Misremembering Gary Webb

Sure sign of a subservient hack: Recapitulating the CIA's 18-year-old objection to this indisputably apt graphic which first accompanied Dark Alliance before controversy got it pulled.

Sure sign of a subservient hack: Recapitulating the CIA’s 18-year-old objection to this indisputably apt graphic which first accompanied Dark Alliance before controversy got it pulled.

[This piece has been substantially updated since it was first posted]

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked that eighteen years after Dark Alliance was published, the release of a film about investigative journalist Gary Webb would inspire a new round of smears. Nevertheless, I am.

In my last post I stressed how the government’s own investigations largely vindicated Gary Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series. Implicit in this, of course, is the obvious point that these investigations only took place because of his reporting. By any normal human standard, that makes him uniquely accomplished as journalists go, and you’d think our media culture might see some practical merit in unequivocally recognizing that, if only to market their own commitment to the truth while neatly compartmentalizing Contra drug trafficking and Webb’s ostracism as uniquely Reaganesque.  That Webb is still being smeared almost two decades after “Dark Alliance” on the pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post and by ‘advocacy’ simulacra like The Intercept, shows how little chance elites are willing to take in validating a bullshit-proof purchase on reality.

Of course, Webb’s story remains highly combustible because it is singularly rich in valuable lessons: that the Intelligence Community executes policy objectives without even the pretense of oversight or ethical constraints; that the Drug War clearly has never been about preventing drug abuse; that the intelligence apparatus regards poor, black Americans with the same murderous contempt it regards Nicaraguan socialists and anyone else of no use to the ruling class; and that the mainstream media is a fraud, a highly sophisticated instrument of ruling class disinformation that can shift into propaganda overdrive whenever conditions require it.

Many of  the leading players in elite journalism’s own dark alliance with the CIA to destroy Webb continue to ply their trade — Walter Pincus, Howard Kurtz, Tim Weiner and Tim Golden among others –and that itself, apart from everything else, limits how much fault any socially and professionally savvy reporter can find. The system of rewards and punishment that fortifies those mens’ long careers and destroyed Webb’s now guides discussion of his legacy. Among the first to obediently tailor a Kill The Messenger tie-in to these constraints was The Intercept‘s Ryan Devereaux — discussed in my last post — and after publication of his velvet-gloved hit piece, journalists in higher places followed suit.

David Carr in The New York Times, a paper which did so much of the heavy-lifting for the CIA last time around, begins by cynically feigning amazement at the CIA/Contra scandal — “did that really happen?” —  and, consistent with the recurring hack insistence on the Agency’s minor, bystander role in its own scandals and cover-ups, reduces its drug-trafficking complicity to “turning a blind eye.”  He then proceeds in a vein similar to Devereaux, claiming Webb made himself “open to attack”  and disparaging his “deeply flawed”, “oversold” series, his “lurid presentation”, “his willingness to draw causality based on very thin sourcing and evidence”,  and his series’ “overheated” language and graphics.

Like Devereaux, Carr deftly suggests this victim-blaming is all conventional wisdom, by disobliging himself of providing evidence for any shred of it, apart from, like Devereaux, citing the original graphic accompanying Webb’s piece, which had a photo of a crack smoker superimposed on the CIA’s logo (inserted above). We know from the CIA document, “Managing a Nightmare“, that this graphic was particularly vexing to The Agency. We also know that this graphic — which simply suggests Agency complicity in the crack epidemic —  is indisputably apt. Therefore, whenever you see this 18-year-old CIA complaint trotted out as if the basis for it is self-evident, know that you are in the midst of subservient hack fuckery, even if that hasn’t been plain from the lede on, as it is in Carr’s case.

Keeping to the trail blazed by Devereaux at The Intercept, Carr generously quotes people disparaging Webb’s reporting, including supporters like Kill The Messenger star Jeremy Renner and Carr’s Times colleague Tim Golden. Golden is an unrepentant veteran of the original smear campaign, noted for writing a full page hit piece constructed entirely from interviews with CIA officers, former rebels, and narcotics agents, only one of whom — Aldolfo Calero, the leader of the FDN and certainly involved in trafficking — allowed the use of his name.

“Webb made some big allegations that he didn’t back up” Golden tells Carr. “You can find some fault with the follow-up stories, but mostly what they did was to show what Webb got wrong.” Of course this is bullshit, which Carr knows,  since he finally does what Devereaux didn’t do: acknowledge the CIA report that vindicated Webb’s reporting entirely.  Webb “lived long enough to know that he did not make the whole thing up”, writes Carr with contemptible, inane flippancy, before noting The Agency’s corroboration at the tail end of his piece.

For all his faults, Carr looks almost like, well, Gary Webb, compared to the Washington Post‘s assistant managing editor for investigations, Jeff Leen, writing under the brave title, “Gary Webb was no journalism hero, despite what ‘Kill the Messenger’ says.” Readers of my last post may recall that The Agency’s own report singled out The Washington Post as uniquely helpful to bringing down Webb, using a team that consulted with L. J. O’Neale, the CIA’s man at the Justice Department, and which included Walter Pincus, a reporter with ties to the intelligence apparatus going back to the fifties.  By way of The Post‘s national reputation, the CIA’s report approvingly noted, it created a “firestorm of reaction against [Webb's paper,] the San Jose Mercury News.”

Leen’s hamfisted, shamelessly dishonest piece suggests the paper’s cozy relationship with the CIA  endures, eighteen years on. Near the top Leen claims “The Hollywood version of  [Webb's] story — a truth-teller persecuted by the cowardly and craven mainstream media — is pure fiction.” Things go steadily downhill from there, with Lee excoriating Webb as vigorously as his colleague, CIA loyalist Walter Pincus, did eighteen years ago, finding very little fault with The Agency or the cannibalism on its behalf. Too much wading around in garbage like this is bad for the soul, so I’ll leave Leen to others, like Robert Parry, who, with Brian Barger, broke the first Contra Cocaine story, and has ardently defended “Dark Alliance” for years.

By far, the best antidote to new injections of old poison is getting the true measure of Dark Alliance and its aftermath, which is enduringly fascinating, revealing and horrifying. It also provides an instructive backdrop to the pernicious clowning of the Celebrity Left. The difference between Webb’s courageous interrogation of racism and power and the exhausting banality of Greenwald’s one-note showboating, the careerist narcissism of Weevgate, and the revolting stupidity of David Graeber’s anarcho-imperialism could not be more stark.

So, inspired by a friend who solicited resources on Webb, I’m providing the following links to things I used in writing my last post and some good material I’ve discovered since. I recommend starting with “Dark Alliance” itself. The Democracy Now interviews and the Cockburn/St. Clair excerpt from their book Whiteout are particularly worth your time. Remarkably, The Huffington Post stands out as doing the best reporting to tie in with the film by far and both pieces listed below are worth reading. I invite people to share other resources that I can add via updates.

Hat tip to Walter Glass for inspiring this post.


Resources provided by readers:

Via forest:

The Contras, Cocaine and Covert Operations — The National Security Archive’s comprehensive index of official records documenting “official knowledge of drug operations, and collaboration with and protection of known drug traffickers.”

Washington Post’s Slimy Assault on Gary Webb — Robert Parry, the co-author of the first, largely ignored reporting on Contra drug trafficking, unpacks WaPo’s latest hatchet job.

