6.17.2016 In Depth Look


From the fusillades of incoming in regard to the trials and treacheries, the undergirdings and skullduggery, of mediated life, a scattershot compilation that begins with a briefing from The Guardian that issued almost three years prior to Muhammad Ali’s demise and concerned the ongoing active interest of the National Security Agency in monitoring the ‘Champ,’ one of the multiple, intersecting ways that the police state targeted and harassed not only Ali–whose troubles MintPress News documents in a pair of brief posts  that reveal assassination threats, illegal snooping, and more–but also all manner of other ‘cultural risks,’ as a review of a recent  monograph about the Bureau in the NewPol blog makes clear, something that scrappy scribes and stalwart citizens could delve further in a couple of lists, one  from TruthDig, the other from LitHub of variegated books about Ali’s life and times, a focus on a brilliant Black man who ended his life as a champion for peace after a career as a fighter that could easily expand in varied directions, for example to the experiences and narratives of Ray Bradbury, whom Spiked has recently profiled in a review of a biography about the science-fiction master who excited the antipathy of both the House Unamerican Activities Committee and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (http://www.spyculture.com/docs/US/FBI-Ray-Bradbury.PDF), or for example in the direction of the intellectual and academic efforts of Christopher Lasch, who published exposes in Nation(https://www.unz.org/Pub/Nation-1967sep11-00198) and New York Review of Books in 1967 about ‘cultural cold war’ activities and who Nation points out(http://www.thenation.com/article/gratitude-and-forbearance-christopher-lasch/) more recently played a significant role in criticizing and ‘outing’ colleagues who bedded down with spies, a thoroughgoing triptych of documentary materials that might easily include hundreds, or thousands, of others, and more importantly ties into a question that has elicited a brisk interest of late, for example(http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/36431-what-s-really-happening-to-the-humanities-under-neoliberalism) in TruthOut, about the fate of humanities skills and scholarship under present fascist er, neoliberaltendencies; a complex skein of ideas and citations that barely skims the surface of these matters, even as it ties into seeming more mundane complaints, for instance about the ‘war of the rich’ on journalism, as in Peter Thiel and Gawker, that bears a striking resemblance to the ‘culture-wars’ of earlier days that the CIA carried out; or, for instance, in all manner of investigation of the crisis of journalism in general  and local news in particular, that in all kinds of ways both obvious and subtle intersect with earlier infiltration of mediated spaces by organized intelligence and political agendas; or, for instance, in different au courant pronouncements of spying and other propagandistic interventions abroad, as with Edward Snowden’s just having disclosed the National Security Agency’s longstanding data-collection efforts in Japan, and as with a new news analysis  from Information Clearinghouse, via the Strategic Culture Foundation, that the U.S. and its agents are making all sorts of moves–some of them potentially lethal–against President Evo Morales, threats that monopoly media is treating like good sycophants and embedded reporters would and not reporting at all–the aggregate of which entails problems of secrecy and leaking, cover-up and disclosure, that one would at least contemplate were things that scrappy scribes and stalwart citizens insist on bringing into the light, especially inasmuch as TechDirt discloses dispositively that the CIA itself long ago acknowledged that prosecuting or otherwise attacking whistelblowers is at best a fool’s bet: “The NSA has been forced to disclose previously secret passages in its own official four-volume history of its Cold War snooping activities, (endeavors that included prying into politicians’ lives, as well as the personal affairs and political actions of the likes of Muhammad Ali and Martin Luther King).  The newly-released material reveals the breathtaking – and probably illegal – lengths the agency went to in the late 1960s and 70s, in an attempt to try to hold back the rising tide of anti-Vietnam war sentiment.

