Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war

 
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luke



Joined: 11 Feb 2007
Location: by the sea

PostPosted: Tue Feb 15, 2011 4:28 pm    Post subject: Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war Reply with quote

Defector admits to WMD lies that triggered Iraq war
• Man codenamed Curveball 'invented' tales of bioweapons
• Iraqi told lies to try to bring down Saddam Hussein regime
• Fabrications used by US as justification for invasion


The defector who convinced the White House that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme has admitted for the first time that he lied about his story, then watched in shock as it was used to justify the war.

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball by German and American intelligence officials who dealt with his claims, has told the Guardian that he fabricated tales of mobile bioweapons trucks and clandestine factories in an attempt to bring down the Saddam Hussein regime, from which he had fled in 1995.

"Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right," he said. "They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy."

The admission comes just after the eighth anniversary of Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations in which the then-US secretary of state relied heavily on lies that Janabi had told the German secret service, the BND. It also follows the release of former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld's memoirs, in which he admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction programme.

The careers of both men were seriously damaged by their use of Janabi's claims, which he now says could have been – and were – discredited well before Powell's landmark speech to the UN on 5 February 2003.

The former CIA chief in Europe Tyler Drumheller describes Janabi's admission as "fascinating", and said the emergence of the truth "makes me feel better". "I think there are still a number of people who still thought there was something in that. Even now," said Drumheller.

In the only other at length interview Janabi has given he denied all knowledge of his supposed role in helping the US build a case for invading Saddam's Iraq.

In a series of meetings with the Guardian in Germany where he has been granted asylum, he said he had told a German official, who he identified as Dr Paul, about mobile bioweapons trucks throughout 2000. He said the BND had identified him as a Baghdad-trained chemical engineer and approached him shortly after 13 March of that year, looking for inside information about Saddam's Iraq.

"I had a problem with the Saddam regime," he said. "I wanted to get rid of him and now I had this chance."

He portrays the BND as gullible and so eager to tease details from him that they gave him a Perry's Chemical Engineering Handbook to help communicate. He still has the book in his small, rented flat in Karlsruhe, south-west Germany.

"They were asking me about pumps for filtration, how to make detergent after the reaction," he said. "Any engineer who studied in this field can explain or answer any question they asked."

Janabi claimed he was first exposed as a liar as early as mid-2000, when the BND travelled to a Gulf city, believed to be Dubai, to speak with his former boss at the Military Industries Commission in Iraq, Dr Bassil Latif.

The Guardian has learned separately that British intelligence officials were at that meeting, investigating a claim made by Janabi that Latif's son, who was studying in Britain, was procuring weapons for Saddam.

That claim was proven false, and Latif strongly denied Janabi's claim of mobile bioweapons trucks and another allegation that 12 people had died during an accident at a secret bioweapons facility in south-east Baghdad.

The German officials returned to confront him with Latif's version. "He says, 'There are no trucks,' and I say, 'OK, when [Latif says] there no trucks then [there are none],'" Janabi recalled.

He said the BND did not contact him again until the end of May 2002. But he said it soon became clear that he was still being taken seriously.

He claimed the officials gave him an incentive to speak by implying that his then pregnant Moroccan-born wife may not be able to travel from Spain to join him in Germany if he did not co-operate with them. "He says, you work with us or your wife and child go to Morocco."

The meetings continued throughout 2002 and it became apparent to Janabi that a case for war was being constructed. He said he was not asked again about the bioweapons trucks until a month before Powell's speech.

After the speech, Janabi said he called his handler at the BND and accused the secret service of breaking an agreement that they would not share anything he had told them with another country. He said he was told not to speak and placed in confinement for around 90 days.

With the US now leaving Iraq, Janabi said he was comfortable with what he did, despite the chaos of the past eight years and the civilian death toll in Iraq, which stands at more than 100,000.

"I tell you something when I hear anybody – not just in Iraq but in any war – [is] killed, I am very sad. But give me another solution. Can you give me another solution?

"Believe me, there was no other way to bring about freedom to Iraq. There were no other possibilities."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/defector-admits-wmd-lies-iraq-war

Curveball's lies – and the consequences
Details of what the Iraqi defector said about WMD, and how it was used by Germany and the United States

The lies

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, the defector who convinced the US that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme, falsely claimed that:

• He worked on a team that assembled germ-production units on trucks at Djerf al-Nadaf, a seed purification plant 10 miles south-east of Baghdad. He claimed these mobile biochemical laboratories were hidden in a two-storey building that could be driven into from both sides. This claim confirmed CIA suspicions that the reason they could not find WMD was because they were being moved from place to place to evade inspectors.