Via eleutherios:

Dark Alliance: Supporting Documents, Photos, and Audio from Gary Webb’s Reporting on CIA Links to Crack Cocaine (1996) – The Internet Archive

Gary Webb: In His Own Words — an interview of Webb by the Guerrilla News Network / Narco News

KXJZ’s Insight: Gary Webb — features interviews with Robert Parry, one of Webb’s sons, Peter Kornbluh, and others

Obituary of Gary Webb & “The Pariah”  — Charles Bowden, Webb’s friend and confidante.  Via the Web Wayback machine

The CIA-Contra-Crack Cocaine Controversy: A Review Of The Justice Department’s Investigations And Prosecution  — U. S. Department of Justice


The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux is No Gary Webb

Philip Agee and Edward Snowden: A comparision

Omidyar’s First Look Introduces The Intercept


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The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux is No Gary Webb

Were it not something of a flop in the readership department, The Intercept might well be the U.S. ruling class’s highest achievement in propaganda. As the offspring of the Snowden whistleblowing event, it is forever identified with resistance to state authority, cultivating a readership almost fetishistically eager to believe that something fearless and adversarial is always underway.  As such it can blatantly peddle doctrinal trash to an extent running dogs with less glamorously rebellious brands can only dream of.

Trash is mostly what Ryan Devereaux serves up in his recent piece on investigative journalist Gary Webb. His post is intended to tie in with an upcoming film, Kill The Messenger, about the mainstream media campaign that ruined Webb in 1996 after he’d published “Dark Alliance”, a three-part series that connected the CIA-backed Contras to the crack epidemic that devastated black communities in the 80s.  Superficially, the piece is simply a review of the history covered by the film, using a recently released CIA document about the affair as its hook.  But Devereaux inexplicably seizes the opportunity to resuscitate long-discredited planks from the original campaign against Webb and to sanitize the CIA’s role in his ruin.

Devereaux’s piece strongly suggests that Webb’s downfall owed at least in part to his own deficiencies; that the CIA’s role in the campaign against Webb was mostly passive; and that media compliance with the CIA’s designs was largely a happy coincidence, animated less by direct state interference or the media’s institutionalized service to power, than by petty jealousy and professional rivalry.  In other words, Devereaux has produced the closest thing to a hit piece/whitewash that one can credibly write about a martyred journalist whose reporting has been entirely vindicated and with whose legacy one wishes to burnish one’s own brand.

Devereaux states that

Webb’s series reported that in addition to waging a proxy war for the U.S. government against Nicaragua’s revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s, elements of the CIA-backed Contra rebels were also involved in trafficking cocaine to the U.S. in order to fund their counter-revolutionary campaign. The secret flow of drugs and money, Webb reported, had a direct link to the subsequent explosion of crack cocaine abuse that had devastated California’s most vulnerable African American neighborhoods.

This is largely correct except for its weird understatement of the crack epidemic, which devastated urban black communities from coast to coast. In fact, three times in the piece Devereaux restricts the epidemic to California, and elsewhere refers to the decade-long crisis diminishingly as the “crack scare.” Devereaux’s summary also neglects Webb’s claim that the Contra-connected drug wholesalers in his series were protected from prosecution and never went to prison, but were hired as informants by federal prosecutors.

More crucially, Devereaux’s account omits Webb’s vindication by the CIA’s and Justice Department’s own investigations. Volume One of the CIA’s report, published in January of ’98, largely confirmed everything Webb had claimed about the Bay Area drug traffickers — Danilo Blandón and Juan Norwin Meneses — their connection to the Nicaraguan Contra movement, and their ability to freely operate without the threat of law enforcement. Volume Two of the report, published in the following October, described how the Reagan-Bush administration had, in fact, protected more than 50 Contras and other drug traffickers, and by so doing thwarted federal investigations into drug crimes. A report by the Justice Department published in  July ’98 contained similar findings. (source)

Here’s what Webb said about these reports:

…The CIA’s knowledge and involvement had been far greater than I’d ever imagined.  The drug ring was even bigger than I had portrayed.  The involvement between the CIA agents running the Contras and the drug traffickers was closer than I had written.  And agents and officials of the DEA had protected the traffickers from arrest…(source)

Webb’s claims about the relationship between the drug traffickers in his piece and the crack epidemic were also entirely solid. Freeway Rick Ross, the main customer of Webb’s Contra-connected drug wholesalers was, and still is, widely credited with creating the crack cocaine crisis. Two years before the publication of Dark Alliance, the Los Angeles Times reported that Ross “did more than anyone else to democratize [crack], boosting volume, slashing prices, and spreading disease on a scale never before conceived…his coast-to-coast conglomerate was selling more than $500,000 a day, a staggering turnover that put the drug within reach of anyone with a few dollars.” (source)

In parallel with government reports vindicating Webb’s story, journalists and media critics exhaustively pulled apart each talking point in the campaign against him and none of them held up.

The first to do this was Pete Carey, an investigative reporter and a colleague of Webb’s at the San Jose Mercury News. After the shit hit the fan, the paper had him check Webb’s reporting against the charges of his critics. Carey’s report backed up Webb’s work and added new information to the story. (source).

In 1997, media critic Normon Solomon did an excellent, point by point analysis of the smear campaign for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, connecting it to the historic ties between the media and the CIA.  The title of his piece, Snow Job: The Establishment’s Papers Do Damage Control for the CIA, encapsulates his findings.

Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair analyzed the affair exhaustively in their book  Whiteout: the CIA, Drugs and the Press (excerpted here), stating that “the attack on Gary Webb and his series in the San Jose Mercury News remains one of the most venomous and factually inane assaults on a professional journalist’s competence in living memory.”

That Webb’s report stopped being “controversial” years ago seems to have slipped past Devereaux in the same way the scale of the crack crisis has. He keeps the merits of Webb’s reporting a somewhat open question through most of his post, despite his agreement with common consensus that the media campaign against Webb was in bad faith.

But Devereaux largely ignores the extent to which the campaign against Webb was built entirely from lies, straw men, denials by anonymous officials, and outright character assassination. Rather, the impression one gets from Devereaux’s selection of quotes and details is that Webb’s detractors had misplaced priorities; that instead of poking holes in Webb’s story, they should have been following up on his claims.

A mea culpa Devereaux includes from Jesse Katz, who was part of the Los Angeles Times‘ 17-member “Get Gary Webb” team, perfectly encapsulates this general thrust:

we saw this series in the San Jose Mercury News and kind of wonder[ed] how legit it was and kind of put it under a microscope. And we did it in a way that most of us who were involved in it, I think, would look back on that and say it was overkill. We had this huge team of people at the L.A. Times and kind of piled on to one lone muckraker up in Northern California.”

Perhaps Katz said more than this, but as mea culpas go, this excerpt could hardly be more dishonest and self-serving. It is beyond my scope here to pull apart the widely reviled hatchet job The Los Angeles Times did on Webb. But let’s look a little closer at Katz.

I quoted the Los Angeles Times above on Rick Ross’s peerless contribution to the crack epidemic. But just two years after the paper had called Ross the  “criminal mastermind” of the epidemic, and credited him with “spreading disease on a scale never before conceived” a member of the “Get Gary Webb” team wrote this:

“the explosion of cheap smokable cocaine in the 1980s was a uniquely egalitarian phenomenon, one that lent itself more to makeshift mom and pop operations than to the sinister hand of a government-sanctioned plot…How the crack epidemic reached that extreme, on some level, had nothing to do with Ricky Ross.” (source)

The reporter in both cases was – incredibly – Jesse Katz.  Saying one thing in 1994 and then saying the opposite two years later is not putting something “under a microscope.”  It’s not “overkill.” It is, quite simply, lying, and quoting his half-assed, misleading mea culpa without reference to his infamous reversal is in the same neighborhood.

In fact, the most damning thing said about the media’s assault on Webb in Devereaux’s piece comes from a 17-year-old article Peter Kornbluh wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review:

“[the L.A. Times] stumbled into some of the same problems of hyperbole, selectivity, and credibility that it was attempting to expose” while ignoring declassified evidence (also neglected by the  New York Times and the Washington Post) that lent credibility to Webb’s thesis. “Clearly, there was room to advance the contra/drug/CIA story rather than simply denounce it,” Kornbluh wrote.

