May 14, 2013
The president of the Associated Press has sent a letter of protest to US Attorney General Eric Holder over the Department of Justice’s broad surveillance of individual reporters’ phone conversations.
In a letter received by the AP on Friday, the Justice Department acknowledged but offered no explanation for the seizure of two months’ worth of telephone records of reporters and editors. AP’s president, Gary Pruitt, called the ongoing monitoring a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.”
The AP believes that more than 100 journalists are involved in the DOJ’s phone surveillance, which would have involved a wide variety of stories regarding government and other topics. Pruitt has called for the return of obtained phone records, as well as the destruction of all copies.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” said Pruitt.
According to the AP’s own reporting of the alleged phone taps, Justice Department rules require that subpoenas of such records from news organizations must be approved by the attorney general. Notification to the AP was made by a letter sent by Ronald Machen, US attorney in Washington, but did not clarify if such rules had been followed.
It is believed that phone records were obtained as part of a criminal investigation into leaked information about a CIA operation in Yemen that unraveled an Al-Qaeda plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate an explosive on a US-bound jet airliner.
Speculation on a link to that particular story was made by the AP based on the fact that phone numbers were obtained by the DoJ for five reporters and an editor involved in the May 7, 2012 story.
According to the AP, CIA Director John Brennan was questioned by the FBI as to whether he had been the source of the leak. In testimony regarding the story in February, Brennan called the leak an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”
Records obtained by the Justice Department detailed incoming and outgoing calls, as well as the duration of calls, for work and private numbers of AP reporters and offices in New York, Washington, and Hartford, Connecticut, as well as the main number for reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery.
In its statement regarding the phone taps, the Department of Justice cited an exception to notifying a news organization in advance if it would hamper its own investigation:
“We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations. Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media. We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws,” the statement reads.
The rights of the US citizens are increasingly under attack, acknowledged Caleb Maupin from International Action Center.
“All the things that the Democratic Party lambasted George W. Bush for doing – they are now continuing. It is a trend in repression,” he said.
“This is an act of intimidation against the Associated Press. It was a real fear in the House of Power, which includes both the Democrats and the Republicans, that the press might start doing its job and actually speaking truth to power, actually exposing some of the crimes that has been committed,” Maupin said.
“They are going to threaten and intimidate journalists and keep that from happening – that is what’s behind this,” he concluded.
“The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information and has actually brought six cases of people actually suspected of leaking classified information to trial – and that is more than all previous administrations combined,” RT America correspondent Meghan Lopez said, specifying that Bradley manning is only one of them.
Eric Draitser, an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City who spoke to RT on Monday says that news of the DoJ’s monitoring of the AP has wider implications:
“This kind of surveillance is used for the purpose of persecution, it is the persecution of whistle blowers primarily. So what you see are that the records sought were records of various journalists, in an attempt not to so much surveil the journalists but to track down who their sources are,” says Draitser.
“And much of this emerges out of this case in Yemen, with regard to CIA Director Brennan, and the idea of this leaked information. The Obama administration, perhaps more so than any other administration before it, has been vehemently persecuting whistleblowers of all kinds,” added Draitser.
“It is not unprecedented for the Justice Department to secretly get the numbers of reporters. What’s remarkable is the sweeping nature of this, the dragnet approach … and that’s why you have some press watchdog groups tonight, and freedom of the press groups saying this is positively Nixonian. They have not seen a precedent for this in decades.” - Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein.
The Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers & information continues.
‘Bahrain buys favorable CNN content’
October 3, 2012
Amid a violent crackdown on a popular uprising, Bahrain paid CNN to get favorable coverage, says a former reporter who believes her documentary on the protests there was censored by the network.
Former CNN journalist Amber Lyon made the documentary more than six months ago. It was aired domestically in the US, but never made it to CNN international, raising claims that the management pulled the plug on the story. RT spoke to Lyon to get the full story of what happened.