• An accident at Djerf al-Nadaf in 1998 killed 12 bio-warfare technicians.

• There were plans to build mobile biochemical factories at six sites across Iraq, from Numaniya, in the south, to Tikrit, in the north.

• When UN weapons inspectors were in Iraq, the production of the biological weapons agent always began at midnight on Thursdays because Iraq thought the inspectors would not work on the Muslim holy day, which ran from Thursday night to Friday night.

The consequences

The BND passed on this information to the CIA. The caveats attached to the information are disputed, but somehow Curveball's testimony made its way into Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations on 5 February 2003, in which the then US secretary of state made the case for invading Iraq. Powell now describes that day as a painful "blot" on his career. He told the UN he had "first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails". These mobile laboratories, said Powell, were "easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf war."

The source for this claim, said Powell, was "an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents." This source was Curveball.

Two months later, the invasion began. Since then, according to Iraq Body Count, at least 100,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/15/curveballs-lies-consequences-iraqi-defector
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 15, 2011 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hope the Iraqis who lost family, or their homes, or were tortured/raped get hold of this fucker and make his life a living hell for ever.
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luke



Joined: 11 Feb 2007
Location: by the sea

PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 9:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

so i wanted a 'fair and balanced' look at this big story, a news source that just 'reports' and lets me 'decide' ...



maybe not

to be fair though, cnn aren't covering it either, but msnbc are. what are the other big american news outlets? even the bbc only cover it in their what the papers say section!

Curveball and the manufacture of a lie
As WMD expert David Kelly knew, intelligence from a defector is the least reliable. But the fix was in – an avoidable war the result

The Guardian's revelation that "Curveball", the renowned source of intelligence on Iraq's WMD, made it all up is yet another nail in the coffin of those who claim that the intelligence was clear about the alleged threat. Curveball's evidence that Iraq was secretly rebuilding a substantial biological weapons capacity was a key part of US and British claims that Iraq presented a growing and imminent threat.

Now that the truth about this propaganda has been revealed, we can expect that those who constructed it – Tony Blair, Dick Cheney et al – will now amend their usual arguments to suggest that they were innocently misled by evidence such as Curveball's. After all, if a defector claimed that there was a substantial bio-weapons programme, as "Curveball" did, how could they know that he was lying? Again, we will be confronted with the "not my fault!" excuse from those who manufactured the case for an avoidable war.

But once again, they are trying to mislead. Here's why.

As I learned in my work on Iraq's WMD in the late 90s and early 2000s, when I was Britain's Iraq expert at the UN security council and responsible for liaison with the weapons inspectors, intelligence on WMD is a confusing and complicated issue. There was a great deal of data, much of it contradictory, from an array of different sources – intercepts of communications, aerial and satellite imagery and "humint" from defectors or agents inside Iraq. Our task in the government was to try to make sense of all this, and interpret from the data a reasonably plausible and coherent picture of what was actually going on.

It is with sadness that I note that my most perceptive tutor in this complex art was David Kelly, the British weapons scientist who was then our foremost expert on biological weapons (BW) – but also skilled in the more comprehensive analysis of Iraq's WMD. Along with other weapons scientists, David would conduct detailed private seminars, organised by me, at the UK mission for other UN security council diplomats, to explain the evidence about Iraq's biological and chemical weapons, and missiles: what we knew, and what we didn't.

David was a highly-experienced BW scientist who had conducted scores of on-the-ground inspections in the former Soviet Union, as well as in Iraq. In his quiet, humble, yet authoritative way, he would patiently explain to diplomats like me, keen to make bold claims about complex data, that the reality of the intelligence was less clear. It presented many more questions than answers: in fact, all we could confidently speak of was what we did not know, rather than what we knew.

Given the complexity of the data, no single source could ever be taken as authoritative. And the least convincing sources – by their very nature – were defectors. We knew full well that, for very understandable reasons, defectors had a powerful incentive to exaggerate the nature of Iraq's development of WMD. They hated Saddam and wanted him gone. Long before Curveball, there were other defectors who made sometimes wild claims about Iraq's weapons programmes. I remember one report that suggested Iraq had armed its Scud missiles (none of which, in fact, existed, it later emerged) with nuclear warheads, ready to be launched at Israel and other targets. Defector intelligence was, therefore, lowest in the hierarchy of evidence; photographic or signals intercepts were, for obvious reasons, treated as more plausible.

