Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why foreign reporting on US domestic policy works for us


Here is an explanation, not an apology.

UPDATE: 2-7-2013: The Washington Post shielded the world from knowing which countries aided US in rendition and torture programs under fire during the Bush presidency. Russia Today reported Tuesday, 54 countries aided the programs.  Both drones and torture are taking center stage during  confirmation hearings of John Brennan as CIA director.

BTC -- The coverage of US public surveillance apertures keeps coming. To an embarrassment, mostly foreign reporting shows there is no exhibit of conscience from our leaders over this. Americans face a galling uphill climb as our government behaves at complete risk to the citizens and the world.  Our leaders may be besides themselves, locked away from criticism and dissent, but the effects of what is being done to world liberty at large is still being watched. What left can we have in common?

Perhaps we watch the news, but I doubt that is even the same news sources for more than a few minutes.

There is a mainstream media.  This is the branded media we grew up with. They've been parading bias as news for over 2 decades on television. The "straw" interviews where analysts try to exhibit live political affect by talking over each other?  That gets shut off.

Jim Romanski revealed there was a "plummett in morale" at CBS/CNET due to a litigation muzzle policy. People see what's going on and then they change the channel.

Propaganda is now part of our national news diet. Corporatist and military interests are dominating much of the national editorial coverage on television.

I have experience watching daily news produced by the American military on US bases abroad.  I know what it looks like. So do veterans.  There are too many citizens who understand media subtleties you can't explain quickly to your neighbor as 30 second segment passes through, but the poker tells are detected.  We watch foreign news for salt.  The dichotomy inspired me to get into news making, so I could continue to decipher the language of spin and corporate PR.

Over the course of a year, without quite realizing what was happening, I have become an avid Russian Television watcher. The Russians have been down a road of government repression. They know the difference between empty intimidation tactics and when Aaron Swartz was really headed for the American gulag with no prospect of release.  I haven't learned a lot about Russia, but I have learned a ton about our surveillance state by watching their TV channel.  I am relying on the UK's Guardian and alternative media online to get news. I get daily news from foreign war reporters and obscured cable access channels.  Oh, and my local newspaper.

I also grew up during the 1980's when Americans were scared of nuclear threat from Russia.  My how things change.

People like me will still look for some of the more reliable news watchdogs to move ahead, like the Washington Post.  Dana Priest's reporting has saved more skins than her own.  She has explained much better than I could ever do, in 2 pages of her book Top Secret America, why I am watching Russian Television in 2013.
I was summoned to CIA headquarters upon my return. A senior operations officer in the Counterterrorism Center was waiting for me.  He explained that the center had tripled in size since 9/11 and was more dependent than ever on foreign intelligence services to find suspected terrorists. Writing about these secret prisons would embarrass their partners who had a agreed to host them in their countries, he said.  They might stop cooperating with the United States with other programs. "In many cases they are violating their own laws by helping us," he said. "In many cases we get the approval of the president but not anyone else."  Those words were supposed to reassure me but had the opposite effect.  Should the Post be complicit in something illegal under the laws of the countries in which the prisons were located? 
Many of the citizens in those Eastern European democracies had made great sacrifices and taken huge risks to get out from under the corrupting influence of their Soviet-era intelligence services.  It seemed hypocritical, even contrary to longterm U.S. interests,  for administration that said its goal was to create democracies out of Iraq and Afghanistan now to be effectively undermining the legal system in Eastern Europe by cutting private deals with intelligence officials there in exchange for U.S. money and equipment that would make them more powerful.  
Why do you need prisons in the first place, I asked, trying to elicit a more detailed explanation. Why not bring the detainees to trial? 
"Because they would get lawyered-up, and our job, first and foremost, is to obtain information from them," he said.  
Why didn't the agency just give the captives access to the International Committee of the Red Cross?  By treaty, the ICRC has access to detained military combatants. 
White House lawyers had declared al-Qaeda operatives to be unlawful combatants not worth of such protections, he said.  Besides, "countries do this secretly. There are other legal issues involved....There are a number of things in a democracy"----he stumbled over his explanation----"like how to balance individual rights with national security concerns." 
A year later President Bush publicly acknowleged the program's existence, announced he was closing the prisons, and said that the remaining detainees had been transferred into military justice system at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Although, there were some hard feelings against Washington among European leaders, the countries involved and other allies in Europe did not bolt from cooperating, and there is no indication that the national security of the United States was gravely harmed by the disclosure. 
As we would discover over the course of our investigation into Top Secret America, many things would remain unknown, but the existence of covert prisons was no longer one of them. And now, neither is this: that not all of the disappeared have been accounted for.  At least a dozen people once held by the CIA remain nowhere to be found.  

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