For Security, Beware of Wikipedia, CNN, Daily Beast, Poynter -- and Many More
Media manipulators this month used Wikipedia and CNN to smear investigative journalist Wayne Madsen, a former Navy intelligence officer who often breaks important and/or controversial stories. One is his July 22 column revealing a memo by former National Security Agency (NSA) Director Michael Hayden shortly after 9/11 describing why NSA would secretly bypass legal restrictions forbidding domestic surveillance.
Wikipedia's treatment of Madsen, a former NSA analyst, parallels its cavalier treatment eight years ago of First Amendment advocate John Seigenthaler, left, whom Wikipedia falsely described as a onetime suspect in the 1960s assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. The latter is shown at right when he was the nation's attorney general.
Seigenthaler responded by writing an eloquent op-ed in USA Today explaining why Wikipedia does not stop character assassins from posting false information.
My column today is the last in a three-part series about media coverage of national security issues. The series warns against sophisticated political hit jobs that arise in new and old media.
The first report in the series -- DOJ Curtails Spy Charges Against Reporters; But Do Smears Continue? -- showed how CNN, Business Insider, the Daily Beast/Newsweek, the Poynter Institute, and the Telegraph in London this month targeted Madsen with demonstrably false statements. The smear arose after London's Observer quoted Madsen as an expert commenting on two declassified NSA documents illustrating secret United States surveillance of European populations in cooperation with their governments.
My second column -- The Intelligence Community and the DC Media: A Brief Introduction -- showed how difficult it can be for any reporter, much less a freelancer like Madsen, to cover government intelligence agencies that maintain close ties to Wall Street titans who fund defense contractors, political campaigns, and media companies.
This final column pulls these themes together. It starts with Wikipedia's vulnerability to manipulation that hurts targets such as Madsen and Seigenthaler. Next, we examine the Madsen critics who suddenly published false claims about him in articles that Wikipedia cited as authoritative references for his bio.
- Gawker, Did the CIA Just Run an Intel Operation on the Daily Beast?
- Wide Asleep in America, The Daily Beast Takes the Bait on Anti-Iran Propaganda
Finally, we are left with an action plan: We must realize that all forms of media have the potential for abuse, whether provided by idealists at a non-profit, by solitary bloggers, or by giant media corporations.
If that's not a enough of a challenge for a news consumer we must beware also of the intelligence community's proven willingness secretly to censor, inflate, or otherwise affect news accounts about important matters.
Madsen, for example, claimed in UK D-Notice resulted in web attack on WMR editor published July 15 (with subscription required) that the attacks against his Wayne Madsen Report (WMR) and the Observer stemmed from an otherwise unreported warning called a "D-Notice" that British intelligence sent to the Observer and its sister paper, the Guardian, in early June after leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Such warnings are reputed, in general, to put British news organizations on notice of potentially serious consequences under the Official Secrets Act if the government seeks punishment. There is a virtually no way to authenticate Madsen's source-based story independently, however. Even if the Observer received such a notice no one in Britain or the United States is supposed to talk about it.
I argue that suppression of leaks in the United States is best understood as part of the ongoing struggle by free press advocates against a federal government that, whether under Republican or Democratic leadership, strives to control media messaging. The government's passion for control is at its peak when reporters seek to explore how the NSA, CIA, and dozens of other intelligence agencies have moved far beyond their original missions. As early as 1963, former President Truman wrote that the CIA was overstepping its purpose when he created it with Congress in 1948.
Yet the agencies have continuously expanded, most recently in a huge crackdown on leakers and reporters, as well as ramped-up surveillance of the domestic U.S. population, and creation of paramilitary strike forces functioning like uniformed military.
On July 21, the New York Times reported in Math Behind the Leak Crackdown that President Obama's first director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, requested early in the Obama administration a tally of government leakers who had been prosecuted for national security violations. Upon learning that no indictments had been filed the previous four years despite 153 investigations, Blair and Attorney General Eric Holder fashioned a more aggressive strategy to punish anyone who leaked national security information that endangered intelligence-gathering methods and sources. “My background is in the Navy, and it is good to hang an admiral once in a while as an example to the others,” Blair told the Times. “We were hoping to get somebody and make people realize that there are consequences to this and it needed to stop.”
When does a leak crackdown become excessive control of all information by the military and intelligence services? We now know from the historical record that even Cold War-era Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy opposed what they regarded as the excessive power of the agencies and the Defense Department. Most famously, Eisenhower, at left, the former Allied Commander in Europe and two-term Republican president, described in his 1961 Farewell Address "The Military Industrial Complex" as the greatest threat to the nation's democracy (Video).
The post-9/11 growth of the intelligence agencies and their private sector partners suggest that Eisenhower's fear now would be a collection of entities called, "The Intelligence Industrial Complex."
NSA, for example, has secretly acquired the power to intercept, save, and retrieve virtually all electronic communications of all Americans, including members of Congress and the media, according to the former NSA contractor Snowden and his lesser-known predecessors over the past decade who became whistleblowers. The intelligence agencies maintain close relationships with all of the major telephone companies and social media providers, as well as Wall Street financiers.
The political power involved in the NSA's data collection and sharing arrangements is mind-boggling, especially since much of the operation is under the de facto control of private contractors. Booz Allen Hamilton, for example, is owned by the Carlyle Group, several of whose owners have acquired more than a billion dollars apiece in personal assets. Booz Allen runs a significant part of the infrastructure at some federal agencies. The company employed Snowden for three months this year as a computer systems manager in Hawaii after his previous stints directly working for NSA and the CIA. He said his leaks were the only way to alert the public to invasions of privacy.
Defense contractors are free to take on private clients, assert a right to secrecy involving taxpayer-funded infrastructure, and engage in all manner of secret operations with minimal public oversight. The entire sector operates under largely secret law following the Patriot Act and the largely meaningless secret FISA court that since 1978 has apparently rubber-stamped surveillance requests -- with no disclosure of the substance of its decisions.
These factors help explain why NSA and its sister agencies can operate without accountability -- except to a hierarchy in the Executive Branch and a few senior members of Congress who are untrained in the sophisticated communications networks at issue. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Diane Feinstein, left, is the most important of Congressional monitor. But the California Democrat is a pro-contractor loyalist and pro-secrecy stalwart whose husband, Richard Blum, has been enriched with sweetheart deals as a federal contractor.
Because of such financial conflicts and secrecy, journalists have difficulty reporting much beyond the statements of top officials, whether leaked or on the record. News organizations are complicit in this process because most of them receive only a modest proportion of their revenue from readers or viewers. Therefore the media need funding from major corporate advertisers or parent companies -- some of which are heavily regulated or heavily dependent on federal contracts.
With that background, today's column explores the shortcomings of Wikipedia and CNN. Our review illustrates how political hit artists can manipulate the media to destroy those few journalists with expertise and gumption to report aggressively.
Wikipedia is a popular reference tool that I use daily. I am grateful for its free services despite the criticisms in this column. Among Wikipedia's reference items are photos, including virtually all of the illustrations for this column. The non-profit is modestly funded by donations from the public. It relies on the integrity and civic pride of volunteer editors, who try to link factual assertions to reputable sources that are typically brand-name news organizations and book publishers.
Despite these helpful services and high aspirations, consumers need to ask: What if certain volunteer editors lack integrity and cannot be identified? And what criteria do editors use to decide if well-known brand names such as CNN or Newsweek slip up -- or sell out?
These questions are not abstract given the efforts last month to trash Madsen, shown at left.
Furthermore, we know that those who implement political assassinations can earn big money. Payments to destroy a writer's reputation can be up to $250 an hour for the grunt work of a blogger, as I reported in a 2011 column, Plot Exposed Against Bloggers, Rights Advocates. That column summarized allegations by the hactivist group Anonymous, which had published 50,000 emails stolen from defense contractors.
The contractors were preparing to secure a $14 million contract to implement such schemes against journalists and activists who investigate big business. One of the main targets was columnist Glenn Greenwald, who created a worldwide sensation last month by breaking Snowden's revelations in the Guardian. Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg called Snowden's revelations the most important whistleblowing in the nation's history. Greenwald was instrumental in guiding the work to publication, showing how dangerous a journalist can be to the power structure.
Meanwhile, the traditional pillars of the journalistic establishment are being forced to back down from their historic role of defending press freedom.
The Obama administration took office on promises to protect whistle-blowers. But it has repeatedly cracked down on leakers, citing the Espionage Act as a basis for criminal prosecution more times than all previous administrations combined since the law was passed in 1917 during World War I.
A July 19 federal appeals court order required New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against a reputed CIA source, Jeffrey Sterling, in a spy trial -- or face imprisonment for contempt of a court. Risen has broken some of the most important national security stories of the decade. Also, he wrote State of War, the path-breaking and still-indispensable 2006 book based on anonymous sources book documenting the modern surveillance state's Orwellian threat to democracy.
Targeting Risen has been part of the Blair-Holder campaign to prosecute government employees who leak to reporters.