Each piece of evidence, whatever its source, was first subjected to rigorous cross-checking before inclusion in overall analyses. All sources of intelligence suffered from particular deficits: Iraq knew that its signals were monitored and thus limited its communications traffic; it also hid any WMD activity under roofs in military and civilian sites, thereby limiting the value of overhead reconnaissance. So, all evidence had to be tested by the simple method of seeking corroboration from other sources. This method was used across Whitehall, and in the Ministry of Defence and the Cabinet Office in particular, and was the basis for the Joint Intelligence Committee assessments of the WMD threat, several of which I contributed to. In the years I worked on the subject (1997-2002), the picture produced by this method was very clear: there was no credible evidence of substantial stocks of WMD in Iraq.

And it was this method – clearly – that was abandoned in advance of the war. Instead of a careful cross-checking of evidence, reports that suited the story of an imminent Iraqi threat were picked out, polished and formed the basis of public claims like Colin Powell's presentation to the UN security council, or the No 10 dossier. This was exactly how a false case for war was constructed: not by the deliberate creation of a falsehood, but by willfully and secretly manipulating the evidence to exaggerate the importance of reports like Curveball's, and to ignore contradictory evidence. This was a subtle process, elaborated from report to report, in such a way that allowed officials themselves to believe that they were not deliberately lying – more editing, perhaps, or simplifying for public presentation.

David Kelly and I discussed very process – which he abhorred – a few weeks before he died. His revelation of it to a clumsy journalist, who called it "sexing up" (not a word that I think David would have used), was to trigger the events that led to his tragic death. Others of my former colleagues in the MOD and Foreign Office have freely admitted to me that this is precisely what took place. Yet, for all its subtlety and secrecy, we should name this process for what it was: the manufacture of a lie.

Carne Ross is a former British diplomat, serving for 15 years before resigning after giving evidence to the Butler Inquiry into the use of intelligence on Iraq's WMD in 2004. He then founded and now runs Independent Diplomat, a non-profit diplomatic advisory organisation consults for democratic countries and groups across the world. He is based in New York

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/feb/15/curveball-wmd-carne-ross
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Brown Sauce



Joined: 07 Jan 2007

PostPosted: Wed Feb 16, 2011 3:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I watched green zone a couple of days ago, i'd embed it, or post links, but the embed don't work and the links die ...

anyhow in green zone his name was "magellan" ...

I think that this is a getout for bush/blair, no wash wi lil old me ...
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luke



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 9:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Colin Powell demands answers over Curveball's WMD lies
Former US secretary of state asks why CIA failed to warn him over Iraqi defector who has admitted fabricating WMD evidence

Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time of the Iraq invasion, has called on the CIA and Pentagon to explain why they failed to alert him to the unreliability of a key source behind claims of Saddam Hussein's bio-weapons capability.

Responding to the Guardian's revelation that the source, Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi or "Curveball" as his US and German handlers called him, admitted fabricating evidence of Iraq's secret biological weapons programme, Powell said that questions should be put to the US agencies involved in compiling the case for war.

In particular he singled out the CIA and the Defence Intelligence Agency – the Pentagon's military intelligence arm. Janabi, an Iraqi defector, was used as the primary source by the Bush administration to justify invading Iraq in March 2003. Doubts about his credibility circulated before the war and have been confirmed by his admission this week that he lied.

Powell said that the CIA and DIA should face questions about why they failed to sound the alarm about Janabi. He demanded to know why it had not been made clear to him that Curveball was totally unreliable before false information was put into the key intelligence assessment, or NIE, put before Congress, into the president's state of the union address two months before the war and into his own speech to the UN.

"It has been known for several years that the source called Curveball was totally unreliable," he told the Guardian . "The question should be put to the CIA and the DIA as to why this wasn't known before the false information was put into the NIE sent to Congress, the president's state of the union address and my 5 February presentation to the UN."

On 5 February 2003, a month before the invasion, Powell went before the UN security council to make the case for war. In his speech he referred to "firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails … The source was an eyewitness who supervised one of these facilities". It is now known that the source, Janabi, made up the story.

