Sunday, October 17, 2010

Debunking 7/7 Debunking Part Three

The July 7th Inquests got underway last week and have so far provided a pantomime of disinformation and farcical arguments. Just as with the 2009 Intelligence and Security Committee report and the BBC Conspiracy Files episode on the London bombings of the same year, one of the primary concerns of the inquests has been to debunk and oppose 'conspiracy theories'. Hence, it is time for a new installment of the popular 'debunking 7/7 debunking' series, dealing with the fatuous and misleading arguments used in opposition to such 'conspiracy theories'. Those readers looking for a comparatively dispassionate analysis of the inquests should check out the dedicated blog from the July 7th Truth Campaign. Those looking for intelligent outrage at the pure codswallop we are expected to keep swallowing regarding 7/7 should take a look at Famous for 15 Megapixels. Both have provided far more sincere and earnest coverage of the inquests than anyone working in the mainstream media.

The 7/7 Inquests are taking place under the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009, which outlines exactly what are the purposes of such an investigation:

Purpose of Investigation
Matters to be ascertained
The purpose of an investigation under this Part into a person's death is to ascertain—
(a) who the deceased was;
(b) how, when and where the deceased came by his or her death;
(c) the particulars (if any) required by the 1953 Act to be registered concerning the death. - Coroners and Justice Act 2009
However, the 7/7 Inquests have systematically failed from the very opening day to fulfill these requirements. In the morning of 11th October the hearing opened with a statement by Lady Justice Hallet referring to "the deaths of the 52 innocent people who were killed as a result of the bombs in London on 7 July 2005." Before any investigation had taken place, a conclusive verdict on the cause of death of all 52 victims had been presented. Given that one of the questions the inquest is meant to be objectively examining is whether the emergency services could have responded more quickly and effectively, this opening statement is misleading at best. Even if we presume that the official version of events is true, there remains the possibility of some of the victims having died due to the delay in getting them emergency medical treatment. This would mean that they did not die just as a result of bombs going off, but also as a result of not being attended to sufficiently quickly. Beyond that, there is the issue of the inquests into the deaths of the four alleged bombers having been postponed until after the present inquests into the other 52 deaths. There is only a slim possibility of this happening, but if the inquests into the alleged bombers' deaths concludes anything other than that they died in intentional self-inflicted suicide bombings, the present inquests would prove to be a load of nonsense.

The inquests continued with a re-affirmation of the official version of events, namely that four British Muslims travelled to London and intentionally blew themselves up using homemade explosives. This re-affirmation was done using the sort of editorialised language more appropriate for a tabloid newspaper than a legal proceeding. Again, from the opening morning of the inquests, the counsel for the inquests (i.e. the government's lawyer) Hugo Keith QC, said:

The slaughter caused by the bombs caused not only
death, devastation and mutilation, but
unleashed an
unimaginable tidal wave of shock, misery and horror
their families and loved ones. Just as the lives of the
52 victims were callously and brutally ended, the lives
of many others have been, and continue to be,
and wrecked
. The bombs could only have had one purpose.
They were intended to kill and to injure. They were
acts of merciless savagery and
one can only imagine at
the sheer inhumanity of the perpetrators
. - July 7th Inquests, 11th Oct
While it is true that the death of loved ones is immensely painful for the bereaved, and they are more than worthy of our sympathy, this sort of language is not about expressing common human empathy and consideration. It is about writing the mainstream media's headlines for them, as demonstrated by this Telegraph story titled '7/7 inquest: London bombings were 'unimaginable wave of horror' and this Guardian story titled '7/7 inquest: victims killed by 'merciless savagery'. The use of words like 'carnage', 'horror' and 'merciless savagery' is designed to encourage those following the inquests to become lost in psychological disgust and not to engage their critical faculties and question what they are being told. Philosopher David Hume claimed that "reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions." While the truth of this may be disputed, what is clear is that passions can be manipulated to cloud or even prevent reason from having an influence on what people end up believing.

