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Obama’s Latest Speech on Afghanistan: Bridging the Say/Do Gap to Finally End the War

6:56 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Those who read President Barack Obama’s speech will likely be reading to find hints of when the conflict might finally come to an end. Support for a pullout from Afghanistan is at an all-time high, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. But, there is little reason to put much stock in the fact that ten thousand troops will be leaving Afghanistan this summer. Withdrawing a number of troops around July of 2011 was always part of a plan, a way of deftly managing public opinion.

When Obama went ahead and added thirty thousand troops, he knew, as shown in Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars he had two years with the public. He understood the perils of escalating a war, as retired Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry,  retired Gen. James L. Jones and Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute all offered a level of dissent against Admiral Mike Mullen, Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. And, Obama allegedly told Vice President Joe Biden in private to oppose a big troop buildup but could not stand up to military brass. In the end, though, he was able to set a withdrawal timetable of ending the war by 2014.

Like any speech on war by US presidents these days, it began by re-opening the wounds of 9/11, by forcing all Americans to recall the fear or pain they experienced that day. It transitioned into a history of how America had gotten to this point—why America invaded Afghanistan, how it got “sidetracked” in Iraq (sorry for  your luck Iraqis) and why America committed to a surge in Afghanistan about a year and a half ago. It proceeded to outline the plans and goals for the next stage of the mission and then concluded with pure, pathological American exceptionalist fallacies.

A key difference between this speech and the surge speech is during the speech there weren’t any US State Embassy cables or war logs from WikiLeaks to reference and call “bullshit” when something was said with an err of confidence that seemed preposterous. Fast forward to June 2011, with plenty of information on US diplomacy and US military operations in Afghanistan, there is ample reason to doubt the assertions President Obama makes in his speech.

When Obama announced the surge, he committed the US to refocusing on al Qaeda, reversing the Taliban’s momentum and training Afghan security forces to defend their own country. According to Obama, the US is meeting these goals or objectives and so the country will be able to “recover” the surge and be back around the level of troops that were in Afghanistan when President George W. Bush left office.

One week ago, Jonathan Owen for The Independent reported, “Not a single Afghan police or army unit is capable of maintaining law and order in the war-torn country without the support of coalition forces.” Owen cited a US Department of Defense report on Afghanistan from February showing “out of more than 400 army and police units in Afghanistan” none are capable of operation without assistance from coalition forces. And, Owen also highlighted the fact that twenty-five billion US dollars have been used to train and equip Afghan forces thus far and Lieutenant-General William B. Caldwell does not think the “training mission” can be complete until 2017.

A cable from December 2009 titled, “Karzai Looks Forward,” features this exchange on the Afghan army and police:

Turning his attention to the Afghan National Army (ANA), Karzai announced that the ANA leadership should lead simpler, more spartan lives. He criticized widespread reports of ANA generals driving expensive cars and NDS reports that only no officers had died in battles with insurgents, only ANA soldiers died (the latter account was disputed by Minister of Defense Wardak). Reflecting on ANA recruitment, Karzai asked why so few Afghans from the provinces of Zabul, Ghazni, Helmand, Herat, and Farah enlist in the ANA. He bemoaned the fact that only drug users join the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Khandahar and Helmand Provinces. Upon hearing the latter, Minister of Interior Affairs Atmar interjected that a partially completed personnel asset inventory conducted in Khandahar and Helmand turned up the surprisingly good news that only 20 percent of ANP personnel were drug users. [emphasis added]

These days, what percentage of Afghan police are drug users or addicts? How is that impacting operations? More importantly, do private contractors like DynCorp leaders still “pimp little boys to stoned Afghan cops”?

A June 2009 cable shows the DynCorp leaders pimping Afghani children to the police. At bacha bazis or “boy-play” parties eight to fifteen-year-old boys are “made to put on make-up, tie bells to their feet and slip into scanty women’s clothing.” The boys dance seductively to older men. Their “services” are auctioned and men will sometimes purchase them outright. And, the State Department understands that bacha bazis are a “widespread, culturally accepted form of male rape.”

Purchasing services from a child is illegal under Sharia law and the civil code in Afghanistan. The party mentioned in the cable led to the arrest of two Afghan National Police. Are “dancing boys” still a problem for law enforcement in the country?

What about this story from the cables on Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd saying the situation “scares the hell out of me”? Or the fact that he found France and Germany’s contribution to fighting the Taliban to be “organizing folk dancing festivals” and the comment from Australian Special Representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan Ric Smith that the mission was like a “wobbly three-legged stool”?

Obama’s speech singled out the Afghan national police, but what about the unconventional forces the United States has been using? A November 2009 cable indicates the Afghan government and local communities were using “unconventional security forces. These “local and private bodies” were proliferating because of the lack of “public confidence in the police.”

Interior Minister Hanif Atmar had a plan to use a “traditional militia concept.”