RT: You feel your documentary should have been aired internationally. Why?
Amber Lyon:I’ve created a lot of documentaries for CNN that didn’t air internationally. Most I feel should’ve been aired internationally because seasoned, decades-long employees have approached me after it wasn’t aired and told me this should’ve been aired on CNN International and told that they felt that something strange was going on and that I should investigate it. And that’s where it was uncovered that we felt that this documentary was censored, because Bahrain was actually a paying customer for CNN. Bahrain is paying CNN to create content that shows Bahrain in a favorable light. Even though CNN says its content is editorially independent Bahrain can affect that – what we’ve seen with that documentary not airing and also with the constant struggle I had at CNN to get Bahrain coverage, accurate coverage of the human rights abuses on-air while I was there.
RT: CNN prides itself as a bastion of excellent journalism and impartiality, but in this case have they let themselves down?
AL: What CNN is doing is they are essentially creating what some people have termed “infomercials for dictators.” And that’s the sponsored content that they are airing on CNN International that is actually being paid for by regimes and governments. And this violates every principle of journalistic ethics, because we’re supposed to be watchdogs on these governments. We are not supposed to allow them to be a paying customer as journalists. And that’s the issue here – that CNN is feeding, then, this propaganda to the public and not fairly disclosing to the public that this is sponsored content.
For example CNN has been doing these programs for Georgia, Kazakhstan, also as we said Bahrain. One of the programs that they aired for Bahrain was called Bahrain i-List and had a CNN reporter Richard Quest lie from Bahrain for one full week. He was live at the racetrack at one point. There were mentions on his page about pearl diving and all the happy sides of Bahrain. But hard to find were the actual accusations from the majority of the Bahrain people that this regime needs to get out and that this regime is abusing and torturing doctors and journalists. Also difficult to find [were] accurate, simple disclosures on the CNN site and on this video telling viewers that this video you’re watching on this news channel – the most trusted name in news – is being paid for by this regime.”
RT: You witnessed first-hand some heavy-handed tactics in Bahrain while you were making this report. Can you tell us about that?
AL:We were able to kind of dodge our minders and sneak into some of the villages and actually see these atrocities – patients who had run out of hospitals that were shot with birdshot, ambulance drivers who were beaten. And as we were heading back out of these villages we were violently detained by security forces in Bahrain. About 20 masked men with machine guns, who then tried to erase all the video that they found, and luckily my female producer and I were able to hide some discs in our bras and we were able to actually get out of the country with this content. You can imagine Bahrain’s surprise when we got back to the US and this content was airing on CNN, and right after that is when the phone calls started coming into the network complaining about me and trying to get my coverage off the air.
There is constant demonization of Syria, Iran and other countries on the US mainstream media, but similar atrocities are happening in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and I think this is an overall really harmful to journalism [sic] theme of these mainstream outlets following in the steps of US government and kind of shadowing how the US government feel about these areas.
You are very hard-pressed to find criticizing [sic] going on of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, but you just see it all day long, demonization of Iran and Syria. This is dangerous to the American public because they are not being given the accurate story and accurate picture of our foreign policy and what’s happening in these other countries, and I fear that we are starting to see a constant demonization of Iran on US networks in what appears to be a systematic matter. For many of us, journalistically, that are noticing this, we are fearing [that] we are going to head into Iraq Number Two, except this time it’s with Iran.
US distrust in media hits all-time high
September 22, 2012
Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004.
The record distrust in the media, based on a survey conducted Sept. 6-9, 2012, also means that negativity toward the media is at an all-time high for a presidential election year. This reflects the continuation of a pattern in which negativity increases every election year compared with the year prior. The current gap between negative and positive views — 20 percentage points — is by far the highest Gallup has recorded since it began regularly asking the question in the 1990s. Trust in the media was much higher, and more positive than negative, in the years prior to 2004 — as high as 72% when Gallup asked this question three times in the 1970s.