This editorial rhetoric continued as the inquests progressed. On the second day of hearings, new footage was released on the inquests' website, and can be watched here. The video clips are taken from film shot in the hours and days immediately following the bombings, by emergency service workers, and show the aftermath of the explosions on the trains and bus. The videos have been reproduced by media outlets, capitalising on Keith's characterisation of the footage as 'distressing' and even going further, this ITN article describing it as a 'shocking video of carnage'. In reality the videos show very little and for a public who've experienced such horrific cinematic products as the Saw film franchise and recent gore fest The Human Centipede the images are relatively tame. For those who were on the trains and bus, or lost loved one, any such pictures would be distressing, regardless of what they actually showed or didn't show. Furthermore, Keith admitted that the clips had been 'edited and re-edited' to ensure none of the deceased can be seen, sharply contradicting the portrayal of this footage in the major media as 'horrific' and 'shocking'. Not only is this manipulative to the point of outright deception, it is also potentially illegal. The Coroners and Justice Act says explicitly that:

Neither the senior coroner conducting an investigation under this Part into a person's death nor the jury (if there is one) may express any opinion on any matter other than—
(a) the questions mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b) (read with subsection (2) where applicable);
(b) the particulars mentioned in subsection (1)(c). - Coroners and Justice Act 2009
While this provision only prohibits the coroner and jury from expressing such opinions, the spirit of the law means that it also covers the legal team advising the coroner. The sorts of comments made by Hugo Keith clearly involve expressing opinions on far more than just the issues of who died, when, where and how, in that they seek to describe the emotional reactions of the survivors and bereaved. One might even say that such inflammatory language glorifies terrorism, turning it from acts of violence motivated by desperation or prejudice or stupidity into acts that define our politics, our emotions and our way of life. Glorification of terrorism is contrary to the 2006 Terrorism Act, though I wouldn't recommend holding your breath and waiting for Keith to be charged. If, as then Prime Minister Tony Blair said on the afternoon of 7/7, the purpose of terrorism is to terrorise people, then Hugo Keith is doing the terrorists work for them.

Another bizarre story emanating from the opening week of the Inquests was that the alleged 7/7 ringleader Mohammed Siddique Khan sent a text message to his supposed co-conspirators on the 6th of July. This allegedly delayed the attacks by a day because Khan's wife was having complications with her pregnancy:

Examination of Khan's mobile telephone
which was recovered from the tunnel between Kings Cross
and Russell Square showed that he sent a text message at
04.35 in the morning of 6 July saying:
"Having major problem. Can't make time. Will ring
you when I get it sorted. Wait at home."

So it may have been that the attack was originally
planned for a different day. - July 7th Inquests, 11th October
As with so many stories floated as part of the War on Terror, there is much about this that doesn't ring true, or at least doesn't support what officials have advanced. For one, why was Khan's phone found in the tunnel between Kings' Cross and Russell Square tube stations when he is meant to have been responsible for a different explosion, miles away at Edgware Road? Just as his property and ID were found at three of the blast locations, this will appear to many people to smack of planted evidence. For another, why would a man supposedly following a jihadi ideology to the extent of killing himself and others care so much about his pregnant wife and unborn child? If the original plan was to carry out a 'martyrdom operation' on the 6th of July then why delay it for the sake of a wife he was never going to see again, and a child he would never see? Looked at the other way, if he was so concerned about his wife and unborn child that he delayed the mission then why did he kill himself? It doesn't add up. Just as it doesn't add up that Khan, a British Pakistani and alleged Islamic fundamentalist, would have married a Westernised woman of Indian descent. Given the animosity felt by both Pakistanis and Indians over the disputed region of Kashmir, this appears a highly unlikely union if Khan was what the police and government have told us he was.

Rather than acknowledge these problems, let alone discuss them, Hugo Keith preferred to adopt a strategy utilised by the 9/11 Commission. The opening day of the Inquests provided ample evidence that debunking 'conspiracy theories' was a crucial aim of the proceedings.

Thus it is
to be hoped that these inquests, however unpleasant and
distressing, as they will be, will assist in answering
the families' questions in allaying some of the rumours
and suspicion generated by conspiracy theorists...

..My Lady, I have mentioned this evidence because
a number of unlikely conspiracy theories have been aired
in the press and on the internet...

...We consider it important that such claims are
identified and addressed...