The agency went to great lengths to keep its activities, known as operation Minaret, from public view.  All reports generated for Minaret were printed on plain paper unadorned with the NSA logo or other identifying markings other than the stamp ‘For Background Use Only.’  They were delivered by hand directly to the White House, often going specifically to successive presidents Lyndon Johnson who set the programme up in 1967 and Richard Nixon. …
The new disclosures were prized from the current NSA following an appeal to the Security Classification Appeals Panel by the National Security Archive, an independent research institute based at the George Washington university.  ‘Clearly the NSA didn’t want to release this material but they were forced to do so by the American equivalent of the supreme court of freedom of information law,’ said Matthew Aid, an intelligence historian specialising in the NSA. .
(The NSA’s net scooped up cultural, political, and intellectual ‘fish’).  Aid told the Guardian that, in his view, the new material underscores the dangers of unfettered surveillance.  Minaret was initially intended for drug traffickers and terrorist suspects, but was twisted, at the request of the White House, to become a tool for tracking legitimate political activities of war protesters. …In a further paradox, the Washington debate leading to the formation of the F(ederal) I(ntelligence) S(urveillance) A(ct) court was spearheaded by the Church Committee – a Congressional panel named after its chair, Senator Frank Church.  That was the same Frank Church who a few years before had himself been placed on the NSA watch list. …”—The Guardian
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         “(In addition to the Soviet subversion of intellectual integrity under the guise of Joseph Stalin’s ‘patriotism’), (t)he second postwar ‘left(also undermined), stretching well beyond groups like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, was a social-democratic and liberal left that entered a Faustian Pact with the ‘the West’ as a bulwark against Stalinism.  Some, like Sidney Hook, began by speaking eloquently of truth and beauty but ended up receiving the Medal of Honor from Ronald Reagan as a reward for dressing up the Contra butchers as freedom fighters.  Who Paid The Piper? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War* by Frances Saunders is the fullest account yet of the CIA’s penetration, funding and manipulation of this liberal and social- democratic left during the Cold War.  The basic story is well known.  The CIA realized that psychological or political warfare was as important as military capability in the Cold War.  C.D. Jackson, special advisor to President Eisenhower, played a pivotal role in forcing this understanding on the U.S. political class.  Secretary of State Edward Barrett said: ‘a highly skillful and substantial campaign of truth is as indispensable as an air force.’  Truman, urged on by George Kennan, had already set up the Psychological Strategy Board on April 4,1952.  The PSB operating statement PSB D-33/2 remains classified though it is known to have called for lavishly funded worldwide ‘political warfare’ on Russia.  The psychological warfare budget, $34 million in 1950, was quadrupled.  Saunders speculates that James Burnham was the author of PSB D-33/2, pointing to its resemblance to Burnham’s book The Machiavellians.  One might also mention, more plausibly, Burnham’s 1947 The Struggle for the World.  The CIA aimed to fund an intellectual and cultural war in order to create, in Saunders phrase, ‘a beachhead in western Europe from which the advance of Communist ideas could be halted.’

The CIA supported, covertly, the establishment of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) in 1950.  The CCF linked ex-communists, ex-Trotskyists, social-democrats and liberal artists, writers and intellectuals.  Well-funded national sections were created in many European and many non-European countries.  Ostensibly opposed to all state restraint of cultural freedom and intellectual expression, the CCF concentrated its fire on Communism.  A new CIA Division, the International Organizations Division (IOD) ran agents, Michael Josselson and Lawrence de Neufville, at the heart of the CCF, sanctioned by National Security Directive, NSC-68. Tom Braden, IOD Chief, fought for the establishment of the Division.  ‘I was more interested in the ideas which were under fire from the Communists then I was in blowing up Guatemala.’  To protect his assets, Braden issued these instructions to IOD posts: ‘Limit the money to amounts private organizations can credibly spend; disguise the extent of American interest; protect the integrity of the organization by not requiring it to support every aspect of official American policy.’

(Among the many strengths of Saunders’ monograph), (s)everal CIA operations are revealed in detail.  Her account of the CIA’s Hollywood operation, ‘Militant Liberty’ is well handled.  We learn of Carleton Alsop, the CIA agent at Paramount persuading casting directors to place ‘well-dressed Negroes’ in movies, part of the CIA’s ‘Hollywood Formula’ on how movies should depict to the world a free, equal and democratic America.  The CIA financed the animation of Orwell’s anti-Stalinist novel Animal Farm, but tailored its ending to cut its Third Camp message reversing Orwell’s own intent.  The efforts of CIA agent Sol Stein to doctor 1984 to the ideological needs of the USA are also carefully documented.  Saunders traces the CIA’s role in funding the European Youth campaign, and those European political factions — such as the British ‘revisionists’ around Gaitskill — who were moving closer to the idea of a united Europe linked to a democratic capitalist America.  Jay Lovestone’s role at the heart of this European operation is made clear.  The smoking gun that shows the CIA funded the British Fabian Society journal, Venture, is here, alongside the claim that Denis Healy fed information about Labor Party members and trade unionists to the Information Research Department at the British Foreign Office.  When the Labor Party beat the Conservatives in the 1964 general election, Michael Josselson, the CIA agent in the CCF wrote to Daniel Bell, ‘We are all pleased to have so many of our friends in the new government.’