Locals who are loyal to the government and register their existing arms could serve as police auxiliaries, receiving food and even some pay from MOI in return for helping the police. Atmar’s longest-serving advisor, Habib Wayand, explained that the Minister prefers to encourage small groups linked to local shuras, rather than large militias that might bite back or prove loyal to commanders with their own agendas.

Exactly, how are these militias impacting operations now? And, also, a prime proposal from Atmar in February 2010 involved sending twelve to fifteen thousand police to train in Jordan at a facility constructed for training Iraqi police. There is little indication this proposal has been accepted by US forces tasked with training Afghanis to keep their country “secure.” Atmar also reported a “need to train 50,000 per year to meet expansion targets and offset attrition” but the maximum training capacity was around 30,000 trainees.

Less than 100 al Qaeda are in Afghanistan. It seems true that the goal of refocusing on al Qaeda has been achieved but why did US forces ever have to “refocus” on al Qaeda? Was there ever a point when they weren’t going after al Qaeda?

The Afghan War Logs released by WikiLeaks almost one year ago revealed the Pakistan spy service was meeting directly with Taliban for “secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” To what extent do these operations persist?

The released war logs also showed the US military covered up “a reported surface-to-air missile strike by the Taliban that shot down a Chinook helicopter over Helmand in 2007 and killed seven soldiers, including a British military photographer.” There may be political leaders affiliated with the Taliban who are willing to talk, but how does the US intend to halt the fighters who are committed to fighting US forces?

The questions are not raised because this author supports the war effort and wishes to see it continue. Doubts are made evident because President Obama appears to be certain that it will all work out by 2014. It seems quite clear that this speech is part of a ploy to con Americans into believing the mission is ending and will end as the timetable being discussed suggests yet it appears it could take another half decade to train forces or further sort out a political solution. In the meantime, if the US is being consistent, wouldn’t forces have to remain to prevent a vacuum from forming?

Furthermore, the conclusion of Obama’s speech shows that what is at stake for America, as for any war, is its credibility and reputation. Obama, whose weapon of choice in governance is often compromise, lays out two choices, in the same way he laid out two choices when working to pass health reform. The are not necessarily the only two choices America has but they are two choices, which Obama averages to get a solution that will make possible a balancing act between the military and political establishment and the citizens of the United States.

He presents one of the choices as isolationism or retreat. This means no longer being an “anchor for global security,” letting despots and terrorists flood the earth and create anarchy. The other choice he presents is overextension, struggling to confront every evil that can be found in the world. (Absurdly, he does not hint at the reality that the US already tries to go after all evil or at least exploits this as a pretext for many, many operations.)

Upon establishing these poles, he plants a stake in at what he deems “the center.” The solution is not necessarily right or wrong but “pragmatic.” The answer is not to deploy large armies when targeted operations can be used. When innocents are being slaughtered, the US can rally international action (e.g. Libya). Somehow, the final stages of Afghanistan are part of this “centered course.”

The disenthralled approach obfuscates the past and recasts the future. US-assassination squads operating with “kill-and-capture lists,” the use of drones, intelligence agents awash in data they don’t know what to do with, and the killing of civilians going unreported, all revealed in the Afghanistan War Logs, can continue as tools so long as they are employed properly. Brutal night raids, which have led Afghanis in villages to fear US forces more than the Taliban, become legitimized. The brutality of war cast as “pragmatism” suggests what is unfolding is part of a measured approach and whether those who get bombed at weddings care about “pragmatism” versus “realism or “idealism,” that does not matter.

The most fraudulent part is the mythological portrayal of America that Obama presents:

In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power — it is the principles upon which our union was founded. We are a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens. We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others. We stand not for empire but for self-determination. That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab World. We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.

The sophistry of these words dares one to ask whether engaging in warrantless wiretapping, torture, or rendition, invoking state secrets to prevent transparency, denying habeas corpus to detainees in prisons like Guantanamo and Bagram (along with black prison sites that likely still exist), holding detainees in detention indefinitely, asserting the right to target and kill US civilians bypass due process or employing military commissions—“kangaroo courts”—is what nations that adhere to the rule of law and respect the rights of people do.

The portrait of America presented and its underhandedness obscures how America has typically been at war with those in the country who engage in acts of self-determination, who dissent against power.

Search warrants, grand jury subpoenas, indictments, trials, spying, infiltration, entrapment, raids, and severe limits on demonstrations with bystanders, protesters and journalists all subject to arrest at demonstrations are all omitted. Obama cannot sell America as a model country for freedom if that paragraph contains hints at abuses of the state or Executive.

Thus, the next stage of the Afghanistan war, officially launched by this speech, is benign compared to the pathological rot in the military and political establishment, which conditions someone to be able to stand before a world and utter such misrepresentations.

