By John Kendall Hawkins
Astmatol : a spasmolytic agent used as a powder or in cigarettes. Astmatol is made of one part henbane leaves, two parts belladonna leaves, six parts Datura leaves, one part sodium nitrate, and three parts water. It is used in cases of bronchial asthma. Smoke is inhaled from the astmatol as it burns.
- The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979)
Terje Toomistu’s Soviet Hippies is a strange trippy film. It’s full of characters coming out of a thaw, as if you were watching George Romero’s zombies in Night of the Living Dead go backwards to where they started from and find themselves in the Amazing Mirror Maze at Mall of America® — liking what they’re seeing for the first time. But one dimension removed.
Coming out of the Cold War thaw was like that. Though the annus mirabilis is most often associated with the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Velvet Revolution, both of which happened in November 1989, in fact, revolution was in the air throughout Central and Eastern Europe the entire length of that tumultuous year.
During the first six months in Warsaw and in Budapest, the years-long push for democratic reform had reached a tipping point. In August, Hungary and Austria held snipping ceremonies to cut through the barbed wire fencing dividing their countries and held “Pan-European Picnics” at the breach, through which thousands of East bloc citizens, escaped to the West.
In August, 2 million democracy-hungry people held hands and created a 650 kilometer long “Baltic Chain” through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In October, many thousands of Leipzigers chanted, “Wir sind das Volk.” And in December, Romania’s Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife were brutally executed by “the people.” By the end of January 1990, just a few months after the wall “fell,” the chimes of freedom were ringing in central Moscow: the first McDonald’s opened — leading to surreally long lines for Western fast food.
In a beerhall somewhere off U-Bahn station Heinrich-Heine-Straße (formerly Neanderthal Straße) someone muttered into his Liebfraumilch, “Schabowski, you dummkopf, you really fucked up this time.” It might even have been Günter himself. Or his drinking pal, Karl Brewski (formerly Brüske).
But long before this exciting thaw took place in the Cold War between East and West, some of the surest signs of returned life came first into the pallid cheeks of the Soviet Hippies that Terje Toomistu documents in her film. In a recent email exchange, Toomistu writes, “The first Soviet hippies that appeared in around 1967-1968 were usually from the families of intellectuals or those who had a powerful position, which ensured their access to foreign information and goods such as records, books, magazines.” But there were also radio stations that brought in Western music, and, in Estonia, where most of this film takes place, residents were often able to access the non-Soviet TV airwaves of Finland.
Music was key, and the first stirrings came as a result of tuning into Radio Luxembourg, where nascent hippies would listen to the Beatles (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club was a revelation for waking minds), hard rock, blues and psychedelic music, such as Jimi Hendrix. When these tunes moved down from their brains into their fingertips the result, at least in the film, could sound like a unique mash-up of early Beatles experimentation, Cream, and Jimi, as if the Soviets, in their hunger, were gobbling up a Big Mac, fries, chicken nuggets and a vanilla shake at the same time.
Like teens in America and Europe, young Soviet hippies wanted to stand out, dress differently, wear their hair longer and unkempt, and generally vibe that they dropping out and turning on. They were to be, at first, a passive counterculture. Peaceniks in the style of John and Yoko. In America, the length of your hair could establish your political leanings in an instant — crew cut (conservative) to long hair (liberal). The movie and stage play Hair established the symbolism. Easy Rider demonstrated how dangerous hair could be. In the early hippie days of Tallinn, as in New York, the older generation wasn’t always receptive to coiffal challenges to tradition. “We have to cut their hair by force,” one Estonian hairdresser tells us, “or they have to get it cut themselves.”
The individuals depicted in Soviet Hippies were hippies, not yippies. They were drop-outs in a political milieu where excessive material desire was wasted, as there were few ways, for most people to satisfy their wants. Toomitsu, who says she was primarily interested in an “anthropological” documentation of these alternative lifestylists, discovered, as she travelled from Estonia to Russia and back, that they had established a social network of like-minded individuals who shared homes in various cities across the USSR.
Soviet Hippies is full of characters who tell little snippets of their ‘enlightenment’ tales as the film’s narrative progresses. There’s Aksel, who talks of how hearing rock for the first time “made him vibrate.” Old Long from Moscow who recalls how “The overdrive sound started to shake our collective consciousness.” Koljsa Vasin of St. Petersburg and proprietor of Lennon’s Temple of Love, saw “something sacred” in the Beatles. Gena Zeitsev from St. Petersburg said the hippies felt “things you were prohibited to feel” by the Soviets. And Sergei Moskalev probably summed up the vibe best: “We lived in a highly regulated society. And any kind of deviance gave you a sense of ecstasy.”
Toomitsu says the Soviet hippies were all about “…remaining true to your ideals, values and practicing kindness and love towards each other – which was already a very different emotional stance from the mainstream society. Plus having a sense of participation in the western pop culture and/or spiritual quests. (The Soviet Union was an atheist state.) Not participating in [a] society that seems to be based on lies and pretentious social roles.”
The hippies called the network “sistema” or the system. The film shows them getting together to lay back, listen to some tunes, and get high. LSD was uncommon, but Astmatol, a cigarette with the wacky tobacky combination described in the Soviet Encyclopedia, made into tea, brought welcome hallucinations to numb lives, just as it did to teens in America. “The unifying feature of the movement which hasn’t lost its importance,” says ascetic Aare Loit-Babai is, lighting up, early in the film, “is the non-violent attitude.” These hippies sought “kaif,” essentially the same expansion of the senses that their young counterparts in the West sought. On a visit to Viking, “a legendary hippie in Tallinn,” Loit-Babai voices over an animation of his Astmatol high, in one of the highlights of the film.
But everything changed on June 1, 1971 in Moscow, when a “Union-wide” gathering of hippies convened outside the US Embassy under the pretext of protesting the American war in Viet Nam. Though the Soviet government had given permission to gather and protest, for reasons not fully explained in the film, authorities got spooked by the outburst of loud but non-violent behavior of the placard-bearing protesters and shove came to Pushkin Street; hippies were roughed up and arrested; many were kicked out of school, lost jobs, and at least one student leapt out a window.
Terje Toomitsu told me that this was a crucial pivot point for Soviet hippies:
There was a short period of time when the hippie movement became [politicized], and this changed the fate of the movement, pushing it deep underground, making it more radical, drug infused, and distant from any desire for political involvement. I think this is very important to understand and it largely explains the ‘escapist’ drive amongst the hippies during the 1970s.
The hippies had been given permission to demonstrate, so maybe it was the truly American audacity of free expression and the implicit middle finger to authority of happy hippiedom that Soviet officials caught wind of that irked them into action. Or maybe the put-down was CIA-agitated; another chance for Americans to show the world how the Soviets handle freedom.
Nevertheless, throughout the USSR, “socialism with a human face” inched forward toward a centrism, which was meant to be a kind of compromise with the authoritarianism. In short, a chance to purchase more Western goods, more Big Macs, and stuff made in Chinese sweatshops, like Nike shoes and iMacs. In 1989, even Berlin Wall chunks were sold as keychains in department stores. Americans now have their own centrism to worry about — two parties, one vision, and the “lesser-of-two-evils” voting is largely a case of trying to figure out which one of the two will fuck us less for the next four years. And we, too, have long lines for socialist handouts. Sigh.
The multi-award-winning film continues to make the rounds of small (mostly fringe) festivals. It’s quirky, but, as Toomitsu has pointed out, it’s also an especially interesting document for those with a cultural anthropology bent. You can view Soviet Hippies at Vimeo on-demand for a few bucks. Those interested in more information on the background of the film-making, as well as aspects of Toomitsu’s academic inquiry with the project, can view her TED Talk. Here is a generous sampling of the music soundtrack featured in the film.
By John Kendall Hawkins
They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town.
- Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”
They walked in from the Left.
They walked in from the Right.
They walked in to Judge.
They walked in to Fight.
They came to determine the fate of two hushed words: “Joe Biden.”
Officially, the articles (the charges) are: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Remove “Joe Biden” from the telephone transcript of a July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and the top Ukrainian servant of the people, President Volodymyr Zelensky, and there is no impeachment. Just quid pro quo. Same ol’ same ‘ol Congressmen know like a second pledge of allegiance.
Me and some buddies gathered and walked to see the show, sneaking into the peanut gallery, the nosebleed seats, the democratic bleachers — call it what you will — by a means I won’t reveal, except to say it reminded me of my pre-pube years weaseling my way into Boston Garden to watch Espo and Bobby Orr. But our expectations were decidedly lowered at angel heights in the Senate chamber. Lots of hoi-polloi had beat us to it and the heights were full-throated and busy-lipped. Everyone shared an opinion on the buzz below.
I heard one guy say Congress (urged on by the MSM) was thinking of making the theatrics a seasonal event, including some kind of playoff format. The guy in front of me, who looked an awful lot like Christopher Steele, was laying down a bet on impeachment with Irish booky Paddy Power, which had Trump heavily favored to beat the rap (1/50).
All eyes were on Nancy Pelosi, as she struggled with eyelineritis and handed out cheap black plastic pens, and mumbled something about freedom, while pointing to a hashtag. Souvenirs of the iconic House member walk to the Senate could be had at recess some aide announced.
There was lots of talk of multiple impeachments. Soften him up now for the October Surprise impeachment on tax evasion or murder or OCD-ing it on the emollients (manus manum lavat, goes the law). Something criminal, instead of just political. It’s a better viewer experience.
There was even talk from the raucous bluebird section, toodling and tweeting about retroactive impeachments, which brings to mind quantum and new Dr. Who episodes and all kinds of evil scenarios. George Washington smoked pot, he owned slaves — he not only crossed the Delaware; he may have crossed The Line a few times. (And what’s with the wooden teeth? Did he go to a dentist who used a woodpecker to drill away his cavities?) We could finish Nixon’s impeachment; and impeach Gerald Ford for criminally pardoning him. We could impeach Clinton again for setting back philosophy studies 1000 years with his trippy “is/is” comment. We could impeach Reagan for his trickle down voodoo that handed us all over to the 1%. On it goes…
The attractive woman wearing a tight Che T-shirt (I love women in uniform) over my shoulder was cackling about how McConnell, Graham, and Alan Dershowitz were seemingly threatening to tit-for-tat impeach into the foreseeable future. One mud pie tosses the other.
The intent of the current articles of impeachment seem to be a Democrat party punishment for Trump’s presumed (and still anything but proven) theft, with Russia, of the 2016 presidential election, as well as a determination to prevent him from the presumed stealing of the next one — with the help of the comedian in charge of Ukraine, who must miss his IMDB 7.2 rating by now.
Leroi Jones, my bud to the left, who is seething and looking like his head might explode, points out that the Democrat impeachment is just a clown show; they could have impeached Trump on all kinds of awful things, like the Suleimani hit, but they don’t want to, as they don’t want to take that abuse of power away from a future president of their own. Elizabeth Warren might be called upon early to prove her mettle ala Hillary “Hanson” Clinton, because she’s a woman (but it depends on what your definition of is is). LeRoi showed me an ear piece in the Black Agenda Report, to which I have in the past donated, to bolster his rap.
An announcement said that multiple whistleblowers had now come forward to bring down Trump, as their lawyer vowed he would do in 2017. “Maybe some of them could be put in storage for later impeachments,” the wise guy a couple of seats over snarked.
Then it was loudly announced that Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz would be coming to Trump’s rescue. Dershowitz successfully defended a serial pedo in Flo-ho; Starr went after Clinton and his affair with an intern and brutalized him, but devastated her life. When Starr didn’t get far uncovering evil in the Clintons’ Arkansas real estate dealings, he went after sex charges and their cover-up led to impeachment. (FTR, Clinton got re-elected anyway — by a landslide, sorta,)
A reaction shot on the big screen showed Monica Lewisnsky outraged by Starr’s appointment. It must have brought back impeachment tears, said the guy directly behind me. “Are you f—ing kidding me,” she reportedly gaped.
The conservatives are calling it a “coup cabal,” or, at least, that’s how Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch refers to the impeachment. JW’s too right wing for me, although I had to doff my Patriots cap when they FOIA-ed the Obama administration conversations with film director Katherine Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. JW produced documentation that the film was a propaganda flick (with classified information about the Abbottabad raid shared with the filmmakers) originally intended to be released in October 2012, just before the presidential election, but moved back as a result of criticism. Bigelow called the film “journalistic,” but it did seem to contain supernatural elements.