In other words, some of Webb’s zealous detractors were as bad as Webb! But one really can’t say this enough: there was nothing seriously wrong with Webb’s reporting. His series wasn’t perfect — no journalism is — but it was no more imperfect than any other investigative work. In fact, it’s considerably better, and by pioneering the posting of source documents online, Webb was more ethical than most of his predecessors, in that he enabled readers to review the evidence for themselves in a way others had not.

Nonetheless Devereaux states flatly, without argument, that “there’s no question that ‘Dark Alliance’ included flaws, which the CIA was able to exploit” implying, inanely, that with a bit more diligence, Webb might have somehow prevented or mitigated a baseless campaign manufactured out of whole cloth. As if the entire problem wasn’t that he had told his readers — most troublingly, his black readers — something people in high places felt they shouldn’t know. But having insulated himself and his readers from Webb’s near-complete rehabilitation, Devereaux trots out disparaging, unsubstantiated declarations about Webb’s journalism from three of the four people he quotes in the piece. It’s like it’s 1996 all over again, and indeed, only one of the three is speaking in the present.

First up is the CIA’s  Nicholas Dujmovic, who speaks by way of “Managing a Nightmare: CIA Public Affairs and the Drug Conspiracy Story”, a recently released six-page article he wrote for CIA’s in-house journal, Studies in Intelligence. “Nightmare” is a highly biased chronological account of how the media reception to “Dark Alliance” moved progressively more in favor of the CIA and against Webb, and of the role the CIA’s Public Affairs department played in that transition.

Devereaux says this document provides “fresh context to the ‘Dark Alliance’ saga”  but, in fact, it doesn’t impart much that’s surprising or new to anyone familiar with the history, apart from a uniquely dishonest and skewed perspective. “Nightmare” frames the unprecedented campaign to discredit Webb as a quest for “more balanced reporting”, animated by the “journalistic profession’s…will and ability to hold its own members to certain standards.”

If Devereaux finds anything suspect in the CIA’s release of this undated, unredacted document only weeks away from the release of a film about Webb, he keeps it to himself, and this generosity pervades his face-value assessment of the document overall.

He reports that Dujmovic “pointed out that much of what was reported in ‘Dark Alliance’ was not new”, which is undoubtedly a reference to this passage:

…CIA media spokesmen would remind reporters that this series represented no real news, in that similar charges were made in the 1980s and were investigated by the Congress and were found to be without substance.

The assertion here, that the Contra-cocaine charges had been disproved in the 1980s is, as Devereaux knows, undeniably false, which makes this passage interesting and newsworthy because one, it discloses to the knowledgable reader that the CIA was spreading a lie via its media contacts and two, it continues to propagate the lie to any readers of Dujmovic’s article, allegedly intended for internal consumption.  But Devereaux remarks upon this passage only to resuscitate the “no news” plank from the original media campaign, neglecting to notice its multi-layered mendacity and the questions it raises about the document’s intended audience.

Devereaux quotes The Agency man at much greater length on Webb’s failings as a reporter:

Dujmovic complained that Webb’s series “appeared with no warning,” remarking that, for all his journalistic credentials, “he apparently could not come up with a widely available and well-known telephone number for CIA Public Affairs.” This was probably because Webb “was uninterested in anything the Agency might have to say that would diminish the impact of his series,” he wrote.

Devereaux parenthetically adds that “Webb later said that he did contact the CIA but that the agency would not return his calls”, helpfully noting that “efforts to obtain CIA comment were not mentioned in the ‘Dark Alliance’ series.”

Anyone familiar with the original campaign should be feeling deja vu, since this silly objection was raised again and again at the time, and Devereaux quotes not one but two people recapitulating it.

It borders on slimy — no, it is slimy — to twice touch on Webb’ s alleged negligence in this regard without reference to Webb’s account of government stonewalling in “Dark Alliance”:

None of the government agencies known to have been involved with [Nicaraguan drug traffickers] Meneses and Blandon over the years would provide the Mercury News with any information about them.

A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the CIA was denied on national security grounds. FOIA requests filed with the DEA were denied on privacy grounds. Requests filed months ago with the FBI, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service have produced nothing so far. (source)

This seems sufficient grounds for taking Webb at his word that he had made calls that were not returned, but, honestly, who the fuck cares? I’ll let Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair explain:

…suppose the CIA had returned Webb’s calls? What would a spokesperson have said, other than that Webb’s allegations were outrageous and untrue? The CIA is a government entity pledged to secrecy about its activities. On scores of occasions, it has remained deceptive when under subpoena before a government committee. Why should the Agency be expected to answer frankly a bothersome question from a reporter? Yet it became a fetish for Webb’s assailants to repeat, time after time, that the CIA denied his charges and that he had never given this denial as the Agency’s point of view. ( source )

The complaint is a non-starter, an attempt to discredit based on an arbitrary technicality that says literally nothing about Webb’s series or his competence as a journalist. But trust The Intercept — the offspring of a whistleblowing event mediated by journalists who boast of routine consultations with government officials — to resurrect this chestnut as if it isn’t trivial and as if its likely origin in the CIA’s Public Affairs department is entirely beside the point.

After his generous allotment to the CIA’s viewpoint, Devereaux moves on to Peter Kornbluh’s 1997 analysis of the Webb affair in the Columbia Journalism Review:

In his CJR piece, Kornbluh said the series was “problematically sourced” and criticized it for “repeatedly promised evidence that, on close reading, it did not deliver.” It failed to definitively connect the story’s key players to the CIA, he noted, and there were inconsistencies in Webb’s timeline of events.

Devereaux has not tasked himself with providing any of the arguments for these claims in Kornbluh’s piece, which is a masterly example of the pointedly even-handed, ‘both sides are wrong’, analysis that are as much a part of defamation campaigns as outright hatchet jobs.

As paraphrased in The Intercept, Kornbluh simply endorses various elements of the disinformation campaign that were put to bed long ago. But since Devereaux brought it up, let’s take a closer look. As to the allegedly problematic sourcing and undelivered evidence, Kornbluh didn’t like that two of the figures of Webb’s series are “identified without supporting evidence as FDN officials.”  Apparently their words and deeds in service to this august army aren’t enough. Perhaps Webb was to also have linked photos of their Contra membership cards.

Kornbluh was also vexed that Adolfo Calero, the political leader of the FDN – which Kornbluh admits is literally a CIA army — is identified as a “longtime CIA operative” without proof.  That the CIA entrusted Calero with leading its army seems evidence enough. In any event, it is now known that Calero was a CIA informant in Nicaragua as early as 1963, so however Webb got his information, it was entirely correct. Would Kornbluh have even demanded evidence had Webb not posted so much other evidence online? Probably not.

Kornbluh also splits hairs over the identification of Enrique Bermúdez as a “CIA agent”, even though as a Contra military leader, this goes without saying. Do we need to see paystubs before connecting those dots? Are the ramifications of Webb’s story altered at all by parsing the difference between a CIA “operative” and a CIA “agent?”

As for “Webb’s timeline of events,” this broken record was played in one form or another again and again throughout the campaign. Webb responded to it at the time, as have multiple critics. Kornbluh finds inconsistencies where none exist, and then asserts, based on a legalistic technicality, that the Contra operation could not have been responsible for the crack explosion in US cities.

Since these matters were settled years ago — mostly by the CIA’s own report — one wonders why Devereaux is dredging them up. But at last he puts aside his 17-year-old documents and talks to an actual person, Nick Schou, who wrote the book on which Kill the Messenger is based. Of course Schou must also share his misgivings about Webb:

I think it’s fair to take a look at ["Dark Alliance"] objectively and say that it could have been better edited, it could have been packaged better, it would have been less inflammatory. And sure, maybe Gary could have, like, actually put in the story somewhere ‘I called the CIA X-amount of times and they didn’t respond.’ That wasn’t in there,” he said.

