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The Conscience & Agency of Bradley Manning

6:01 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

With previously unreleased instant message chat logs, Steve Fishman for New York Magazine published a feature story July 3, 2011, that further examined the accused whistleblower to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning. It looked at his family life before going to Iraq, his time in Baghdad and plans to use the military to pay for college and his current relationship with his father. The tidbit that drew the most attention, and will likely continue to draw attention, was the section of Fishman’s article allegedly detailing Manning’s interest in pursuing a sex change.

Ethan McCord, former specialist in the US Army and Iraq War veteran, who can be seen rescuing children in the “Collateral Murder” video allegedly released by Manning to WikiLeaks, put together a response to Fishman’s article. He sent it to New York Magazine and they agreed to publish portions by Monday, July 11.

The magazine published the portions late on Sunday, July 10—a few sentences where he directly mentioned Manning.

…The chat logs at the center of the story “add depth to the picture that’s emerged of Manning as a psychologically damaged ‘mess of a child,’” Adrian Chen added on Gawker. But others felt the profile, which dealt extensively with Manning’s gender-questioning, focused on the personal at the expense of the political. “If PFC Bradley Manning did what he is accused of doing, then it is clear—from chat logs that have been attributed to him—that his decision was motivated by conscience and political agency,” writes Ethan McCord, a former Army specialist whose unit was depicted in WikiLeaks’s first big scoop, the video “Collateral Murder.” “Unfortunately, Steve Fishman’s article erases Manning’s political agency. By focusing so heavily on Manning’s personal life, Fishman removes politics from a story that has everything to do with politics.” Read the rest of this entry →

Local News Stations Engage in Covert Consolidation to Get Around Media Ownership Rules

11:34 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Americans who turn on their local news each night to get the latest on what is happening in their community probably do not ever stop to wonder if what they are watching is appearing on another channel. People tune into Fox, CBS, ABC, or NBC and expect to see reports conducted by just that news station. They assume each network operates independently and might value the news program they watch each night because it is different.

A new trend in news (particularly in local newsrooms) is changing the independence of news networks. A business practice of covert consolidation that consists of deals, loopholes and legal agreements between local television stations that allow them to outsource all the majority of their news programming and circumvent media ownership rules is being employed.

Free Press, a nonprofit that works to reform and further democratize media in the United States, is launching a “Change the Channels” campaign to draw attention to the practice of covert consolidation. They are calling on citizens across the United States to go into public files and find copies of legal arrangements in their community to see if news networks are engaged in covert consolidation.

The organization also is encouraging citizens to post footage from news networks in their local community to show how covert consolidation has resulted in news anchors reading the same story as another news network or the same news report footage being broadcast across multiple local news networks.

A video produced for the campaign clearly shows what is happening. In Asheville, North Carolina, two stations share the same reporter. In Columbus, Ohio, two stations share the same anchors. In El Paso, Teas, two stations share the same address.

Libby Reinish, a program coordinator for Free Press who works on the organization’s “Save the News” campaign, spent hours and hours doing research and work to put together this project. So far, she says research indicates at least eighty markets across the country have seen covert consolidation take place. Over two hundred stations have altered operations and consolidated yet for the most part Americans are largely unaware of this development in American local newsrooms.

One of the most egregious examples of covert consolidation, Reinish explains, happened in Peoria, Illinois and Syracuse, New York. Two media companies, Barrington Broadcasting and Granite Broadcasting, each controlled one station in the Peoria market and in the Syracuse market. No longer wishing to compete, they swapped stations so Barrington would control both stations in one market and Granite would control both stations in the other market.

Danilo Yanich of the Center for Community Research &  Service at the University of Delaware, produced a report on a “shared services agreement” in Honolulu, Hawaii. The agreement made in October 2009 between three of the five television stations in Honolulu resulted in KIVE, KHNL and KGMB combing operations to form a new entity Hawaii News Now. Media Council Hawaii (MCH) filed a complaint with the FCC to stop the agreement.

Yanich’s report compared newscasts before and after the agreement went into effect. From his research, he found that the three-station group was simply duplicating “their newscasts through the mechanism of a simulcast.” The number of “separate news voices” in the market was reduced.

Why should the public care about the state of local television news? As Yanich highlights, “over half of the public (55%)” prefer local television news as a medium for news and political information. Websites and the Internet are a close competitor, but, through search engines, local news television websites are most often the “frequently used source of news.”

Josh Stearns, an associate program director for Free Press on the “Save the News” campaign, suggests covert consolidation is a response to public interest groups and local citizens around the country, who have made it so hard for companies to consolidate.

“If you look back at 2003 when media ownership rules were going to be wiped off the books by the FCC, something like three million [people] fought back,” Stearns recalls. Citizens who fought back ensured that media ownership rules were preserved. Media consolidation was slowed down.

Now, news companies have found a way to get around the rules.

Covert consolidation contributes to the dismal state of local news. A recent FCC report found, “520 local TV stations air no local news at all (258 commercial stations and 262 noncommer-cial stations). Considering those, along with stations that air less than 30 minutes of local news per day, 33 percent of commercial stations currently offer little or no local news.”

There is a way to compel disclosure of covert consolidation agreements, given the fact that broadcast licenses are involved. Stearns notes news companies are keenly aware of their license obligations and no they must adhere to those obligations, which is why in one particular case of consolidation all the staff of a station was laid off except for two people (the minimum number of staff required to maintain a license).

Reinish compares the Comcast-NBC merger deal to covert consolidation saying, while there was likely evidence of supposed backroom conversations and infrastructure being put in place before the merger was eventually approved, covert consolidation is worse because no rules are being violated. New companies are able to erode principles of the press and violate tenets of competition, localism and diversity of viewpoints, which the FCC has been chartered to defend, without the FCC or public ever knowing they are committing any violations.

The FCC will be going through its quadrennial review of media ownership rules. Organizers with Free Press hope the FCC will raise the issue and take a strong stance against the practice.

Additionally, Free Press will be doing crowdsource reporting to uncover more instances of covert consolidation in the nation. They will be urging citizens to go into public files, find copies of legal arrangements, find comments people submitted on the agreement, research how many jobs were lost and how money changed hands, etc.

What has been uncovered is only the tip of the iceberg and they expect once Americans know covert consolidation is happening and begin to detect it while they are watching their local news, they will want to fight back against this practice.

***

To coincide with the launch, Free Press has posted this report on covert consolidation.

Again, news stations are making agreements called “Local News Service Agreements” to pool and share editors, journalists, equipment and content.

The report features various points from the Poynter Institute on the “pitfalls” of LNS agreements:

1. Stations that don’t have journalists on the ground may miss out on important sources or angles of a story.

2. The product coming out of a video pool may be devalued by the newsroom, because traditionally only routine or b-roll video was collected this way.

3. Pseudo-events and public relations stunts can take on false importance when one camera crew’s video and just one perspective ends up being re-used across multiple stations, creating an echo chamber and a misleading impression of real significance.

4. The deep context is traded for the quick shot, ignoring the “why and how” of an occurrence.

5. Journalists inevitably lose their jobs. Fewer are needed when one person and a camera covers a few beats for multiple stations.

