Generally speaking, I regard my approach to unravelling the vast complexities of reality (if there even is such a thing) as intrepid and, for the most part, fearless. But there are two ideological holy lands that I enter clutching my commentary with some degree of fear and trembling.
The first is Israel, the sense of bracing for the worst reactionary outbursts whenever I gather the largely pointless courage to criticize Israeli policies, especially those designed and implemented by the radical Zionists who dominate decision-making there, such as with the relentless and merciless settlement expansions and the genocidal war criminality. You quickly learn that the IDF does not merely physically invade other states, but also has Minuteman-like cyber reactionaries — let’s call them muscle-toughs — at the ready who pounce on any and all criticism of their ways and means. That is, if the article about Israel’s latest arrogance even has its commentary section turned on.
The second tread-lightly zone is in the Untamed Territory that is the commentary section of Glenn Greenwald’s blog. Dissenters know all too well what will happen if they too tightly question a claim or fail to exhibit the appropriate level of hagiographical devotion. Like some of the sceptical animals with questions for Napoleon in Orwell’s Animal Farm, you find you have to get through the dogs first, always mindful of what happened to that working class hero, Boxer, who, you might say, was the glue of the community. The irony is, and the cult of Greenwald sure does like its irony feeds, you can look left at the righty wingnuts of Zion, and then right at the lefty flywheels of Sion, and totally not know the difference.
I believe Glenn Greenwald has provided some excellent analysis as the national security state has grown. He has been especially effective in extrapolating on the ramifications of executive office abuses under Bush and Obama, and the precedents they have set for deeper abuses by future executives, who may not have the humanity our present and last president have exhibited. Like many people, I applauded when he went from Salon to the Guardian, not only because it was a no-brainer, but because I felt he had a chance to immensely influence beyond his long-time cultish followers – to open many more mainstream hearts and minds to the unpleasant truths thrust upon us all since the towers came down on 9/11. And though I had stopped reading his blogs at the Guardian for quite some time, I was still disappointed that he gave up his growing influence on everyday readers by jumping, as he put it, at the opportunity to work for a billionaire – a neo-liberal “philanthropist” with a business model where a moral compass should be.
I don’t read Greenwald’s revelations at his new venture, The Intercept. I don’t really feel there’s much more he can ‘teach’ me – a metaphor he often invokes when he gathers his children of the corn around for the latest “lesson” to be drawn and chalkboarded that day. Nevertheless, while reading a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review yesterday, one link led to another, until I saw in a search engine the headline for an Intercept piece that appeared on August 12, “NPR Is Laundering CIA Talking Points to Make You Scared of NSA Reporting.” So, out of morbid curiosity, I checked it out.
It didn’t take long to figure out where it was heading and how it would end up. Greenwald has a hard-on for Dina Raston-Temple following a confrontation they had a couple of years ago, when Raston-Temple claimed to have been made privy by the Obama administration to classified information that convinced her that drone-killing Anwar al-Awlaki without due process was justified, a view she disseminated on her NPR program, no doubt influencing countless middle class commuters looking for an excuse to remain comfortably numb. Greenwald rightly pissed on her parade for seeming to hoard information, which he argued should be released because it was in the public interest.
So here he was again nailing Raston-Temple, who was once again barking for her master, Obama and the national security circus. The silly 5-minute chicken nugget all dipped in Dina’s honeyed voice made its debut on the NPR drive-time drive-through menu on August 1, and, as Greenwald rightly pointed out, it was essentially the passive regurgitation of an unchallenged allegation made by the CEO of a company not far from Harvard Square called Recorded Future. Says D R-T, “He had heard the Obama administration say that terrorists had changed the way they behave because of the Snowden leaks. He wanted to see if it was really true.” She then spends most of the segment seemingly vocalizing a company press release detailing how they confirmed Obama’s suspicion that the Snowden leaks had aided the enemy. As with her previous al-Awlaki hit piece, she was casually setting Snowden up for a death sentence. After all, if al-Awlaki (and his innocent son) could be droned by executive order for expressing sympathy for the plight of jihadists, then surely a man who actually provided information to the enemy that caused them to alter their tactics, consequently putting US lives at risk, was certainly eminently drone-able, right? So Greenwald pounced.