Let’s note that Devereaux is, for the third time, passing on a string of complaints about “Dark Alliance” almost entirely without reference to anything specific nor any evidence of merit. Schou’s seem particularly empty, as if to simply signify membership in the responsible journalist’s club. What does “packaged better” mean and why does it matter? The wish for a “less inflammatory” piece seems particularly odd and wrong. “Dark Alliance” is extremely straightforward and written in the plainest English. It is the claims Webb made that inflamed readers — particularly black readers — and rightfully so.

At least Schou understands how trivial his misgivings are:

these are all kind of minor things compared to the bigger picture, which is that he documented for the first time in the history of U.S. media how CIA complicity with Central American drug traffickers had actually impacted the sale of drugs north of the border in a very detailed, accurate story. And that’s, I think, the take-away here.

and that, right there — three quarters of the way into Devereaux’s piece — is the closest we get to giving Webb his due, as well as the single occurrence of the word “accurate.”

Elsewhere, Schou amplifies the other troublesome theme tainting Devereaux’s post: the ostensible passivity of the CIA in the whole affair.

 Rather than some dastardly, covert plot to destroy (or, as some went so far as to suggest, murder) Webb, Schou posits that the journalist was ultimately undone by the petty jealousies of the modern media world. The CIA “didn’t really need to lift a finger to try to ruin Gary Webb’s credibility,” Schou told The Intercept. “They just sat there and watched these journalists go after Gary like a bunch of piranhas.”

“They must have been delighted over at Langley, the way this all unfolded,” Schou added.

I want to like this Schou guy — he did, after all, write a sympathetic book — but this is just nonsense.  I’d let it pass were the central idea here — that the CIA played a small supporting role in Webb’s destruction — not echoed throughout the piece. Devereaux writes that Dujmovic’s document “paints an ugly portrait of the mainstream media at the time”, but it apparently tells us very little about the CIA, which seemingly just watches:

“How the CIA Watched Over The Destruction of Gary Webb”

“The CIA’s Public Affairs officers watched with relief as the largest newspapers in the country rescued the agency from disaster…”

“The CIA watched these developments closely…”

“They just sat there and watched these journalists…”

Of course, no Intercept offering is complete without online coaching from Intercept staff, so here’s Glenn Greenwald echoing Devereaux on Twitter:

Most interesting part of new docs: CIA realized they needn’t do anything against Gary Webb; US media did it for them

Here’s Liliana Segura saying essentially the same thing:

Main take away: press devoured Webb so CIA didn’t need to.

What does this even mean? Do Devereaux, Greenwald and Segura think the reporters just made up all those anonymous CIA, DEA and Contra sources on which they based their hatchet jobs?  Do they infer nothing from Dujmovic’s reference to a “ground base of already productive relations with journalists” or from his title, “Managing a Nightmare?”

There is a useful point that could be made here, which is that between ambition, competition and a reflexive tilt toward power, mainstream journalists execute the propaganda aspect of our media system without much outside interference. But this self-directing quality is being grossly overstated here, and posits a false dichotomy between a CIA that “launched a dastardly, covert plot to destroy (or, as some went so far as to suggest, murder) Webb” and an Agency that simply watches and waits for the phone to ring.  Among other things, the vision created here understates the damage the CIA can do when it takes a reporter’s call, as Dujmovic’s article makes clear.

However, that’s not all the CIA and its associates did.

Two of the papers most crucial to the assault on Webb were The New York Times and The Washington Post. Before going into specifics about what the CIA did besides “watching”, it’s important to get the lay of the land where the CIA and these papers are concerned. Norman Solomon wrote that “The New York Times and Washington Post have…connections to the CIA that go back nearly to the agency’s founding.” Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein wrote that “the agency’s relationship with the [New York] Times was by far its most valuable among newspapers, according to CIA officials”, and that over the years the paper has provided Times cover to CIA employees. (source)

As to the Washington Post, Bernstein quoted a CIA official as saying of the Post’s late owner and publisher, “It was widely known that Phil Graham was somebody you could get help from.” “In 1988″  Solomon writes,  “Washington Post owner Katharine Graham, (Phil’s widow), gave a speech at the CIA’s Langley, Va. headquarters. “We live in a dirty and dangerous world,” Graham told agency leaders. “There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn’t. I believe democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” (source)

Solomon also reports that the two papers had expressed editorial support for funding the Contras.

In Whiteout, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair describe a 1991 CIA memo claiming that The Agency maintains “relationships with reporters from every major wire service, newspaper, news weekly and TV network” and show that among the journalists taking influential swings at Webb were some that had exceptionally close ties: Ron Kessler of CNN, which an Agency memo credited with turning “some ‘intelligence failure’ stories into ‘intelligence success’ stories”; the right-wing commentator Arnaud de Borchgrave, who “boasted of intimate relations with French, British and US intelligence agencies”; and The Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus, whom the Washington Times reported as being known to The Agency as ‘the CIA’s house reporter.’

Cockburn and St. Clair write of the extensive influence of  L. J. O’Neale, the Justice Department prosecutor who was Danilo Blandón’s protector and Rick Ross’s prosecutor.  Cockburn and St. Clair describe a transcript from a deposition at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department that shows O’Neale “reveling in his top-secret security clearance with the CIA”; attempting to phone the Washington Post‘s Howard Kurtz; speaking to “CIA house reporter”, Walter Pincus; and criticizing Gary Webb, who, according to the transcript, O’Neale felt “had become an active part of Ricky Ross’s defense team.”

Now consider the calls O’Neale made to Kurtz and Pincus alongside Dujmovic’s remarks about the reporters’ paper.

The Washington Post ran two articles by leading journalists that criticized the assumptions and connections made by the original series. Public Affairs made sure that journalists and news directors calling for information and [officials representing the Agency] received copies of these  more balanced stories.

Because of the Post’s national reputation, its articles especially were picked up by other papers, creating what the Associated Press called a “firestorm of reaction” against the San Jose Mercury News.

Whiteout also describes how in December 1997, the CIA announced publication of the long-delayed report it had promised a month after “Dark Alliance” appeared. Stories appeared in major newspapers as well as Webb’s own to the effect that the CIA had absolved itself. News of these stories traveled widely via CNN and other outlets.

There was one problem, though. None of these newspapers or any other media outlet had been furnished with the report, because shortly after the CIA announced its self-exoneration, publication was delayed again. Nonetheless, along came additional stories by the New York Times‘ Tim Weiner and the CIA’s ally at the Washington Post, Walter Pincus, quoting anonymous officials claiming the investigation revealed no link between the CIA and cocaine traffickers. We now know the CIA report did nothing of the sort, but that was only revealed later, after the heat was off.

Clearly the CIA and its close associates did a bit more than watch. Rather, the record suggests that by way of publicity stunts and friends inside the media, they directly shaped the narrative at some of the most influential outlets, and this narrative then propagated through other outlets, facilitated by the CIA’s PR people responding to inquiries, friends at other outlets and the herd instinct.

This process, of course, doesn’t explain everything. Schou is not wrong entirely to cite the “petty jealousies of the modern media world” as having a role in the affair. Certainly there was some of that in play at the Los Angeles Times, which Webb’s smaller paper had bested on its own turf.  But journalists do not spend every day of their lives embarked on campaigns to destroy each other. They require incentives, leadership and talking points, and the CIA and its media confederates happily oblige. There can be no question that had Webb written a series that was equal in every respect, technically, toDark Alliance” but did not take on a resourceful, powerful enemy whose very business is deception, manipulation and destruction on behalf of elites, it would have come and gone uneventfully, just as everything Webb had written before “Dark Alliance” had.