The federal government's ability to draw on taxpayer-funding for its long litigation against the Times contrasts with the financial pressures threatening even such a major news organization. The Justice Department has forced the Times and Risen to spend massive amounts to litigate the case.
The government is winning its war of attrition against Risen, the Times, and the rest of the establishment media. This prospective victory for prosecutors sends a powerful message throughout the federal government and its vast array of private contractors: No one should dare talk to a reporter except through official channels. Earlier this year, I spent time at a social occasion with three Times reporters who were far more concerned about the threat of more layoffs at their paper than potential national security scoops.
The nation's two major press clubs organized a forum last year to convene such experts as Risen to discuss the implications. "The fundamental issue,” said Risen, as I reported in Press Probes 'Obama's War On Leaks, “is whether you can have a democracy without aggressive reporting. I don’t think you can.”
That is the context of my new book: Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters, to be published in hardcover later this month. The book expands on previous reporting by Madsen and others to show why Obama is an advocate for the intelligence community and its Wall Street backers, in contrast to his image during campaigns as a progressive former community organizer and law professor committed to transparency.
Further challenging the conventional wisdom parroted for many years by such outlets at CNN and Newsweek were Snowden's daring revelations in June via Greenwald and via the Washington Post's Barton Gellman.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a Navy Academy graduate and career military officer before his political career, praised Snowden as a hero in an interview this week that was so little reported as to raise questions about self-censorship by the major U.S. media. Carter's remarks were reported by a newspaper in Germany, where the public fears government oppression because of the nation's history of Nazi and Stasi excesses.
Carter, shown at left in a file photo, also said he feared that secrecy threatened American democracy.
Underscoring the fears that Carter expressed, unknown volunteer editors at Wikipedia published a highly negative bio that cited as authority publications featuring demonstrably false information about Madsen. The process resembled the daily work of Winston Smith, the central character of Orwell's dystopia 1984. Smith's job at the Ministry of Truth was to revise history by adjusting news articles to reflect current conventional wisdom.
This column examines a sample of vulnerabilities at Wikipedia and at supposedly sophisticated journalism watchdogs, such as CNN's weekly "Reliable Sources" show and the Florida-based Poynter Institute, a journalism commentary and training non-profit that demonstrated this month astonishing disregard of basic accuracy and fairness. Part of the story is how today's political operatives create hoked-up scandals and publicize them to reduce the media influence such figures as Helen Thomas (who died July 19), and Dan Rather.
Conflict Disclaimer and Column Outline
As I noted previously in this series: My new book published in hardback this week, Presidential Puppetry, cites some of Madsen's words and documents among its nearly 500 pages, which include more than 1,100 endnotes. I consider him a friend and acknowledge his generous assistance in pointing me to declassified CIA documents and describing their context. That's precisely what he did for London Observer reporter Jamie Dowden in June, leading to a front-page Observer story June 30. The Observer then spiked the story after social media assault social media activists complained.
Madsen is a prolific commentator whose reports range from mainstream U.S. newspapers (more than 40 of who have recently carried his op-eds columns) to alternative and foreign-owned media. His experience includes 14 years in the Navy, nearly all as an intelligence officer. Later, he was a "lead scientist" at Computer Sciences Corporation, a major defense contractor. His first book in 1992 was The Handbook of Personal Data Collection, a pioneering 1,100-page hardback study published by Macmillan analyzing the electronic privacy laws of more than 40 nations.
Madsen has been an expert commentator on all four major U.S. networks. Those networks, however, have removed him from their regular invitation lists after he reported stories avoided by the mainstream media as too controversial. For example, Madsen has questioned official accounts of both the JFK assassination and the 9/11 attacks. His stories on these tragedies have enabled critics to label him as a "Conspiracy Theorist" whose work should be suppressed regarding any topic. Two of the best-known Democratic-oriented blog sites, Daily Kos and Democratic Underground, ban for life any reader who mentions Madsen even in a reader comment.
Several of his other commentaries are controversial, as well. These include reports on sex scandals involving potential blackmail of leaders of both major parties; and pressures on the United States by foreign intelligence services and their domestic supporters, such as repeated requests by Israel to free its spy Jonathan Pollard from imprisonment after he stole Navy secrets. Madsen, as part of his Navy duties, investigated damage from Pollard's spying and believes the damage merits continued imprisonment.
For years, Madsen has shown his distance from the lucrative insider world of DC journalism by such iconoclastic efforts as his journalism-politics "incest chart" reporting close family relationships between many prominent journalists and their relatives in government and politics. His appearances on foreign-owned broadcast stations, including Press TV and RTV, prompt critics to try to marginalize his reporting further.
This body of work has earned him admirers as well opponents who hate him. Part of the reason is that he is defiantly "politically incorrect" in ways some call bigoted, and has been a scourge to political leaders across the full range of politics, thereby foreclosing funding or alliances.
Dana Jill Simpson, an Alabama attorney formerly working on political intelligence to help fellow Republicans, has told me that Karl Rove asked her nearly a decade ago to find out who funded Madsen so well as to enable him to cause so much trouble. She reported back that he lived in a 440-square-foot apartment on a bare-bones freelancer's income, with no apparent significant funders. His freedom from corporate control later encouraged her, she told me, to go to Madsen in 2007 to cover her story after she broke with Rove and needed an independent reporter to expose corruption without getting spiked by higher-up editors.
Rove claimed in his memoir, shown at right and published by Simon & Schuster, that he never met Simpson. Rove has repeated that assertion in his Wall Street Journal column and on Fox News, Simpson told me she can disprove Rove's denials if he ever dared make his comments under oath in a legal proceeding enabling cross-examination. She said she has known Rove for more than three decades. That kind of controversy helps illustrate why Wikipedia's policy of relying on mainstream sources does not foreclose factual disputes.
What is most important here is to explore how Madsen's critics have advanced their careers by writing clearly false statements about him to "prove" that he is unreliable, with no apparent consequences for their disinformation.
Such a wide-ranging column as this needs an index at the outset. Following this introduction, the topic order is: 1) John Seigenthaler's exposé of the vulnerabilities of Wikipedia; 2) misuse of the term "conspiracy theory" among establishment journalists to prevent evidence-based inquiries; 3) the London Observer's June 30 front-page story quoting Madsen; 4) a critical look at critics of the Observer and Madsen; 5) the critics' success in commemorating their smears on Wikipedia and CNN; and 6) the danger for consumers from vulnerabilities in old and new media.
1) Seigenthaler Exposé of Wikipedia
A must-read for background is A false Wikipedia 'biography,' the 2005 op-ed by Seigenthaler, a 1960s aide to U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Seigenthaler is a retired journalist who now leads the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University that is affiliated with the Newseum in Washington. In the op-ed, Seigenthaler described his horror after learning that his Wikipedia bio claimed for four months that he had been a suspect in two Kennedy assassinations:
"John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960's. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven."
Seigenthaler's Wikipedia biography also falsely stated: "John Seigenthaler moved to the Soviet Union in 1971, and returned to the United States in 1984. He started one of the country's largest public relations firms shortly thereafter."
Seigenthaler continued in his column:
At age 78, I thought I was beyond surprise or hurt at anything negative said about me. I was wrong. One sentence in the biography was true. I was Robert Kennedy's administrative assistant in the early 1960s. I also was his pallbearer. It was mind-boggling when my son, John Seigenthaler, journalist with NBC News, phoned later to say he found the same scurrilous text on Reference.com and Answers.com. I had heard for weeks from teachers, journalists and historians about "the wonderful world of Wikipedia," where millions of people worldwide visit daily for quick reference "facts," composed and posted by people with no special expertise or knowledge — and sometimes by people with malice.
Also, Seigenthaler described why the Wikipedia process makes such libels extremely difficult to remove or trace.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales intervened personally to help resolve Seigenthaler's issue. But Wales conceded that the system has inherent flaws. Wikipedia provides a commendable resource in many ways, including making available the photos of Seigenthaler used in this column. It relieson upon a system of trusted volunteer and largely uncompensated editors to create and update discussions. Editors remove the most obviously libelous, thinly sourced, or self-promotional materials.
But its system is vulnerable to distortion or corruption by crafty "trolls" who might earn editing privileges by non-controversial work -- and then use their powers to sabotage their perceived enemies. Trolls act for a variety of motives, including political or religious zealotry, or simply as agents for well-funded operations guided by the motto, "The end justifies the means."
Everyone reading this far can benefit from Seigelthaler's full column, along with his conclusion:
"And so we live," Seigenthaler wrote, "in a universe of new media with phenomenal opportunities for worldwide communications and research — but populated by volunteer vandals with poison-pen intellects. Congress has enabled them and protects them.
Let me weigh in here: Wikipedia, its founder, its donors, and the overwhelming number of editors clearly provide a valuable public service. The non-profit reported in 2006 an operational budget of just a million dollars.
