It’s perfectly natural for politicians to be dishonest – but Chris Blackhurst would rather not know

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If you were to guess, you would probably say that Chris Blackhurst of The Independent – a respected career journalist described in 2011 as having spent “most of his life writing about politics” – is likely to be pretty clued up on official doublespeak.

Yet, in his recent column the former editor of the UK national paper makes this startling point: Snowden leaks have damaged national security because the intelligence community says so. “If MI5 warns that this is not in the public interest who am I to disbelieve them?” said Mr Blackhurst.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that when government officials give opinions publicly, what they say will very likely be shaped by their interests and political alliances. Hence, the question I would rather see Chris Blackhurst asking is “Who are THEY for me to disbelieve them?”

The Snowden disclosures – which, among other things, have encouraged calls for more transparency and accountability of the secret services – are clearly inconvenient for the intelligence community. Hence, the head of the MI5 should be entirely expected to be making those criticisms. Indeed, as this analysis strongly suggests, ‘the security line’ has been used in efforts to conceal government wrongdoing from the public eye. As in the case of Wikileaks disclosures, the supposed damage to national security was proven to have been deliberately inflated on at least several occasions.

Consequently, unless backed with evidence, the allegations of the MI5 boss are a paper tiger – something to which a considerable portion of the public (including, worryingly, a senior journalist) is seemingly oblivious to.

Just how clouded the truth could become if one was to take words of politicians at face value was conveniently demonstrated on Wednesday, coincidentally, by the most important politician in the country. During Prime Minister’s Questions, David Cameron and Liam Fox (former defence minister) had a brief exchange. Liam Fox requested a:

“[F]ull and transparent assessment of whether The Guardian’s involvement in the Snowden affair has damaged Britain’s national security”

He then went on to suggest The Guardian was behaving hypocritically by calling for prosecution in the phone-hacking scandal (to which he dismissively referred to by “the hacking of a celebrity phone”) while being guilty of “leaving the British people and their security personnel more vulnerable”.

Fox’s empty accusations and dishonesty in asking a question that he already claims to know the answer to are notable.[1] But Cameron’s highly liberal interpretation of reality in his response to Fox’s question is a work of art (emphasis added):

“I think the plain fact is that what has happened has damaged national security, and in many ways The Guardian itself admitted that when, having been asked politely by my national security adviser and Cabinet Secretary to destroy the files that it had, it went ahead and destroyed those files.”

Take the main claim the PM is making – that by destroying the files in response to a “polite” request, The Guardian admitted that the leaks were damaging national security.

To start with, the notion of a polite request is not based on reality. The Guardian – as widely reported – destroyed the files in fear of legal action. As Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the paper said when he made clear what led to his decision:

“I explained to British authorities that there were other copies in America and Brazil so they wouldn’t be achieving anything.

But once it was obvious that they would be going to law I preferred to destroy our copy rather than hand it back to them or allow the courts to freeze our reporting.”[2]

Evidently, the decision to destroy the files was strongly influenced by the fact that the act was essentially symbolic. And indeed – reporting on the Snowden files continued regardless; the copies of the files can still be accessed by other media outlets.

Likewise, it is definitely not a “plain fact” that national security has been damaged. To the contrary – no evidence has been produced and there are strong reasons to distrust that assumption given how it can be, and has been, leveraged to the detriment of public interest.

David Cameron’s claims don’t stand simple scrutiny.

The claim that Snowden disclosures jeopardised “national security” (or even gave the so-called ‘terrorists’ a better understanding of counter-terrorism) is even weaker when we consider how much already had been in the public domain before June 2013. Take James Bamford’s widely accessible record of the history and capabilities of the NSA, renowned for its detail. Duncan Campbell’s reports that meticulously document GCHQ’s infrastructure, partnerships and the ins-and-outs of ECHELON are just a few clicks away for users of the internet. There are many more publications that elaborate on very detailed aspects of the intelligence cycle. Those materials form a comprehensive body of detailed knowledge that dwarfs anything the Snowden disclosures have brought to light.

