration's policy views. (The principal architect of those views was Henry Kissinger, who as an academic had been a prominent member of the realist school.) The conservative candidate, Jorge Allessandri, was not particularly attractive to the US, but there was even greater concern about an Allende victory.

The CIA began to warn policymakers early in 1969 that an Allende victory was likely. In March 1970, the 303 Committee (successor to the Special Group) decided that the US would not support any particular candidate. Instead, it authorized the CIA to conduct a "spoiling operation," aimed at discrediting Allende through propaganda. The effort failed when Allende won a slim plurality in the 4 September election. Because no candidate won a clear majority, the election was referred to a joint session of Congress, which in the past had always endorsed the candidate who had received the highest popular vote. The joint session was set for 24 October 1970. Senior US officials maintained that their preoccupation with Allende was defensive, and aimed at allaying fears of a communist victory both abroad and at home. As Nixon noted in a New York Times interview:

There was a great deal of concern expressed in 1964 and again in 1970 by neighboring South American countries that if Mr. Allende were elected president, Chile would quickly become a haven for Communist operatives who could infiltrate and undermine independent governments throughout South America.23


Kissinger noted that what worried the US was Allende's proclaimed hostility and his perceived intention to create "another Cuba." He maintained that nationalization of American-owned property was not the issue, though he did emphasize US interest in adequate compensation.

The Intelligence Community, however, held a more nuanced view. According to an assessment by the CIA's Directorate of Intelligence:

Regarding threats to US interests, we conclude that:

The US has no vital national interests in Chile. There would, however, be tangible economic losses.
The world balance of power would not be significantly altered by an Allende government.
An Allende victory would, however, create considerable political and psychological costs:


Hemispheric cohesion would be threatened by the challenge that an Allende government would pose to the OAS, and by the reactions that it would create in other countries. We do not see, however, any likely threat to the peace of the region.
An Allende victory would represent a definite psychological setback to the US and a definite psychological advance for the Marxist idea.24


Kissinger tacitly acknowledged the lack of vital US interests in Chile when he called it "a dagger pointed at the heart of Antarctica.

When Allende won a plurality of the popular vote, the thrust of US covert action shifted to preventing his accession to the presidency. The objective had now become to stop Allende by manipulation of the congressional vote. The committee asked Edward Korry, the US Ambassador in Santiago, for a "coldblooded assessment" of the likelihood of mounting a coup and organizing an effective opposition to Allende. With negative evaluations from both Korry and the CIA, the committee met on 14 September and explored a "Rube Goldberg" gambit, in which Alessandri would be elected by the Congress and then resign, thus allowing Frei to run in a second election. The ploy was turned down.

By this time, Nixon had taken a personal role. He met on 15 September with Donald Kendall, chief executive officer of Pepsi Cola, and Augustine Edwards, an influential Chilean publisher who had supported Frei during the 1964 election. According, to Kissinger, Nixon was incensed by what he heard, and decided that more direct action was necessary. As a result, he called in DCI Richard Helms and ordered a major effort to prevent Allende's accession. The CIA was instructed to play a direct role in organizing a military coup. Further, Helms was directed not to coordinate the CIA's activities with the Departments of State and Defense and not to inform Ambassador Korry. The 40 Committee was not informed, nor was the Congress. This activity became known as "Track II," to distinguish it from the 40 Committee program, "Track I."25

Track II was a carefully guarded secret, but US displeasure with the prospect of an Allende victory was not. According to Kissinger, all agencies were working to prevent the election. The Chilean Government was threatened with economic reprisals, and steps were taken to inform the Chilean armed forces that military aid would be cut off. Separately from the CIA's effort, several large American companies had financed Alessandri's campaign. One company, ITT, offered the CIA $1 million, but Helms turned it down.

When Helms left the Oval Office on 15 September, he had a page of handwritten notes. The first entry read, "less than one in ten chance of success." His pessimistic assessment was echoed by Ambassador Korry. According to his correspondence with the Church Committee, Korry consistently warned the Nixon administration that the Chilean military was, no policy alternative. From Santiago, according to the Church Committee documents, the CIA reported: "Military action is impossible; the military is incapable and unwilling to seize power. We have no capability to motivate or instigate a coup."

This view was shared by the managers of Track II. According to David Phillips, chief of the CIA's Chile Task Force, both he and his immediate supervisor were convinced that Track II was unworkable. The CIA's Deputy Director for Plans, Thomas Karamessines, was adamant that the Agency should not refuse the assignment, but he personally briefed Nixon several times on the progress of the operation, always pessimistically.26

Track I included funding to bribe Chilean congressmen, propaganda and economic activities, and contacts with Frei and elements of the military to foster opposition to Allende. Track II was more direct, stressing active CIA involvement in and support for a coup without Frei's knowledge. The CIA specifically offered encouragement to dissident Chilean military officers who opposed Allende, but who recognized that General Rene Schneider, the Chilean Chief of Staff, would not support a coup. These dissidents developed a plan to kidnap Schneider and take over the government, and this became known to CIA officials. Two unsuccessful kidnap attempts were made, and on the third attempt, on 22 October 1970, General Schneider was shot and subsequently died. Both the Church Committee and the Chilean inquiry concluded that the weapons used were not supplied by the US and that American officials did not desire or encourage Schneider's death. Neither, however, did they prevent it.

Unlike 1964, the 1970 covert operation did not involve extensive public-opinion polling, grass-roots organizing or direct funding of any candidate. Moreover, Helms made it clear that assassination of Allende was not an option. And when a rightwing Chilean fanatic, General Arturo Marshall, offered to help prevent Allende's confirmation, the CIA declined because of his earlier involvement in bombings in Santiago.

Evaluating the Two Operations

A Just War theorist reviewing the two covert operation would likely reach two conclusions: first, the 1964 operation was more justifiable than the 1970 activity, which would not have been approved if the officials concerned were natural law advocates rather than realists or ideological crusaders; and, second, both operations would have benefited from a more rigorous application of the jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria.

US authorities probably would have considered that their covert intervention in the 1964 election was generally consistent with the jus ad bellum. It had clear objectives: preservation of an important democratic force in Chile, and defense against the establishment of another communist stronghold in the Western hemisphere. These were set by President Kennedy, based on his assessment of the commonality of US and Chilean interests. While not strictly speaking a last resort, it was conducted in the context of, and consistently with, an overall overt policy (the Alliance for Progress); was likely to be successful; and the overall effort was limited in scope and generally proportionate to the perceived threat. It was approved in accordance with the established procedures, though in retrospect the process would have been strengthened if the Congress had been consulted.

Some doubts can be raised regarding consistency with the jus in bello. The need for "scare tactics" and "black propaganda" is not obvious. (If indeed Allende's affinities for the USSR and Cuba were on the public record, promulgation of this truthful information should have been adequate.) Such activities inherently carry the possibility of distortion and deception. As Sissela Bok notes, lying and deception carry a "negative weight." They require explanation and justification, while the truth, including presumably the "truth" promulgated through propaganda mechanisms, does not.27 If not clearly justifiable in terms of necessity or to respond to Cuban or Soviet activities, such deceptive actions would not meet the test of proportionality of the jus in bello.

The 1970 Track II operation, in contrast, violated virtually all of the Just War guidelines, though this might not have been of great consequence to those who directed it. Its objective was to prevent Allende's confirmation, but little thought apparently was given to the consequences for the Chilean people or the political system. The normal consultative process was bypassed, and Nixon made the fateful Track II decision in a state of high emotion.28 No expert believed that success was likely. The methods chosen were initially inadequate and subsequently, when support for coup plotting took center stage, the intermediaries could not be controlled. What began as a nonlethal action quickly turned lethal. Despite the fact that injury to innocent parties was a foreseeable outcome of the envisioned coup, no advance provision was made to prevent or minimize it. In light of the intelligence assessment that the US lacked vital interests in Chile, it is hard to rationalize support for a potentially violent military coup as a proportionate response.

In sum, the Chile case shows that Just War Theory can provide a useful framework for evaluating covert political action by asking certain penetrating questions: Is the operation directed at a just cause, properly authorized, necessary and proportionate? Is it likely to succeed, and how will it be controlled? Is it a last resort, a convenience or merely an action taken in frustration? In the case of the 1964 operation, the answers to most of these questions were satisfactory; in 1970, they were not.

Reforms Since the 1970S

In the more than two decades since Track II, significant improvements have been made in controlling covert action. The old doctrine of "plausible denial," which allowed senior officials to disclaim responsibility for their actions, has been replaced by one intended to secure direct presidential accountability. Beginning with the Hughes-Ryan Amendment of 1974, a series of laws has been enacted requiring the president personally to "find" that proposed covert actions are important to the national security, and to report such operations to Congress in a timely manner. (Debate has continued over what constitutes a timely notification.) In the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal, it became obvious that the system of presidential "Findings" needed to be strengthened, and even more stringent procedures were implemented, first by the Executive Branch and then by the Congress.

Under the current system, established by the Reagan administration in 1987 and refined by legislation in 1991, a written Finding must be signed before a covert action operation commences, except that in extreme circumstances an oral Finding may be made and then immediately documented in writing. A Memorandum of Notification (MON), also approved by the president, is required for a significant change in the means of implementation, level of resources, assets, operational conditions, cooperating foreign countries or risks associated with a covert action. Each Finding or MON includes a statement of policy objectives and goals; a description of the actions authorized., resources required, and participating organizations, a statement that indicates whether private individuals or organizations of foreign governments will be involved; and an assessment of risk. Each proposed Finding or MON is reviewed by a senior committee of the National Security Council (NSC), and coordinated with the NSC Legal Adviser and with the Counsel to the President. Copies of Findings and MONs are provided to the Congress at the time of notification, except in rare cases of extreme sensitivity.29

An Approach for the 1990s

These reforms are positive, especially with regard to the criterion of proper authority, because they provide for broader consultation, a legal review, presidential accountability and Congressional involvement in covert action decisions. However, the content of Findings and MONs, as described above, leaves much to be desired from the perspective of Just War Theory. If, as the Chile case suggests, explicit use of Just War guidelines can strengthen the ethical content of covert action, more emphasis should be placed on the substance of discussions, not just the mechanics of the process. Further, the now widely accepted view that Just War Theory can be used to justify and explain resort to armed force strongly suggest that a similar approach would be useful in framing substantive debate on covert political action. In short, the current system addresses the legality, feasibility and political sensitivity of proposed covert actions.30 It does not, however, ensure that they are right, according to a widely accepted. ethical standard.

To come closer to this ideal, it is important that, at each stage in the covert action approval process, difficult questions be asked about the objectives, intentions, methods and management of a proposed operation. It is equally important that they be answered in detail, with rigor, and in writing — even (perhaps especially) when time is of the essence. Covert operators are understandably reluctant to commit sensitive details to paper, but this seems essential if the US is to meet high standards of morality and accountability in an era in which the easy rationalization of fighting communism is no longer available.

A decisionmaking process structured explicitly around Just War guidelines is, in many ways, simply a restatement of Judge Webster's criteria of consistency with law, American values and public mores. In that sense, Just War criteria merely reiterate the obvious, and make explicit the goals that the US has striven toward in its reforms of the covert action process since the mid-1970s. But there is value to building a more systematic framework for substantive debate, constructed from specific questions derived from Just War Theory, even if many of these questions are already considered in the CIA's Covert Action Review Group, the senior NSC groups or the oversight committees. The questions of concern include:

Just cause. Exactly what are the objectives of the operation? Is it defensive — to repel an identifiable threat — or is it intended to redress a wrong, to punish wrongdoing or to reform a foreign country? Who or what are we conducting the operation against? Who are we for? What specific changes in the behavior or policy of the target country, group or individual do we seek?
Just Intention. What will be the likely result in the target country and in other foreign countries? How will we or the international community be better off? How will we know if we have succeeded? What will we do if we win? If we lose?
Proper Authority. Who has reviewed the proposal? Are there dissents? What is the view of intelligence analysts on the problem being considered? Have senior government officials discussed the proposal in detail? Has the Congress been advised of all significant aspects of the covert activity? If notification has been restricted, what is the justification?
Last Resort. What other policies have been tried? Why have they not been effective? What overt policy options are being considered? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Why is covert action necessary? Why must the proposed activity be secret?
Probability of Success. What is the likelihood that the action will succeed? Are there differing views of the probability of success? Is the view of disinterested observers different from that of advocates or opponents? Why? What is the evidence?
Proportionality. What specific methods are being considered? Does the proposal envision the use of lethal force, sabotage, economic disruption or false information? Why are these methods necessary? Are they the same as those being used by the adversary, or are they potentially more damaging or disruptive? If so, what is the justification?
Discrimination and Control. What steps will be taken to safeguard the innocent against death, injury, economic hardship or psychological damage? What will be done to protect political institutions and processes against disproportionate damage? If some damage is inevitable, what steps are being taken to minimize it? What controls does the US exercise over the agents to be employed? What steps will be taken if they disregard our directions? What steps will be taken to protect the agents, and what are our obligations to them? How will the operation be terminated if its objectives are achieved? How will it be terminated if it fails?


