Category Archives: Spooks

Quote if the day: There’s too much democracy


That’s not our opinion: In esnl‘s opinion there’s too little of it, because democratic governance governance depends first and foremost on free and informed decisions by a fully informed citizenry, and we live in an information age characterized, sadly, by the lack of a broad-based common forum.

Instead,m we exist in a world characterized by an increasingly fragmented mediascape, where each of us in enclosed by a filter bubble, where we receive information tailored by us and the corporateers running the media to prey upon our basest impulses and desires, while excluding other inputs that might challenge us to actually think about viewpoints other than our own.

Additionally, he rise of the anonymous comment system has brought about the rise of new levels of incivility, where the commenter is freed from any responsibility for her/his own remarks, allowing for new levels of sheer ugliness in public discourse.

One of those who has profited most handsomely from this new mediascape is Peter Thiel, Silicon Valley venture capitalist and co-founder of Pay-Pal and a major early investor in Facebook.

Thiel is also the co-founder of Palantir Technologies, a cyberspook firm with corporate and government clients and one of the principals in a Bank of America-backed plan to sink Wikileaks and journalist Glenn Greenwald.

From Palantir's proposal to use cybertechology to destroy Wikileaks.

From Palantir’s proposal to use cybertechology to destroy Wikileaks.

Thiel has garnered abundant headlines of late from his successful backing of Hulk Hogan’s invasion of privacy action against Gawker Media, owners of the website that also outed the German-American billionaire as gay.

And now he’s taking the platform at the GOP convention in Cleveland tonight to hail the virtues of his chosen exemplar, Donald Trump.

And with that, our QOTD from Ben Tarnoff of the Guardian:

What Trump offers Thiel isn’t just an excuse to be contrary and politically incorrect. Trump gives Thiel something far more valuable: a way to fulfill his long-held ambition of saving capitalism from democracy.

In a 2009 essay called The Education of a Libertarian, Thiel declared that capitalism and democracy had become incompatible. Since 1920, he argued, the creation of the welfare state and “the extension of the franchise to women” had made the American political system more responsive to more people – and therefore more hostile to capitalism. Capitalism is not “popular with the crowd”, Thiel observed, and this means that as democracy expands, the masses demand greater concessions from capitalists in the form of redistribution and regulation.

The solution was obvious: less democracy. But in 2009, Thiel despaired of achieving this goal within the realm of politics. How could you possibly build a successful political movement for less democracy?

Fast forward two years, when the country was still slowly digging its way out of the financial crisis. In 2011, Thiel told George Packer that the mood of emergency made him “weirdly hopeful”. The “failure of the establishment” had become too obvious to ignore, and this created an opportunity for something radically new, “something outside the establishment”, to take root.

Now, in 2016, Thiel has finally found a politician capable of seizing that opportunity: a disruptor-in-chief who will destroy a dying system and build a better one in its place. Trump isn’t just a flamethrower for torching a rotten establishment, however – he’s the fulfillment of Thiel’s desire to build a successful political movement for less democracy.

Snowden: ‘This is not about me. This is about us.’


Visitors to the Roskilde Festival, the massive music festival held ever year in Denmark, were greeted by an unexpected guest lats month, Edward Snowden.

From the festival:

Amongst the sense of community, exotic food, colourful camps, unique live shows and much more, there is something else that stands out clearer than most other things from the festival for thousands of guests: Edward Snowden’s talk about digital surveillance related to the festival’s focus on equality.

Focus on digital surveillance

The famous whistleblower’s talk – via satellite from Moscow – followed a much-debated prank conducted by the activist art group The Yes Men that involved them setting up fake signs stating that the festival would be collecting and indefinitely storing all text and phone conversations while on festival grounds.

Before the nature of the signs was revealed, many festival-goers showed both despair and anger. This was exactly what The Yes Men had hoped to achieve with the stunt: to put emphasis on digital surveillance as a topic that needs to be discussed on a much broader scale.

The whole process has been documented by The Yes Men. Their 12-minute film about digital surveillance, the data stunt and Edward Snowden’s talk at Roskilde Festival 2016 is out now.

And with that, here’s the video, just posted by festival organizers:

Edward Snowden and The Yes Men surprise crowd at Roskilde Festival

Program notes:

At Roskilde Festival 2016, activist art group The Yes Men set up signs at the festival site saying that the festival would collect, store and pass on data from the festival-goers whenever they texted and talked on the phone.

