U.S. sanctions against Huawei Technologies that took effect Tuesday have forced Japanese chipmakers to cast a wider net for business to fill the gap left by a loss of sales to China's largest telecommunications equipment supplier.
The U.S. Commerce Department banned all exports to the Chinese telecommunications company of semiconductors made with American technology, exempting only shipments that are already en route. Japanese companies supplied about 1.1 trillion yen ($10.4 billion) in parts to Huawei last year, according to U.K. research company Omdia.
This ban was the main reason Sony last month trimmed its capital spending plans for the three years through fiscal 2020 by about $470 million. The Japanese company brings in billions of dollars annually from sales of image sensors to Huawei, which were completely halted by Tuesday.
Sony is considering applying for a license to sell to Huawei. But "we need to work on diversifying our customers," a company executive said.
One opportunity lies in selling to smartphone makers, including Apple and Chinese players, that are positioned to eat into Huawei's market share if the ban forces the company to cut production. Sony also looks to develop sensors for a broader range of applications, including autos and industrial machinery, rather than rely so heavily on mobile devices.
Renesas Electronics on Tuesday stopped supplying Huawei with semiconductors for 5G network base stations. Meanwhile, the Japanese chipmaker is ramping up marketing to rival base station manufacturers, such as Sweden's Ericsson and Finland-based Nokia.
Toshiba spinoff Kioxia suspended shipments of flash memory to Huawei on Tuesday. The company plans to repurpose capacity that would otherwise be idled by the ban to produce chips for other smartphone makers and for data centers.
The sweeping nature of the sanctions presents compliance challenges. Even supplying chips to a third party could run afoul of U.S. export regulations if the products in question are ultimately used by Huawei. Jeff Wang, chairman of the Tokyo-based subsidiary Huawei Japan, last month noted Japan's "extremely important role in global supply chains."
Businesses are being forced to scrutinize the routes that their parts take to avoid potentially risky transactions, and getting a full picture will take time.
Toshiba on Tuesday temporarily halted all shipments of hard disk drives and chips, citing the need to determine if any of its products are covered by the ban.
Any companies that violate the sanctions will be barred from importing American software and technology covered by the export regulations, whether from the U.S. or from third countries. The rules span such a massive number of products that such a ban would be a major hindrance to manufacturing and marketing.
Violators may face other penalties on top of this, including fines of up to $1 million and imprisonment, along with the reputational risks that come with breaking U.S. regulations.
"We have to be cautious about our investment plans from fiscal 2021 onward as well," said a Sony executive who worries about the Huawei row dragging on.
As for Huawei, production there is not expected to take a hit right away, as the company rushed to stock up on parts before the sanctions took effect. The spot price of DRAM chips -- vital for smartphone production -- has jumped 7% since early this month, which a representative from a semiconductor trading company chalked up to a final rush of buying by Huawei.
But the company's smartphone shipments are forecast to plunge 70% in 2021 compared with the expected total for this year, by one estimate. DRAM "prices will fall around mid-September as [Huawei] stops building up its inventories," said Akira Minamikawa at Omdia.
Source: Nikkei Asia Review
Anti-Empire's note: Author, Vuk Jeremić, is Serbia's former pro-Western Foreign Minister 2007-2012 who ostensibly defended Serbia's territorial integrity and right to its Kosovo province, but purposefully did so with one hand tied behind his back to ensure he would not succeed (he still needed the West onside for ideological, power, and personal career reasons), but whom the present (even more shamelessly collaborationist) leadership has made to look like an absolute heroic figure by comparison.
If not an actually a fully sincere defender of his country, Jeremić had at least been a capable and professional diplomat who would not have allowed to have his intelligence insulted in this way.
Serbia was humiliated in Washington yesterday, as rarely before on the international stage.
Aside from treatment protocol-wise more appropriate for indigenous tribes than sovereign states, as well as startlingly bizarre statements to the media (pencils, dubious tales of pressures on Washington's pedestrian islands to sign a recognition, of feeling agony in the hall as he speaks, etc.) the very fact that the Serbian delegation traveled to Washington for "negotiations on Kosovo", without a single international relations expert and without an institutionalized negotiating platform, is something that puts us in real danger. Thus, the negotiation process, by the will of Belgrade, was moved to the White House — which sets a precedent for the continuation of the process on probably the least favorable ground for us, without allies.
Aside from the fact that the signed "agreement" in an extraordinarily bizarre way combines the relations between Belgrade and Priština with decades-long problems in the Middle East, the rights of the global LGBT community, US-Chinese technological frictions, issues of sovereignty in choosing energy suppliers — that a dog would not eat with butter. [Serbian expression.]
Several points of that "agreement" are directly harmful to our national interests, on several levels.
For example, Priština has pledged not to apply for membership in international organizations for a year. That in itself would not be bad, if Belgrade had not committed itself to stopping its campaign of unrecognition and lobbying with countries that have not yet recognized "Kosovo" to not do so in the future. Priština has therefore NOT committed itself not to lobby bilaterally around the world, AND WE HAVE.
For starters, "Kosovo" received recognition from Israel, which had not done so since the unilateral declaration of independence in 2008 - how can that be in Serbia's interest? To make matters more bizarre, according to this agreement, Serbia REWARDS Israel for Kosovo's recognition by moving our embassy to Jerusalem — which will allow us to join (along with the newly recognized Kosovo) only the United States and Guatemala! If Vučić had a diplomat with him in the delegation, he would have warned him that Security Council Resolution 478 from 1980, which calls on all UN member states to withdraw their embassies from Jerusalem, is still in force. It is, to say the least, a controversial move for a country that insists on respecting some other UN Security Council resolution, e.g. 1244. As well as agreeing to the comprehensive designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization (thus equating its political and military wing), this is a direct finger in the eye of a large number of international actors with whom we have extremely important relations - the EU, Russia and China, for example.
Normalization of living conditions in the region, including economic relations between Belgrade and Priština, is a noble goal that should be pursued in the interest of citizens and future generations.
But the way to achieve that must not be via the dilettantish trampling of national interests, creating enemies in the world, and the humiliation of country and nation.
A major US PR firm located just a few blocks from the White House has been caught running an industrial grade propaganda operation on social media. The information warfare blitzkrieg relied on fake accounts and pages to spread disinformation on behalf of right-wing, US-backed governments in Latin America, while deploying covert propaganda to destabilize the leftist governments targeted by the US in Venezuela and Mexico.
The company behind the campaign, CLS Strategies, signed a contract to represent Bolivia’s far-right junta and provide “strategic communications counsel” in the lead-up to that country’s ostensible election. After coming to power through a US-backed military coup in November 2019, the Bolivian regime has delayed the election numerous times on specious grounds.