6. Not all stations in a market necessarily take part  in a pool—which is a good thing in terms of not diluting a non-participating station’s coverage, but actually could make the sharing stations lose viewers in the long run.

Netroots Nation: The Confrontation with Breitbart & the Grilling of WH Comm. Dir. Pfeiffer

6:06 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Progressive activists, many who primarily use the Internet to raise their voice and work to influence politics, gathered at Netroots Nation 2011 for three days of discussion and deliberation. Many attended issues-based panels, others went to panels focused on beating back the right wing attack on the middle class in America and quite a few spent time at panels highlighting how the Obama Administration has not been the “fierce advocate” on progressive issues like the “netroots” thought he would.

Two episodes, which took place during the conference, deserve scrutiny and further consideration: a liberal blogger and Netroots Nation attendees swarming Andrew Breitbart and his posse as they tried to get into the Exhibit Hall at the conference and the Q&A session with White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer who was interviewed by DailyKos’ Kaili Joy Gray. They merit further discussion especially because of the reaction from many of the conference attendees.

Days after getting another scalp—the head of Rep. Anthony Weiner, Breitbart came to crash the conference and irk the liberal netroots with his presence. He accomplished his goal and was aided with the support of liberals, who swarmed him with cameras and proceeded to badger him with questions.

A blogger with 100 Proof Politics got his 15 minutes of fame asking Breitbart “tough questions” like whether an employee of his was arrested last night for harassing young Muslim women in the streets of Minneapolis, whether he has done cocaine and whether he has slept with a prostitute.

Engaging him gave Breitbart and his shock troops what they wanted: attention.

It created a scene for the corporate media, an instance of liberals versus conservatives with both shouting at one another. It provided an example of a petty battle that can play out between liberal and conservative bloggers. And, it looked like the kind of thing that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” particularly aimed to condemn because of the fact that it does nothing to help either person get a better understanding of the other.
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CNN’s ‘WikiWars’ Documentary Exploits Character of Julian Assange to Cast Doubt on WikiLeaks

9:58 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Closely following the character of Julian Assange, founder of the pro-transparency media organization WikiLeaks, the recently aired CNN documentary, “WikiWars,” provides a presentation of the story of the organization with a prime focus on Assange’s character. It is another opportunity, like PBS’ Frontline documentary “WikiSecrets,” for a wide audience in the United States to get a better grasp of the nature of the organization.

That, perhaps, is what makes discussing this documentary important. There is no new information in this documentary, but, packaged together, the documentary uses Assange as a vector for communicating the idiosyncrasies of WikiLeaks to an audience. Whether legitimately done or not, viewers are able to hear Assange in footage obtained by the producers and also hear a handful of people, who have worked with Assange, discuss what he is like.

The documentary can be broken into the following parts: an introduction into the behavior and motivations of Assange, the founding of WikiLeaks (which highlights the work that impacted Kenya and Iceland), the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, the release of the Afghan War Logs that involved collaborating with the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel, the accusations of sexual assault that now find him under house arrest in the UK and the rise of a secret global force of cyber hacktivists known as Anonymous that have launched DDoS attacks in defense of WikiLeaks.

Larsen frames the story in the opening scene like this:

Over twenty years ago the Berlin Wall came down and it marked the end of a cold war between two superpowers. Now, there’s a battle that’s being waged for control of information. Its frontlines aren’t brick and mortar walls, they’re firewalls. Its weapons are computers, not missiles. And its warriors—hackers, activists, even anarchists. It’s an epic struggle over state secrets between institutions and individuals. And at the center of this war is Julian Assange.

Centering the documentary on Assange has a way of reinforcing the notion that WikiLeaks is an autocratic organization that is all a project of Assange, who has little regard for his actions. The enigma of Assange is built up throughout the film. He is made to seem more like a fictional character in a spy movie instead of a human being whom has the ability to discern right from wrong and is committed to transparency because of his conscience belief in what the opening up of governments can do to correct injustices and corruption.

As Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former member of WikiLeaks who defected from the organization, says, Assange is smart and intelligent and doesn’t really care what anybody else thinks about him. He says Assange sees himself as a “hero of a spy novel” and believes he and everyone around him is being constantly tapped and followed (which journalist Mark Davis says later in the documentary is probably true).

The story sets viewers up to doubt the judgment of Assange’s handling of WikiLeaks releases. It asks those watching to consider whether he might be a maniac by showing interviews with journalists like David Leigh of The Guardian, who not only claims Assange has to have it explained to him there are “flesh and blood consequences” to leaking but also says at one point Assange “didn’t behave like earthlings.”

Fmr. Brig. Gen. Used to Discredit the “Collateral Murder” Video

The most disparaging criticism comes from former Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. Kimmitt, who served as the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs under George W. Bush from August 2008 to January 2009, is used as a tool to discredit the work of Assange and WikiLeaks. The producers employ his viewpoint to help viewers decide whether Assange and WikiLeaks are correct in their belief that the “Collateral Murder” video, which WikiLeaks released in April 2010, is in fact a war crime.

Here’s the full exchange between Kimmitt and Larsen, who go through some of the video together in the CNN Studios in Washington, DC (note: not once is it noted that Kimmitt served in the Bush Administration and might have a clear bias):

LARSEN: This clip is where they believe they identify an RPG. It turns out as we know now that was a long lens telephoto camera held by a Reuters journalist. You can see him as he peak’s around the corner there.

(voice over) The Reuters photographer, his assistant and the men around him were all gunned down.

KIMMITT: This photographer shouldn’t have been walking around with an instrument that looks very much like a weapon.

LARSEN: Is the blame on the photographer or is it a causal series of mistakes made by the crew there that led to the ultimate negative consequences?

KIMMITT: Warfare is not perfect. There are mistakes that are sometimes made. He shares much of the blame for what happened here.

LARSEN: I want to move to the van video. And what you see is the van that’s coming to help grab some of the wounded people on the ground. The Apache helicopter asks for permission to engage.

KIMMITT: Again, this is an active battlefield. That van could have other fighters inside of it with weapons. Those fighters could put soldiers at risk and kill other soldiers that they’re fighting.

ASSANGE: We can see in this video that the young pilots in the Apache helicopters have become debased in their charcacter. They are playing video games with real human lives and looking for excuses to kill people.

(voice over) LARSEN: It turned out there were children inside the van.

LARSEN: I have a decade in naval special warfare. You’re obviously thirty years in the army. Soldier to sailor, ground pounder to ground pounder, should these men have exercised more restraint?

KIMMITT: I don’t think so. What we have here from everything I’ve seen is that they followed the proper procedures.

LARSEN: If they did everything by the book, is there something wrong with the book?

KIMMITT: I don’t think so. The book doesn’t have every scenario. It doesn’t have every possible outcome.

Ethan McCord and Josh Stieber might agree with Kimmitt. Both are soldiers who were part of Bravo Company 2-16, the company of soldiers in the video. McCord and Stieber, however, did not accept that nothing morally reprehensible happened that day. They wrote an open letter of reconciliation and responsibility to all who were injured or lost during the shootings in the released video.

The Iraq War veterans wrote the “Wikileaks video only begins to depict the suffering we have created. From our own experiences, and the experiences of other veterans we have talked to, we know that the acts depicted in this video are everyday occurrences of this war: this is the nature of how U.S.-led wars are carried out in this region.”