However, all of us that read or otherwise use it have to be aware of its vulnerabilities. Here are two that Seigenthaler did not explore fully:
Wikipedia relies heavily on name-brand news organizations and book publishers as inherently trustworthy. True, the average mainstream publication is probably more professional and otherwise trustworthy than the average blog or other alternative outlet. Yet any fair analysis would find many instances where the mainstream has fallen short, sometimes deliberately. Aside from the examples already cited, a major ongoing problem involves memoirs of prominent figures. My experience (including published reviews in newspapers of more than 200 books) provides scant reassurance that a memoir by a major publisher guarantees that the author is telling the whole truth.
A second major Wikipedia vulnerability is when propagandists implement long-term strategies to control messages and destroy opponents. Seigenthaler could not obtain evidence identifying his cyber-enemies despite his high-powered connections. Most victims are even more powerless than he.
2) Misuse of the term "conspiracy theory" in reporting
The term "conspiracy theorist" is all all-purpose insult used by establishment journalists and wannabes to prove their devotion to conventional wisdom by disparaging others, usually without addressing relevant evidence in serious manner.
The term thus serves an important purpose by advancing the careers of those who use it, as argued by longtime Washington insider Sam Smith, publisher of the Progressive Review. According to his analysis, pundits who want to signal that they are loyal supporters of conventional wisdom use the term.
Establishment circles popularized "conspiracy theory" to quash all theories of the JFK assassination that did not match the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald, 24, acted alone to kill JFK. At least 150 books have since challenged that theory with a wide array of forensic, documentary, and witness evidence. But the insult "conspiracy theorist" lives on as an all-purpose insult against critics of conventional wisdom, thereby obviating any need to discuss evidence.
The term has received new life in attempts by author ties to block re-investigation of the 9/11 attacks. Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham co-chaired the joint Senate-House investigation. He is among those who want to reopen the probe, as I reported in Ex-Senators, Reporters Again Question Saudi Innocence For 9/11. Graham, shown at left with one of his recent books, argues that the first investigation he helped lead in 2002 was too rushed and too much evidence was withheld. Few would dare criticize him outright under the "conspiracy theorist" slander. But that does not stop defenders of 9/11 reports from freely using the term to insult others, including Madsen, rather than welcoming reasonable efforts to evaluate whatever evidence remains in dispute.
This is not abstract issue. In the next section, we'll see how Madsen's opponents revised his Wikipedia entry to summarize his work as being a "conspiracy theorist." That description of a lifetime body of work was authenticated under the site's bogus system by citation to seven publications. Most were those concocting false information the past month during the massive attack on him. The Wikipedia bio repeatedly cited those same publications. Wikipedia subjects do not create their bios. So, they have little ability to correct false statements, except via the kind of extraordinary measure that a victim of Siegenthaler's stature and persistence could use to remove a defamation.
In Madsen's case, the hodge-podge of allegations against him on Wikipedia includes a bizarre citation to Neal Gable, a writer for the Nation, that Madsen is part of a right-wing conspiracy against President Obama. Yet other aspects of Madsen's bio claim that he seeks to advance left-wing theories. The bio essentially ignores the simpler possibility: that the facts behind news stories sometimes reflect badly on Democrats, sometimes on Republicans.
As an example of the self-confidence of the nation's governing class, Harvard Law professor Cass Sunstein, left, co-authored a paper in 2008 entitled "Conspiracy Theories." Sunstein was one of Obama's best friends and the husband of fellow Obama campaigner and Harvard Law professor Samantha Power. Sunstein advocated in his paper that the government secretly hire journalists and academics to thwart the millions of voters who support wrong-headed conspiracy theories. Sunstein argued that using secret agents pretending to be independent was a better idea than banning bad ideas or taxing them.
In fairness, this one only one of Sunstein's many published works over a career of scholarship. Yet civil libertarians such as Glenn Greenwald found Sunstein's idea both repulsive -- and astonishing for anyone in the legal profession. Yet Obama hired Sunstein to run the White House Office of Management and Budget unit that supervises all federal regulatory efforts nationwide.
Sunstein's wife, Power, became a top national security advisor at the State Department and White House. For the second term, Obama nominated Power to become the nation's next ambassador to the United Nations.
In sum, career advancement seems to go to those who advocate for the central government's right to shape public debate via the media by whatever means insiders might deem necessary. Beyond that, we can behold a colossal irony: Sunstein, a star of Obama's administration, had advocated precisely the kind of government conspiracy that anti-conspiracy efforts are supposed to dismiss as the fantasies of deranged minds.
3) London Observer's June 30 front-page story quoting Madsen
This section recaps the Observer's publication of a front-page story for its June 30 edition based on documents it had requested from Madsen after his interview earlier in the week published on the Privacy Surgeon blog Simon Davies, right, a well-known UK-based privacy expert.
According to undisputed evidence, Observer editor/reporter Jamie Dowden requested two declassified NSA documents from Madsen and quoted Madsen's comments about their meaning for a story: Revealed: secret European deals to hand over private data to America. The sub-headline was "Germany 'among countries offering intelligence' according to new claims by former US defense analyst." The story by Dowden, his paper's national affairs editor, began, "At least six European Union countries in addition to Britain have been colluding with the US over the mass harvesting of personal communications data, according to a former contractor to America's National Security Agency, who said the public should not be 'kept in the dark.'"
Madsen had published a similar story in 2009 on his subscription-service, the Wayne Madsen Report. He regarded his assistance to the Observer as a routine professional courtesy. The top of the Observer's story focused on Madsen's analysis but the essence of the story was the NSA documents, which Madsen had obtained from public sources.
Those expert in intelligence work sometimes obtain important documents in the public domain overlooked by reporters working for general-interest publications. The process is not risk free, as former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake learned after he shared with a reporter non-classified information illustrating vast waste in NSA's domestic spy program.
The Obama administration retroactively reclassified the documentation and indicted Drake on spy charges. Fortunately for Drake, he obtained expert defense counsel from the Government Accountability Project and drew a fair-minded judge who declined to railroad him into the long prison term the Justice Department had sought. Drake pled guilty to a misdemeanor, misuse of a computer.
4) Critical look at critics of the Observer and Madsen
For as-yet unknown reasons, a network of ultra-right and Libertarian activists swung into action soon after the Observer story appeared in an online edition June 29.
U.S. Navy War College Professor John Schindler, a former NSA employee based in Newport, RI, went on the warpath via Twitter to protest the London newspaper's story. He denounced Madsen, who holds a graduate certificate from the War College.
Another early member of this attack brigade was Louise Mensch, a former member of Parliament who had joined the executive ranks of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Mensch has been implicated in the hacker scandals in Britain whereby Murdoch news executives used secret surveillance records of celebrities and politicians to obtain news scoops and political leverage over government officials. Surveillance as a blackmail tool can obviously work elsewhere, but few U.S. journalists dare pursue the story.
One of the first news treatments of the Observer's June 30 article arose from what might be seem an unlikely source, a Florida-based journalism novice functioning as the front-page editor for the web-publication Business Insider. Paul Szoldra, whose bio indicates that he left the military in January to become a Tampa-based journalist, published at 8:51 p.m. on June 29, The Guardian Revealed An NSA 'Scoop' Then Deleted It From The Website. Szoldra's column quoted Schindler's Twitter tirade against Madsen and other insults against Madsen.
Madsen says none of the reporters or social media critics defaming him contacted him to check their facts before publishing.
The idea that a young vet would spend his Saturday night monitoring changes in a European newspaper's front page (and getting the name of the newspaper wrong) reflects, at the minimum, the changing landscape of journalism.
What is the background of the publication that took the lead in trying drive Madsen out of journalism and the Observer to withdraw its story? Business Insider was founded by DoubleClick founder Kevin P. Ryan, who installed former Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget as CEO and editor-in-chief. Blodget went into journalism after accepting an agreement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for a lifetime ban from the financial industry and a $2 million fine. New Yorker media columnist Ken Auletta profiled Blodget and Business Insider in April under the headline, Can a disgraced Wall Street analyst earn trust as a journalist?
Meanwhile, the pro-conservative rival to the Observer, London's Sunday Telegraph, published a hit piece along the same lines by its religion editor, Damian Thompson.
His column assumed without evidence that the Observer had pulled its story because it learned about several of Madsen's previous columns on unrelated, controversial topics that including purported sex scandals involving prominent American politicians of both parties famous for their family values. Thompson gave no indication that he had ever investigated specific facts. Instead, his argument assumed that famous individuals could not be involved in scandal and thus be subjected to blackmail on policy issues. That was a strange argument, to say the least, after exposure in London during recent years of a major "hacking" scandal resulting in indictments of top editors and other journalists. The Murdoch press had been caught pressuring politicians on the basis of information gleaned from hacked private phone conversations.
Other notable treatments of the Observer story included those by Michael Moynihan of the Daily Beast, which is edited along with Newsweek by UK-born Tina Brown. Brown, former editor of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker from 1984 to 1998, has been financially backed in the Daily Beast / Newsweek websites by IAG Chairman Barry Diller.
Moynihan led his July 1 Daily Beast column, NSA Nutjob: Anatomy of a Fake ‘Observer’ Story, with two unsupported false claims: Moynihan claimed that the Observer based its story entirely on Madsen's word. Second, Moynihan asserted that the Observer failed to interview.