Each of these questions should be investigated at some step of the initial approval process, though some clearly exceed the competence of the CIA. Perhaps the NSC Staff and the Congressional oversight committees are the most appropriate bodies to probe these issues. Not all may be answerable at the outset, though this fact alone should signal caution. In addition, they should be posed again whenever there is a significant change in objectives, methods or circumstances. The current management process calls for an annual review of all covert actions by the NSC, as well as periodic examinations by the oversight committees. These questions can guide such reviews as well.

The Casuistry of Covert Action

Rigorous examination of the questions enumerated above would emulate the technique of moral reasoning recommended by the natural law tradition. This method, known as casuistry, is acknowledged by scholars to be complex and difficult, especially in cases involving politics and international affairs.31 Moreover, in the hands of advocates, Just War criteria can deteriorate into mere rationalizations of intended actions. Just War Theory, then, can be exceedingly useful as an organizing principle, but in itself does not necessarily provide clear answers.32 How can the inherent uncertainty of this casuistry, and its potential misuse, be minimized?

William Colby has suggested that our process of moral reasoning concentrate primarily on the criteria of just cause and proportionality.33 These fundamental points do indeed appear to be the keys to an effective process of policy formulation. With respect to just cause, a recent report by a panel of distinguished scholars has recommended that covert action should be undertaken only in support of a publicly articulated policy.34 Such an approach would ensure that the objectives of the policy could be debated publicly, even though some of the exact methods to be employed might be known only to a small group of elected and appointed officials. Open, public debate would go a long way toward determining whether a proposed course of action could be construed as a just cause. The need for such debate is so fundamental to the casuistry of covert action that, if it cannot be conducted, this in itself would seem to be grounds for rejection of any suggested operation.

Assessments of proportionality are not susceptible to the same kind of open scrutiny, because they involve specific descriptions of secret methods. Nevertheless, it is important to ensure that proposed activities meet strict tests of consistency with American values and mores. Just War Theory does not offer specific guidance for such choices, despite its stress on necessity and minimal damage to innocent parties. Loch Johnson, a longtime commentator on intelligence activities, has suggested that, in addition to having a sound ethical framework, decisions on covert action must take into account other factors, such as the type of target regime and the severity and imminence of the threat that is to be countered.35 These would seem to be useful guides to evaluating proportionality, to which could be added the types of actions, overt or covert, being undertaken by the target regime against US interests.

Johnson has also tried to rank-order various types of covert operations into a 38-rung "ladder of escalation," and he introduces a useful concept of "thresholds" that involve different degrees of risk and interference in foreign countries.36 Following Johnson's concept, proposed covert activities could be arrayed for debate under thresholds of increasing ethical concern as follows:

Limited Concern. Benign provision of truthful information or support to existing political forces; intervention to keep election processes honest.
Significant Concern. Manipulative use of information; rigging of elections or other distortion of political processes; creating new opposition forces or increasing the strength of existing ones out of proportion to their indigenous support.
Serious Concern. Deceptive use of information, nonlethal sabotage and economic disruption.
Grave Concern. Use of lethal force; forcible changes in government.


Such actions are often taken in combination, rather than step by step in a scenario of escalation. Moreover, the amount or degree of covert support provided will vary in significance and moral weight depending on the nature of the foreign countries involved. And, as noted above, it is necessary to justify the actions proposed and the need to carry them out secretly. But clarity about what is being done, and whether or not it is proportional to the threat and proposed objectives, is a key element in sound policymaking.

Conclusion

Such an application of the Just War framework would not end controversy regarding covert action, nor would it guarantee that inappropriate or unethical actions will not be taken in the future. Debate over just cause and proportionality are likely to be particularly difficult — especially when, as was the case in US policy in Central America, there is no political consensus — but these are precisely the elements that most require informed scrutiny. Those who oppose covert action in all forms will not be reassured by a process based on the Just War framework; realists or crusaders will see it as unnecessary and unduly restrictive; Executive Branch officials and members of Congress may perceive that they already probe these questions in one way or another; and bureaucrats will regard it as just another "paper exercise." The claim for a conscious application of Just War guidelines is a modest one: it will help to make more rigorous Judge Webster's common-sense criteria, and to improve the quality of decisions regarding one of the most controversial aspects of US national security policy.

More generally, in light of recurring problems in the use of covert action as an instrument of policy, and the fact that it is likely to remain in the arsenal of states for the foreseeable future, greater rigor and structure in debates over specific proposals are essential. Reforming the process along the lines suggested would signal that the US is concerned — even in secret activities — with issues of right and wrong and not merely with power. It would promote openness and accountability, and underscore that we firmly reject the "repugnant philosophy" of the Doolittle Report.

_______________

NOTES:

1. "Report of the Special Study Group (Doolittle Committee) on the Covert Activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, 30 September 1954 (excerpts)" in William M. Leary, ed., The Central Intelligence Agency, History and Documents; (The University of Alabama Press; 1984); p. 144.

2. Jack Donnelly, "Twentieth-Century Realism", in Nardin and Mapel, eds., Traditions of International Ethics; (Cambridge University Press, 1992); p. 93.

3. The author is indebted to Rev. John P. Langan for this typology of Cold War political thought. Letter to the author, 28 May 1992.

4. A penetrating assessment of covert action from the perspective of international law can be found in W. Michael Riesman and James E. Baker, Regulating Covert Action (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1992).

5. See James Turner Johnson and George Weigel, Just War and the Gulf War (Washington, Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1991).

6. Symposium on Moral and Legal Constraints on Low-Intensity Conflict, sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict; US Naval War College; Newport, Rhode Island; 9-10 April 1992.

7. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, The Challenge of Peace (Washington, US Catholic Conference, 1983), pp. 25-29.

8. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Joseph Rickaby, S.J., trans. (London, Burns and Gates, 1892), Question XL, Article 1.

9. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Op. Cit., pp. 29-32.

10. Aquinas, Q. XLI, Art. 1.

11. Aquinas, Q. XLIV, Art. VII.\

12. Paul Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience (Duke University Press, 1969), pp. 47-8.

13. The classic modern work on Just War Theory is Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York, Basic Books, 1977).

14. Charles R. Beitz, "Recent International Thought", Ethics and International Affairs, 1989, Vol. 3, p. 190.

15. William E. Colby, "Public Policy, Secret Action," Ethics and International Affairs, 1989, Vol. 3, p. 63.

16. Address to the Eighth Circuit Judicial Conference, 12 July 1991.

17. There is some empirical research that suggests a correlation between these classic Just War criteria and American attitudes regarding war and peace. See Donald Secrest, Gregory G. Brunk and Howard Tamashiro, "Moral Justification for Resort to War With Nicaragua: The Attitudes of Three American Elite Groups," Western Political Quarterly, September 1991, pp. 541-559.

18. Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation (New York, Pantheon Books, 1982), p. 191.

19. Charles R. Beitz, "Covert Intervention as a Moral Problem." Ethics and International Affairs, 1989, Vol. 3, pp. 49-50.

20. Langan notes that Just War Theory has both material and formal aspects, and that the formal aspects, such as just intention and proportionality, are applicable to a broad range of situations where one has to do harm to another, including punishment, surgery and — by extension — political or economic intervention. (Langan, Op. Cit.)

21. The following discussion is drawn primarily from documents of the Church Commitee, which investigated CIA covert actions in the mid-1970s, as well as memoirs of some of the participants and other government officials and commentators. (These include William Colby, Henry Kissinger, Cord Meyer, David Atlee Phillips and Arthur Schlesinger.) A summary of the Church Committee's findings, and recommendations for reform, can be found in Gregory Treverton, Covert Action: The Limits of Intervention in the Postwar World (New York, Basic Books, 1987). A case study based on Treverton's research has been published by the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs; an abridged version appeared in Studies In Intelligence, Winter 1992.

22. United States Senate, Staff Report of the Select Committee to Study Government Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities: Covert Actions in Chile, 1963-73. (Washington, US Government Printing Office, 1975) pp. 15-17.

23. 12 March 1976.

24. Assessment dated 7 September 1970, declassified and quoted in the Church Committee report.

25. The US decision process is described in detail in the Church Committee Report, Alleged Assassination Attempts Involving Foreign Leaders, as well as in Kissinger's memoirs and John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1986), pp. 514-520.

26.David Atlee Philips, The Night Watch (New York, Ballantine Books, 1977), pp. 283-287.

27.Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (New York, Random House, 1978), p. 30.

28.Another tenet of the natural law tradition, the notion of prudentia or prudence in statecraft, cautions against such hasty and passionate decisions. See Alberto R. Coll, "Normative Prudence as a Tradition of Statecraft," Ethics and International Affairs, 1991, Vol. 5, pp. 36-7.

29.National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 286, partially declassified on 15 December 1987; Intelligence Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 1991, Title VI.

30."Political sensitivity" can sometimes become a euphemism for morally questionable activities. This semantic twist means that such activities are then discussed as though they were merely political rather than ethical issues.

31.Joseph Boyle, "Natural Law and International Ethics," in Nardin and Mapel, Op. Cit., p. 115.

32.The author is indebted to Joel Rosenthal of the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs for this point. (Letter to the author dated 12 May 1992)

33. Colby, Op. Cit. Colby concentrates on the selfdefense aspect of just cause.

34. Report of the Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Covert Action and American Democracy (New York, Twentieth Century Press, 1992) p. 8.

35. Loch K. Johnson, "On Drawing a Bright Line for Covert Operations," American Journal of International Law, Vol. 86, No. 2, April 1992. pp. 296-7.

36. Ibid. p. 286. Johnson's analysis is complicated by his mixing of traditional intelligence collection activities with covert actions, and his attempt to rank-order both categories hierarchically. At the lowest level of escalation ladder, Johnson enumerates routine, passive activities to collect information. Above his first threshold of risk and interference he lists the placement of truthful, benign information in the foreign press and low-level funding of friendly political groups. His second threshold involves the placement of "contentious information" in the media, large-scale funding of foreign groups, economic disruption without loss of life, limited supplies of arms, small-scale hostage-rescue attempts, and disinformation. Above his highest threshold are large-scale and potentially violent acts, including major secret wars, assassination plots, and hostage taking. Johnson argues that actions in this category should never be undertaken by the US. He also includes in this list of proscribed actions the supply of sophisticated weapons. This, however, would appear to be an option that might be considered in response to specific, serious threats.

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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Sat Dec 31, 2016 2:57 am

Deserving Trust
by Ken White
December 15, 2016

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"Fake news" is the slogan of the day. As a concept, it's typical: it has a grain of truth and descriptive value, but has been wantonly overused and twisted for partisan ends. Will you run into "news" that is based on simply false facts? Yes. Will you also see people using "fake news" to describe anything they don't like? Absolutely.

The heart of this is a surge of mistrust in the media. Some of that mistrust is well-earned, and some of it is promoted for political reasons — to cripple the press' ability to limit government power through questioning it. The press — including both nominally factual reporters and commentators — don't deserve to be trusted without question, and ought not be by a free people. People who write about current events, descriptively or (deliberately) persuasively, ought to be self-critical and think about why they are or aren't believed. That includes bloggers, who have an increasingly large role in public debate.

You cannot make people trust you or believe you. But you can work to be worthy of trust, and hope that the trust follows.

How could you earn trust, even as a commentator?

Focus on values. The best path to deserving trust is focusing on values rather than personalities or factions. Values can be principled; factions can't. Which values? That's up to you. What do you care about? It might be due process of law and equality before it, or limited government, or freedom of expression. If you are open about what values are important to you, open to discussing why those values are worthy and how heavily they should weigh in the balance, and open in your analysis of why particular policies promote or weaken those values, you can earn trust and credibility. If you focus instead on teams, and treat the virtues of one team as self-evident, you won't. The goal is not to persuade everyone or to "win." Some righteous values are unpopular and always will be. The goal is to offer the clearest, the best-supported, the most principled defense of the values you care about.

Question essentialism. Part of focusing on values is being skeptical of essentialism. Essentialism is the belief (for instance) that Trump is bad because Trump is bad and therefore things Trump proposes must be bad. Essentialism is the loudest voice in our political culture. The Koch brothers support that, it must be bad! That's a Hillary Clinton proposal, so it's liberal and awful! Essentialism is popular and persuasive with people who already agree with you, but to everyone else it's a signal not to trust you, because your analysis is nothing more than "red team is bad." Essentialism is also seductive, because it carries with it a feeling of belonging.