Larsen could have easily contacted McCord and Stieber and had them talk about their opinion on the “Collateral Murder” video release. Since Larsen and others involved in the making of the film specifically wanted people who were active in the WikiLeaks story, McCord and Stieber would have made good characters to feature especially since “Collateral Murder” and the Afghan and Iraq War Logs were a major part of the film. Both could have spoke to “rules of engagement” and what they were asked to do as soldiers during the Iraq War.

But, they are not included. The documentary instead presents us with Kimmitt, a character who defies the criteria Larsen and others set for including people.

Kimmitt is not an active player in the WikiLeaks story; he has only read the military’s report on the “Collateral Murder” video. Essentially, Kimmitt does for the documentary what “military analysts” planted on news shows by the Pentagon did throughout the Iraq War: he appears to be objective because he read the report and is calling it like he sees it and this supposedly gives him the authority to minimize the significance of a video that depicts the horror of war.

Is it even worth it to explain why blaming the Reuters photojournalist for being killed is reactionary? The remark is like blaming a hot blond woman for a sexual deviant’s decision to rape her.

Assange Thought Afghani Civilians Deserved to Die

After discrediting the “Collateral Murder” video release and presenting Assange as an adversary of the United States, journalists whom Assange worked with on the release of the Afghan War Logs appear to discuss the relationship between them and how the release of classified information occurred. Nick Davies, a journalist with The Guardian, describes tracking Assange down and speaking to him in Brussels, Belgium. It is here that Davies convinced Assange partnering up with media organizations could maximize the impact of his war logs releases.

The key tension in this part of the documentary stems from discussions over what names to redact and not redact. Davies explains, “All of us came across material which was clearly likely to lead to the death of innocent civilians if we published it. All of us had the experience of bringing this to his attention and being told in effect, ‘If an Afghan civilian helps coalition forces, then they deserve to die.’”

It is a “high crime” for a pro-transparency organization to release material it knows will endanger the people it most wants to help. Therefore, there should be some kind of skepticism raised as to whether this is true or not. But, Leigh and Davies are not pressed on their description of the dispute that was had.

From PBS Frontline’s full interview with Assange for the documentary “WikiSecrets,” there is a reasonable motivation for the release of names, as Assange explains:

We, as all good investigative journalists do, name names. We name names of those people that are involved in corrupt or abusive activities, and that includes in Afghanistan. And then there are people that are incidental characters, that are not themselves threatened in any way. They should also be named as part of just the context of the situation.

We have a harm-minimization procedure. A harm-minimization procedure is that we don’t want innocent people who have a decent chance of being hurt to be hurt. Now, no one has been hurt. There is no allegation by the Pentagon or any other official source that anyone has been physically harmed as a result of our publication of the Afghan war logs, the Iraq war diaries or the State Department records, or the “Collateral Murder” video, or in fact anything we have done over the past four years in over 120 countries.

Here, “WikiWars” fails. It had the potential to really get into specifics of allegations that WikiLeaks “has blood on its hands.” It could have gone to official sources in the Pentagon and State Department. It could have talked with people in Europe and in the Middle East. There could have been a segment that got to the bottom of this consistent claim that WikiLeaks has led to the deaths of innocent people. For example, former State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley alleged during an Index on Censorship panel discussion that hundreds of people are known to have suffered because of the release of material by WikiLeaks. CNN’s “WikiWars” crew could have involved Crowley and worked to find out what evidence Crowley has for such allegations.

The Government is Not Going to Stop WikiLeaks

In the final part of the documentary, viewers are introduced to Anonymous, which is described as a “secretive global force of cyber hacktivists.” Two members of Anonymous – sometimes referred to as “Anons” – speak with Larsen.

An Anon explains that Anonymous is part of an Internet subculture that believes in anonymity, freedom of thought freedom of speech and freedom of expression all taken to a logical extreme. The Anon explains the government is after Anonymous and that is why members must have anonymity. And, WikiLeaks is worth supporting because they believe in many of Anonymous’ ideals especially the idea of exposing secrets.

“They’re not going to stop WikiLeaks. Even if the government were to take down WikiLeaks, they’d essentially be martyring WikiLeaks and a hundred other sites would spring up. The only thing they can do is turn the Internet off and even that didn’t stop the people in Egypt,” explains an Anon.

Larsen understands this reality. As the documentary concludes, he laments, “In some sense, the WikiLeaks phenomenon is unstoppable—part of a new reality where whistleblowers go global and make governments quake, where a leak can add fuel to a revolution. But, governments will fight back.”

The section on Anonymous along with the scenes on the release of war logs and the “Collateral Murder” video all serve to present a rising challenge to US government, one that consists of players creating much uncertainty for the future of American superpower. It’s the same uncertainty driving the US government to ramp up its efforts to establish a coherent strategy and policy for cybersecurity that can protect commerce and agencies withing US government. It’s an uncertainty that leads to questions like, for example, should a pro-transparency organization that is accountable to no one (as government officials and those in US media contend) be allowed to release material and make it harder for the US to conduct wars and international diplomacy?

Julian Assange understands it doesn’t matter if the war on WikiLeaks by the US succeeds or not. As he said in a press conference call:

…. Either the mainstream press in the United States collapses as an effective investigative organ holding the government to account and all sources then are forced to only deal with WikiLeaks, or the administration finds that it has to conform to the U.S. First Amendment and other parts of the Constitution and then the United States is a free society that upholds our values…

Don’t underestimate the impact that a presentation like this can have on the public in the United States if what is said is not clarified or reviewed properly.

Many Americans know very little about WikiLeaks. They may know the name Julian Assange and the name Bradley Manning. They might have heard media reports that said Assange was suspected of raping two women or they might know that a soldier was held at Quantico for leaking classified information. Certainly, PBS Frontline’s “WikiSecrets” documentary went a long way to “educate” Americans on the key details in the story of Bradley Manning. And, now with “WikiWars,” Americans get an “education” on the character of Julian Assange.

Larsen and crew properly include Iceland and Kenya in the backstory of WikiLeaks and Assange. How WikiLeaks revealed there were “hundreds of killing at the hands of Kenyan police” during violent disputed elections in 2007 show that WikiLeaks can potentially make the world a better place. The spotlight on WikiLeaks’ posting of a secret loan book in July 2009 that revealed one of the largest bailed out banks, Kaupthing Bank, made risky loans that likely contributed to Iceland’s banking crisis which brought the country to its knees further establishes that WikiLeaks can improve society. In Iceland, viewers learn they were regarded as “local heroes” because of the leak and influenced a push in Iceland to strengthen press protections and make Iceland a “haven for whistleblowers.”

Post Iceland and Kenya, audiences are not treated to this kind of tolerant analysis of WikiLeaks operations. The case might be made that it is far better to be critical and get to the truth. Supposing that is true, it is worth considering the fact that a CNN poll conducted in December 2010 found seventy-seven percent of American disapprove of “the online organization’s release of thousands of confidential US government documents concerning US diplomatic and military policies. Only twenty percent approved of the action.”