My buddy Dave, a few seats over to the right, was sardonically gassing, “The Joe Biden speech where he crowed about firing the investigator of Burisma in exchange for Ukraine receiving 1 billion dollars. Big Joe Biden tough on corruption. What he didn’t say is that no further investigations of Burisma have taken place since that firing. Nicely played, Joe.” I was hoping not to hear about Burisma, the Day-Glo elephant in a very dark room. Next thing, someone might be inappropriately referencing Coffee Black, the “ex” CIA executive on the Burisma board.
But then I was distracted from distraction by more distraction, as T.S. Eliot would say, and, in front of me, a dazzling blonde with an iPhone was viewing an interview with Kelley Anne Conway, threatening, in that aggressively passive tone that makes you just crazy, that if the Demos called witnesses, the Repugs would do the same, and they had better be careful of what they wished for, because they would call up Hunter Biden, and, her tone seemed to imply, go to town on him.
Mikey, three seats to the left of me, who hates everything, muttered, “After reading the Horowitz Report, what I want to know is whether we aren’t interfering in our own elections.”
“Bakhtin and the mischief of the carnivalesque,” whined an intellectual to my right somewhere; my fist cocked instinctively, and I was ready to roll out the barrel should his chin require it. He went on, like a taunt, “The problem with the deep state isn’t whether it exists or not — Ike and Snowden have said it does, and the nice middle class man from PBS, Bill Moyers, has chipped in too — but whether it’ll just turn out to be one more shallow enterprise run by machines….”
I got edgy, and we had to leave. I wasn’t sure I cared about Democracy anymore. I looked down at the proceedings one last time. And saw a vision not so splendid in the dark and now intimate room. More walking, and Lady Liberty, er, re-oriented on a dining table, all the little festival legislators pigging out in the pork barrel. Hmph.
When I got home, I didn’t bother getting off my high horse. Fuck it. Patriots, too, get tired blowing the warning trumpet and having nobody respond. They just want to hit the hay and settle into the nightmare democracy has become. And sleep the sleep of sleep.
No somnambulism allowed.
by John Kendall Hawkins
The System is the Solution.
– AT&T slogan circa 1970
If you look too long into the deep state, the deep state also looks into you.
– Variation of a Nietzsche cliché
Fifty years ago, from a cell in Chicago, Abbie Hoffman wrote in his introduction that “Steal This Book is, in a way, a manual of survival in the prison that is Amerika.” Infused with his infectious levity and intelligence, the book seemed to follow up on his 60s walk-the-talk credo: “Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”
The Military-Industrial conspiracy that President Eisenhower theorized about to Americans as he left office in 1960, has taken over, and spread its tentacles, and turned the country into a prison — until, the only way you can determine if you have a parole in the offing any time soon is by checking your Credit Report (and even that checking is held against you).
So, the first thing Steal This Book represents is a moral and political confrontation. Steal the fucking thing. When you can set off a revolution in someone’s head — or at least make it spin — just from reading the title, and forcing the would-be reader to consider their imprisonment in the system where they and their desires exist solely to feed The Man, then you are some kind of agent provocateur.
Abbie was pssst-ing that he’s on a jailbreak and would you like to come along. Liberate the fucking thing and join him in survival mode in the wilds of freedom, the book would tell how to tunnel through — dumpster-diving is in the offing, snatching clothes from Goodwill boxes, hitchhiking across Amerika, and even enjoying the occasional fine dining — but lo! “halfway through the main course, take a little dead cockroach or a piece of glass out of your pocket and place it deftly on the plate.” Then scream bloody Mary. (And put that on the tab, too.) Abbie’s kind of theatrical democracy was being-in-the-world, or being-as-activism, not just surfing and burfing,
I was reminded of Hoffman’s Steal This Book when I began reading the recently released ‘survival manual’ A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity by Tim Schwartz. Like Abbie’s book, the title presents a concept that would rattle most people today: public service: whoa. From the circus in D.C. to the oligarchical masters we call the 1%, you’re not seeing much public service these days.
If Abbie blew the whistle loudly and often from the outside, Schwartz is calling for a sneaky insurrection from the unknown interior of the MIC that we call today the deep state (DS). In a globalized world, the DS is virtually unfathomable. Scary stuff to go up against, but A Public Service explains in great detail how to do it. “If you see something you think is wrong but don’t know how to do anything about it,” Schwartz writes in very Ralph Nader-like prose, “let this book be your guide.”
Schwartz doesn’t challenge us to steal his book — at least not explicitly — but he does admonish the would-be reader, “If you can, purchase this book anonymously or gift it to a friend anonymously.” Why? Because, in the world we inhabit and in the system we belong to, every purchase is databased, and presumably — Schwartz’s implicit warning — whoever purchases a how-to book on whistleblowing will be referred, algorithmically, to a list of potential state threats requiring further eyeballing — a disposition matrix, if you will. So, like Hoffman, Schwartz might as well be telling the would-be reader to steal the fucking book.
A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity is not just a how-to book on exposing corruption and wrong-doing; it is also a very important snapshot of our era. If Abbie was all about liberating the mind to open up a world of adventure in being and getting stuff free, Schwartz is all about “compartmentalization,” of living two lives (at least) in a System that hungers for your privacy: you need to offer up an effigy-self to keep the data-deus ex machina types at bay. Schwartz makes it very clear: If you want to whistleblow you could be risking family, career, marriage — even your life. “Frankly,” he writes, “we’re still just at the beginning of this era of privacy invasion.”
You should never judge a book by its title, but with whistleblower Edward Snowden’ s Permanent Record the reader gets as close s/he can possibly get to the soul of a narrative before actually reading it. He means it: The American government, with the help of its data-gathering 14 Eyes partners, is gathering up information on every mobile or Internet-connected individual on the planet. They have a permanent dossier on each and every one of us. Snowden writes, “We are the first people in the history of the planet for whom this is true, the first people to be burdened with data immortality, the fact that our collected records might have an eternal existence.” This is germaine to Schwartz’s world view, and cites Snowden regularly.
There are three main sections of A Public Service, roughly corresponding with the sub-title of the book: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity. In the first section, Schwartz provides a cultural and linguistic context, as well as the work (and life) of whistleblowing. Different cultures have different words and connotations. The Finns, for instance, say ilmiantaja, which suggests fink or rat. A google search of klokkenluider, from the Dutch, “evoking the idea of someone ringing the church bell to warn the town of danger.” In America, Ralph Nader gives the term whistleblowing “a meaning of moral courage.” He should know.
Though Schwartz acknowledges that Snowden meets the criteria of what he would call a ‘whistleblower’, he goes out of his way to put the emphasis on action throughout the book. He writes, “As an example, instead of saying ‘whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg,’ we might simply say, ‘Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times.’” Thus, we would say, Katherine Gun, who revealed that the NSA had hit on GCHQ to gather kompromat on UN security members to blackmail into supporting the Iraq war. And, as Schwartz cites in his introduction, Peter Buxtun, who documented how a Tuskegee study on syphilis in the 60s intentionally neglected to treat African-American volunteers with the venereal disease — even though treatment was available.
With the emphasis on action rather than labels, Schwartz is hoping that a person will keep in mind the overwhelming value of the public service they are providing, rather than dwelling on how they will be perceived with the label. Whether the revelations will come from the Corporate world (Du Pont, Monsanto) or the U.S. Government (Stellar Wind, “Collateral Murder”), and no matter what the issue — sexual abuse, electoral fraud, pay-to-play, high crimes and misdemeanors — Schwartz emphasizes the importance of guarding your identity. Though it seems, at times, that whistleblowers are coming out of the woodwork all over the place, it’s important to acknowledge the malevolent partisan atmosphere that defines the political theatrics in Washington these days and the tone it sets nationally.
There is a very specific set of procedures for gathering documentation to support your proposed revelations, which, in the compartmentalized life Schwartz alludes to earlier, may involve purchasing a second computer device (say, a Tablet), staying away from SIM cards, using encryption, amping up your discretion, wearing disguises when you purchase, transacting with cash, going to free wi-fi, purchasing small denomination VISA gift cards, stalking yourself (to see what they have on you already). “You are your data,” he writes, echoing Edward Snowden in Permanent Record, and, again, “Your data will be used against you.”
Frankly, it sounds like a conspiracy theorist’s kit, in some ways, but if you choose to blow the whistle, expect to be hunted down, retaliated against, and be dealing with paranoia. One side or the other will want to get you. Compartmentalization is key. Schwartz writes, “We are in a digital arms race. The surveillants have more time, money, and power. The only way to win this war is by adopting an alternative frame of mind: compartmentalization.” I’m thinking: Joseph Conrad: “The Secret Sharer.”
This raises another crucial point: “find a partner.” Schwartz advises that it is always best to seek out the counsel of a lawyer first — but, he says, “It’s important to find a lawyer who understands the intricacies of your situation and who aligns with your ethics..” Better not just call any ol’ Saul. Another potential partner to release your documentation to is a journalist. Schwartz says you need to do your homework on a journalist. He writes, “Beyond having an understanding of the topic, a journalist partner should be able to convey the issues involved to the public. Edward Snowden was very deliberate in approaching Glenn Greenwald.”
You should be very careful in trusting someone internally, whether in the government milieu or corporate. “Once you tell someone internally,” writes Schwartz, “your anonymity and the protection that comes with it have the potential to be lost forever.” And, he adds, driving home the danger here, “In 2018, the Global Business Ethics Survey found that 40 percent of the time that an employee exposed wrongs, they were retaliated against.”
Perhaps the most difficult area of government to blow the whistle on is the one needing it the most: the Intelligence Community. As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, after Trump lashed out at the IC, “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Further, the only CIA whistleblower to ever go to jail for leaking, John Kirikaou, has said that IC whistleblowers are unfavorably looked upon and can expect their careers to end suddenly.
If you can accept the discretion required for partnering and the need for compartmentalization, then maybe you’re ready for the most difficult part: mastering the technology involved in keeping you and your documentation hidden and protected. Schwartz reminds, “Protecting your identity is the priority, and anonymity is the key to success.” As indicated earlier, it can require the care and dedication of having a second life. These are dangerous times for whistleblowing. Be anonymous and encrypted. Schwartz insists: “Go install Signal right now. Go install Wire right now. Try them out!” AND “Email is not a recommended communication technique!” And, by the way, make sure you tell yourself you won’t become a film star — it’s for the public service, and you may have to settle for knowing your revelations helped right a wrong.
Speaking of films, if you need or want Hollywood inspirations for pursuing the second life of whistleblowing, dozens of movies have been made on the subject.
It’s hard to tell whether this is a sign that whistleblowing works, or we’re so fucking corrupt that the best we can hope for is to see a decent movie produced from the revelations with an IMDB rating of 7 or above.
A Public Service: Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity contains a number of other sections that would prove valuable. There’s a section on Risk Assessment, where you ask yourself such questions as: “Who doesn’t want you to disclose this information? Who is your adversary?” There’s a section that suggests several starting point questions you can ask your partner once you’ve settled on one. There’s some example scenarios to coax your situation. There’s even Edward Snowden’s initial letter to Laura Poitrast to get his 2013 revelations going.
The Appendix includes a “social contract” offered to the reader, including, “In writing this book, I have tried to provide usable information on tools, techniques, and systems allowing the reader to be anonymous, private, and secure.” AND “I will never intentionally harm you, the reader.” All of this nice and reassuring, but unnecessary. In fact, it might even be a little disturbing that a writer feels the need to assure us he’s not out to fuck with us.
It’s an excellent book for the task it sets itself. Sane, sober advice. No jokes, no sarcasm. The book not only tells you how to prepare and succeed as a whistleblower, but gives a heapin’ helpin’ of sage advice. If you’re going to be a critical thinker in the current era, guard your privacy and integrity with your life: beware the eyes all around you and the shivs sheathed (shhh) but ready everywhere. As in the film Network, a whistleblowing about the MSM’s endless blatherscheissen, we should all be mad as hell now, with our heads out our windows, and whistling madly that we’re not gonna take it any more.
“If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.
- O’Brien to Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four
Seventy years ago, on August 29, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first nuclear bomb, and became the only other state power on the planet, after the United States, with nuclear WMD. Thus commenced an ever-expanding arms race between the two global powers in what became known as the Cold War. Democracy versus Totalitarianism, duking it out, like rock’em-sock’em robots (sold in America; means of production: Marx!), in proxy battles from Central America to the Middle East to Vietnam — held in check by one lone term of engagement: MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. America has been at war with Russia my entire life. That year also saw the publication of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which enacts a future where such forces — Oceania and Eastasia — have gone from Cold to Hot.
