by Lissa Johnson New Matilda edited by O Society Mar 21, 2019
In the third of her special investigative series on Julian Assange, clinical psychologist Lissa Johnson sheds a little more light on the ways the world’s most consistently dishonest state co-opted so many otherwise intelligent people into shooting the messenger.
Julian Assange is in his ninth year of UN-declared arbitrary detention, now under effective solitary confinement, with his health failing. He faces extradition to the United States and prosecution for journalism should he step outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Rally organiser James Cogan has described Assange’s persecution as the “spearhead of a global offensive against freedom of speech and… censorship of oppositional voices on the internet.” Consistent with this, when he was CIA director Mike Pompeo pledged to pursue, with “great vigour,” “small” media outlets in Wikileaks’ wake.
The rallies in Sydney and Melbourne will demand that the silence and collaboration of the Australian government in Assange’s persecution must end. Terry Hicks said of the rallies, “the fight to gain Julian’s freedom depends on ordinary people speaking out.”
Weapons for Messing with Democracy
While Julian Assange’s political asylum hangs in the balance, rather than speaking out, some ordinary people on the left and in the so called liberal Resistance™ march in lock step behind the Trump administration as it wages its repressive crackdown on journalism via Wikileaks. Not only are some falling in line, they lead the charge, ‘liberal’ media outlets such as The Guardian chief among them. It is an authoritarian dream notes Glenn Greenwald.
Should the Trump administration’s Justice Department (DoJ) succeed in prosecuting Assange, journalism itself stands to be criminalised. So say legal minds left and right, from current and former senior counsel for The New York Times to former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, to Barack Obama’s DoJ.
On notice beside journalism is any public criticism of the corporate state, such as by activists, bloggers, academics or users of social media, writes Chris Hedges.
Given all of this, how have defenders of freedom, such as liberals, leftists and other equality-minded folk, been co-opted into such a cross-border, extraterritorial censorship crusade? Why are they supporting one of the most consequential totalitarian offensives on the watch of their sworn enemy, Donald Trump, empowering his administration to silence them?
This state of affairs even surpasses the goals of the Cyber Counter-intelligence branch of the US Defence Department (DoD), outlined in a 2008 document, to destroy the “trust” at Wikileaks’ “centre of gravity”. Not only is trust in Wikileaks under attack, that trust is being co-opted from Wikileaks, with its record of 100 per cent accuracy, by US intelligence agencies, with their long history of lies.
Specifically, in order to justify persecuting Assange from the left, supporters of the offensive must take US intelligence agencies at their word, accepting on faith intelligence ‘assessments’ that Wikileaks is in league with Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
Thus far, such ‘assessments’ are all that nearly two years of Mueller’s investigation has mustered regarding alleged collusion between Trump, Russia and Wikileaks.
Even including Michael Cohen’s recent testimony on Roger Stone, which is the latest empty bombshell in a long line of 50+ bombshells to fizzle before, no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion is found, with or without Wikileaks.
On making sense of the ‘assessments’ offered by intelligence agencies to support Russiagate, veteran investigative journalist and intelligence reporter Seymour Hersh explains within “the intel community,” the term “assessment”, and even an assessment of “high confidence effectively means they don’t know.”
Moreover, the intelligence agencies expecting us to take their word on ties between Wikileaks and Russia are the same intelligence agencies that lied us into the Iraq War, using false claims of ties between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.
In fact, Hersh recalls that the last time he encountered a national security ‘assessment’ of ‘high confidence’ was the ‘assessment’ that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).
Let’s face it, the US national security state has been lying since the day dot, about torture, mass surveillance, spying on congress, cocaine trafficking, incubator babies, the Vietnam War and overthrowing the government of Chile. In fact, overthrowing governments galore.
But this time they are telling the truth. Trust them. They swear. Never mind that they are in the business of the clandestine operation. Which is defined as an operation that “goes unnoticed”. An operation, for instance, to criminalise journalism and crush dissent that goes unnoticed under cover of ‘defending democracy.’
Sure, most of the social media material blamed for Trump’s election was shown after the election, 90 per cent was not even election related, and all of it only accounted for between .004 and .00008 of what was seen during the election campaign.
But Robert Mueller seems to take it all very seriously. And Mueller wants to take down Trump. So he must be all right.
Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence (GRU) officers last year looked like a proper, formal, legal 29-page document with lots of details alleging that Russian officers had “hacked into the computer networks of the… Democratic National Committee (DNC)” and released the hacked documents to “Organisation 1”, now recognised as Wikileaks.