Gareth Porter, investigative journalist, says this morning on Democracy Now!, “There is an effort here to create a narrative that as he put it, the war is receding, the tide of war is receding. When in fact, nothing of this sort is happening…Clearly, the Taliban are carrying out counterattacks this year and will do so again next year. That is not going to come to an end.” And, about 70,000 US military forces along with thousands of contractors would remain in the country after 2012.

Thanks to transparency, technology and the courage of whistleblowers, citizens in this country can begin to bridge the gap between what leaders say and do in such a way that has never been possible before in this country’s history. Information released by outlets like WikiLeaks can be used to confront speeches like this one head on and work to bridge the say/do gap. It’s relentlessly working to bridge this gap that will force leaders into a corner that will eventually lead to deception being exposed and the war coming to an end.

Grand Jury Meets to Question WikiLeaks Supporters: ‘Do You or Have You Ever Worked for WikiLeaks?’

7:13 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

(update below)

A federal grand jury empaneled to investigate WikiLeaks meets again in Alexandria, Virginia today. David House, co-founder of the Bradley Manning Support Network, is expected to appear before the grand jury. He and others in the Greater Boston area have been subjected to this process, which seeks to embroil them in espionage charges for being linked to WikiLeaks.

It is a tired cliché, perhaps, but, with each new development in the investigation of WikiLeaks—in a process that might be considered a part of a larger war on WikiLeaks—more and more individuals are being made to answer the question, “Do you or have you ever worked for WikiLeaks?” (Soon they will be asked, “Are you or have you ever been supportive or sympathetic toward WikiLeaks?”)

House has been targeted consistently by the government for the past months. His lawful association with the Bradley Manning Support Network, which was created to raise funds for the legal defense of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks now being held at Ft. Leavenworth, has transformed him into a marked man. In November 2010, Department of Homeland Security agents stopped House at O’Hare International airport as he was returning from Mexico.

The agents asked House about his political activities and beliefs. His laptop computer, camera, and a USB drive were all seized. The questioning and seizure of personal property does not appear to have been carried out because House posed a threat to border security. But, House was made to face intrusive and intimidating tactics because he joined a lawful group.

“The search and seizure of my laptop has had a chilling effect on the activities of the Bradley Manning Support Network, by silencing once-outspoken supporters and causing donors to retreat. Our government should not be treating lawful activists like suspects,” explains House.

The ACLU has come to his defense and filed a lawsuit against the DHS. The ACLU has called for the “return or destruction of any of House’s personal data still in the custody of the government and disclosure of whether and to whom the data has been disseminated.” And, if not for the ACLU sending a letter to DHS, House would likely have not been able to get his seized laptop, camera and USB drive back after seven weeks.
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WikiLeaks Through the Looking Glass: A Panel Discussion in a School of Journalism Classroom

7:15 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

ImageA student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Chicago was gracious enough to invite me to speak on a panel on Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks, which he had to put together for his “Media, Ethics and the Law” class. I participated in the panel this morning.

In addition to myself, the student informed me Timothy McNulty, a foreign editor for the Chicago Tribune who covered the Iraq invasion and the Afghanistan War, and Paul Rosenzweig, Carnegie Visiting Fellow and former Department of Homeland Security official, would be participating. A couple of student journalists would speak during the panel as well.

McNulty and Rosenzweig were both present in the classroom where the panel was held. I was in The Nation Magazine office in Manhattan, New York.

The student who organized the panel had me call in and put me on speakerphone. I was able to listen to what McNulty and Rosenzweig were saying.

Rosenzweig began the panel saying with assurance there isn’t any doubt the material WikiLeaks has released has caused risks. He said lists have been created of people who were listed in the documents—lists featuring the names of informants—and the Taliban has been hunting these people down.

Rosenzweig cited a Zimbabwe opposition leader who many believe to be endangered as another example of the risks WikiLeaks’ releases have created. He said there are good laws on secrecy, files released contained information on whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, and he has no problem with Manning being prosecuted.

McNulty agreed. And I was greatly disturbed by the falsehoods that McNulty let stand and made certain that I was able to comment.

I corrected what Rosenzweig said about there being no doubt that there has been harm to people was “pretty false.” There is significant doubt as to whether people have been harmed. I don’t know if there is a concrete conclusion on how many people have suffered or died as a result of the releases.
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Memorial Day in America: What the Government Wants Americans to Remember Vs. What WikiLeaks Thinks Should Be Remembered

8:04 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Citizens of the United States today join in celebration of Memorial Day and honor those who have served and died in American wars from now all the way back to the American Civil War. It is the ninth consecutive Memorial Day during the “war on terrorism,” which was the Bush Administration’s response to the September 11 attacks. The “war on terror,” as the world knows, led to the Afghanistan and Iraq War and countless other covert military operations all aimed at rooting out terrorism.