CLS Strategies also used its network of fake accounts and pages to push propaganda on behalf of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition and the US-backed parallel coup regime of Juan Guaidó.
Some of the CLS-run Facebook and Instagram profiles even posed as disgruntled Venezuelan soldiers, and called on members of the armed forces to rebel against the socialist government. Other pages claimed to be run by disaffected former supporters of leftist leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales.
The DC-based company similarly filled social media with disinformation demonizing Mexico’s left-wing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and his party Morena, who have been under increasing attack by right-wing oligarch forces.
On Facebook, the PR firm spent a staggering $3.6 million on ads to promote this propaganda.
CLS Strategies has close links to the US government. The firm employs former government officials like Mark Feierstein, who oversaw Latin America policy for the Obama White House. Feierstein also served as coordinator of Latin America activities for the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a regime-change arm that has been used as a front for covert CIA operations and spearheaded the Trump administration’s coup attempts in Venezuela.
Another CLS senior advisor, David Romley, worked as a Pentagon spokesman, press attaché to the secretary of defense, and public affairs officer for the US Marine Corps. Before moving to CLS, Romley also served as vice president for communications at the German Marshall Fund, a prominent Cold War-era think tank funded by the US government and NATO that has been integral in pushing the new cold war on Russia and China.
A co-founder of CLS, Peter Schechter, was also the founding director of the Latin America center at the major Washington think tank the Atlantic Council, which is funded by the US and UK governments and European Union and acts as a de facto organ of the NATO military alliance.
Grayzone contributor Alex Rubinstein exposed Schechter’s unsavory career as a Washington insider, revealing how CLS Strategies has worked on behalf of numerous right-wing Latin America leaders whose neoliberal policies spawned migration crises. As Rubinstein reported, Schechter opened a progressive “Resistance”-themed restaurant in downtown Washington, DC called Immigrant Food, forging partnerships with immigrant rights NGOs.
Schechter’s former clients at CLS include the Colombian ex-President Álvaro Uribe, who oversaw death squad massacres and is being investigated by his country’s supreme court for crimes against humanity, along with Mexico’s ex-President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is connected to drug cartels and major corruption scandals.
A decade before it was hired by Bolivia’s coup regime, CLS Strategies signed a contract to represent another conservative dictatorial regime, this time in Honduras, after it took power in a US government-backed military coup in 2009.
On its website, CLS boasts of having lobbied for more than a dozen foreign governments and having “managed campaigns and advised public officials on six continents.”
According to the PR firm’s own public listings, as well as Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings reviewed by The Grayzone, CLS Strategies has worked for right-wing political forces from Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Egypt, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, and Venezuela, as well as the World Bank and large corporations.
Another CLS Strategies partner, Juan Cortiñas, boasted on the firm’s website that he has represented top right-wing leaders and major corporations in Latin America, including the Venezuelan opposition.
Since the fake news ring was exposed, however, CLS Strategies has edited its website to scrub some of these compromising materials, removing the bios of associates like Feierstein and Cortiñas.
This controversy underscores how US PR firms, elite Washington insiders, and foreign opposition groups work in tandem to promote right-wing regimes in Latin America while astroturfing opposition to democratically elected left-wing governments.
Given the extensive links CLS has to the Democratic Party, this scheme also highlights the bipartisan consensus around regime change and support for corrupt neoliberal leaders linked to death squads and drug trafficking.
Further, the scandal shows how foreign policy apparatchiks in Washington do exactly what they accuse Russia of doing: meddle in foreign elections to try to install their preferred candidates in power.
Facebook deletes CLS Strategies fake news ring
The Grayzone has reported on social media corporations’ US government-backed censorship of independent media outlets and voices critical of US foreign policy. Virtually all of Facebook’s purges of alleged fake accounts have targeted foreign governments and firms in other countries. The CLS Strategies fake news ring is apparently the first time Facebook has ever taken down a US-based operation.
Facebook published a press release on September 1 acknowledging that it had removed a network of 55 fake accounts and 42 pages, along with 36 Instagram profiles, “for violating our policy against foreign interference, which is coordinated inauthentic behavior on behalf of a foreign entity.”
An accompanying report (PDF) released by Facebook acknowledged that these fake accounts portrayed themselves “as independent news entities, civic organizations and political fan Pages,” while some “posed as locals in countries they targeted” and “impersonated political parties.”
The social media giant said the network “posted content in support of the political opposition in Venezuela and the interim government in Bolivia, and criticism of Morena, a political party in Mexico.” It identified the network as being connected to the PR firm CLS Strategies.
Facebook shared the information about this fake news ring with Stanford University’s Internet Observatory, which analyzed the materials and published a report on September 4 (PDF), showing how CLS Strategies created 17 Facebook pages to promote the Venezuelan opposition, along with 11 for the Bolivian coup regime.
A total of 509,000 unique accounts followed one or more of these propaganda pages on Facebook. Some pages were huge, with as many as 163,000 followers, while others had very few subscribers.
The Bolivia pages spread Spanish-language propaganda promoting coup leader Jeanine Áñez, a right-wing extremist from a fringe party that got just 4 percent of the vote in the November election but who was recognized by the United States as the country’s supposed interim president.
The Stanford report noted that the “Venezuela-focused assets supported and promoted Venezuelan opposition leaders but changed in tone in 2020, reflecting factional divides in the opposition and a turn away from opposition president Juan Guaidó.”
Most of these propaganda pages were run out of the United States, although some operatives in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru were involved.
US infowarriors pose as Venezuelan soldiers and call for rebellion
The majority of the Facebook pages in this CLS Strategies-led fake news ring published boilerplate conservative propaganda, with names like “Undone with Socialism” and “Die Oppression – Free Venezuela.”
But some of the accounts were more sophisticated disinformation operations, targeting disaffected leftists and even falsely posing as Venezuelan soldiers.
One CLS-run page, titled “Chavista FAN,” posed as a member of the Venezuelan military who had supported late socialist President Hugo Chávez but lost faith in current President Nicolás Maduro.
This was echoed by another Facebook page, “Liberatory Soldiers,” which falsely claimed to consist of members of the armed forces seeking to oust Maduro.
The “Chavista FAN” page included a profile photo of an anonymous soldier proudly identifying as a supporter of Venezuela’s leftist Chavista movement. FAN is a play of words using the English word fan, which is common in Spanish, while also referencing Venezuela’s military, the Fuerza Armada Nacional Bolivariana, or FANB (but by removing the B, which references the left-wing nationalist Bolivarian movement popularized by Chávez).
