Justice Integrity Project
CNN and Newsweek recently launched dubious tirades against what they called "conspiracy theories."
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal published U.N. Considers Reopening Probe into 1961 Crash that Killed Dag Hammarskjöld, a report that broached the possibility that the United States may have been involved in the death of the secretary-general, who is shown in a file photo.
As a way to understand such varied messages, I urge readers to evaluate evidence with an open mind -- and regard with special suspicion those commentators who slant their coverage with the loaded smear words "conspiracy theory" without citing specific evidence.
No one has time to investigate everything without preconceptions. For efficiency, we rely in part on slanted commentary by our favorite sources. But if the stakes are high and we want to be honest we should admit (at least to ourselves) that our preliminary conclusions should be subject to change based on new data.
My suggestions follow the spirit of the Justice Integrity Project's JFK Assassination "Readers Guide" last fall. That 11-part series began with a catalog of books, archives, reports and videos. Then it proceeded to assess various theories of President Kennedy's 1963 murder.
By now, we know from declassified documents that the CIA undertook a massive secret campaign to smear critics of the Warren Commission with the label "conspiracy theorist."
The campaign used members of mainstream media friendly to the CIA, for example, to discredit New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, shown below in a photo by Lynn Pelham. Garrison was prosecuting New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw in what Garrison alleged was a conspiracy to murder Kennedy. Shaw, an OSS liaison to high-ranking British officials during World War II, founded a major regional trade mart in New Orleans shortly after the war. Garrison alleged that Shaw met with rightist opponents of JFK to plan the death.
A 50-page CIA memo, known as "CIA Dispatch 1035-960," instructed agents to contact their media contacts and disparage those, like Garrison, criticizing the Warren Commission findings that Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK and acted alone. The 1967 document is here in the original, and here in reformatted text of its summary.
Minutes of CIA meeting that same year indicated fear that Garrison would win a conviction.
But a jury promptly acquitted Shaw following more than a dozen deaths (including suicide) of potential witnesses and an intense smear campaign against Garrison by the national media. NBC News hired former high-ranking Justice Department official Walter Sheridan, who had been an early recruit to the super-secret NSA in the 1950s. Publicly an investigative reporter, Sheridan was involved also in operational efforts to undermine Garrison.
More generally, Operation Mockingbird was the CIA's secret program to plant stories in the nation's most prestigious news outlets.
"With this [CIA] memo and the CIA’s influence in the media," author Peter Janney wrote in a guest column on our site last fall, "the concept of 'conspiracy theorist' was engendered and infused into our political lexicon and became what it is today: a term to smear, denounce, ridicule, and defame anyone who dares to speak about any crime committed by the state, military or intelligence services."
Janney, whose late father Wistar Janney had been a high-ranking CIA executive, continued: "People who want to pretend that conspiracies don’t exist -- when in fact they are among the most common modus operandi of significant historical change throughout the world and in our country -- become furious when their naive illusion is challenged."
After that background, let's look at more recent uses of the term by the mainstream media to discredit those who suggest government complicity in notorious events.
Former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner May 19 used his first Washington, DC public appearance following his resignation to defend his decision making and that of the rest of the Obama administration.
Geithner, launching his memoir Stress Test, responded to a question from the DC-based magazine Politico on why he and his Obama colleagues seemed to treat bankers better than homeowners after the 2008 economic collapse during the last months of the Bush presidency.
"This was a classic financial panic," Geithner recalled of the new administration's bailout responses after Obama's election in 2008. "You are in the cockpit and the plane's on fire. Are you going to negotiate conditions, or try to land the plane safely?"
My analysis of Geithner and his colleagues in Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters is that they served as water-carriers for Wall Street's oligarchs.
But this is Geithner's turn at bat to make his case, including with his 580-page new memoir, subtitled, Reflections on Financial Crises.
The scene was the inaugural "Playbook" luncheon hosted by Politico Chief White House Correspondent Mike Allen and Chief Economic Correspondent Ben White. The locale was the Hamilton, a restaurant complex just a stone's throw from Geithner's former headquarters at the Treasury Department, which nearly adjoins the White House.
Timothy Franz Geithner, who turns 52 in August, was the nation's 75th Treasury secretary from 2009 to 2013. Previously, he had been president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2003 to 2009. He is now president and managing director at Warburg Pincus, a Wall Street private equity firm that boasts of $45 billion in investments since its founding in 1966 from a merger.
Geithner comes from a well-connected family with his mother's roots extending back to the Mayflower landing.
His family also had ties to the Ford Motor Company and Ford Foundation, as well as a little-known tie to the Obama family: His father, Ford Foundation Asia Director Peter Geithner, supervised for a time Ann Dunham, Obama's mother, while she was a grantee for a Ford Foundation micro-finance program in Indonesia.
Geithner mentions "the odd family coincidence" in his memoir as something he and the president discussed in passing during their first meeting in October 2008 to discuss the financial crisis, amid rumors that Geithner might be a prospective Treasury nominee. Geither treats the matter in one sentence as a minor curiosity.