Thirty five years later, the real-world Oceania and Eastasia, flashed hot eyes at each other, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev not blinking. Reagan was all Bonzo giddy, feeling oats he hadn’t felt since his Hollywood Western days, pressing a presumed advantage — telling Gorby to “tear down that [Berlin] wall,” touting Star Wars (an ICBM missile shield defense system), and waxing so jocular, at one point, that during a break in a radio interview Reagan’s flippant words (“the bombing begins in five minutes”) put the Soviets on edge — and red alert. (An even more flippant NBC commentator quipped that the alert may have been triggered by a lone drunken Russian officer).
But it wasn’t all a Deep State chucklefestival. Two graphic films depicting nuclear annihilation, Threads (1983) and The Day After (1984) reminded everybody just how close to MAD Oceania and Eastasia were getting. Tensions were ratcheted to the breaking point: The Soviet economy was teetering; the Berlin Wall fell five years later; the USSR crumbled and Gorbachev eventually gave way to the Russian Trump — Boris Yeltsin. Oceania giddyupped into Eastasia with strings-attached das kapital shortly thereafter. Not every Muscovite was gleeful to see the Golden Arches roll into town, driven by the clown-Christ of capitalism, Ronald McDonald. Nyet, some nationalists griped, while scarfing down a Quarterpounder™ with cheese — and borschtroot — and condemblating how to meddle in future American helectoral process.
Thirty five years later, we have our own clown-Christ of capitalism, pre-kompromised, installed in the Oval Office, the result of, US intelligence agencies allege, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, a form of sado-masochistic paranoia seems to have gripped the nation — the president (“Fake News”), the MSM (“Putin’s Puppet”), the People (“they looked left, they looked right, but they couldn’t tell the difference”). In his new biography, The Ministry of Truth, Dorian Lynskey notes that just four days after Trump’s 2017 Inauguration, “US sales of [Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketed] by almost 10,000 per cent, making it a number-one best seller.”
Lynskey attributes this panic-driven sales soar to claims by the new administration that Trump attracted the “‘largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.’” It was a wild claim, immediately debunked by the MSM, but doubled down on by Trump adviser, Kelly Anne Conway, who dismissed the glaring evidence and pronounced that the new administration would be opting to go with “alternative facts.” Alarm bells went off across the media frontier. As Lynskey’s citing of the statistic suggests, this sounded an awful lot like the “doublethink” gobbledygook of Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, Nineteen Eighty-Four. If people were going to be living in a parallel universe, they wanted to know what to expect.
Like Dorian Lynskey’s previous work, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, in The Ministry of Truth the author shows he is adept at showing the confluence of ideas expressed by the voices of myriad protest leaders, whether through song or, if you will, dystopian visions. Ministry is a biography limited to an exploration of the etiology of Orwell’s masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four (and to some degree, Animal Farm).
In Part One, Lynskey traces the roots and evolution of Orwell’s creative and political ideas, his experiences fighting fascists and communists; and, the literary influence of H.G. Wells, Eugene Zamiatin, and a wealth of others in a cross-pollination and intertextuality that not only help define the genre but demonstrate the interpenetration of human ideas in general. In Part Two, Lynskey traces “the political and cultural life” of the novel, from Orwell’s death to Trump’s Inaugural.
Like so many other European and American Lefties who signed on as mercenaries to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39, George Orwell came away from the shattering experience thoroughly disillusioned, his ideals in disarray. “The fascists had behaved just as appallingly as he had expected they would,” Lynskey writes, “but the ruthlessness and dishonesty of the communists had shocked him.” He’d come to fight in a great battle of Good versus Evil — writers like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn and John Dos Passos had come to bear witness — but “[w]hat he found was ‘a bad copy of 1914–18, a positional war of trenches, artillery, raids, snipers, mud, barbed wire, lice and stagnation.’”
Further, reading battle reports, Orwell discovered “that the Left-wing press [was] every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right.” However, aside from the usual horrors of the war and the way they were reported, Orwell did experience moments that would prove useful in his writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lynskey writes, “Orwell found in the trenches a superior version of the cleansing egalitarianism that he had found among the tramps, and it made him a socialist at last.” A ‘cleansing egalitarianism’ (Brotherhood) is a key theme in his dystopian novel.
In another incident helpful to his fiction, he refused to shoot a fascist with his pants down, mooning melancholically, and noting of the brotherly Francophile that he was “visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him” while he’s shitting. But in a later incident, Orwell is so rattled by a rodent that he opens fire, “thus alerting the enemy and triggering a fierce firefight,” that was nearly catastrophic to his comrades in arms. Rats turn out to be Winston Smith’s greatest fear, at the end of the novel, and the means to breaking down his ego.
Probably the biggest disappointment Orwell took away from the war was the behavior of the communists; he’d served with a Marxist militia unit (POUM) and saw their atrocities close up. Lynskey wonders:
Why did Orwell criticise communism so much more energetically
than fascism? Because he had seen it up close, and because its appeal was more treacherous. Both ideologies reached the same totalitarian destination but communism began with nobler aims and therefore required more lies to sustain it.
The left hand of the Right clasped, behind the back, the right hand of the Left, in any photo shoot together — if you looked hard enough.
Orwell began reading up on Stalin’s regime, including American journalist Eugene Lyon’s description of Stalin’s Five Year plan, which included “the nose-thumbing arithmetic” of “2+2 = 5,” which is so crucial to Winston Smith’s brainwashing. He read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, whose depictions of purges and show trials (think, Goldstein, and, later, Winston Smith) further amplified his contempt for Stalin and his fear of totalitarianism. The two world wars, I and II, with the Great Depression in between, had drained civilization of its hope, vitality and wherewithal. Out of the morass rose ogres — Franco, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, and arguably even Truman (if you counted the dread that the questionable use of the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented) — as if to finish us off.
However, no one had a greater influence on Orwell’s generation than the literary colossus, H.G. Wells. Prolific, prescient, extraordinarily innovative, and widely regarded as the father of modern science fiction (Mary Shelley just rolled over in her grave, uneasily), in some ways Wells was the perfect tonic for an age that had torn humanity apart with with world wars, tyranny, and economic misery disseminated across the globe.
“Wells predicted space travel, tanks, electric trains, wind and water power, identity cards, poison gas, the Channel tunnel and atom bombs,” writes Lynskey, “and popularised in fiction the time machine, Martian invasions, invisibility and genetic engineering.” He also developed notions of a “World Brain” and anticipated the World Wide Web (sorry, TimBL). Further, he was a force behind the establishment of the League of Nations. Wells was an inspiration in a time stuck in the human morass described by T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland.
Wells, in turn, was inspired by early readings of Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, all of which required the reader to imagine with the narrator an alternative or new-and-improved world. Thus, Wells bequeathed us The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Outline of History, The Shape of Things to Come, and an enormous trove of essays and other public writings with enormous influence. All of these were enormously important to Orwell as he developed his own utopian visions.
But Orwell had seen what he’d seen in Spain, and knew the dark heart of Uncle Joe Stalin, and was, writes Lynskey, like “many writers [of his generation] consumed by the idea of decadence and decline.” H.G. Wells’ cautionary utopianism didn’t quite cut it for the lot of them. “It is no exaggeration to say that the genre of dystopian fiction evolved as it did because so many people wanted to prove H. G. Wells wrong,” Lynskey writes. There seemed to be something of the Wagner-Nietzsche competitive intimacy in Orwell’s approach to the Genius; while Wells emphasized Siegfried, Orwell and friends were all about the Götterdämmerung.
Orwell was a social democrat at heart, but he longed for something deeper and more radical, which seems to be why he was so devastated by the failures of communism. Plato had taught him that if humanity could see the Good, and the error of their ways, uncovered by dialectical reasoning, they would pursue it naturally, out of self-interest. This melancholic view (that would later infuse Winston Smith’s experience of his world) gets reinforced when he comes across the work of American Edward Bellamy — specifically, Looking Backward — 2000 – 1887.
As Bellamy’s title suggests, the novel moves backward, progressively, towards the squalor and dehumanization of the early Industrial Revolution. Lynskey notes:
When he looked around at the United States of America in the Gilded Age Bellamy saw a “nervous, dyspeptic, and bilious nation,” wracked by grotesque inequality. Millionaire dynasties controlled the industrial economy, while the labouring classes worked sixty-hour weeks for low pay in unsafe factories and sweatshops, and lived in foul slums.
In the novel, the protagonist Julian West falls into a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep in 1887 and wakes up 113 years later in a “socialist utopia,” where crime is regarded as a medical problem treatable with drugs. This got Orwell thinking.
But perhaps the single most influential piece of literature that Orwell came across, in the lead-up to writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, was Eugene Zumiatin’s We. As Lynskey points out, by coincidence Orwell had already completed an outline for his dystopian novel when he discovered Zumiatin’s work. They share some structural similarities: each features a fall guy who becomes the focussed target of hivemind hatred; a shy protagonist driven astray from his social programming by flashes of free thought and a sexually-liberated female; thought police (Guardians for Zumiatin), and forced mind-mending (from ‘I’ thinking to ‘We’ thinking). Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley nicked some ideas from We.
But Orwell had a turn at the accusation as well. Lynskey writes, “Karma came for Orwell in the form of several critics who accused him of plagiarising We.” But Lynskey dismisses them, insisting that the genre itself is rife with such borrowings and intertextuality. He answers historian Isaac Deutscher’s claims thusly:
[Deutscher] accused the author of borrowing “the idea of 1984, the plot, the chief characters, the symbols, and the whole climate of his story” from We… [but] Deutscher wildly overstated the similarities between the novels. Two: as we have seen, Orwell had already written his outline months before he read We. Three: Orwell made repeated efforts to get Zamyatin’s novel republished in English…. surely not the kind of thing that plagiarists usually do.
So there. “Originality is a vexing concept in genre fiction,” Lynskey adds.
But Lynskey is even more caustic with Ayn Rand, one of Orwell’s more vocal critics. Writes Lynskey, “There are critics who insist that Ayn Rand could have written her 1938 novella Anthem without ever having read We, and good luck to them.” Rand penned the novella “in three weeks,” and, Lynskey claims, it “is We rewritten as a capitalist creation myth, with paradise as a building site…The book’s working title was Ego.” He clearly objects to her Objectivism. Talk about getting hoiked into your own spittoon.
Later in his life Orwell faced more pressing criticism than the question of whether he plagiarized Zumiatin. Perhaps, so traumatized by what he’d seen in Spain and saw happening in Stalin’s Russia, Orwell developed a list of 38 writers — communists or sympathizers — that he turned over to the Information Research Agency, a government agency, that he recommended they not hire because of questionable allegiance to the Labour party. Apologizing for this behavior, Lynskey writes, “It is legitimate to be disappointed by the very act of sending such a list to a government agency (even a Labour one), but the edited version was at least largely accurate.” Hmm.
Some critics were having none of that apology. Lynskey quotes Marxist historian Christopher Hill who opined, “I always knew he was two-faced. There was something fishy about Orwell…it confirms my worst suspicions about the man.” But the late great polemicist (“Beat the Devil”) Alexander Cockburn “couldn’t disguise his glee: ‘The man of conscience turns out to be a whiner, and of course a snitch, an informer to the secret police, Animal Farm’s resident weasel.” (His full article is a fun read.) Does this spell the end of Orwell’s Truth? Should we never read him again? I don’t know, but, when you think about it, Winston Smith’s character takes on new dimensions with this incident — that final betrayal of all you love and everything, and all its implicit future snitching to protect We.
However one feels about Orwells’ late-life failures, Nineteen Eighty-Four has exerted its familiarity and gravitas since his death in 1950. We are all familiar with the terms of our engagement with his work. Lynskey writes:
The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police, Room 101, the Two Minutes Hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and the Ministry of Truth.
Of those terms, perhaps the answer to the equation “2+2=” may be the most pertinent to the contemporary political situation we find ourselves facing in Washington and around the world. How would you answer, brother?
Nineteen Eighty-Four’s principal concerns have been reprised in Western culture, in one form or another, for decades. For example, Lynskey describes the “aviphobic” David Bowie’s fall into “paranoia and panic” in the 70’s and how it affected his work (his Diamond Dogs album was originally meant to be called 1984.) Bowie was not alone in his feelings of demise. “IRA bombs…stagflation…a miners’ strike…an Arab oil embargo…blackouts, petrol rationing, reduced television service, and non-functioning elevators, Britain began to feel like the opening pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” writes Lynskey. In the 80s, with the advent of personal computing, even commercials, such as Apple’s highly controversial ‘1984’ Super Bowl Ad, were produced to reflect a desire to break free from mind-imprisoning Conformity. In 1990, a film version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was released, which extends the Orwellian vision into what could be a near-future reality.