Chris Blackhurt’s trust in the intelligence community that they will “keep the world safe” is not a good enough reason to hinder an informed debate over crucial matters of public interest.

There is a pressing need for citizens to become more politically aware in this potent time for reform. Journalists are meant to play an important role in this by providing the public with an enhanced, not superficial, understanding of political issues.

A former editor of a major national newspaper openly announcing that he uncritically accepts claims of state officials as the truth is not exactly the perfect start, is it?

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[1] What is also notable – almost to the point where it justifies a separate post – is Liam Fox’s special relationship with the Guardian. In 2011, he was forced to resign after the newspaper’s investigation, which revealed he had been giving unwarranted access to the Ministry of Defence to a “former flatmate”. Coincidentally, Mr Fox was accused of jeopardising national security at the time.

[2] It was also reported that at one point The Guardian was contacted by “government officials” who said “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back”.

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PARTNER DZIENNIKARZA PRACUJĄCEGO Z EDWARDEM SNOWDENEM ZATRZYMANY NA 9 GODZIN

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David Miranda, partner Glenna Greenwalda, dziennikarza znanego ze ścisłej współpracy z Edwardem Snowdenem, został zatrzymany przez angielską policję na Londyńskim Heathrow w niedzielę rano, gdzie poddano go dziewięciogodzinnemu przesłuchaniu.

Glenn Greenwald, prawnik i dziennikarz brytyjskiego Guardiana, wieloletni krytyk programów inwigilacyjnych zachodnich specsłużb, najbardziej wsławił się pierwszoplanową rolą w największym wycieku tajnych informacji w historii potężnej amerykańskiej agencji wywiadowczej NSA (ang. National Security Agency – Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Narodowego). Był on jednym z dwóch dziennikarzy, którym Edward Snowden przekazał zbiór ściśle tajnych dokumentów wykradzionych specsłużbie. Materiały zawierały m.in. szczegóły programów masowej inwigilacji.

Greenwald zatrzymanie swojego partnera skomentował w poniedziałek na łamach Guardiana, nazywając je „znaczną eskalacją ataków wymierzonych w dziennikarstwo jak i towarzyszący mu proces zdobywania informacji”. Powiedział też, że decyzja brytyjskiej policji „była w oczywisty sposób motywowana chęcią zastraszenia tych z nas, którzy piszą o NSA i jej odpowiedniku w Wielkiej Brytanii – GCHQ”.

Współpraca albo więzienie

Davida Mirandę zatrzymano o 8:05 zanim zdołał przesiąść się na lot do Brazylii, gdzie mieszka wraz z Greenwaldem. Skonfiskowano nie tylko należące do niego płyty DVD, ale i telefon komórkowy, komputer przenośny, dwa nośniki danych USB, dysk zewnętrzny i inne elektroniczne urządzenia jakie posiadał, w tym konsolę do gier i nowo zakupione telefony.

Według jego własnej relacji, funkcjonariusze zmusili go do wyjawienia haseł do komputera i komórki. „Powiedzieli, że mam obowiązek odpowiedzieć na wszelkie pytania i wielokrotnie używali słów ‘więzienie’ i ‘komisariat’”. Jak mówi, w przesłuchaniu brało udział łącznie 7 agentów, którzy zadawali mu pytania na temat jego „całego życia”. Mirandzie odmówiono tłumacza (wolał porozumiewać się ojczystym portugalskim) i nie wyrażono zgody na to, by zapisywał zadawane pytania. Dostęp do prawnika uzyskał dopiero na godzinę przed zakończeniem przesłuchania.

Brazylijczyka przesłuchiwano 9 godzin – maksymalną ilość czasu na jaki pozwala Ustawa o Terroryźmie (2000), na którą przy zatrzymaniu powołały się brytyjskie służby. Bez wątpienia był to wyjątkowy przypadek, biorąc pod uwagę, że tylko 0.06% osób zatrzymywanych na mocy tej ustawy przesłuchiwano dłużej niż 6 godzin (1).

