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Lies, damned lies, and newspaper reporting… (Op-Ed)

Published time: February 02, 2013 11:47
Reuters / Paul Hackett

Last week the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intel­li­gence presen­ted this year’s award to Dr Tom Fin­gar at a cere­mony jointly hos­ted by the pres­ti­gi­ous Oxford Union Soci­ety.

Dr Fin­gar, cur­rently a vis­it­ing lec­turer at Oxford, had in 2007 co-ordinated the pro­duc­tion of the US National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate — the com­bined ana­lysis of all 16 of America’s intel­li­gence agen­cies — which assessed that the Ira­nian nuc­lear weapon­isa­tion pro­gramme had ceased in 2003.  This con­sidered and author­it­at­ive Estim­ate dir­ectly thwarted the 2008 US drive towards war against Iran, and has been reaf­firmed every year since then.

By the very fact of doing his job of provid­ing dis­pas­sion­ate and object­ive assess­ments and res­ist­ing any pres­sure to politi­cise the intel­li­gence (à la Down­ing Street Memo), Dr Fingar’s work is out­stand­ing and he is the win­ner of Sam Adams Award, 2012.  This may say some­thing about the par­lous state of our intel­li­gence agen­cies gen­er­ally, but don’t get me star­ted on that…

Any­way, as I said, the award cere­mony was co-hosted by the Oxford Union Soci­ety last week, and many Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates atten­ded, often trav­el­ling long dis­tances to do so.  Former win­ners were asked to speak at the cere­mony, such as FBI Coleen Row­ley, GCHQ Kath­er­ine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and former UK Ambas­sador Craig Mur­ray.  Other asso­ci­ates, includ­ing CIA Ray McGov­ern, dip­lo­mats Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling and myself also said a few words.  As former insiders and whis­tleblowers, we recog­nised the vitally import­ant work that Dr Fin­gar had done and all spoke about the import­ance of integ­rity in intelligence.

One other pre­vi­ous win­ner of the Sam Adams Award was also invited to speak — Julian Assange of Wikileaks.  He spoke elo­quently about the need for integ­rity and was gra­cious in prais­ing the work of Dr Fingar.

All the national and inter­na­tional media were invited to attend what was an his­toric gath­er­ing of inter­na­tional whis­lteblowers and cover an award given to someone who, by doing their job with integ­rity, pre­ven­ted yet fur­ther ruin­ous war and blood­shed in the Middle East.

Few atten­ded, still fewer repor­ted on the event, and the prom­ised live stream­ing on You­tube was blocked by shad­owy powers at the very last minute — an irony con­sid­er­ing the Oxford Union is renowned as a free speech society.

But worse was to come.  The next day The Guard­ian news­pa­per, which his­tor­ic­ally fell out with Wikileaks, pub­lished a myopic hit-piece about the event. No men­tion of all the whis­tleblowers who atten­ded and what they said, no men­tion of the award to Dr Fin­gar, no men­tion of the fact that his work saved the Ira­nian people from need­less war.

Oh no, the entire piece focused on the taw­dry alleg­a­tions eman­at­ing from Sweden about Julian Assange’s extra­di­tion case.  Dis­count­ing the 450 stu­dents who applauded all the speeches, dis­count­ing all the ser­i­ous points raised by Julian Assange dur­ing his present­a­tion, and dis­count­ing the speeches of all the other inter­na­tion­ally renowned whis­tleblowers present that even­ing, The Guardian’s reporter, Amelia Hill, focused on the small demo out­side the event and the only three attendees she could appar­ently find to cri­ti­cise the fact that a plat­form, any plat­form, had been given to Assange from his polit­ical asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy.

So this is where we arrive at the deep, really deep, hypo­crisy of the even­ing.  Amelia Hill is, I’m assum­ing,  the same Guard­ian journ­al­ist who was threatened in 2011 with pro­sec­u­tion under the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  She had allegedly been receiv­ing leaks from the Met­ro­pol­itan Police about the on-going invest­ig­a­tion into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

At the time Fleet Street was up in arms — how dare the police threaten one of their own with pro­sec­u­tion under the OSA for expos­ing insti­tu­tional cor­rup­tion? Shades of the Shayler case were used in her defence. As I wrote at the time, it’s a shame the UK media could not have been more con­sist­ently robust in con­demning the chilling effects of the OSA on the free-flow of inform­a­tion and pro­tect all the Poor Bloody Whis­tleblowers, and not just come out fight­ing when it is one of their own being threatened.  Such is the way of the world.…

But really, Ms Hill — if you are indeed the same reporter who was threatened with pro­sec­u­tion in 2011 under the OSA — exam­ine your conscience.