The memories of war shared with veterans in communities are, of course, sanitized. Communities do not really tell the stories of war. Members of squads like the “Kill Teams” of Afghanistan do not share photos or cell phone videos they captured when they shot innocent civilians and posed with them. They do not talk about the glory of employing “enhanced interrogation techniques” or torture to gain, often, false information from detainees at Guantanamo or “black” prison sites to better prosecute the war against global terrorism. And probably few could be said to be telling real war stories, like the ones that can be found in the pages of the American literary classic by Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried.

WikiLeaks has released military reports from both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. What those sets of documents reveal along with the contents of the few thousand US State Embassy cables released indicates there is a reality that society and government would like to suppress. The contents may be useful to the US government, as decisions are made in future wars, but much of the contents might lead a society to hesitate to engage in future wars of choice especially wars that appear to be authorized illegally (e.g. the Libya war, etc).

When US President Barack Obama finally began to withdraw some troops from Iraq, this is how he reflected on the past years of war:

The Americans who have served in Iraq completed every mission they were given.  They defeated a regime that had terrorized its people.  Together with Iraqis and coalition partners who made huge sacrifices of their own, our troops fought block by block to help Iraq seize the chance for a better future.  They shifted tactics to protect the Iraqi people, trained Iraqi Security Forces, and took out terrorist leaders.  Because of our troops and civilians — and because of the resilience of the Iraqi people — Iraq has the opportunity to embrace a new destiny, even though many challenges remain.

This is how people wish to remember war. This is what they hope veterans accomplished. This story and not the truth of war is what they prefer to think about if they think of the “reality” of war on Memorial Day at all.

Unfortunately, for a population insulated from daily reports of the horrors of war, WikiLeaks came along and released the Iraq war logs and a “Collateral Murder” video and threatened to pierce the bubble the press and government has let form around the American population.

Unlawful killings of civilians, indiscriminate attacks or the unjustified use of lethal force against civilians, horrendous abuse and torture of Iraqis by the Iraqi National Guard or the Iraqi Police Service, and torture of Iraqis whilst in UK custody (presumably, whilst in the custody of US and other coalition forces custody as well) were each revealed in detail.

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PBS Chat Raises More Questions on ‘WikiSecrets’ Documentary

7:41 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

ImageProducer Marcela Gaviria and producer/correspondent Martin Smith, who both worked on the FRONTLINE “WikiSecrets” documentary that aired last night, and Brian Manning, Bradley Manning’s father, participated in an online PBS chat that offered people an opportunity to ask questions and make comments about the film.

Gaviria/Smith suggest the prosecution in the Manning case is “quite strong” and investigators have “matched Manning’s computer to [computer hacker Adrian] Lamo’s, verifying the authenticity of the chats.” Gaviria/Smith add, “To be acquitted Manning’s lawyer would somehow have to prove that Manning had been framed and his computer had been tampered with.”

This focus on Lamo overlooks a key legal dilemma that has risen as a result of President Barack Obama declaring at a fundraiser that Manning “broke the law.” That’s the issue of “unlawful command influence.”

Whether Manning could have a fair trial now that the Commander-in-Chief has told his subordinates he thinks Manning is guilty is doubtful. A military officer would be risking his career if he or she handed down a decision that did not meet the approval of the Obama Administration. Gaviria/Smith are seemingly oblivious to this when they type their answer.

Asked why the documentary overplayed Manning’s homosexuality, Gaviria/Smith explain, “Manning’s homosexuality is not relevant. What is relevant was his struggle with the Army’s Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy. It eroded his respect for Army authority and led to disillusionment with Army life. It’s not that he was gay, it was that he was discriminated for being gay.”

A clarification is necessary. Two points are raised here: one is that he lost respect for authority. That is a point that could very well incriminate Manning during his trial. The other point that he was discriminated is much more benign. It implies his frustration with the military was justified because he was being treated unequally.
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Review: PBS FRONTLINE’s ‘WikiSecrets’ Wants to Be Objective and Fair and That’s Why It’s Weak

6:27 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

ImageAnyone familiar with the stories of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the organization’s founder and Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower to WikiLeaks, would be forgiven for wondering whether PBS Frontline’s documentary “WikiSecrets” presents anything new or not. The documentary attempts to make a sensational connection between Manning and Assange and suggest that Assange might know Manning is the source of the information.

The Story

PBS FRONTLINE documentaries are typically straightforward. Thus, the opening montage provides a good idea of what the main points of the documentary will be: it’s hard to tell if Manning approached Assange or whether Assange approached Manning, WikiLeaks had feared one of its “sources” would be exposed, the chat logs suggest Manning knows Assange (but Assange denies that) and WikiLeaks is an anti-secrecy organization that doesn’t believe in secrets, which is why over half a million documents were leaked.