Curveball told the Guardian he welcomed Powell's demand. "It's great," he said tonight. "The BND [German intelligence] knew in 2000 that I was lying after they talked to my former boss, Dr Bassil Latif, who told them there were no mobile bioweapons factories. For 18 months after that they left me alone because they knew I was telling lies even though I never admitted it. Believe me, back then, I thought the whole thing was over for me.

"Then all of a sudden [in the run up to the 2003 invasion] they came back to me and started asking for more details about what I had told them. I still don't know why the BND then passed on my information to the CIA and it ended up in Powell's speech.

"I want there to be an inquiry so that people will know the truth. So many lies have been told about me over the years. I finally want the truth to come out."

Powell has previously expressed regret about the role he unwittingly played in passing on false information to the UN, saying it had put a blot on his career. But his latest comments increase pressure on the intelligence agencies and their former chiefs to divulge what they knew at the time and why they failed to filter out such a bad source.

George Tenet, then head of the CIA, is particularly in the firing line. He failed to pass on warnings from German intelligence about Curveball's reliability.

Tenet put out a statement on his website in response to Curveball's admission. He said: "The handling of this matter is certainly a textbook case of how not to deal with defector provided material. But the latest reporting of the subject repeats and amplifies a great deal of misinformation."

Tenet refers to his own 2007 memoir on the war, At the Centre of the Storm, in which he insists that the first he heard about Curveball's unreliability was two years after the invasion – "too late to do a damn thing about it".

Tenet has disputed Drumheller's version of events, insisting that the official made no formal warning to CIA headquarters.

In the light of Curveball's confession, politicians in Iraq called for his permanent exile and scorned his claim to want to return to his motherland and build a political party. "He is a liar, he will not serve his country," said one Iraqi MP. In his adopted home of Germany, MPs are demanding to know why the BND, paid Curveball £2,500 a month for at least five years after they knew he had lied.

Hans-Christian Strφbele, a Green MP, said Janabi had arguably violated a German law which makes warmongering illegal. Under the law, it is a criminal offence to do anything "with the intent to disturb the peaceful relations between nations, especially anything that leads to an aggressive war", he said. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment, he added, though he did not expect it would ever come to that.

Curveball told the Guardian he was pleased to have finally told the truth. He said he had given the Guardian's phone number to his wife and brother in Sweden "just in case something happens to me".

Further pressure on the CIA came from Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's chief of staff at the time of the invasion. He said Curveball's lies raised questions about how the CIA had briefed Powell ahead of his fateful UN speech.Tyler Drumheller, head of the CIA's Europe division in the run-up to the invasion, said he welcomed Curveball's confession because he had always warned Tenet that he may have been a fabricator.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/16/colin-powell-cia-curveball
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luke



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 4:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Curveball doubts were shared with CIA, says ex-German foreign minister
Joschka Fischer accuses former CIA chief George Tenet over his knowledge of Iraqi defector's sketchy background

Germany's former foreign minister Joschka Fischer has accused the former head of the CIA George Tenet of making implausible claims about the handling of the Curveball case by the US.

On Wednesday Tenet, the director of central intelligence between 1997 and 2004, issued a statement on his website saying he discovered "too damn late" that Curveball – the Iraqi defector who became a key source for the CIA and the German secret service (BND) – might be a fabricator.

Reprinting an extract from his autobiography, Tenet claimed he only found out in 2005, two years after the Iraq invasion, that the BND had doubts about Curveball's claims to have witnessed first-hand Saddam Hussein's bio-weapons programme.

Asked by the Guardian whether Tenet's claims were plausible, Fischer said: "No. I don't think so."

Fischer said the BND realised some time before the war that Curveball was not a watertight source, and passed on his testimony to the CIA with warnings attached.

"Our position was always: [Curveball] might be right, but he might not be right. He could be a liar but he could be telling the truth," said Fischer at a press conference in Berlin to promote his memoir about the Iraq war.

Fischer said Germany was put in a "very difficult position" when the CIA asked whether they could "have" Curveball, or at least use his evidence to justify a war in Iraq. Germany's official position was that it would not join the coalition of the willing. Fischer himself famously told Donald Rumsfeld in February 2003 that he was "not convinced" about the case for war.

"On the one hand we didn't want to withhold from the US any bit of relevant information we had about possible WMD in Iraq. On the other hand, we did not want to take part in any propagandistic exploitation of material, which was far from proven, to justify a war," Fischer writes in his new autobiography, I Am Not Convinced.