This year’s decline in media trust is driven by independents and Republicans. The 31% and 26%, respectively, who express a great deal or fair amount of trust are record lows and are down significantly from last year. Republicans’ level of trust this year is similar to what they expressed in the fall of 2008, implying that they are especially critical of election coverage.
Independents are sharply more negative compared with 2008, suggesting the group that is most closely divided between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney is quite dissatisfied with its ability to get fair and accurate news coverage of this election.
More broadly, Republicans continue to express the least trust in the media, while Democrats express the most. Independents’ trust fell below the majority level in 2004 and has continued to steadily decline.
Support independent media & bloggers! As someone who greatly values a solid media system & a recent journalism graduate, I can say I never read mainstream media anymore. There is no context for information. Most newspapers are corporate-owned. Sensational & celebrity news are taking over front pages, & this just shows most Americans barely trust national media… & don’t get me started on broadcast news.
Women Against Rape organization: We do not want Assange extradited
August 24, 2012
When Julian Assange was first arrested, we were struck by the unusual zeal with which he was being pursued for rape allegations.
It seems even clearer now, that the allegations against him are a smokescreen behind which a number of governments are trying to clamp down on WikiLeaks for having audaciously revealed to the public their secret planning of wars and occupations with their attendant rape, murder and destruction.
Justice for an accused rapist does not deny justice for his accusers. But in this case justice is being denied both to accusers and accused.
The judicial process has been corrupted. On the one hand, the names of the women have been circulated on the internet; they have been trashed, accused of setting a “honey trap”, and seen their allegations dismissed as “not real rape”. On the other hand, Assange is dealt with by much of the media as if he were guilty, though he has not even been charged. It is not for us to decide whether or not the allegations are true and whether what happened amounts to rape or sexual violence – we don’t have all the facts and what has been said so far has not been tested. But we do know that rape victims’ right to anonymity and defendants’ right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty are both crucial to a just judicial process.
Swedish and British courts are responsible for how the women’s allegations have been handled. As with every rape case, the women are not in charge of the case, the state is.
Whether or not Assange is guilty of sexual violence, we do not believe that is why he is being pursued. Once again women’s fury and frustration at the prevalence of rape and other violence, is being used by politicians to advance their own purposes. The authorities care so little about violence against women that they manipulate rape allegations at will, usually to increase their powers, this time to facilitate Assange’s extradition or even rendition to the US. That the US has not presented a demand for his extradition at this stage is no guarantee that they won’t do so once he is in Sweden, and that he will not be tortured as Bradley Manning and many others, women and men, have. Women Against Rape cannot ignore this threat.
In over 30 years working with thousands of rape victims who are seeking asylum from rape and other forms of torture, we have met nothing but obstruction from British governments. Time after time, they have accused women of lying and deported them with no concern for their safety. We are currently working with three women who were raped again after having been deported – one of them is now destitute, struggling to survive with the child she conceived from the rape; the other managed to return to Britain and won the right to stay, and one of them won compensation.
Assange has made it clear for months that he is available for questioning by the Swedish authorities, in Britain or via Skype. Why are they refusing this essential step to their investigation? What are they afraid of?
In 1998 Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London following an extradition request from Spain. His responsibility for the murder and disappearance of at least 3,000 people, and the torture of 30,000 people, including the rape and sexual abuse of more than 3,000 women often with the use of dogs, was never in doubt. Despite a lengthy legal action and a daily picket outside parliament called by Chilean refugees, including women who had been tortured under Pinochet, the British government reneged on its obligation to Spain’s criminal justice system and Pinochet was allowed to return to Chile. Assange has not even been charged; yet the determination to have him extradited is much greater than ever it was with Pinochet. (Baltasar Garzón, whose request for extradition of Pinochet was denied, is representing Assange.) And there is a history of Sweden (and Britain) rendering asylum seekers at risk of torture at the behest of the US.