In one particularly insidious post disclosed by Facebook, the CLS Strategies-run account clearly claims to be operated by members of the Venezuelan armed forces. While making no mention of the suffocating US sanctions and embargo that have devastated Venezuela’s health sector and economy and prevented the government from buying medical equipment and medicine, the Chavista FAN page wrote, “After years of looting, the health sector is in shambles. Are we in the FANB (Venezuelan military) going to continue protecting the lie at the expense of the public?”
The use of “vamos” in the post (“are we going to”) expressly includes the publisher in the collective we, as a putative member of the Venezuelan armed forces.
Chavista FAN was targeted at patriotic leftist Venezuelans, but simultaneously spread disinformation on behalf of US-recognized coup leader Juan Guaidó.
Another post released in the report showed that the page pressured Venezuelan soldiers to rise up against their government, by reassuring them that Guaidó had offered “amnesty.” The post also implored soldiers to stop blocking the entrance of supposed “humanitarian aid” that Washington was using as a weapon in its coup attempt.
A similar Facebook page overseen by the DC-based PR firm was devoted specifically to supporting Venezuela’s US government-funded far-right opposition leader María Corina Machado, a close ally of neoconservative Senator Marco Rubio who has openly, repeatedly called for the US military to invade her country.
DC PR firm spreads right-wing propaganda by posing as disgruntled leftists
CLS Strategies’ Bolivia propaganda was similar to its disinformation campaign against Venezuela. The firm created Facebook pages promoting the coup leader Jeanine Áñez with titles like “Everyone with Áñez.”
The PR firm also set up a page called “Camacho Lovers Santa Cruz,” devoted to the far-right goon squad leader, Luis Fernando Camacho, a businessman from Bolivia’s wealthiest city who started his political career in a neo-fascist Christian paramilitary group founded by former Nazi collaborators.
Another page targeted Bolivian women specifically. With the name “Free Bolivian Women,” this Facebook profile posted propaganda attempting to link elected former President Evo Morales and his allies to organized crime, a common yet baseless talking point of the right-wing opposition.
Some of the CLS Strategies propaganda relied on more devious techniques. A Facebook page the company oversaw was called “MAS for Bolivia,” and sought to drive a wedge in between Bolivians who had previously voted for the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party and the former President Evo Morales, who was overthrown in the 2019 coup.
On Instagram, the CLS disinformation campaign was similarly duplicitous. In addition to running parallel accounts with some of the same names as the Facebook pages, CLS created profiles posing as disenchanted supporters of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro.
One Instagram account was titled “Maduro Style,” and included as its bio, “Maduro, motherland, and death.” Another Instagram profile was named “A True Madurista,” or a true supporter of Maduro. (“Madurista” is however not a term used by actual leftists in Venezuela; it is mostly an insult used by the opposition to attack President Maduro and his supporters.)
An even more dishonest Instagram account overseen by the US PR firm was called “VTV Journalists.” This page posed as former insiders from Venezuela’s state broadcaster VTV, falsely claiming to be an “account of journalists fired from VTV in a humiliating way, but with good contacts inside.”
These pages show how Washington-based CLS infowarriors posed as Venezuelan critical Chavistas and disgruntled Bolivian leftists to attract progressives who had supported Chávez, Maduro, and Morales, but to mislead them and warp their views by exposing them to opposition disinformation.
Conservatives already supported these right-wing opposition forces in Venezuela and Bolivia, so the PR firm was clearly seeking to mislead and propagandize left-wing sympathizers.
CLS Strategies signs PR contract with Bolivia’s coup regime
After overthrowing Bolivia’s democratically elected President Evo Morales in a US-backed military coup on November 10, 2019, the new junta immediately sought out public relations flacks in Washington help whitewash its image.
Almost exactly a month later, on December 11, 2019, CLS Strategies registered under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) as a lobbyist for the Bolivian coup regime.
The firm signed a 90-day contract, at a neat $90,000, agreeing to “provide strategic communications counsel,” which included “creating and distributing communications materials, interfacing with the media, and providing communications services as directed by the Plurinational State of Bolivia.”
This contract did not include CLS Strategies’ work on behalf of the Venezuelan opposition. It is not clear where the firm got the $3.6 million it spent on Facebook ads.
As part of its contract with the Bolivian coup regime, CLS Strategies also helped coordinate meetings between top US government officials and the Bolivian junta’s far-right minister of government, Arturo Murillo, according to another FARA document.
Murillo is an extremist who pledged to “hunt” left-wing leaders from Evo Morales’ MAS party like “animals,” and even went so far as to falsely claim that indigenous protesters massacred by the coup regime had actually shot themselves and then blamed it on the junta.
When he visited Washington in December 2019, CLS Strategies organized in-person meetings between Murillo and Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rick Scott, along with staffers from the National Security Council, State Department, USAID, Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and House Foreign Affairs Committee.
CLS also successfully scheduled meetings between the extremist Bolivian minister and Luis Almagro, the hardline right-wing leader of the Organization of American States (OAS), which played a key role in the coup, as well as with the head of the OAS’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The PR firm then helped plan an event with Murillo at the corporate lobby group the Council of the Americas / Americas Society.
CLS Strategies also coordinated interviews with Murillo for CNN en Español and the major Spanish news agency EFE.
On behalf of the coup regime, CLS likewise contacted the offices of Senator Tim Kaine and House Representatives Eliot Engel, Albio Sires, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Francis Rooney, along with the the prominent DC think tank the Inter-American Dialogue, which hosted an event with Bolivian fascist coup leader Luis Fernando Camacho.
The agreement that CLS Strategies signed with the Bolivian was personally signed by partner Brian Berry, who boasts of having worked for an array of large corporate clients.
At the same time, CLS Strategies Managing Director William Moore also registered with FARA to represent the Bolivian coup regime.
FARA requires registrants to disclose if they have made any political contributions in the past 60 days. Moore revealed that he had donated to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign exactly one week before. (This was months before the start of the Democratic presidential primaries.)
William Moore was identified in the Stanford Internet Observatory report as one of the CLS employees who operated the fake news campaign on Facebook.
CLS Strategies removed Moore’s bio from its website, apparently in response to the revelation of its involvement in the Facebook fake news scandal. Moore also took down his LinkedIn profile.
But a cached version of Moore’s CLS page is available, indicating that it was only recently scrubbed. There, Moore boasts that “he applies his professional experience in Latin America to serve private and public sector clients across the region and in the practice areas of public affairs, crisis communications, and political strategy.”