Today, Oceania is otherwise known as Five Eyes, and Oceania moves in history in a world of the wars, never-ending, destruction by remote drones and online corporate-government profiling, leading toward neo-fascism or some new unthinkable form of totalitarianism. It remains to be seen when the public should have begun its Orwellian panic, whether it was in the aftermath of 9/11 — or sooner — or with the Carnivalesque decay of Exceptional Democracy. “We are an empire now. We make our own reality,” is attributed a coy Karl Rove, and it sounds like a celebration of doublethink, a movement in the direction of 2+2=5.
Lynskey wants to locate it with the Trump Inauguration, with the return of Doublethink and Newspeak. But he does remind the reader:
Orwell’s fear that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world” is the dark heart of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It gripped him long before he came up with Big Brother, Oceania, Newspeak or the telescreen, and it’s more important than any of them.
Lynskey’s words are well-taken, but I believe we must beware that Trump might be Goldstein and that hating on him has been preordained.
Toward the end of his life H.G.Wells lost his mojo for mankind. In his last published work, Mind at the End of its Tether, Wells wondered aloud, as it were, if it wasn’t time to replace the human species with something more evolutionarily desirable. Like Nietzsche, Wells seemed to long for a Zarathustrian Übermensch; he tired of being a tightrope walker in the largely indifferent marketplace of conventional ideas.
Five more years of Two-Minute hating on Trump should do it (maybe even just one). Like a soul orphaned in a mechanized world — like Winston Smith — I can almost hear a fat lady singing as it all comes out in the wash she’s hanging on the line:
I love ya
By John Kendall Hawkins
Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”
– George Orwell, 1984
Fuck Orwell. He’s another one. Always dispensing with the dyspeptic dystopias, but, when you’re not looking, he’s gathering names of Commie suspects and handing them off to the government, like a rat on someone’s face, forever. You get overwrought, in these days of bad wine and paper roses, trying to figure out who’s on the up-and-up, and who’s trying to bring you down real low. If you read the news too carefully, you risk spinning your mind right off its axis. Who is a whistleblower and who is not? What are they really whistleblowing about? Is it fake news you’re reading? Or is real news the one with the paywall? Is it all a conspiracy? Or just a theory about conspiracies? Maybe Notre Dame committed suicide in some kind of defiant Nietzschean act of spontaneous combustion.
Anyway, some old stale Marx crept back into my thinking, not that I ever understood him very well anyway (which is probably why we could never make him work (he became more a battle of hermeneutics than a sustainable philosophy (we argued till dawn in our Che tees and khakis, passing round the bong))), and I wondered, while reading the Guardian, about the means of production, about who controls the past controls the future, and who controls the present controls the past, and and my head began spinning again. The fuck, if Orwell was any help — at all.
Because there it was yesterday in the Guardian, journalist Carole Cadwalladr announcing the imminent release of thousands of documents detailing “the inner workings” of the now bankrupt data firm, Cambridge Analytica (CA). Cadwalladr broke the story about how Facebook was colluding with CA in an effort to manipulate the emotions of users to modify their behavior — specifically, during the Brexit referendum and during the 2016 US presidential election. Did CA machinations force Brexit on the UK? Did CA con enough bumpkins in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to hand the electors to Trump? A Netflix film, The Great Hack, was streamed and introduced us to self-described whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, who took us on a two-hour tour of CA’s data chambers and Brittany’s conscience. It’s hard to say which was scarier, but The Great Hack is a worthy watch.
CA and Brittany Kaiser have been in the rear view mirror for awhile now, as we’ve settled into the long impeachment season, and are all, more or less, preoccupied with the imagined horror of His reelection and four more years of ‘substance’ abuse in Washington. And yet, here Brittany was again, in the Guardian, caterwauling about more data devil dogs, and providing, through Twitter, Wikileaks-like access to a trove of further evidence of CA’s ‘Machiavellian’ shenanigans. I bit. I downloaded zips on John Bolton, Brazil, and Iran, and was so underwhelmed by the offerings that I felt I’d been had. Targeted emotions — now with psychographic datadazz; age-old, so what, meh.
The headline of Cadwalladr’s article is: Fresh Cambridge Analytica leak ‘shows global manipulation is out of control’. But there’s no evidence of that in her Twitter ‘release’. And the promise that more information will be released “in the coming months,” seems like a self-serving pronouncement to keep her relevant, leading up to the 2020 election. It’s almost like she’s still working for CA and wants to use their data (but not as originally intended) to shape voter thinking and to sell more copies of her recently released memoir, Targeted, which the New York Times implicitly panned (along with her claim to whistleblowerhood).
But the Cadwalladr piece is interesting for another whistleblowing reason: She cites, authoritatively, none other than Christopher Steele. She writes of Kaiser’s cache:
It comes as Christopher Steele, the ex-head of MI6’s Russia desk and the intelligence expert behind the so-called “Steele dossier” into Trump’s relationship with Russia, said that while the company had closed down, the failure to properly punish bad actors meant that the prospects for manipulation of the US election this year were even worse.
Has she failed to read the Horowitz Report, which cites the judicial mockery of the FBI’s use of Steele’s long-debunked dossier to falsely obtain FISA warrants to spy on the Trump campaign? How he sat the MSM down for an off-the-record chat about his ‘findings’ in July, while pushing his compostings at Mother Jones and the ‘progressive’ Left in late October 2016?
There are a lot of outstanding questions about Steele and his dossier that have yet to be answered. Like how has he been allowed to declare himself a whistleblower? Is that all that’s required, self-declaration? And a pun-like statement to Vanity Fair: “The greater good trumps all other concerns.” Then why the anonymity? Why the resistance to visiting America, for whom you, a Brit, have so much concern? Why did Cadwalladr drop his debunked authoritative voice in the middle of her piece?
At the time of his dossiering, our man of Steele had not been to Russia, where his ‘contacts’ were left behind, in years. And he left in fear for his life as “an enemy of Mother Russia.” The more you think about this election-meddler the more he sounds like a British version of homo contractus; the kind of still-connected (private) spy GCHQ might have called upon to develop kompromat on, say, UN Security Council members, as depicted in the whistleblowing film, Official Secrets, to manipulate their votes.
Yesterday, after I carefully considered the value of the Cadwalladr piece and its terrifying premise that global manipulation was out of control and Trump might win again if we didn’t put up force fields against Facebook ads by November, I watched a movie on Vimeo: Spinning Boris. The humorous 2003 film, starring Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber and Anthony LaPaglia, recounts the ‘true story’ of Boris Yeltsin’s 1996 reelection.
By 1996, few government workers were getting paid on time and there were long lines for food, especially fast-food. Then Yeltsin invaded Chechnya, and everyone hated him. According to “Yanks to the Rescue,” the Time magazine article that the film’s script seems to be based on, Yeltsin was “favored by only 6% of the electorate and ‘trusted’ as a competent leader by an even smaller proportion” and sure to lose to the Communists, when American political consultants were brought in to get him re-elected.
They brought with them the usual American kit of topical polling, focus groups, people-touching, and image manipulation (re-packaging). The taciturn Boris Yeltsin began kissing babies and dancing like a bear on stage, his white coif was moussed, ads smiled, and a drunken karaoke Elvis impersonator (late stage) slurred, in EFL-English, the Commies’ “secret maximum plan” to bring Mother Russia “back to the Middle Ages” and round up democratic reformers if they won, which was used in an eventual negative ad campaign.
They also used gizmos, such as the perception analyzer, an early algorithm device, that helped the consultants to track patterns of response to emotional stimuli. But, at the end of the day, they realized they were dealing with what Americans have had to suffer through for decades — lesser-of-two-evils voting. Despite his bad numbers, all the consultants had to do was make sure voters understood that Yeltsin was the only alternative to Communists (in the lead with 21%), and to then undermine the Commies.
One thing the movie plays up, and the Time piece ignores, is that US President Bill Clinton, and the CIA were, at the very least, “watching” the consultants in action. It’s the CIA that wants to know what the “secret maximum plan” of the Commies is, and we can be sure that wouldn’t have been okay with what they heard. We can be certain that the long lines at Mickey D’s were seen by the CIA as symbols of the Russian hunger for American-style drive-through freedom — not to be dis-enfranchised by Commie indifference. Maybe these consultants were cover. And God forgive my cynical, conspiratorial vision, but I can’t help but wonder how many people in that long, long, long line at the Golden Arches received quid pro quo coupons for voting Yeltsin.
So, what does all of this have to do with Cambridge Analytica, Brittany Kaiser, Christopher Steele, and the 2020 US presidential election ahead? I’m not sure — I haven’t been convinced — that interfering in an election requires anything more than all the usual suspect techniques we’ve seen in the past: Bill Clinton heckled GHW Bush with a guy in a chicken suit for ducking debates; political ice cubes were said to have been embedded with ‘sex’ by Hidden Persuaders; handing out free Wendy’s coupons might make a difference in a lesser-of-two-evils election choice. Even Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix, caught on a hidden camera, seems to have conceded that blackmail, not data, might be the most efficient method.
I’m uncomfortable when I hear the MSM pushing the concerns of pseudo-whistleblowers like Kaiser and Steele, who have fucked with previous elections, and are now seemingly using their own previous deceit to market themselves as consultants in upcoming elections. (You could even say that Kaiser and Steele’s work offset each other in the 2016 election.) Where’s the proof that Cambridge Analytica, through Facebook, manipulated enough voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, to swing the 2016 presidential election Trump’s way? Or fixed Brexit? None of what CA purports to do is as effective as good old voter disenfranchisement in select districts.
Now that we have people ‘coming out’ as whistleblowers all over the place, like it’s the latest trendy lifestyle, to control the narrative, to raise the authoritative value of Big Data, especially when it comes to human manipulation, and require tools of the government (contractors) to interpret and confirm the value of the data bits, it’s beginning to smell like Orwell all over again — an attempt to control the Now, and he who controls the Now controls the Past and… It’s that Black and White. Snowden warns in Permanent Record: Big Data as an Old Testament God with a New Testament Judgement Day for each and every one of us.
I had a vision recently, of the Russians and the Yanks getting into a spy vs. spy tussle for the ages — a WWE grudge match in a cage — with a competition to take out political leaders everywhere, despite their worth, and replace them with harlequins, so that at species end, Nero fiddling while climate change burns, everywhere we looked it becomes a case of clowns to the political Left of me, Jokers to the Right, stuck in the middle finger.
Doublethink about it.
By John Kendall Hawkins
Those of us who care about the criminal excesses of the Orwellian dystopia that we find ourselves thumb-driven under by predatory algorithms that ferret out our alpha waves for “security” and commercial purposes, might want to remember that if not for legitimate whistleblowers we would know next to nothing about what the Bastards are up to. It’s a far more depressing world for the knowing, but like climate change, we’re no better off for the ignorance. So, here’s to Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning — all of whom have given up their freedom in order to reveal the criminality and deceit of the Masters of Endless War and pocket Marshall plans (Rebuilds ‘R Us). Here’s to our Three Amigos in this festive season of convenient whistleblowing.
First, thanks to Julian Assange, who told us years ago that the Bastards just wanted him to be put on a plane to Sweden so that he could be put on another plane to America — against his will. He rightfully sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid such extradition that would have made him a circus clown before a politically-motivated ‘national security’ trial in America that would have seen him jailed for life. The MSM took his wiki goodies and made money selling papers with them, but bailed on him when the government told them to attack his character. Now, out of self-interest, the MSM will be forced to begrudgingly defend Assange’s journalism credentials should he be forwarded, like a soccer ball, to America’s fascist foot.
It looks grim for Julian. He will be tried, if brought to America, under the Espionage Act, a version of which has been shored up under each of the Five Eyes super-surveillance partners. His best chance at avoiding being putsched before a show trial is for lawyers to show that Spanish security company, UC Global, hired by Ecuador to provide security for its London embassy, actually spied on Assange and his visitors with mikes and cams, and handed their work over to the CIA. This would (or should) demonstrate that Assange can’t receive a fair trial in America (again, the reason he took refuge in the embassy), and provide lawyers with the ammo they need to knock back the extradition.
Now would be a good time to catch up on the issues surrounding his case, and, really, the best way to do that is by reading the collection of supporting voices — from computer technicians to philosophers — put out by OR Books, an independent publisher, In Defense of Julian Assange. Next, write to him. You might actually be able to get a message to him, in this festive season, if you go online and send him a letter — either through L-Mail, which takes your e-message and snail-mails it to him, or, more conveniently, you can use Email A Prisoner (don’t forget to use a VPN). He’s said he wants messages short and sweet. Maybe send him a joke or limerick. I sent him a poem.