The Intercept muddies the water here on this obvious point, promoting a vision of the media that is, in an odd way, somewhat rose-colored in its elision of CIA penetration at the highest levels and the immense control and influence that imparts.  In other words, Devereaux’s article, whether on purpose or by accident, is disinformative, and its resurrection of old, debunked complaints about Webb makes it particularly so. It is really rather shameful that Greenwald’s blog is clearly attempting to align itself historically with Webb and “Dark Alliance” when, in this particular case, it has more in common with the forces that destroyed him.

Acknowledgement: @RancidSassy assisted greatly in unpacking Peter Kornbluh’s bullshit. His general remarks about Devereaux’s piece were also quite helpful. 


Bobby Harris, who claims to be a close friend and colleague of Gary Webb’s has dropped by to share an email he sent to Bob Garfield of On The Media, after Garfield did an atrociously dishonest interview with Ryan Devereaux about his Intercept post.  You should read the whole comment but I will excerpt the part here that addresses the persistent myths about Webb’s reporting:

Within a few years, Gary became known as a great and determined drug-war reporter. That’s why he got the phone call from a jailed trafficker’s girlfriend, that put him onto the big story.

Gary told me that he had reliable contacts — inside the CIA — that confirmed the details his reporting (connections, drug and money volumes), but who would (of course) not go on the record.

The notion that he never called the CIA, as is repeatedly mentioned in Devereaux’s article, is utter nonsense. Gary was a true stickler for journalistic propriety (contrary to attacks on him), and he decided to simply not mention the agency in the context of their relations. He had confirmation from sources inside the agency, but could not use them; so, he didn’t feel allowing the agency to deny these affairs in a statement was fair play.

That’s the real story of what happened on this topic.

As far as timeline problems, Gary relied on sworn testimony by Meneses, against contrary information, from what he told me about this aspect.

Blandon brought cocaine into SCLA at a third of the regular price at this time; giving Ross the ability to spring up the crack epidemic. Clearly, there were “tons” of cocaine and “millions” of dollars involved with this enterprise.

Bob, can you or Devereaux point to actual, serious, pivotal problems with Gary’s story, or are we just continuing an erroneous spin that there are such problems?

Nick Schou states to Devereaux that he: “readily concedes there were problems with Webb’s reporting,” that it could have been “better edited” / “packaged better;” but, this seems to lead back to the falsity that Gary never contacted the CIA or issues of how The SJMN handled the story.

Even in the midst of this new and generally favorable attention, persists the canard that Gary’s story was faulty. (read all)


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Edward Snowden’s Bizarre Conception of Human Rights

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In the wake of Kim Dotcom’s Moment of Truth, and the stern talking-to Snowden gave New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in Glenn Greenwald’s blog, let’s put aside the disquieting implications of timing NSA leaks to increase political leverage for a wealthy crony. Instead, let’s reflect on Snowden’s latest patronizing and deeply wrong lesson in How Democracy Works. The following is from his portion of MOT, which happened today in New Zealand:

it’s collecting the communications of every man, woman, and child in the country of New Zealand, and you know, maybe, the people of New Zealand think that’s appropriate, maybe they think they want to sacrifice a certain measure of their liberty and say, it’s ok, if the government watches me. I’m concerned about terrorism; I’m concerned about foreign threats.

We can have people in every country make that decision because that’s what democracy is about. That’s what self-government is about, but that decision doesn’t belong to John Key or officials in the GCSB, making these decisions behind closed doors, without public debate, without public consent. That decision, belongs exclusively to the people of that country. [interrupted by applause] and I think it’s wrong of him, I think it’s wrong of any politician, to take away the people’s seat at the table of government…

[later in the vid]  It doesn’t matter, necessarily, if there’s mass surveillance in New Zealand if the people say they want it…

Uh, no. Sorry Ed. This is not “what democracy is about”, or if it is, fuck democracy. Even if you concede the starry-eyed notion that the citizens of any country have a “seat at the table of government”,  such that they can ratify or reject what their spy agencies do, that does not rightfully empower an acquiescent majority to vote away freedom from constant and pervasive government surveillance any more than people can, in the spirit of “self-government”,  nullify the right to criticize the President or to go to church. This is some basic shit here, so it’s truly depressing that the audience, joined by Glenn Greenwald and Kim Dotcom, interrupted Snowden to applaud this nonsense.

This is among the things that is so bothersome about the Snowden spectacle. Alongside the now laborious variations on what is essentially the same story, there has been an endless stream of infantilizing, deeply conservative lessons in the proper way to blow whistles; on the necessity, and essential good intentions, of the Intelligence Community; and about this “debate” out of which we will ultimately decide whether we want basic human rights or not.

Lest people think I’m nitpicking, Snowden has expressed the political philosophy quoted above before. From an article about Snowden in the New York Times:

“So long as there’s broad support amongst a people, it can be argued there’s a level of legitimacy even to the most invasive and morally wrong program, as it was an informed and willing decision,” he said.

From the Guardian interview that introduced him:

The public needs to decide whether these policies are right or wrong.

If Snowden is going to continue to teach this lesson, can we advance a grade? Let’s allow for argument’s sake that it’s entirely fine for people to waive their own rights and those of their dissenting neighbors. By what means does Snowden propose we register our consent? Do we get to vote on this? Or is our consent inferred from not toppling the government when it predictably makes things worse instead of better?

Snowden’s political philosophy illustrates a problem with whistleblowers: they’re the kind of people who get into the sort of deep, dark places from which whistles customarily get blown. Places that are uniquely attractive to patriots, ultra-conformists, imperialists and sociopaths. Ellsberg was deep inside the war bureaucracy after hanging out in Vietnam with his mentor, notorious psychopath Edward Lansdale and other thugs. Manning was an Army Intelligence Analyst in Iraq. John Kirakou had spent a decade in the CIA before blowing the whistle on torture. Snowden has spent his entire working life in various arms of the security apparatus. I appreciate their service to the truth, but with all due respect, these are not my kind of people.

Unless they significantly repudiate their past lives, some residue of what took them into Empire’s belly is going to stick. This would be fine, were some of them not also inclined to offer opinions on how the world should work, and their admirers exceptionally inclined to take them seriously because of their heroic deeds. Far from repudiating the NSA entirely, Snowden insists he’s still working for it. From what we’ve seen so far, his only beef with the country’s gigantic security apparatus is bulk data collection conducted by that single agency. And even that’s ok if “the people”, through some unspecified means, “consent.” That makes the debate we’re having extremely circumscribed, as well as exhaustingly insipid.

Snowden’s friend Greenwald appears to ratify Snowden’s doctrine in full, and adds  a weird, reactionary principle of his own, to the effect that one can’t object to anything Snowden (or Greenwald) says or does until one has blown a whistle oneself. This credentialing of opinion-having is preposterous under any conditions, equivalent to insisting Greenwald hold high office before criticizing the president. But for over a year now, Greenwald has belittled, smeared and straw manned anyone who objects to any part of their doctrine or methods from the left. In light of how conservative this doctrine is, and the weightiness Snowden’s stature gives it, attempts to stifle discussion are uniquely pernicious.  As the leaks now morph into strategically timed campaign fodder in another country’s election, debate on the underlying politics seems more warranted than ever.

Here’s the video. The remarks quoted above are around 1:09:24.


Leak Keeper Doctrine further enunciated. I wonder how far right is too far:


Another Snowden News Story, Another Lesson in Proper Whistleblowing

Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower

Philip Agee and Edward Snowden: A comparision

In Conclusion

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The Celebrity Left Wars

I think most lefty types who can still stomach Twitter would agree there is a trend toward increasingly bitter feuds over what some of us on one side call the Celebrity Left, though to call them feuds is somewhat imprecise. A feud suggests two sides engaging in ongoing conflict, whereas on Twitter, genuine engagement between the two emerging camps is very rare, though there is no shortage of heat.