Like women in Sweden and everywhere, we want rapists caught, charged and convicted. We have campaigned for that for more than 35 years, with limited success. We are even having to campaign to prevent rape victims being accused of making false allegations and imprisoned for it. Two women who reported visibly violent attacks by strangers were given two and three year prison sentences.
But does anyone really believe that extraditing Julian Assange will strengthen women against rape? And do those supporting his extradition to Sweden care if he is then extradited to the US and tortured for telling the public what we need to know about those who govern us?
This is a really great piece. The political pursuit of Assange by the US musn’t be overlooked as it is nearly always downplayed by the mainstream media.
Each time we post about Assange’s case, we always get reblogs commenting that he’s a rapist, we’re rape sympathizers for supporting Wikileaks, etc. etc.
So once again: Assange has not been charged with any crime in any country. We are not rape sympathizers (what a disgusting claim…). We support Assange as a journalist & the exposure of government corruption & lies in all forms.
Indian cyber silence: Journalists muted after race riots
August 23, 2012
India has moved to block journalists’ Twitter accounts and websites, threatening to shut down Twitter entirely if it does not block those inciting violence. The warning comes amid an outbreak of ethnic clashes in the north of the country.
The government demanded that Twitter block 28 web pages with objectionable content.
Authorities claim that these web pages, as well as those already blocked, were responsible for disseminating misinformation that triggered the deadly riots.
A list leaked on the internet on Wednesday showed at least 300 URLs that the Indian government sought to ban following the racial violence that struck the northeastern province of Assam, killing over 80 people.
The list mostly included YouTube and Facebook pages, as well as 30 Twitter URLs and 11 blogger sites.
The Ministry of Communications said it was moving to tackle “inflammatory and harmful content continued to appear on the social networking sites.”
The government crackdown also targeted number of high-profile journalists, attempting to put a gag on their posts. Among them was Kanchan Gupta, considered a far-right sympathizer in India.
However, the block is only active if the Twitter accounts in question are accessed using HTTP and not HTTPS protocol, thus targeted users were able to keep tweeting even after the ban was enforced.
“Damn, my nose is also blocked now,” joked Shiv Aroor, a deputy editor with Headlines Today news channel.
Social networking site Facebook has said that it will work in tandem with the Indian government to remove content that could incite ethnic violence across the country.
“Facebook will remove content which breaches our terms as set out in our statement of rights and responsibilities. Content or individuals can be removed from Facebook for a variety of reasons, including issuing direct calls for violence or perpetuating hate speech,” the company spokesperson told IANS.
The social networking site said it was acting on requests from the Indian authorities and encouraged its users to report any distressing content.
The NGO that leaked the list of URLs, the Center for Internet and Society said that most of the barred sites had“content related to communal issues and rioting.”
However, the organization also noted that the blocking of many of the websites on the list is “legally questionable and morally indefensible, even while a large number of the items ought to be removed.”
The internet crackdown comes off the back of an online and text hate campaign that the Indian Interior Ministry said originated in Pakistan.
“After checking and verifying we are saying, with responsibility, that the bulk of SMSs [text messages] spreading rumors about the northeast region have come from Pakistan,” an Interior Ministry spokesman said on Saturday.
Julian Assange granted political asylum in Ecuador
August 14, 2012
Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has agreed to give Julian Assange asylum, officials within Ecuador’s government have said.
The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up at Ecuador’s London embassy since June 19, when he officially requested political asylum.
“Ecuador will grant asylum to Julian Assange,” said an official in the Ecuadorean capital Quito, who is familiar with the government discussions.
On Monday, Correa told state-run ECTV that he would decide this week whether to grant asylum to Assange. Correa said a large amount of material about international law had to be examined to make a responsible informed decision.