Nonetheless, Poynter Institute contributor Joshua Gillin seized on Moynihan's account as authoritative. Gillin's July 1 column was Observer pulls story about NSA deal based on Wayne Madsen conspiracy theory. Poynter holds itself out as a training center and watchdog over the nation's journalism sector. Gillin is a staffer for the Tampa Times, which is owned by Poynter.
Anyone can make mistakes. What is especially revealing is what happened next.
Madsen and several others, including this editor, pointed out in reader comment sections factual errors and overall unfairness in the above noted columns. Only Gillin responded, and that in a brief, churlish, and nearly incomprehensible manner.
I suspect, but cannot prove, that an unspoken motive for Poynter's conduct is the location of the U.S. Central Command and related military facilities in Tampa. CENTCOM and the military's special forces headquarters make it the military one of Tampa Bay's largest and most influential employers.
Poynter may have an entirely different motivation, however. My research as a media critic has revealed many examples of arrogance by those professionally involved in newspaper ethics and ombudsman work. Without bogging down in detail here, my experience is that many of those involved in such ostensibly high-minded pursuits as moralizing about news ethics cannot imagine they themselves would ever be wrong on an important fact. So, they fight much harder than the average writer against having to admit a mistake.
Simon Davies, the privacy expert, published a 4,000-word article arguing that vendetta against Madsen was disgraceful, and the Observer owed the public an explanation. The Observer then published a brief notice, supplemented by Madsen's letter to the editor noting that he supplied documents at the Observer's request and agreed to an interview. Those points contradicted much of the factual basis of Moynihan's Daily Beast screed. Joe Lauria, the United Nations beat reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and former UK ambassador and university rector Craig Murray also published critiques of attacks. Davies wrote of the Observer:
From all the evidence I’ve been able to gather they panicked, canned the story, made up a plausible excuse and then when they discovered that the article was factually correct, tried to bury it. Now I’m guessing they just want the whole affair to go away – but it’s too important to be dismissed that lightly. The validity of the article’s assertions was not in doubt. Indeed the Guardian itself later confirmed that the story was factually sound. Instead, editorial staff had anguished over the sustainability of featuring a central character who held unconventional, contentious and sometimes bizarre views – even though these views were unrelated to the ambit of the expunged story. It’s a little like withdrawing an exposé on maladministration of public funds because the informant had expressed a belief in the conspiracy of One World Government. This is not an unusual dilemma for media. The perceived credibility of informants is important to public trust in an article – which goes some way to explaining the popularity of cloaking devices such as “informed source.” However it’s critically important for “Great” newspapers (among which the Observer is often counted) to avoid making such judgments in the manner by which contestants are voted off the Big Brother household. Sadly, the Observer appears to have capitulated to insider lobbying at the expense of its ethical obligation to publish....
I’m hoping that the Observer can shed more light on this episode – though most media organizations accused of ducking for cover this way have responded like a pugnacious street-boy, leaning against the garage wall and growling “I weren’t afraid of nuthin’.” In more recent times William Binney, Thomas Drake, Adrienne Kinne, Mike Frost, Russell Tice, Mark Klein and Wayne Madsen have all defied their secrecy agreements to speak out publicly about the extent of NSA surveillance. Yes, Wayne Madsen. It’s understandable to sing praise to well-known media outlets for publishing such disclosures. Those organizations sometimes risk humiliation if the stories don’t stand up – and prosecution if they do. However most mainstream media groups have historically been incapable or unwilling to conduct true investigative work on national security issues – and many have instinctively resisted publishing the output of other media organizations.
In much the same vein, former British ambassador and university administrator Craig Murray, right, published All Law is Gone: Naked Power Remains. The column linked the Observer's spiking of its story to the forced-down landing of the Bolivian president’s jet based on the false suspicion by European allies of the United States that Bolivia's top executive might be travelling with Snowden. "To the US and its allies," Murray wrote, "international law is no longer of any consequence."
I have repeatedly posted, and have been saying in public speeches for ten years, that under the UK/US intelligence sharing agreements the NSA spies on UK citizens and GCHQ spies on US citizens and they swap the information. As they use a shared technological infrastructure, the division is simply a fiction to get round the law in each country restricting those agencies from spying on their own citizens.
In more recent times William Binney, Thomas Drake, Adrienne Kinne, Mike Frost, Russell Tice, Mark Klein and Wayne Madsen have all defied their secrecy agreements to speak out publicly about the extent of NSA surveillance. Yes, Wayne Madsen. It’s understandable to sing praise to well-known media outlets for publishing such disclosures. Those organizations sometimes risk humiliation if the stories don’t stand up – and prosecution if they do. However most mainstream media groups have historically been incapable or unwilling to conduct true investigative work on national security issues – and many have instinctively resisted publishing the output of other media organizations.
After all that, CNN assembled for its weekly journalism roundtable show "Reliable Sources" three Daily Beast Newsweek reporters to trash Madsen July 7 without admitting their errors, inviting him, or any independent participants such as Davies, Murray, or independent authors with a speciality on NSA. The guest host of the show was Daily Beast staffer John Avlon following the resignation of longtime CNN host Howard Kurtz. The featured guest for the segment was Moynihan, with Daily Beast Newsweek foreign affairs specialist Josh Rogin joining briefly to concur with his colleagues' judgment. The following week, the Daily Beast promoted Avlon to the post of executive editor.
As a longtime media critic whose works include a 1987 book, Spiked, I invited comment from the most relevant organizations for this column. Poynter Managing Editor Mallary Tenore and Gillin were the only ones to respond. They said Gillin was "an aggregator" not responsible for the veracity of the materials he republished. The Poynter site then provided a brief "update" correcting one of Moynihan's false statements but leaving intact the rest of his screed.
I am at the point in my career when I become one of the old-timers who reminisce about how things used to be in the news business. That can lead to off-point reflections, especially at the end of a long column. But here goes: In 1970, I began work at the Hartford Courant, the nation's oldest newspaper and New England's second largest. My assignments were modest at first. I learned the craft covering small-town civic meetings, police news, and courts. In these jobs, reporters had to face newsmakers in the days after a story. Anyone irritated by coverage could easily air complaints not simply to me as a reporter, but also to the newspaper's management.
Even so, the newspaper's staff lived by the slogan that "every reporter is an investigative reporter" who should try to find extra information beyond the basics.
Furthermore, we were under orders that if law enforcement tried to peddle secret, negative information about someone without an indictment we were supposed to probe the procedural irregularity more than the target. Certainly it would have cheaper and otherwise more efficient simply to accept a dossier smearing someone. But it was not considered the right thing for a newspaper to do. Authorites understood the principle also.
Poynter appears to be leading the way to a new concept: publication of defamatory material by those who are journalists in name only. If the facts turn out to be wrong the so-called journalists are simply innocent "aggregators" who accept no real responsibility for the material because, after all, aggregators have no choice. Or something like that.
5) Critics commemorate their smears on Wikipedia, Daily Beast/Newsweek and CNN
Madsen, upon failure to obtain corrections for the factual errors of his critics, has gone on to publish columns alleging that he was targeted for removal in much the same way as Dan Rather and Helen Thomas were in recent years. One difference, Madsen argues in his column July 15, is that he has obtained proof that intelligence and military officials were involved in the hit job against him. Another difference, he says, is that he plans to fight back, as he recently wrote on his subscription-only website, The Wayne Madsen Report.
Rather and Thomas, two experienced journalists, were unable to survive the incessant Internet barrage launched by a small group of dedicated social media and web bloggers who do not fall into the category of either "liberal" or "conservative." Instead, these individuals are known as "libel bloggers" since their stock in trade is spreading libelous and defamatory information on their "targets of the day" to as many websites as possible. These "libel bloggers" also seek to silence any news carried by the so-called "mainstream media" that falls outside the prescribed pabulum that passes for news that is pre-selected for airing and publication in a few news rooms in New York, Washington, and London.
6) Implications for consumers of vulnerabilities in old and new media
This has been an exhaustive exercise, and I thank readers who have made it this far in a column of 7,000 words. Believe me, I would have much preferred to have been focused on reaching out to organizations such as CNN or Newsweek to discuss my new book and its themes, rather than to antagonize them with this kind of commentary.
But the larger issues are too important to ignore.
By this point, Seigenthaler apparently has resolved his specific issues with Wikipedia and has left an enduring warning to others.
Madsen is continuing more or less undeterred. He says his assailants will learn that their dark motives inspired them to attack him unfairly will undo them. In the meantime, he published July 22 on the subscription-only Wayne Madsen Report a "For Official Use Only" memo authored shortly after 9/11 by NSA Director Michael Hayden, right. Hayden argued that previous rules restricting NSA operations were no longer valid. Details: NSA chief Hayden saw warrantless wiretapping as 'driving to DC on highway shoulder.'
