Thoughts on The Intercept’s new Leak Policy

While box office receipts for Oliver Stone’s upcoming biopic may prove me wrong, Greenwald and Snowden no longer matter, however hard they try.  By my reckoning, the only people who are still interested is a smattering of careerists and spooks in the emerging privacy industry; the cargo cult of dipshits that never tire of hearing the same story over and over again, framed each time as a “scoop”; and a gaggle of ostensible detractors who continue to beat the drum about releasing more  of these dull, unsurprising, and old documents to more people.

Bullshit calls on this nonsense are doomed to become as repetitive and pointless as the scoops themselves. To the extent that they legitimize the leaks via demands for more of them, they’re downright idiotic, and maybe even a little pernicious. I admit there was a time when I took the bait and demanded more leaks, but as I so often do when I read old blog posts, I marvel at my lack of skepticism and my faith in the disruptive power of information. This shit is phony baloney from tip to tail, either by design or by way of its managers.

For the fans that expect me to weigh in, this is the best I can do almost a full three years since Snowden came on the scene:  Greenwald announced blah blah blah, which contradicts his previous claim that blah blah blah. Meanwhile, The Intercept is redacting blah blah blah, and consulting with the NSA on blah blah blah. True to form, The Intercept has cherry-picked empire-friendly blah blah blah. Blah blah compliance as defiance blah blah blah.

While I erred on the quality of the leaks, I otherwise had this thing’s number three years’ ago, almost from day one, when I called out Snowden for the not-Manning schtick that showed his hand. If you’re still taking any of this shit at face value, God help you.  Short of a comprehensive analysis of the whole show, or a rundown of how right all the early detractors got everything, it’s not even interesting as a limited hangout anymore. But feel free to mine my archives if you still care. I also recommend my buddy Lorenzo’s excellent post on the “diminishing returns of info-spectacles.” They’re far more interesting than anything in The Intercept’s stupid, done-to-death trove.

 

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Hollywood Trolling Hard with Snowden and Obama biopics

These are some gifts for anyone who’s feeling blue. Up first, the trailer for Oliver Stone’s, Snowden biopic, about which the @Snowden account manager tweeted this:

For two minutes and thirty nine seconds, everybody at NSA just stopped working.

I reckon if they paused at the NSA it was to laugh, since the least funny thing about this unintended comedy is that Zachary Quinto is playing Glenn Greenwald. What, was Justin Timberlake not available?

From the trailer we learn that Snowden walks with broken legs and has a mind that’s 8 x faster than his peers. Dude is superhuman. This shit has to bomb. It has to.

Since the first draft of this post, Kevin Dooley brought my attention to Exit,  Snowden’s musical collaboration with French electronica musician Jean Michel Jarre. It aims to a spooky but hip reminder of just how completely surveilled we are, and what’s so striking is the complete absence of anything you could consider protest.

Finally, there’s Southside With You,  a film that purportedly “recounts the eventful summer day in 1989 when a young law firm associate named Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) tried to woo lawyer Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) during a daylong date…”

I’ve embedded all the videos below. Discuss.

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Assad, Putin, Iceland and…David Cameron???

Since I’m too lazy to recap, this post will make much more sense if you read my last post, “Assad, Putin and…Iceland???

Having concluded that this Panama Papers spectacle could not be more contrived, I can’t help trying to figure out what the point is. There’s no careful study required when the person at the center of the scandal is Russian, Syrian or South American, but when an ostensible pal gets a drubbing, the point is less obvious. For the second time, identifying the target‘s connections to China reveals interesting possibilities, like this Vox post from a year ago, excerpted below:

How a Chinese infrastructure bank turned into a diplomatic fiasco for America

Last fall, China rolled out a new regional economic initiative — the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank — on which it was partnering with India and a range of smaller Asian countries. The United States swiftly announced its opposition to the plan, which it said would undermine the existing global financial architecture, and began leaning on allies around the world to give the bank the cold shoulder.

This March, America’s AIIB diplomacy suddenly and dramatically collapsed, as the United Kingdom — over the objections of the UK’s own Foreign Office — said it would join the bank. And that opened the floodgates. Germany, France, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Korea, and Brazil are now all on board. The US is isolated, America is sniping at its closest foreign allies, and the Obama administration has been dealt a humiliating diplomatic defeat.

–snip–

So is this all David Cameron’s fault?