Asking who proposed a policy — or asking cui bono — can be a good starting point, but it's not an endpoint. The endpoint has to be an analysis of the act or policy, not just the source of it. Essentialism writes off a large segment of America — be it "conservative" or "liberal" — as irredeemable, and therefore abandons any effort to persuade those people that your values are the right ones, or that you are worthy of trust.1

Praise what is right. If you focus on values, you'll support policies that promote those values, even if you don't like the source. A politician you don't like will probably do some things right. Praise them when that happens. It's the right thing to do, it promotes the value you care about, and it earns trust.

Criticize what is wrong. People you support will make wrong choices that are bad for your values. Say so. Ignore party loyalists who complain you are "concern trolling." In fact, this ought to be your first priority. Start with the mote in your own eye. It's essential to trust.

Be skeptical. There's tons of misinformation out there. Much of it will support your views. Be skeptical. When you bite on a bogus story — and we all will — be forthright afterwards in noting that the story was false and you bit on it.

Promote knowledge. You have specialized knowledge of some sort. That knowledge can be relevant to policy debates. Support the debates by sharing the knowledge. Provide primary documentary support for the knowledge — in a world of easy hyperlinks, there's no excuse not to — and try to make the knowledge accessible. In other words, "here's the facts, and here are the sources of the facts, and here's how to read the sources" is preferable to "I'm right because I'm an expert." (Except on Twitter, obviously).

You can do absolutely everything right and some people will still belittle you because of who you are or what values you support. That's fine. Get over it. The goal isn't forcing people to agree. The goal is offering the best possible defense of the values you care about, and — hopefully — in the process earning trust from people who can be persuaded, from people willing to change their minds.

I say question essentialism because it's probably not worthwhile or realistic to abandon it entirely. I'm not telling you to devote yourself to converting, say, white nationalists. I'm suggesting you question the categories of people you think are unreachable or inherently wrong.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Mon Jan 16, 2017 3:27 am

Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say
By Juliet Eilperin and Adam Entous
December 31, 2016

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.

A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.

While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a security matter, the discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. And it raises fears in the U.S. government that Russian government hackers are actively trying to penetrate the grid to carry out potential attacks.

Officials in government and the utility industry regularly monitor the grid because it is highly computerized and any disruptions can have disastrous implications for the country’s medical and emergency services.

Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.

Friday night, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) called on federal officials “to conduct a full and complete investigation of this incident and undertake remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”

“Vermonters and all Americans should be both alarmed and outraged that one of the world’s leading thugs, Vladimir Putin, has been attempting to hack our electric grid, which we rely upon to support our quality-of-life, economy, health, and safety,” Shumlin said in a statement. “This episode should highlight the urgent need for our federal government to vigorously pursue and put an end to this sort of Russian meddling.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said he was briefed on the attempts to penetrate the electric grid by Vermont State Police on Friday evening. “This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides — this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter,” Leahy said in a statement. “That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly.”

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said the attack shows how rampant Russian hacking is. “It’s systemic, relentless, predatory,” Welch said . “They will hack everywhere, even Vermont, in pursuit of opportunities to disrupt our country. We must remain vigilant, which is why I support President Obama’s sanctions against Russia and its attacks on our country and what it stands for.”

American officials, including one senior administration official, said they are not yet sure what the intentions of the Russians might have been. The incursion may have been designed to disrupt the utility’s operations or as a test to see whether they could penetrate a portion of the grid.

Officials said that it is unclear when the code entered the Vermont utility’s computer, and that an investigation will attempt to determine the timing and nature of the intrusion, as well as whether other utilities were similarly targeted.

“The question remains: Are they in other systems and what was the intent?” a U.S. official said.

This week, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence shared the Grizzly Steppe malware code with executives from 16 sectors nationwide, including the financial, utility and transportation industries, a senior administration official said. Vermont utility officials identified the code within their operations and reported it to federal officials Friday, the official said.

The DHS and FBI also publicly posted information about the malware Thursday as part of a joint analysis report, saying that the Russian military and civilian services’ activity “is part of an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.”

Another senior administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters, said in an email that “by exposing Russian malware” in the joint analysis report, “the administration sought to alert all network defenders in the United States and abroad to this malicious activity to better secure their networks and defend against Russian malicious cyber activity.”

According to the report by the FBI and DHS, the hackers involved in the Russian operation used fraudulent emails that tricked their recipients into revealing passwords.

Russian hackers, U.S. intelligence agencies say, earlier obtained a raft of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee, which were later released by WikiLeaks during this year’s presidential campaign.

President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the veracity of U.S. intelligence pointing to Russia’s responsibility for hacks in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election. He also has spoken highly of Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite President Obama’s suggestion that the approval for hacking came from the highest levels of the Kremlin.

Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said it would be “highly inappropriate to comment” on the incident given the fact that Spicer has not been briefed by federal authorities at this point.

Obama has been criticized by lawmakers from both parties for not retaliating against Russia before the election. But officials said the president was concerned that U.S. countermeasures could prompt a wider effort by Moscow to disrupt the counting of votes on Election Day, potentially leading to a wider conflict.

Officials said Obama also was concerned that taking retaliatory action before the election would be perceived as an effort to help the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

On Thursday, when Obama announced new economic measures against Russia and the expulsion of 35 Russian officials from the United States in retaliation for what he said was a deliberate attempt to interfere with the election, Trump told reporters, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”

Trump has agreed to meet with U.S. intelligence officials next week to discuss allegations surrounding Russia’s online activity.

Russia has been accused in the past of launching a cyberattack on Ukraine’s electrical grid, something it has denied. Cybersecurity experts say a hack in December 2015 destabilized Kiev’s power grid, causing a blackout in part of the Ukrainian capital. On Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro ­Poroshenko accused Russia of waging a hacking war on his country that has entailed 6,500 attacks against Ukrainian state institutions over the past two months.

Since at least 2009, U.S. authorities have tracked efforts by China, Russia and other countries to implant malicious software inside computers used by U.S. utilities. It is unclear if the code used in those earlier attacks was similar to what was found in the Vermont case. In November 2014, for example, federal authorities reported that a Russian malware known as BlackEnergy had been detected in the software controlling electric turbines in the United States.

The Russian Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Representatives for the Energy Department and DHS declined to comment Friday.

Alice Crites, Carol Morello and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

*********************************************************************

Russian government hackers do not appear to have targeted Vermont utility, say people close to investigation
By Ellen Nakashima and Juliet Eilperin
January 2, 2017

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The investigation by officials began Friday, when the Vermont utility reported its alert to federal authorities, some of whom told The Washington Post that code associated with the Russian hackers had been discovered within the system of an unnamed Vermont utility. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)


As federal officials investigate suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, they are finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to experts and officials close to the investigation.

An employee at Burlington Electric Department was checking his Yahoo email account Friday and triggered an alert indicating that his computer had connected to a suspicious IP address associated by authorities with the Russian hacking operation that infiltrated the Democratic Party. Officials told the company that traffic with this particular address is found elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric, suggesting the company wasn’t being targeted by the Russians. Indeed, officials say it is possible that the traffic is benign, since this particular IP address is not always connected to malicious activity.

Yahoo says one billion accounts exposed in newly discovered security breach
By Jim Finkle and Anya George Tharakan
Dec 15, 2016

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Yahoo Inc warned on Wednesday that it had uncovered yet another massive cyber attack, saying data from more than 1 billion user accounts was compromised in August 2013, making it the largest breach in history.

The number of affected accounts was double the number implicated in a 2014 breach that the internet company disclosed in September and blamed on hackers working on behalf of a government. News of that attack, which affected at least 500 million accounts, prompted Verizon Communication Inc to say in October that it might withdraw from an agreement to buy Yahoo's core internet business for $4.83 billion.

Following the latest disclosure, Verizon said, "we will review the impact of this new development before reaching any final conclusions."

A Yahoo spokesman told Reuters that the company has been in communication with Verizon during its investigation into the breach and that it is confident the incident will not affect the pending acquisition.

Yahoo required all of its customers to reset their passwords - a stronger measure than it took after the previous breach was discovered, when it only recommended a password reset.

Yahoo also said Wednesday that it believes hackers responsible for the previous breach had also accessed the company’s proprietary code to learn how to forge "cookies" that would allow hackers to access an account without a password.

"Yahoo badly screwed up," said Bruce Schneier, a cryptologist and one of the world's most respected security experts. "They weren't taking security seriously and that's now very clear. I would have trouble trusting Yahoo going forward."

Yahoo was tentative in its description of new problems, saying the incident was "likely" distinct from the one it reported in September and that stolen information "may have included" names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers.

It said it had not yet identified the intrusion that led to the massive data theft and noted that payment-card data and bank account information were not stored in the system the company believes was affected.

Yahoo said it discovered the breach while reviewing data provided to the company by law enforcement. FireEye Inc’s Mandiant unit and Aon Plc's Stroz Friedberg are assisting in the investigation, the Yahoo spokesman told Reuters.

The breach is the latest setback for Yahoo, an internet pioneer that has fallen on hard times in recent years after being eclipsed by younger, fast-growing rivals including Alphabet Inc's Google and Facebook Inc.

Hours before it announced the breach on Wednesday, executives with Google, Facebook and other large U.S. technology companies met with President-elect Donald Trump in New York. Reflecting its diminished stature, Yahoo was not invited to the summit, according to people familiar with the meeting.

The Yahoo spokesman said Chief Executive Marissa Mayer was at the company's Sunnyvale, California headquarters to assist in addressing the new breach.

Yahoo shares were down 2.4 percent to $39.91 in extended trading. Verizon shares were little changed from their close at $51.63.

(Reporting by Jim Finkle in Boston and Anya George Tharakan in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington and Jessica Toonkel in New York; Editing by Savio D'Souza, Bernard Orr)


The investigation by officials began Friday, when the Vermont utility reported its alert to federal authorities, some of whom told The Washington Post that code associated with the Russian hackers had been discovered within the system of an unnamed Vermont utility. On Friday evening, The Post published its report, and Burlington Electric released a statement identifying itself as the utility in question and saying the firm had “detected the malware” in a single laptop. The company said in its statement that the laptop was not connected to its grid systems.

The Post initially reported incorrectly that the country’s electric grid had been penetrated through a Vermont utility. After Burlington Electric released its statement saying that the potentially compromised laptop had not been connected to the grid, The Post immediately corrected its article and later added an editor’s note explaining the change.

Officials say Russian government hackers do not appear to have targeted Burlington Electric, a Vermont utility. Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this video incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)


U.S. officials are continuing to investigate the laptop. In the course of their investigation, though, they have found on the device a package of software tools commonly used by online criminals to deliver malware. The package, known as Neutrino, does not appear to be connected with Grizzly Steppe, which U.S. officials have identified as the Russian hacking operation. The FBI, which declined to comment, is continuing to investigate how the malware got onto the laptop.

Initially, company officials publicly said they had detected code that had been linked by the Department of Homeland Security to Grizzly Steppe.

Over the weekend, the company issued a statement, saying only that it had “detected suspicious Internet traffic” on the computer in question.

The murkiness of the information underlines the difficulties faced by officials as they try to root out Grizzly Steppe and share with the public their findings on how the operation works. Experts say the situation was made worse by a recent government report, which they described as a genuine effort to share information with the industry but criticized as rushed and prone to causing confusion. Authorities also were leaking information about the utility without having all the facts and before law enforcement officials were able to investigate further.

The incident comes as President-elect Donald Trump has cast doubt on the findings of intelligence officials that the Russians conducted a hacking operation designed to help him win the White House.

Experts also said that because Yahoo’s mail servers are visited by millions of people each day, the fact that a Burlington Electric employee checking email touched off an alert is not an indication that the Russian government was targeting the utility.

“It’s not descriptive of anything in particular,” said Robert M. Lee, chief executive of Dragos, a cybersecurity firm.

The company said it was told much the same thing by authorities. “Federal officials have indicated that the specific type of Internet traffic, related to recent malicious cyber activity that was reported by us [on Friday], also has been observed elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric,” company spokesman Mike Kanarick said in a statement.

The FBI and DHS released a report last week intended to prompt companies to search their systems for any evidence of a Russian hacking operation that they concluded had infiltrated Democratic Party servers. The document was intended to help companies mitigate Russian hacking and report any suspicious activity to the government. That report itself contained a caution regarding the suspicious IP addresses it listed: “Upon reviewing the traffic from these IPs, some traffic may correspond to malicious activity, and some may correspond to legitimate activity.”

The discovery of the laptop issue has prompted criticism that the government provided overly broad information to companies that was not effective in isolating Russian government hacking.

“That report offered no technical value for defenders,” Lee said. “It was very much high level and nothing in there was specifically descriptive of Russian activity.”

Some in the administration are concerned that this episode with the Vermont utility will cause industry officials to avoid sharing information with the government, for fear that it will be leaked. The company in this case, the U.S. official said, “did what it was supposed to do.”