But the message on the signs was of course untrue: it was all part of an art project thought up by the satirical activist and art group The Yes Men in collaboration with Edward Snowden. They wanted people to be aware of the consequences of digital surveillance. The festival-goers were in for a surprise…

German spooks want to target foreign reporters


And for the same reason they targeted German reporters until they were slapped down by the Bundestag. . .for that matter, for the same reason Richard Nixon illegally spied on reporters in the U.S.

What’s the German word for Plumbers? Oh, yeah: Klempner.

You remember the Plumbers, don’t you?

They were the squad of ex-spooks and other devious souls dispatched by the Nixon White House to find out who was leaking embarrassing things to the White House press corps.

Targets included reporters for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times.

One special target, syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, was even earmarked for assassination before it all went bad for tricky Dick.

So what about those Klempner?

German spooks slapped down

From the 27 May edition of Deutsche Welle:

The German government’s parliamentary committee has confirmed allegations that Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) agents illegally spied on journalists to expose their sources.

The 180-page parliamentary report made public determined that measures taken by the BND against German reporters in an effort to shut off leaks violated the law.

“Regarding the accusations in the press that the Federal Intelligence Service … illegally spied on journalists in order to expose their sources, it is to be ascertained that such observations did take place … these measures were predominantly illegal,” the report read.

BND agents picked through the journalists’ rubbish and traced their research, the report stated. While none of the reporters were bugged, agents used other measures against them to try to uncover their sources, including stealing a box of his papers that one journalist had thrown away and tracing another’s research in the federal archive.

The report, compiled by Gerhard Schäfer on behalf of the committee, also called for the agency “to formally apologize” to the journalists whom it spied on.

>snip<

The head of the BND, Ernst Uhrlau, apologized to the media shortly after it was released and promised to take steps to prevent such abuses in future.

“As president of the BND, I apologize for all rights abuses that resulted because of steps taken by the service,” he said.

If at first you don’t succeed. . .

Caught black-handed and dressed down for spying on their own country’s journalists, Germany spooks are trying an end run by getting legislation to spy on non-German reporters covering their country.

During our own journalism career, we’ve encountered lots of reporters from other countries, and one thing we can say for certain is that there’s always a lot of communication between foreign correspondents and domestic reporters in the countries they’re covering.

So spying on the foreign correspondents is sure to turn up a lot of information on and communications with the German press corps.

But the whole idea of spying on the Fortuh Estate has raised a lot of hackles, including officials of the world’s largest intergovernmental security agency, with responsibility for arms control, press freedom, human rights and the promotion of human rights, and fair elections

From the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an official body with representatives from 57 jurisdictions:

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic, today expressed concern about a proposed law on the German Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND, Bundesnachrichtendienst), which was debated in the Bundestag, Germany’s Federal Parliament, today.

“Increasing surveillance capabilities of journalists is a clear threat to media freedom,” Mijatovic said. “This draft law runs counter to the very core of fundamental freedoms such as media freedom and freedom of expression.”

The draft law increases BND’s capabilities to place foreign journalists under surveillance. Moreover, no exemption is made for the work of journalists, and journalists without citizenship of the European Union can be subjected to surveillance without an explicit court order.

“I call on the German Bundestag to revise the current draft law and ensure proper the protection of journalists regardless of their nationality,” Mijatovic said.

More opposition to the law

Needless to say, journalists themselves are up in arm, as is a leading journalism NGO.

From Reporters Without Borders:

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the German ruling coalition’s parliamentary groups to immediately amend a proposed law on the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, in order to prevent the BND from spying on journalists.

The bill empowering the BND to place foreign journalists under surveillance is to be debated in parliament.

Instead of clarifying issues, the federal government has completely abandoned the protection of foreign journalists and is poised to legalize measures that would constitute grave violations of two fundamental rights – freedom of expression and media freedom.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Farewell to one of American journalism’s greatest


Sydney Schanberg was the greatest boss I never got to work for.

Back in 2001, I talked extensively with Schanberg about a new weekly newspaper he was preparing to launch in New York. He agreed to hire me, though the pay wouldn’t be much at first.

No problem, I said, eager to work in the most powerful city on earth for a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist for whom I had deep respect.

We had a lot in common, two stubborn men who had each been driven out of prestigious journalism jobs, his at the New York Times and mine as the lead investigative reporter for the Sacramento Bee, because we had dared to ask important questions about very important people.

