Adonis Diaries

Archive for June 11th, 2012

News Leaks? Or Spoonfed official news?

Did we learn nothing from the Judith Miller’s WMD reporting debacle during the Iraq invasion?  Is Obama using the major US news media as official mouthpieces?

Glenn Greenwald published this article in the Guardian on Friday 8 June 2012 under “Spoonfed national security scoops based on anonymous official leaks – did we learn nothing?” (with slight editing). This article is in response to

“Over the past several weeks in the US, there has been a series of high-profile media scoops exposing numerous details about President Obama’s covert foreign policy and counterterrorism actions, stories appearing primarily in The New York Times.
Americans, for the first time, have been told about:
1.  Obama’s personal role in compiling a secret “kill list”, which determines who will be targeted for death in Pakistan and Yemen;

Each of these stories revealed information clearly in the public interest and sparked important debates.

The way in which they were reported – specifically, their overwhelming reliance on Obama’s own usually anonymous aides – raise longstanding and still troubling questions about the relationship between the establishment American media and the government over which it is supposed to serve as adversarial watchdog.

The Obama White House’s extreme fixation on secrecy is shaped by a bizarre paradox:

1. The current administration has prosecuted double the number of whistleblowers – government employees who leak classified information showing high-level official wrongdoing – than all previous administrations combined

Obama officials have also, as ACLU lawyers documented this week in the Guardian, resisted with unprecedented vigor any attempts to subject their conduct to judicial review or any form of public disclosure, by insisting to courts that these programs are so secretive that the US government cannot even confirm or deny their existence without damaging US national security.

2. At the very same time that they invoke broad secrecy claims to shield their conduct from outside scrutiny, it is Obama officials themselves who have continuously and quite selectively leaked information about these same programs to the US media.

Indeed, the high publicity-value New York Times scoops of the past two weeks about covert national security programs have come substantially from Obama aides themselves.

The Times’ “kill list” article was based on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers [who] described Mr Obama’s” central role in choosing whom the CIA will kill.

The paper’s scoop that Obama ordered cyber-attacks on Iran cited, among others, “American officials”, including “a senior administration official” who proudly touted the president’s hands-on role in all measures used to cripple Tehran’s nuclear research.

Meanwhile, the same White House that insists in court that it cannot confirm the existence of the CIA’s drone program spent this week anonymously boasting to US news outlets of the president’s latest drone kill in Pakistan.

And government emails ordered disclosed by a federal court last month revealed that, at the same time as they were refusing to disclose information about the Bin Laden raid on the grounds that it is classified, the Obama administration was secretly meeting with, and shuffling sensitive information to, Hollywood filmmakers, who are producing what is certain to be a stirring and reverent film about that raid, originally scheduled to be released just weeks before the November presidential election.

The tactic driving all of this is as obvious as it is disturbing.

Each of these election year leaks depicts Obama as a tough, hands-on, unflinching commander-in-chief: ruthlessly slaying America’s enemies and keeping us all safe.

The official leaks simultaneously portray Obama as a deep moral and intellectual leader, profoundly grappling with the “writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas”, as he decides in secret who will live and die and which countries will be targeted with American aggression.

In sum, these anonymous leaks are classic political propaganda: devoted to glorifying the leader and his policies for political gain.

Because the programs are shrouded in official secrecy, it is impossible for journalists to verify these selective disclosures.

By design, the only means the public has to learn anything about what the president is doing is the partial, selective disclosures by Obama’s own aides – those who work for him and are devoted to his political triumph.

That process is a recipe for government deceit and propaganda.

This was precisely the dynamic that, in the run-up to the attack on Iraq, co-opted America’s largest media outlets as mindless purveyors of false government claims.

The defining journalistic sin of Judith Miller, the New York Times’ disgraced WMD reporter, was that she masqueraded the unverified assertions of anonymous Bush officials as reported fact. 

As the Times’ editors put it in their 2004 mea culpa, assertions from anonymous sources were “insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged”.

These recent Times scoops about Obama’s policies do not sink to the level of the Judy Miller debacle:

1. For one thing, they contain some impressive reporting and even disturbing revelations about the conduct of Obama officials – most notably, that they manipulate casualty figures and hide civilian deaths from their drone attacks by “counting all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants“.