Experts also expressed concerns regarding the report released by DHS and the FBI on the Russian hacking operation. The report said it was providing “technical details regarding the tools and infrastructure used by the Russian civilian and military intelligence services” to “compromise and exploit” political, government and private computer networks. The government released the document on the same day it announced a series of measures taken to punish the Russian government for its interference in the 2016 presidential election, including the DNC hacks.

But a range of cybersecurity experts say that although the intention of the report was good, it lacked specific details that would enable firms to detect Russian government hackers.

At least 30 percent of the IP addresses listed were commonly used sites such as public proxy servers used to mask a user’s location, and servers run by Amazon.com and Yahoo. (Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Washington Post.) The IP address information alone is not useful, experts noted. Moreover, a server that is used by Russian spies one year might be used by “granny’s bake shop” the next, Lee said.

“No one should be making any attribution conclusions purely from the indicators in the [government] report,” tweeted Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer of CrowdStrike, which investigated the DNC hack and attributed it to the Russian government. “It was all a jumbled mess.’’

A senior DHS official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive security matter, defended the report.

“We know the Russians are a highly capable adversary who conduct technical operations in a manner intended to blend into legitimate traffic,” the official said. The indicators of compromise contained in the report, he said, “are indicative of that. That’s why it’s so important for net defenders to leverage the recommended mitigations contained in the [report], implement best practices, and analyze their logs for traffic emanating from those IPs, because the Russians are going to try and hide evidence of their intrusion and presence in the network.”

The official said the information shared was “precisely the type of information DHS should be sharing, particularly since we know that cybersecurity capabilities differ among companies and organizations.”

The nation’s electrical grid is not a physical entity, but rather a series of networks that generate, transmit and distribute electricity. There are three primary networks--the Eastern Interconnect, Western Interconnect and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas--and smaller grids within those three groups. Each amounts to an industrial control system that dispatches electricity from where it is generated to the consumers who use it.

While these systems include redundancies to prevent any disruptions in service, and human operators oversee them, the functioning of the country’s grid is also highly automated. Experts say that this results in the system being more vulnerable to hacking attacks.

Utilities connected to the grid are routinely subjected to penetration efforts, but the U.S. electrical grid has never lost its transmission capacity because of such attempts.

“This is an example of the system working, and us getting bad things off our system as soon as they’re known,” said Nathan Mitchell Sr., who directs electric reliability standards and security at the American Public Power Association.

Shumlin: Vermont Better Off Without Nuclear Plant
by Mike Faher
December 26, 2016

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VERNON – At a recent economic development announcement in Brattleboro, Gov. Peter Shumlin confidently declared that Windham County has an advantage because “we can do cash.”

He was referring to a multimillion-dollar pot of money – the Windham County Economic Development Program – that was created via a shutdown settlement agreement with Vermont Yankee owner Entergy.

As he prepares to leave office two years after the Vernon nuclear plant stopped producing power, Shumlin says he is confident that the regional and state economy is headed in the right direction even without Yankee’s 600-plus jobs in the mix.

And from an energy standpoint, Shumlin contends the state is better off without Vermont Yankee’s 605 megawatts of power production due to a new emphasis on renewables and efficiency.

“There’s no question that running an aging, leaking nuclear power plant beyond its design life was not in Vermont’s best interest,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin never made any secret of his opposition to the nuclear plant that operated for 42 years in his home county.

As a state senator, he led a 2010 vote to block Vermont Yankee’s requested 20-year relicensing. Against a backdrop of tritium leaks at the plant, Yankee shutdown was a key issue in Shumlin’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign that same year.

Shumlin carried that advocacy into the governor’s office, contending Vermonters had lost faith in the plant’s corporate owners – whom he referred to as “Entergy Louisiana.”

During a recent interview with VTDigger.org, Shumlin said his opposition to Vermont Yankee was based partly on tritium leak scandal. But he also believed that the plant should not operate beyond its initial, 40-year licensure period.

“I felt strongly like, in a state where your word is your bond, the deal had been changed after it had been agreed to,” Shumlin said. “It should be retired on time as promised to Vermonters.”

Ultimately, the state didn’t close the plant. The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a renewed license for Vermont Yankee in 2011, and a federal judge subsequently ruled that the facility could continue to operate beyond a March 21, 2012 shutdown date that had been set by the state.

When Entergy in 2013 announced Vermont Yankee’s planned closure, the company cited financial reasons including the price of natural gas and the costs of operating the plant. There was no mention of the state’s long-standing opposition.

Shumlin, however, still believes that the state played a role. He says it’s no coincidence that Vermont Yankee’s closure came first in a series of nuclear shutdown announcements for Entergy.

“It was a very unhappy relationship” between the state and Entergy, Shumlin said. “And I’m sure that when they made the decision based on economics … to shut a plant down, we had a shiny gold star on our heads.”

Whatever the reason for Entergy’s decision, Shumlin believes it was for the best.

As he exits the governor’s office after three terms, Shumlin often touts his track record in boosting renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Though the state still buys nuclear power from a plant in New Hampshire, Shumlin says emphasizing renewables and energy efficiency is the right thing to do environmentally and economically.

“We are an example of how to reduce your carbon footprint and do electric generation right,” he said.

The governor said the loss of Vermont Yankee employees has been “a heartbreaking and tragic thing for all of us to go through,” and he said he is not denying the economic impact of the plant’s closure.

At the same time, though, he sees renewable energy as an economic engine for the future. “Now, in Vermont, if you have 17 people in a room, one of them is working in the renewable energy sector,” Shumlin said. “And they tend to be young, vigorous, excited about living in Vermont.”

Shumlin says he’s also proud of a 2013 shutdown agreement the state struck with Entergy. The deal allocated at least $2.6 million in Entergy money for clean energy development activities “in or for the benefit of Windham County.”

Some of that cash has gone toward a wood-heat initiative, and another $400,000 recently was awarded to start a renewable energy grant program in the county.

The state settlement deal also committed Entergy to paying $2 million a year for five years to boost economic development in Windham County. The resulting Windham County Economic Development Program has funded a variety of projects including major expansions at Chroma Technologies in Bellows Falls and G.S. Precision and Commonwealth Dairy in Brattleboro.

“This is the kind of economic incentive that Windham County needs to continue to be economically prosperous,” the governor said.

For the most part, the Shumlin administration has been unsuccessful when attempting to intervene in the federally regulated Vermont Yankee decommissioning process. But officials can still point to the 2013 settlement deal with Entergy as an important victory with long-lasting impacts.

Chris Recchia, whom Shumlin appointed in 2012 to lead the Vermont Public Service Department, echoed the governor in praising Entergy’s recent willingness to negotiate with the state.

“I’ve been very pleased with the discussions we had with Entergy in recent years. I think the (2013) settlement was a good outcome for Vermont,” Recchia said.

Like Shumlin, Recchia also believes the state is “better off without relying on (nuclear) power.”

VERNON RESIDENTS PUSH BACK

Not everyone shares those sentiments. In Vernon, there remains resentment about the state’s fight against Vermont Yankee and doubt about Shumlin’s economic development efforts.

A few months after Entergy announced Vermont Yankee’s pending closure, Vernon resident Josh Unruh titled his first batch of home brew “Shumlin’s Shutdown.” The bottle’s label proclaimed that the beer had been “brewed in Montpelier by politics and ignorance.”

Now a member of Vernon Selectboard, Unruh’s ire hasn’t abated. He says the Shumlin administration’s focus on closing Vermont Yankee “was a short-sighted view.”

As for the impact on Vernon, “my personal view is, I don’t think they care a whole lot,” Unruh said of state officials.

State Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, says that impact has been “devastating to Vernon and to Windham County in general.”

In addition to employment and tax revenue losses, Hebert said, “people have lost a lot of friends. And we’ve lost a lot of brainpower and a lot of volunteers for organizations in Windham County.”

Hebert isn’t sure the state played much role in Vermont Yankee’s shutdown. But he believes state officials could have done much more to prevent it.

“Had (Shumlin) made efforts as he did with other businesses to keep them in the state, something could have been done to make it easier to have stayed here,” Hebert said.

Hebert and Unruh also question the effectiveness and intent of the Windham County Economic Development Program. That money, they argue, should be doing more to boost entrepreneurs and small businesses – especially in Vernon.

Shumlin doesn’t shy away from criticism, acknowledging that he has denied grants and loans to many applicants because he didn’t feel they had enough economic impact.

“I didn’t want it frittered away on projects that all had good intentions but wouldn’t have resulted necessarily in real jobs for hard-working people,” Shumlin said.

SHUMLIN TOUTS DECOMMISSIONING PLAN

Economics aren’t the only beef some have with Shumlin’s Vermont Yankee policies.

The Brattleboro-based anti-nuclear group New England Coalition won’t give the governor a ringing endorsement as he departs. Coalition trustee and staff member Clay Turnbull argues that Shumlin and his staff should have worked to set site restoration standards and to ensure spent nuclear fuel was stored in a different location than the one Entergy chose.

“It would have been so much better if his legacy was that the waste was much farther from the Connecticut River,” Turnbull said.

While Turnbull said the state deserves some credit for opposing Vermont Yankee’s continued operation, he doesn’t think that was a deciding factor in Entergy’s shutdown decision.

“Every bit of resistance made it easier for them to throw in the towel,” Turnbull said. “But ultimately, if there was money to be made, they would still be operating. That’s the bottom line.”

State Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney, is more complimentary of Shumlin’s Vermont Yankee work. While there were “a lot of factors” contributing to shutdown, Mrowicki said, “I don’t think Peter’s contribution can be ignored.”

Asked whether he agreed with Shumlin’s declaration that the state is better off without Vermont Yankee, Mrowicki responded that he would “have to say yes, in the long term.”

“The big question mark is, will it get cleaned up … on time and on budget,” Mrowicki said.

The answer to that question may lie with New York-based NorthStar Group Services, which has promised to have most of the Vermont Yankee site cleared by 2030 if state and federal regulators approve its purchase of the property.

Shumlin won’t have a direct role in vetting that sale. But he said the NorthStar deal has the potential to ensure that the plant won’t “sit there rotting” for decades before cleanup work begins.

“If they can really get …. that plant decommissioned as quickly as possible so that we can (develop) that site for another use, that’s a huge help to Windham County,” Shumlin said.


He added that while federal authorities inform utilities on a daily basis about potential threats to the grid, when it came to Thursday’s joint report, “A presidential directive and a high-profile release on this brought it to the forefront.”

Adam Entous contributed to this report.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Sun Jan 29, 2017 8:30 pm

Glenn Greenwald: Mainstream U.S. media is culpable for disseminating fake & deceitful news on Russia. "Any story that bolsters the prevailing D.C. orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide."
by Amy Goodman
January 5, 2017

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We are joined by Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His latest article is headlined “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.” In it, he writes, “Any story that bolsters the prevailing D.C. orthodoxy on the Russia Threat, no matter how dubious, is spread far and wide. And then, as has happened so often, when the story turns out to be false or misleading, little or nothing is done to correct the deceitful effects.”

TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We’re talking about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and allegations of Russian cyber-attacks. During his interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity this week, Assange was asked whether mainstream media in the U.S. is dishonest.

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s very dishonest. “Corrupt” is interesting; it depends on your definition. If you look at what we published in the Podesta emails—

SEAN HANNITY: Wait a minute. If they’re colluding with Hillary, that’s not corrupt?

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s an ethical corruption.

SEAN HANNITY: They’re not identifying it to their audiences. They claim that they’re objective journalists.

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s ethically corrupt, corrupt by its – “corruption” also means something in law, which is that you’re taking money in exchange.

SEAN HANNITY: OK.

JULIAN ASSANGE: So I don’t that—

SEAN HANNITY: Collusion.

JULIAN ASSANGE: They’re colluding, yeah.

SEAN HANNITY: Because they share her political agenda. Well, why else would they collude? Or they hate Donald Trump.

JULIAN ASSANGE: I think that’s an optimistic interpretation, that they share the political agenda.

SEAN HANNITY: Well, explain that.

JULIAN ASSANGE: It’s more like, “You rub my back, I’ll rub yours.” I’ll give you – you know, I’ll give you information. You’ll be – you’ll come to my – I’ll invite you to my child’s christening or our next big party or – do you know what I mean?


AMY GOODMAN: That’s WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Fox News. Glenn Greenwald, your latest article for The Intercept is headlined “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.” So, could you comment on what Assange said and your own findings regarding mainstream media coverage of alleged Russian cyber-attacks?

GLENN GREENWALD: So let’s focus on the extraordinary behavior of The Washington Post for the moment. They have produced two of the most humiliating debacles in American journalism over the last several years. And these two humiliations have taken place just within the last six weeks, both of which were about completely fictitious and fabricated claims about the threat posed by Vladimir Putin and Russia.