He added: "We decided, therefore, that we would do our duty by sending the Americans all the information we had, together with our assessment that that information came from a deserter and that we had not verified or substantiated it ourselves, and that it could be completely wrong."

Fischer said today: "We, the German government, decided to pass on the evidence, and I think that was the right thing to do."

He said the then head of the BND, August Henning, wrote a letter to the CIA outlining the possible problems with Curveball. Fischer also pointed out that it was common practice in security circles – then, as now – to not rely on a single source, but to get at least three independent sources that corroborate each other.

Asked what he thought about Colin Powell demanding answers as to why the CIA and its military arm, the DIA, never told him about Curveball possibly being a liar, Fischer said he couldn't comment.

"[Powell] is a very good friend of mine, but we have never ever spoken about this phase," he said. "If there is something to discuss, he has to initiate the conversation."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/17/curveball-doubts-cia-german-foreign
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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 5:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I was accused of being 'staggeringly ignorant' and a Zionist because I posted parts of this story on facebook.

Frickin nutters everywhere!
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Brown Sauce



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2011 6:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I put a link to Green Zone in the movies, you might have to go through a hoop or two to get to it, but it's worth it ..
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luke



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PostPosted: Mon Feb 28, 2011 9:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Why Our Media Betray Us
An Empire of Lies


Last week the Guardian, Britain's main liberal newspaper, ran an exclusive report on the belated confessions of an Iraqi exile, Rafeed al-Janabi, codenamed "Curveball" by the CIA. Eight years ago, Janabi played a key behind-the-scenes role -- if an inadvertent one -- in making possible the US invasion of Iraq. His testimony bolstered claims by the Bush administration that Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, had developed an advanced programme producing weapons of mass destruction.

Curveball's account included the details of mobile biological weapons trucks presented by Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, to the United Nations in early 2003. Powell's apparently compelling case on WMD was used to justify the US attack on Iraq a few weeks later.

Eight years on, Curveball revealed to the Guardian that he had fabricated the story of Saddam's WMD back in 2000, shortly after his arrival in Germany seeking asylum. He told the paper he had lied to German intelligence in the hope his testimony might help topple Saddam, though it seems more likely he simply wanted to ensure his asylum case was taken more seriously.

For the careful reader -- and I stress the word careful -- several disturbing facts emerged from the report.

One was that the German authorities had quickly proven his account of Iraq's WMD to be false. Both German and British intelligence had travelled to Dubai to meet Bassil Latif, his former boss at Iraq's Military Industries Commission. Dr Latif had proven that Curveball's claims could not be true. The German authorities quickly lost interest in Janabi and he was not interviewed again until late 2002, when it became more pressing for the US to make a convincing case for an attack on Iraq.

Another interesting disclosure was that, despite the vital need to get straight all the facts about Curveball's testimony -- given the stakes involved in launching a pre-emptive strike against another sovereign state -- the Americans never bothered to interview Curveball themselves.

A third revelation was that the CIA's head of operations in Europe, Tyler Drumheller, passed on warnings from German intelligence that they considered Curveball's testimony to be highly dubious. The head of the CIA, George Tenet, simply ignored the advice.

With Curveball's admission in mind, as well as these other facts from the story, we can draw some obvious conclusions -- conclusions confirmed by subsequent developments.

Lacking both grounds in international law and the backing of major allies, the Bush administration desperately needed Janabi's story about WMD, however discredited it was, to justify its military plans for Iraq. The White House did not interview Curveball because they knew his account of Saddam's WMD programme was made up. His story would unravel under scrutiny; better to leave Washington with the option of "plausible deniability".

Nonetheless, Janabi's falsified account was vitally useful: for much of the American public, it added a veneer of credibility to the implausible case that Saddam was a danger to the world; it helped fortify wavering allies facing their own doubting publics; and it brought on board Colin Powell, a former general seen as the main voice of reason in the administration.

In other words, Bush's White House used Curveball to breathe life into its mythological story about Saddam's threat to world peace.

So how did the Guardian, a bastion of liberal journalism, present its exclusive on the most controversial episode in recent American foreign policy?

Here is its headline: "How US was duped by Iraqi fantasist looking to topple Saddam".