Jak powiedział Guardianowi David Anderson, niezależny ekspert recenzujący przepisy antyterrorystyczne, na mocy tego zapisu policji wolno zatrzymać i przesłuchać „każdego (…) bez potrzeby zaistnienia jakichkolwiek podejrzeń”. Przesłuchanie z tytułu tej ustawy, która obowiązuje tylko w strefach granicznych – m.in. na lotniskach, ma odbywać się wyłącznie w celu ustalenia czy przesłuchiwany jest terrorystą. Jeśli po zakończeniu procedury policja uzna, że przesłuchiwany niewystarczająco z nimi współpracował, może on trafić do więzienia.

„Wysoce drażliwe materiały” w posiadaniu Mirandy

Miranda w dniu zatrzymania zmierzał do swojego domu w Rio De Janeiro, gdzie mieszka z Greenwaldem. Wracał on ze spotkania z przebywającą w Berlinie Laurą Poitras – reżyserką, dziennikarką i bliską współpracowniczką Greenwalda. To z nią, oprócz dziennikarza Guardiana, skontaktował się Snowden w sprawie zamiaru ujawnienia tajnych dokumentów.

Brytyjskie MSW, po zdecydowanym nacisku środowisk politycznych, zmuszone było wytłumaczyć kontrowersyjną decyzję policji, której początkowo nie chciało komentować. Jak podał we wtorek po południu Guardian, rzecznik Home Office powiedział, że zatrzymany w niedzelę Miranda był w posiadaniu „wysoce drażliwych, skradzionych materiałów które mogłyby przydać się terrorystom”. W tym świetle, jak uważa ministerstwo, 9-godzinne zatrzymanie partnera znanego dziennikarza i konfiskata posiadanych przez niego  nośników danych jest w pełni uzasadniona.

Guardian nie ukrywa, że w tym pracowitym dla niego okresie Greenwald korzysta z pomocy partnera. W jednym z artykułów opisujących zajście otwarcie stwierdza się, że gdy doszło do zatrzymania, Miranda jako kurier przewoził (bliżej nieokreślone) materiały dla Greenwalda. W wypowiedzi dla mediów stwierdził: “To oczywiste dlaczego mnie zatrzymali. To dlatego, że jestem partnerem Glenna. Bo wybrałem się do Berlina. Bo Laura tam mieszka. Myślą więc, że jestem głęboko zamieszany.” –mówił – „Ale nie gram tu roli. Nie przeglądam dokumentów. Nie wiem nawet, czy w tym co przewoziłem były jakieś dokumenty. Może to było na potrzeby filmu nad którym pracuje Laura.”

Jak mówią prawnicy Mirandy, na urządzeniach skonfiskowanych przez władze znajdowały się „poufne materiały dziennikarskie, które nie powinny być zatrzymywane”.  Co więcej, zastosowanie przepisów Ustawy o Terroryźmie w tym przypadku stanowi według prawników „celowe ominięcie” ustawowych procedur przewidzianych w przypadkach gdy policja chce uzyskać dostęp do poufnych informacji dziennikarskich. W takich sytuacjach służby zwykle muszą prosić o zgodę sąd. Prawnicy, których zatrudnił Guardian, nazywają działania policji „bezprawnymi” i zapowiadają pozew.

Opinię prawników podziela Charles Falconer, polityk, który pełnił funkcje w rządzie Tonego Blaira i który pomógł wprowadzić Ustawę o Terroryźmie w 2000 roku. Według niego władze brytyjskie przekroczyły swoje uprawnienia. „[Ta ustawa] nie została przegłosowana z myślą o ludziach takich jak David Miranda„ – pisał w środę w Guardianie – „Funkcjonariusze wiedzieli, że Miranda nie jest terrorystą, ale mimo wszystko go przetrzymywali”.