And there’s Edward Snowden to salute. Others have made zoodles of dollars explaining the importance of his 2013 revelations, including Glenn Greenwald, who won a well-deserved Pulitzer for his details of Snowden’s global surveillance revelations and his subsequent escape to Russia. Then Snowden put out Permanent Record, his memoir full of insider details of the deep state (his words) that he worked for as a kind of demi-god of data — before its criminality (his words) made him unable to go on lying and collecting for the government. He revealed, with diagrams, how the US government spies on everyone connected to a communications system — Internet and mobile services. Importantly, he shows how contractors (see chapter, Homo Contractus) are the ball carriers of the deep state.
Unfortunately, but predictably (his words), the US government sued his publisher to take his book profits away — and they won. Snowden, now larfing as a much-sought-after six-figure online speaker, has suggested that the public buy a copy and hand it off, when finished, to a friend. Great idea (remember the days of file-sharing)! A short cut to obtaining a free copy of his memoir is to visit the wondrous Internet Archive where several borrowable copies are there for downloading. “I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how,” he writes of his decision to whistleblow. “I’d had enough of feeling helpless, of being just an asshole in flannel lying around on a shabby couch eating Cool Ranch Doritos and drinking Diet Coke while the world went up in flames.”
Thanks again to Assange and Wikileaks, for risking further criminal abuse, by helping Snowden escape from Hong Kong. And remember that the audacious Obama would have nailed Snowden had he been on the Bolivian president’s airplane when it was forced down. This gangster cut-him-off move might have led to a hot WWIII had the plane been Putin’s, instead of Evo Morales.
Edward can be reached in his exile, either by mailing him at Freedom of the Press Foundation or through his account at Twitter: @Snowden .
And finally, thanks to Chelsea Manning, for getting the ball rolling back in 2010 with the Iraq Logs and Afghan Logs, but, most devastatingly, the so-called Collateral Murder video that not only showed s double-tap helicopter gunship attack on civilians, including two Reuters reporters, but provided the gunship audio that suggested jolly titillation as bodies fell. The video demonstrated, among other things, that the so-called War on Terror was going to involve its own moments of terrorism, with not a lot of hand-wringing, once the gloves were off.
Chelsea was court-martialed and sentenced to 35 years for delivering classified information to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. President Obama commuted Manning’s sentence (after six harsh years in the slammer) — just before the Trump inauguration in Jan 2017. In February 2019, she was found in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury looking to gather evidence on Julian Assange and Wikileaks and put back in jail. Then, upon release, told a new grand jury to fuck off, and is back in prison again on contempt charges. She reasoned that, “[T]his grand jury seeks to undermine the integrity of public discourse with the aim of punishing those who expose any serious, ongoing, and systemic abuses of power by this government.”
As with Assange above, Manning can be reached through a convenient write and snail-post system, called Jmail. She can be reached by post at:
The William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center
2001 Mill Road, Alexandria, Virginia 22314
You’ll have to call the switchboard to get her prisoner ID number.
In this festive season, as we ready ourselves for the short-lived Senate dismissal of the House’s impeachment of Trump (yawn), just in time for the presidential primary season, let’s remember that there are still other things that we can do to bolster the defenses of Assange, Snowden, and Manning, as they ready for consequential appearances before judges in the next few months. We can, for instance, put our heads together and try to force the government into ‘necessity defense’ legislation that Assange and Snowden could use in the future to defend themselves. And we could also file, online, Freedom of Information Act requests, say, the Rogers-Brennan-Clapper emails leading up their DNC hacking assessment in 2016.
Me, a couple of days ago, I filed a FOIA for access to the poems Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was said to have penned to his interrogator’s wife after 183 waterboardings. I very much look forward to reading these ‘Sufi sonnets’. Talk about curing writer’s block, huh?
By John Kendall Hawkins
In these musical times, it’s important to distinguish between a whistleblower and a leaker. Probably the last place to look for the difference is the Main Stream Media, which is caught up in partisan politics and often blurs the line between the two, guided not by public interest but corporate self-interest. What does the term “whistleblower” mean to you? Take a moment, divest yourself of the MSM brainwash (all the same news all the time), the same way you divested yourself of those South African apart-hate stocks back in the day. Can you feel a jaunty Johnny Nash song coming on?
Personally, I like the comparison Edward Snowden draws in his recent memoir, Permanent Record (a title meant to bring attention to the fact that the US government now has an illegal dossier on every netizen in the world, and, he says, is willing to use it to take down its enemies — and we’re all suspects). It’s a straightforward distinction: “A ‘whistleblower’ … is a person who through hard experience has concluded that their life inside an institution has become incompatible with the principles developed in…the greater society outside it, to which that institution should be accountable.” Snowden compares this to leaking, which refers to “acts of disclosure done not out of public interest but out of self-interest, or in pursuit of institutional or political aims.”
The problem is, as Matt Taibbi so eloquently lays out in Hate Inc., his take on the Washington bread-and-circus shenanigans of the last few years, the MSM has abrogated its Fourth Estate duty as Bastard-Outer for the republic, because they’ve become caught up in the often-juvenile partisan snark attacks. Taibbi argues that the Press seems, more than ever, driven by profit motives, acceding to jingos, character assassination and sensationalism, rather than following the rules of journalism, as they close down and are forced to move online, where they don’t call the shots on what’s news (and not) any more. In short, the Press (and MSM) will name anyone a ‘whistleblower’ if it helps them sell ads, on paper or online.
Take, for example, Citizen X, the Ukraine quid pro quo whistleblower. The MSM has released very little information about him, other than acknowledging that he’s a CIA officer, because they don’t want to publish details that would inevitably allow free-thinking individuals to work out who he is. Why? Because their agenda is to kill, kill, kill Trump’s presidency. Foot soldierin’ for the Intelligence Community may be a noble cause, but it’s not very honest (balanced) journalism. The name of the whistleblower has been circulating for weeks in alternative-to-MSM publications, such as realclearinvestigations.com, run by, ahem, a former NY Times editor. There’s a lot of that going on: The Intercept is staffed with star reporters from the MSM who couldn’t hack it anymore.
If our third-hand-wringing whistleblower is who these altos say he is, then he doesn’t fit the criteria that Edward Snowden sees — a Daniel Ellsberg type — but rather a pawn in the Deep State game. The one-and-only CIA analyst to ever go to prison (albeit deeply minimum) for whistleblowing, John Kiriakou, has weighed in on the master debate. “If he’s a whistleblower,” writes Kiriakou, “and not a CIA plant whose task it is to take down the president, then his career is probably over.” Elsewhere, he says, “[I]nside the CIA, I guarantee you that people are saying, ‘Well, if he’s willing to rat out the president, he’s probably willing to rat out us.’ And so no one is ever going to trust this guy again.”
Spooks don’t rat. Snowden brought this reality home in Permanent Record when he describes LOVEINT, a computer interface that allows analysts to snoop and stalk love interests. But even though there were penalties in place for such abuses, nobody was ever even chastised, writes Snowden, a self-acknowledged abuser, because “you can’t exactly convict someone of abusing your secret system of mass surveillance if you refuse to admit the existence of the system itself.” Ostensibly, girlfriends would look at their Snowdens, their menfolk having the look of someone who’s been looking at them already. And for the Snowdens, their love interests “had the look of flowers that are looked at,” as that old mermaid whisperer TS Eliot puts it, referring to his wastrel years.
Unfortunately for the fused agendas of the MSM, our intrepid Deep State Throat, if the alt media information holds up, was a confidante of Joe Biden when he was the “point man” for Ukraine affairs after the CIA-encouraged coup there in 2014. In fact, according to the Real Clear whistleblow on the ‘whistleblower,” he was more than that: Deep State Throat was Obama’s NSC director for Ukraine. I’m a former newspaper journalist: This possibility is worth checking out, as it resounds with implications.
Even worse, and more heartbreaking for our nation’s future prospects, according to the report, he worked for serial liar and criminal John Brennan, who recently said of al-Bagdadi, as he was being chased by ungloved US forces, suicide-invested and clutching kids, “He died like a dog, he died like a coward…He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way…The thug who tried so hard to intimidate others spent his last moments in utter fear, in total panic and dread.” Oh, wait, I was thinking of Brennan’s retractable account of the bin Laden take-down he witnessed in the situation room. I dunno, maybe Trump was having a go at Obama again — some kind of conspiracy-theory riff.
There’s something wrong in America; you can tell, outside looking in. Elections, the heart-and-soul of democracy, aren’t working and nobody wants to fix them (electoral college issues, continued voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, and voter box hacking). The MSM, once the champion of Keeping the Bastards Honest, has settled into a selfish, stenographic funk, and has abrogated the moral authority embodied in the principles of sound journalism. They let evil, criminal doings off-the-hook with a warning, and blow up the bullshit and keep all eyes on the fan.
Those of us who still have marbles rolling around in our heads know George W. Bush probably stole the 2000 election, and maybe even 2004 (when the NYT quashed an October surprise story by James Risen that was a heads-up, eight years before Snowden’s revelations, about the NSA’s illegal dossier-building on everyone). When Bush called on the NSA to talk British intelligence into surreptitiously obtaining kompromat on UN security council members to sway their votes on the question of war with Iraq, as described in the recent whistleblower film, Official Secrets, he should have been brought before The Hague. When the WMD ruse was revealed, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld should have been imprisoned. Hell, I’d have thrown in Kissinger, too, Nobel peace prize with him.
And Obama, who all we Lefties once praised, with hopeful audacinations, went dud so fast, even before his Inauguration, when he had to bail out too-big-to-fail Wall Street bankers, who’d tried to make zillions and zillions off the housing bubble that were little more than cynical bets that mortgages granted to millions of Black and poor people would fail. It almost qualified as a pyramid scheme. Bush came at Obama like Wall Street was a Twin Tower that terrorists missed that September morn and had come back around for, six years later. Neo-cons everywhere must have laughed to see that Mandela-like bounce of Obama disappear, as Bush whispered Dixie in his ear.
Well, some character whistleblowers say he was an asshole anyway, and his breaking bad had nothing to do with the Bail Out. It’s hard to say. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could see some IC guy sitting him down and pushing a dossier of his secrets across the table at him, with a wink, and walking away. Or maybe Donald Trump’s birther hallucination unnerved the Big Guy (he did feel obliged to post the b/c to the White House website). Whatever it was that turned him, he turned to a life of crime.
You could start with an investigation of the legality of his secret wars. His indiscriminate use of drones (secretly, at first), and then, later, setting the criminal precedent of droning American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, and, more, of drone-murdering Abdulrahman, his 16 year old American son. Forcing down the plane of a head of state in the mistaken belief that a fugitive was on-board. He expanded the Orwellian surveillance machine. And the impeachable offense (separation of powers) of ordering the CIA to break in to the Senate intelligence sub-committee that was investigating the CIA for its illegal abuses during the Bush torture regime. And his overwrought prosecution of whistleblowers, under the Espionage Act, perhaps with the intent to obstruct justice.
Ironically, if we may be loose, Barack Obama was the first to blow the whistle on Trump’s presidency — even before DJ was inaugurated. You consider the source, of course, but Trump has been largely correct when he says that the Obama administration did, indeed, spy on him while he was a candidate. There’s even some evidence that Obama state department officials acted as go-betweens for ex-UK (now contract) spy Christopher Steele and, later, the Clinton campaign. It may even be that, as with Edward Snowden “working” for Dell Computers, Steele may have been a “contract” worker for MI6 at the time of his dossier-building on Trump, doing their business disguised as Orbis. In each collection of data, the president’s and the ex-secretary’s, the intention was to give Hillary a political edge in the 2016 presidential election. Why, that sounds criminal.
You could argue that the Trump campaign’s alleged “collusion” with the Russians, as “assessed’ by the four intel agencies, after a finding on the alleged DNC hack, was a form of cover-up for Obama’s lame-duck moves, and an attempt to lock in a political posture on Russia before leaving office, effectively sidelining Trump’s presidency, and keeping eyes off the American doings in Ukraine. If the CIA was used, on a phony pretext, to gather data on a presidential candidate in America, for the purposes of helping the opposing candidate win, as they’re so famous for in banana republics, then they broke the law and should have been (should be) tried. Maybe we could try them on the Espionage Act of 1917.
The forensic analysis done by the DNC’s computer security, Crowdstrike, was an online job; nobody seems to have bothered checking the servers physically — not even the FBI, who were told in almost hysterical terms that our Democracy had been ravaged by those Viking-like Russians. Yet, the Mueller Report, like James Comey’s FBI, relied on Crowdstrike’s hands-off analysis. Maybe because Crowdstrike has FBI connections, including Shawn Henry, who “joined CrowdStrike in 2012 after retiring from the FBI, where he oversaw half of the FBI’s investigative operations, including all FBI criminal and cyber investigations worldwide….” Again, this is the homo contractus stuff Snowden warns us of.