Moore’s bio adds, “Prior to joining CLS, William cut his teeth at a strategic communications and public affairs agency in Bogota, through which he worked with a government ministry.” He also represented numerous multinational corporations, helping them as they “expanded operations in Colombia.”
When CLS Strategies Managing Director William Moore and partner Brian Berry registered to lobby on behalf of the Bolivian coup regime, they were joined by another colleague: Juan Cortiñas Garcia.
As with Moore’s profile, Cortiñas’ bio was removed from the CLS Strategies website, as the firm has apparently tried to scrub its involvement in the scandal. Coriñas also took down his LinkedIn profile, which he had linked to in his CLS bio.
But in its report on the CLS fake news ring, Stanford University linked to an archived version of Juan Cortiñas’ professional profile. In this bio, he boasts of having “worked with some of the leading political leaders in Latin America such as former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Argentine Congressman Sergio Massa and the Venezuelan opposition, helping with political communications, campaign strategy and developing digital-based campaigns.”
Cortiñas added that he has “counseled some of the largest companies in Latin America,” and boasted of “helping a Fortune 500 company overcome a reputational crisis that spread across the front pages of newspapers in Mexico.”
FARA registration files reviewed by The Grayzone show that Juan Cortiñas has registered to work on behalf of numerous foreign governments, including Aruba, Bolivia, the right-wing administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico, and the coup regime in Honduras.
CLS Strategies signs PR contract with Honduras’ coup regime
Ten years before the United States backed a right-wing military coup in Bolivia, Washington did the same in the Central American nation of Honduras.
On June 28, 2009, the Honduran military overthrew the country’s democratically elected left-leaning president, Manuel Zelaya, and physically removed him from the country.
Zelaya told The Grayzone in Honduras, in an interview on the 10th anniversary of the coup, that the US government had threatened him because of his close political and economic relations with socialist President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela.
In the wake of the putsch, the new unelected right-wing regime in Honduras searched for publicists in DC. It found a loyal ally in a firm called Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates, which would go on to rebrand as CLS Strategies in 2014.
In September 2009, Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates filed FARA paperwork acknowledging that it had signed a four-month contract for the Honduran coup regime, at the cost of $292,000, not including tens of thousands more in additional expenses.
At the time, the senior vice president of Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates was Juan Cortiñas Garcia, who would go on to represent the Bolivian coup regime a decade later.
Cortiñas said in his FARA registration that his job was to “provide public relations counsel and services to the government of Honduras in their efforts to communicate with policy markers or opinion leaders, their staff, the news media and other related third parties.”
In the years following the coup, Honduras became the murder capital of the planet, with some of the highest levels of inequality of any country. The violence and widespread corruption fueled a massive refugee crisis on the southern US border.
The subsequent dictatorial leader of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández, or “JOH,” is intimately linked to the drug trade; his brother Tony Hernández was convicted of trafficking nearly 200,000 kilograms (440,000 pounds) of cocaine and machine guns.
A US district court even stated that infamous Mexican drug lord El Chapo Guzmán gave JOH a $1 million bribe to help him rig Honduras’ 2013 elections.
CLS Strategies signs PR contract with corrupt Colombian President Uribe
The Honduran coup regime is by no means the only connection between CLS Strategies and corrupt, drug-linked Latin American leaders. The shadowy PR firm has also worked with a notorious demagogue who may have the dubious honor of being the most corrupt and violent president in modern Colombian history.
On its website, CLS boasts of having represented both the government of Colombia and the presidential campaign of far-right former leader Álvaro Uribe. Uribe is infamous for working closely with drug cartels and death squads.
In August, Colombia’s Supreme Court put Uribe under house arrest, accusing him of crimes against humanity and bribery, and began officially investigating his involvement in paramilitary massacres of human rights activists.
The US government has long known that Uribe is deeply involved with Colombian drug cartels and far-right paramilitary groups. Declassified cables from the 1990s show that the US State Department was well aware of his criminal ties, but Washington still strongly supported his rise to power.
A ranch owned by Uribe and his family members was used as the base of a death squad. But this has not stopped the Trump administration from pressuring the Colombian justice system to release Uribe and end its investigation into his crimes.
CLS Strategies signs PR contract with corrupt Mexican President Peña Nieto
In addition to representing the drug-linked Honduran coup regime and death squad aficionado Álvaro Uribe, Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates also worked for the transition team of Mexico’s notoriously corrupt President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Peña Nieto allegedly won the presidential election on July 1, 2012. Just five days later, on July 6, he signed a contract with Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates.
The PR firm agreed, for a monthly fee of $50,000, to “provide communications counsel and assistance to the transition team including dissemination of news/announcements from the transition team.”
Once again, CLS consultant Juan Cortiñas Garcia registered with FARA to represent Peña Nieto, pledging to work on “Public relations, communications and media relations related to election/presidential transition” and “Potential distribution of materials or information to U.S. media, policymakers or third parties.”
CLS Strategies’ involvement with Peña Nieto during this transition period is especially controversial, because he was credibly accused of rigging the 2012 election. It appears the firm was hired to try to deal with these very serious, substantiated accusations.
Then-presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who came in second place (and now serves as the president of Mexico), immediately cast doubt on the 2012 election results. López Obrador gathered evidence showing how Peña Nieto’s neoliberal party PRI bribed voters, buying huge sums of votes.
In 2016, these accusations were confirmed by a prominent Colombian hacker named Andrés Sepúlveda. Sepúlveda, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for spying on Colombian officials, told Bloomberg that he was given a budget of $600,000 to assemble a team of hackers to rig the 2012 Mexican presidential election. Bloomberg reported that he and his fellow hackers “stole campaign strategies, manipulated social media to create false waves of enthusiasm and derision, and installed spyware in opposition offices, all to help Peña Nieto, a right-of-center candidate, eke out a victory.”
The corruption scandals involving Enrique Peña Nieto grow larger by the year.
In 2019, it was reported that Peña Nieto had accepted a $100 million bribe from the drug kingpin El Chapo, according to a witness at the drug trafficker’s trial.
Then in August 2020, the former head of Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, revealed how the Peña Nieto administration had overseen a massive bribery scheme to push through the government’s neoliberal economic policies.
Peña Nieto had campaigned on a promise of “energy reform” — that is to say, privatization of Mexico’s oil industry, which had been controlled by the state practically since the revolution. To push through these unpopular neoliberal policies, Peña Nieto took millions of dollars of bribes from the Brazilian corporation Odebrecht, which were rewarded with lucrative government contracts.
Peña Nieto then apparently used that dirty money to buy political support inside Mexico. Leaked videos show that the Peña Nieto administration handed out cash in transparent plastic bags to get the votes needed to pass the privatization policies.