Assuming the level of support found here was an accurate representation of the level of support in the United States and assuming that it remains at this level, Larsen and crew would have known going in that most Americans are skeptical and, in fact, irked by the operations of WikiLeaks. So, in that sense, what Larsen presents is “safe” journalism that helps to affirm Americans’ views toward WikiLeaks.

That WikiLeaks has published information the US public should have a right to know (i.e. the overclassification of information by government) is overlooked. That WikiLeaks is a publisher and should be protected by press freedoms that all media organizations enjoy is not discussed. The sheer number of revelations on US corruption and abuse of power by the United States is omitted (an excuse might be that production had to wrap and could not get to this aspect). And, that Assange was awarded a Sydney Peace Prize and WikiLeaks has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize is not fully examined.

Here’s two key questions for the producers of “WikiWars”: Why, all over the globe, is WikiLeaks being given credit for being a force for good?  Why is it being nominated for peace prizes and medals when here in the United States most contend it has put lives at risk and exercises reckless authority when deciding what information to publish and not publish?

The answer might help the producers understand where they failed and why Americans will, even after “WikiWars,” still not get what WikiLeaks is all about.

Behind the Blogger Who Made the WikiLeaks Confidentiality Agreement a Top Story

9:39 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

David Allen Green, legal correspondent for the New Statesman out of the UK, has spent the last few days calling attention to a leaked WikiLeaks confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement (NDA), which he revealed in a blog post on May 11. Green has posted a second post on the agreement on his blog, Jack of Kent, and will be posting a summary to the New Statesmanwebsite on May 16, which last time I checked, he intends to glibly title, “NDAs for Dummies.”

I published an initial analysis of the leaked agreement on WL Central. The analysis was featured as a “Best Opinion” in an “Irony Alert” blog post on the agreement on The Week‘s website.

Green, who is the blogger who was the first to draw attention to the agreement, called it a “draconian and extraordinary legal gag that WikiLeaks imposes on its own staff” and, in particular, focused on Clause 5 of the agreement that “imposes a penalty of ‘£12,000,000 – twelve million pounds sterling’ on anyone who breaches this legal gag.”

In his follow-up post, which cites the analysis I wrote, he groups me with others who “sought to explain the document away: to normalize it and to contend that it is somehow unexceptional.” That is true. That is what I did.

He adds:

It may be well that for WikiLeaks partisans (like “the Birthers” in the United States), nothing – not even a disclosed document- will shift their adherence to their cause.

If so, that would present quite a paradox, as one claim for the WikiLeaks enterprise is that publishing original documents can undermine artificial and self-serving narratives.

So for WikiLeaks and its partisans, and for anyone else who is interested, what follows is a technical legal analysis of this extraordinary document.

This is the pejorative framing for Green’s legal analysis: others and myself are so fervently supportive of WikiLeaks that we are blind to the contents of this agreement. In fact, we are so biased that we are like the racist faction of people in the United States, who fought to get President Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate to prove he was American–a campaign that made some recall the days when the US government required African-Americans to take literacy tests in order to vote.

What about Green’s opinions on WikiLeaks? If one looks at each of his posts on WikiLeaks, it becomes apparent that Green is an iconoclast when it comes to WikiLeaks. He is a denouncer or skeptic, who only ever has something critical to say of WikiLeaks, and, while he will say something good about WikiLeaks here and there, he only does it to buffer the tartness of his posts on WikiLeaks.
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What’s Really in the Leaked WikiLeaks Confidentiality Agreement?

11:14 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

A leaked confidentiality agreement that those doing “business” with WikiLeaks are expected to sign was obtained and published by the New Statesman. The New Statesman and other news organizations believe they have uncovered another aspect of the WikiLeaks organization that indicates it is unfit to be trusted by whistleblowers. But, for anyone who understands confidentiality agreements there may be nothing extraordinary or even draconian about the agreement.

A confidentiality agreement is essentially a non-disclosure agreement. Included are details noting the “owner of the information,” the “receiver of the information,” a definition of what it considers to be “information,” why the agreement is necessary, what information is covered by the agreement, a definition of the permitted use of the information, any exceptions to the agreement, and penalties that could be imposed if the agreement is breached.

What news organizations seem to be taking issue with, rather ridiculously, is the word “owner” and the idea that WikiLeaks might be marketing this information to media organizations.

The New Statesman and others consider the use of the word “owner” to be proof that the organization finds it has “commercial ownership over the information that has been leaked to it.” But, the word “owner” is the term that is used in these agreements. It is standard and may not be proof the organization sees itself as literally owning the information.

Clause by clause:

“A” stipulates the information that it finds to be covered by the agreement is defined.

“B” notes that it is in possession of documents that are “newsworthy.” It also notes that details on the workings of WikiLeaks are “newsworthy” as well. And, it defines “information” as the documents in the organization’s possession and “emails, written communications, meeting records, information exchanged in meetings or discussions and other newsworthy facts.”

“C” notes that news providers, publishers and broadcasters commercial and non-commercial may seek access to the information and WikiLeaks might make agreements—perhaps separate agreements from this non-disclosure agreement.

“D” delineates that if there is a breach the party in the agreement may lose exclusivity. (This suggests a form of this confidentiality agreement may be what it tried to get individuals or media organizations it sought to partner with to sign.)

“E” is why WikiLeaks wants others it works with to sign the agreement. A breach of this agreement, the agreement stipulates, could result in: loss of opportunity to sell the information to other news broadcasters and publishers, loss of reputation, loss of opportunity to execute future agreements with regard to the information, loss of value of the information, loss of opportunity to execute future agreements in relation to other information by reason of loss of reputation and possible legal proceedings against WikiLeaks for loss of value to parties to other agreements.

Fear of such losses is not unfounded. Recall that Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former WikiLeaks member, as Reuters reported, crippled “WikiLeaks’s ability to receive new leaks” when he “unplugged a component which guaranteed anonymity to would-be leakers” before leaving the organization. Or, recall that he took a “backlog” of leaks that his new organization OpenLeaks could publish. (Clearly, he breached the terms of this agreement if he signed a confidentiality agreement.)

The New Statesman will fixate on the notion that WikiLeaks seeks to “sell” information to broadcasters and publishers. The organizations overlook the fact that the organization may deserve compensation for setting up the system, which allowed for a whistleblower or leaker to submit the information in such a way that would protect the source from damages or harm. They ignore the fact that the “selling” could be compensation for the operational expenses WikiLeaks incurs from staffing, etc. The organization may not be putting a monetary value on the documents themselves but may be seeking to charge broadcasters and publishers for the services it can provide through any partnership.

The organization goes on to note what parties agree to, which should be found to be fairly standard. It makes clear that that “nothing contained in this agreement shall be construed as giving you any license or other rights in the information.” The information will remain the “property of WikiLeaks and or its sources.”

Again, news organizations fixate on this term “property.” But, that is how it must be characterized in order for WikiLeaks to protect itself and ensure it can be safe in the event of breaching or sabotage. The agreement must treat the documents as “property,” whether it is something WikiLeaks truly owns or not.

Now, here’s what most peeves those covering this leaked agreement: WikiLeaks puts a value on how much a “significant breach” could cost the organization. The “typical open market valuation” is placed at twelve million pounds sterling or twenty million US dollars.

It is unclear how WikiLeaks came up with the number but referring to what the organization thinks could result from a breach of the agreement might lead one to better understand how WikiLeaks came up with the amount.