Further diminishing the ‘slam dunk’ evidence that Mueller relies on to call the DNC server breach a hack is Julius Assange’s August 3, 2016 revelation on the PBS NewsHour that the emails he published were leaks, not hacks, and that he knew who the insiders were. He went on to name them. All of which, the Crowdstrike association with the FBI and the Assange assertion, put the IC “findings,” upon which an indictable case against Russian hackers is drawn, in reasonable doubt. Who knows, maybe the server isn’t even at the DNC. You could turn a laptop or even, potentially, a mobile phone into a server, if so inclined; just download and configure a mail server app. After all, just because someone works at the State department doesn’t mean that’s where they have their mail server.
(Funny side speculation, Russia is said to have meddled in Ukraine’s recent presidential election, maybe giving them Volodymyr Zelensky, a comic actor, and political apprentice, as a way of further tweaking the nose of the CIA, and showing them how it’s done. Check out the Ukraine president’s IMDB rating!)
All red flags point to Ukraine still, not Russia. The latter’s many LNG gas lines to Europe all currently go under Ukraine, and it’s known that America wants to disrupt that flow. The obvious criminality of Trump’s quid pro quo telephone conversation with his fellow apprentice Zelensky, aside from whether it leads to Trump’s impeachment, had as its focus the continuation of the investigation of Burisma Gas Holdings, whose fields lie mostly under Crimean soil.
There may or may not be anything to the Joe Biden quid pro quo he successfully executed in 2016 and bragged about on live TV, with minor hand-wringing by the MSM, but it is worth noting that the continued investigation into Burisma that Trump was pushing would also have resulted in the question: Why is Cofer Black on its Board of Directors (since just after Trump’s inauguration in 2017)?
It’s speculation, but not wild, that Deep State Throat, Obama’s former NSC liaison for Ukraine, received a call of his own, perhaps from the American embassy anxious to continue the anti-Russian work of the previous administration. As Edward Snowden writes in Permanent Record, “The worst-kept secret in modern diplomacy is that the primary function of an embassy nowadays is to serve as a platform for espionage.”
This might help explain Cofer Black’s presence. The long established 9/11 narrative says that it was Cofer’s dire warnings to Bush of an imminent attack by al-Qaeda that were ignored; he was put in charge thereafter of tracking down bin Laden; he set up the renditions and black sites and torture program that followed; he helped found the private CIA group, Blackwater, with its basket of mercenary deployables; he is chairman of Total Intelligence Services, likely the homo contractus version of the Deep State’s Total Information Awareness program. Who knows, maybe he swaps secret men’s spit with Christopher Steele. It’s a small world when you’re a small man. Surely, with Black in town, it won’t be long before heads of departments are on sticks in Kiev and flies are crouch dancing across eyeballs in the Crimea. Metaphorically, of course.
Because Western democratic citizens live in a politically dysfunctional world — Five Eyes nations are enforcers for nation-state gangster goons guarding their ever-acquisitive interests — without a respected unifying governmental agency, such as a real league of nations, we get nothing crucial done as a globe — see climate change. We’ve become hive-minded, interconnected in uncomfortable ways, and seem to be suffering from some kind of colony collapse of consciousness.
This would help explain how these things keep happening under our noses, while the MSM looks the other way. Or leads us in a rendition of Two Minute Hate. Tiny cornball characters who see themselves as swaggering Gods. As Bobby Dylan sings,
They all play on the penny whistle
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row
The Terror Report You Weren’t Meant to See
By John Kendall Hawkins
“If it works, why do you need to do it 183 times?”
- Senator Dianne Feinstein
In 1953, they deposed Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mossadiq, with the help of the British. In the 60s, they were there at the Gulf of Tonkin, false flagging the North Vietnamese; and there pushing exiles onto the shores of the Bay of Pigs, shouting “Cuba Si, Castro No.” In the 60s and 70s, they spied on American activists, violating the Agency’s charter against domestic surveillance, and in 1975 were chastised by Frank Church’s committee. They fomented regime changes in Central America throughout the 80s, leading to Irangate and the Contra-Sandinista standoff. The Gulf War, economic sabotage, MK-ULTRA, intellectual property theft, 70 years of war with Russia (with two-way electoral interference), and spook Duane Clarridge, who helped bring down Chile’s Allende, telling us to “lump it.”
On and on the scofflaws went. Even when they were running drugs, murdering people, or doing porn films with Dolly Treason, nothing seemed to stop them or slow them down. By the time the 80s rolled around I was steeped in Existentialism and throwing away what was left of my faith — attending drive-in movies, with double-bills like: The Passover Plot, followed by Executive Action. You felt like you were sitting in the dark among moral desperados, glocks to their own heads, as, first, Jesus got double-crossed by post-modernism and then Democracy went limp, like a blow-up doll.
And then, in November 1986, while looking for my Lo and Behold, as Bobby Dylan would say, Abbie Hoffman, all grizzled from his underground years, arose like a Finger from the grave, and joined Amy Carter, and 13 others, to fight the CIA recruitment effort at UMass-Amherst, my alma mater. They staged a sit-in and/or blocked the police bus taking protesters away after being arrested for trespassing and disorderly conduct — misdemeanors. Five months later, in April 1987, Abbie, reunited with lawyer Leonard Weinglass from his Chicago 8 days, successfully employed the “necessity defense,” and paraded before the jury such luminaries as Howard Zinn, Daniel Ellsberg, Amy Carter and Abbie Hoffman, who testified about the moral need to protest against the CIA’s felonious actions abroad.
But, according to the now-defunct Boston Phoenix, the stars of the show were former Contra Edgar Chamorro, who enumerated the Agency’s terror tactics, handing out Psychological Operations, a how-to on how to scare the shit out of ordinary people to gain their “respect” and cooperation. The Contras were told to “create martyrs of our own followers, someone who is well-liked that gets killed in a way that looks like the government did it.” Contra what? Contra anything you please.
Chamorro was followed on the stand by CIA tell-aller (in retirement) Ralph McGehee — who catalogued his personal experiences of the Agency’s atrocities, including torture, rape, murder, disinformation, propaganda, and general deceit. The gloves were off — way off — long before the aftermath of 9/11. The Phoenix describes McGehee’s testimony: “[He] told a CIA joke comparing the Agency’s treatment of Congress to mushrooms. ‘You’re kept in the dark and you’re fed manure,’ he said.” The arrogance and disdain are trademarks — sentiments echoed in Snowden’s memoir, Permanent Record, when he describes how intel operatives saw themselves, a generation later as: “a hermetic power-mad cabal that controlled the actions of America’s elected officials from shadowy subterranean cubicles.” In short, Clarridge-On-Line.
Then the 60s were all over again, the Finger wilted one last time. Abbie sank into a funk and let himself die in April 1989. Why? Who knows. But it may or may not be a coincidence that his death came just after GHW Bush became the first former CIA chief to be inaugurated as president. It must have depressed a lot of activists, when you think about it. I’m still depressed — and increasingly inactive.
The Gulf War followed shortly thereafter, when Sad-um Hussein rebuffed American efforts to make him their “little shoe shine boy” in the region. Other Arabs were offended; things started to happen; Khobar Towers was blown up, producing more than 500 US military casualties; bin Laden was credited with his first Tower take-down. Then, the shoes came back to haunt in 2008 when an Iraqi journalist, uttering epithets better left off family TV (something about Bush’s pet goat), bared his soles at GW Bush during a 2008 post-Shock and Awe Baghdad press conference. Americans took off their gloves; Iraqis took off their shoes; al-Qaeda became ISIS; now look at the world.
The Hell on Earth misery that the CIA served up for so many people overseas, according to the sworn testimony of Chamorro and McGehee, was just a warm-up for the Apocalyptic crusade that has taken out large swathes of the Middle East (and Afghanistan) since, and promises to take out more (Syria, Iran), since the Pearl Harbor-like event that was 9/11. Not only did Cheney try to take off his glove, but the revenge America has wreaked on Terror since has included not just the evil Arabs the CIA says are dashing all around the world wearing suicide vests and clutching children, in a mad dash effort to make Zionist Islam (go with it) seem as bad as — Communism!
The long established 9/11 narrative says that it was CIA head of Counter Terrorism Cofer Black’s dire warnings to Bush of an imminent attack by al-Qaeda that were ignored; he was put in charge thereafter of tracking down bin Laden; he set up the renditions and black sites and torture enhanced interrogation program that followed; he helped found the private CIA group, Blackwater, who are, essentially, a private deployable army ready to act without government oversight, but doing their bidding, like the homo contractus virus Snowden describes, from firsthand experience, in his memoir.
There has been plenty of blowback from the events of 9/11, but perhaps nothing was more controversial than the bear-hug embracing of enhanced interrogation, which, under the guise of righteous vengeance, has brought American consciousness over to the dark side wholesale. We opened Guantanamo Bay and falsely imprisoned and interrogated many people for years having no links to terrorism. We’ve graphically degraded our humanity, and that of others, at Abu Ghraib. We’ve corrupted psychology by trying to spin enhanced interrogation as a scientifically valid method. We’ve allowed the CIA to cover it all up, by destroying videos of the ordeals that would have put the lie to science.
Luckily, it has turned stomachs within the ranks of the CIA. Analyst John Kirikaou was the first to blow the whistle on the evil doings of his agency. In his now well-known 2007 interview with ABC newsman Brian Ross, he wrings hands on behalf of conflicted colleagues, which has resonance for torture-abhoring viewers. He describes how presumed conspirator of 9/11 events Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times, admits he came to see it as not enhanced interrogation but torture, but that it was “necessary” to extract valuable information, and that old “rapport” methods wouldn’t work. Said Kirikaou, “They hate us more than they love life,” and would never give in. Kirikaou told Ross enhanced interrogation worked. Tapes of Zubaydah’s ordeal were illegally destroyed.
Kirikaou’s seeming equivocation — that the enhanced interrogation program worked — flies in the face of the findings by the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Dianne Feinstein , which concluded in 2014 that the CIA’s much-ballyhooed enhanced interrogation methods did not work — at all. The most valuable information that may have come from the Zubaydah waterboarding is the purported poetry that Z. wrote to his interrogator’s wife.
Torture by any other name is the subject of the newly-released film, The Report. The film recounts the aftermath of 9/11 and the mobilization of Cofer Black’s gloveless forces as they spread around the globe looking for “terrorists” to round up and/or identify for entry in the disposition matrix that could lead to later CIA drone strikes during the Obama administration. In one scene, Black (played by Ian Blackman) utters his famous quip the scope of American vengeance, “We will not stop until flies are walking across their eyeballs.” And then the superheroes are on their way.
The Report opens by showing how the so-called enhanced interrogation program was put together, and introduced to CIA officers, by contractors. Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, using powerpoint slides and without previous interrogation experience, bring “learned helplessness” to the table, achieved, they claim, by techniques including sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud and long noise, insects, and waterboarding, sounding like salesmen for Orwell’s Room 101 Experience (not to be confused with the Jimi Hendrix experience).
Douglas Hodge, who was recently played the evil proprietor of the Black Museum (where torture is also the principal focus) in a Black Mirror episode, is especially effective as sick psychologist James Mitchell. The learned helplessness that Mitchell touts to officers, based on experiments torturing dogs, draws skepticism from the gitmo. Mitchell smiles on, and as he exhausts his techniques, none of them working. He settles on mostly waterboarding, and is involved in the blubbooling of Khaled Sheik Mohammed, the preferred mastermind of 9/11, who is “drowned” 183 times. Desperation sets in as the CIA realizes loud and clear that “enhanced interrogation is only legal if it works.” Despite Kirikiaou’s odd assertion that it worked (Ross interview p.16), the facts speak otherwise.
The money spent on “learned helplessness” amounted to $81 million, plus another $5m as a defense fund, should the psychologists be sued. The program was originally contracted for $181 million, but was terminated due to ineffectiveness. As noted earlier, the CIA videotaped the interrogations and then, when it was clear they were to become the center of inquiry, destroyed them. As with Snowden, it’s almost as if a contractor was brought in to provide plausible deniability should something (inevitably) go wrong, although this angle is not explored in the film. But what’s actually surprising is that, given what Chamorro and McGehee expounded upon about CIA techniques (back when torture was called torture), the CIA ever fell for the crazy-eyed psychologists’ proposed shtick to begin with.