The mainstream media certainly treated the indictments (a fancy word for ‘accusations’) as convictions in a court of law. They didn’t even feel the need to report the assessment of former NSA technical director William Binney, who says that if the DNC emails had been hacked, as per Mueller’s indictments, the NSA would know about it.
The NSA would possess records of the hack, including where the hack came from, says Binney, stressing “if it were the Russians, NSA would have a trace route to them and not equivocate on who did it.” In other words, all Mueller would need to do is ask the NSA. No need for all this guesswork and the chaotic jigsaw of meetings and phone calls and ‘assessments’ by intelligence agencies, fuelling an incessant media barrage of beginning-of-the-end breaking-news bombshells night after night.
The Deputy Attorney General, however, didn’t bother with such details at his press conference on the GRU indictments, so neither did the mainstream media. You can watch the press conference here.
You can also watch an earlier performance by Robert Mueller here, delivering another earnest message from US intelligence agencies, equally cleansed of dissenting views. In 2003 Mueller testified before Congress saying, “Baghdad has failed to disarm its weapons of mass destruction, wilfully attempting to evade and deceive the international community. Our particular concern is that Saddam Hussein may supply terrorists with biological, chemical or radiological material.”
Trust us. We’re the CIA.
“Hi! I’m the CIA,” quips a meme since removed from Twitter, “You may remember me from such films as ‘WMDs in Iraq’, ‘We Don’t Know How This Cocaine Is Getting Here’, and ‘Look! It’s the Russians!’”
When the wisdom of trusting US intelligence agencies is this easy to sum up, why would anyone without a clinical case of retrograde amnesia take intelligence agencies’ word for anything? Why would “many ‘liberals’ who cut their teeth on scepticism about the Cold War… now insist that we must all accept whatever the US intelligence community feeds us”?
Even children understand the logic of distrusting someone who has lied repeatedly in the past.
Before you say “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (which I shall come to), recall that the US national security establishment, with its long history of misleading the public, has been successfully misleading the public about Julian Assange since 2010. Successfully enough, as I explored in Part 2, for populations to tolerate Assange’s political imprisonment for journalism, in the form of arbitrary detention, for over eight years.
“Trust us” they said in 2010. Wikileaks is harming innocents. In reality, however, there is “not a single shred of evidence that any of [Wikileaks’] disclosures caused anyone harm” writes journalist and author Nozomi Hayase. Vice President Joe Biden even admitted as much in 2010, saying that Wikileaks’ releases had done “no substantive damage” other than to be “embarrassing”. The Western War on Terror, in contrast, has killed somewhere between 500,000 and 1.3 to 2 million people since 9/11.
“Trust us,” Assange has been charged with rape. The fact is that no charge has ever been brought against Julian Assange, and the women involved in the Swedish investigation did not accuse Assange of rape. In text messages, one of the women said that police had “made up” the accusations.
According to an official statement by Stockholm’s former Chief District Prosecutor and Director of the Stockholm Regional Prosecution Authority, the investigation was irregular from start to finish. Sweden itself sought to close the investigation, which was only ever a preliminary one, in 2013, by interviewing Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. The UK, however, did not agree.
“Trust us, though”, Assange is evading ‘British Justice.’ Not extradition to the US. He is free to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy at any time. And yet, in 2018m the US DoJ accidentally revealed that a sealed indictment containing secret charges does indeed await Julian Assange in the United States, confirming what Wikileaks has been saying for years.
“But trust us. THIS time. We’re telling the truth now. Honest. He’s a Russian agent. And a Putin apologist. And Donald Trump’s stooge. And a Kremlin puppet.
Donald Trump is all Julian Assange’s fault. It’s true.
Don’t let anyone tell you that Trump’s election had anything to do with the mass immiseration caused by decades of neoliberalism. No. Not at all. Rampant grinding poverty with no end in sight plays no part indriving demagoguery. Not a bit. Nor does it create mass disillusionment with mainstream political classes.
No. Trump’s election was all Russia’s doing. With Julian Assange’s help.
Because a working class abandoned by the political establishment, left and right, had nothing, whatsoever, to do with Trump’s ability to ride the crest of a wave of empty promises to workers all the way to the White House.
Nor did American families’ jaundice at sending their loved ones to war, returning home dead, wounded or with PTSD, discarded by the state. Just ignore this academic paper finding that that the Bush-Obama wars cost Hilary Clinton the White House.