2. For another, they include some internal criticism of Obama’s practices, such as the indiscriminate nature of his “signature” drone strikes (when they see “three guys doing jumping jacks”, the CIA concludes it’s a terrorist training camp), and the deceit inherent in his radically broad definition of “militant”.

(One “official” is quoted as follows: “It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants. They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”)

3. These disclosures have real journalistic import. It’s indisputably valuable for American citizens to know that their government convenes secret “kill list” meetings, and that it is launching cyber-attacks on Iran, attacks which the Pentagon considers (at least, when done to the US) to be an “act of war”.

Despite those real differences with the Judy Miller travesty, the basic template is the same:

1.  These reporters rely overwhelmingly on government sources.

2. Their reporting is shaped almost exclusively by the claims of underlings who are loyal to the president.

3. The journalists have no means of verifying the assertions they are passing on as fact.

4. And worst of all, they grant anonymity to Obama’s aides who are doing little more than doing the president’s bidding and promoting his political interests.

It is pure “access journalism“: these reporters are given scoops in exchange for their entirely unjustified promise to allow government officials to “propagandize” the citizenry without accountability (that is, from behind the protective shield of anonymity).

By necessity, their journalistic storytelling is shaped by the perspective of these official sources.

And the journalistic product is predictably one that serves the president’s political agenda.

 Obama’s 2008 opponent, Republican Senator John McCain, complained, quite reasonably, that the intent of these recent leaks was to “enhance President Obama’s image as a tough guy for the elections”.

Worse, as the Columbia Journalism Review and the media watchdog group FAIR both documented, these stories simply omitted any discussion of many of the most controversial aspects of Obama’s policies, including the risks and possible illegality of cyber-attacks on Iran and drone strikes in Yemen, the number of civilian deaths caused by Obama’s drone strikes, and the way those drone attacks have strengthened al-Qaida by increasing anti-American hatred.

Perhaps the most pernicious effect of this type of journalism is that it converts journalists into dutiful messengers of official decrees.

Reporters are trained that they will be selected as scoop-receivers only if they demonstrate fealty to the agenda of official sources.

In February, the Times’ Scott Shane controversially granted anonymity to a “senior” Obama official to smear as al-Qaida sympathizers the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, after the BIJ documented the significant under-counting by Obama officials of civilian deaths from drone strikes as well as the Obama administration’s horrifying and possibly criminal practice of targeting rescuers and funerals with drone attacks.

It was Shane, along with Jo Becker, who was then provided with the scoop about Obama’s “kill list”.

Similarly, the Times’ David Sanger has long been criticized for uncritical dissemination of misleading US government claims about the threat from Iran, almost always passed on with the shield of anonymity.

It was unsurprising that it was Sanger who was rewarded with the valuable scoop about Obama’s ordering of cyber-attacks on Iran (a scoop he is using to sell his new book), and equally unsurprising that the article he produced was so flattering of Obama’s role in this operation.

By revealing contrast, consider the treatment meted out to the Times’ James Risen, who has produced scoops that are embarrassing to, rather than glorifying of, the US government.

It was Risen who exposed the Bush administration’s illegal NSA eavesdropping program in 2006, and he also exposed a highly inept and harmful CIA attempt to infiltrate Iran’s nuclear program.

As a result, the Obama justice department has relentlessly pursued Risen in court, serving him with subpoenas in an attempt to compel him to reveal his source for the Iran infiltration story, a process that could send him to prison if, as is likely, he refuses. 

Note: New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified before the Senate judiciary committee, in 2005. In 2004, the New York Times issued a mea culpa about Miller’s use of Bush administration anonymous briefing on WMD intelligence before the Iraq war.

Drone “Kill List”: When to be reviewed and revised?

U.S. President Barack Obama used to be criticized for being too liberal. The past week witnessed a flurry of news reports targeting the credibility of Obama: Reports revealing he personally oversees a “kill list” for drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen.

Daniel Klaidman, Newsweek editor, published “Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency“

Many Washington insiders are quoting for this book.

The New York Times and Newsweek exposed Obama:

1. How Obama,came to the White House with no military background and negligible national-security experience,

2. Is now overseeing the counterterrorism meeting of two dozen security officials where the targets for drone attacks are decided every Tuesday.