In the first act, FRONTLINE attempts to psychoanalyze Manning and make a determination on his mental health. Sordid details are presented leading one to understand that Manning found himself to be smarter than most of the other soldiers in the military. He was gay and had no respect for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He was using Facebook in a way that put him at risk. He was incapable of keeping a steady job. He was a vocal person and had little respect for his commanding officers. And, an army supervisor did not find him to be fit to go to Iraq.

Adrian Lamo enters the story. The personal dilemma he experienced when deciding whether to turn Manning into the authorities is presented in terms of the fact that he is a hacker, who typically would not be an informant for the government. He consulted Tim Webster, Army Counterintelligence 2002-07, and recognized the value of classified information.

“There was no correct option…only the least incorrect one,” Lamo says. Ultimately, the viewers are to believe he wanted to do the right thing.

Following Manning’s arrest the story moves into a next act, which focuses on Assange, how he worked to build a coalition to release the war logs from Iraq and Afghanistan and then subsequently the US State Embassy cables.

The documentary hammers away at the idea that Julian Assange had an utter disregard for collaborators and informants—innocent people—and thought if the release of logs endangered them they should die. News organizations are presented as players who fought to convince Assange that his “purist ideology that all information should be accessible to everybody” could cost lives.

Assange rebuts this presented criticism but the rebuttal is nothing more than a simplistic denial. On its face, there is no explanation of why this “rhetorical trick” is wrong. (And that’s because the footage, which features him explaining himself did not make the final cut.)

In the next act, Assange and WikiLeaks are scrutinized for releasing the cables and making it difficult for US diplomacy. Former State Department spokesperson, who was forced out of his position as spokesperson when he spoke out about Manning’s treatment at Quantico, says, “Mr. Assange has disclosed this material without regard to the risk that it does generate to real people,” and, “The unauthorized release of 251,000 cables that covers every relationship the United States has with countries around the world has done damage to the national interests of the United States.”

John D. Negroponte, former Ambassador to the United Nations and Deputy Secretary of State for the Bush Administration who helped push America into a war in Iraq, explains the disclosure of cables has been a “pretty serious irritant.” He stops just short of equating the damage the cables has done to a nuclear bomb saying, “It’s serious.”

In the final act, FRONTLINE gives viewers the first glimpse into some of the deeper elements of the story of WikiLeaks, Manning and Assange. Viewers see supporters standing in solidarity with Manning at Quantico. Viewers are informed that the cables released so far have “exposed widespread corruption” in Tunisia and “helped fuel a revolution and, arguably, had a domino effect.”

Now consider that detail: FRONTLINE, at the very least, implicitly credits WikiLeaks with much of what has happened in the Arab Spring, which means much of President Barack Obama’s recent Middle East speech given at the State Department would have been different if WikiLeaks had not been releasing cables.

Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former member of WikiLeaks, mentions how, at the core of debate on WikiLeaks, there is this tension between transparency and secrecy. What needs to be figured out is what should be secret and what shouldn’t be kept secret.

After noting Lamo now lives in an undisclosed location and fears for his life, the documentary closes with this line, “I wouldn’t mind going to prison for the rest of my life. It’s important that it gets out. I feel for some bizarre reason it might actually change something.”

Beyond the discussion of mental health, this may be the first and only time that the audience gets a sense that Manning may have chosen to leak classified information not because he is a troubled young kid but because he had a moral compulsion to release such information.

FRONTLINE Glosses Over Possibility Manning Allegedly Leaked Because of Moral Values

Had FRONTLINE wanted, it could have found a way to include this nugget on Manning, which comes from Micah Sifry’s book WikiLeaks & the Age of Transparency on page 33-34:

Why did Manning allegedly do it? According to his dialogue with Lamo, he had been instructed to watch fifteen detainees held by the Iraqi federal police for printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” Manning says he found out “they had printed a scholarly critique” against Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki, “a benign political critique titled, ‘Where did the money go?’… following the corruption trail within the PM’s cabinet.” But, when Manning “*ran* with this information to a senior officer to explain, “he didn’t want to hear any of it…he told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs [federal police] in finding *MORE* detainees.

After that, he said, “I saw things differently. I had always questioned the [way] things worked, and investigated to find the truth… but that was the point where I was a *part* of something… i was actively involved in something that i was completely against…” Manning, it appears, knew he might be on a quixotic mission, but despite his military oath, he felt an allegiance to something higher. “Its important that it gets out… I feel, for some bizarre reason it might actually change something,” he wrote Lamo. “God knows what happens now….

This anecdote, however, is conveniently omitted. One can speculate that FRONTLINE is just like any other media organization, deferential to state power. The faults that can be found in this documentary are the faults that can be found in the traditional media’s coverage for the past months. Not only is traditional media appalled by WikiLeaks and afraid this organization is doing great damage to the journalism profession but traditional media adheres to the official line coming from government so closely that its coverage of WikiLeaks inevitably distorts facts and misrepresents key aspects of the organization’s operations, which are adversarial to state power.