But then came 9/11/ and with it, funds for the new venture evaporated.

Schanberg went on to write columns for the Village Voice and I would soon be hired as managing editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet.

And today, Sydney Schanberg is gone.

From today’s New York Times obituary by Robert D. McFadden:

Sydney H. Schanberg, a correspondent for The New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize for covering Cambodia’s fall to the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and inspired the film “The Killing Fields” with the story of his Cambodian colleague’s survival during the genocide of millions, died on Saturday in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He was 82.

His death was confirmed by Charles Kaiser, a friend and former Times reporter, who said Mr. Schanberg had a heart attack on Tuesday.

A restive, intense, Harvard-educated newspaperman with bulldog tenacity, Mr. Schanberg was a nearly ideal foreign correspondent: a risk-taking adventurer who distrusted officials, relied on himself in a war zone and wrote vividly of political and military tyrants and of the suffering and death of their victims with the passion of an eyewitness to history.

Indeed, if folks today remember Shcanberg it’s probably because of the hit film based on his book about the Cambodian genocide.

Here’s the trailer for the critically acclaimed 1984 feature film:

The Killing Fields

Program notes:

OSCAR WINNER: Best Supporting Actor – Haing S. Ngor, Best  Cinematography, and Best Editing.

A New York Times reporter and his Cambodian aide are harrowingly trapped in Cambodia’s 1975 Khmer Rouge revolution. After the war, the adviser is imprisoned in Pol Pot’s work camps in Cambodia, and the journalist lobbies for his release. Sam Waterston, John Malkovich and Oscar winner Haing S. Ngor star in this shattering true story.

Schanberg won a Pulitzer for International Reporting for his coverage of the Cambodian killing fields, and his return to the Big Apple should have marked the beginning and a rise to the top.

But Schanberg had a problem as one of his Times colleagues explained to me: “He covers the city like a damned foreign correspondent.”

Indeed.

Consider this excerpt from journalist Edwin Diamond’s 1993 book From Behind the Times: Inside the New New York Times:

In the fall of 1977. . .Sidney Schanberg, his distinguished overseas service behind him, was back in New York, on a senior editing track, and being talked about as the “next Abe Rosenthal.” Like Rosenthal a decade before, Schanberg was running the Times Metro desk and seeing New York with the fresh eye of a a foreign correspondent. In a memo to Rosenthal, Schanberg proposed major new treatment of the homosexual community of New York, which he described as “ large and increasingly middle class. According to Schanberg, “many people still think of homosexual life in terms of interior decorators, Fire Island, and leather bars, but increasingly it’s also very much a world of lawyers, physicians, teachers, politicians, clergymen and other middle-class professional men and women who, aside from their sexual experience, live like their ‘straight’ counterparts,”

Rosenthal replied that while he would always give attention to Schanberg’s ideas, he didn’t “want a whole bunch of stories or a series. A great amount of coverage at this time would simply seem naive and deja vu. It was “a question of perspective” for the Times. “Yes, there are many homosexuals, just as there are many of almost everything in New York, I have a gut feeling that if we embark upon a series for now or a bunch of pieces, it would be overkill. And here he set down his principle of inclusion-exclusion, old hand instructing the new man: There is also a question of what we want to do with our space. Space is gold, The proper use of space is the essence of our existence, because it reflects our taste and judgment. . .It is the areas of taste and judgment that, in the long run, are our most important areas of responsibility.” Schanberg’s ambitious series never appeared.

Chris Hedges, a former New York Times colleague and fellow Pulitzer winner, described Schanberg’s experiences in a 17 July 2013 interview with The Real News Network:

Sydney Schanberg, who worked for many years for The Times, was eventually pushed out of the paper as the metro editor for taking on the developers, who were friends with the publisher and who were driving the working and the middle class out of Manhattan (so now Manhattan’s become the playground of hedge fund managers primarily), says correctly that your freedom as a reporter is constricted in direct proportion to your distance from the centers of power. So if you’re reporting from Latin America or Gaza or the Middle East as I was, or the Balkans, you have a kind of range that is denied to you once you come back into New York and into Washington.