The first was on November 24th, when they claimed, based on a newly formed anonymous group, that there has been a very widespread, successful effort to implant Kremlin propaganda in the American discourse. And they accomplish this by giving credence to this secret list that this anonymous group of cowards had created in which they claim that a whole range of American media outlets and websites, such as the Drudge Report and other libertarian critics of Hillary Clinton on the right and long-standing left-wing critics of the Democratic Party, like Naked Capitalism and Truthout and Truthdig on the left – they decree them to be tools of Kremlin propaganda. And The Washington Post created this huge story, that went all over the place, based upon giving credence to this list and saying that Russian propaganda had been viewed more than 200 million times in the United States. Journalists all over Twitter, throughout the American media, mindlessly spread it, aggressively endorsed it. It became a huge story. And over the course of the next two weeks, the story completely collapsed, and there’s now a major editor’s note at the top of the article disclaiming the key source, saying that they did not intend to in any way vouch for the validity of the findings of the source on which the entire story was based.

But even more embarrassing was this weekend, when the Post trumpeted this story on Friday night that Vladimir Putin and Russia had hacked into the electric grid of the United States through a Vermont utility, which caused Vermont officials like the governor and Senator Pat Leahy to issue statements saying Vladimir Putin is trying to endanger the safety and the welfare of Vermonters by stealing their heat in the winter. The whole story, from start to finish, turned out to be a complete fabrication. There was no invasion of the American electric grid. The malware that was found on one laptop had nothing to do with Russia. The story was completely false. And again, the American media, in this hysteria, kept spreading and endorsing it.

And in both cases, the retractions were barely noted. So you have millions of people being misled into this hysteria, into this view that Russia is this grave threat, and when the story journalistically collapses, they barely hear about it. And it happened over and over through the election, with Slate saying that a secret server had been found between Donald Trump and a Russian bank, which turned out to be completely false. The Post aired allegations that Putin had poisoned Hillary Clinton on the day that she collapsed on 9/11. And so, it’s not really just dishonesty. It’s the kind of behavior we saw in 2002, where American media outlets are willing to publish anything that the U.S. government tells them to publish, to inflate and expand the threat posed by Russia, to raise fear levels to the highest possible degree. And it’s an incredibly irresponsible and dangerous form of behavior that media outlets, led by The Washington Post, are engaging in.


AMY GOODMAN: And you talk about how retractions obviously don’t get anything like the play of the story, that also has to do with what’s tweeted by the publication, even when they retract, and what isn’t, Glenn.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right. So let me just give you two examples of just the corruption that’s at play here. So, when the Post unveiled their huge story about Russia fake news based on this McCarthyite list that has been proven to be a fraud, they had Marty Baron, the executive editor, the widely respected executive editor of the paper, go onto Twitter and announce this huge exposé. And predictably, it got tweeted and retweeted and shared thousands and thousands of times by all of the biggest journalists with the biggest social media followings. When the story collapsed over the next two weeks and they appended this huge editor’s note, The Washington Post did nothing to bring anyone’s attention to the fact that the key claims of the story have been gutted. Marty Baron refused to answer any questions over that two weeks about what the paper did, and he uttered not one syllable on Twitter or anywhere else to tell all the followers that he alerted to this story that the story had collapsed.

With the story that I just talked about over the weekend of the – of how Putin had wanted to steal the heat from Vermonters to make them suffer in the winter, Brent Staples, who works for The New York Times editorial page, went on Twitter and said, “Our friend Putin has invaded the U.S. electric grid.” And when that story collapsed and The Washington Post retracted it, he did something even worse: He just went and quietly deleted his tweet a day later, as though it never happened, and also failed to tell his 30,000 followers that what he had just told them the day before, that caused them to run around and share with all their friends on Facebook and Twitter that this has happened, was in fact a complete fiction.

And you see this over and over and over again. And remember, these are the people who keep saying that fake news is a huge problem, that Facebook has to suppress it. And yet it’s America’s leading journalistic outlets that are doing more to disseminate false and deceitful stories than Macedonian teenagers by a huge amount. And when they do it and it turns out that the stories are discredited, they take very little to no steps to alert the people that they’ve misled about the fact that the stories were false. And it’s incredibly reckless journalistically. And these are the same people pretending to be crusaders against fake news, who are themselves disseminating it more aggressively than anyone else.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Glenn Greenwald, let me ask you about the possible use of Twitter for the dissemination of other kinds of possibly fake information. You’ve repeatedly emphasized, as you just did, the role of Twitter in spreading false news by news media outlets. But this may be the first time in global history that a head of state, and that, too, of the most powerful state in the world, seems likely to use precisely this medium as one of his principal modes of communication. Do you think there are similar risks involved with official pronouncement conveyed through Twitter as you say and have explained are with journalistic use of this medium?

GLENN GREENWALD: So I think there are two sides to this. One is, there’s a potential – a potential virtue to having politicians being able to communicate directly to their constituents and the people they represent without having to be mediated by American media outlets, especially ones that have proven to be untrustworthy. So, in some sense, I actually think it’s positive, under the right circumstances, for a political leader – not Donald Trump, but just for political officials generally – to have a means to communicate directly to the people who they’re supposed to be representing and who can then hear feedback back from those people. I mean, in theory, that would be a good model.

The problem with Donald Trump using this is twofold. One is that when you’re the actual president of the world’s largest superpower with a massive nuclear arsenal, using Twitter is an extremely dangerous venue because it inherently has all kinds of ambiguities and possibilities for being misunderstood and for misleading people into what your actual intentions are. And that has happened over and over, where so many of his tweets are not even susceptible to reasoned discourse, where you don’t even know what he means. And when a president is issuing those kinds of ambiguous statements, those are the kinds of things that can ratchet up tensions unintentionally and even spark wars.

But I think there’s another sort of more pernicious aspect to it, which is what Trump is doing is he’s trying to discredit every single source of information other than Donald Trump. So, he’s telling his followers, “Don’t listen to the American media, because they’re liars.” He’s telling them, “Don’t listen to the intelligence community, because they defrauded you with Iraq.” He’s telling them, “Don’t listen to experts, because these experts are all corrupted and they’re part of the D.C. swamp,” that he wants to drain. “The only truth that you should trust comes from me, Donald Trump.” And that is a very dangerous framework. It’s pure authoritarianism when a political leader also becomes the only source of information that the population trusts. But, unfortunately, his biggest allies in that are media outlets who have done the kinds of things that I just explained The Washington Post having done and journalists having helped them. They’re the reason why people are losing faith in American media outlets. And that’s what gives space to a demagogue like Donald Trump to say, “I’m the only person who you can trust.” And his use of Twitter is really a weapon, a powerful weapon, in achieving that dangerous state of affairs.

AMY GOODMAN: China’s state news agency Xinhua said, “Twitter should not become an instrument of foreign policy,” warning President-elect Trump. But, Glenn, as we wrap up, your concerns right now? In the headline, we just said that Donald Trump says he’s going to overhaul the intelligence agencies, which many might think is a good thing, cutting back Virginia, the headquarters, less computer internet surveillance, more human surveillance, getting more spies out on the streets. Where is this country going now, Glenn? Your perspective, from outside now, though as an American?

GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think it really remains to be seen, but there are definitely fundamental changes taking place. If you look, for example, at recent polling, what you find is that the CIA is now one of the most admired and defended institutions among Democrats, while Republicans don’t like the CIA and actually prefer Vladimir Putin even to Barack Obama. You have radical shifts taking place in coalitions, in alliances, in alignments, and it can – it’s very unpredictable how it can play out. Sometimes instability could produce positive outcomes. Trump abrogated the TPP. He wants to limit Boeing and Lockheed and the amount of money that’s spent on them. He wants to bring jobs back to the U.S. But it can also have very dangerous outcomes, as well, because of its unpredictability. And so, I think it’s a very dangerous time for the United States, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m hoping Democrats find their footing and become a lot more focused and reasoned and stop sort of wallowing in these radical conspiracy theories that make them appear unhinged, because Donald Trump needs a cohesive and focused and effective opposition.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, Glenn Greenwald. Thanks so much for being with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept. We’ll link to your pieces, most recently, “WashPost Is Richly Rewarded for False News About Russia Threat While Public Is Deceived.”
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Mon Jan 30, 2017 10:29 pm

'Fake News' And How The Washington Post Rewrote Its Story On Russian Hacking Of The Power Grid
by Kalev Leetaru
Jan 1, 2017

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On Friday the Washington Post sparked a wave of fear when it ran the breathless headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” The lead sentence offered “A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials” and continued “While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a security matter, the penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”

Yet, it turns out this narrative was false and as the chronology below will show, illustrates how effectively false and misleading news can ricochet through the global news echo chamber through the pages of top tier newspapers that fail to properly verify their facts.

The original article was posted online on the Washington Post's website at 7:55PM EST. Using the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine, we can see that sometime between 9:24PM and 10:06PM the Post updated the article to indicate that multiple computer systems at the utility had been breached ("computers" plural), but that further data was still being collected: “Officials said that it is unclear when the code entered the Vermont utility’s computers, and that an investigation will attempt to determine the timing and nature of the intrusion.” Several paragraphs of additional material were added between 8PM and 10PM, claiming and contextualizing the breach as part of a broader campaign of Russian hacking against the US, including the DNC and Podesta email breaches.

Despite the article ballooning from 8 to 18 paragraphs, the publication date of the article remained unchanged and no editorial note was appended, meaning that a reader being forwarded a link to the article would have no way of knowing the article they were seeing was in any way changed from the original version published 2 hours prior.

Yet, as the Post’s story ricocheted through the politically charged environment, other media outlets and technology experts began questioning the Post’s claims and the utility company itself finally issued a formal statement at 9:37PM EST, just an hour and a half after the Post's publication, pushing back on the Post’s claims: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

From Russian hackers burrowed deep within the US electrical grid, ready to plunge the nation into darkness at the flip of a switch, an hour and a half later the story suddenly became that a single non-grid laptop had a piece of malware on it and that the laptop was not connected to the utility grid in any way.

However, it was not until almost a full hour after the utility’s official press release (at around 10:30PM EST) that the Post finally updated its article, changing the headline to the more muted “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say” and changed the body of the article to note “Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.” Yet, other parts of the article, including a later sentence claiming that multiple computers at the utility had been breached, remained intact.

The following morning, nearly 11 hours after changing the headline and rewriting the article to indicate that the grid itself was never breached and the “hack” was only an isolated laptop with malware, the Post still had not appended any kind of editorial note to indicate that it had significantly changed the focus of the article.

This is significant, as one driving force of fake news is that as much of 60% of the links shared on social media are shared based on the title alone, with the sharer not actually reading the article itself. Thus, the title assigned to an article becomes the story itself and the Post’s incorrect title meant that the story that spread virally through the national echo chamber was that the Russians had hacked into the US power grid.

Only after numerous outlets called out the Post’s changes did the newspaper finally append an editorial note at the very bottom of the article more than half a day later saying “An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.”

Yet, even this correction is not a true reflection of public facts as known. The utility indicated only that a laptop was found to contain malware that has previously been associated with Russian hackers. As many pointed out, the malware in question is actually available for purchase online, meaning anyone could have used it and its mere presence is not a guarantee of Russian government involvement. Moreover, a malware infection can come from many sources, including visiting malicious websites and thus the mere presence of malware on a laptop computer does not necessarily indicate that Russian government hackers launched a coordinated hacking campaign to penetrate that machine - the infection could have come from something as simple as an employee visiting an infected website on a work computer.

Moreover, just as with the Santa Claus and the dying child story, the Post story went viral and was widely reshared, leading to embarrassing situations like CNBC tweeting out the story and then having to go back and retract the story.

Particularly fascinating that the original Post story mentioned that there were only two major power utilities in Vermont and that Burlington Electric was one of them, meaning it would have been easy to call both companies for comment. However, while the article mentions contacting DHS for comment, there is no mention of any kind that the Post reached out to either of the two utilities for comment. Given that Burlington issued its formal statement denying the Post’s claims just an hour and a half later, this would suggest that had the Post reached out to the company it likely could have corrected its story prior to publication.

When I reached out to Kris Coratti, Vice President of Communications and Events for the Washington Post for comment, she responded that regarding the headline change, “Headlines aren’t written by story authors. When editors realized it overreached, as happens from time to time with headlines, it was corrected.” She also indicated that posting the editor’s note at the bottom of the article instead of the top was a mistake and indeed this was corrected shortly after my email to her inquiring about it.

Ms. Coratti’s response regarding the article headline is a fascinating reminder of just how many different people and processes combine to produce a single article in a newspaper – that contrary to popular belief, a reporter doesn’t sit down and write a story, choose a headline and then hit “Publish” and have the story go live on the newspaper website. Most newspapers, like the Washington Post, either employ dedicated headline writers or have their editors write the headlines for each piece and articles typically go through an elaborate review process designed to catch these sorts of issues prior to publication.