(As well), the book demolishes the idea that the core CCF members did not know about the CIA’s role in the CCF.  Mind you this is hardly a scoop.  Sidney Hook admitted in his 1987 memoir that those in the CCF who did not know ‘did not want to know.’  More interestingly, Saunders makes an intriguing argument about the CIA role in deliberately breaking its connection to the ‘NCL’ in the late 1960s.  Tom Braden, CIA chief controller of the CCF until 1954, wrote an article for the Saturday Evening Post in May 1967 (‘I’m Glad the CIA is Immoral’), which gave solid proof of the CIA-CCF link complete with names, dates and places.  Josselson was devastated.  Saunders speculates that Braden, ostensibly retired, was still acting for the CIA, possibly for President Lyndon Johnson.  Her thesis is that the CIA broke the link to the non-communist left not just because Ramparts had blown its cover but also because the ‘NCL’ — under the impact of the war in Vietnam — was proving unreliable.  James Burnham wrote an article in The National Review in 1967 which Saunders quotes at length.  She speculates that Burnham was either in touch with, or was the author of, or had divined the thinking behind, the calculated cutting loose of the CCF by Braden and the CIA.

(Inevitably, resources and cash had to be part of such machinations).  But the scale of the largesse, claims Saunders, meant scores of western intellectuals were now roped to the CIA by an ‘umbilical cord of gold.’  She takes her reader to the Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio, northern Italy, ‘available to the Congress as an informal retreat for its more eminent members — a kind of officers mess where frontliners in the Kulterkampf could recover their energies.’  The awe-struck Hannah Arendt [who had experienced the inside of a Nazi detention camp], writes to her friend Mary McCarthy that ‘You feel as if you are lodged in a kind of Versailles. …A fight for freedom paid for by the Central Intelligence Agency.  (Such a) choice ‘for the West’ corroded political and intellectual independence.  The phenomenon of Stalinophobia does not refer to being ‘too anti-Stalinist.’  One can no more be ‘too anti-Stalinist’ than one can be ‘too anti-Nazi.’  Stalinophobia is the loss of political bearings because, in one’s mind, the crimes of Stalinism have overwhelmed all else, most importantly the crimes of capitalism and imperialism.  Saunders quotes Phillip Rahv on the nature of Stalinophobia when he warned, ‘Anti-Stalinism has become almost a professional stance.  It has come to mean so much that it excludes nearly all other concerns and ideas, with the result that they are trying to turn anti-Stalinism into something which it can never be: a total outlook on life, no less, or even a philosophy of history.’ The feel of Stalinophobia was captured by Mary McCarthy when writing to Hannah Arendt in March 1952 about the mindset of some of her fellow CCF members: ‘They live in terror of a revival of the situation that prevailed in the thirties, when the fellow travellers were powerful in teaching, publishing, the theater etc., when Stalinism was the gravy train and these people were off it.  These people were . . . really traumatized by the brief Stalinist apogee of the thirties . . . In their dreams, this period is always recurring; it is ‘realler’ than today.  Hence they scarcely notice the deteriorating actuality and minimize Senator McCarthy as not relevant.”—New Politics
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        “I understand these sentiments and concerns(about cutting back humanities courses) completely.  I’ve worked at schools where math and science were esteemed, and for good reason.  When parents attend school assemblies, the college counselors and deans present course selection mappings.  The flow charts for math and science look very impressive, intricate and complex, with many boxes, lines, twists, turns and explanations that require qualifications.  Meanwhile, history and English get a few boxes and they appear straightforward.  What is this illustrative of?  The fact that more time and energy are dedicated to upholding math and science as gospel?  It’s possible.

Some might say that since top universities like MIT have decided to focus on management, business analytics, finance and mathematical economics (or trading), secondary schools should follow suit.  It would be a mistake, however, for secondary schools to cave to this argument and scale back on the humanities.  Michael Bérubé, a professor of literature at Pennsylvania State University, and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, says the idea that the number of students majoring in the humanities has plummeted is untrue, although it is a universal presupposition.

Bérubé says that the idea that humanities majors won’t be able to find jobs is turning out to be a ‘zombie belief every bit as hard to kill’ as the idea that enrollment in the humanities is plummeting, and Bérubé is positive that the two beliefs are symbiotic.  (In an assessment, Inside Higher Ed’s Allie) Grasgreen report(s) that ‘by their mid-50s, liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money than those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates.’  But that’s just one component of Grasgreen observations.  The concerns about the value of a liberal arts degree are essentially unfounded and should be put to rest, she writes.