(1) Informacja zaczerpnięta z dokumentu opublikowanego we wrześniu ubiegłego roku przez brytyjskie MSW: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/157896/consultation-document.pdf

BBC refuses to apologize for using a student trip to secretly film inside North Korea

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BBC refuses to apologize for using a student trip to secretly film inside North Korea

The London School of Economics (LSE) said in a letter to its staff and students on Saturday that it “deeply regrets” BBC’s refusal to apologize for and cancel its Panorama documentary on North Korea scheduled to air on Monday night. Footage for the program was obtained when three BBC journalists used a LSE student trip as cover for secret filming inside the country, while withholding knowledge of their plans from the school and allegedly misleading the students.

The university student society Grimshaw Club‘s eight day trip to North Korea is understood to have been organised by a third party. Neither the club nor the LSE accept any organisational responsibility for the tour. Guardian reported that John Sweneey’s wife, Tomiko, was behind the arrangement of the trip. Mr John Sweeney and his wife, accompanied by a camera man, used the trip as cover for secret filming for their investigative BBC Panorama series.

Guardian quotes a ‘senior BBC source’ as saying the tour attendants were warned “twice” in advance that there will be “an undercover journalist” on the trip. But the real plan, that involved three BBC journalists and secret filming, was not revealed to them until they were in Beijing, the source said.

But a person who the LSE student paper Beaver believes attended the trip told the interviewer that students were unaware of the presence of BBC journalists on their plane to Pyongyang and were led to believe one of them was a “history professor”. The LSE’s Saturday letter quotes North Korean agencies as saying this supposed ‘professor’ posed as a LSE PhD student while undergoing verification with the authorities and had even provided the exact address of his ‘office’. In reality, Mr Sweneey graduated from LSE in 1980 with a BSc in Government and therefore is no longer a LSE student.

The LSE condemned the BBC for putting their students in “unacceptable” danger and alleged the corporation had not obtained informed consent from those who attended the trip. But the BBC insists that it gave the students enough information, some of which it had to withhold for the students’ “own safety” in an event of an interrogation. The Telegraph reports Panorama’s spokeswoman as saying the students were “fully aware” of the presence of a journalist and given a chance to not attend the trip.

However, in its Saturday letter to staff and students the LSE said BBC staff “confirmed” the School’s students were “deliberately misled” with regards to the involvement of the corporation in the trip. Mr Sweneey is reported to have rebuffed this by saying he spoke with students after their return and ‘majority’ of them do not feel misled. George Gaskell, head of the LSE, wrote in a Saturday letter that “at least two students” and parents of one have expressed “grave concern” about the situation.

The school spoke of the “extreme danger” the operation posed to the safety of the students had the filming been discovered. The Student Union Secretary Alex Peters-Day condemned BBC’s “reckless” conduct on Saturday saying she was relieved students managed to leave the country without being detained. In clearly contrasting assessment, the BBC conducted an internal risk analysis of the plan and gave it clearance “at the highest level”, the LSE letter says.

The letter also alleged BBC conduct endangers LSE’s reputation and impedes their research in countries where independent academic enquiry is looked upon suspiciously.

Jason Wong, a student representative, told the Guardian on Sunday he would be “seeking to revoke” Mr Sweneey’s alumni status.

North Korea has been high on the news agenda in 2013. There has been an escalation of provocative rhetoric and displays of power between the Kim-Jong-Un administration and the US and its Southern ally over the regime’s nuclear capability. The Telegraph believes the tensions heightened in December 2012 after a North Korean missile launch. The BBC argues it will not pull the programme because it was filmed in a country “central to current events”. The BBC News head of programmes Ceri Thomas defended the film as “an important piece of investigative journalism”.

v2 (15.04.2013)

Elephant in the room: total ignorance of a celebrity political endorser

Aside

Celebrities are silly. They do silly stuff all the time – at least that’s what the media would have us believe. Journalists working for glossy magazines and tabloids mercilessly report on celebrity gaffes, stoking public ridicule (or outrage) over instances of celebrity stupidity which seems to be in regular supply. Effective as they might seem, I feel the ‘blunder-hunters’ have missed the biggest of them all. The music celebrity I dedicated this blog post to has been guilty of a ongoing blunder for more than 4 years; what’s more, their behaviour has much more profound consequences than the trivialities tabloid journalists tend to occupy themselves with.