It is also interesting to note that the Post said it was an error for the editorial note to be buried at the very bottom of the page instead of at the top of the article, as was done for the Santa Claus story. This reflects the chaotic nature of newsrooms in which an editorial note is frequently added by an editor simply logging into a CMS portal and updating a live page, rather than a templated system which automatically places all editorial notes in the same place with the same style and formatting to ensure consistency.

Equally fascinating, neither Ms. Coratti nor Post Public Relations responded to any of my remaining queries regarding the article’s fact checking process. In particular, the Post did not respond when I asked how headlines are fact checked and if headline writers conduct any form of fact checking to ensure their summarized version is consistent with known facts. The Post also did not respond to a request for comment on why it took nearly half a day from the time the article was rewritten until an editorial note was finally appended acknowledging that the conclusions of the original article were false and that the article had been substantively rewritten to support a different conclusion, nor did the Post comment on why the editor’s note was originally placed at the bottom of the article and only moved after I inquired about its location.

Yet, perhaps most intriguing is that, as with the Santa Claus story, the Post did not respond to repeated requests for comment regarding how it conducts fact checking for its stories. This marks twice in a row that the Post has chosen not to respond in any fashion to my requests for more detail on its fact checking processes. Given the present atmosphere in which trust in media is in freefall and mainstream outlets like the Post are positioning themselves as the answer to “fake news” it certainly does not advance trust in the media when a newspaper will not even provide the most cursory of insight into how it checks its facts.

As with the Santa Claus story, the Post appears to have run this story without even attempting to perform the most basic of fact checks before publication. The original story noted that there were only two utilities in Vermont and yet the article states that the Post only attempted to contact DHS and does not mention any attempt to contact either of the utilities. Standard journalistic practice would have required that the Post mention that it attempted to reach either utility even if neither responded. The Post did not respond to a request for comment when I asked if it had attempted to reach either utility for comment prior to publication.

Putting this all together, what can we learn from this? The first is that, as with the Santa Claus and PropOrNot stories, the journalism world tends to rely far more on trust than fact checking. When one news outlet runs a story, the rest of the journalism world tends to follow suit, each writing their own version of the story without ever going back to the original sources for verification. In short – once a story enters the journalism world it spreads without further restraint as each outlet assumes that the one before performed the necessary fact checking.

The second is that the news media is overly dependent on government sources. Glenn Greenwald raises the fantastic point that journalists must be more cautious in treating the word of governments as absolute truth. Indeed, a certain fraction of the world’s false and misleading news actually comes from the mouths of government spokespeople. Yet, in the Post’s case, it appears that a government source tipped off the post about a sensational story of Russians hacking the US power grid and instead of reaching out to the utilities themselves or gathering further detail, the Post simply published the story as fed to them by the government officials.

The third is that breaking news is a source of a tremendous amount of false and misleading news as rumors and falsehoods spread like wildfire in the absence of additional information. Top tier newspapers like the Washington Post are supposed to be a bulwark against these falsehoods, by not publishing anything until it has been thoroughly fact checked against multiple sources. Yet, it appears this is not the case – in the rush to be the first to break a story and not be scooped, reporters even at the nation’s most prestigious news outlets will take shortcuts and rush a story out the door. What would have happened in the Post had waited another day or two to collect responses from all involved, including Burlington Electric? It would have avoided publishing false information, but it also likely would have been scooped by another newspaper who wanted to be the first to break the story.

Indeed, “breaking news” is a tremendous problem for mainstream outlets in which they frequently end up propagating “fake news” in their rush to be the first to break a story. In a world beset by false and misleading news, do top tier news outlets have a professional responsibility to step back from breaking stories and only report on them after all details are known and they have had an opportunity to speak with all parties involved and understand more definitively what has happened? Financially this would likely be devastating in a share-first click-first world in which to the victor go the advertising dollars, but it would seem the only way to truly stop “fake news” from spreading.
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Mon Jan 30, 2017 10:43 pm

What Santa And The Dying Child Story Teaches Us About Fake News, Data And Verification
By Kalev Leetaru
December 15, 2016

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Some of the world’s most prestigious and reputable news outlets took a moment this week to carry the heartwarming story of a Santa Claus actor who held a boy in his arms at the hospital before he died, offering him comforting words in the spirit of the Christmas season. Outlets covering the story included a veritable who’s who of the media world both in the US and across the world, including the Washington Post, BBC, CNN, NBC, Daily Mail, Japan Times, Today, People, Cosmopolitan, Mashable, BuzzFeed and many many more. However, last night the Knoxville News Sentinel, the originator of the story, published a note from its editor warning that after further investigation it could not verify the substance and details of the story and was no longer standing by its contents. While stopping short of saying the story did not happen, the paper noted that each of the major hospitals in the area had confirmed that the events as described did not occur in their facility, casting doubt on key details of the account, even as the actor himself stood by his story.

While in an ordinary week such a story might simply be written off as another possible viral hoax, what makes this series of events so remarkable is that they occurred in a week saturated with discussion of “fake news” and the need to do a better job of fact checking and verifying the information we consume. Indeed, several of the same outlets carrying the Santa Claus story have also run pieces this week and last arguing that citizens must turn to mainstream media to protect themselves against “fake news” because of the immense amount of verification and fact checking that journalists at these outlets do before reporting on a story. Slate went so far as to create a browser plugin where its editors will screen news coverage and flag articles they believe to be fake. Yet, if some of the world’s most respected news outlets like the Washington Post, BBC and CNN all freely published an unverified story, how could we trust them to somehow do so much better on other stories?

First, its important to ask how such a story went viral in the midst of journalism’s soul searching about “fake news.” It all started with a news outlet: the Knoxville News Sentinel, which ran the original story. The News Sentinel is part of the USA Today Network and the story was rapidly picked up by its other properties and then from there went viral across the national and international news spheres. The News Sentinel’s editor wrote last night that the paper had not performed additional fact checking before running the story and only after the article went viral and outlets like Snopes began to question its veracity, did the newspaper finally reach out to local hospitals and determine that the events as written in the article did not occur at any of their facilities. As each additional news outlet rushed to cover the viral story, they too failed to perform basic journalistic diligence in picking up the phone and calling around to local hospitals for verification and more detail. Instead, essentially a giant trust game played out in that each outlet wrote about the story because it trusted that the earlier outlet had performed the necessary due diligence on it.

The News Sentinel did not respond to a request for a comment on why it did not perform additional verification on the story until after it had gone viral nor what its standard policies on pre-publication verification are. The Washington Post also did not respond to a request for comment as to why, in at least the second time in the last few weeks, it ran a major story without performing additional steps to verify it.

In the case of the Washington Post's earlier PropOrNot story, the newspaper initially strongly defended its work, arguing that it had thoroughly vetted its reporting, offering “The Post reviewed its findings, and our questions about them were answered satisfactorily during the course of multiple interviews.” Only after extensive reporting by other outlets did the Post reverse its stance to claim it performed no verification of any kind, saying in an Editor’s Note “The Post … does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings regarding any individual media outlet, nor did the article purport to do.”

When asked to comment on the Post’s pre-publication verification and vetting processes and why it did not ask for comment from other researchers in the field to offer additional perspectives before publishing the PropOrNot story, a Post spokeswoman offered only that the paper would have no further comment on the matter. The Post also declined to outline its verification workflow or the steps it takes to verify a story prior to publication.

Such silence is especially troubling in an era when newspapers like the Post are positioning themselves as a bulwark against “fake news” by arguing that their immense verification and vetting workflows ensure they have positively confirmed all elements of a story prior to publication and thus readers can rest assured that a story that appears on their pages has undergone the most rigorous fact checking imaginable. Yet, the reality appears to be precisely the opposite: in the Post’s case, it first claimed to have rigorously investigated the PropOrNot story, only to reverse itself in the face of criticism and say it was merely reporting what it had been told and not standing behind the results in any way.

In the case of the Santa Claus story, it appears the Post similarly did not perform the most basic of due diligence to call around to the local hospitals in the area to confirm the basic details of the story before running it. Yet, more concerningly, the editorial note it subsequently appended to the story places the blame solely on the News Sentinel, while not saying a word about why the Post itself didn’t do any fact checking of its own. In short, the Post’s argument is that it simply trusted another outlet to do due diligence and that once a story enters the news cycle, no other outlet bears responsibility to verify it. This is remarkably similar to the castle defense formerly popular in cyber security circles, in which a company would assume that the outer layers of its network would verify that incoming network traffic was trusted and that once traffic entered the network it could be trusted without additional verification.

Of course, one might argue that it simply isn’t worth the time of a newspaper like the Post to expend precious journalistic resources verifying the minute details of a personal interest story. On the other hand, most would likely agree that publishing a media blacklist like the PropOrNot story certainly does deserve extensive fact checking. The problem is that there is no way to know, when reading a typical newspaper story, how much (if any) fact checking the details of that story underwent. There is no appendix that lists all of the details the reporter did or did not confirm. Indeed, this is the case in all major Western news outlets, but this practice creates the illusion of trust that the reporter must have verified the story before the newspaper would even think of publishing it.

In many ways, the Santa Claus story that went viral without a bit of verification is merely a reflection of the broader problems facing both the news industry and the data science world as a whole. As I noted last week, the inverted pyramid of journalism allows stories like this to flourish by placing the emphasis on conclusions and story rather than underlying facts. Similarly, in our information-saturated realtime-focused society, we’re more interested in short punchy conclusions than we are in the reams of data and caveats that accompany them.

In the case of a large data analysis, the original analytic report might contain pages of caveats, nuances, assumptions and explanations on how to interpret the result. In turn, that result and a few of the caveats are repacked for the next level of decision making, which in turn strips out even more detail to present to the next level of management, until at the highest level of decision making authority, only the final strengthened conclusion remains, absent all of the critical evidence that might call it into question. A single analyst’s tentative conclusion, offered with just 20% probability of being correct, might, through a giant game of telephone, become a definitive answer supported by the entire analytic community.

Here, it appears that each news outlet covering this story simply assumed that the one before had performed the necessary fact checking and as the number of major outlets covering the story grew, so too did its perceived trustworthiness, as readers assumed that all of these outlets had independently verified the details, subjecting it to an ever greater collection of fact checking and verification.

At the end of the day, we simply don’t know if this heartwarming story is true or false or somewhere in between and the Santa Claus actor at the heart of the story stands firmly by his account. However, what we do know is that of the myriad news outlets covering the story, including some of the world’s best-known and most reputable brands in journalism, not one of them made even the most basic of efforts to verify the story before publishing it, content instead to happily spread a viral feel-good holiday narrative. Moreover, in their post-postmortems this morning, not one of these major outlets has accepted ownership over this failure to verify, placing the blame instead on the News Sentinel. In a world besieged by “fake news” how can these same news outlets ask the world’s citizens to turn to them as skilled fact checkers and arbiters of the truth if they can’t be bothered to make a few fact checking phone calls before rushing a story out the door?
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Jan 31, 2017 2:11 am

BBC Propaganda Watch: Tell-Tale Signs That Slip Through The Cracks
by Medialengs.org Editor
December 13, 2016

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Even the most powerful systems of propaganda inadvertently allow uncomfortable truths to slip out into the public domain. Consider a recent BBC News interview following the death of Cuba's former leader Fidel Castro. Dr Denise Baden, Associate Professor in Business Ethics at the University of Southampton, who has studied Castro's leadership and Cuban business models, was asked by BBC News presenter Maxine Mawhinney for her views on Cuba and Castro. It's fair to say that Baden's responses didn't follow the standard establishment line echoed and amplified in much of the 'mainstream' media.

Mawhinney kicked off the interview with the standard Western propaganda line about Castro:

'He ruled with an iron fist, didn't he?'


Baden immediately challenged the cliché:

[img]'Well,%20that's%20something%20that%20everyone's%20fond%20of%20saying.%20But%20when%20I%20talk%20to%20the%20people%20who%20live%20in%20Cuba,%20and%20the%20Cubans%20who've%20come%20to%20live%20in%20the%20UK,%20that's%20not%20the%20story%20that%20I%20get.%20The%20feeling%20that%20comes%20through%20is%20of%20Fidel%20Castro%20almost%20as%20a%20father%20figure.%20So,%20the%20older%20generation%20tend%20to%20see%20him%20as%20a%20hero%20of%20the%20revolution.%20They're%20aware%20that%20many%20of%20them%20wouldn't%20even%20be%20here%20if%20it%20wouldn't%20have%20been%20for%20the%20health%20advances%20and%20the%20equalisation%20of%20resources%20that%20he%20provided.'[/img]

The academic, who visited the island in 2013 and 2014, 'drawn by its record on sustainability', then pointed out that it was the crippling US embargo on Cuba that was responsible for much of the hardships suffered by the Cubans for over five decades: a crucial point that the BBC interviewer significantly did not pursue.