A more appropriate critique is that Frontline suffers from a belief in the tradition of objectivity. Thus, the organization fashions a “fair” and “objective” documentary that balances out two sides. Those who have worked for the press, the military or the government detail their views on WikiLeaks. In the case of Executive Editor of the New York Times Bill Keller, and The Guardian’s David Leigh, they actually worked with Assange and WikiLeaks.

The other side is Assange, Bradley Manning’s friend, Jordan Davis, David House, the only person other than Bradley Manning’s immediate family that was allowed to visit Manning at Quantico, and Daniel Ellsberg. (Perhaps, Bradley Manning’s father, Brian Manning, who gives viewers some reason to empathize with Manning.)

Quest for “Balance” is the Documentary’s Chief Weakness

FRONTLINE lays out its “Journalistic Styles and Practices” stating, “publication of truthful, accurate information is the prime mission of our nonfiction national programs.” The guidelines make clear, “Truth is an elusive combination of fact and opinion, of reason and experience. We ask for the viewer’s trust. In turn, we promise that the subject matter and the people in the program will be treated fairly.”

Producers are to: approach stories with an open and skeptical mind and a determination, through extensive research, to acquaint themselves with a wide range of viewpoints; keep personal bias and opinion from influencing their pursuit of a story; examine contrary information; exercise care in checking the accuracy and credibility of all information they receive, especially as it may relate to accusations of wrongdoing; give individuals or entities who are the subject of attack the opportunity to respond to those attacks; represent fairly the words and actions of the people portrayed; inform individuals who are the subject of an investigative interview of the general areas of questioning in advance and, if important for accuracy, will give those individuals an opportunity to check their records; try to present the significant facts a viewer would need to understand what he or she is seeing, including appropriate information to frame the program; and be prepared to assist in correcting errors.

Such guidelines for objectivity invariably mean programs FRONTLINE produces may be far more conventional than say a documentary produced by a director like Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock or Alex Gibney (who is producing a WikiLeaks documentary). They may not seek to provide deeper insights into issues because the fairness and objectivity of the documentaries they produce could be called into question.

Michael Rabiger, who founded the Documentary Center at Columbia College Chicago, writes in the Directing the Documentary textbook he authored the following on objectivity, fairness and clarification:

Objectivity: People frequently assume documentaries are objective because factual television likes to balance out opposing points of view. This is supposed to ensure a fair, unbiased view of the events and personalities in question. Such balance is a tactic inherited from journalism, which sometimes must preserve the identity of sources that gave information on condition of anonymity. Political balance lowers the dangers to, and responsibilities of, the newspaper. Papers fear accusations of political bias or of being proved wrong, because this brings discredit and lawsuits. So part of a journalist’s professionalism has always been to keep things looking objective. A newspaper will further this appearance by prescribing a uniform and faceless “house” writing style, and by camouflaging staff attitudes as the opinion or the conflicts of others.

In the 1930s this fixation with equipoise led reputable British newspapers to depict the trouble brewing in Germany as a petty squabble between Communism and Blackshirts whipped up by Red troublemakers. We see in hindsight that no responsible commentator could sit on the fence and report in this hands-off way. It was neither fair nor responsible when the Nazis had already begun acting on their genocidal intentions.

Reporters and documentary makers, then and now, must interpret events. This means that for each specific issue your film must imply where the cause of justice and humanity probably lies. To guide us there, you will often have to lead us through a maze of contradictory evidence and let us make our own determinations—just as you made yours. Interestingly, this is how a court presents evidence to the ultimate authority in a democracy—a jury.

Fairness:>In a world of ambiguities the documentarian’s responsibility is to be fair. If, for example, you are telling the story of a malpractice accusation against a surgeon, it would be prudent not only to cover the allegations from both sides but to cross check everything that can be independently verified. In this you follow the same practices as the good journalist and the successful detective. Because matters are seldom as they first seem, the accused is not always guilty, and the accuser is not always innocent. Being fair to countervailing points of view also guards your own interests: your film will have its enemies no matter whose part you take, and you will probably have to defend them, possibly in court. If your enemies can demonstrate a single error of detail they will try to use it to damn the whole work. This is how opponents tried to shoot down Michael Moore’s first film, Roger and Me (1989).

Clarification, not simplification: What interests the documentarian is seldom clear-cut, but there is an ever-present temptation to render it so. Nettie Wild’s A Rustling of Leaves (1990) is a courageous and sympathetic account of the populist guerrilla movement in the Philippines, but the partisan nature of her beliefs makes one feel guiltily skeptical throughout. She makes heroes of the left-wing peasants in their struggle against right-wing thugs, and though her sympathy is clearly justified, we know that armed resistance cannot long remain honorable. Soon both sides commit atrocities and the waters become too muddy for the story to remain one of moral rectitude. To be fair means not only relaying the protagonists’ declared principles but also exposing the ugly and paradoxical aspects of liberation through violence. Wild does this, for instance, by showing the trial and execution by guerrillas of a youthful informant. But one doubts if there is much of a trial when the camera is not around.