That’s more or less how it looks from Washington. The Obama administration’s pique is re-enforced by the fact that, as Jamil Anderlini and Kiran Stacey reported for the Financial Times, the United Kingdom’s decision to join the bank was made over the objections of the UK Foreign Office. As Thomas Wright of the Brookings Institution writes, “It appears as if David Cameron’s government took this decision because it wanted to be the first to join and to get the credit from China for doing so.”

This haste to obtain nonspecific commercial advantages at the expense of following America’s lead on grand strategy is seen by many in DC as crass and opportunistic.

You may recall, as my pal @lstwheel did, that a pig-fucking scandal, courtesy of this dude, afflicted Cameron half a year later.  Admittedly, Lord Ashcroft had possible reasons of his own — or so we’re told — but surely pissing off Washington and the Foreign Office gave the story the strongest of legs.

Perhaps it wasn’t punishment enough.

UPDATE 2

There’s this also, from last month:

Barack Obama says David Cameron allowed Libya to become a ‘s*** show’

Of course, every leader does things that the US is not happy about, but these are big. If nothing else, badmouthing Cameron for a year suggests the marriage is kaput.

UPDATE

Of course we’ve all been instructed by the leaknoscenti to never roll our eyes and say, “old news” but since posting this I’ve learned that there really is no way to credibly deny it this time. Here from 2012:  Cameron family fortune made in tax havens. The lede:

David Cameron’s father ran a network of offshore investment funds to help build the family fortune that paid for the prime minister’s inheritance, the Guardian can reveal.

Cameron mentioned the 2012 dress rehearsal in his early remarks to the Press, but it slipped by me.

That this scandal has come and gone before makes a useful point. The idiots that love these dramas are in thrall to the childish idea that it’s the leaks themselves that incite protests, investigations, resignations and reforms. But no, dipshits, like everything else in the spectacle, a leak lives or dies in accordance with its utility to people with power. You know, the people that own the story and all the means of telling it and stirring shit around it. The people without whom you wouldn’t even know what Mossack Fonseca is.

There
are
no
exceptions.

Clearly, the story of Cameron’s Dad didn’t make the cut of Really Important People Priorities the last time around. That seems to have changed and resources have been mobilized accordingly. Rubes are jumping through hoops predictably, starting with the “This Four-Year-Old Story is REALLY Important” hoop. That is, exercising their agency.

It’s amazing to me that there are actual adults wondering if this scandal is going to create a crisis for capitalism. This is just hilarious. The way playing practical jokes on yourself is hilarious. Seriously, even if this show isn’t entirely contrived, who the fuck do you think is in charge here?

You preening tools that sneer at people who are rightfully skeptical about what looks unmistakably like weaponized scandal,  I would love to know what theories about power, information and media you’re operating under. What history of spying, propaganda, blackmail and coups is your reference point? Put another way, do you know anything?

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Assad, Putin and…Iceland???

The Panama Papers “leak” is blatantly a propaganda op, with ties to soft imperialism’s usual suspects — Open Society, USAID, the Ford Foundation etc — and leading off with the most crude attacks on Putin and Assad. It’s so blatant I found myself wondering if it were intentional but couldn’t imagine why. Is it to further normalize the credulous boobery of the knowing knowers who honed their belligerent stupidity on Snowwald? Whatever the case, it’s certainly fitting, and not at all surprising, that Snowden, the Way-Better-Than-Manning avatar of scare quote dissidence, was among the very first Twitter accounts to tweet out a link to The Biggest Most Important Leak ever, just after it went live.

These spectacles are useful in two ways: you get an idea of what’s bugging a certain segment of the ruling class, and you identify the biggest tools and operatives in media by the avidity with which they promote the show. An example of the latter is The Guardian which has, for the umpteenth time, made itself a complete laughingstock, with ham-fisted gems like this “video explainer” on how Putin allegedly offshored a billion dollars.

But if this is an op, why Iceland?  A few commenters have dismissed the attack on Iceland as cover for the obvious targets — the U.S. State Department’s official bogeymen and Panama, the “problem child” impeding “global tax transparency plans.” But considering how much traction the Iceland scandal got in the media and how much Snowden and his ilk have been boosting it, this seems extremely unlikely. Certainly Iceland has been proportionally the country most affected by the leaks, with its Prime Minister, Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, resigning today in the wake of a large protest rally calling for his ouster.