Hedges had more to say in a 27 June 2011 essay for Truthdig:

Many editors viewed Schanberg’s concerns as relics of a dead era. He was removed as city editor and assigned to write a column about New York. He used the column, however, to again decry the abuse of the powerful, especially developers. The then-editor of the paper, Abe Rosenthal, began to acidly refer to Schanberg as the resident “Commie” and address him as “St. Francis.” Rosenthal, who met William F. Buckley almost weekly for lunch along with the paper’s publisher, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, grew increasingly impatient with Schanberg, who was challenging the activities of their powerful friends. Schanberg became a pariah. He was not invited to the paper’s table at two consecutive Inner Circle dinners held for New York reporters. The senior editors and the publisher did not attend the previews for the film “The Killing Fields,” based on Schanberg’s experience in Cambodia. His days at the newspaper were numbered.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

UPDATED: Chelsea Manning suicide attempt fails


America’s best-known leaker apparently made an unsuccessful attempt to kill herself, reports United Press International:

Former U.S. Army soldier Chelsea Manning, who was imprisoned for leaking classified documents to Wikileaks, has reportedly trying to kill herself.

Chelsea Manning, 28, is currently serving a 35-year sentence. She tried to commit suicide in a cell at Fort Leavenworth Prison in Kansas, according to CNN. One source told TMZ that she tried to hang herself.

Manning was rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment before being returned to prison.

U.S. Army spokesman Colonel Patrick Seiber said that Manning was found in her cell “during the early hours of July 5th” and added that officials “continue to monitor the inmate’s condition.”

As Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, Manning leaked a vast trove of State Department cables to Wikileaks as well as documents and combat videos from the Iraq war, was convicted of espionage, computer fraud, and disobeying military orders.

Diagnosed with gender identity disorder by Army physicians, Manning asserted a female identity and renamed herself Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, the name under which she is serving her sentence in the army prison at Fort Leavenworth.

UPDATE: While the army is talking to the press about Manning’s condition, they are refusing to provide the same information to Manning’s attorneys.

From Fight for the Future:

Today, an unnamed official at the Army revealed unverified information relating to Chelsea Manning’s confidential medical status to the media and Nancy Hollander, lead attorney on her defense team, released the following statement:

“We’re shocked and outraged that an official at Leavenworth contacted the press with private confidential medical information about Chelsea Manning yet no one at the Army has given a shred of information to her legal team.

“I had a privileged call scheduled with Chelsea at 2pm Leavenworth time yesterday, after the Army has now said she was hospitalized, but the Army gave the excuse—which I now believe to be an outright lie—that the call could not be connected although my team was waiting by the phone.

“Despite the fact that they have reached out to the media, and that any other prison will connect an emergency call, the Army has told her lawyers that the earliest time that they will accommodate a call between her lawyers and Chelsea is Friday morning. We call on the Army to immediately connect Chelsea Manning to her lawyers and friends who care deeply about her well-being and are profoundly distressed by the complete lack of official communication about Chelsea’s current situation.”

Empire on the brink: Corporate crime and war


In one of her best interviews yet for teleSUR English, Abby Martin talks with New York Times reporter James Risen, whose critique of American imperialism and its fruits is almost as radical as Martin’s

We are perplexed that none of the San Francisco Bay Area news media have profiled Martin and her rise to become a journalist of international standing, a Bay Area native who began her career on Berkeley’s community access cable channel, then moved on to RT America and then to teleSUR, where she hosts The Empire Files, a weekly investigative series.

In the latest episode she talks with New York Times reporter James Risen, whose reporting on the National Security Agency and other issues won him a Pulitzer Prize and threats of prosecution from both the Bush and the Obama administrations.

In their wide-ranging discussion, Martin and Risen talk about the national security state, American imperialism [yes, a New York Times reporter actually uses the I-word], the corporatization of war and the insidious power of military contractors, and the hypocrisy of an Obama administration that has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous American presidencies combined.

Perhaps most telling is Risen’s observation of a critical fact un- or undereported by mainstream media: The fact that virtually all “lone wolf” terrorists have resorted to desperate measures in search of revenge for deaths of loved ones at the hands of the American military and its allies.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Abby Martin with NYT’s James Risen on Fighting Censorship

Program notes:

Few journalists know the cruelty of government censorship as well as James Risen, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the New York Times, targeted for several major stories implicating criminality by the US war machine and its national security state.

Headlines of the day: ‘Can you hear me now?’


From ZDNet:

US courts didn’t reject a single wiretap request in 2015, says report

The number of wiretaps rocketed by 17 percent on the year prior

And from the Intercept:

Secret Rules Make It Pretty Easy for the FBI to Spy on Journalists

Secret FBI rules allow agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from two internal officials — far less oversight than under normal judicial procedures.