A film may be accurate and truthful, but it may fail unless it is perceived as such. Handling your audience well means anticipating the film’s impact on a first-time viewer every step of the way and knowing when justifiable skepticism requires something more built into the film’s argument. The more intricate the issues, the more difficult it will be to strike a balance between clarity and simplicity on the one hand and fidelity to the ambiguities of actual human life on the other.

An Unusual Opportunity to Check the “Fairness” of the Producers

ImageBecause WikiLeaks posted the full interview correspondent Martin Smith did with Assange, it is possible to draw conclusions on the nature of objectivity and fairness imposed upon this project.

What Assange says in the final cut of the documentary is the following: we do not know whether Mr. Manning is our source or not; journalists can be identified by their camera bags in the “Collateral Murder” video; WikiLeaks could have better structured various deals and attached economic incentives; source identities are not collected, WikiLeaks is dedicated to protecting sources; WikiLeaks does not know if Manning is the source or not; chats with sources are always anonymous; “Collateral Murder”-type videos can potentially stop wars; WikiLeaks reached out to Lamo because of the difficult position he put them in by turning in Manning, never heard of Bradley Manning or Bradass87; did not receive cables Manning is discussing in logs, WikiLeaks discussed whether it was good to release logs and cables since a young man could potentially be harmed; insisted on working with New York Times so First Amendment protections could provide operation cover; WikiLeaks has harm minimization process to protect lives from being endangered; diplomats deserve to face consequences for engaging in embarrassing behavior; history is on WikiLeaks’ side and when you challenge powerful organizations you will be attacked and WikiLeaks continues to step up publishing speed.

What doesn’t make the final cut is talk about the US military and the national security establishment—what Assange calls a “patronage system”—and how Assange contends it was inevitable that WikiLeaks would face counterattacks; the various traditional media versus new media issues that are raised by WikiLeaks; the importance of not letting the New York Times characterize WikiLeaks as a “source” and not a collaborative partner; the threat to national security journalism from the US national security establishment that this period in history has revealed; exactly why Assange suggested people needed to be named in the Afghan War Logs and how WikiLeaks is one of the most accountable organizations in the world.

Somewhere in that material, a more sympathetic presentation of WikiLeaks could have been pieced together. But, Smith had a concern: in the post-9/11 world, shouldn’t we be worried that someone like Manning would just choose to leak classified information? (You can hear him note this in the full interview video WikiLeaks posted.) That concern appears to have trumped giving WikiLeaks more sympathy.

An Array of People Missing from the Film

Go down the list of people in the documentary. Why wasn’t Glenn Greenwald featured? Why wasn’t Amy Goodman invited to appear? Why wasn’t Micah Sifry included?

Why doesn’t Carne Ross appear to talk about WikiLeaks’ impact on diplomacy?

Why wasn’t Rep. Dennis Kucinich or Rep. John Conyers asked to speak? Conyers held a hearing on Capitol Hill in December of last year. Kucinich has been fighting to get a meeting with Manning.

Why doesn’t Daniel Ellsberg appear in more of the documentary?

Why was the one person who has been blogging WikiLeaks for nearly two hundred days now, Greg Mitchell, not interviewed?

Most appearing in the documentary have a history of animosity toward WikiLeaks. There is one person who appears in the documentary as an unapologetic supporter of WikiLeaks. And, who is that person? Julian Assange.

David House’s Reaction to the Documentary

On Twitter, House tweeted the following messages: “This year I’ve been calm despite being stalked, surveilled, bribed, detained, & having my computer seized, car towed, and friends punished….  The first substantive anger I felt throughout these months arose tonight after watching the stridently propagandized @ frontlinepbs special….Indignation is the only orienting sense after gawking through the twisted pro-Washington hallucination called WikiSecrets.” And, also, he tweeted, “The obvious government bias in @frontlinepbs‘s “WikiSecrets” documentary mirrors a disturbing trend among US media outlets,” and, “Students in Boston are subject to documented harassment by gov officials and @frontlinepbs focuses on unsubstantiated threats to Lamo.”

Martin Smith Just Doesn’t Get It

Watch the full interview posted and one can hear Smith during a break in the interview say to Assange that he is sorry he has to bring all these criticisms of WikiLeaks but he feels it is his “responsibility” to give Assange a chance to respond to the criticism. Assange disagrees and asks why critics should get to set the frame.

The answer is critics get to set the frame because PBS FRONTLINE is committed to producing objective and fair documentaries.

It’s much easier to get Assange to address criticisms. It’s far harder to put power on the defensive and force them to address some of Assange’s concerns with the national security establishment in the United States, which is now trying to prosecute him and those linked to WikiLeaks.