Mawhinney then raised Castro's human rights record. Baden addressed the issue of free speech first:

'When I went to talk to people in Cuba, I found it remarkable how freely they all spoke about Fidel Castro, and Raul Castro, and the policies. I was expecting from the discourse we hear that people would be afraid to speak out. And that wasn't what I found - people spoke out very freely.'


The BBC interviewer pressed her on whether Cuban people really did speak out:

'Did they criticise the regime?'


Baden:

'Oh yes. I had the head of a topical newspaper who was quite critical of the government in some ways. Not all ways, but some ways. And I think what it is, is the [Western] media's been dominated by America. So, for example, when Obama visited Havana [in March 2016] you had the Cuban Ladies in White come out to protest against the human rights abuses. And so, of course, that dominates the headlines. But they're paid for by Americans – people don't realise that; an American agency pays for them. The Cubans don't take them seriously.'


Once again, the BBC interviewer did not pick up the uncomfortable point about US support, including financial sponsorship, of anti-Castro activism. Imagine the reverse case if Cuba, or another foreign power, were responsible for funding or otherwise fomenting activism inside the United States. Indeed, look at the media outrage at alleged interference by 'Putin's Russia' in the recent US election, with a new explosion of coverage devoted to evidence-free assertions made by anonymous CIA officials.

The BBC interviewer returned to Castro:

'But he did carry out human rights abuses. Look, let's just take one section. Gay people and those with Aids – completely persecuted.'


Again, Baden's response deviated from the 'mainstream' script:

'I think when you look back at the time at which the revolution was considered to be a little bit homophobic, which was in the 60s, I'm not sure many countries could hold their heads up high and say that they were as open as they should be. So, I think you have to look at it in context of the period as well.'


Trying a different tack, Mawhinney continued:

'You seem quite fond of Fidel Castro.'


Rather than rise to this personalised bait, Baden pointed out that, like many Western consumers of news broadcasts, she had long 'been exposed to the Miami voice [often privileged Cuban exiles], which is the very dominant voice, and I think I was just surprised when I went there not to find this browbeaten people who felt oppressed.'

She continued:

'And I think that made me a little bit cross actually because I think we have been exposed to a lot of misinformation, and this quite small minority in Florida has dominated the headlines today and over the past fifty years.'


This implicit criticism of BBC News was left hanging in the air.

By now sounding quite incredulous, the BBC interviewer asked:

'So, are you saying that what he did, the things that we would see as a human rights abuse was okay?'


Baden's calm challenge was professorial:

'Well, do you want to be more specific?'


Mawhinney followed up in hand-waving fashion:

'Well, the prisoners, the political prisoners, the problems with gay people, et cetera, et cetera.'


Baden replied:

'Well no, I don't think political prisoners are ever okay. And I don't think persecuting gay people is ever okay.'


Crucially, the academic then made the point that matters:

'What I'm disputing is that Fidel Castro of Cuba was any worse than any other country. I think if you expose America to the same lens, then you'd have a stack of crimes that would overshadow what Fidel Castro has done.'


It's a rare moment when even a mention of American crimes is carried on BBC airwaves, never mind stating that they would dwarf the alleged crimes of an Official Enemy.

Baden continued with the context that was routinely missing from, or downplayed in, recent coverage of Cuba following Castro's death:

'I think the important thing to realise is the moment Fidel came into power in the revolution, at the time at which there was very strong anti-Communist feeling, the Americans did everything they could to subvert that. They invaded in the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis was a response to an expected additional invasion, and there was, I think, an estimated 638 CIA-sponsored attempts on Fidel Castro's life. So, I think you have to understand the responses and the fear of open speech in context of a constant aggression coming from ninety miles over the water.'


Again, the notion of 'constant aggression' from the US is virtually verboten on the BBC.

This remarkable segment of BBC News would most likely have been lost down the Memory Hole were it not for Media Lens reader Steve Ennever who captured it, uploaded it to YouTube, and then informed people about it (including us). The clip quickly went viral. At the time of writing, it has had around 140,000 views on YouTube, with around half a million views on the Media Lens Facebook page and 2.7 million views via EvolvePolitics. This truly shows the power of social media.

Most public commenters were highly appreciative of the way Baden handled the BBC interview. A few preferred to say instead: 'Well done BBC for showing this', as though the corporation had upheld its commitment to impartiality. But those people are rather missing the point. The BBC line of interviewing – in reality, assertions with a token question mark added at the end - consisted of propaganda bullet points. Thanks to Baden, here was a rare and welcome example of that propaganda line being dismantled live on BBC News.

Yes, it is possible to praise the interviewer, or BBC News, for 'allowing' that to happen here; Maxine Mawhinny did at least refrain from constantly interrupting the interviewee in the way of Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr or John Humphrys. By 'balancing' praise with criticism, some argue, the BBC will be 'encouraged' to 'improve' its performance. Perhaps marginally. But, as seen over many years, the very structure of the BBC means there is a systemic bias in favour of the state, big business, elites and power. Praising a prison guard for being a little less harsh is futile when the prison system remains essentially unchanged. Are we really meant to be pathetically grateful for tiny bits of comfort?

Such are the perils of live television, then, for BBC News. An interviewee may end up querying, perhaps rejecting, the ideological script presented by a BBC News journalist. The script may even be turned on its head, by pointing out that the West is guilty of far worse crimes than the Bogeyman in question – Fidel Castro, as we saw above.

'A Grand Bargain'

Another potentially vulnerable moment for the BBC in maintaining the correct ideological stance is the live artificial 'chat' that takes place between a BBC News presenter and a journalist who is on location, or sitting across a glossy table from the presenter in the studio. Normally these are such tightly managed affairs between two highly trained and carefully selected media professionals that nothing 'untoward' happens. But very occasionally, the impromptu language allows over-reaching or unguarded thoughts to spill out, making alert viewers do a double-take.

For example, BBC Business Editor Simon Jack inadvertently delivered a tasty morsel of newspeak on BBC News at Ten last month (BBC One, November 21, 2016). Jack was describing Prime Minister Theresa May's keynote speech to business leaders at the CBI conference. Supposedly, her tone was more 'conciliatory' compared to a previous 'withering attack' a week earlier when she had pointed out 'some abuses she saw in capitalism and their [business leaders'] behaviour in some corners of British business'. May's vague words then about curbing 'the worst excesses of capitalism' did not exactly herald a revolution. Instead, they smacked of appeasing 'populism' in the wake of Brexit and Trump's US electoral win.

Jack paraphrased May's key message to the CBI:

'I know you've got some problems. And there's going to be a grand bargain. I'll do some things, I'll lower taxes, I'll invest in productivity. You clean up your act and make sure the wealth is shared.'


BBC viewers may well have thought: 'Run that past me again?' Did you really report without comment, far less journalistic scrutiny, that the Prime Minister instructed business elites to 'make sure the wealth is shared'? Is the British public expected to believe that big business will actually 'make sure the wealth is shared'? As ever, there was no proper scepticism towards government pronouncements or policy. In reality, Jack's role is the BBC News editor for business – and government. Sometimes the bias is that blatant.

Another point in BBC News where viewers can be rewarded for particular vigilance is at the start of the programme; or when a specific news story is being introduced. Here the required establishment view – the perspective of 'our' government or big business - is sometimes especially obvious.

For example, on November 16, Fiona Bruce introduced an item on BBC News at Ten with:

'In Iraq, special forces are slowly pushing back so-called Islamic State in the country's second city, Mosul. But the fighting is hard...'


This was propaganda-style reporting once again from BBC News; no doubt similar to how the Russian media report on Russian forces pushing back against terrorists in Syria. Indeed, as we have pointed out before, there are many parallels between British and Russian/Soviet propaganda reporting of foreign policy and military action (see here, here and here).

'The World Wants America As Its Policeman'

And then there are those brave people who enter the labyrinthine den of the BBC 'complaints system'. This is a soul-crushing experience that even the former BBC chairman Lord Grade once described as 'grisly' due to a system that is 'absolutely hopeless'. So what hope for us mere mortals? Anyone who makes the attempt is surely forever disabused of the notion that BBC News engages with, or indeed serves, the public in any meaningful way. Long-time readers may recall that Helen Boaden, then head of BBC News, once joked that she evaded public complaints that were sent to her on email:

'Oh, I just changed my email address.'


One of our favourite cases was a challenge made about an article by that avuncular epitome of BBC gravitas, World Affairs Editor John Simpson. In a 2014 article, 'Barack Obama's best years could still be ahead of him', Simpson claimed that:

'The world (well, most of it) wants an active, effective America to act as its policeman, sorting out the problems smaller countries can't face alone.'


One of our readers (name withheld) read the article, then submitted a complaint to the BBC, noting that:

'In an international opinion poll by Gallup this year the US was found to be the greatest threat to peace in the world, voted three times more dangerous to world peace than the next country. The BBC article is therefore, at worst, incorrect and biased or at best highly inaccurate. Will you be retracting the statement?'


Needless to say, the BBC did no such thing. In fact, Sean Moss, whose job title reads 'BBC Complaints Adviser for BBC News website', delivered a comical reply (forwarded to us, 13 November 2014):

'In fact the poll referenced in your complaint was from the end of last year rather than this year. It is an annual end of year survey which in this edition "explores the outlook, expectations, hopes and fears of people from 65 countries around the world" from 2013.

'Given that we're now nearly at the end of 2014 and they will be conducting a new poll next month we're unclear on what basis you feel these views are still applicable.'


'Unclear' if 'still applicable'? Far from being a rogue result, the US regularly tops polls of global public opinion as the world's greatest threat to peace. As Noam Chomsky noted in an interview earlier this year when discussing nuclear weapons:

'Iran is not a threat, period. The world doesn't regard Iran as a threat. That's a U.S. obsession. You look at global—polls of global opinion taken by Gallup's international affiliate, the leading U.S. polling agencies—agency, one of the questions that they ask is, "Which country is the greatest threat to world peace?" Answer: United States, by a huge margin. Iran is barely mentioned. Second place is Pakistan, inflated by the Indian vote, that's way behind the United States. That's world opinion. And there are reasons for it. Americans are protected from this information.'


Not only Americans. British – indeed, global - audiences too; thanks in no small measure to the BBC.

The requirement to keep awkward facts hidden or marginalised is especially pressing on those BBC journalists who are entrusted to report from the United States. Thus, in an online report titled 'The decline of US power?', the BBC New York correspondent Nick Bryant had to tread carefully in even mentioning America's 'approval rating', as measured by Gallup:

'In Asia, America's median approval rating in 2014, as measured by Gallup, was 39%, a 6% drop since 2011.

'In Africa, the median approval went down to 59%, the lowest since polling began, despite Obama hosting the US-Africa Leaders' Summit in Washington in August, last year.'


There was no mention that, as mentioned, global public opinion regularly regards the US as the greatest threat to world peace, and by a considerable margin.

However, there was plenty of space for Bryant to churn out the usual BBC boilerplate about America's 'national interest' and Obama's 'pragmatism' and 'diplomatic dexterity'; all this about a leader who boasted he had bombed seven countries, rapidly escalated a killer drone programme and broke his pledge to shut down the US Guantanamo torture camp in Cuba.

Dying In A Ditch For BBC News 'Impartiality'

The irony in the ongoing corporate media allegations about 'fake news' (see our previous media alert) is that, as Glenn Greenwald noted, 'those who most loudly denounce Fake News are typically those most aggressively disseminating it.' That is because the corporate media fears losing control of the media agenda.

As for BBC News, its privileged, publicly-funded position as supposedly the world's most trusted broadcaster is under threat. So, while reasonable questions can be asked of the growing behemoths of the media landscape – Google, YouTube and Facebook – 'mainstream' journalists know full well not to publicly scrutinise their own industry's output of state-corporate 'fake news'.

Thus, BBC Technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones can safely hold Facebook up to the light and ask:

'If Facebook or something similar had not existed, would Donald Trump still be heading for the White House?

'That is hard to say but what does seem likely is that social media served to polarise views in what was already a bitter election and may have encouraged a few hesitant voters to come out for Mr Trump.

'This makes Facebook's claims that it just a technology platform, rather than a hugely powerful media company with Mark Zuckerberg as editor-in-chief, look very thin indeed. But there are few signs that the company is ready to face up to this heavy responsibility or engage in some serious soul-searching.' (our emphasis)


It would be virtually unthinkable for a BBC journalist to write of his employer:

'there are few signs that the broadcaster is ready to face up to this heavy responsibility or engage in some serious soul-searching.'


But then, as John Pilger noted recently:

'Propaganda is most effective when our consent is engineered by those with a fine education – Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Columbia — and with careers on the BBC, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post.'


As a prime example, consider Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC's political editor. Last week, Press Gazette awarded her the accolade of 'Journalist of the Year'. She told the trade paper proudly that:

'I would die in a ditch for the impartiality of the BBC.'