Did the headline-writer misunderstand the story as written by the paper's reporters? No, the headline neatly encapsulated its message. In the text, we are told Powell's presentation to the UN "revealed that the Bush administration's hawkish decisionmakers had swallowed" Curveball's account. At another point, we are told Janabi "pulled off one of the greatest confidence tricks in the history of modern intelligence". And that: "His critics -- who are many and powerful -- say the cost of his deception is too difficult to estimate."

In other words, the Guardian assumed, despite all the evidence uncovered in its own research, that Curveball misled the Bush administration into making a disastrous miscalculation. On this view, the White House was the real victim of Curveball's lies, not the Iraqi people -- more than a million of whom are dead as a result of the invasion, according to the best available figures, and four million of whom have been forced into exile.

There is nothing exceptional about this example. I chose it because it relates to an event of continuing and momentous significance.

Unfortunately, there is something depressingly familiar about this kind of reporting, even in the West's main liberal publications. Contrary to its avowed aim, mainstream journalism invariably diminishes the impact of new events when they threaten powerful elites.

We will examine why in a minute. But first let us consider what, or who, constitutes "empire" today? Certainly, in its most symbolic form, it can be identified as the US government and its army, comprising the world's sole superpower.

Traditionally, empires have been defined narrowly, in terms of a strong nation-state that successfully expands its sphere of influence and power to other territories. Empire's aim is to make those territories dependent, and then either exploit their resources in the case of poorly developed countries, or, with more developed countries, turn them into new markets for its surplus goods. It is in this latter sense that the American empire has often been able to claim that it is a force for global good, helping to spread freedom and the benefits of consumer culture.

Empire achieves its aims in different ways: through force, such as conquest, when dealing with populations resistant to the theft of their resources; and more subtly through political and economic interference, persuasion and mind-control when it wants to create new markets. However it works, the aim is to create a sense in the dependent territories that their interests and fates are bound to those of empire.

In our globalised world, the question of who is at the centre of empire is much less clear than it once was. The US government is today less the heart of empire than its enabler. What were until recently the arms of empire, especially the financial and military industries, have become a transnational imperial elite whose interests are not bound by borders and whose powers largely evade legislative and moral controls.

Israel's leadership, we should note, as well its elite supporters around the world -- including the Zionist lobbies, the arms manufacturers and Western militaries, and to a degree even the crumbling Arab tyrannies of the Middle East -- are an integral element in that transnational elite.

The imperial elites' success depends to a large extent on a shared belief among the western public both that "we" need them to secure our livelihoods and security and that at the same time we are really their masters. Some of the necessary illusions perpetuated by the transnational elites include:

-- That we elect governments whose job is to restrain the corporations;
-- That we, in particular, and the global workforce in general are the chief beneficiaries of the corporations' wealth creation;
-- That the corporations and the ideology that underpins them, global capitalism, are the only hope for freedom;
-- That consumption is not only an expression of our freedom but also a major source of our happiness;
-- That economic growth can be maintained indefinitely and at no long-term cost to the health of the planet;
-- And that there are groups, called terrorists, who want to destroy this benevolent system of wealth creation and personal improvement.

These assumptions, however fanciful they may appear when subjected to scrutiny, are the ideological bedrock on which the narratives of our societies in the West are constructed and from which ultimately our sense of identity derives. This ideological system appears to us -- and I am using "we" and "us" to refer to western publics only -- to describe the natural order.

The job of sanctifying these assumptions -- and ensuring they are not scrutinised -- falls to our mainstream media. Western corporations own the media, and their advertising makes the industry profitable. In this sense, the media cannot fulfil the function of watchdog of power, because in fact it is power. It is the power of the globalised elite to control and limit the ideological and imaginative horizons of the media's readers and viewers. It does so to ensure that imperial interests, which are synonymous with those of the corporations, are not threatened.

The Curveball story neatly illustrates the media's role.

His confession has come too late -- eight years too late, to be precise -- to have any impact on the events that matter. As happens so often with important stories that challenge elite interests, the facts vitally needed to allow western publics to reach informed conclusions were not available when they were needed. In this case, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are gone, as are their neoconservative advisers. Curveball's story is now chiefly of interest to historians.

That last point is quite literally true. The Guardian's revelations were of almost no concern to the US media, the supposed watchdog at the heart of the US empire. A search of the Lexis Nexis media database shows that Curveball's admissions featured only in the New York Times, in a brief report on page 7, as well as in a news round-up in the Washington Times. The dozens of other major US newspapers, including the Washington Post, made no mention of it at all.