3. How the president has presided over a massive secret surveillance of U.S. citizens by the National Security Agency.

The book is based on interviews with named and anonymous sources within the Obama administration.

AL ARABIYA published:

“University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora told the Guardian that one problem with the so-called “kill list” is that U.S. policy has not firmly defined how people get on it.

Guiora said: “If Bush did what Obama is doing, then the journalists would have been all over it.”

In fact, the media reports from last week revealed that the Obama administration defines a militant as “any military-age male in the strike zone during a drone attack unless there is specific information posthumously proving them innocent…”

The logic is, people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with an al-Qaeda operative is probably up to no good.

Obama, who came to office with a pledge to break from the Bush-era, seems to be building on his predecessor’s national security platform.

He has made more government documents classified that any of his predecessors.

He has maintained CIA rendition flights and launched a crackdown on whistleblowers.

He has failed in meeting his promise of shutting down the controversial Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba.

The scope of Obama’s national security policy has shocked even keen Bush supporters and members of the Washington DC establishment.

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East policy adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations, delivered a damning verdict in a recent issue of Foreign Policy magazine, writing that “Barack Obama has become Georges W. Bush on steroids.

James Badford told the Guardian: “Obama did not reverse what Bush did, he went beyond it. Obama is just able to wrap it up in a better looking package. He is more liberal, more eloquent. He does not look like a cowboy…” 

One example is a $2 billion heavily fortified building being constructed in the mountain deserts of Utah. Once the Utah Data Center is complete, it will be five times the size of the U.S. capital and house gigantic servers that will store vast amounts of data from ordinary Americans that will be sifted for traces of intelligence. It will cover everything from phone calls to emails to credit card receipts.

Obama added a clause to the National Defense Authorization Act that had such an ambiguous definition of support of terrorism that activists and journalist decoded to go to court claiming it threaded them with indefinite detentions for things like interviewing members of the Hamas-rulers of Gaza.

However it has been the drone attacks and the “kill list” that have emerged as the most hardline element to Obama’s national security policy.

In January 2009 when he came to power, the program only existed for Pakistan which has seen 44 attacks over five years. The attacks have since been expanded to Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia with over 250 strikes.

Deliberations on targets even turned to legal justification when it included the deliberate killing of a U.S. citizen , al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki that was killed in Yemen last year. His 16 year-old son Abdul-Rahman was accidentally killed in the same attack.

It is impossible to determine with any certainty how many civilians have been killed in drone attacks due to the “covert” nature of the operations, lack of timely access to remote areas and the integral biases of the U.S. government, targeted terrorist organizations, and host governments.

Estimates by non-governmental experts vary widely. In 2009, Pakistani terrorism researcher Amir Mid said civilian deaths accounted for over 98 percent of deaths from drone attacks in Pakistan, while Georgetown University Professor Christine Fair, stated “actually drones are not killing innocent civilians.”

In April 2012, White House Senior Counterterrorism Adviser John Brennan vaguely stated: “Unfortunately, in war, there are casualties, including amok the civilian population. Sometimes you gave to take life to save lives.”

In response to the Newsweek and New York Times reporting last week, the White House spokesperson said, “I am not going to get into the specifics of the process [and] I don’t have the assessments of civilian casualties…we make great efforts to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.”

That same day, the Pentagon spokesperson told reporters, “Specifics I can’t get into … I can assure you that the number of civilian casualties is very, very low [and] we’re very confident that the number is very low.”

Read the response by Glenn Greenwald on these official leaks

Note: For detailed accounts

Women in Egypt’s Tahrir and “Revolution” Square: Assaulted again
 SARAH EL wrote in CAIRO (AP) “Alarming assaults on women in Egypt’s Tahrir late Tuesday 

“The screams of the woman were not drowned out by the clamor of the crazed mob of nearly 200 men around her. An endless number of hands reached toward the woman in the red shirt in an assault scene that lasted less than 15 minutes but felt more like an hour.

She was pushed by the sea of men for about a block into a side street from Tahrir Square. Many of the men were trying to break up the frenzy, but it was impossible to tell who was helping and who was assaulting.

Pushed against the wall, the unknown woman’s head finally disappeared. Her screams grew fainter, then stopped.

Her slender tall frame had clearly given way. She apparently had passed out.