The blunder  in question is enthusiastic endorsement of one of the most powerful politicians on this planet while being totally ignorant of their policies.

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The one-and-done model of celebrity politics

Celebrity adventure with politics can take form of a single tweet, as in the case of Kim Kardashian. During the November 2012 Israeli assault on Gaza the reality show star tweeted – presumably out of compassion for the civilian and military lives of the invading force – she was “Praying for everyone in Israel”.

Her account was flooded with hostile tweets shortly after, which regardless of the – sometimes vile and outright violent – form they took, were rightly pointing out that her reaction to an Israeli aerial assault of an enclosed and largely civilian area was deeply unfair, or just outright ignorant. In a cringeworthily obvious attempt to undo the embarrassing situation, the television personality proceeded to tweet she was “praying for everyone in Palestine and across the world”, but then ended up deleting both tweets.

It’s an example of a one-off, careless and irresponsible comment (however earnest it might have been) that ended up causing some unpleasantness and taught the clearly oblivious celebrity to think twice before setting foot in the unfamiliar realm of politics. In fact it is likely to lead them to refrain from doing anything of this sort again: one-and-done.

But what if there was a celebrity who has been involved in one of the most influential political scenes on this planet for more than 4 years, in clear support of a certain political personality but… seems to have absolutely no idea about their idol’s politics?

Will.I.Am & Barack Obama

Will.I.Am, otherwise known as William James Adams, is a music personality, producer and entrepreneur. He is best known for his time at The Black Eyed Peas, a hip-hop/pop group that reached the hight of their popularity in 2003. He is also famous for his solo output, having worked on a total of 4 solo albums. A single from his 4th, upcoming album ‘#willpower’ called ‘Scream and Shout’ was a commercial success, topping charts in 14 countries.

In 2008, Will.I.Am joined – or headed, by some accounts – celebrities in supporting Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. He wrote a song almost entirely based on the speech that – then Senator – Obama gave in New Hampshire. The ‘Yes We Can’ single was a tribute to the presidential candidate and his election slogans. It was made into a viral music video and provided a platform for other celebrities to show their support of the candidate, making 3 million views within a week of release. Will also helped produce and contributed to a compilation album called Change Is Now: Renewing America’s Promise, released in April 2009, on which the ‘Yes We Can’ song can be found, as well as four others attributed – wholly, or partly – to Will. His pro-Obama efforts landed him number 2 on the Top-Ten Celebrity Obama Supporters list compiled by Huffington Post in 2008.

In 2012, Will.I.Am was there for Obama, too.  He was part of an Obama team and conducted a twitter campaign in support of his re-election. He reportedly spent the election night in the backstage – in his own words – “with the president and the secret service people”. This year, Will.I.Am accompanied Obama during his 2nd term inauguration ceremony.

The celebrity’s support of the politician has been discussed to some extent. In fact, on several occasions the music star himself gave brief interviews about it.  What reasons does Will.I.Am give for his backing of Obama and what is his understanding of American politics? I will not keep you waiting – Will does not have anything to say apart from meaningless babble and empty clichés.

Obama’s policies? “I have to learn more about that”

This interview was conducted in the first days of February 2008, after the “Yes We Can” – Will’s pro-Obama song  – went viral. Will, who seemed to struggle to answer questions, spent a few minutes talking about how Obama’s New Hampshire speech “super-inspired” him to write the song and how celebrities joined his project out of “hope for change”; he also said that Obama belongs with Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln in a category of people that have helped freedoms flourish and bring positive change.