One should note, courts are not likely to ever award that much money. The valuation may be a starting point for coming up with an amount the organization could be awarded in the event of a breach. Courts typically would not find all those losses to be “consequential” of a breach of the agreement. So, the organization may still have to pay what it might consider a substantial amount of money for the breach.

If WikiLeaks truly considers itself to be a business out to make profit instead of an organization with a founder who is a true fighter for peace and justice, it certainly has failed to take many opportunities to make huge gains.

Why is the information free on its website? It could set up a paywall like the Wall Street Journal.

Why hasn’t it published the documents it has obtained in book form for people to purchase in bookstores or online?

Or, why hasn’t it sold the information to other governments so that they can have better intelligence on other governments? That could net them quite a bit of money.

The answer is because WikiLeaks is not an organization out to make profit. It is an organization that believes in a cause that, as Julian Assange says, is no more radical a notion than the idea that citizens have a right, indeed a duty, to scrutinize the state.

Coverage of this agreement is just the latest in a long line of attempts to delegitimize and further isolate the organization. They have been accused of endangering lives yet nobody has quantified or provided exact evidence that any persons have been endangered. In many cases, they have been told what they are doing is not journalism. The organization, instead, has had its staff members categorized by the media as a group of “sources,” which means Assange is “a source” and Assange and all those linked to WikiLeaks are much more vulnerable to prosecution from governments especially the US government.

When WikiLeaks reveals information on despots, they are characterized as an organization that should be held accountable for a tyrannical government’s decision to clampdown on its citizens. And, in this case, they are once again asked to have the secrecy and transparency standards they think government has or else publicly answer to the fact that they are an organization of hypocrites. The problem with that is WikiLeaks is not a government. People do not vote or elect individuals to run this organization.

New Statesman and others’ coverage of this agreement affirms Assange’s assertion that “WikiLeaks is the most scrutinized organization per capita in the world.” It further indicates that most news organizations in the world still do not get WikiLeaks (and, perhaps, would rather scrutinize the organization than publish documents the organization has released).

WikiLeaks is an organization that makes a promise to whistleblowers that if they have the courage to act as a “hero” WikiLeaks will have the courage to be “merely decent human beings.” For WikiLeaks, this agreement is part of being a decent human being. It is about going to the nth degree to protect the “sources” it fights to keep anonymous and unknown to governments that could strike at them for providing the organization information.

WSJ Launches WikiLeaks-Imitation Site to Further Solidify Role as Gatekeeper

10:22 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Several reports on the web security and privacy of the Wall Street Journal‘s new site, SafeHouse, which is inspired by WikiLeaks, have been published. Reactions centered around the “terms and conditions” on the website, which include a disclaimer that SafeHouse “cannot ensure complete anonymity.” It also states the leak portal “reserve[s] the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process.”

Web security and privacy experts will continue to scrutinize this new venture. Those like Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher and senior developer on the Tor online anonymity network, will continue to let others know the Journal is being negligent and that this is not a project to be beta-tested on an open Internet. In addition to the security questions, there is the larger question of the Journal’s role in the press and why anyone would ever consider leaking to a newspaper like the Journal.

For establishing a basic understanding of this news organization, this is how SourceWatch, run by the Center for Media and Democracy, characterizes the publication: “The Wall Street Journal, an influential international daily newspaper published in New York City, is owned by News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. It does an abysmal job of informing its readers about climate change.”

External links on their page on the Journal lead to an article by David Carr that highlights the newspaper’s rightward turn under Murdoch. It covers two men, Robert Thomson, a top editor, and Gerard Baker, now the newspaper’s deputy managing editor. The article notes the two have adopted “a more conservative tone” and the paper has been “editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current [Obama] administration” with the support of the newspaper’s readers.

The issue of the newspaper being right wing is not all that bad if one considers working to maintain objectivity to be a foolish and often dangerous game for professional journalists to continue to play. But, there is the potential that leakers’ information submitted to the Journal would just be used to score points against the other side and against the vast “liberal media,” which the paper’s staff likely finds itself to be in a never-ending struggle against. (Recall, Karl Rove recently launched “Wikicountability,” a site that aims to collect government “dirt” that can be used against the Obama Administration to advance the agenda of Rove’s Crossroads GPS.)

A post by the Columbia Journalism Review indicates the Journal may not be all that interested in real journalism after the “greased exit” of Marcus Brauchli. The story covered how the “exit” indicated a new direction for the newspaper, a likely retreat from a focus on business and sophisticated in-depth reporting. It highlighted how the new owners wanted “newsier stories and more general news,” “shorter and more alluring” stories with a “heavy emphasis on scoops.” CJR suggested the newspaper was adopting an “Anglo-Australian newspaper model–straight, wire-service-type business news coupled with extensive and often smart analysis inside.”

No media organization in the past year has had more scoops than WikiLeaks. If the Journal indeed doesn’t have the manpower for investigative reporting, would it be looking to cut corners and just mine troves of information it hopes “sources” will feed this new portal? And would they hastily and shoddily go through all the material in the way the New York Times, meaning months down the road domestic or international events happen that could have been influenced if they had properly researched the information?

Forget whether it would seek to genuinely check power or not, does the Journal have the capacity to do the investigative reporting necessary to properly cover fraud, abuse, pollution, insider trading and other harms? And would this be anything more than an intelligence operation for Big Business in America?

With the creation of this new “leaks portal,” it appears the Wall Street Journal, like other traditional media, is setting this up because it believes it needs a digital platform for accepting news tips from sources instead of having sources go through a traditional system that may mostly exist offline. As the managing editor of WSJ.com, Kevin Delaney, quoted by Michael Calderone on Huffington Postacknowledges, “We all agree that WikiLeaks has had a huge impact on the journalism landscape over the last year or so.” And adds, “There’s been a discussion among editors that it made sense to create a system to receive information from sources digitally.”

The Journal like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which are both considering setting up their own WikiLeaks-imitation sites, is seeking to solidify its role as a gatekeeper. It is hoping to get out ahead and ensure that WikiLeaks and new media does not make it wholly irrelevant and, in effect, impact profits. This, just like the decision to set up a paywall, is about surviving the current transformation that is rocking the world of journalism in the United States.

Greg Mitchell, who has been blogging WikiLeaks for The Nation for one hundred and sixty days, said at a panel on WikiLeaks at the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform in Boston, “The traditional role of the press in America and elsewhere in the world has been to want to be the gatekeepers. They release the information. They decide what to cover. They decide how to cover it. And, in relation to leaks, very importantly, for every leak that made big news, there are dozens or hundreds or however many that went nowhere.”

What about the possibility that someone risks his or her life or livelihood by releasing information to the Journal and the Journal does nothing with the information but the newspaper decides to act on the information it received and forward it to law enforcement?

Julian Assange said this of direct-to-newspaper leak sites weeks ago:

[Newspaper] organizations could create such a site if they cared about it. But it’s our experience that at least the Guardian and New York Times don’t care so much to protect sources. In fact, for Cablegate the Guardian and the New York Times communicated over phones. They swapped cables over email. The New York Times approached the White House with its list of stories it was going to publish on the cables one week before publication, and campaigned against the alleged source of the cables, Bradley Manning. We also cannot be sure that they would even publisht the stories they receive. The New York Times sat on the story about the National Security Agency mass-tapping Americans for over a year. CBS sat on the story of the torture at Abu Ghraib for months.