(Tellingly, or at least provocatively), The Chronicle of Higher Education has noted the reason for this prevailing wisdom about the myth regarding the humanities plummet: It’s largely due to mainstream publications.  For instance, in 2013, The New York Times featured an essay titled ‘The Decline and Fall of the English Major.’  In 2009, The American Scholar featured an essay, titled The Decline of the English Department.’  Authors cited spirals in the humanities.  Even The Chronicle’s Mark Bauerlein wrote, ‘English has gone from a major unit in the university to a minor one.’

Bérubé argues that mainstream accounts of the decline of the humanities in undergraduate education are ‘factually, stubbornly, determinedly wrong.’  He says there was a plummet, but it was between 1970 and 1980.  Are fields like art history and literature really ‘elite, niche-market affairs that will render students unemployable’ …?  Are students abandoning the humanities because they are ‘callow, market-driven careerists?’  No, this is not true.  Bérubé states that ‘undergraduate enrollment in the humanities have held steady since 1980 (in relation to all degree holders, and in relation to the larger age cohort), and undergraduate enrollments in the arts and humanities combined are almost precisely where they were in 1970.'”—TruthOut
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         “(In a way that mirrors Operation Minaret, corporate heavyweights and individual moneybags have long plotted, and acted, to undermine a ‘free press’ that they pretend, like the CIA, to hold dear).  At a time when blue chip companies from Chevron and General Electric to Alibaba are staffing ‘newsrooms’ with actual reporters—a phenomenon The Financial Timesdescribed as the ‘corporate invasion of news’—it makes sense that executives feel empowered to bypass the media altogether.  They have a lot to lose from bad press, from stock-price declines to regulatory investigations, and much to gain by controlling it.  They’re not only finding a willing audience, but also an effective way to recast the narrative, and in some cases silence the journalists they target.
The first articles attacking journalists appeared in the winter of 2014 on TheBlot, a tabloid-style news site that promises the targets of media attacks a chance to fight back.  The articles were all takedowns of journalists running under headlines like ‘Tabloid Writer Fraudster Roddy Boyd Implicated in Multiple Frauds,’ and ‘Racist Bloomberg Reporter Dune Lawrence Duped by Stock Swindler Jon Carnes.’  They featured farcical photos, like a reporter shaking hands with the devil, or a distortion of a reporter’s face, stamped with a single word: ‘Dumb!’

Boyd, an investigative journalist who used to work for The New York Post and founded the Southern Investigative Reporting Foundation, was unsettled by the attacks but not exactly surprised.  He knew well the man behind TheBlot.  He was a financier and stock promoter named Benjamin Wey, and Boyd had been covering him and his company, New York Global Group, for years.  Long before Wey’s name surfaced in the Panama Papers this spring, Boyd had exposed deals Wey was transacting between US companies and shell companies in China.  These transactions were designed to take a private company public as quickly as possible, without any of ‘the messy disclosures that serve as red flags for cautious investors,’ as Boyd once wrote on his blog, The Financial Investigator.  And they were not as financially sound as Wey was suggesting.