CLS Strategies’ work for this cartoonishly corrupt Mexican president was particularly noteworthy because, according to Facebook, the firm went on to create fake accounts to spread propaganda against Mexico’s current President López Obrador, or AMLO, a left-wing nationalist.
The Grayzone has reported on the escalating campaign by right-wing oligarchs to overthrow AMLO, and the opposition’s links to the United States.
CLS Strategies’ deep ties to the US government
CLS Strategies boasts on its website that it has a “team of veteran political operatives, former journalists and corporate communications experts” who are employed as “strategists, counselors and problem solvers.” Among those veteran political operatives are some prominent former US government officials.
A senior advisor to CLS is Mark Feierstein, a longtime Democratic Party operative who has spent decades overseeing regime-change policies in Latin America.
In his CLS Strategies professional bio, Mark Feierstein boasted that he “also oversaw the United States Agency for International Development’s programming in the Americas as assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, a Senate-confirmed position, and later took on a global portfolio as USAID’s deputy administrator for two years.”
USAID is a regime-change arm of the US government, and has been used to support coup attempts against leftist governments in Latin America.
Feierstein’s CLS profile also trumpeted that he “was a principal strategist for winning national campaigns in Austria, Bolivia, El Salvador, and Honduras, and designed communications strategies for major multinational companies, including Boeing, BP and Monsanto.”
Feierstein previously served in the Bill Clinton administration, and advised the US ambassador to the OAS. He also worked at another US government regime-change entity, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In his CLS bio, Feierstein boasted that he spent his time at the NDI helping the right-wing Nicaraguan opposition challenge the Sandinista government.
Feierstein is also a close associate and friend of US regime-change operative Roger Noriega, a neoconservative Washington insider who crafted Latin America policy in the George W. Bush administration’s State Department and Ronald Reagan’s USAID, where Noriega oversaw support for far-right Contra death squads in Nicaragua.
Mark Feierstein’s political background was included in a bio he had on the CLS Strategies website. But the PR firm removed Feierstein’s page, apparently in response to the backlash over its fake news ring. Feierstein’s significant role in CLS drew the attention of the Bolivian media.
Another senior advisor for the influential firm is David Romley, who previously filled senior positions in the Department of Defense.
In his official CLS bio, Romley boasts:
“David served 20 years in the United States Marine Corps as a public affairs officer where he was a press attaché to the Secretary of Defense and a Pentagon spokesman. While there, he developed the department’s response to interagency communication efforts following the capture of Saddam Hussein and during operation Phantom Fury, the battle for Fallajuh, Iraq. He was senior Marine spokesman during combat operations in Afghanistan for General Jim Mattis and Task Force-58, and in Iraq he authored the combined Marine Corps and British Royal Commando communications plan to integrate more than 340 news media representatives into combat operations. As Director of Community Relations for the United States Marine Corps he established its trademark and license office and created the Corps’ signature public outreach and community relations campaign, Marine Week.”
After leaving the US military, Romley went on to serve as vice president for communications at the Washington, DC-based German Marshall Fund, a hawkish think tank created during the first cold war to turn up the heat on the former Soviet Union.
Flush with funding from the US and German governments, NATO, European Union, and Western weapons corporations, the German Marshall Fund has in the Trump era become a major home for neoconservative operatives.
The German Marshall Fund sponsors a neo-McCarthyite organization called the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which has worked to fuel the new cold war on Russia and China. Its slogan is, “Putin knocked. We answered.” And the outfit devotes an increasing amount of resources to attacking independent Western journalists who report critically on US foreign policy.
After leaving the German Marshall Fund, CLS senior advisor David Romley found cushy positions at other bellicose DC think tanks, including the neoconservative Hudson Institute and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), which was closely linked to the Obama administration and was used to fill his State Department and Pentagon with experienced hawks.
But Feierstein and Romely are by no means the only powerful figures involved with CLS Strategies. The PR firm is also deeply tied to the Washington juggernaut the Atlantic Council, NATO’s de facto think tank.
This is ironic, given that Facebook — which took down the CLS fake news ring on its platform — is itself a major financial sponsor of the Atlantic Council. Other donors to the think tank include the governments of the United States, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates, NATO, and the European Union, along with corporate arms manufacturers and fossil fuel companies.
Before rebranding as CLS Strategies in 2014, the PR firm was called Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates. The S in CLS comes from its co-founder Peter Schechter.
Schechter is one of the most influential operatives in Washington, DC working on Latin America related issues, and has extensive experience representing powerful right-wing heads of state.
In 2013, Schechter was the founding director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center, which has pushed a hawkish line against the leftist governments in the region, advancing the interests of right-wing regimes and pushing neoliberal economic policies.
In 2017, Schechter left the Atlantic Council to found Altamar, a political communications consulting firm that has been hired by Colombia’s former right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos and Peru’s former neoliberal President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who was forced to resign during impeachment proceedings over major corruption charges.
As The Grayzone contributor Alexander Rubinstein reported, Schechter went on to co-found a DC restaurant in 2019, called Immigrant Food. Located blocks from the White House, Immigrant Food sought to capitalize on liberal opposition to President Donald Trump and his xenophobic rhetoric.
CLS Strategies and neoconservative Democratic Party operatives
Given CLS Strategies’ extensive work with right-wing Latin American leaders, it might seem as though the influential PR firm would be affiliated with the Republican Party, a traditional bastion of antipathy toward socialist governments across the Global South. But in reality it emerged from the heart of the Democratic Party.
Like Mark Feierstein and Peter Schechter, fellow CLS Strategies co-founder Robert “Bob” Chlopak has deep ties to the Democratic Party. Before creating the PR firm in the 1990s, Chlopak served as the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the deputy director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where he boasts on his CLS profile that “he recruited candidates, mobilized grassroots support and raised campaign funds for tight races in helping to elect a Democratic majority.”
A review of individual contributions by CLS Strategies employees filed with the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows that the majority of candidates supported are mainstream Democrats.
Joe Biden is particularly popular among CLS Strategies staff. Co-founder Robert Chlopak donated $1,000 to Biden in March 2020, while fellow co-founder Peter Schechter donated the maximum $2,800 to Biden in April.
Schechter has poured tens of thousands of dollars into supporting the campaigns of right-wing Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Chlopak, too, has donated many thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates over the years. He is a Democratic Party stalwart.
While lobbying for right-wing leaders in Bolivia, Honduras, and Mexico, CLS Latin America specialist Juan Cortiñas has donated to both Democrats and Cuban-American Republicans like Marco Rubio and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
If Joe Biden wins the 2020 presidential election, CLS senior advisor Mark Feierstein is likely to play a major role in the Democratic administration’s Latin America policy.