Additionally, why leak to the Journal if what is ultimately published on your leak is going to be up behind a paywall and not be as easy to share as stories posted on other news sites? Why blow the whistle and put your self at risk for a story that people will only get to read a teaser for weeks or months down the line if not days after the story is published?

US Hosts World Press Freedom Day in the Midst of Prosecuting WikiLeaks

9:49 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Today, the United States hosts World Press Freedom Day. The day, which was proclaimed to be May 3 by the UN General Assembly in 1993, is supposed to be an occasion for informing citizens of violations of press freedom. The day is to serve as a reminder “in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”

When it was announced in December 2010 the US would be hosting World Press Freedom Day, WikiLeaks had just partnered with a few media organizations to release the US State Embassy Cables. The release known as “Cablegate” led to calls from elected politicians to prosecute members of the WikiLeaks media organization. While no specific newspapers were condemned or targeted (only the New York Times was publishing cables), the calls for prosecution were in effect attacks on press freedom from those in power.

The prosecution of WikiLeaks escalated last week as federal prosecutors stepped up its investigation into WikiLeaks by delivering a letter and a subpoena to an individual in Boston, someone whom a Grand Jury in Alexandria, Virginia, would like to press for details on WikiLeaks. The letter makes it clear the Grand Jury is interested in prosecuting WikiLeaks under the Espionage Act and would like to find out if individuals working for or with WikiLeaks conspired with the leaker of the information to get information.

Without evidence of conspiracy, there can be no prosecution of WikiLeaks that would not effectively be an attack on the press freedom of well-established newspapers like the New York Times or any other news organization in the United States.

Additionally, there exists two other significant dangers to press freedom: (1) the intimidation of those individuals and organizations in the press who are not deferential to power and (2) the placement of restraints on arenas in the private and public sphere so that the reading of what used to be classified information in newspapers or on news websites is discouraged if not strictly prohibited under threat of penalty.

At a fundraiser in San Francisco for President Barack Obama, a group of supporters upset with Obama’s handling of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the individual alleged to have leaked classified information to WikiLeaks, interrupted the fundraiser and sang a song in support of Manning. Following the interruption, a few directly questioned President Obama on the arrest and detention of Manning. President Obama, allegedly not realizing a camera phone was recording, said the following:

I can’t conduct diplomacy on an open source. That’s not how…the world works. If you’re in the military, and — I have to abide by certain classified information. If I was to release stuff that I’m not authorized to release, I’m breaking the law…We’re a nation of laws. We don’t individually make our own decisions about how the laws operate… He broke the law.”

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci was there to cover the protest. She shot video of protesters interrupting the fundraiser with her own camera phone. There as a part of a “print pool,” Marinucci and the Chronicle were informed after she posted video online that she had been banished from covering presidential visits to the Bay Area because she used something more than a pen and a pad to cover the fundraiser.

A strong editorial by Editor at Large Phil Bronstein was published by the Chronicle condemning the White House’s censorship and attempt at banishment. Bronstein writes:

…more than a few journalists familiar with this story are aware of some implied threats from the White House of additional and wider punishment if Carla’s spanking became public. Really? That’s a heavy hand usually reserved for places other than the land of the free.

But bravery is a challenge, in particular for White House correspondents, most of whom are seasoned and capable journalists. They live a little bit in a gilded cage where they have access to the most powerful man in the world but must obey the rules whether they make sense or not.

Bronstein acknowledges the reality that “powerful people and institutions want to control their image and their message. That’s part of their job, to create a mythology that allows them to continue being powerful.” But, he adds, “Part of the press’ job is to do the opposite, to strip away the cloaks and veneers.” Banning Marinucci, he concludes, does not just put a reporter “in a cage” but into something “more like one of those stifling pens reserved for calves on their way to being veal.”

White House spokesperson Jay Carney denied after the Chronicle published the aforementioned editorial that Marinucci had been banned, which led Chronicle editor Ward Bushee to react: “Sadly, we expected the White House to respond in this manner based on our experiences yesterday. It is not a truthful response. It follows a day of off-the-record exchanges with key people in the White House communications office who told us they would remove our reporter, then threatened retaliation to Chronicle and Hearst reporters if we reported on the ban, and then recanted to say our reporter might not be removed after all.”

Juxtapose that with what happened last week just days after Manning was flown from Quantico Marine Brig to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. The Department of Defense unusually chose to give a group of approved reporters a tour of Leavenworth. Col. Tom Collins, an Army spokesman, said of the tour, “We don’t anticipate doing this again. It is highly unusual that we allow media into a correctional facility run by the Department of Defense…Then again, we think it’s important that the public understand the conditions of confinement here.”

KCUR reported, “The Army wanted reporters to see the physical layout of the prison to which he was moved earlier this month from the U.S. Marine Corps Brig at Quantico, Virginia.” No cell phones or video was allowed (and nobody would violate that rule as they feared being singled out like Marinucci).

The government’s management and control of the press in the US was on display. The message was clear: If you want to cover Manning’s detention, the US government will effectively manage how you cover it. Like with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, if you wish to cover, you will embed with power. You won’t cover power but be given quotes that make it impossible for you to not cover for power.

Former and estranged WikiLeaks media partner New York Times has helped reinforce the US government’s desire to have a lapdog press by consulting with the Pentagon on its coverage of the Guantanamo Files and the State Department on its coverage of the US State Embassy Cables. It has further cemented the subservient relationship between press and government by choosing to regard WikiLeaks as a “source” and not a publishing media organization. In seeking to cast WikiLeaks as a “source” to possibly insulate itself from prosecution, the Times may not simply be protecting itself but also promoting a climate that threatens less established members of what Yochai Benkler calls “the networked fourth estate.” Denying membership to “the club” effectively puts other journalists at “greater risks than fringe journalists have been in the United States for almost a century.”

On the placement of prohibitions to access to the published material, the Justice Department informed Guantanamo defense lawyers last week that they would not be allowed to read the released files and use them in detainees’ cases. They are to treat the material as information that is still classified.

Scott Shane of the New York Times put this into context noting:

In December, Columbia University warned international relations students that commenting on the documents disclosed by WikiLeaks online or linking to them might endanger their chances of getting a government job. The same month, the United States Agency for International Development told workers that viewing the documents on an unclassified computer at work or home could violate security rules that govern their employment. In February, an Air Force unit cautioned that employees and even their family members could be prosecuted under the Espionage Act for looking at the WikiLeaks documents at home.

Some of those warnings were quickly modified or withdrawn after attracting public ridicule. But the general principle that the leaked files remain classified remains in effect, with varying consequences.

Some foreigners applying for asylum in the United States have attached diplomatic cables printed from the Internet that describe repression in their native countries — requiring the Department of Homeland Security to store their applications in special safes and to apply cumbersome security rules.

State Department employees have confided that they read leaked cables on newspaper Web sites at home rather than risk trouble by viewing them at work. A Times reporter who appeared with a State Department official on a recent panel was advised not to show leaked cables as slides — the official was prohibited from looking at them.