Corruption scandals are a tried and true method by which empire stokes instability and fosters regime change, but what had Iceland done that warrants a hit job? Well, one can only speculate, but my money is on the increasingly cozy relationship its current government has been cultivating with China.

Global warming has made Iceland extremely important strategically, by opening up new polar shipping routes that greatly reduce travel time, and providing access to previously unreachable resources, including huge reserves of oil and natural gas.  By way of a trade agreement it signed with Iceland’s current leadership in 2013, China got its foot in the door for increasing its presence and influence in the region. This coincides with the diminishing influence of the United States in Iceland, where the last of its military aircraft were withdrawn in 2006.

All of this is spelled out in this 2013 New York Times Op-Ed by Einar Benediktsson, a former Iceland ambassador to the United States, NATO and the European Union, and Thomas Pickering, a former U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs and ambassador to Russia and the United Nations.  The column conjures a China aggressively pushing its tentacles into the region and, with a great deal of urgency, calls on the United States to “take the changing situation more fully into account.” UPDATE: In February of this year, the US resumed the use of its Cold War air base in Keflavik, with the stated purpose of patrolling Russian submarines in the North Atlantic.

One certain outcome of the current scandal will be greatly increased political power for Iceland’s Pirate Party, which, in the four years since its founding, has become the most popular political party in the country. It only got three members into Iceland’s Parliament in 2013, but since mid-2015 it has consistently outpolled all other parties for the parliamentary election in 2017. In the wake of the Panama Papers, protestors are calling for early elections, which would give the Pirate Party a huge advantage in light of its high poll numbers and heady new car smell.

Assuming the U.S. is attempting to further its interests in Iceland, what does it get from an ascendant, nominally radical, political party with ties to Wikileaks that denounces the NSA and advocates for Snowden? Well, for starters, the Pirate Party was the only party to oppose the agreement with China, ostensibly out of human rights concerns. The Party’s rising star, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, one of the three party members in Parliament, bemoans China’s human rights trangressions a lot and seems in helpful alignment with U.S. foreign policy generally.

Jónsdóttir, who refers to herself as a “poetician,” called for no fly zones in Libya and Syria during campaigns for intervention in those countries. The present government, however, opposed military intervention in Libya, and when Obama fingered Syria for chemical weapons, and Jónsdóttir reflexively called for a no fly zone, Iceland’s foreign minister said he needed more evidence for Obama’s claims before he would support intervention.

In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Jónsdóttir and her party zealously joined the reactionary Je Suis Charlie campaign, and successfully sought repeal of Iceland’s 75-year-old anti-blasphemy law, so that the crucial speech act of anti-Islam provocation would be legal.

Pirate Parties vary widely, but clearly Iceland’s is one more expression of a “post-ideological” radicalism focused on democratic process, privacy, free speech, transparency, and “internet freedom”, that dispenses with even gestures toward that relic, socialism, or any other form of anti-capitalism. Of course, there is nothing post-ideological about any of this. It simply finds the common ground between leftists and reactionaries and leaves out the rest. This is undoubtedly why there is “a rabid and growing right-libertarian wing within [the Pirate Party’s] ranks” according to Vidar Thorsteinsson, an activist from Iceland, writing in Jacobin.

For Empire, what’s not to like about this radical party and its “anarchist” leadership? Very little, it seems, unless political asylum for Snowden is a dealbreaker, which I strongly doubt.

UPDATE 2

A number of people felt the impetus for the engineered ouster of Iceland’s prime minister was the hard line Iceland had taken against the bankers responsible for that country’s financial crisis. I discounted that initially, simply because The Pirate Party that is about to dominate Iceland’s politics is not likely to be any softer on the bankers than the current government.

However, I may have to reconsider that, because only days after Gunnlaugsson resigned, three of the bankers Iceland sentenced to prison were released after serving only one year of their five year sentences. The story is that newly enacted legislation about prison sentencing made this release possible, suggesting that the best way to speed up improvement in the penal system is to throw rich people in jail.

I still think empire’s enemies and the BRICS countries are mostly what this targeted anti-corruption campaign is about, but it’s unlikely those are the only things. Certainly the good example Iceland set with the banks is not something empire wants to see repeated anywhere else.

UPDATE (link to this update)

…and David Cameron???

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VIDEO: What Does Animal Oppression Have to Do With Our Anti-Racist Movements?

This is just great. Says quite a lot of important things in eight minutes.