An inescapable suspicion is that someone like Hayden, a former CIA director who now works with former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at the Chertoff Group, is far more important to CNN than revelations by Madsen or anyone else on this kind of topic. That's why it was so easy for CNN and its Daily Beast/Newsweek colleagues to, in effect, "vote him off the island" of Washington's journalism community, even if they had to use the bogus "facts" in the Daily Beast reporting to do so.
Important investors in CNN from the Mideast, as elsewhere, rely on a strong U.S. national security and intelligence network. U.S. taxpayer funding to sustain that kind of intelligence and military spending, however, is politically difficult during times of American austerity unless the media cooperates with correct messaging.
What are the implications for news consumers who have no time to read in-depth coverage of the basics, much less about the jousting between intelligence agencies and those reporters who try to penetrate secrets?
We seemingly have to trust our news providers, which is why CNN's advertising slogan has long been "The Most Trusted Name in News."
The simple lesson we have seen is that CNN, like all information sources, is emeshed in big credibility problems as long as they are trying to shape the political agenda by manipulating the news. The hit job July 7 exemplifies a mind-set, not an aberration.
Some apologists for conventional wisdom like to cite the reassuring slogan that a "marketplace of ideas" ensures that every news consumer can find in the marketplace the right amount and quality of information. This is a glib fantasy.
The phrase overlooks the reality that the real customers for most media are not readers and viewers -- but instead the large entities that pay the bills either as advertisers or as influence peddlers. One example of the latter is a parent company, such as a defense contractor, that uses its media subsidiary for political clout helping the company's core business.
The solution? Trust but verify. Use a variety of sources for any important topic.
By Andrew Kreig, Dec. 8, 2012.
Pioneering White House correspondent Helen Thomas told a National Press Club audience Dec. 7 that the country is endangered by what she called government leaders' greed, fear, and subservience to war-mongers.
“I came here in 1943,” she told a dinner audience of 30, speaking of the date she joined United Press as a Washington reporter, “and I don’t think I’ve ever seen our country so bereft of ideals and ideas. I don’t see anything on the horizon that can pull us out. I hope I’m wrong.” Shown at left in a 2009 photo courtesy of Wikipeda, she described current leaders as weak and selfish. The self-described liberal doled out criticism to all sides.
“Republicans,” she said, “have one goal: To get Obama. But when they see the country falling apart, that’s all they can do?"
“As for Obama,” she continued, “I think he’s weak. He has no courage.” She said the country urgently needs “a stand-up guy who’ll do the right thing.”
What are some examples?
“The first priority should be jobs.” Also, “Make people pay their taxes, and stop the wars.” She estimated at least 700 U.S. military bases around the world. “We’re killing all of these people [in undeclared wars]. Why? Is it any surprise that people will fight back for their country? There’s no doubt we want to eliminate Iran. Why wouldn’t they want to defend themselves?”
Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment
Justice Integrity Project, DOJ Curtails Spy Charges Against Reporters; But Do Smears Continue? Andrew Kreig, July 16, 2013. The Obama Justice Department has announced that it will not assert spy charges against reporters during leak investigations except in special circumstances. The statement by Attorney Gen. Eric Holder July 12 reduces the tension between prosecutors and the mainstream media. Meanwhile, a smear campaign against freelance investigative reporter Wayne Madsen raises new questions about the longstanding practice of intelligence agencies in the United States and United Kingdom, as elsewhere, of trying to shape public opinion via news organizations, quasi-academic non-profits, and other outlets that influence civic perceptions. (Part one of a three-part series.)
Justice Integrity Project, The Intelligence Community and the DC Media: A Brief Introduction, Andrew Kreig, July 16, 2013. Reporters face a daunting challenge if they seek to cover the CIA, NSA, and the nation's dozens of other intelligence bodies. Everyone knows the history of the Washington Post's Watergate reporting. Here is another side to government news coverage during that era. The snapshots below illustrate the tight and largely hidden ties between the Post, news outlets like it, and the powerful United States intelligence community. (Part two of a three-part series.)
Justice Integrity Project, Beware of Wikipedia, CNN -- and Many More, Andrew Kreig, July 22, 2013. (Part three of a three-part series.)
Related News Coverage
USA Today, A false Wikipedia 'biography,' John Seigenthaler, Nov. 29, 2005. John Seigenthaler, a retired journalist shown at right in a photo from his younger days via Wikipedia, founded The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. He also is a former editorial page editor at USA TODAY. This is a highly personal story about Internet character assassination. It could be your story. I have no idea whose sick mind conceived the false, malicious "biography" that appeared under my name for 132 days on Wikipedia, the popular, online, free encyclopedia whose authors are unknown and virtually untraceable.
Voices on the Square, US Senate IP Caught Defacing Edward Snowden's Wikipedia Entry, Reader submission, Aug. 3, 2013. Usually the only wiki we associate with Edward Snowden is WikiLeaks. However, in a hilarious turn of events, an IP address linked to the United States Senate was caught defacing Edward Snowden's Wikipedia article last evening. The "less than neutral" edit was to change the lead sentence to this: "Edward Joseph Snowden (born June 21, 1983) is an American traitor who leaked details of several top-secret United States and British government mass surveillance programs to the press." When this was discovered by Wikipedia staffers, it was quickly edited back, but the fact that a United States Senate staffer has the time to deface Wikipedia entries does not bode well for our democracy. Get back to work, Government, and stop spying on us when you should be doing your real jobs.
June 30 London Observer Story Spiked
Observer, Revealed: secret European deals to hand over private data to America, Jamie Dowden, June 29, 2013 (Story withdrawn. Material below and at right from web cache.) Germany 'among countries offering intelligence' according to new claims by former US defense analyst. At least six European Union countries in addition to Britain have been colluding with the US over the mass harvesting of personal communications data, according to a former contractor to America's National Security Agency, who said the public should not be "kept in the dark." Wayne Madsen, a former US navy lieutenant who first worked for the NSA in 1985, names Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain and Italy as having secret deals with the US. Madsen, at left, said the countries had "formal second and third party status" under signal intelligence (sigint) agreements that compels them to hand over data, including mobile phone and internet information to the NSA if requested. Under international intelligence agreements, confirmed by declassified documents, nations are categorized by the US according to their trust level. The US is first party while the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand enjoy second party relationships. Germany and France have third party relationships. In an interview published last night on the PrivacySurgeon.org blog, Madsen, who has been attacked for holding controversial views on espionage issues, said he had decided to speak out after becoming concerned about the "half story" told by EU politicians regarding the extent of the NSA's activities in Europe. He said that under the agreements, which were drawn up after the second world war, the "NSA gets the lion's share" of the sigint "take." In return, the third parties to the NSA agreements received "highly sanitized intelligence."
Editor's Note: The Observer pulled the front-page story above from its website June 30 pending what its brief notice called further investigation. The newspaper's opaque explanation is listed below, as is a letter to the editor from Wayne Madsen that the paper permitted to clarify its explanation:
Observer, For the Record, July 5, 2013. On Saturday night, the Observer published a story in print and online on the Guardian website, headlined "Revealed: secret European deals to hand over private data to America." It dealt with the operational relationship between EU member states and the National Security Agency (NSA), suggesting that the US had signed a series of agreements stretching back decades, which allowed it to harvest surveillance data in a number of European countries, in addition to the UK. The documentary evidence for the story, which was based on a number of sources, was sound, but it was wrong to connect Wayne Madsen with this story in any way. For this reason, the original story was removed from the website, and the Observer splash was replaced. A rewritten version of the story was later published on the website.
Observer, Letter to the Editor by Wayne Madsen, July 6, 2013. Regarding the Observer's correction of 5 July 2013 [see For the Record], in which you said it was wrong to connect [me with] the article "Revealed: Secret deals with Europeans...," I wish to inform your readers that I provided your reporter, on his request after he contacted me, with the two documents on which the article was based.
Update: Wayne Madsen Report, Shilling for NSA "Powered by Twitter," Wayne Madsen, Aug. 6, 2013 (Subscription required). Although Twitter was not one of the Internet service firms that appeared on a list of National Security Agency data surveillance partners in the PRISM meta-data collection operation, it appears to have another major function for NSA: funneling and directing NSA propaganda via Twitter to the Internet. On August 5 on the Sirius XM satellite radio network channel POTUS (Politics of the United State), a mid-afternoon program that is clearly sponsored by Twitter and called "Politics Powered by Twitter), featured Joshua Foust of the overwhelmingly neo-conservative magazine and website, the Atlantic. Foust was defending NSA on the Twitter show against charges that the NSA's surveillance program was unconstitutional and unnecessarily overarching. Foust was asked to name his favorite people he follows regularly on Twitter. Foust named as his first favorite person U.S. Naval War College professor John Schindler. Schindler, for the record, was a ringleader of the social media attacks, primarily using Twitter, that targeted this editor after he was quoted on the front page of the UK Observer newspaper. In addition to this editor ("conspiracy nut") and Snowden ("traitor" and "spy"), Schindler has primarily used Twitter to launch attacks on Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald ("Jim Jones" and "dumber than I thought"), NSA whistleblowers Tom Drake ("unpopular at NSA"), William Binney ("unhinged"), and Russell Tice ("fabulist", "Christie fat," "loon," "flake"), "The Puzzle Palace" and "Shadow Factory" author James Bamford ("doesn't always let facts get in the way of a good story," "facts wrong," "sensationalism"); McClatchy reporter Jonathan Landay (Schindler questioned in a Tweet whether the McClatchy DC bureau knew that Landay "can't read")*, "Secret Power" author Nicky Hager ("fabricator"), "Overworld" author and former U.S. intelligence agent Larry Kolb, and more shocking, Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) ("Ayn Rand follower, dormitory BS"), who co-sponsored legislation that almost passed the U.S. House that would have curbed NSA's surveillance activities.