As one organ of the blob of Beltway think tanks and contractors that prop up and profit from the bipartisan foreign policy consensus, CLS Strategies is hardly unique in its willingness to lobby for right-wing Latin American regimes, or in its zeal to destroy their leftist competitors.
Washington, DC is a base for propaganda schemes like the kind that CLS ran. But it is rare that they are exposed to the public in such a clear and comprehensive fashion.
The scandal only further illustrates the extent to which Washington sets the standard for the online disinformation campaigns it accuses its own enemies of deploying.
Source: The Gray Zone
George Soros had some tough words for Donald Trump, calling him “dangerous” and willing to do “anything to stay in power.” But what about the financier himself, who operates across the globe outside of democratic due process?
The life of the billionaire financier seems to be one long battle against the purported enemies of the ‘open society’ – a controversial concept popularized by Karl Popper, a Vienna-born philosopher who wrote ‘The Open Society and Its Enemies’. Chief among his sworn adversaries is Trump, whose ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign calls for, among other things, a wall constructed on the US-Mexico border and less reliance on foreign factory workers.
On the occasion of his 90th birthday this week, Soros sat down for an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in which he expressed some strident views about the US president.
“I’m confident that Trump will turn out to be a transitory phenomenon, hopefully ending in November,” Soros remarked. “But he remains very dangerous. He’s fighting for his life and he’ll do anything to stay in power, because he’s violated the Constitution in many different ways and if he loses the presidency, he will be held accountable.”
For anyone who has followed the trajectory of Soros’s lengthy career, those remarks will probably come across as self-serving and hypocritical. After all, the man who famously broke the Bank of England back in his relative youth does not feel constrained by any sort of democratic procedure, nor is he controlled by a system of checks and balances, as are elected officials. Instead, Soros, by virtue of his magnificent wealth alone, it seems, is able to create the world of his dreams – and not a single person has ever cast a vote on whether they support his grand plans or not.
Take the latest protests to hit the United States, for example, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer. At an extremely sensitive juncture in American history, when racial tensions were at breaking point, Soros decided this was the perfect time to donate almost a quarter of a billion dollars to several racial justice groups, including Black Lives Matter (BLM), which is responsible for violent protests in cities across the nation.
Soros said he was moved to act because this was the first time in the US “that a large majority of the population, other than black people, recognizes that there is systemic discrimination against blacks that can be traced back to slavery.”
Soros is wrong, however – or at least needs to be challenged on his perceptions. Many Americans, including blacks, reject the notion that the country is gripped by “systemic discrimination” and racism. While there are certainly no shortage of bigots in the US, as there are everywhere, blacks and whites have been working together for many decades to achieve racial equality. And let’s face it: no American alive today has been a slave owner, just as no black person today has ever been a slave. So, why is Soros dragging up the institution of slavery, which came to an end almost 200 years ago, following the deadliest war in America’s history?
But donating money to controversial activist groups is child’s play compared to reshaping the American justice system. Yes, Soros has been quietly dabbling in that project as well. In 2016, it was reported that he’d donated over $3 million to progressive black and Hispanic candidates for district attorney campaigns. One beneficiary of that largesse is Kim Gardner, who is now the circuit attorney for St. Louis, Missouri.
To understand what sort of ‘progressive’ Soros prefers, Gardner pressed charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a married couple who responded to BLM protesters trespassing onto their property and making threatening gestures by brandishing firearms. The couple said they exerted their Second Amendment right to “bear arms” out of fear for their lives. Yet, according to Soros-backed Gardner, they were out of bounds. This all seems to be part of a very weird trend happening in Democrat-controlled cities and states, many of which have received Soros money: at the same time that violent protesters are allowed to ransack urban centers, calls are going out to “defund the police,” while average citizens are losing the right to protect themselves from harm.
And Soros’s influence is not limited to the US. Not by a long shot. In 2018, he was audacious enough and, more importantly, rich enough, to promote his plans for “saving” the European Union from an “existential crisis.” This centered on three controversial ideas: providing monetary assistance to countries in Africa and other developing nations, including through migration to the EU; addressing the question of austerity, which is ironic, considering that Europeans are being asked to do more for foreigners while expecting to receive less assistance from their governments; and finally, Brexit, which Soros says is a bad idea for the United Kingdom.
Now, whether or not one agrees or disagrees with Soros on these issues, and many others, is not the point (for a more sympathetic view of Mr Soros, read this). The point is that one immensely wealthy man, who holds no public office, and is not accountable to voters, has managed to exert unfathomable influence over the political landscape of many nations. For anyone who doubts that assertion, consider the 177-page pamphlet published by Open Society, entitled ‘Reliable Allies in the European Parliament (2014–2019).’ In it, 226 EU MEPs are listed and labeled according to their political orientation and views.
According to the publication, “The presence of an MEP in this mapping indicates that they are likely to support Open Society’s work. Considering there are 751 members of the European Parliament, ‘reliable allies’ of George Soros hold at least one-third of seats.” That revelation becomes even more problematic when it’s remembered that Soros donated $18 billion to Open Society Foundations in 2017, making it one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world.
While some may argue that Soros has done many great things with his money, there are many people who disagree. Yet they have no zero say in the matter, simply because they don't possess a war chest from which to promote their views, however haphazard they may be.
In the case of Donald Trump, for example, the American people will be able to vote in November, if they want him to remain in the White House for another four years. Yet, although Soros’s contribution to the world of politics is arguably no less than Trump’s, and possibly more, nobody is permitted to vote on his controversial agendas. If Soros were genuinely concerned about the people, as he proclaims, he would allow more democracy to shine in his gold-plated world. The fact that he does not says everything we need to know.
Court hearings in Britain over the US administration’s extradition case against Julian Assange begin in earnest next week. The decade-long saga that brought us to this point should appall anyone who cares about our increasingly fragile freedoms.
A journalist and publisher has been deprived of his liberty for 10 years. According to UN experts, he has been arbitrarily detained and tortured for much of that time through intense physical confinement and endless psychological pressure.
He has been bugged and spied on by the CIA during his time in political asylum, in Ecuador’s London embassy, in ways that violated his most fundamental legal rights.
The judge overseeing his hearings has a serious conflict of interest – with her family embedded in the UK security services – that she did not declare and which should have required her to recuse herself from the case.
All indicators are that Assange will be extradited to the US to face a rigged grand jury trial meant to ensure he sees out his days in a maximum-security prison, serving a sentence of up to 175 years.