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Rancid Open Thread: The Times Eulogizes A Fascist; Another Bogus Intercept Scoop

Still disinclined to do full fledged posts, but let’s freshen up the discussion a little. Here’s a couple things that found their way onto my timeline recently:

From the New York Times:
Licio Gelli, Italian Financier and Cabal Leader, Dies at 96 – Notice the headline doesn’t call Gelli a fascist, which is certainly the way in which he most mattered historically.

Of course the obituary goes into that, but the omission from the headline encapsulates the odd ambivalence you find whenever the msm contends with a ruling class reactionary. The Times calls this secret society-leading plotter of right-wing coups, murders and bombings, “buccaneering”  and says this:

But if Mr. Gelli was a scoundrel to many Italians, to others he held out the promise of stability in turbulent times, when the Communist Party was advancing at the polls and the economy was declining.

I love The Times‘  “to many”/”to others” construct where, say,  Italians who don’t think right wing plots and deadly false flags promise stability are peas in a pod with, well, fascists.

Elsewhere the obituary quotes Gelli’s lawyer claiming that this utterly irredeemable, career fascist slimeball  was a “‘scapegoat’ for the government’s own failings.” Y’know, for balance.  The Times makes no mention of Gelli’s likely ties to Operation Gladio and The CIA. That would be nutty conspiracism.

Speaking of the intelligence apparatus and its plots, The Intercept published its 10,000th blockbuster — based on secret documents! — that, in fact, simply aggregates information readily available from mainstream sources. True to form, TI also wraps these “revelations” in  dishonest, minimizing spin.

Promising juicy secrets from a document “thick with previously undisclosed information” that offers “rare insight into the spying capabilities of federal law enforcement and local police inside the United States,” the article simply adds largely trivial details about phone surveillance operations and techniques so widely known that even I was able to cover most of the same ground here and here.

The article is mostly about Stingrays and drtboxes, cell phone tower emulators that capture massive amounts of user data and which are in wide use by both federal agencies and numerous police forces. Regular readers may recall that I wrote about this when The Intercept and the rest of Snowden Inc. were crowing (albeit guardedly) over the end of mass telephone surveillance.

Of course, no Intercept blockbuster is complete without online discipline for the rightfully unimpressed, so those who dared to suggest that even the source document was old, were shamed in The Intercept and insulted on Twitter by Intercept staff and The FOG.

Thoughts on these comments or anything else that strikes your fancy are most welcome.

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Rancid Open Thread

The desire expressed by some of my commenters for free-flowing discussion coincides with my having far less time, or morale, really, to keep this blog updated. Hence, this thread where you should feel free to post on anything you want.

Here’s some food for thought: Today on Twitter I toyed with the idea of a #BiggestCelebrityLeftAsshole2015 as the logical successor to the #BiggestLiberalAsshole2012 contest that got me on Dancing With The Stars. I think the arc that represents in Rancid World is interesting all by itself. There has been a rupture that goes beyond the dustup with Greenwald. It was inevitable when you think about it.

Additional grist: Most of my aborted posts have been about the Left’s relationship to Animal Liberation and veganism.  That’s a topic that’s always worth going over since it gets so little play elsewhere. I had intended, among other things, to explore Jacobin’s animal rights problem. Two dumb, disingenuous articles in about the space of a month.

But only offering these as potential conversation starters. This thread is for you to let it rip on anything that strikes your fancy. Might be a good time to review my guidelines. Short version: no robo-posting, no trolling, no troll-feeding, and no writing as if you don’t give a fuck if anyone understands what you’re saying.

UPDATE

So we’re at 200+ comments and still going and I’d declare the open thread thing a complete success had it not rapidly gone south today. Part of that is my fault. I’m taking the condescension and tone-trolling  that are seemingly baked into any engagement with vegans by non-vegans far too seriously. I also may be imagining it where it isn’t, though I don’t think so. Still, as the host of this discussion, I should wear a thicker skin. It’s hard, though, when the same discussion descends to accusing me of censorship and lying about it.

In any case, apologies to Mog and Jeff for going overboard, which is not to say there was nothing objectionable about your posts. However I cop to overreacting and regret it. The “censorship” was due to stuff going automatically into my spam folder, which I’d never seen happen before to approved commenters. Hence I didn’t look right off the bat. Charles H got it far worse than Jeff.  Everything everyone posted is now published.

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