Here’s how things generally go:  some widely admired public left says the kind of stupid, not-very-left thing that is the bread and butter of public lefts — like that corporations are bad by choice and needn’t be, or that the left should support intervention in Syria, or that “The moral basis for Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people is eroding fast.” (source)  A smattering of more traditional radicals attempts to take them to task for it. The public left attempts to self-immunize from criticism by various, sometimes stunningly disingenuous, means.

Depending on who’s under attack, their rank and file advocates will set about wailing, keening and sneering almost entirely amongst themselves about purity cults, circular firing squads, leftier-than-thous, brocialists, manarchists, basement dwellers, shut-ins, thought police, shamers, obsessives, trust fund authoritarians, reverse McCarthyists, Stalinists, armchair radicals, conspiracists etc. In some cases, a very pleased-with-itself crew of man-children will repeatedly tweet the famous pig poop balls picture at whomever made the criticism or posed the unwelcome question. What almost never occurs is serious engagement with whatever the question or criticism happens to be.

An example of what I’m describing: This is Saint Louis anthropologist and Al Jazeera columnist Sarah Kendzior — who would later embark on a smear campaign against Marxist feminists and sometime after that approvingly cite a white supremicist blog on “outside agitators” during the Ferguson protests  — explaining how corporations work:

No corporation is inherently evil. They are purposefully evil. They can treat workers fairly but they *choose* to underpay and abuse.

A number of people engaged with Kendzior to insist on the more traditional anti-capitalist view that corporate exploitation is baked in. To the extent that lefts engaging with each other to hash out principles is a good thing, I think the nature of corporations is a reasonable thing to discuss. But there is a trend toward seeing all disagreements of this kind as personal attacks oriented in some agenda other than simply pressing a thought leader to defend a viewpoint.  And so it was with this particular discussion. Here’s one of Kendzior’s more popular advocates responding to the disagreement:

All the leftier-than-thou kids (almost always kids) should occupy an island together while the rest of us attempt to be decent to each other.

I’m offering this mainly because the two tweet threads perfectly embody how this shit is playing out. I’m not going to dwell on the substance here except to highlight the accidental satire of, in fewer than 140 characters, wishing island exile on one’s political opponents while extolling one’ s superior decency. But then when people don’t see the irony in harassing “thought police”,  and “reverse McCarthyists” with pig poop balls and verbal abuse, anything is possible.

What’s going on with team two here, let’s call them ‘The Adults” in accordance with their PragProg-like self-conception, increasingly seems like the kind of social psychosis that sets in when groups insulate themselves from outside influence. It is, at the very least, dishonest, hypocritical and mind-numbingly stupid. But I am going to assume that among The Adults there are intelligent people of good faith who simply differ with The Kids on theoretical grounds, though they might not have thought it through or discussed it enough to understand what those theoretical differences are. So let’s discuss.

Let’s start first with what The Kids mean by Celebrity Left. I can’t speak for everyone, but I define it in this context somewhat expansively as having a Twitter following in the tens of thousands and up — or capable of having such a following if one were on Twitter — and getting paid from time to time by mainstream media or larger liberal outlets to write and gab.  While I didn’t coin the term — I think the author of  this highly entertaining Twitter account did — anyone who reads this blog knows that I am in the diverse group of people who ratify critique in this area as interesting, entertaining and, to the extent that media criticism matters at all, necessary.

I first became aware of how vehemently people disagree on the value of these inquiries when I started raising concerns about the Snowden spectacle. I documented here what happens when you are insufficiently deferential to Glenn Greenwald or persuaded to his self-mythology.  A year on, a lot of the ardor has gone out of the Greenwald tribe, but the conflict continues, and more importantly, reproduces itself again and again in contests over other Celebrity Lefts, particularly the ones orbiting around Vice and First Look Media. Similar arguments occur around personalities associated with outfits like MSNBC and Salon, but with far less heat and controversy.

In the simplest terms, critics of the Celebrity Left do not view left icons and other professional lefts as operating under different or fewer constraints than the media as a whole. Meticulously demonstrating the basis for this is beyond the scope of this post, though I have touched on it in my posts on Chomsky, a post on The Snowden Effect and in less explicit terms all over this blog. The short version is that the ruling class knows its interests, and is not going to leave left media to its own devices any more than it allows CNN or the New York Times to do whatever they want.

If you look at funding sources and the demographic makeup of participants, the presumed border between mainstream and alternative media is largely imagined. That means that the system of reward and punishment for coloring inside and outside lines is in play everywhere, though the lines themselves may differ. This thesis gets more credible as left politics gain purchase in commercial ventures like Comcast, Vice, and Huffington Post and elicit the patronage of tech billionaire Pierre Omidyar and media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

There is no consensus among The Kids on the conclusions one draws from all this. For me, the most important conclusion with respect to these feuds is that I don’t think gatecrashing by authentic lefts is in any way possible in this system, and that fame, money and influence are commensurate with service to power.  The part of the Celebrity Left that makes them left to the Occupyish ex-Obamaphile crowd, looks aesthetic and gestural to me, rather than situated in a foundation of readily apparent principles. The part of them that isn’t left seems variously capitalist, imperialist, liberal and libertarian, depending on the Celebrity Left in question.  I don’t think I am unique among the Kids in seeing a lot less left in the Celebrity Left than the Adults do.

Now I don’t object to the odd tactical alliance with capitalists and imperialists over, say, certain social issues. But I do object to capitalists and imperialists defining the outer limits of left politics, which is what these people do, by way of their weirdly despotic conduct in relation to their critics and the discipline the Adults dole out on their behalf.  I see the overarching function of these people as containment, which is undoubtedly among the reasons why neoliberal billionaires and right wing media moguls find them worthy investments.  For the same reasons, I do not see them as my allies and consequently do not see criticism as in-fighting.

I place Greenwald’s Pulitzers, Polks, book/movie deals, television appearances and hagiographies against this country’s history of ostracized, tortured and murdered dissidents and conclude that, at best, he is absolutely harmless to power and, at worst, hugely helpful. This is the prism through which I evaluate things like his parroting of smears against Manning when the Snowden spectacle first commenced, the retrograde doctrine that informs so much of his and Snowden’s rhetoric, and his business partnership with neoliberal ideologue and billionaire Pierre Omidyar.

People who disagree with me on this assessment likely concede that the ruling class knows its interests, but stress that it’s not omniscient. They may also concede that it exerts influence over our discourse, while counseling that it’s not omnipotent. They would stress the importance of individuals in all of this, insisting that an Omidyar is not a Murdoch or a Koch. Many of them probably agree with the old saw, sometimes attributed to Lenin, that capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them, and if it becomes profitable to give Marxists and anarchists their own MSNBC shows, or columns in the New York Times, it’ll happen. The most skeptical of them will say that, yeah, everything is fucked up, but you work with what you have. Better a Greenwald working under Omidyar than a Bill Keller, no?

I don’t agree with all of that, but I also don’t find any of it objectionable. Most importantly, I don’t see anything there that persuades, on tactical grounds, to immunizing public lefts from scrutiny or criticism. Whether or not we agree on the relationship of public lefts to power, can we at least agree that it’s a good thing to call them to account when they do something wrong? I mean, if we all agree that to at least some extent, non-left, powerful forces are exerting influence, shouldn’t we push back when public lefts seem to be articulating elite interests and not ours?

Posing the question in concrete terms: If, say, a charismatic figure rising on the left calls for a no-fly zone over Syria, what are anti-imperialists supposed to do exactly? What is the tactical rationale for interrogating or second-guessing their motives when they call her to account? Why the accusations of misplaced priorities on the grounds that she is of relatively minor influence, when, in fact, she is selling goods to people that would be less inclined to buy from a less compelling sales person?