(Even TheBlot‘s staff became skeptical of both the motivations and the facts in these cases of debunking).  (Yoni) Weiss and (Alicia) Lu weren’t the only ones who challenged Wey’s style of journalism.  TheBlot’s original publisher, Neil St. Clair, quit shortly after the site launched in July 2013, as did Ned Hepburn, a staff reporter who says he resigned after Wey pressured him to write a negative piece for TheBlot about some former business associates.  Lu eventually resigned in April 2014.  She says the reason she stayed as long as she did, even though she knew what Wey was up to, was because she needed the job, and journalism jobs were hard to come by. …(And her misgivings were well-placed, as her boss’ viciousness had extensive real-world consequences).
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The case of TheBlot is extreme, but it’s not exactly an outlier.  A battle against journalists is being waged on other sites and platforms as well, where casting doubt and suspicion is often the primary weapon.  The blog reportersexposed.com, for example, claims to be surfacing ‘dishonesty and corruption’ among reporters, even though the articles and the sources it quotes are attributed to journalists and journalism students who don’t appear to have public profiles and who can’t be reached on Twitter, Facebook, or Google.  The site also questions the ‘sexualized manner’ and romantic relationships of several well-respected investigative journalists from Newsday (one of whom is the partner of a CJR editor).  Newsday’s investigative reporting team consistently produces high-impact stories exposing corruption among Long Island’s political and business elite, but it is not clear who specifically is behind Reporters Exposed.  Reporters Exposed did not respond to CJR’s email requests.
Sites like mattforney.com and returnofthekings.com proudly take on the liberal press and journalists they feel have wronged them.  Forney, a freelance journalist and author himself, gives detailed instructions on how to ‘destroy’ someone’s reputation with Google, using his treatment of a young, female reporter at ABC as an example.  He also praises Roosh Valizadeh, author of returnofthekings.com, for doing ‘a wonderful job of tarring’ a female reporter at Gawker with accusations of racism, and for his ruthless approach to ‘New York City Media Liberals,’ especially up-and-coming journalists.”—Columbia Journalism Review
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         ” US intelligence agencies have ramped up their operations intended to remove Bolivian President Evo Morales from office.  All options are on the table, including assassination.  Barack Obama, who sees the weakening of Latin America’s ‘hostile bloc of populist states’ as one of his administration’s foreign-policy victories, intends to buoy this success before stepping down.
Washington also feels under the gun in Bolivia because of China’s successful expansion in the country.  Morales is steadily strengthening his financial, economic, trade, and military relationship with Beijing.  Chinese businesses in La Paz are thriving – making investments and loans and taking part in projects to secure a key position for Bolivia in the modernization of the continent’s transportation industry.  In the next 10 years, thanks to Bolivia’s plentiful gas reserves, that country will become the energy hub of South America.  Evo Morales sees his country’s development as his top priority, and the Chinese, unlike the Americans, have always viewed Bolivia as an ally and partner in a relationship that eschews double standards.
The US embassy in La Paz has been without an ambassador since 2008.  He was declared persona non grata because of his subversive activities.  The interim chargé d’affaires is currently Peter Brennan, and pointed questions have been raised about what agency he truly works for.  He was previously stationed in Pakistan, where ‘difficult decisions’ had to be made about assassinations, but most of his career has been spent handling Latin American countries.  In particular, Brennan was responsible for introducing the ZunZuneo service into Cuba (an illegal program dubbed the ‘Cuban Twitter’).  USAID fronted this CIA program, under the innocent pretext of helping to inform Cubans about cultural and sporting events and other international news.  Once ZunZuneo was in place, there were plans to use this program to mobilize the population in preparation for a ‘Cuban Spring.’  When reading about Brennan one often encounters the phrase – ‘dark horse.’  He is used to getting what he wants, at any cost, and his tight deadline in Bolivia (before the end of Obama’s presidency) is forcing Brennan to take great risks. …
(While the disinformation campaigns against President Morales and Bolivian social justice programs, uniformly reported as likely fact by monopoly American media, have proved so much bullshit), (t)he US military has been increasing its presence in Bolivia in recent months.  For example, Colonel Felando Pierre Thigpen visited the department of Santa Cruz, where there are strong separatist leanings.  Thigpen is known to be involved in a joint program between the Pentagon and CIA to recruit and train potential personnel for American intelligence.  In commentary by Bolivian bloggers and in publications about Thigpen, it is noted that the colonel was dispatched to the country on the eve of events related to ‘the impending replacement of a government that has exhausted its potential, as well as the need to recruit alternative young personalities into the new leadership structure.’  Some comments have indicated that Thigpen is overseeing the work of diplomats Peter Brennan and Erik Foronda, a media and press advisor at the US embassy.
The embassy responded by stating that Thigpen had arrived in Bolivia ‘at his own initiative,’ but it is no secret that he was invited to ‘work with youth’ by NGOs that coordinate their activities with the Americans: the Foundation for Leadership and Integral Development (FULIDEI), the Global Transformation Network (RTG), the Bolivian School of Heroes (EHB), and others.  So Thigpen’s work is not being improvised, but is rather a direct challenge to Morales’s government.  Domestically, the far-right party Christian Democratic Party provides him with political cover.  The US plans to destabilize Bolivia – which were provided to Evo Morales’s government by an unnamed friendly country – include a step-by-step chronogram of the actions plotted by the Americans.  For example: ‘To spark hunger strikes and mass mobilizations and to stir up conflicts within universities, civil organizations, indigenous communities, and varied social circles, as well as within government institutions.  To strike up acquaintances with both active-duty and retired military officers, with the goal of undercutting the government’s credibility within the armed forces.  It is absolutely essential to train the military for a crisis scenario, so that in an atmosphere of growing social conflict they will lead an uprising against the regime and support the protests in order to ensure a peaceful transition to democracy.’—Information Clearinghouse