The authors of that paper, academics with clearly too much time on their hands, got some idea into their heads about a ‘casualty gap’, which is an emerging divide ‘between communities whose young people are dying to defend the country, and those communities whose young people are not’.
The researchers think that just because there was a ‘meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump’ that the human cost of war has something to do with anything.
‘Had Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin… suffered even a modestly lower casualty rate, all three could have flipped from red to blue and sent Hillary Clinton to the White House,’ they say.
Which is obviously Russian disinformation. We will blacklist those academics and smear them as Russian agents. Right away.
Trump’s election also had nothing to do with the Democrats’ ‘pied piper’ strategy to elevate Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign. Nor their self-confessed sense of entitlement to rig the primaries and do a hatchet job on Bernie Sanders, who had the best chance of beating Trump.
Nor the $2 billion in free media exposure given to Trump by our loyal friends, the corporate media. (Which alone was more money, incidentally, than the total cost of the most expensive former US election campaigns in history.)
No, none of those things played any role in Trump’s election at all. Absolutely not. It’s all Assange’s fault. Along with Russia. (And maybe a little bit Jill Stein.)
Just keep telling yourself that.
Then you’ll be able to sleep at night when we arrest Assange and bring him back to the United States in chains. Nothing will gnaw at your conscience when we lock him up and throw away the key. For journalism. Factual journalism. We hate that stuff.
Besides, someone’s got to pay for Trump’s election, so it might as well be Julian Assange. We intelligence agencies are on your side. Really. We’re practically progressives these days. And we progressives need to stick together. Against Trump.
Sure, we have a long history of backing far right fascist dictators and death squads all over the world. But we’ve seen the light now. Honest. Just in time to take down Trump. What a happy coincidence.
All you have to do is trust us, and put all those other explanations for the 2016 election out of your mind. If you blame Julian Assange for everything, it gives you an easy punching bag for all your pent-up rage at the messed-up system that spewed out Donald Trump.
It’s much easier than contending with the ugly truths behind the 2016 election. Like your government’s just not that into you. As a wise man once said. It left you for the plutocrats years ago. The promise of American democracy was nice while it lasted, but it’s a corporatocracy now. Even a Princeton study said so.
Rather than digesting this sobering reality, blaming Assange is like blaming the friend who showed you the letters your spouse wrote to their billionaire lover, behind your back, planning their luxury retreats together, while they left you for dead.
It’s too ugly to believe. It’s easier to blame the friend. Shoot the messenger. As a coping strategy, it keeps painful realities at bay. For a while at least.
So go-on, just keep blaming him. We’ll take him out on your behalf. As a proxy for taking out Donald Trump. All we need you to do is stay quiet. Nice and quiet. Not a peep. While we close in on him. Leave everything to us.
Make sure you stay at home on Sunday March 3rd at 2pm. Do not, we repeat DO NOT go see journalist and film-maker John Pilger, or Professor Stuart Rees, speak at the Martin Place Amphitheatre this Sunday.
Our friends at the Guardian have kindly stopped publishing John Pilger’s work, thank goodness. He tells all kinds of unvarnished truths about war. It’s just not on. So we would hate you to realise that you can just rock up at Martin Place on Sunday and see him speak.
Because your minds are full of too much truth already. Thanks in part to Julian Assange. Truth is messy and difficult to pin down. You don’t have time for it. We’ll pre-digest everything for you and tell you what to think.
We just need to shut down Wikileaks first, and get control of a pesky unruly thing known as ‘the internet’. It’s full of outrageous upstarts who think they can go spreading facts and opinions. All on their own. Without our prior approval.
We have taken such pains to infiltrate the media with CIA personnel as ‘pundits’ (e.g. former CIA heads John Brennan at MSNBSC and Michael Hayden at CNN, and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper at CNN, plus about 11 others across CNN, NBC and CBS. It’s quite a media-intelligence coup.)
And we’ve got a CIA contractor who is also a Pentagon Board member in charge of The Washington Post. How’s that? He’s one of the richest men in history too. Not about to rock any predatory capitalist boats, that one.
Not to mention lots of obedient reporters and social media platforms willing to get in line with media-intelligence cut-outs ensuring that the ‘truth’ is exactly what we say it is. Like the Alliance for Securing Democracy and its Hamilton 68 Dashboard, the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative (which is British, but we’ve been joining forces), PropOrNot, the Digital Forensics Lab, a “merger of the national security state and Silicon Valley”, and NewsGuard.