Mitchell and Jessen were never going to be tried and held accountable, because the CIA would claim “national security” interests and close the case down. We know this because that’s what they did to the investigation into the destruction of the interrogation tapes — they quashed the report. And they were determined to do the same to Feinstein’s report on enhanced interrogation techniques — and how they miserably failed. And, consequently, were illegal. The CIA had argued that EIT was the only means to obtain time-critical information from detainees, and wanted to claim, desperate to demonstrate its legality, that countless attacks had been averted thanks to information extracted by EIT. Feinstein (played by Annette Bening) called it all a lie, pissing off John Brennan, who tried to sabotage the Report.
Monk veteran Ted Levine (who is wonderfully remembered for his role as Captain Stottlemeyer in an episode where he shows us how to interrogate a suspect with a potentially smoking gun) does a bang-up job playing John Brennan. Obama’s CIA chief tries to undermine Dan Jones (played by Adam Driver), lead investigator for Feinstein’s committee — and at one point Jones is confronted with imminent criminal action against him when it’s discovered that he has on his computer a classified document. This stratagem backfires and Feinstein realizes that the CIA has hacked into the Committee’s computers (and, later, break into a Committee office, recalling Watergate) in a clear breach of the separation of powers, criminal B&E, and cover-up, for starters. Definitely impeachable offenses.
One has to presume that a breach that serious would have had the approval of President Obama. Since Obama curtailed the EIT shortly after taking office, one wonders what reason he would have had for covering the back of George W. Bush. Maybe it’s because Obama continued the enhancements in the War against Terror in other ways — drones. Instead of rounding up suspected terrorists and housing them in uncomfortable controversial facilities that create a legal and moral crisis for an administration, just pick a kill out of a disposition matrix and joystick command the murder remotely. Just as a lot people never belonged at Gitmo, so, too, a lot of innocent people have been killed because a baddie was in their midst.
The Report closes out on a poignant note, Senator John McCain’s address to Congress following the release of Feinstein’s report. With eloquence and insight, the former POW, and the only Republican who stood by Feinstein’s investigation, reminds Congress and his fellow Americans of their core values — the one’s worth fighting and dying for. Here is his December 9, 2014 speech.
The Report, directed by Scott Burns, is good story-telling. Other than Driver, Bening, Levine, and Hodge, the film’s other stars include John Hamm, Maura Tierney, and Tim Blake Nelson. It appears that for many of the actors it was a virtual gift to the public, as last minute cuts to the budget saw next-to-nothing wages paid to the actors. Director Burns told Vanity Fair, “[The Report]went from having a 50-day schedule to a 26-day schedule, and its $18 million budget was slashed to $8 million…getting Hollywood to get behind a movie like this was difficult.” Like the other recently released film about Deep State corruption, Official Secrets, a film about whistleblowing at the GCHQ (although, ultimately, it’s a whistleblow on the NSA’s role in getting America into Iraq in 2003), The Report takes some of the edge off of one’s cynicism.
Is it enough? Not with Trump, a vocal proponent of torture (not enhanced interrogation) at the helm of the leaky ship of state, and ultimately in charge of the CIA and their policies. But it is a start.
More information on the CIA’s doings over the years can be found in William Blum’s Killing Hope. Here are some chapter samples from Blum’s website.
By John Kendall Hawkins
I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world. I’m black. They never let me forget it. I’m black all right. I’ll never let them forget it. – Miles Davis, A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971)
One of the more interesting sub-narratives of Edward Snowden’s recent memoir, Permanent Record, is his discussion of his heritage. His mother descended from the first Pilgrim child born in the New World, not long after their arrival on the Mayflower in 1620. His father’s side featured seafarers, merchants and adventurers. Eventually, his more direct relatives settled in Maryland and with the 1900 acres given them by King Charles II and opened up the Patuxent Iron Works, whose manufacture of cannonballs was later crucial to the War of Independence, and Snowden Plantation, a farm and dairy operation manned by slaves.
As Snowden puts it, “After serving in the heroic Maryland Line of the Continental Army, [my forebears] returned to the plantation and—most fully living the principles of independence—abolished their family’s practice of slavery, freeing their two hundred African slaves nearly a full century before the Civil War.”
The Snowden legacy would take on more irony later when Snowden Plantation was bought out (Ed thinks it may have been “expropriated”) by the government, and Fort Meade, home of the NSA, was built upon it. Permanent Record, in turn, describes the Deep State’s plans and doings to make data slaves of us all. (Snowden confirms that there is, indeed, a Deep State, and that he was once a happy surveillance slaver in it, until he realized the extent of state criminality involved and declared his own war of independence.)
In 1619, about a year before the Mayflower is said to have bashed up on Plymouth Rock, with Snowden’s unmarried relative fending off male Pilgrim gazes, another ship, the White Lion, arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, carrying the first slaves into the New World. These first slaves, some 20 of them, were war-booty from the Congo and Angola. They were put to work farming tobacco and cotton, the New World’s most important products, until sugar boomed about a century later.
According to Timothy Winegard, author of The Mosquito, African slaves,
were ,blockquote>relatively unafflicted by malaria and yellow fever, and simply did not die at the same rate as non-Africans. Their genetic immunities and prior seasoning made Africans an important ingredient of the Columbian Exchange and indispensable in the development of New World mercantilist economic markets.
Sickle cell anemia, Winegard and others point out, the bane of so many African-Americans, was an evolutionary adaptation to malaria that made their resistance valuable to labor-hungry farmers in the New World. The more tobacco, cotton and sugar into signature global products from America, the more African slaves were shipped in to help grow the industries with their free labor.
Around 1820, Harriet Tubman was born to such slaves on a plantation — not terribly far from the Snowden Plantation — near Bucktown in Dorchester County, Maryland. In fact, Maryland was regarded as the then-premiere slave state, prior to Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin, which revolutionized the cotton industry and exponentially increased the need for more labor in the Deep South. In Maryland, writes Catherine Clinton in Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom, “Cotton was not a cash crop in Maryland, but its plantations produced one of the most invaluable crops for the southern antebellum market: slaves.” Maryland was where future “free” laborers were grown and offered up later for sale to Deep South industrial farmers.
Harriet Tubman had started out her career of resistance to slavery by standing up to a Georgian’s attempts to take her child and flee south. Clinton cites fellow slave Emma Telford’s memoir in describing Tubman’s reaction to such events: “‘She had watched two of her sisters carried off weeping and lamenting.’ Tubman was permanently affected by this episode, as she witnessed the ‘agonized expression on their faces.’” As Clinton draws the picture, when Brodess, the Georgian, approached Tubman’s cabin, “[Tubman] threatened, ‘The first man that comes into my house, I will split his head open’… Such family lore … would have provided Tubman with a powerful example of the possibilities for resistance.”
In the recently released film version of Tubman’s life, Harriet, we are given the merest of glimpses into the horror of these child-parent separations for commercial purposes — the view of humans as chattel, a degradation so dark it represents a kind of core essence of fascism and objectification, later rationalized into a form of guiding principles by such hornéd luminaries as Ayn Rand, Minervan Owl to the neocons. The film would have benefitted from more literally wrenching scenes to establish how recklessly families were destroyed for slaver profit by these evil fools.
While the Tubman story is certainly well-intentioned, Harriet, the film production, seems to have been a mostly profit-driven exercise itself — given the inexplicable pre-production consideration of casting Julia Roberts as Tubman. Or it may have been an even more cynical exercise — creating a controversy to get eyeballs to the cinema so that they could later ‘weigh in’ (for the advertizers) on social media, and in the process drive the film toward a profit. But an essential starting point was missed: international slave trading ended in 1808, and afterward Southern landowners relied on domestic slave production; it became an American phenomenon. According to Clinton, after the law went into effect, the slave population went from 2 million to 3.5 million. Business was booming. There’s the story.
Maryland was the major supplier of homegrown slaves after 1808. Leading up the Civil War it was a growth industry. Harriet Tubman was running away from a farm that derived at least some of its revenue from ‘growing slaves’ and selling them. Tubman refused to live in a reality that destructive. Harriet provides a hint of her sheer determination and will to survive, without real shelter or food, for the 100 miles of her northward pursuit by her owners. The film concentrates on depicting Harriet the character, rather than Harriet the action figure, although there’s plenty of chase scene action. A lot of reaction shots without any direct action. While this helps manage the film budget, it’s not especially effective story-telling.
The film does a rotten job setting up a picture of the Underground Railroad on which Harriet “Moses” Tubman was supposed to be a principal conductor. Many people-stops (safe houses) made up the railroad; people, black and white, willing to risk fines (up to $1000) and jail time (up to 6 months) to help slaves escape to the “free” North. But in the film, Tubman seems to go back and forth from north to south as if by magic: one minute she’s on a plantation pulling people out, the next she’s in Delaware with her charges (70 runaways, by the end). More scenes about the Railroad and its people would have been a good way to build tension toward the fast-approaching Civil War.
In fact, you could argue that the Civil War actually commenced with the congressional passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. Essentially, the law allowed slave-owners to go after runaways and retrieve them, like stolen property, in northern, non-slave states — mostly in New England. It provided for harsh penalties for aiding and abetting runaways — again, making a stronger depiction of the Railroad essential. The insidious law was justified by the Constitution, in which Blacks were not regarded as citizens, and which stated that “no person held to service or labor” could escape their servitude by merely running to a free state. Such hostile ‘repos’ had implications for the separation of powers between the feds and states. Harriet barely explores this terrain.
(Indeed, some mention might have been made about Florida, the territory of choice for Deep South escapees until it was purchased from Spain in 1821 — a purchase motivated in large part to stop Florida from being a refuge. With a little sly dialogue, Florida’s present day disenfranchisement of Black voters might have been squeezed in.)
The film also falls short in the Big Picture department, with no explicit mention of the approaching formal declaration of Civil War that Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery, would have seemed to Southerners. Towards the end of the film though, Harriet does make an emancipation proclamation of her own to her former owner, Gideon, who has been tracking her through some woods, arrogantly hoping to finally repo Harriet, but she surprises him and forces him to drop his rifle, dismount from his high horse, and fall to his knees.
It’s an interesting scene:
GIDEON: You bitch! You destroyed my family!
Harriet swings herself onto the horse’s back. She speaks in THE VOICE – it’s her own, maybe it always has been.
HARRIET: You tried to destroy my family, but you can’t. You tried to destroy my people, but you won’t. God has shown me the future, and my people are free. MY PEOPLE ARE FREE!
Gideon watches as Harriet rides off, into the glare of the setting sun.
We don’t know if Gideon repents, as he did in the Bible (something the religious Harriet would have been aware of), and goes back South to help destroy the Baal of the day — the wealth created by slavers off the backs of free labor.
And I guess it would have been asking too much, it may have over-stretched the budget, to at least allude to the complex moral ambivalence of Northerners in the fight to relieve white Southerners of their sinful slaver burden. Not everyone up there wanted to fight in a war to free slaves down under. Lincoln was forced to employ America’s first draft. New Yorkers, for one, rioted: rich people could, and did, purchase there way out of conscription, sending proxies in their place; and, the vast majority white New Yorkers depended on jobs manufacturing raw cotton, sugar and tobacco. Freed slaves were at the vanguard of volunteers to fight the South. Even then, Lincoln had to make them people before they could wear uniforms and carry guns.
It was a Republican who freed the slaves. Some vocal Democrats were against a Civil War, even when they felt animosity toward the character of Southern slavers, whose attitude seemed to be: ‘Keep your hands off my cotton-pickin’ slaves.’
Congressman Clement Vallandigham, for instance, said of the Southern mentality:
And now, sir, is there any difference of race here so radical as to forbid reunion? I do not refer to the negro race, styled now, in unctuous official phrase, by the President, “Americans of African Descent.” Certainly, sir, there are two white races in the United States, both from the same common stock, and yet so distinct — one of them so peculiar — that they develop different forms of civilization, and might belong, almost, to different types of mankind [my emphasis]. But the boundary of these two races is not at all marked by the line which divides the slaveholding from the non-slaveholding States. If race is to be the geographical limit of disunion, then Mason Dixon’s can never be the line.
Meet the Crackers. (But even the way Vallandigham says, ‘unctuous’, is disturbing.)
Lincoln banned public speeches against such a war, and Vallandigham excelled at them. He encouraged draft dodging. He was tried for treason (speaking out), exiled to the South, where rebel soldiers, realizing that he wasn’t opposed to slavery in their states, sent him north, to Canada. He later became the inspiration for the short story, “The Man Without A Country,” by Edward Everett Hale, an evil little tale every American school child learns, without the details. No teacher I can recall ever asked aloud, to pre-pubescent befuddlement, how the fuck could they give the guy 56 years for freely expressing his dismay at his government’s actions? No chance to recant? No mercy? No shore leave? Go figure, she’d say, shaking her head. Kids’ hands over their flag-driven hearts, slowly slipping away.