Seeking to prevent access to the material indirectly impacts press freedom. If organizations and agencies are not allowed to use the reports or news, those who can most benefit from the information will begin to not seek out such information. They will become conditioned to a press that does not provide material that can be useful to their jobs or careers. As more and more arenas are controlled, more and more in the citizenry will prefer to read less controversial stories just so their livelihood is not threatened. And, if people do not wish to consume journalism that checks power, what business sense does it make to publish investigative reporting? Why invest in watchdog journalism?

Trevor Timm, who operates the Twitter account @WLLegal, explains the prosecution and isolation of WikiLeaks does not mean “nobody is going to report on national security anymore or that nobody is going to leak.” It does mean the press “will increasingly give the government discretion to go after the papers that report critically on them and not go after the papers that report favorably to them.” Because, “if somebody leaked information that made [the government] look bad, [the government] could essentially go after a paper and essentially put it out of business.”

Given the collapse in journalism and the rise of “new media,” Timm further notes, “The government can bring charges and cause a news organization to spend millions and millions of dollars they don’t have on legal defenses.” He adds, “Back when Nixon Administration started subpoenaing reporters, they fought them tooth and nail,” but suggests that if the Obama Administration went after reporters today like Nixon did they would not be able to afford taking a stand for press freedom.

WikiLeaks is a publisher. It should be afforded the same protections and rights as any blogger, journalist or media professional. Yet, the US continues its prosecution of WikiLeaks. The State Department could at least pay lip service to arguments that the targeting of WikiLeaks and those associated is unwarranted. It could make an honest assessment of the way government has chilled whistleblowing through threats of prosecution to whistleblowers. It should go beyond discussing press freedom in the context of simply ensuring bloggers and journalists should be allowed to report on tyrannical regimes in the Middle East like Iran.

There exists an opportunity for the US to not make a mockery of press freedom. A wider conversation could be had. Unfortunately, there is little indication that anyone with the ability to influence power will be moved to address the hypocrisy of the US hosting a World Press Freedom Day when those running the US are largely incapable and unwilling of upholding the universal principle of freedom of the press.

World as a Battlefield Policy Leads to Targeted Killing of ‘Bastard’ Bin Laden

8:56 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Nearly a decade after the Bush Administration announced a “war on terrorism” after the attacks on US soil on September 11, 2001, the US mounted a covert military operation that killed Al Qaeda figurehead and leader Osama Bin Laden. The operation was an extrajudicial assassination exercise that involved a firefight, which killed at least twenty people in Abbotabad, Pakistan.

This was how President Barack Obama described the operation in a late-night announcement on a “national security issue” on Sunday, May 1, 2011. After putting the launching of this operation in the context of 9/11 and how the US has “tirelessly” and “heroically” fought al Qaeda and other terrorists over the past ten years, Obama delivered the news:

And so shortly after taking office, I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority of our war against al Qaeda, even as we continued our broader efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat his network.

Then, last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground. I met repeatedly with my national security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside of Pakistan. And finally, last week, I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action, and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.[emphasis added]

What’s remarkable about the operation is not that Bin Laden is dead but rather the fact that he was killed by a targeted military operation. Intelligence the US had was used. With cooperation from Pakistan state security–the ISI, the CIA, the US military and the Obama Administration worked together for months to plan out a mission that could lead to Bin Laden’s assassination (so, as US leaders and pundit are saying, he could be brought to justice).

That special forces were able to bring down what many Americans likely considered to be the chief target in the “war on terrorism” signals how flawed it is and was for the US to argue in the aftermath of 9/11 that it needed to launch a war and occupation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan or any other country in order to keep America safe from another attack. The killing operation that occurred demonstrates any “bad guys” that pose threats can be killed without sacrificing or spending massive amounts of blood and treasure, without killing tens of thousands if not millions of civilians in a country.

It also showed that the US does not need to use drones to kill people that it deems to be a threat. The technology was not used to kill Bin Laden. A team of human beings was sent to the compound where Bin Laden was hiding and the robotic machine, which the United Nations has suggested is possibly illegal, was not needed at all.

The killing also showed where the Obama Administration is at when it comes to dealing with terrorists. Bin Laden was not arrested, detained, and sent to a secret prison. Had he, one might imagine quite a bit of intelligence could have been gleaned. Would he have talked? It’s tough to answer that question with anything beyond speculation, but, if other individuals were worth sending to Bagram or Guantanamo, certainly Bin Laden would have been worth sending somewhere so that the US could work to glean information necessary for keeping America safe.

Bin Laden died from a “targeted killing” operation, an operation that, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is part of a regimen for “killing terror suspects–including US citizens–located far away from zones of actual armed conflict.” In this case, Bin Laden happened to be in Pakistan, a country where ongoing US military operations have been taking place without proper Congressional authorization and notification .

President Obama used the killing operation to justify the war in Pakistan:

Over the years, I’ve repeatedly made clear that we would take action within Pakistan if we knew where bin Laden was. That is what we’ve done. But it’s important to note that our counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he was hiding. Indeed, bin Laden had declared war against Pakistan as well, and ordered attacks against the Pakistani people.

Tonight, I called President Zardari, and my team has also spoken with their Pakistani counterparts. They agree that this is a good and historic day for both of our nations. And going forward, it is essential that Pakistan continue to join us in the fight against al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The ISI, Pakistan’s state security agency, allegedly worked with the US to find Osama Bin Laden and mount the operation. That’s significant given the fact that in the past months there has been much tension over what happened with Raymond Davis, the ex-Blackwater contractor who was working for the CIA and shot and killed two Pakistani men. Pakistani authorities arrested Davis. The Obama Administration falsely asserted he was a US diplomat. He was eventually turned over to the US but the Pakistani government wound up issuing calls to the CIA to cease its operations.

President Barack Obama used the death of Bin Laden as a moment for celebration:

The cause of securing our country is not complete. But tonight, we are once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to. That is the story of our history, whether it’s the pursuit of prosperity for our people, or the struggle for equality for all our citizens; our commitment to stand up for our values abroad, and our sacrifices to make the world a safer place.

Let us remember that we can do these things not just because of wealth or power, but because of who we are: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

What must be said is that there is a risk to celebrating the death of Bin Laden patriotically and proudly. There is nothing wrong with privately enjoying the fact that somebody responsible for the deaths of many people is no longer alive, however, if one really wants to keep the country safe and not do things that might provoke terrorism, bragging about an operation that killed someone who may now be regarded as a martyr is probably not the best reaction.

That argument would be foolish if US citizens did not buy the notion that WikiLeaks endangers lives when it releases previously classified information that terrorists could use against America. That argument would be stupid if it weren’t for the fact that the Obama Administration refused to fulfill a Freedom of Information Act request and release torture photos for fear of endangering US troops. And, that argument would be irrational if not for the Obama Administration’s outrage toward Pastor Terry Jones after he burned a Koran that made people in Afghanistan angry, which subsequently led to the deaths of people connected to the United Nations.

The celebration foreshadows a continuation, reaffirming and, perhaps, expansion of US operations in a “war on terror” that President Obama has worked to rebrand. The speech tonight suggests that, in a country that may be losing interest in waging wars abroad, America will not waver in its commitment to keep hunting terrorists down.