The helping hands finally splashed the attackers with bottles of water to chase them away.

The assault late Tuesday was witnessed by an Associated Press reporter who was almost overwhelmed by the crowd herself and had to be pulled to safety by men who ferried her out of the melee in an open Jeep.

Reports of assaults on women in Tahrir, the epicenter of the uprising that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down last year, have been on the rise with a new round of mass protests to denounce a mixed verdict against the ousted leader and his sons in a trial last week.

The late Tuesday assault was the last straw for many. Protesters and activists met Wednesday to organize a campaign to prevent sexual harassment in the square.

They recognize it is part of a bigger social problem that has largely gone unpunished in Egypt.

The phenomenon is trampling on their dream of creating in Tahrir a micro-model of a State that respects civil liberties and civic responsibility, which they had hoped would emerge after Mubarak’s ouster.

“Enough is enough,” said Abdel-Fatah Mahmoud, a 22-year-old engineering student, who met Wednesday with friends to organize patrols of the square in an effort to deter attacks against women.

Abdel-Fatah Mahmoud went on: “It has gone overboard. No matter what is behind this, it is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be happening on our streets let alone Tahrir.”

No official numbers exist for attacks on women in the square because police do not go near the area, and women rarely report such incidents.

Activists and protesters have reported a number of particularly violent assaults on women in the past week. Many suspect such assaults are organized by opponents of the protests to weaken the spirit of the protesters and drive people away.

Mahmoud said two of his female friends were cornered Monday and pushed into a small passageway by a group of men in the same area where the woman in the red shirt was assaulted. One was groped while the other was seriously assaulted, Mahmoud said, refusing to divulge specifics other than to insist she wasn’t raped.

Mona Seif, a well-known activist who has been trying to promote awareness about the problem, said Wednesday she was told about three different incidents in the past five days, including two that were violent. In one incident, the attackers ripped the woman’s clothes off and trampled on her companions, she said.

Women, who participated in the 18-day uprising that ended with Mubarak’s Feb. 11, 2011 ouster, are leading activists, protesters, medics and even fighters to ward off attacks by security agents or affiliated thugs on Tahrir, have found themselves facing the same groping and assaults that have long plagued Egypt’s streets during subsequent protests in the square.

Women also have been targeted in recent crackdowns on protesters by military and security troops, a practice commonly used by Mubarak security that grew even more aggressive in the days following his ouster.

In a defining image of the post-Mubarak State violence against women, troops were captured on video stomping with their boots on the bare chest of a woman, with only her blue bra showing, as other troops pulled her by the arms across the ground.

A 2008 report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights says two-thirds of women in Egypt experienced sexual harassment on a daily basis.

A string of mass assaults on women in 2006 during the Muslim feast following the holy month of Ramadan prompted police to increase the number of patrols to combat it but legislation providing punishment was never passed.

Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch researcher, said: “If you know you can get away with sexual harassment and assault, then there is an overall impunity.”

The case is more paradoxical in Tahrir, which has come to symbolize the revolution, but has lost its original luster among Egyptians weary of more than a year of turmoil.

Women say they briefly experienced a “new Egypt,” with strict social customs casually cast aside during the initial 18-day uprising — at least among the protesters who turned the square into a protected zone.

That image was marred when Lara Logan, a U.S. correspondent for CBS television, was sexually assaulted by a frenzied mob in Tahrir on the day Mubarak stepped down, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians came to the square to celebrate.

The post-Mubarak political reality for women also has deteriorated. They have lost political ground in the 16 months since Mubarak’s ouster — even winning fewer seats in parliament in the first free and fair elections in decades.

The 508-member parliament has only 8 female legislators, a sharp drop from the more than 60 in the 2010 parliament thanks to a Mubarak-era quota.

Women’s rights groups also fear the growing power of Islamist groups will lead to new restrictions.

Activists have no idea what finally happened to the woman in the red shirt: They have been alarmed by the rise in violent attacks on women, which has chipped away at efforts to project the square as a utopia free of discrimination and violence.

Seif said there is a responsibility inside the square.

“I think it is getting worse because people don’t want to acknowledge it is happening or do something to reduce it,” said Seif. “It is our job to put an end to it, at least in Tahrir.”




June 2012

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