Two former senior BBC figures would dispute that self-serving depiction of wonderful BBC 'impartiality'. Greg Dyke, a former BBC director general, believes that:

'The BBC is part of a "conspiracy" preventing the "radical changes" needed to UK democracy.'


He says that a parliamentary commission should look into the 'whole political system', adding that:

'I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.'


And Sir Michael Lyons, former chairman of the BBC Trust , said earlier this year that there had been 'some quite extraordinary attacks' on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the BBC.

Readers may recall that Kuenssberg was behind the on-air resignation of a Labour shadow foreign minister in an apparent attempt to manipulate the news agenda and heap pressure on Corbyn. Former British diplomat Craig Murray describes her as:

'the most openly biased journalist I have ever seen on the BBC'.


Up to and including dying in a ditch, Kuenssberg would do anything to defend the impartiality of the BBC. Well, perhaps not anything. Asked for her 'impartial' view on why 35,000 members of the public had signed a petition calling for her to be sacked for her bias, Kuenssberg replied rather less heroically: 'I'm not going to get into that.'

Des Freedman, Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London, notes that the kind of bias displayed by Kuenssberg:

'isn't an accident or a one-off example of "bad journalism" but is built into a media system that is intertwined with the interests that run the country.'


He adds:

'This doesn't mean that there's a smoke-filled room somewhere where anti-Corbyn people get together. I think you just call it a routine editorial meeting. The point is many senior journalists ... reflect the dominant strain that runs through their newsrooms – one based on the assumed benefits of neoliberalism and foreign intervention and the undesirability (or the sheer madness of the idea) of redistribution, nationalisation and people like Jeremy Corbyn who don't share the same social circles or ideological commitments.'


As Freedman rightly concludes:

'We need a wholly different media system: one that's not afraid to challenge power because it's not steeped in power in the first place.'


DC and DE
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Re: Washington Post’s ‘Fake News’ Guilt, by Robert Parry

Postby admin » Tue Feb 28, 2017 12:28 am

The art of the Trumpaclysm. How the U.S. invaded, occupied, and remade itself.
by Tom Engelhardt
February 27, 2017

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It’s been epic! A cast of thousands! (Hundreds? Tens?) A spectacular production that, five weeks after opening on every screen of any sort in America (and possibly the world), shows no sign of ending. What a hit it’s been! It’s driving people back to newspapers (online, if not in print) and ensuring that our everyday companions, the 24/7 cable news shows, never lack for “breaking news” or audiences. It’s a smash in both the Hollywood and car accident sense of the term, a phenomenon the likes of which we’ve simply never experienced. Think of Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the cameras rolled. It’s proved, in every way, to be a giant leak. A faucet. A spigot. An absolute flood of non-news, quarter-news, half-news, crazed news, fake news, and over-the-top actual news.

And you know exactly what – and whom – I’m talking about. No need to explain. I mean, you tell me: What doesn’t it have? Its lead actor is the closest we’ve come in our nation’s capital to an action figure. Think of him as the Mar-a-Lego version of Batman and the Joker rolled into one, a president who, as he told us at a news conference recently, is “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” and the “least racist person” as well. As report after report indicates, he attacks, lashes out, mocks, tweets, pummels, charges, and complains, showering calumny on others even as he praises his achievements without surcease. Think of him as the towering inferno of twenty-first-century American politics or a modern Godzilla eternally emerging from New York harbor.

As for his supporting cast? Islamophobes, Iranophobes, white nationalists; bevies of billionaires and multimillionaires; a resurgent stock market gone wild; the complete fossil fuel industry and every crackpot climate change “skeptic” in town; a press spokesman immortalized by Saturday Night Live whose afternoon briefings are already beating the soap opera General Hospital in the ratings; a White House counselor whose expertise is in “alternative facts”; a national security adviser who (with a tenure of 24 days) seemed to sum up the concept of “insecurity”; a White House chief of staff and liaison with the Republicans in Congress who’s already being sized up for extinction, as well as a couple of appointees who were “dismissed” or even frog-marched out of their offices and jobs for having criticized The Donald and not fessed up… honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up, or rather only Trump himself can do so. And by the way, just so you know, based on the last weeks of “news” I could keep this paragraph going more or less forever without even breaking into a sweat.

Among so many subjects I haven’t even mentioned, including Melania and former wife Ivana – is it even possible that she could become the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic? – there are, of course, the Trump kids and their businesses and the instantly broken promises on (such an old-fashioned phrase) their conflicts of interest and the conflicts about those conflicts and the presidential tweets, threats, and bluster that have gone with them, not to speak of the issue of for-pay access to the new president. And how about Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner (another walking conflict of you-know-what), who reputedly had a role in the appointment of the new ambassador to Israel, a New York bankruptcy lawyer known for raising millions of dollars to fund a West Bank Jewish settlement and for calling supporters of the liberal Jewish group J Street “far worse than kapos” (Jews who aided the Nazis in their concentration camps). Kushner has now been ordained America’s ultimate peacemaker in the Middle East. And don’t forget that sons Donald and Eric are already saving memorabilia for the future Trump presidential library, a concept that should take your breath away. (Just imagine a library with those giant golden letters over its entrance to honor a man who proudly doesn’t read books and, as with presidential executive orders and possibly even volumes he’s “written,” signs off on things he’s barely bothered to check out.)

And speaking of Rome (remember Nero fiddling?), have you noticed that these days all news roads lead back to… well, Donald Trump? Take my word for it: nothing happens in our world any longer that doesn’t relate to him and his people (or, by definition, it simply didn’t happen). Since he rode that Trump Tower escalator to the presidential race in June 2015, his greatest skill has, without any doubt, been his ability to suck up all the media air in any room, whether that “room” is the Oval Office, Washington, or the world at large. He speaks at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, amid angry outbursts on leaks from the intelligence community and attacks on “the dishonest media” for essentially firing his national security adviser, he suddenly turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and says, “So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians – if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.” And the world as we’ve known it in the Middle East is suddenly turned upside down and inside out.

Generalizing

In its way, even 20 months after it began, it’s all still so remarkable and new, and if it isn’t like being in the path of a tornado, you tell me what it’s like. So no one should be surprised at just how difficult it is to step outside the storm of this never-ending moment, to find some – any – vantage point offering the slightest perspective on the Trumpaclysm that’s hit our world.

Still, odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something. To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history. He’s unimaginable without it. This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics, and governance. In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.


After all, it’s clearly a government of, by, and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway. Let’s start with those generals. In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business, and Congress (in that descending order).

Support for that military in the form of staggering sums of taxpayer dollars (which are about to soar yet again) is one of the few things congressional Democrats and Republicans can still agree on. The military-industrial complex rides ever higher (despite Trumpian tweets about the price of F-35s); police across the country have been armed like so many military forces, while the technology of war on America’s distant battlefields – from Stingrays to MRAPs to military surveillance drones – has come home big time, and we’ve been SWATified.

This country has, in other words, been militarized in all sorts of ways, both obvious and less so, in a fashion that Americans once might not have imagined possible. In the process, declaring and making war has increasingly become – the Constitution be damned – the sole preoccupation of the White House without significant reference to Congress. Meanwhile, thanks to the drone assassination program run directly out of the Oval Office, the president, in these years, has become an assassin-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief.

Under the circumstances, no one should have been surprised when Donald Trump turned to the very generals he criticized in the election campaign, men who fought 15 years of losing wars that they bitterly feel should have been won. In his government, they have, of course, now taken over – a historic first – what had largely been the civilian posts of secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security, national security adviser, and National Security Council chief of staff. Think of it as a junta light and little more than the next logical step in the further militarization of this country.

It’s striking, for instance, that when the president finally fired his national security adviser, 24 days into his presidency, all but one of the other figures that he reportedly considered for a post often occupied by a civilian were retired generals (and an admiral), or in the case of the person he actually tapped to be his second national security adviser, a still-active Army general. This reflects a distinct American reality of the twenty-first century that The Donald has simply absorbed like the human sponge he is. As a result, America’s permanent wars, all relative disasters of one sort or another, will now be overseen by men who were, for the last decade and a half, deeply implicated in them. It’s a formula for further disaster, of course, but no matter.

Other future Trumpian steps – like the possible mobilization of the National Guard, more than half a century after guardsmen helped desegregate the University of Alabama, to carry out the mass deportation of illegal immigrants – will undoubtedly be in the same mold (though the administration has denied that such a mobilization is under serious consideration yet). In short, we now live in an America of the generals and that would be the case even if Donald Trump had never been elected president.

Add in one more factor of our moment: we have the first signs that members of the military high command may no longer feel completely bound by the classic American prohibition from taking any part in politics. General Raymond “Tony” Thomas, head of the elite U.S. Special Operations Command, speaking recently at a conference, essentially warned the president that we are “at war” and that chaos in the White House is not good for the warriors. That’s as close as we’ve come in our time to direct public military criticism of the White House.

The ascendancy of the billionaires

As for those billionaires, let’s start this way: a billionaire is now president of the United States, something that, until this country was transformed into a 1% society with 1% politics, would have been inconceivable. (The closest we came in modern times was Nelson Rockefeller as vice president, and he was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1974, not elected.) In addition, never have there been so many billionaires and multimillionaires in a cabinet – and that, in turn, was only possible because there are now so staggeringly many billionaires and multimillionaires in this country to choose from. In 1987, there were 41 billionaires in the United States; in 2015, 536. What else do you need to know about the intervening years, which featured growing inequality and the worst economic meltdown since 1929 that only helped strengthen the new version of the American system?

In swift order in these years, we moved from billionaires funding the political system (after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the financial floodgates) to actually heading and running the government. As a result, count on a country even friendlier to the already fantastically wealthy – thanks in part to whatever Trump-style “tax cuts” are put in place – and so the possible establishment of a new “era of dynastic wealth.” From the crew of rich dismantlers and destroyers Donald Trump has appointed to his cabinet, expect, among other things, that the privatization of the U.S. government – a process until now largely focused on melding warrior corporations with various parts of the national security state – will proceed apace in the rest of the governing apparatus.

We were, in other words, already living in a different America before November 8, 2016. Donald Trump has merely shoved that reality directly in all our faces. And keep in mind that if it weren’t for the one-percentification of this country and the surge of automation (as well as globalization) that destroyed so many jobs and only helped inequality flourish, white working class Americans in particular would not have felt so left behind in the heartland of their own country or so ready to send such an explosive figure into the White House as a visible form of screw-you-style protest.

Finally, consider one other hallmark of the first month of the Trump presidency: the “feud” between the new president and the intelligence sector of the national security state. In these post-9/11 years, that state within a state – sometimes referred to by its critics as the “deep state,” though given the secrecy that envelops it, “dark state” might be a more accurate term – grew by leaps and bounds. In that period, for instance, the U.S. gained a second Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security with its own security-industrial complex, while the intelligence agencies, all 17 of them, expanded in just about every way imaginable. In those years, they gained a previously inconceivable kind of clout, as well as the ability to essentially listen in on and monitor the communications of just about anyone on the planet (including Americans). Fed copiously by taxpayer dollars, swollen by hundreds of thousands of private contractors from warrior corporations, largely free of the controlling hand of either Congress or the courts, and operating under the kind of blanket secrecy that left most Americans in the dark about its activities (except when whistle-blowers revealed its workings), the national security state gained an ascendancy in Washington as the de facto fourth branch of government.

Now, key people within its shadowy precincts find Donald Trump, the president who is in so many ways a product of the same processes that elevated them, not to their liking – even less so once he compared their activities to those of the Nazi era – and they seem to have gone to war with him and his administration via a remarkable stream of leaks of damaging information, especially about now-departed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
As Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times wrote, “For concerned government officials, leaks may have become one of the few remaining means by which to influence not just Mr. Flynn’s policy initiatives but the threat he seemed to pose to their place in democracy.”

This, of course, represented a version of whistle-blowing that, when directed at them in the pre-Trump era, they found appalling. Like General Thomas’s comments, that flood of leaks, while discomfiting Donald Trump, also represented a potential challenge to the American political system as it once was known. When the fiercest defenders of that system begin to be seen as being inside the intelligence community and the military you know that you’re in a different and far more perilous world.

So much of what’s now happening may seem startlingly new and overwhelming. In truth, however, it’s been in development for years, even if the specifics of a Trump presidency were not so long ago unimaginable. In March of 2015, for instance, two months before The Donald tossed his hair into the presidential ring, in a post at TomDispatch I asked if “a new political system” was emerging in America and summed the situation up this way:

“Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state. Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”


We’re now living in Donald Trump’s America (which I certainly didn’t either predict or imagine in March 2015); we’re living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run (to the extent it’s run at all) by billionaires and retired generals, and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant parts of the national security state. That, in a nutshell, is the America created in the post-9/11 years. Put another way, the U.S. may have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade itself with remarkable success. And don’t blame this one on the Russians.

No one said it better than French King Louis XV: Après moi, le Trump.
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