He thus leaves unspoken any deeper disclosures behind this previously little-reported relationship. That is like many other chapters of the Dunham-Obama family story, obscured by lost or secreted official records, following the upheavals occurring in Indonesia and nearby South Asian regions during the years following the West-inspired 1960s coup against Indonesia Prime Minister Sukarno.
With the launch of a new book this week, Glenn Greenwald makes a compelling case against the vast surveillance that threatens core American freedoms.
I saw Greenwald in action at a May 14 lecture in Washington, DC, read his No Place to Hide, and sampled his other interviews and critical commentaries.
Greenwald documents the historic threats we face to our constitutional rights. Also, he persuasively counters the complaints of critics from both the right and left, leaving them for the most part diminished. His assessment of the mainstream media this week was harsh: "Neutered, Impotent and Obsolete," he told Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.
Greenwald's judgment is accurate on the kind of sensitive stories here at issue.
By contrast, a review of the book by Georgetown professor David Cole published in the Washington Post understates the problems because, not so coincidentally, the Post presents itself as a watchdog organization but functions also a longtime instrument of the governing class, including those who profit from the surveillance state. One recent indication of those close relationships is the $600 million contract that the CIA has given to Amazon.com, the money-making engine founded by the Post's new owner, Jeffrey Bezos. The CIA contract for Amazon.com to handle the agency's cloud computing is just a small part of the close coordination between the private sector communications media and the intelligence agencies in recent decades, as often documented on this site.
First, let's summarize Greenwald's content. His book’s core centers on the National Security Agency's (NSA) purported secret mission: “Collect it all” regarding electronic communications of the world’s population, including Americans under no suspicion of wrong-doing.
Subtitled Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S Surveillance State, Greenwald's book describes in engaging fashion how he and his videographer colleague Laura Poitras met the National Security Agency contractor Snowden nearly a year ago in Hong Kong, and proceeded to publish stunning news reports based on NSA documents.
The book and a free website for documentation provide (at Document No. 97) a 2011 top-secret NSA presentation to four English-speaking U.S. allies (Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand) portraying a slide headlined: “New Collection Posture.”
The slide expands on the theme “Collect it all” to argue that the intelligence process should also include such steps as “Process it all,” “Partner it all” [to allies], and “Exploit it all.”
NSA and its defenders have suggested that the slogans do not mean in practice what they specifically state. Shortly before the Snowden revelations last year, White House Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, shown in his official photo, falsely told a Senate oversight panel that the federal government does not collect bulk intelligence.
As war clouds move to the Ukraine, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations delivered a well-received address April 24 at the Overseas Press Club's 75th anniversary dinner.
But U.S. officials like Samantha Power are part of an administration that aggressively fights internal and external critics. Therefore, her celebration of bold reporting creates dramatic tension.
Her bio also illustrates the cross-pollination of government and journalism as she reflected on her transformation from foreign correspondent to an Obama advocate of intelligence, military and related intervention globally, including Syria and Africa.
Power's remarks occurred at a press club awards ceremony in New York City conferring honors on 22 categories of international news coverage during the 2013 calendar year.
"It’s great to be here and more than a little scary – you’re an amazing group," she said. "Among us tonight are award winners and icons, living legends and legendary curmudgeons, truth tellers, and trouble makers, one and all. So I know I have my work cut out for me and I’m really honored and truly humbled, especially having listened to those of you who came up and spoke, and read about those who were cited as well. The work that you do every day is an inspiration."
Elite policymakers and influential thought-leadership groups use such events to create win-win outcomes that inevitably leave at least some outsiders wringing their hands, as we have reported frequently so far this year in columns excerpted below in an appendix.
Some critics claim that Obama, Power and their colleagues have not done more to fight enemies in the Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Iran and elsewhere.
But others report U.S. government abuses in domestic surveillance, propaganda, torture, crackdowns on federal whistleblowers and reporters, and cover-up. Alleged also are arms smuggling, regime change and other U.S. covert action theoretically improper in such high-profile arenas as Benghazi, Syria and the Ukraine.
U.S. officials like Power not only deny improper actions, but are part of an administration that aggressively fights internal and external critics, including government employees who speak to the media without receiving clearance.
In March 2007, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argued in Department of Injustice that partisan tactics of Bush administration prosecutors like New Jersey U.S. Attorney Chris Christie were likely to be more dangerous than the purge of nine other U.S. attorneys for political reasons.
The new book Ruthless Ambition: The Rise and Fall of Chris Christie illustrates that Krugman correctly identified the real scandal as the largely hidden decision-making of those retained during the Rove era as “loyal Bushies” in 94 regional U.S. attorneys offices.
Author Louis Manzo provides a riveting account of how Christie abused his prosecutor’s post to save his job — and then won two terms as governor beginning in 2009. This positioned Christie by early this year as a front-runner for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination.
We have reported extensively in recent months on Christie's presidential prospects, the bridge traffic scandal in New Jersey and on Manzo's book, which was available for shipping April 16. This is our first column tying these topics together after reading the book.