Among the important things Greenwald pointed out was that Recorded Future had been funded in its start-up by Q-Tel, the “independent” venture capitalist arm of the CIA. Though Greenwald provides one of his typical links to an article detailing this arrangement, it’s from 2010 and one wonders why he hasn’t written about Recorded Future before (certainly he has received prods to do so from members of his commentariat). Because it doesn’t take much of a perusal of the Recorded Future web site to see that, like Booz-Hamilton, the NSA contractor Snowden worked for, that they were offering disposition matrix and predictive analysis features (the company name says it all) that easily could be the user-friendly GUI end of CIA/NSA cyber spookery. It’s also notable that NPR is one of the featured news outlets displayed at the bottom of the website. Hilariously, in one of Recorded Future’s YouTube video demonstrations, they feature Barack Obama as a demonstration model for how targets and their associations are monitored. Which I found not so much ironic, as, you know, maybe a reminder to the president of what they know.
But D R-T is small fry, and, as it turns out, not the whole story by a long shot, and it defies credulity that Greenwald missed it.
Just two days after NPR spread their fool’s gospel to the goldfish, a piece appeared in the Washington Post written by one Stewart Baker, “As evidence mounts, it’s getting harder to defend Edward Snowden.” This piece is interesting for a number of reasons:
* Baker cites the same Bruce Schneier blog Greenwald does, but, unlike the Interceptor, he attacks Schneier’s credibility with respect to his assumptions about al Qaeda cryptographic adaptations. Schneier, a cryptographic analyst, argues that Snowden’s revelations provided no technical assistance to al Qaeda operatives and debunks the notion that they re-jigged their encryption coding. Baker essentially libels Schneier as a lackey for muckrakers like Greenwald. Ordinarily, this is not a sling Greenwald would allow to go unchecked. Yet in the week or so between the Post piece and Greenwald’s blog, no one seems to have brought it to his attention. It gets better.
* Baker is not a journalist but a former counsel for the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as a current principal champion of Obama’s machinations. He provided important testimony to the 9/11 Commission in 2003, where he pointed out with wrung hands that ‘if only we’d had predictive analytics the horror, the horror might have been averted.’ Baker’s own blogging on the group blog site, the Volokh Conspiracy, where he often cites legal cases in defense or clarification of NSA shit, would be, I put forth, a natural place for Greenwald to have planted one of IEDs (improvised expressive device: usually I mean by that a pun, but a blog can go boom, too). Of course, if you go to Baker’s blog now, you’ll be re-directed to WaPo, “as part of a new joint venture with the Post.” This escaped Greenwald.
* WaPo is owned by Amazon (Bezos) and Amazon is building a special database for the CIA, which, among other things, suggests a conflict of interest for reporting anyway, let alone a piece written by an intel counsel (a fact not mentioned in the piece). So you have a company–Amazon–building a CIA database out one orifice and allowing penetration by another spook into another, and yet Greenwald does not find this worthy of mention in his D R-T slap down? Why not? Could it be (I’m being cynical) because he has his mother lode Snowden book listed with Amazon? But Greenwald is not merely selling his book on Amazon, he has entered a special arrangement. Just under his book listing on the site is a special offer to readers: If they apply and are accepted for an Amazon.com Rewards Visa they could get his book on the surveillance state for free (!). Look:
When you delve further, you discover that the card is issued by one AGI gift cards, which Amazon, in typical deceitful fashion, describes merely as “a Washington corporation,” totally neglecting to mention that AGI is in fact a subsidiary of Amazon. Nor do you discover before beginning the application process for the Rewards Visa that your information will be processed by JP Morgan’s Chase bank, with them clearly receiving data from a very specific group of readers (dissident types) that certain collectors would love to know more about. And it’s because they would be specially filtered through this deal with a Greenwald purchase that a certain question of integrity arises. One notes rather quickly, by searching, that Thomas Piketty has no such special come-on associated with his Capitalism in the 21st Century.
Greenwald has of course railed against the abuses of JP Morgan Chase in the past, not so much because of their prominent role in the sub-prime mortgage debacle and other assorted shystery, but because of the special cosy deal they worked out with the Justice Department to get off rather lightly for their horrid abuses.