Schindler is in gross violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits U.S. government civilian and military personnel from engaging in partisan political activities and that includes publicly criticizing members of Congress from a perch at a military-funded campus. Violations of the Hatch Act were once considered a court martial offense in the military. To criticize Judge Andrew Napolitano's criticisms of NSA, Schindler, a college professor mind you, can only offer up "awesome hairdo" as a snarky response. It is also interesting to note that Schindler referred to Roman Catholic French as "papist Frenchies." Why is Schindler allowed to get away with using his U.S. government positions to engage in almost non-stop Twitter activity and partisan bashing of those who disagree with NSA? His operatio/ns are sanctioned. The only person who has the ultimate authority to ensure that Schindler ceases violating the Hatch Act is the newly-installed Naval War College President, Rear Admiral Walter E. “Ted” Carter Jr., right.
Wayne Madsen Report, Exclusive: NSA chief Hayden saw warrantless wiretapping as driving to DC on highway shoulder, Wayne Madsen, July 22, 2013. (Subscription required; excerpted reprinted here by permission). General Michael Hayden, the director of the National Security Agency under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, saw requirements for warrants for the collection of the personal communications of Americans as akin to traffic on the highway that could be bypassed by driving with an emergency light on the shoulder of the road. That interpretation comes from a "For Official use Only" memorandum written by Hayden in the months after the 9/11 attack. WMR has obtained a copy of the undated memorandum. Hayden believed that NSA had an inherent right to eavesdrop on every minute the human species spent of the phone. The memo provides a rare look inside the decision-making processes of the Bush administration. Hayden's push to violate Fourth Amendment was revealed thanks to the actions of NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake, William Binney, Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Russell Tice, and Edward Snowden, as well as Justice Department whistleblower Thomas Tamm, AT&T engineer Mark Klein, and U.S. House Intelligence Committee staffer Diane Roark. In the 1990s, NSA was working on a program code-named THINTHREAD, which would have provided Fourth Amendment privacy protections for the communications of U.S. persons. However, in the weeks after 9/11, Hayden's zeal to collect every conceivable type of communication resulted in the award of project TRAILBLAZER to his friends at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). (Hayden moved from leadership of NSA to running the CIA before assuming high-ranking posts in private sector advancing the interests of contractors.)
WMR, UK D-Notice resulted in web attack on WMR editor, Wayne Madsen, July 15, 2013. (Subscription required.) British intelligence sources have informed WMR that a British Defense Ministry "D-Notice" issued on June 7 to British media organizations, including the Guardian and the Observer, both owned by the same company, served as a pretext to conduct the smear attack on WMR's editor on both sides of the Atlantic. A confidential D-Notice was issued to the media organizations as a "DA-Notice 03," which was issued pursuant to media reports on "ciphers and secure communications" operations of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain's National Security Agency partner. The DA-3 Notice was authorized by Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, who has responsibility for GCHQ and Britain's MI-6 foreign intelligence service.
Wayne Madsen Report, Libel bloggers rally again after attacking Dan Rather and Helen Thomas, Wayne Madsen, July 5, 2013. (Subscription required.) Fortunately, WMR has no corporate board of directors and management staff. Otherwise, like former CBS News anchorman Dan Rather and Hearst newspapers columnist Helen Thomas, this editor would be shown the door. Rather and Thomas, two experienced journalists, were unable to survive the incessant Internet barrage launched by a small group of dedicated social media and web bloggers who do not fall into the category of either "liberal" or "conservative." Instead, these individuals are known as "libel bloggers," since their stock in trade is spreading libelous and defamatory information on their "targets of the day" to as many websites as possible. These "libel bloggers" also seek to silence any news carried by the so-called "mainstream media" that falls outside the prescribed pabulum that passes for news that is pre-selected for airing and publication in a few newsrooms in New York, Washington, and London.
Wayne Madsen Report, NSA's joint operations with European nations, Wayne Madsen, Updated to July 2, 2013. The Observer of the UK interviewed the editor on the National Security Agency's Second, Third, and Fourth Party agreements with other intelligence services that pointed out that German and French protestations about the NSA and British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) jointly tapping the transatlantic cable in Cornwall not withstanding, the NSA also cooperates with Berlin and Paris in collecting private information on European citizens. On June 29, after The Guardian ran the story prior to The Observer running it on its web site and featuring it as a splash in its June 30 print edition, the story was pulled by The Guardian and The Observer. The second print edition of The Observer also deleted the story but not before the first print run reached London area news agents, as well as those in other British and European cities.
WMR, Firing back, Wayne Madsen, July 1, 2013. (Subscription required.) After a very stormy weekend, this should be perfectly clear to those who would practice amateur psychiatry while, at the same time, purporting to be "journalists." I do not suffer fools easily. I'll start with the events that led up to the Observer of Britain and its sister paper, the Guardian, dropping the story on my not-so-new revelations concerning the National Security Agency's use of "Third Parties" like Germany and France, now up in arms about NSA-British GCHQ spying on their citizens, to conduct mass eavesdropping on satellite and undersea cable communications. The Observer, which ran a front page story in its Sunday June 30 edition featuring yours truly's picture on the front page, was responding to my interview with Simon Davies, the former director general of Privacy International and now the editor of The Privacy Surgeon.
Madsen Report, SPECIAL REPORT. NSA's meta-data email surveillance program exposed, Wayne Madsen, Feb. 4, 2009. (Subscription required.) WMR has learned details of one of the most important components of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program code named "STELLAR WIND."
Huffington Post,Tina Brown Splits From Daily Beast, Forms 'Tina Brown Live Media' Katherine Fung and Jack Mirkinson, Sept. 11, 2013. Tina Brown is leaving the Daily Beast and forming a new company called "Tina Brown Live Media," she announced Wednesday. BuzzFeed was the first to report the news that Brown was parting ways with IAC, the Barry Diller-owned parent company of the Beast. The site's Peter Lauria wrote that Diller had decided not to renew Brown's contract, which expires in January.
XXTwitterWarCommittee, Open letter to Profs. Schindler and Nichols from USSA’s желтый дом, Anonymous, Aug. 5, 2013. Prof. Schindler has smeared NSA whistleblowers who did not flee to Russia, like William Binney and Russ Tice, as ‘fabulists’ and ‘liars’. However, Schindler has provided no evidence to contradict Tice’s claims that Tice personally witnessed the NSA spying on then obscure Illinois State Senator Barack Hussein Obama in 2004, nor future Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. When confronted on this point, Schindler whines that he’s being asked to ‘prove a negative’. THE piece of evidence that the Professors and their Twitter followers have gnashed their fangs at, like vampires greeted with a Cross [is]: the sworn testimony of licensed Pennsylvania private investigator Douglas J. Hagmann that he personally experienced the NSA’s Utah Data Center presenting itself on his caller ID in late May 2013. Some of Mr. Hagmann’s ‘conspiracy theories’ have proven to be conspiracy facts. Mr. Hagmann was one of the rare individuals to publically state in the weeks after the 09/11/12 Benghazi assault that it was triggered by CIA arms trafficking to Syrian rebels, a Rand Paul ‘conspiracy theory’ now confirmed by the UK Daily Telegraph and CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Gawker, Did the CIA Just Run an Intel Operation on the Daily Beast? J.K. Trotter, Aug. 8, 2013. Middle East Embassy Shutdown Extended Over "Credible Threat." Today the Daily Beast reported that an intercepted conference call between “more than 20 al Qaeda operatives” led nearly two dozen U.S. embassies scattered across Southwest Asia and North Africa to shut down over the weekend, a precautionary measure that American officials later extended through August 10. Based on testimony from three unnamed U.S. officials, reporters Eli Lake and Josh Rogin say al Qaeda lieutenants in Nigeria, Uzbekistan, Egypt and Islamic Maghreb discussed vague plans of attack with al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri and the terrorist group’s Yemeni leader, Nasser al-Wuhayshi. One of the unnamed officers compared the call to a meeting of the "Legion of Doom."