None of this happened in some Third-World, tinpot dictatorship. It happened right under our noses, in a major western capital, and in a state that claims to protect the rights of a free press. It happened not in the blink of an eye but in slow motion – day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
And once we strip out a sophisticated campaign of character assassination against Assange by western governments and a compliant media, the sole justification for this relentless attack on press freedom is that a 49-year-old man published documents exposing US war crimes. That is the reason – and the only reason – that the US is seeking his extradition and why he has been languishing in what amounts to solitary confinement in Belmarsh high-security prison during the Covid-19 pandemic. His lawyers’ appeals for bail have been refused.
Severed head on a pike
While the press corps abandoned Assange a decade ago, echoing official talking points that pilloried him over toilet hygiene and his treatment of his cat, Assange is today exactly where he originally predicted he would be if western governments got their way.
What awaits him is rendition to the US so he can be locked out of sight for the rest of his life.
There were two goals the US and UK set out to achieve through the visible persecution, confinement and torture of Assange.
First, he and WikiLeaks, the transparency organization he co-founded, needed to be disabled. Engaging with WikiLeaks had to be made too risky to contemplate for potential whistleblowers. That is why Chelsea Manning – the US soldier who passed on documents relating to US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan for which Assange now faces extradition – was similarly subjected to harsh imprisonment. She later faced punitive daily fines while in jail to pressure her into testifying against Assange.
The aim has been to discredit WikiLeaks and similar organizations and stop them from being able to publish more revelatory documents – of the kind that show western governments are not the “good guys” managing world affairs for the benefit of mankind, but are in fact highly militarized, global bullies advancing the same ruthless colonial policies of war, destruction and pillage they always pursued.
And second, Assange had to be made to suffer horribly and in public – to be made an example of – to deter other journalists from ever considering following in his footsteps.
He is the modern equivalent of a severed head on a pike displayed at the city gates.
The very obvious fact – confirmed by the media coverage of his case – is that this strategy, advanced chiefly by the US and UK (with Sweden playing a lesser role), has been wildly successful. Most corporate media journalists are still enthusiastically colluding in the vilification of Assange – mainly at this stage by ignoring his awful plight.
Story hiding in plain sight
When he hurried into Ecuador’s embassy back in 2012, seeking political asylum, journalists from every corporate media outlet ridiculed his claim – now, of course, fully vindicated – that he was evading US efforts to extradite him and lock him away for good. The media continued with their mockery even as evidence mounted that a grand jury had been secretly convened to draw up espionage charges against him and that it was located in the eastern district of Virginia, where the major US security and intelligence services are headquartered. Any jury there is dominated by US security personnel and their families. His hope of a fair trial was nonexistent.
Instead we have endured eight years of misdirection by the corporate media and its willing complicity in his character assassination, which has laid the ground for the current public indifference to Assange’s extradition and widespread ignorance of its horrendous implications.
Corporate journalists have accepted, entirely at face value, a series of rationalizations for why the interests of justice have been served by locking Assange away indefinitely – even before his extradition – and trampling his most basic legal rights. The other side of the story – Assange’s, the story hiding in plain sight – has invariably been missing from the coverage, whether it has been CNN, the New York Times, the BBC or the Guardian.
From Sweden to Clinton
First, it was claimed that Assange had fled questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden, even though it was the Swedish authorities who allowed him to leave; even though the original Swedish prosecutor, Eva Finne, dismissed the investigation against him, saying “There is no suspicion of any crime whatsoever”, before it was picked up by a different prosecutor for barely concealed, politicized reasons; and even though Assange later invited Swedish prosecutors to question him where he was (in the embassy), an option they regularly agreed to in other cases but resolutely refused in his.
It was not just that none of these points was ever provided as context for the Sweden story by the corporate media. Or that much else in Assange’s favor was simply ignored, such as tampered evidence in the case of one of the two women who alleged sexual assault and the refusal of the other to sign the rape statement drawn up for her by police.
The story was also grossly and continuously misreported as relating to “rape charges” when Assange was wanted simply for questioning.
No charges were ever laid against him because the second Swedish prosecutor, Marianne Ny – and her British counterparts, including Sir Keir Starmer, then head of the prosecution service and now leader of the Labour party – seemingly wished to avoid testing the credibility of their allegations by actually questioning Assange. Leaving him to rot in a small room in the embassy served their purposes much better.
When the Sweden case fizzled out – when it became clear that the original prosecutor had been right to conclude that there was no evidence to justify further questioning, let alone charges – the political and media class shifted tack.
Suddenly Assange’s confinement was implicitly justified for entirely different, political reasons – because he had supposedly aided Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign in 2016 by publishing emails, allegedly “hacked” by Russia, from the Democratic party’s servers. The content of those emails, obscured in the coverage at the time and largely forgotten now, revealed corruption by Hillary Clinton’s camp and efforts to sabotage the party’s primaries to undermine her rival for the presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders.
Guardian fabricates a smear
Those on the authoritarian right have shown little concern over Assange’s lengthy confinement in the embassy, and later jailing in Belmarsh, for his exposure of US war crimes, which is why little effort has been expended on winning them over. The demonization campaign against Assange has focused instead on issues that are likely to trigger liberals and the left, who might otherwise have qualms about jettisoning the First Amendment and locking people up for doing journalism.
Just as the Swedish allegations, despite their non-investigation, tapped into the worst kind of kneejerk identity politics on the left, the “hacked” emails story was designed to alienate the Democratic party base. Extraordinarily, the claim of Russian hacking persists even though years later – and after a major “Russiagate” inquiry by Robert Mueller – it still cannot be stood up with any actual evidence. In fact, some of those closest to the matter, such as former UK ambassador Craig Murray, have insisted all along that the emails were not hacked by Russia but were leaked by a disenchanted Democratic party insider.
An even more important point, however, is that a transparency organization like WikiLeaks had no choice, after it was handed those documents, but to expose abuses by the Democratic party – whoever was the source.
The reason that Assange and WikiLeaks became entwined in the Russiagate fiasco – which wasted the energies of Democratic party supporters on a campaign against Trump that actually strengthened rather than weakened him – was because of the credulous coverage, once again, of the issue by almost the entire corporate media. Liberal outlets like the Guardian newspaper even went so far as to openly fabricate a story – in which it falsely reported that a Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and unnamed “Russians” secretly visited Assange in the embassy – without repercussion or retraction.
Assange’s torture ignored
All of this made possible what has happened since. After the Swedish case evaporated and there were no reasonable grounds left for not letting Assange walk free from the embassy, the media suddenly decided in chorus that a technical bail violation was grounds enough for his continuing confinement in the embassy – or, better still, his arrest and jailing.