Amazon is one of eBay’s principal competitors (according to Forbes magazine, only about 7% of Amazon’s total revenues comes from book sales; the rest is from selling other stuff, just like eBay. Maybe Greenwald felt conflicted by this awful potential blip in his bestseller sales and could not bring himself to delve. But it’s embarrassing, to say the least, for someone who polishes his integrity to such a high sheen, and so passively works with a company like Amazon, which, aside from working with the CIA, is known to treat workers with contempt; which sniggily responded to widespread drone fears by suggesting Amazon might deliver books that way; which uses very intrusive algorithms; which DRM locks its e-books that you unknowingly don’t really buy but lease; and which has alienated writers and the publishing industry with mean anti-trust-like tactics.
*Looking back, a further cause of alarm is the claim last year by the New York Times and the Washington Post that they were hacked by “Chinese” spies. Seems plausible at first. But then the two papers coincidentally hired a company called Mandiant to come in and determine what data was stolen and how it was done. Kevin Mandia, for whom the company is named, spoke before the US House select committee on intelligence in February and made this telling remark:
“While many industry players have extremely capable security programs, the majority of threat intelligence is currently in the hands of the government. Indeed, about two-thirds of the breaches Mandiant responds to are first detected by a third party – usually the government – not the victim companies. That means that a majority of the companies we assist had no idea they had been compromised until law enforcement or a business partner notified them.”
But what’s equally telling though is the degree to which Mandia’s online biography has been scrubbed. You have to do some digging to discover that Mandia, a Lafayette University graduate, started out his cybersecurity career in the Air Force and was “a computer security officer in the 7th Communications Group at the Pentagon,” a fact that you’d think he’d be prominently displaying, and yet it is buried and unelaborated upon. The government hacking of corporate computer systems, followed by offers to have Mandiant fix it, sounds like, a form of protection to me.
Mandiant said all usernames and passwords for all journalists at both papers were poached. Bad, sure, but worse is that it turns out that the directors of Mandiant have roots in the spook community and actually came over from another company called Man Tech Inc., which boasts such old school spooky luminaries on its board as Richard Armitage, Richard Kerr, and Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minihan.
In another instance of deep irony that Greenwald would have appreciated had he looked into it, one industry article on Mandiant describes how they modelled their facilities after Star Trek motifs, including having a control room that was a mock bridge from the Enterprise – just like the control room NSA head Keith Alexander operates from, and with which Greenwald took such delicious issue. What a coincidence.
Not terribly long after the “Chinese” breach, the Washington Post went up for sale, with none other than eBay’s Omidyar and Amazon’s Bezos bidding on its holdings. Omidyar opted to pursue an information empire by corralling “the best and brightest” adversarial journalists, while Bezos decided to do so by building and expanding on a name brand. It’s almost like they were the two rich brothers in the film Trading Places, and Glenn Greenwald was Eddie Murphy.
But there’s more. The Post was sold in October 2013, and, as if by modus pollens, Mandiant got bought out shortly thereafter, in December, by a company called FireEye. And, of course, FireEye ends up being venture capitalized by Q-Tel, just like Recorded Future. Which raises the question of what happened to Mandiant data captures, including usernames and passwords of reporters and editors, from the NYT and WaPo expeditions? Maybe Greenwald will get around to that, although he was prodded about the Mandiant connection more than once without any response of interest.
Back in March, Counterpunch’s Chris Floyd discussed at length eBay owner Pierre Omidyar’s role in helping to fund the corrupt but democratically elected Ukrainian government, a success which has brought the world closer to another catastrophic war. He was assisted in his doings by USAID, the old soft shoe of the CIA. Greenwald is not fazed by this. He’s not fazed by Omidyar’s cooperation with the NSA, tweeting at one point, “I don’t doubt PayPal cooperates with NSA….” Until some of his long-time followers expressed alarm, he wasn’t fazed that the website he built from scratch was employing Google Analytics and Amazon algorithms, and others, to track and store data on visitors who showed up at Intercept, nor fazed that Intercept’s TOS was not exactly visitor friendly. He’s unconcerned that his readers who take advantage of the special offer on the Amazon website may, trusting his judgement, divulge personal data to authorities that risks their becoming persons of interest by virtue of their connection to Greenwald. And he’s unconcerned that some readers see his document-hoarding as not much better than Dina Raston-Temple’s gatekeeping role-play.
What Greenwald’s doing may not be technically wrong, from a neo-liberal point of view, but it sure raises some serious questions from a progressive point of view. But no one seems to have the cajones to ask. Greenwald’s authority now, and we know how that goes.
John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia. His articles on politics, pop culture, and literature have appeared in publications in the US, Australia and Europe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org