Business Insider, The Guardian Revealed An NSA 'Scoop' Then Deleted It From The Website, Paul Szoldra, June 29, 2013, 8:51 PM. Before joining Business Insider in January 2013, Paul was an infantry squad leader and instructor in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving in such places as Afghanistan, Korea, Japan, and Thailand (among others). He has a B.S. in Entrepreneurship from the University of Tampa and is pursuing an M.A. in Digital Journalism from the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He's currently the Front Page Editor. Backgrounder: New Yorker, Can a disgraced Wall Street analyst earn trust as a journalist? Ken Auletta, April 8, 2013. The newsroom of Business Insider occupies the thirteenth floor of 257 Park Avenue South, overlooking the sidewalks and snail-mail concerns of Twenty-first Street. Rows of pressed-wood IKEA desks are lined up under a vast ceiling, and several dozen writers and editors tap away at keyboards and gaze at twenty-three-inch screens. The loudest noise often comes from Henry Blodget, the editor-in-chief, who occupies the first seat in the sixth row from the entrance. He sits with his back to a white concrete pillar, facing his reporters and editors, wearing a white shirt, a tie, and a charcoal business suit. When he talks, his arms swing and his voice rises, conveying the enthusiasm of an evangelist.
Telegraph, Guardian/Observer pulls front-page NSA story after source turns out to be a fruitloop, Damian Thompson, June 30, 2013. The Guardian/Observer website has just pulled an exclusive front-page report about "secret European deals to hand over private data to America" – prompting cries of "Wow! MASSIVE FAIL by The Guardian" on Twitter. Why was the story pulled after publication? Because its highly unreliable source is Wayne Madsen, an unusual gentleman who (the Guardian/Observer now realizes too late) has in the past jumped on the Birther bandwagon – and also suggested that Barack Obama is gay (which he isn't).
Daily Beast / Newsweek, NSA Nutjob: Anatomy of a Fake ‘Observer’ Story, Michael Moynihan, July 1, 2013. Not only did The Guardian’s sister publication base a cover story—later pulled—on a single paranoid conspiracist, the reporter failed even to speak with him. But the story’s still percolating online, says Michael Moynihan. For those desiccated journalists old enough to remember, the scandal-plagued presidency of Bill Clinton was the golden age of enterprising conspiracists, imaginative cranks, and swivel-eyed charlatans. Back then, before the Internet allowed for the easy dissemination, repetition, and debunking of sinister nonsense, a certain amount of skill was required to spread conspiracy theories. For Clinton’s tormentors, the most reliable route for dodgy information was the sympathetic foreign reporter. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the Washington correspondent for Britain’s august, right-leaning broadsheet The Daily Telegraph, dutifully “raised questions” about the suicide of former White House staffer Vince Foster and the president’s supposed involvement in a cocaine-smuggling ring. The stories were then laundered back into the mainstream American news media (”According to a report in London’s Daily Telegraph...”).
Poynter Institute, Observer pulls story about NSA deal based on Wayne Madsen conspiracy theory, Joshua Gillin, July 1, 2013. The U.K.’s Observer raised eyebrows Sunday for publishing a story alleging the United States had been working with European Union countries and Britain to collect personal communications data, based solely on the allegations of conspiracy theorist Wayne Madsen. The paper later pulled the story from its website, but not until after it ran in print — and The Daily Beast’s Michael Moynihan noticed the paper’s Jamie Doward hadn’t even interviewed Madsen.
CNN Reliable Sources, Reporters Under Fire, John Avlon, Host, Transcripts, July 7, 2013. Ahead on Reliable Sources, Britain's "Observer" publishes an alleged scoop about the NSA that went viral before it had to be retracted. So, here's the question, why did the paper base its report on single unreliable source?
Huffington Post, Newsweek Sold To IBT Media, Publishers Of International Business Times, Wires, Aug. 3, 2013. A deal is in place for Newsweek magazine to be sold to IBT Media. IBT Media, the publishers of the International Business Times, stated in a press release that the Newsweek brand and operations of the online publication will be acquired from IAC, but this will not include The Daily Beast. In the next few weeks, Newsweek will return to the URL http://www.newsweek.com. According to The Daily Beast, the sale closing will take place in the next week with a transition period of up to 60 days. IBT Media's chief content officer Jonathan Davis stated, "The Newsweek brand is strong around the world and we believe there is significant potential to leverage that as well as enhance the editorial offering and continue to modernize the operations and approach." Capital New York posted a memo that was reportedly sent to Daily Beast and Newsweek employees. The memo from Rhonda Murphy, Interim CEO of Newsweek Daily Beast Company, read, "IBT will be talking to staff during this time about potential job opportunities at the new venture and as we learn more about this process we will of course inform you and the Guild... We believe IBT will serve as an excellent new home in which Newsweek has the opportunity to thrive."
Wide Asleep in America, The Daily Beast Takes the Bait on Anti-Iran Propaganda, May 1, 2013. Over at The Daily Beast's Cheat Sheet, which serves as a news aggregator, a post went up today with the eye-catching headline: "Iranian President Ahmadinejad Arrested." The blurb accompanying the post claims:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was arrested Monday while on a visit to a book fair in Tehran, where he was held for seven hours and questioned by the Revolutionary Guards' intelligence unit. According to a source within the guards' unit, Ahmadinejad was intercepted while on his way to a meeting at the supreme leader’s office. His security team was stripped of communication devices and Ahmadinejad was questioned about documents that may be detrimental to the regime. He was warned, essentially, to keep his mouth shut about all matters that could harm the regime going into the upcoming presidential election.
How positively scandalous! The infamous Iranian bogeyman, along with his entourage, accosted, interrogated, threatened and silenced by the very security forces the hysterical Western media and political pundits would have you believe he himself commands and wields with an iron fist! At the bottom of its short post, the Beast sources the information to The Guardian and links to the original article. But following the link, something doesn't feel right. Or look right. Because it isn't right. The link leads to a site called "The Guardian Express" at the URL guardianlv.com. 'Hey, what's the "lv" stand for?,' one might ask if one cared about such things as accuracy. It stands for "Las Vegas," because the website is actually a local community news forum in Nevada, not the prestigious British news outlet. The article found on "The Guardian Express" site -- posted by a forum member who goes by the moniker "randy77" -- is a nearly completely plagiarized story stolen from the latest piece of nonsense published Tuesday by the pseudonymous neocon darling "Reza Kahlili," a serial liar and propagandist beloved by the Bomb Iran crowd who wears a surgical mask in public for absolutely no reason.
Attacks on Other Journalists
Washington Post, U.S. reveals court decision to renew surveillance program, Joby Warrick, July 19, 2013. In a rare statement, officials acknowledge extension of the NSA program collecting cellphone data.
Washington Post, Federal appeals court: Journalists can't decline to testify in criminal trials, Matt Zapotosky and Justin Jouvenal, July 19, 2013. Court of Appeals says New York Times reporter James Risen can be forced to reveal source of book. A New York Times reporter whose book is at the center of a criminal leak case against a former CIA officer accused of being one of his sources cannot invoke a reporter’s privilege and refuse to testify at the officer’s trial, a federal appeals court ruled Friday. In a divided decision that will probably rile journalists across the country, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled that reporter James Risen can be forced to testify at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with 10 felony counts in a federal leak case. The majority of judges ruled, effectively, that neither the First Amendment nor common law offers protection to journalists who promise anonymity to their sources from having to testify about them in criminal proceedings.
Background: Justice Integrity Project, Press Probes 'Obama's War On Leaks,' Andrew Kreig, May 2, 2012. The nation’s two leading press clubs convened experts on national security May 1 in Washington for a gripping, historically important assessment of the Obama administration’s shocking prosecutions of government news sources. The administration took office on promises to protect whistle-blowers. But it has since repeatedly cracked down on leakers, citing the Espionage Act in six recent cases as a basis for criminal prosecution. New York Times reporter James Risen, who has broken some of the most important national security stories of the decade, was one of the panelists at the National Press Club, which organized the forum at its headquarters in cooperation with the New York-based Overseas Press Club. Risen has undergone years of financially damaging federal investigation and potential imprisonment for refusing to reveal his government sources. See also, Justice Integrity Project, DC News Workshop Preserves Lost Era of Press That Protected Public, Andrew Kreig, April 26, 2012. American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop this week premiered an impressive documentary illustrating observations about journalism by 26 of the most distinguished American reporters and editors of the past half century.
Defending Wayne Madsen
Craig Murray.org, All Law is Gone: Naked Power Remains, Craig Murray, July 3, 2013. Craig Murray, right, is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He was British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010. The forcing down of the Bolivian President’s jet was a clear breach of the Vienna Convention by Spain and Portugal, which closed their airspace to this Head of State while on a diplomatic mission. It has never been thought necessary to write down in a Treaty that Heads of State enjoy diplomatic immunity while engaged in diplomacy, as their representatives only enjoy diplomatic immunity as cyphers for their Head of State. But it is a hitherto unchallenged precept of customary international law, indeed arguably the oldest provision of international law. To the US and its allies, international law is no longer of any consequence. I can see no evidence that anyone in an official position has even noted the illegality of repeated Israeli air and missile strikes against Syria. Snowden, Manning and Assange all exposed illegality on a massive scale, and no action whatsoever has been taken against any of the criminals they exposed. Instead they are being hounded out of all meaningful life and ability to function in society.
