Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Spoonfed official news

The standoff between Britain and the State of Ecuador, which gave Julian Assange political asylum, in order not be extradited to Sweden has been making headlines around the world.

For the past two months, Julian Assange, the founder of the whistleblower website Wikileaks, has been taking refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The U.K. courts ruled to extradite him to Sweden where he faces possible sexual assault and misconduct charges. 

Anonymous is a loosely affiliated international collective, composed of tech-savvy activists, which originated online on imageboards and forums.

 posted on Aug. 22 under “What/Who is Anonymous?

Photo by Enrique Dans (http://www.flickr.com/photos/edans/)

This story has caught the attention of the public because it is more than just news: it is a drama. Assange is a controversial figure for his role in publishing classified diplomatic cables on Wikileaks (for more about “Cablegate,” see here), but he is not the only one involved in this spectacle.

Although the U.S. is not directly involved, it casts a shadow over this standoff. Assange and his supporters fear that if the UK extradited him to Sweden, it would not be long before he would be delivered to the U.S.  It is feared that the US would charge Assange with espionage stemming from when his website published a trove of American secrets.

Another controversial player in this drama is the “hacktivist” group Anonymous. Anonymous has used Wikileaks to distribute information it acquired from its hacking endeavors. It has also supported the ideals of free information, freedom of expression and freedom of the press that Assange espoused.

The question people have been asking is, “who or what is Anonymous?” People have asked if members of this  hacktivist group are freedom fighters, vigilantes or terrorists.

Asking about members is not the way to get at the meaning of this group. The real question is, on a metaphysical level, what is Anonymous? On a fundamental level, what kind of entity or being is Anonymous?

In its early days, Anonymous was not an identifiable Internet entity, but was a large subculture of people who posted anonymously and played “pranks” on websites, popularized memes and defined aspects of Internet culture. The creativity and outrageous content on these boards attracted the media, which described this community as brilliant and insane.

In 2008, this boundless creativity developed a more focused shape and perspective on the world. It adopted the name “Anonymous” and often used the image of a suit without a head or a Guy Fawkes mask to symbolize that it had no leader and was the embodiment of an idea.

Since then, Anonymous has become known for its strong opposition to Internet censorship, human rights violations, privacy violations, government opacity, and big corporations. It has become a recognizable presence at protests because its members wear the symbolic masks to show that they are part of this international group.

Photo by Trowbridge Estate (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaggers/)

On August 15th, I became aware that Anonymous was following, and invested in, this standoff when Britain threatened to remove the Ecuadorian embassy’s diplomatic privileges and storm the building to arrest Assange. I was up late enough to see several Anonymous groups on Facebook post urgent messages in the early hours of the 16th.

According to the posts, police officers were entering the embassy. The messages were brief and conveyed a sense of anxiety that is rare on such pages. Although separate individuals maintain the various Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, within several minutes of each other, all were calling for available “Anons” to convene at the embassy and see what was going on.

More specifically, the administrators and people online who were not in London were asking others to take pictures and transmit a live video of what was happening.

Soon enough, a protester had a “livestream” feed up and others were taking photos and uploading them to Anonymous pages. In addition, several Anons were able to coordinate a demonstration where they wore Guy Fawkes masks and held signs proclaiming, “I am Julian” as an expression of solidarity.

This was not a risk-free endeavor on the part of the protesters. Police threatened to arrest the man who was filming and they arrested at least one person outside the embassy including a legal observer who was then “released” under the condition that he stay in a designated “protest pen.” (See here)

This remarkable display of efficient collaboration, communication and willingness to act for the good of the group is a large part of what makes Anonymous so remarkable. Anonymous describes itself as a “hive mind” and this could not be a more accurate description. Just as in a hive, each member contributes to the whole and brings his or her talents, abilities, and insights that benefits the community.

Although there are people within Anonymous who have skills in planning operations and working with technology, there is no leader. Each person who participates and contributes has the liberty to take the initiative and start a project on behalf of the collective.

There is no official way to become a “member,” so it is odd to speak of those who consider themselves to be part of Anonymous as such. It is more accurate to say that Anonymous is made up of people who have connected online over shared goals, interests and ideals, and also individually identify with whatever they perceive Anonymous as. (Check out this video)

On a fundamental level, Anonymous is an actualized idea of the potential for freedom, creativity and personal responsibility. It is an idea to which individuals can, and do, attribute their actions that they believe are in-line with the sentiments of the hive mind. 

One can see those who actively participate in Anonymous, or related groups, as parts of a giant brain or fragments of a self-aware collective consciousness. This loosely connected group acts on issues about which the majority of people participating on the Internet feel strongly.

Shared ideas evolve the way an individual’s thoughts evolve and this collective thought process directs the trend of Anonymous’ activity in the physical world. However, this entity does not have specific longterm goals that could potentially stifle the creative and organic way it interacts with the world.

Anonymous’ response to Britain’s threat to the Ecuadorian embassy was an example of this hive mind’s ability to focus on and respond to a specific situation in the physical world. Although the vast majority of Anonymous activity occurs online, this entity has the ability to manifest in the physical world with people acting as eyes or mouths.

The protesters who uploaded photos on the 16th potentially put themselves in harm’s way in order to serve as the eyes of the group. Perhaps one of the reasons people are willing to risk their safety is because no one told them that it was their duty to do so. Instead, it seems that this willingness originates authentically and organically within the individuals, which results in these people having a strong personal investment in their choice of actions, and therefore are willing to do more.

In these moments when someone chooses to act under the banner of Anonymous, the person not only acts for the benefit of everyone creating the hive mind; the individual surrenders his or her own personal identity and assumes that of the whole, becoming Anonymous – both one and many.

What do you think of Anonymous?

Note: Anonymous leaks are not the exclusive real of this group: Political systems adopt anonymous leaks: https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/news-leaks-or-spoonfed-official-news/

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 https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/drone-kill-list-when-to-be-reviewed-and-revised/

“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.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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