Four hundred years after the first slave ship arrived at Jamestown, the legacy of slavery endures with all the racial complexities it brings, the endless, almost Sisyphean, fight for social and economic justice, and the ever so subtle battle (and sometimes not so subtle) between accomodation and assimilation — a kind of postmodern master-slave dialectic. Jordan Peele, arguably developing a new film genre — Black political horror — seems to have his hand on the current pulse of that dynamic in Get Out: Blacks still trying to fit in with Whites and their masks (spoiler: the liberals might even be more insidious), and Whites definitely, um, trying to fit into Blacks and their cool-cuz-they-suffered-so-muchness.
There is a darker side to it (as if Peele’s weren’t dark enough) that shows up in “Black Museum,” a recent episode of Black Mirror captured in all its horrific spectacle. It’s almost as if the Cracker that Vallandigham describes opened a museum-cum-arcade that features his sadistic fantasies of domination — an encased holographic Black man being electrocuted over and over forever (like that fascist face-booting Orwell describes in 1984). And white people come from miles around to drop a coin in the slot before the cage to watch him fry. Given the shambles that the health-education-welfare system is for Blacks in America today, as well as their record incarcerations in for-profit prisons, and the debt slavery so many labor under, Black Mirror can seem the truest reflection.
So, there’s no extended vision to Harriet, the movie. It’s a character study on a comic book level — Freedom Illustrated — and you may find yourself comically picturing Julia Roberts in blackface as the lead (Gere as Gideon?), or wondering how different Tarantino would have handled Tubman’s role. There would have been a lot of crumbled Crackers. Would he have featured The Delfonics in the soundtrack? In short, it’s not a riveting film; your mind might wander. But with any luck you’ll spend hours researching all the pertinent historical details left out of the film.
And getting out some Miles for a listen. Because your cool.
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked
— Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma”
SPOILER ALERT — Plot lines of the film Official Secrets revealed.
In May 1989, just a few months before the Berlin Wall fell, the United Kingdom upgraded its Official Secrets Act (OSA). Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, unhappy with the way embarrassing classified information had been leaked to the press during the Falklands War, saw to it that the OSA was tightened up to such a degree that future breachers of government non-disclosure agreements would face serious jail time.
Future whistleblowers would even be limited in their legal defense, as they would be unable to discuss the confidential leak with an attorney. The OSA of 1989 was the stuff of police states.
From John F. Kennedy (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) to Ronald Reagan (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”), the Berlin Wall had been regarded by the West as the symbol of the Iron Curtain separating free democratic societies and closed totalitarian regimes controlled by Moscow.
But the OSA suggested that the West had learned the value of deep, unnecessary secrecy. As the East opened up, the West began its movement toward clamping down on privacy and freedom, through the growth of the Internet, leading to the surveillance state we have today.
In 2016, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, noted this catastrophic irony. Speaking before the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, a disillusioned Drake said,
I never imagined that the US would use the Stasi playbook as the template for its own state sponsored surveillance regime and turning not only its own citizens into virtual persons of interest, but also millions of citizens in the rest of the world.
Of course, it’s not only America that’s gone this route, but the UK (which has the most surveillance cameras turned on its public than anywhere else in the world, bar China), Australia, New Zealand and Canada — the Five Eyes that control world surveillance.
But long before Drake, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and many other whistleblowers and reporters drew our attention to the secret criminal activities of our governments, in our names and against our democratic interests, in 2003, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) translator and analyst Katharine Gun refused to stay silent — non-disclosure agreement or not — while her country was ‘special-friended’ by the US into illegally going to war against Iraq.
Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers that detailed the active US criminality of the Vietnam War, said of Gun’s leak that it was “The most extraordinary leak … of classified information that I’ve ever seen, and that definitely included and surpassed my own disclosure of top secret information….” Gun was trying to stop a war, not end one.
The newly released Official Secrets is a docudrama that tells the story of Katharine Gun’s heroic decision to risk everything (career, marriage, freedom) to blow the whistle on Great Britain’s collusion in blackmailing UN Security Council members into supporting an illegal war (the US and the UK knew there were no WMDs) against Iraq in the spring of 2003.
The US was looking for “legal” cover and was willing to use the NSA and GCHQ’s extraordinary surveillance abilities to find kompromat on UN members to force them to vote Yes on war. This is war criminality — the kind the UN was established to prevent and punish.
Official Secrets is directed by Gavin Hood, whose last major film was the British surveillance thriller, Eye in the Sky (2015). The film stars Keira Knightley, MyAnna Buring, and Ralph Fiennes. It is one of those must-see films that seems almost impossible to find. Cinema runs seem limited. It’s available through Apple, Amazon and Vudu, but, of course, online, your viewing is duly noted and databased.
In a flashback, very early in the film, we see Gun lounging at home watching British journalist
on TV in an with interview Prime Minister Tony Blair. Frost is pushing Blair to come clean about war path allegations that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, and therefore represents a clear and present danger to America and her allies.
The film has very effective editing. Once the viewer is reminded of Blair’s criminal collusion with the Bush administration about WMD in Iraq months before the invasion (here, Gun is heard shouting from the couch in protest of Blair’s lies), we cut to the GCHQ office Gun works in and watch as she reads, for the first time, the document she will leak to the press. The scene enacts two colleagues unhappy with the contents of the document from the NSA, and the first stir of conscience for Gun.
As the memo indicates, the push to go to war with Iraq in 2003, brought in a variety of actors, including “good guys” like Colin Powell, whose favorability among the American populace — Democrats and Republicans alike — was leveraged; he was the lipstick on the flying pig. Still unaccountably, he allowed himself to be the ‘credible’ salesman for a criminal lie. It was a mistake that cost him the chance to be the first Black American president. (Even during the 2016 presidential election, three electors ignored the public vote and chose him for president. Which tells you something about the electoral college process.)
There are a lot of anxious moments depicted in the film — people just not knowing what to do: friends are afraid of being caught up in a situation that could amount to treason; Gun’s husband, a Kurd, is threatened with deportation; newspaper staff fear giving up a cozy relationship with the government; lawyers who tell their clients, ‘I think you might be fucked.’ This is what the criminals exercise and leverage. All the people who signed on to do the right thing as friends, lovers, reporters, and lawyers wring their hands in anguish, while the lying leaders sleep. And Official Secrets makes certain that the viewer knows that the prospect of war with Iraq was “historically unpopular.” It’s a war crime from the onset.
After Gun secrets the NSA memo out of GCHQ she calls a friend, Jasmine, an anti-war agitator, who she knows has press contacts, so that she can get the word out. This is a poignant moment, because implicit is the proposition before the viewer: What would you do? And you can feel Jasmine and Gun’s terror at being caught.
Drake knows how Gun is feeling when it comes to the conflict she has between holding to her non-disclosure agreement and her responsibility to make government accountable for criminal behavior. In a 2014 interview with Federal News Network, Drake said:
Is your non-disclosure agreement, which involves what’s actually classified, does that somehow trump the Constitution and First Amendment? Is secrecy, in this case the trust, even if it’s misplaced where trust becomes loyalty and if you break loyalty, then you get punished, which is sort of like the Omerta pact?
How the film depicts the press is amusing, suggesting a low-level of interest in rocking the ship of state. An Observer journalist named Ed Vulliamy (played by Rhys Ifans) is already working on a lead that supports the suspicion that George W. Bush is aching for an excuse to polish off Saddam Hussein. Nobody wants to touch his copy at the then pro-war Observer. Heading back to the States to track his lead, Ed yells over his shoulder at colleagues, “We’re the press, for God’s sake, not a fucking PR agency for Tony Blair.” Hear, hear.
Later, once the memo gets to the Observer, they muddle over what to do, as the document has come not directly from a GCHQ source but through a notorious intermediary, casting doubt upon the veracity of the memo. When they finally run the story, it is discovered by the Americans that the NSA memo uses British spelling — a secretary’s mistake, it turns out — making American media nervous about picking up on the Observer’s exclusive story. The story founders on the ‘typo’ and causes high anxiety at the paper. Even Gun begins to fear that she risked everything for nothing. Before the newscycle spits out the shaky story, Gun confesses to GCHQ: “I did it. It was me,” Gun says.
After that Official Secrets moves towards Gun’s legal defense. The Official Secrets Act is further spelled out. The harsh realities of the non-disclosure agreements signed amplified by the war with Iraq now underway and the indifference to Gun’s plea for understanding her rationale for whistleblowing become apparent. In the end they come up with a plan: necessity defense.
The necessity defense is a difficult argument to make, because, among other things, the defendant has to make the case that their action clearly supersedes an executive decision, often built upon confidential information the defendant might not be privy to. The defense had to show that by changing the Official Secrets Act in 1989 the Thatcher administration essentially locked in immunity from criminal executive behavior in the future. Further, they could demonstrate that the invasion of Iraq, which the Blair government signed on to, was predicated upon lies (WMD). Further, the NSA memo, with its request for British intelligence-gathering on UN Security Council members, for the purposes of blackmail, left the government open to criminal responsibility for the doings in Iraq.
Gun’s case was dropped by the government.
Gun’s experience and its aftermath raises a couple of important questions still relevant today. How do we strengthen whistleblower laws — internationally — so that otherwise decent, law-abiding government workers, like analyst Gun, are not forced by NDAs to become silent accessories to crime committed by their superiors. Gun was faced with having to live with doing nothing amid reports of the slaughter that Shock and Awe caused. Necessity defenses are not frivolous and should be an option for whistleblowers. Snowden would have a legitimate appeal to such a defense. Also, such trials should be held in neutral jurisdictions, such as The Hague. Real whistleblower trials are political events, not criminal.
Also, it should be noted that so much of what Snowden says in his memoir, Permanent Record, of his self-described Deep State career has the golden ring of truth to it. But his title says it all, really. The government wants to keep a permanent record — a dossier — on every person on the planet connected to the internet. (And the pressure is there to see that just about everyone is enrolled eventually.) As Snowden writes in Permanent Record:
At any time, the government could dig through the past communications of anyone it wanted to victimize in search of a crime (and everybody’s communications contain evidence of something). At any point, for all perpetuity, any new administration — any future rogue head of the NSA — could just show up to work and, as easily as flicking a switch, instantly track everybody with a phone or a computer, know who they were, where they were, what they were doing with whom, and what they had ever done in the past.
This is invasive surveillance capacity almost beyond belief; totally undemocratic — and all kinds of criminal. The NSA attempt to blackmail UN security council members is, as Gun knew, an example of their potential for evil deeds that nobody can stop.
The UK is saturated with surveillance cameras aimed at its population — by one estimate there are at least 4,200,000 cameras or one for every 14 citizens. At one point you could sign on to a now-defunct service (Internet Eyes) to monitor activity online and be paid for it. It’s not just the UK though — in America, there is a site where you can sign up to become an online ‘deputized’ set of eyes on the look-out for immigrants crossing the Mexican border. It’s even worse: another service invites presumably insomniac viewers to check out the live CCTV feeds from IP cameras around the world. We are becoming the beast with seven billion eyes.
Another important point Snowden makes in Permanent Record is that his is the first generation growing up in the post-9/11 world. A world of young people that has lived with mass surveillance its entire life. It has become normalized, institutionalized — a part of keeping Freedom ‘safe from harm’. Sounds sensible, but it’s scary — especially in the scoundrel patriotism it requires you to take refuge in. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, former Stasi employees must look on at Five Eyes with penal envy. And we are in danger of getting to that point we see in another film, The LIves of Others, portraying the sinister brutalities of the Stasi, where the logic of our imprisonment is expressed as a contradiction in our introjected daily interrogation by the algorithms of our collective demise.
Meanwhile, speaking of smoking guns, Donald J. Trump continues to dog-whistle his basket-case full of deplorable supporters as he publicly savages the whistleblower who may spell his demise and lead to his impeachment. The unleashed press hounds are baying at the blood-red moon. Ukraine, not Russia, may bring his presidency down. And it remains to be seen whether the spy is a whistleblower or merely another a politically motivated leaker.
Official Secrets is the story of a hero. Like Snowden, Drake and Manning, and all the others who brought attention, at great risk to themselves, we need — of all things — more vigilance when it comes to our freedom and privacy. For inspiration see the film.
NOTE: excerpts from Official Secrets used as part of Fair Use act.