The author is a former Jersey City mayoral candidate whom Christie’s successors arrested in 2009 on corruption charges. Manzo then vindicated himself in 2012 from claims he had accepted a bribe from Solomon Dwek, a government informant Christie recruited to pose as a corrupt donor to Democrats.
Manzo, a former city health director with a talent for research, probably dooms any hope Christie may hold for future elective office. The book revelations help Republican and Democratic critics of Christie, shown below at right in a file photo.
Years ago, Krugman’s column helped prompt me to write investigative reports for the Huffington Post and elsewhere documenting dubious prosecutions around the nation by those like Christie permitted to keep their prosecutor jobs during the 2006 political purge. Later, I founded the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project to monitor such cases more systematically.
That perspective has enabled me to chronicle and assess for more than four years Manzo’s brave fight against the odds. Some 97 percent of those federally accused plead guilty, thereby giving prosecutors vast power. Once indicted, a defendant typically loses friends, job, savings — and often family, freedom and self-respect.
Manzo lost his home and savings, but persevered to win his freedom. Now he provides a devastating and rare account of the purge scandal’s consequences, most notably in showcasing what it takes for a politician (Christie in this instance) to ascend from the pack to nationwide stature.
The major U.S. media have ignored for the most part Seymour Hersh’s blockbuster column April 4 reporting the Obama administration's deceptive accounts of notorious killings in Benghazi and Syria.
Several major U.S. outlets reportedly declined to publish his column The Red Line and the Rat Line. That is their right, of course, and he proceeded to publish his source-based allegations in the London Review of Books.
But at some point, failure to raise questions to authorities and publish criticism smacks of a cowardly self-censorship, not mere fact-checking.
I have monitored reaction to his revelations in part because I reported similar findings in my fall 2013 book Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters and on this site seven months ago.
One of Hersh's most explosive claims is that Turkey, a NATO member and U.S. ally in the fight to overthrow Syria's government, helped plan a sarin gas attack Aug. 21 that reportedly caused more than a thousand deaths in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
The deaths, a war crime if proven, nearly prompted a massive U.S. bombing attack on the grounds that Syria's government had crossed a "red line" set by President Obama against use of chemical weapons.
The silent treatment helps authorities foster secret military actions worldwide for regime changes that arguably violate international law.
Reasonable people can differ on what constitutes adequate sourcing to publish claims even by such a noted reporter as Hersh, especially if his sources are anonymous. Hersh said in an interview with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman that he respects a decision by the Washington Post not to publish his report that Turkey was behind the sarin attack. He is shown in a screenshot from a Democracy Now! video.
But if an iconic reporter like him cannot get his findings published in a major outlet in his home country or otherwise make a significant impact, who can?
Hersh cited anonymous sources, as I did in Puppetry, to describe how the infamous Benghazi attack in 2012 grew out of covert U.S. arms smuggling organized by the CIA from Libya via Turkey to NATO-supported rebels in Syria.
The smuggling violated official statements that the United States was providing merely non-lethal aid to rebels. Hersh named the smuggling route through Turkey "The Rat Line" in his column. My book described the arms and fighter smuggling as being under the command of CIA Director David Petraeus in 2012, whose role has long been obscured by both major political parties and an increasingly timid corporate-controlled media.
On April 4, Hersh also reported that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, left, led a joint chiefs effort to dissuade President Obama from undertaking a bombing campaign against Syria beginning Sept. 2 as reprisal for crossing the president's "red line" with sarin gas attacks two weeks previous.
Hersh reported the evidence of Syrian complicity was too disputed for easy answers, and so the president needed to obtain congressional approval at the minimum. Hersh’s report thus amplified his column Whose Sarin? published by the London Review of Books Dec. 8.
Those findings by Hersh are congruent with those I made Sept. 3 in a report here on the Justice Integrity Project site about Dempsey's role. My report was based primarily on anonymous sourcing. So was an independent report Sept. 1 by former Navy intelligence analyst Wayne Madsen, who broke the story two days before me.
The mainstream media did not report these matters to my knowledge.
Instead, they misled the public by portraying a White House and Pentagon unified in decision-making, albeit with bomb planning that shifted from a presidentially ordered bombing attack to a bombing plan requiring congressional approval.
InThe Red Line and the Rat Line, Hersh described the tense White House internal debates late last summer in much more detail. He confirmed that Dempsey played a key role in persuading Obama to seek congressional approval for any attack.
Support for an attack failed to materialize in Congress. Russia proposed a face-saving plan whereby Syria would destroy its chemical weapons and avoid allied bombing.
The White House photo at right shows President Obama and his top national security advisors on Aug. 30. It illustrates the seemingly united front at the White House as authorities described Syria's guilt in the sarin attacks, and White House determination to bomb Syria in reprisal.
My column today summarizes Hersh's findings and interprets the implications. The gist is that the news blackout symbolizes the continued erosion of the media's willingness to report government operations -- aside from obedient stenography of misleading government announcements.
The Justice Integrity Project has frequently reported this dire trend, especially regarding the crackdowns by authorities on government employees who communicate with the media without approval. The Hersh experience is a case study on how the problems get worse the more important the story.