Instead, the main audience for the story outside the UK was the readers of India's Hindu newspaper and the Khaleej Times.

But even the Guardian, often regarded as fearless in taking on powerful interests, packaged its report in such a way as to deprive Curveball's confession of its true value. The facts were bled of their real significance. The presentation ensured that only the most aware readers would have understood that the US had not been duped by Curveball, but rather that the White House had exploited a "fantasist" -- or desperate exile from a brutal regime, depending on how one looks at it -- for its own illegal and immoral ends.

Why did the Guardian miss the main point in its own exclusive? The reason is that all our mainstream media, however liberal, take as their starting point the idea both that the West's political culture is inherently benevolent and that it is morally superior to all existing, or conceivable, alternative systems.

In reporting and commentary, this is demonstrated most clearly in the idea that "our" leaders always act in good faith, whereas "their" leaders -- those opposed to empire or its interests -- are driven by base or evil motives.

It is in this way that official enemies, such as Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic, can be singled out as personifying the crazed or evil dictator -- while other equally rogue regimes such as Saudi Arabia's are described as "moderate" -- opening the way for their countries to become targets of our own imperial strategies.

States selected for the "embrace" of empire are left with a stark choice: accept our terms of surrender and become an ally; or defy empire and face our wrath.

When the corporate elites trample on other peoples and states to advance their own selfish interests, such as in the invasion of Iraq to control its resources, our dominant media cannot allow its reporting to frame the events honestly. The continuing assumption in liberal commentary about the US attack on Iraq, for example, is that, once no WMD were found, the Bush administration remained to pursue a misguided effort to root out the terrorists, restore law and order, and spread democracy.

For the western media, our leaders make mistakes, they are naοve or even stupid, but they are never bad or evil. Our media do not call for Bush or Blair to be tried at the Hague as war criminals.

This, of course, does not mean that the western media is Pravda, the propaganda mouthpiece of the old Soviet empire. There are differences. Dissent is possible, though it must remain within the relatively narrow confines of "reasonable" debate, a spectrum of possible thought that accepts unreservedly the presumption that we are better, more moral, than them.

Similarly, journalists are rarely told -- at least, not directly -- what to write. The media have developed careful selection processes and hierarchies among their editorial staff -- termed "filters" by media critics Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky -- to ensure that dissenting or truly independent journalists do not reach positions of real influence.

There is, in other words, no simple party line. There are competing elites and corporations, and their voices are reflected in the narrow range of what we term commentary and opinion. Rather than being dictated to by party officials, as happened under the Soviet system, our journalists scramble for access, to be admitted into the ante-chambers of power. These privileges make careers but they come at a huge cost to the reporters' independence.

Nonetheless, the range of what is permissible is slowly expanding -- over the opposition of the elites and our mainstream TV and press. The reason is to be found in the new media, which is gradually eroding the monopoly long enjoyed by the corporate media to control the spread of information and popular ideas. Wikileaks is so far the most obvious, and impressive, outcome of that trend.

The consequences are already tangible across the Middle East, which has suffered disproportionately under the oppressive rule of empire. The upheavals as Arab publics struggle to shake off their tyrants are also stripping bare some of the illusions the western media have peddled to us. Empire, we have been told, wants democracy and freedom around the globe. And yet it is caught mute and impassive as the henchmen of empire unleash US-made weapons against their peoples who are demanding western-style freedoms.

An important question is: how will our media respond to this exposure, not just of our politicians' hypocrisy but also of their own? They are already trying to co-opt the new media, including Wikileaks, but without real success. They are also starting to allow a wider range of debate, though still heavily constrained, than had been possible before.

The West's version of glasnost is particularly obvious in the coverage of the problem closest to our hearts here in Palestine. What Israel terms a delegitimisation campaign is really the opening up -- slightly -- of the media landscape, to allow a little light where until recently darkness reigned.

This is an opportunity and one that we must nurture. We must demand of the corporate media more honesty; we must shame them by being better-informed than the hacks who recycle official press releases and clamour for access; and we must desert them, as is already happening, for better sources of information.

We have a window. And we must force it open before the elites of empire try to slam it shut.

This is the text of a talk entitled "Media as a Tool of Empire" delivered to Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, at its eighth international conference in Bethlehem on Friday February 25.

http://www.counterpunch.org/cook02282011.html
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