I mean, here we are with all this media infiltration, and then a bunch of nobodies, with nothing but a laptop (and some of them illustrious and award-winning journalism careers, senior academic positions, or backgrounds in diplomacy, intelligence and politics), can just get online and provide commentary over which we have no control.
And we are expected to put up with it. It’s beyond the pale. How can we execute ‘strategic communication’ in that kind of intellectually open and free environment? We can’t.
Once upon a time you had to be a squillionare to get a public platform. We liked that. But then Wikileaks came along with its model of communally shared information. “Democratisation of knowledge” author Nazomi Hayase calls it. And we have never liked the communal sharing of anything.
Remember what we did to all those communally-minded indigenous people’s movements back in the day, after World War II? Those ordinary folk in colonised nations, seeking self-determination and social justice?
Those farmers and workers like in Vietnam and Korea who thought they could just create their own political communities and govern themselves? Like those nobodies on the internet who think they can create their own media communities and inform themselves?
We smeared them all as Russian-backed threats to democracy (it works every time) and crushed them. Slaughtered them in their villages where they slept and lived. Burned them alive in the millions with napalm. Waged dirty wars on their countries, based on lies.
Then we buried the history, as best we could. By the time the documents on the Korean war were declassified and Professor Bruce Cumings wrote about them, everyone had moved on. Plus the official narrative was so entrenched by then that the buried story didn’t stand a chance. It was old and musty and no-one cared.
Of course, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Elsberg messed with all that when it came to Vietnam. We hate whistleblowers. Which is another reason to go after Wikileaks. They protect whistleblowers from retribution. Which is very frustrating for us.
We tried to throw Elsberg in the slammer like we’re trying with Assange, unsuccessfully. But this time we’ve paved the psychological way with Russiagate, and a 10-year smear campaign. So we like our chances.
The point is, we will crush these independent media movements like we crushed those grassroots people’s movements back in the day, hiding behind a Russophobic smokescreen, then as now. It’s calledcounterinsurgency. We’ve been doing it for decades.
This is war. Make no mistake about it. It’s information war, against “information rebellions” on the internet “battlefield”, as a recent Senate Judiciary Committee heard.
One of our latest deployments in that war is a handy little, innocuous-looking, information-crushing tool called “NewsGuard”. It’s like a chastity belt, but for journalism. Any websites that stray from our anointed narratives get a great big “red”, to keep them out. Like Wikileaks. (Even though NewsGuard admits to Wikileaks’ record of 100 percent accuracy. Whatevs.)
The best part is, we’re in negotiations to force NewsGuard on everyone involuntarily for all their internet searches. Even when they’re using Facebook and Twitter. Especially when they’re using Facebook and Twitter. There’s way too much communal sharing of information going on there.
In fact, we’re partnering with Microsoft, which is integrating NewsGuard into its products whether the public likes it or not. And we’re working on the EU to roll NewsGuard out across Europe. It’s terribly exciting. We’ll stop people from reading what they want to read eventually, and ram our version of reality down their throats. You wait and see.
And once we criminalise journalism via Julian Assange, any independent media sites we can’t take out with NewsGuard we’ll go after legally. You can count on it. Just like Mike Pompeo said when he was CIA director, we will “pursue with great vigour” “small” media outlets along with Wikileaks. We can’t wait. We’re just getting started.
The point is, we need your help. We need you to dislike and detest Julian Assange, or least not care what happens to him, so that (a) you don’t blame us for the whole gigantic mess of Trump’s election and the imploding US/capitalist empire, and (b) we can shut down anyone like Assange who criticises us. Plus (c) we can get away with more plutocratic imperial stuff, like war, and state-corporate crime and corruption and that kind of thing.
It’s psychological operations 101. As this Psyops manual issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff says, ‘an adversary is more hurt by desertion than by slaughter’.
So trust us. Assange is the devil. Or at least he’s in league with the devil. Or maybe just the Kremlin. At the very least he’s a non-state hostile intelligence service. And the ABC called him “Putin’s bitch”. So it must be true.
Would we lie to you?” *
Next, I will examine the specific psychological vulnerabilities in the human information processing system that have been leveraged and exploited in order to co-opt trust from Wikileaks, with its record of 100% accuracy, to US intelligence agencies, with their long history of lies. How is this achieved?
In the process, I will inspect the mechanisms by which the psychological MOAB in project Russiagate works to turn reality on its head, rendering censorship a bastion of democracy, and fact-based journalism a menace to be overcome.
* Disclaimer: This dialogue is fictional. It does not claim to represent the actual utterances of any individuals.