In the absence of any obvious answer to the above questions, I am going to posit a theory: that the right to call yourself a leftist and say stupid, reactionary, retrograde, imperialist things is directly proportional to the sum of people who fear you, want to be you, want to work for you, or want to hang out with you and that that number, not coincidentally, corresponds in large measure to the interest people with money and influence have taken in you.  So all the strategies that people use to shut people up on your behalf are just bullshit, even if some of the people taking you to task aren’t particularly nice about it. More importantly, these silencing strategies serve the interests of those people with money and influence that are causing your star to rise, which is all the more reason to resist them. If you don’t want to be held accountable for your words and deeds, go do something else for a living.

UPDATE 2 (link to update)

Below, Zionist, white supremacist publicist, and risible snob Laurie Penny, when confronted with the possibility that something other than her gender inspires criticism, offers another crash course in how to argue like a Celebrity Left. The entire conversation is a grim study in how infantile narcissism and the hasbara-like maneuvering of this riff-raff complement each other. Enter at your own risk.

Faving spectators included peerless performative “allies”, and disciplinarians to wayward feminists, Anarchy Dad David Graeber and self-fellating red baiter and rape culture enabler Charles Davis. Recall that Graeber was last seen in these parts Twitter-stalking Katha Pollitt.  Around the same time, Davis was cited for joining in the mob ridicule of a woman’s family after Newsweek published a private email disclosing her sexual assault. To be exiled from this ‘feminism’ is truly an honor.


Wittiest circle jerk ever!!! Oh look there’s Sarah Jeong, who thinks outing rape survivors is funny.  These people are so cool it’s scary. PS: OUCH! (Via SqarerootofeviL)



Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part One

Passing Noam on My Way Out: Part Two, Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

Dr. Rosen and The Snowden Effect

Oligarchs Approve The NSA Debate. I Guess We’re #Winning

The Cable News Heroism of Chris Hayes

The Friends of Glenn

Greenwald Still Covering for Pierre Omidyar

No, Pierre Omidyar Doesn’t Want to Topple the Government

Posted in Uncategorized | 145 Comments

Greenwald’s Free Speech Absolutism and Twitter’s Foley Ban

Sometimes I’m glad that Glenn Greenwald won’t heed my calls to just shut up and count the money, because, as the living embodiment of everything philistine and dishonest about the celebrity left, he is endlessly educational. Today’s lesson: the bogusness and stupidity of mainstream free speech mythology.

Greenwald recently took to his blog to lament Twitter’s ban on posting the video of ISIS’s alleged beheading of journalist James Foley. As with so much the fearlessly adversarial™ GG does, there is a lot of  wailing and keening, but very little in the way of precise advocacy.

Advocacy-free handwringing is Greenwald’s bread and butter, but even if it weren’t he’d still be ill-suited to condemning Twitter in concrete terms. He is a proponent of what is charitably called free speech absolutism, which is the doctrine that neither Congress, nor any other policy-making body, shall abridge the right of (mostly rich) white guys to say, print, build and sell whatever they like. This has led him to five years defending a murder-inciting white supremacist during his lawyer days; support for the Citizens United Supreme Court decision enshrining the constitutional rights of corporations; support for a Supreme Court reversal of a ban on animal torture porn; and opposition to a community’s attempt to ban Chick-fil-a from its neighborhood on the grounds that the owner funds anti-LGBTQ political groups.

From the standpoint of free speech absolutism, Twitter’s ban on the Foley video occupies a a rare gray zone for a privileged, binary thinker like Greenwald, between the speech rights of Twitter users, and the speech rights of Twitter the corporation. For the advocate of corporate speech rights, all Twitter speech is indisputably Twitter’s speech, so Twitter is at liberty, both legally and on principle, to ban anything it pleases, in the same way The Intercept is free to allot commenting rights only to ardent fans and cherry-picked trolls. Greenwald concedes as much, suggesting that overt control of user contributions on social networks is a purely ‘prudential matter’, though a vexing one.

Putting aside the somewhat laughable extent to which he presents the aggressive shaping of our discourse by “executives driven by profit motive, drawn from narrow socioeconomic and national backgrounds” as something hideously new, and seemingly remote from his own current place in the food chain, Greenwald is perfectly correct in general terms to wring his hands over Twitter’s ban. But naturally he gets it all backwards. This passage neatly encapsulates his misplaced, but typical, emphasis:

Twitter refused to follow their edict through to its logical conclusion when they announced they would not ban the account of the New York Post even though that tabloid featured a graphic photo of the Foley beheading on its front page, which it promoted from Twitter. The only rationale for refusing to do so is that banning the account of a newspaper because Twitter executives dislike its front page powerfully underscores how dangerous their newly announced policy is.

Surely Twitter’s ostensible great gift to society is the power it gives nobodies to participate more directly in public discourse. Therefore, to any real advocate of free, democratic speech, the banning of small, powerless people from Twitter places all the danger front and center, with no underscoring required. But trust Greenwald to hit this ludicrous, bathetic note on behalf of Murdoch’s reactionary tabloid. He has, after all, spent the past fourteen months touting the benefits of mediation to whistleblowing and the primacy of billionaires to the truth-telling enterprise. While implicitly warning us against the slippery slope from banning nobodies to — horrors – banning the New York Post, it never occurs to him that Twitter’s two-tiered Foley policy only underscores how power and free speech have always worked.

Of course, misreading power is a vital function of the free speech purist, and a crucial part of that is misreading first amendment history. So in the hackneyed civics lesson elsewhere in the piece, Greenwald trots out the usual hate-mongers who, as we’ve been told again and again, are the unwitting vanguard of free speech:

…free speech defenders such as the ACLU so often represent and defend racists and others with heinous views in free speech cases: because that’s where free speech erosions become legitimized in the first instance when endorsed or acquiesced to.

The defense of hate speech is a cause much-beloved to liberals, appealing as it does to their vanity — look at how even-handed and consistent I am! — their love of simplistic false equations, and above all, their starry-eyed conviction that sound arguments and law are the building blocks of a just society.  For the free speech purist, the state is the embodiment of fair play. If it permits Nazis to march in Skokie then surely it must, and will, permit communists to do likewise. If it permits homophobes to harass grief-stricken funeral attendees, it must likewise permit Occupy activists to picket the homes of billionaires.

Even a casual acquaintance with the facts shows this is utter nonsense. In fact, free speech is always provisional and generally commensurate with the utility/harmlessness of the speech to power. There is quite a lot a sexist, heteronormative, white supremacist, imperialist ruling class finds useful in hate speech, which is, after all, the language of dominance. It is reactionary, not dissident. Radical speech is far more provocative. Therefore, historically, it is radicals and not hate groups that have overwhelmingly been the main targets of political speech repression. Hate speech, far from being the canary in the coal mine, is more like the foreman, keeping the workers in line, in part by keeping them at each others’ throats. If hate speech has a relationship to First Amendment common law, it is that concessions the state makes to it sometimes ripple backwards to prior decisions against radicals, long after they can produce any material benefit.

Example: Between 1949 and 1958, the government persecuted members of the Communist Party under the Smith Act, which made it illegal to advocate the overthrow of the government. By way of this, and multiple anti-Communist witch hunts happening in parallel, the Communist Party was effectively destroyed, and a thick residue of anti-radicalism persists to this day. There is absolutely nothing in the history of U. S. white supremacism that remotely compares with this, which is only one of many crackdowns on dissident speech by which left-wing radicalism was disciplined and largely eradicated.