How can you write a hit-piece focus­ing purely on Assange — a man who has designed a pub­lish­ing sys­tem to pro­tect poten­tial whis­tleblowers from pre­cisely such dra­conian secrecy laws as you were hyper­bol­ic­ally threatened with? And how could you, at the same time, air­brush out of his­tory the testi­mony of so many whis­tleblowers gathered together, many of whom have indeed been arres­ted and have faced pro­sec­u­tion under the terms of the OSA or US secrecy legislation?

Have you no shame?  You know how fright­en­ing it is to be faced with such a prosecution.

Your hypo­crisy is breath-taking.

The offence was com­poun­ded when the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates all wrote a let­ter to The Guard­ian to set the record straight. The ori­ginal let­ter is repro­duced below, and this is what was pub­lished.  Of course, The Guard­ian has a per­fect right under its Terms and Con­di­tions to edit the let­ter, but I would like every­one to see how this can be used and abused.

And the old media won­ders why it is in decline?

Let­ter to The Guard­ian, 29 Janu­ary 2013:

Dear Sir

With regard to the 24 Janu­ary art­icle in The Guard­ian entitled “Julian Assange Finds No Allies and Tough Quer­ies in Oxford Uni­ver­sity Talk,” we ques­tion whether the newspaper’s reporter was actu­ally present at the event, since the account con­tains so many false and mis­lead­ing statements.

If The Guard­ian could “find no allies” of Mr. Assange, it did not look very hard! They could be found among the appre­ci­at­ive audi­ence of the packed Oxford Union Debate Hall, and — in case you missed us — in the group seated right at the front of the Hall: the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intelligence.

Many in our group — which, you might be inter­ested to know co-sponsored the event with Oxford Union — had traveled con­sid­er­able dis­tances at our own expense to con­fer the 10th annual Sam Adams award to Dr. Thomas Fin­gar for his work on over­see­ing the 2007 National Intel­li­gence Estim­ate that revealed the lack of an Ira­nian nuc­lear weapon­iz­a­tion program.

Many of us spoke in turn about the need for integ­rity in intel­li­gence, describ­ing the ter­rible eth­ical dilemma that con­fronts gov­ern­ment employ­ees who wit­ness illegal activ­ity includ­ing ser­i­ous threats to pub­lic safety and fraud, waste and abuse.

But none of this made it into what was sup­posed to pass for a news art­icle; neither did any aspect of the accept­ance speech delivered by Dr. Fin­gar. Also, why did The Guard­ian fail to provide even one sali­ent quote from Mr Assange’s sub­stan­tial twenty-minute address?

By cen­sor­ing the con­tri­bu­tions of the Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates and the speeches by Dr. Fin­gar and Mr. Assange, and by focus­ing exclus­ively on taw­dry and unproven alleg­a­tions against Mr. Assange, rather than on the import­ance of expos­ing war crimes and main­tain­ing integ­rity in intel­li­gence pro­cesses, The Guard­ian has suc­ceeded in dimin­ish­ing none but itself.

Sin­cerely,

The Sam Adams Asso­ci­ates for Integ­rity in Intelligence:

Ann Wright (retired Army Col­onel and For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), Ray McGov­ern (retired CIA ana­lyst), Eliza­beth Mur­ray (retired CIA ana­lyst), Coleen Row­ley (retired FBI agent), Annie Machon (former MI5 intel­li­gence officer), Thomas Drake (former NSA offi­cial), Craig Mur­ray (former Brit­ish Ambas­sador), David MacMi­chael (retired CIA ana­lyst), Brady Kiesling (former For­eign Ser­vice Officer of US State Depart­ment), and Todd Pierce (retired U.S. Army Major, Judge Advoc­ate, Guantanamo Defense Counsel).

­Annie Machon

­Annie Machon is a former intelligence officer for MI5, the UK Security Service, who resigned in 1996 to blow the whistle on the spies' incompetence and crimes. Drawing on her varied experiences, she is now a media pundit, author, journalist, international tour and event organiser, political campaigner, and PR consultant.

The article was first published at anniemachon.ch