Privacy Surgeon, The withdrawal of an NSA story – and an ethical quagmire for the Observer, Simon Davies, July 8, 2013. There are many inspiring stories of heroic actions by journalists and editors – tenacious tales from the front-line in pursuit of truth. Unfortunately for one British Sunday newspaper – the Observer – inclusion in that noble circle may have to wait until the paper conducts a deep dive into its principles. Circumstances surrounding the hasty removal of a story have raised some uncomfortable questions about the Observer‘s editorial processes and its ethical compass. Over the past few days circumstances surrounding the paper’s hasty removal of a front page story on NSA spying within Europe have raised some uncomfortable questions about the Observer’s editorial processes and its ethical compass (the Observer is the sister publication of the Guardian newspaper). It seems that at the heart of the paper’s decision to expunge this story was a torrent of condemnation from the hard-core US Liberal media over the credibility of a former NSA contractor, Wayne Madsen, who had featured in the article. By way of background, Madsen has never been on friendly terms with the Liberal media, and the two have been like acid and water for the past ten years. A mini Twitter-storm in the two hours following publication persuaded the Observer to withdraw the story. A barrage of subsequent hostile reviews persuaded the paper to keep it withdrawn.
Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues
FireDoglake, President Carter Supports Snowden, Says America Does Not Have A Functioning Democracy, DSWright, July 19, 2013. Former President Jimmy Carter, in an interview with Der Spiegel, said he supported whistleblower Edward Snowden and that the NSA’s domestic spying program was against American values. Carter went on to say he does not believe that America currently has a functioning democracy. Carter, shown at left in a file photo, spoke at a closed-door event in Atlanta covered by German newspaper Der Spiegel. Carter also criticized the NSA’s domestic spying as damaging to the core of the nation’s principles. “America does not have a functioning democracy at this point in time,” Carter said, according to a translation by Inquisitr. A pretty amazing statement for a former president to make. Not to mention Carter has been working on human rights and election monitoring since leaving office. So he has a fair amount of expertise on the subject of functional and dysfunctional democracies. Though this seems to be the first time Carter has claimed America is not a functioning democracy, it is not the first time he has expressed support for Snowden’s whistleblowing. See also: Salon, Jimmy Carter: US “has no functioning democracy,” Alberto Riva, July 18, 2013. The former president weighs in on NSA and the future of Internet platforms like Google and Facebook.
New York Times, Math Behind the Leak Crackdown: 153 Cases, 4 Years , 0 Indictments, Sharon LaFraniere, July 21, 2013. Dennie Blair, former Director of National Intelligence, requested early in the Obama administration a tally of government leakers who had been prosecuted. In the previous four years, the record showed, 153 cases had been referred to the Justice Department. Not one had led to an indictment. That scorecard “was pretty shocking to all of us,” Mr. Blair said. So in a series of phone calls and meetings, he and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. fashioned a more aggressive strategy to punish anyone who leaked national security information that endangered intelligence-gathering methods and sources. “My background is in the Navy, and it is good to hang an admiral once in a while as an example to the others,” said Mr. Blair, who left the administration in 2010. “We were hoping to get somebody and make people realize that there are consequences to this and it needed to stop.”
FireDogLake, Obama’s Hawkish Policy on Leaks Was Adopted to Make an Example Out of Someone, Kevin Gosztola, July 21, 2013. President Barack Obama’s administration has developed a reputation for aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers or individuals responsible for national security leaks. Such a comment from Blair [as in the New York Times article] is significant because critics of Obama’s policy on leaks (including this writer) have suggested the policy on leaks was about making an example out of someone in order to send a message to others in government not to leak or think about blowing the whistle on national security policies or programs. This comment would seem to validate that suggestion. Furthermore, one notices that the “aggressive strategy to punish anyone who leaked national security information” does not seem to have been put together with any interest in whether it was the intent of individuals to “endanger intelligence-gathering methods and sources.” The unauthorized disclosures themselves would be enough to prove that an act had taken place that needed to be punished to the greatest extent possible and create a climate simi lar to what might result if the nation actually had an Official Secrets Act that purely criminalized unauthorized disclosures by security or intelligence employees regardless of intentThe policy adopted by the administration was influenced by former director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair, who requested a “tally of the number of government officials or employees who had been prosecuted for leaking national security secrets,” according to the New York Times.
New York Times, Helen Thomas, Barrier-Busting White House Reporter, Is Dead at 92, David Stout, July 20, 2013. Ms. Thomas covered every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama, but her career ended ignominiously over remarks she made about Israeli Jews. Helen Thomas, whose keen curiosity, unquenchable drive and celebrated constancy made her a trailblazing White House correspondent in a press corps dominated by men and later the dean of the White House briefing room, died Saturday at home in Washington. She was 92. Ms. Thomas, shown at right in a White House photo in 2009, was a past president of that organization. Ms. Thomas covered every president from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama for United Press International and, later, Hearst Newspapers. To her colleagues, she was the unofficial but undisputed head of the press corps — her status ratified by the signature line she uttered at the end of every White House news conference, “Thank you, Mr. President.” Her blunt questions and sharp tone made her a familiar personality not only in the parochial world inside the Washington Beltway but also to nationwide television audiences. At his first news conference in February 2009, Mr. Obama called on her, saying: “Helen, I’m excited. This is my inaugural moment.” But 16 months later, Ms. Thomas abruptly announced her retirement from Hearst amid an uproar over her assertion that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back where they belonged, perhaps Germany or Poland. Her remarks, made almost offhandedly days earlier at a White House event, set off a storm when a videotape was posted. In her retirement announcement, Ms. Thomas, whose parents immigrated to the United States from what is now Lebanon, said that she deeply regretted her remarks and that they did not reflect her “heartfelt belief” that peace would come to the Middle East only when all parties embraced “mutual respect and tolerance.” “May that day come soon,” she said.
Above the Law, Prominent Conservative Commentator’s Attorney Disbarred, Joe Patrice, July 18, 2013. A while back, someone wrote a book accusing a prominent former Karl Rove aide and conservative commentator of being a scheming, intellectually dishonest, shell of a person with nothing more to commend her than her beauty queen good looks. Once you recover from the shock, the wrinkle in this kerfuffle is that the book was written by her long-time friend and attorney, and draws upon what he learned over his years of representing the woman in various legal scrapes from divorce to criminal activity. If you think writing a book divulging the confidences of a former client sounds suspect, well the Indiana Supreme Court agrees with you…Dee Dee Benkie served in the Bush White House as a Special Assistant to Karl Rove and as Co-Chair of the RNC Finance Committee. Previously, she served as Chair of the National Young Republicans, the proving ground for conservative operatives. She appears regularly on TV saying stuff like “Obama is so Un-American,” and alleging that voter fraud is rampant when her own administration investigated and debunked the claim. That sort of charming stuff.
War Is A Crime, Bradley Manning Wins Peace Prize, David Swanson, July 18, 2013. U.S. whistleblower and international hero Bradley Manning, right, has just been awarded the 2013 Sean MacBride Peace Award by the International Peace Bureau, itself a former recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, for which Manning is a nominee this year. A petition supporting Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize has gathered 88,000 signatures, many of them with comments, and is aiming for 100,000 before delivering it to the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo. Anyone can sign and add their comments at ManningNobel.org. The International Peace Bureau (IPB) represents 320 organizations in 70 nations.
Federal Judge Henry Wingate Doesn't Make An Effort To Apply The Law Correctly In Paul Minor Civil Case, Roger Paul Minor, one of the most successful plaintiffs' lawyers in Mississippi history, has been released from prison on his Bush-era conviction for "crimes" that do not exist under actual law. Minor's legal problems, however, are far from over. With U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate still in charge of his fate, things could go from bad to worse for Paul Minor. How could Wingate, a black Republican who apparently qualifies as Mississippi's version of Clarence Thomas, still be in charge of Minor's fate? After all, Wingate presided over multiple criminal trials in the Minor matter; how could he possibly serve as an impartial arbiter in a related civil matter? The answer is, "He can't, but he's doing it anyway--in what's left of our so-called U.S. justice system." As part of the fallout from the criminal case, insurance giant USF&G sued Minor and his one-time client, Peoples Bank of Biloxi, Mississippi. The basic claim is that Minor and the bank benefited from actions that were found to be unlawful. The civil case was filed in 2003, but it was put on hold pending the criminal matter. When Minor was released from prison earlier this year, the civil case kicked into high gear.
Daily Censored, Obama’s 20/20 plan for higher education: using accrediting agencies to destroy community colleges and the case of City College of San Francisco, Danny Weil, July 19, 2013. In part four of the series entitled “Obama’s 20/20 plan for higher education: chump change you cannot believe in,” we examine just how Obama and the mavens of privatization, Lumina and friends, use accrediting agencies that work to allow what were once called community colleges to live or die. This is another deceptive method Lumina is using to foster its radical social Darwinian project of dismantling public education. Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges are converted into hit squads