The Brandenburg vs Ohio case in 1969, concerning incendiary speeches made by members of the Ku Klux Klan, makes the contrast exceptionally clear. In striking down an Ohio criminal syndicalism statute under which members of the Klan had been convicted, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless that speech is likely to incite imminent lawless action. That decision led to the reversal of prior decisions against radicals, the most recent of which was Dennis vs. The United States, a CPUSA Smith Act Case which was by that time eighteen years old. In summary, on a rare occasion when white supremacists ran afoul of the law on speech grounds in a way that radicals had for decades, they were let off the hook by the Supreme Court. Greenwald’s and the ACLU’s potted history has it all entirely backwards.

The perennial touting of hate mongers as the free speech vanguard can be seen as just one more privilege they enjoy, and the erasure of radicals from the story as yet more repression. Of course, no one of any consequence is going to discuss the actual history, least of all Greenwald, whose career is built on selling bitter-coated sugar pills to self-consciously disaffected rubes, and whose immunity from state interference requires a more pleasing explanation than that he’s perfectly harmless, even helpful, to power. His interrogative title, “Should Twitter, Facebook and Google Executives be the Arbiters of What We See and Read?”, sets the tone for the piece, which asks fashionable questions without providing unfashionable answers.  One comes away with very little other than the sense that Greenwald thinks free speech is very, very important. For the handwringing cult he represents, that’s more than enough.


A Radical Look at Free Speech

Authoritarian Asshole Erik Loomis’s Free Speech Problem

Free Kathryn Bigelow!

Noam Chomsky vs. Aaron Swartz

Noam Chomsky’s Insistent Whitewashing of State Repression

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Philip Agee and Edward Snowden: A comparision.

CIA whistleblower, Philip Agee:

Reforms of the FBI and the CIA, even removal of the President from office, cannot remove the problem. American capitalism, based as it is on exploitation of the poor, with its fundamental motivation in personal greed, simply cannot survive without force – without a secret police force. The argument is with capitalism and it is capitalism that must be opposed, with its CIA, FBI and other security agencies understood as logical, necessary manifestations of a ruling class’s determination to retain power and privilege. (source)

Edward Snowden:




Confronting Snowden’s Remarks on Manning

Another Snowden News Story, Another Lesson in Proper Whistleblowing

In Conclusion

Good Whistleblower/Bad Whistleblower

Take Your Drip and Stick It

A Heat Vampire in Search of a Movie Deal




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Do Glenn Greenwald And His Fans Really Care More Than You?

In his zeal to embody everything execrable in contemporary leftish discourse, Glenn Greenwald has newly metamorphosed into The Rich White Guy Playing A Self-Serving Race Card.

Greenwald and his roving crew of asskissers and disciplinarians are very concerned about the way the surveillance apparatus disproportionately focuses on U. S. Muslims. But what really concerns them, more than anything it seems, is whether your concern is equal to theirs, as scientifically measured by your regard for Greenwald and Maz Hussain’s recent article in The Intercept.

The thinking appears to be as follows:

1. Being unsurprised by the article is the same as being unconcerned with its topic.

2. If you are unsurprised — that is, unconcerned — it can only mean one thing:

a story has to be about white people in order to be really exciting and important [to you].

It’s absolutely unthinkable that your reluctance to applaud truly owes to the article imparting almost nothing that any well-read person doesn’t already know, apart from the names and backgrounds of five high-status targets of surveillance. Or that by placing its five subjects largely outside the context of what we already know about surveillance of Muslims, and by omitting any mention of other surveilled categories at all, the effect is actually minimizing. Or that its delayed publication follows even more-extreme-than-usual hype from Greenwald about fireworks and such, and thereby invites disappointment.

Since your objections are rooted in racism, Greenwald and his crew feel no obligation at all to meet them head on. There is no onus to demonstrate exactly why you should join them in extolling one more needlessly prolix article about shit we mostly know, which, in keeping with Leak Keeper custom, emphasizes victims of high social status, and which is unique for the genre mainly in how much space it devotes to government officials touting the rigor of their warrant process. Instead, they’ll just find a hundred and one reasons to call you racist, callous and selfish. As we know, there is no such thing as a reasonable, substantive objection to anything Greenwald does. So Greenwald and his acolytes need never be reasonable and substantive in reply.

But wait! We know that Snowden provided all the documents a year ago. If Greenwald really really cares about abuses against Muslims, why has it taken this long to write about it in such detail and to release the documents on which the article is based?  Why aren’t the terribly concerned  advocates of Muslim people calling Greenwald to account for this, instead of cherry-picking Muslim avatars of their awe-inpiring concern, pursuant to smearing their insufficiently impressed comrades? Surely, the Greenwald RT, coveted though it is, can’t compete with keeping journalists genuinely responsible and public-spirited.

I mean, without further information, what can the Impressively Concerned Friends of Muslims and Glenn Greenwald conclude from this, but that Greenwald and his colleagues have been irresponsible in waiting on this:

For years, the government has succeeded in having such challenges dismissed on the ground that the various plaintiffs lack standing to sue because they could not prove that they were personally targeted.

Thanks to Snowden’s disclosures, those seeking to obtain such a ruling now have specific cases of surveillance against American citizens to examine.

What are we to make of this suprisingly candid passage:

Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, served on the recent White House intelligence review panel convened to address concerns raised by the Snowden revelations. If he had seen the NSA spreadsheet, Clarke says, he would have asked more questions about the process, and reviewed individual FISA warrants.

“Knowing that, I would specifically ask the Justice Department: How many American citizens are there active FISAs on now?” he says. “And without naming names, tell me what categories they fall into—how many are counterterrorism, counterintelligence, espionage cases? We’d want to go through [some applications], and frankly, we didn’t. It’s not something that five part-time guys can do—rummage through thousands of FISA warrants.”

Am I missing something, or is it exceedingly clear that, at the very least, the spreadsheet should have been released as soon as it was obtained? Shouldn’t this provoke long overdue scrutiny of Greenwald’s proclaimed inversion of the journalistic pyramid, in which the most important details are disclosed last?

Perhaps all the people on the spreadsheet were made aware of its contents a year ago. Perhaps there is an equally satisfactory answer for not furnishing Richard Clarke with the spreadsheet before the review panel convened. If so, Greenwald and Hussain should have addressed these important details in the article. With these questions still open, the lack of curiosity among people like this, this and this — so keen to discipline Greenwald’s detractors — seems very much at odds with their superior politics.


I think it’s largely self-evident to any well-informed person that the Intercept article imparted nothing new. Greenwald and co even seem to concede this, by insisting not on the article’s novelty, but rather that the lack of same should be no impediment to applause or handwringing. Still, for those painstaking point missers among us, the case against surprise is as follows:

1. While the article is supported by an NSA document, the story is mostly about the FBI, the agency tracking the five men. Surveillance of Muslims by the FBI has been widely covered, such as in this Nation article from October of last year. The Greenwald/Hussain article even links to, and quotes, this 2011 Wired article on the topic. That the NSA and the FBI share data is widely known. The FBI also collects signals intelligence of its own via its Data Intercept Technology Unit.

2. In 2011, AP began publishing a lengthy series on collusion between the CIA and the NYPD in surveilling Muslim groups, a project that began in 2001 and ended only last year, and involved warrantless spying on, and infiltration of, mosques, political groups, student groups, and unaffiliated Muslim social life over the entire Northeast. While there is little or no mention of the NSA in this series, the surveillance is actually more dramatic and disturbing than that covered by The Intercept, by virtue of its scale, its independence from any judicial oversight, and the de facto federalizing of a municipal police force.

3. Since we know that American Muslims have been targets of assassination, we can infer that they are first targets of NSA surveillance, since we know that the NSA provides the signals intelligence to the CIA that makes these murders possible. Unsurprisingly, drone targets Anwar al-Aulaqi and Samir Kahn, both U.S. citizens, are on the spreadsheet that is the basis for The Intercept article.


Greenwald’s Fireworks Finale Postponed

What a Fucking Asshole

In Conclusion

Take Your Drip and Stick It

A Harbinger of Journalism Saved

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