That breach of bail, of course, related to Assange’s decision to seek asylum in the embassy, based on a correct assessment that the US planned to demand his extradition and imprisonment.
None of these well-paid journalists seemed to remember that, in British law, failure to meet bail conditions is permitted if there is “reasonable cause” – and fleeing political persecution is very obviously just such a reasonable cause.
Similarly, the media willfully ignored the conclusions of a report by Nils Melzer, a Swiss scholar of international law and the United Nations’ expert on torture, that the UK, US and Sweden had not only denied Assange his basic legal rights but had colluded in subjecting him to years of psychological torture – a form of torture, Melzer has pointed out, that was refined by the Nazis because it was found to be crueller and more effective at breaking victims than physical torture.
Assange has been blighted by deteriorating health and cognitive decline as a result, and has lost significant weight. None of that has been deemed worthy by the corporate media of more than a passing mention – specifically when Assange’s poor health made him incapable of attending a court hearing.
Instead Melzer’s repeated warnings about the abusive treatment of Assange and its effects on him have fallen on deaf ears. The media has simply ignored Melzer’s findings, as though they were never published, that Assange has been, and is being, tortured. We need only pause and imagine how much coverage Melzer’s report would have received had it concerned the treatment of a dissident in an official enemy state like Russia or China.
A power-worshipping media
Last year British police, in coordination with an Ecuador now led by a president, Lenin Moreno, who craved closer ties with Washington, stormed the embassy to drag Assange out and lock him up in Belmarsh prison. In their coverage of these events, journalists again played dumb.
They had spent years first professing the need to “believe women” in the Assange case, even if it meant ignoring evidence, and then proclaiming the sanctity of bail conditions, even if they were used simply as a pretext for political persecution. Now that was all swept aside in an instant. Suddenly Assange’s nine years of confinement over a nonexistent sexual assault investigation and a minor bail infraction were narratively replaced by an espionage case. And the media lined up against him once again.
A decade ago the idea that Assange could be extradited to the US and locked up for the rest of his life, his journalism recast as “espionage”, was mocked as so improbable, so outrageously unlawful that no “mainstream” journalist was prepared to countenance it as the genuine reason for his seeking asylum in the embassy.
It was derided as a figment of the fevered, paranoid imaginations of Assange and his supporters, and as a self-serving cover for him to avoid facing the investigation in Sweden.
But when British police invaded the embassy in April last year and arrested him for extradition to the US on precisely the espionage charges Assange had always warned were going to be used against him, journalists reported these developments as though they were oblivious to this backstory. The media erased this context not least because it would have made them look like willing dupes of US propaganda, like apologists for US exceptionalism, and because it would have proved Assange right once more. It would have demonstrated that he is the real journalist, in contrast to their pacified, complacent, power-worshipping corporate journalism.
The death of journalism
Right now every journalist in the world ought to be up in arms, protesting at the abuses Assange is suffering, and has suffered, and the fate he will endure if extradition is approved. They should be protesting on front pages and in TV news shows the endless and blatant abuses of legal process at Assange’s hearings in the British courts, including the gross conflict of interest of Lady Emma Arbuthnot, the judge presiding over his case.
They should be in uproar at the surveillance the CIA illegally arranged inside the Ecuadorian embassy while Assange was confined there, nullifying the already dishonest US case against him by violating his client-lawyer privilege. They should be expressing outrage at Washington’s maneuvers, accorded a thin veneer of due process by the British courts, designed to extradite him on espionage charges for doing work that lies at the very heart of what journalism claims to be – holding the powerful to account.
Journalists do not need to care about Assange or like him. They have to speak out in protest because approval of his extradition will mark the official death of journalism. It will mean that any journalist in the world who unearths embarrassing truths about the US, who discovers its darkest secrets, will need to keep quiet or risk being jailed for the rest of their lives.
That ought to terrify every journalist. But it has had no such effect.
Careers and status, not truth
The vast majority of western journalists, of course, never uncover one significant secret from the centers of power in their entire professional careers – even those ostensibly monitoring those power centers. These journalists repackage press releases and lobby briefings, they tap sources inside government who use them as a conduit to the large audiences they command, and they relay gossip and sniping from inside the corridors of power.
That is the reality of access journalism that constitutes 99 per cent of what we call political news.
Nonetheless, Assange’s abandonment by journalists – the complete lack of solidarity as one of their number is persecuted as flagrantly as dissidents once sent to the gulags – should depress us. It means not only that journalists have abandoned any pretense that they do real journalism, but that they have also renounced the aspiration that it be done by anyone at all.
It means that corporate journalists are ready to be viewed with even greater disdain by their audiences than is already the case. Because through their complicity and silence, they have sided with governments to ensure that anyone who truly holds power to account, like Assange, will end up behind bars. Their own freedom brands them as a captured elite – irrefutable evidence that they serve power, they do not confront it.
The only conclusion to be drawn is that corporate journalists care less about the truth than they do about their careers, their salaries, their status, and their access to the rich and powerful. As Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky explained long ago in their book Manufacturing Consent, journalists join a media class after lengthy education and training processes designed to weed out those not reliably in sympathy with the ideological interests of their corporate employers.
A sacrificial offering
Briefly, Assange raised the stakes for all journalists by renouncing their god – “access” – and their modus operandi of revealing occasional glimpses of very partial truths offered up by “friendly”, and invariably anonymous, sources who use the media to settle scores with rivals in the centers of power.
Instead, through whistleblowers, Assange rooted out the unguarded, unvarnished, full-spectrum truth whose exposure helped no one in power – only us, the public, as we tried to understand what was being done, and had been done, in our names. For the first time, we could see just how ugly, and often criminal, the behavior of our leaders was.
Assange did not just expose the political class, he exposed the media class too – for their feebleness, for their hypocrisy, for their dependence on the centers of power, for their inability to criticize a corporate system in which they were embedded.
Few of them can forgive Assange that crime. Which is why they will be there cheering on his extradition, if only through their silence. A few liberal writers will wait till it is too late for Assange, till he has been packaged up for rendition, to voice halfhearted, mealy-mouthed or agonized columns arguing that, unpleasant as Assange supposedly is, he did not deserve the treatment the US has in store for him.
But that will be far too little, far too late. Assange needed solidarity from journalists and their media organizations long ago, as well as full-throated denunciations of his oppressors. He and WikiLeaks were on the front line of a war to remake journalism, to rebuild it as a true check on the runaway power of our governments. Journalists had a chance to join him in that struggle. Instead they fled the battlefield, leaving him as a sacrificial offering to their corporate masters.