Just what would the positive changes be, however, Will couldn’t say. At approximately 5:35, the journalist asks: “What are some of the changes you want to see right now?”. While the music video director Jesse Dylan smiles and fidgets uncomfortably, Will throws in vague phrases while he struggles to answer: “Education… Erm… America’s finance, you know, getting the dollar up to where it… should be” – “Stopping the war” – Jesse Dylan lends a helping hand – “Stopping the war… Erm… Health… Erm… International policies… you know, good things”. “Good things! We can support that!” – the news anchor said, smiling.

It seems Will’s ignorance of Obama’s policies remained unchanged up until 2012. Luke Rudkowski, a journalist of ‘We Are Change‘, approached the self-declared Obama supporter Will.I.Am last year and during this short encounter asked him about his opinion on Obama’s policies. Queried about the President’s secret kill-list, as well as his recent signing of the NDAA act and drone bombings, all the clearly baffled Will had to say is he had to “learn more about that”.

When Obama was re-elected on the evening of 7th November 2012, Will.I.Am was also available for comment and unsurprisingly – hasn’t contributed anything substantial. In this short chat, he said a few rather empty phrases about “keeping up the engagement” until the next election, lest “we will undo what we’ve done” – presumably hinting at the need to keep up Obama’s popularity.

Could it be that despite his far-reaching efforts to promote Barack Obama, Will.I.Am has no idea what his policies entail or what his governance means for America and the world? It seems very likely to be the case.

Obama’s record as president

Had Obama been a perfect president, Will’s ignorance would merely be a matter of a personal – or a professional – faux pas. But he is not.

President Barrack Obama’s achievements in office include, to name a few: not only continuing, but vastly expanding America’s highly controversial, secretive, counter-productive and unconstrained drone campaign with its mounting civilian toll (e.g., see TBIJ’s work on the drones in Pakistan) and war crime tactics; bulking up the state’s domestic eavesdropping powers and secrecy as well as signing the NDAA act which allows for assassination of US citizens without judicial review and imprisonment of thereof without trial and waging war on whistle-blowers on an unprecedented scale with the use of the WW1-era Espionage Act.

I don’t need to discuss the large extent to which these policies contradict the values inherent in Obama’s “super-inspiring” 2008 election slogans that Will claims to hold so dear. It’s obvious. What’s not obvious in the public sphere, however – judging from the fact Will’s support for Obama remains unchallenged – is that blind endorsement of a powerful political figure is dangerous.

Politics is not a game 

It would seem to me that if someone wishes to support a political personality, they ought to publicly acknowledge and engage with the political ideas their idols are endorsing and policies they’re enacting. Politics is not a game – domestic and foreign powers of the US government affect real people and create real situations at home – for instance, the signing of the controversial NDAA act that infringes on freedoms of Will’s fellow Americans – and abroad – like drone bombings in Yemen or Pakistan which have lead to real deaths and suffering among populations. To endorse the US president while not having a slightest grasp of his policies – especially if they’re so unprecedented and controversial – is wrong.

Based on what I have seen and read – I don’t believe Will.I.Am has the slightest understanding of Obama’s politics and their impact on America and the world. I would go even further in saying I don’t believe this particular celebrity has any grasp of politics in a general sense. To me, it seems very likely he’s just an ignorant music star jumping onto the Obama endorsement bandwagon in pursuit of publicity, while choosing to be completely detached from the realities of his presidency.

A useful idiot, if you will.

UPDATE:

On 20/01/2013, Will.I.Am spoke to MTV News after taking part in Obama’s inauguration ceremony, to which he referred to as “historic” and “nostalgic”. He said of the atmosphere: “The feeling in the city right now? It’s optimism and nostalgia; remembering where we came from and where we’re going”. Referring to Obama as “my ninja”, he gave a very favourable personal account of the president. Among the things he said about Obama was that he was “cool and fun but serious at the same time” and that he “takes time to speak to normal folk and important folk at the same time”. He also gave some of his suggestions for domestic policy: Will wants to see “science programs” funded in schools and factories “brought to the inner cities [so that they can] bring jobs to America”.