Smith also says, “I’m not trying to get you in trouble on that. I just have to ask you these questions cause they’re out there. Anybody who looks at the chat [logs] says what the hell is this? And I understand you are in a position where you can say only so much.”

This remark comes after a line of questions aimed at unearthing a connection between Assange and Manning. Someone interviewing a person only talks like this if he or she feels he has to justify what he or she was asking in the interview to regain trust.

It’s quite clear that Smith came to the interview with the intention of getting Assange to incriminate himself on camera so FRONTLINE could present a sensational “conspiracy” for viewers.

Those who watched the documentary can appreciate the visual representation of a timeline of events that occurred between Manning’s arrest and now. The documentary, like most FRONTLINE documentaries, is well-produced and, nonetheless, informative. However, it presents itself as a production that has sensational new information to impart to viewers, which it does not. It also seeks to help viewers understand the nature of the WikiLeaks organization and it fails.

That’s because it never intended to help viewers have a better understanding. As far as one can tell, nobody is supposed to walk away willing to trust WikiLeaks or support the stated mission and objectives of the organization.

On the Issue of the United States, Pakistan Is Playing with Fire

8:32 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

The Dawn Media Group in partnership with WikiLeaks has been releasing the “Pakistan Papers,” cables from the trove of more than 250,000 US State Embassy cables that WikiLeaks obtained which specifically deal with Pakistan. Thus far, some of the revelations include the following: Pakistan’s military asked for continued drone coverage, the US has had troops deployed on Pakistan soil, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been financing jihadist groups in Pakistan and the US did not provide Benazir Bhutto with proper security.

I managed to connect with Raza Rumi, a writer based in Lahore, Pakistan, who regularly writes for the Pakistani weekly The Friday Times, The News and Daily DAWN. He’s also worked in various organizations including multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and has some writing on Dawn’s website on the Pakistan Papers.

The interview was planned for Sunday at 3 pm New York Time/midnight Pakistan Time. We were going to do the interview over Skype.

Just after 3 pm, I reminded Rumi that the interview was to begin. He logged on fifteen to twenty minutes after the time we had arranged and messaged me: “Sorry I got distracted. Never a dull moment here.” At that exact moment, the Mehran naval aviation base in Karachi was under attack from militants (an attack that Adnan Rehmat says highlights “the ability of al Qaeda to function effectively as an extremist, reactionary organisation post-bin Laden”). I mention this to highlight how gracious Rumi was to take time out from Pakistan to share with me, an American, his insights on what is going on in a country that some refer to as “a hard country.”

[The interview was recorded. To hear audio, click here. And, click play on the embedded player.]

I ask Rumi about the Pakistan military and what the Pakistan Papers release tells the Pakistani people and the world about how the Pakistan military has been deceiving its people.

…It’s not just the Pakistan military. I would say Pakistan’s civilian and military elites have never trusted their people and they have been posturing on the one hand on an anti-Americanism platform and on the other they have been negotiating and bargaining with the West and in particular the Americans. And so I think this is an absolute shame because the more you do such things in a country, which is armed with nuclear weapons and where you have very strong public opinion on the particular issue of the US, you’re playing with fire. It’s an irresponsible behavior by the elites.

I ask Rumi to address President Barack Obama’s assertion that the US has the authority and right to come into Pakistan and kill any “militants” or al Qaeda leaders the US deems dangerous and how that might further complicate relations.

Rumi mentions the Pakistan Parliament recently established a stated position in early May through a parliamentary resolution that says “Pakistan’s Parliament is seriously worried about the breach of sovereignty that the US operations such as the OBL operation caused.”
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New US International Cybersecurity Strategy: Using the Language of Open Internet Advocates to Expand Power

12:15 pm in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

WikiLeaks Omitted from the US International Cybersecurity Strategy

The United States officially launched its international cybersecurity strategy in a White House event on Monday, May 16. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined by the following administration officials: John Brennan, the president’s counterterrorism and homeland security adviser; Howard Schmidt, White House cybersecurity coordinator; Attorney General Eric Holder; Secretaries Janet Napolitano of Homeland Security and Gary Locke of Commerce; and Defense Deputy Secretary William Lynn.

The presentation of the cyber security presented several principles, outlined the approach the US intends to take in the further development of cyber security protections, and indicated how the US might use the Internet to preserve its status as a superpower in the world.

Featured during the presentation were seven principles, which appear in the framework: economic engagement, protecting networks, law enforcement, military cooperation, multi-stakeholder Internet governance, international development and Internet freedom. Within the presentation, Clinton sought to explain that cyber crime, Internet freedom and network security could no longer be “disparate stovepipe discussions.”

At no time during the launch of the strategy was WikiLeaks mentioned. Not even Clinton bothered to mention it, despite the fact that she heads a State Department that had their department’s classified information leaked and published by media organizations and continue to have new information published each day.

Yochai Benkler, faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, has detailed the following:
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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.