Ecuador’s foreign minister Ricardo Patiño indicated that the president would reveal his answer once the Olympic Games were over. But it remains unclear if giving Assange asylum will allow him to leave Britain and fly to Ecuador, or amounts to little more than a symbolic gesture. At the moment he faces the prospect of arrest as soon as he leaves the embassy for breaching his bail conditions.
“For Mr Assange to leave England, he should have a safe pass from the British [government]. Will that be possible? That’s an issue we have to take into account,” Patino told Reuters on Tuesday.
Government sources in Quito confirmed that despite the outstanding legal issues Correa would grant Assange asylum – a move which would annoy Britain, the US and Sweden. They added that the offer was made to Assange several months ago, well before he sought refuge in the embassy, and following confidential negotiations with senior London embassy staff.
The official with knowledge of the discussions said the embassy had discussed Assange’s asylum request. The British government, however, “discouraged the idea,” the offical said. The Swedish government was also “not very collaborative”, the official said.
The official added: “We see Assange’s request as a humanitarian issue. The contact between the Ecuadorean government and WikiLeaks goes back to May 2011, when we became the first country to see the leaked US embassy cables completely declassified … It is clear that when Julian entered the embassy there was already some sort of deal. We see in his work a parallel with our struggle for national sovereignty and the democratisation of international relations.”
Assange took refuge in Ecuador’s embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning over allegations of sexual misconduct. He is said to be living in one room of the diplomatic building, where he has a high-speed internet connection.
Ecuadorean diplomats believe Assange is at risk of being extradited from Sweden to the US, where he could face the death penalty. Assange’s supporters claim the US has already secretly indicted him following WikiLeaks’ release in 2010 of US diplomatic cables, as well as classified Afghan and Iraq war logs.
Correa and Patiño have both said that Ecuador will take a sovereign decision regarding Assange. They say they view his case as a humanitarian act, and are seeking to protect Assange’s right to life and freedom. On Monday the state-run newspaper El Telégrafo confirmed a decision had been made, although the paper did not specify what that decision was. It said that senior officials had been meeting in the past few days to iron out the last legal details.
Two weeks ago Assange’s mother Christine Assange paid Ecuador an official visit, following an invitation by Ecuador’s foreign affairs ministry. She met with Correa and Patiño, as well as with other top politicians, including Fernando Cordero, head of Ecuador’s legislature. Both Patiño and Ms Assange appeared visibly touched during a press conference, which had to be briefly suspended when Ms Assange started crying.
Ms Assange also held several public meetings in government buildings, and in one case she was accompanied by the head of Assange’s defence team, Baltasar Garzón, the former Spanish judge who ordered the London arrest of Chile’s General Pinochet.
Other top political figures in Ecuador have been vocal about the government’s support of Assange’s bid. “Our comrade the president, who leads our international policy, will grant Julian Assange asylum,” said María Augusta Calle, a congresswoman of the president’s party, and former head of the Sovereignty, Foreign Affairs and Latin American Integration Commission during the 2008 Constitutional Assembly, during a meeting with Ms Assange.
Over the past year and a half, Assange has remained in touch with Ecuador’s embassy in London. In April, he interviewed President Correa for his TV show on Russia Today, the English-language channel funded by the Russian government. The interview, which lasted 75 minutes, included a pally exchange in which Assange and Correa bonded over freedom of speech and the negative role of the US in Latin America. At one point Correa joked: “Are you having a lot of fun with the interview, Julian?” Assange replied: “I’m enjoying your jokes a great deal, yes.”
Correa has made international headlines this year for what critics have called a government crackdown on private media. Analysts say that granting the WikiLeaks founder asylum could be a way for him to depict himself as a champion of freedom of speech ahead of the February 2013 presidential elections, in which he is expected to run again.
Amazing news. Now truth advocates must show support to Ecuador given that many have promised trade sanctions with the country if it was to grant asylum.
Wikileaks has exposed so much corruption, horrendous war crimes & injustices all over the world. Julian Assange is a true journalist & hero.