President Obama’s announcement built on his May 2009 speech on national security, where he did not discard the premise for national security that the Bush Administration had used to formulate domestic and international policy but rather embraced that premise. Just like President Bush said while in office, “We’re fighting the terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them here,” Obama said during that 2009 speech, “For the first time since 2002, we’re providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’re investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities that will allow us to stay one step ahead of a nimble enemy.”

The tactic of “taking the fight to the extremists” sets up theaters for war and ensures entire regions of the world are devastated. For what does this devastation occur and why do Americans allow this tactic born out of fear to be the way the US works to “secure” the world from extremism?

Over nearly ten years, the fight against extremism has produced a “new normal” for Americans. A climate now exists where there is beefed-up airport security that violates rights to privacy, individuals are shielded from accountability for engaging in warrantless wiretapping, torture, or rendition; state secrets are invoked to prevent transparency; detainees are denied habeas corpus; prisons like Guantanamo and Bagram (along with black prison sites that still exist) continue to hold detainees perhaps indefinitely; the right to target and kill U.S. civilians and bypass due process is asserted; and military commissions or “kangaroo courts” force detainees into Kafkaesque proceedings that make it nearly impossible to not be found guilty.

The trampling of civil liberties has been permitted by America largely because many have bought into the idea that there are networks of fanatical enemies out there tirelessly plotting the death and destruction of America, who hate America for its freedom. Americans have allowed terrorism to be personified and now increasingly associate terrorism with Muslims even though all humans could potentially pose a terrorist threat to mankind. The arousal of primal fear from conjured perception and the fact that those who have been imprisoned, abused, tortured, and denied rights don’t look like “real Americans” has pushed America closer and closer to the world one reads about on the pages of George Orwell’s 1984.

The killing of Osama Bin Laden will renew this psyche in Americans’ minds. And, President Barack Obama will be able to re-brand US wars that each and every day more and more Americans reject.

Will WikiLeaks vs. NYT, The Guardian & Daniel Domscheit-Berg Drama Overshadow Contents of Gitmo Files?

4:22 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The release of the files should draw attention to the reality that, despite US President Barack Obama’s promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, the prison is still open. In fact, El Pais has posted analysis to complement coverage of the Guantanamo Files, which details how “legal and political setbacks” prevented Obama from closing the military prison:

Barack Obama criticized George W. Bush for orchestrating, executive order, a labyrinthine detention center that sent hundreds of terror suspects after the attacks of [September 11th] , condemning them to oblivion and without the right to a fair trial in civil court. Obama has perpetuated the shame of Guantánamo to the president’s decision, also through an executive order to reinstate the military commissions created by Bush and formalize the system of indefinite detention, which offers the only solution to many of the 172 inmates who reside in the prison to rot within its walls.

There is no other solution. And there is none because the invention was conceived Guantanamo from violating the most basic principle of humanity and legality rules for governing the United States and the developed democracies for centuries. To send to whom the administration of George W. Bush considered suspected of violating U.S. and be soldiers of Al Qaeda, the legal architects of the “war on terror” was invented the concept of unlawful enemy combatants, thus bypassing the safeguards offered by the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war . Detainees in secret CIA prisons anywhere in the world began to land in Guantanamo in January 2002, hooded and shackled hand and foot.

It should draw attention to each of the individual reports and place them in the context of information that journalists have already reported. It should help us further understand what has been going on in the dark and murky military prison that has become so notorious and perhaps further color the world’s understanding of documents the ACLU and other organizations have managed to obtain in the past years.

But, the New York Times has published coverage of the documents and did not obtain them from WikiLeaks. Also, according to Greg Mitchell, who has been covering WikiLeaks for TheNation.com with a daily blog since Cablegate began, “”WikiLeaks abruptly lifted the embargo Sunday night, after the organization became aware that the documents had been leaked to other news organizations, which were about to publish stories about them.”

By 8:50 ET, the Times had posted a story on the Gitmo Files. The Telegraph then reported seeing the cables. The Pentagon had posted a statement that was circulating by 9:15 PM ET. Around 9:20 PM ET, WikiLeaks began to post the files and had an editorial written by Andy Worthington up on the site framing the Guantanamo Files. As 9:50 ET rolled around, the Washington Post finally had their package on the Guantanamo Files posted.

The Times claimed that the Guardian and NPR had files. NPR reported it had obtained the files from the Times. And, by 11:10, The Guardian’s David Leigh was talking about the media organization’s the just released files, which he said were obtained from the Times.

The timeline of events in the release of the documents raises numerous questions, as many of the WikiLeaks releases have. Some of these questions Mitchell asks:

Who leaked the WikiLeaks files to The Times? To summarize: WikiLeaks gave its Gitmo files to 7 news outlets but not the NYT or The Guardian, probably due to falling out with them over previous leaks. But someone leaked the files to the Times, which in turn gave them to The Guardian and NPR. The Times decided to go ahead tonight with covering / publishing files tonight, and WikiLeaks and partners apparently then rushed to lift embargo and come out with their coverage an hour or two behind the Times. At least that’s all suggested by McClatchy and The Guardian. Or did NYT learn that embarge was about to be broken and so moved “abruptly” first? In any case: WHO LEAKED THE FILES TO THE TIMES? Remember, the Times is not claiming that it got them from a government or Gitmo or military source, or from the original leaker — it says these ARE the WikiLeaks documents. So does that mean they came from one of several disgruntled ex-WikiLeakers?

The tension WikiLeaks has with prominent newspapers of the world like the New York Times and The Guardian now inevitably means any release will have this sort of drama. Like teenagers in high school, WikiLeaks selects a few “trusted” media organizations to provide the material. But, since it has sour relationships with organizations and a few disgruntled former members of WikiLeaks out there like Daniel Domscheit-Berg (who likely still has many of the files WikiLeaks plans to release), the material that is planned for release gets shared with other news organizations. And, in some cases, the “trusted” organization defies WikiLeaks and shares the material with organizations that have been left out so they can get in on the coverage.

At 12:00 pm ET, WikiLeaks tweeted, “Domschiet, NYT, Guardian, attempted Gitmo spoiler against our 8 group coalition. We had intel on them and published first.”

It appears WikiLeaks moved to release the files at this time because there was a conspiracy afoot to pre-empt WikiLeaks’ release, which may have been planned to take place some time later on April 25th and late in the evening on Easter Sunday.

Now the material is out. The reports deserve more attention than what just unfolded in the past twenty-four hours between some of the world’s most prominent media organizations. Nonetheless, WikiLeaks yet again demonstrates how it is a prism for understanding how the press operates.

The Guardian and the New York Times desperately wanted to beat WikiLeaks on the release. And that is not just because the two media organizations have beefs with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It’s also because WikiLeaks challenges their traditional role as gatekeepers—organizations that decide what to leak and what not to leak and when to leak material and when not to leak material. Beating WikiLeaks was about reclaiming that gatekeeper function, but, unfortunately for the organizations that weren’t in on the project, they were unable to get their material up and out to people before the partners and WikiLeaks began to cover the Guantanamo Files.

Update

Michael Calderone has posted a full backstory: what supposedly happened in the run-up to the release of the Gitmo Files.