...Where such claims do not appear to be supported by
the evidence that has been gathered, there is, we feel,
a danger that the continuation of such claims might
needlessly distress the bereaved families as well as
detracting attention away from the issues that you have
identified as being worthy of further investigation. - July 7th Inquests, October 11th

While it may be true that unfounded speculation by 'conspiracy theorists' has caused distress to the survivors and bereaved, this pales in comparison to the distress caused by the unfounded speculation of the official versions of events; the fact that the government, police and MI5 have consistently failed to release evidence proving the truth or falsehood of the official version; the fact that every key element of the official story has been revised (except that Khan et al were responsible); the fact that it has taken over five years for inquests to be held; and the fact that every request and demand for a proper inquiry has been refused and ridiculed. A few 'conspiracy theorists on the internet' simply cannot have caused anything close to the degree of frustration and confusion caused by the actions of the authorities of the state, no matter how whacky or speculative their claims might be.  

Despite this, the above comments show that debunking 'conspiracy theories/theorists' is very much what the Inquests are hoping to achieve, certainly more so than their legally mandated duties outlined above. Keith even admitted that:

It is not a proper
function of an inquest to attribute blame or apportion
guilt, or a proper function of mine to express opinions
on impermissible areas. - July 7th Inquests, 11th October

This did not stop him from devoting a large proportion of his opening day statement to apportioning blame, to reaffirming the official narrative, and in general to using a supposedly unbiased judicial process for the political purpose of opposing and criticising 'conspiracy theories'. This perception of such theories, or even just the well-founded questioning and analysis offered by those such as the July 7th Truth Campaign, is entirely in keeping with the work of Cass Sunstein, and the more recent report published by the DEMOS thinktank. Both view 'conspiracy theories' as a political problem, a threat to public confidence in the powerful institutions of the state (and presumably their bosom buddies in the corporate world). Both advocate covert and overt opposition to such theories as a means of restoring such confidence. In Sunstein's list of possible government activites against 'conspiracy theories' he wrote:

(3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. - Sunstein, 2008
Likewise, DEMOS also put forth a policy of infiltration:

Government agents or their allies should openly infiltrate the
Internet sites or spaces to plant doubts about conspiracy theories,
introducing alternative information. - DEMOS, The Power of Unreason
If Hugo Keith QC has been officially or unofficially tasked with infiltrating the space that is the July 7th Inquests with the specific mission of trying to debunk 'conspiracy theories' about 7/7, it would not be much of a surprise. As noted on the July 7th Truth Campaign's Inquest blog, Keith's background is very much one of a state-sponsored legal hatchet man. A quick glance at his background, detailed here, shows that he defended the Queen at the inquests into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed, perhaps the highest profile effort by the British state to debunk the 'conspiracy theory' that they were killed by MI6 at the behest of the Royal family. Keith also represented David Mills and Silvio Berlusconi in a major money laundering and tax fraud case in Italy. Among his other work was helping the Secretary of State extradite Gary McKinnon, who hacked into the Pentagon looking for evidence of UFOs and extraterrestrials. Keith also helped the Director of Public Prosecutions resist prosecuting anyone in the police for the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes. He also helped the Serious Fraud Office defend the decision to end the investigation into corruption in deals between the major British arms manufacturer BAE Systems and one of their major clients, the state of Saudi Arabia. Most recently, Keith's skills were put to helping the police justify shooting barrister Mark Saunders five times, a decision the inquest into Saunders' death judged to be 'self defence'. When it comes to defending the violence and corruption of the state, Keith is more than happy to take public money and use his status and education to further that aim. As such, if there was state involvement in the bombings of 7/7 then it is no surprise to see Keith once again turn up and perform his 'duty'.

The QC's pièce de résistance in the July 7th Inquests, at least so far, came in his efforts to oppose the idea that the four alleged bombers may have been set up as patsies - a possibility considered in the recent film 7/7: Seeds of Deconstruction, which was submitted to the counsel for the Inquests and all the lawyers representing survivors and the bereaved. Keith said:

There is no evidence at all that we have seen to
suggest that the bombers were duped in some way so that
they did not know that they were going to die or, even
more absurdly, that they did not know that they were
carrying explosives at all. Indeed, such claims run
entirely contrary to all the evidence that I have
summarised so far.
It is right to say that the bombers were
surprisingly effective, it would seem, in concealing
their intentions from those around them. Tanweer played
cricket in the evening before putting the terrible plot
into effect and seemed more concerned, according to his
family, by the loss of his mobile phone.
- July 7th Inquests, 11th October
Again pinching his lines from the 9/11 Commission, Keith claimed there 'is no evidence at all that we have seen' indicating that the alleged bombers were unintentional victims of the bombings. Employing a truly remarkable degree of doublethink, he then cited just the sort of evidence that does indicate this, i.e. that Shehzad Tanweer played cricket on the evening before 7/7.  By contrast, one might expect a jihadi fundamentalist on the verge of a suicide mission to be spending that time making last minute checks and preparations, or praying. This is the same Tanweer who in the supposed 'dummy run' CCTV footage showing only three of the alleged bombers going to London a few days before 7/7 is seen wearing a t-shirt branded by the Western sportswear firm Puma.

However, even though Keith says they have seen no such evidence he tacitly admits that Tanweer playing cricket is such evidence, by describing this and other indications as part of an effort at 'concealing their intentions'. This is purely circular, and complete balderdash.  Evidence that the men weren't knowing suicide bombers isn't actually evidence they weren't knowing suicide bombers, but evidence that they were concealing the fact that they were suicide bombers. The notion that they were suicide bombers is both a premise of the argument, and the argument's conclusion. It is only if you believe they were guilty that you could possibly interpret Tanweer's behaviour in this light, and claiming it as evidence of their guilt is a remarkable feat of twisted logic. This was not the only self-contradictory argument employed. The less than integral QC also cited as evidence of the alleged bombers intent videos that appeared at highly convenient times for the official narrative:

If there were any residual doubts, these are further
answered by two other pieces of evidence: Tanweer's
so-called last will and testament, which appeared a year
later on the internet, in which he seeks to justify
attacks, and the footage of Khan which appeared on
Al Jazeera, on 1 September 2005, to similar effect.
Those parts of the videos that showed them at any
rate must of course have been prepared prior to 7 July,
and thus, on account of their content, demonstrate that
their views had been held for some time. Indeed, the
release of the videos reinforces the terrorist dimension
of the attacks. They were made to be released following
the attacks themselves. - July 7th Inquests, 11th October

The two videos referred to are so-called 'martyrdom tapes', the first of which appeared at the beginning of September 2005, just as questions began circulating in the major media about whether the bombings were in fact suicide attacks. The second appeared on the day before the first anniversary of the attacks, on the 6th of July 2006. Though Keith went to great lengths to cast doubt on 'conspiracy theorists on the internet', he evidently had no qualms at all about citing videos of unknown provenance that appeared on the internet and used to help advance the official conspiracy theory. In this context, his comment that 'the release of the videos reinforces the terrorist dimension of the attacks' is perhaps an ironic confession. Though the authenticity of both videos has been questioned, let us assume for the sake of argument that they are genuine.

Neither video contains any mention of attacking the London public transport system, suicide bombings, or indeed any terrorist attack of any kind. As the above clips show, the mainstream media instantly seized upon the videos as evidence of the four alleged bombers guilt, even though they are at best evidence of only two of the four having vaguely jihadish beliefs. Not a single mainstream outlet has bothered to ask 'where are the equivalent videos for Hasib Hussein and Germaine Lindsay?' Put another way, Khan and Tanweer making such videos is not evidence of the guilt of others who knew them, yet this is exactly the argument the rogue QC has employed. What is particularly strange about the second item above, courtesy of the BBC, is that they interviewed Azzam Tamimi, an 'Islamic academic'. Tamimi trotted out the BBC's desired script about the videos, but he himself is an open supporter of Hamas, and has praised suicide bombers. He did this both before 7/7, in a 2004 interview for the BBC show Hardtalk, and after 7/7, in a speech where he said:

The greatest act of martyrdom is standing up for what is true and just. - Daily Mail, 2006
As such, Tamimi has made far more incriminating statements (however true or untrue they may be) than either Khan or Tanweer made in their 'martyrdom videos', and yet the BBC are happy to continue using Tamimi as a pundit, all the while reporting on the Khan/Tanweer tapes as proof of their guilt. This goes beyond mere doublethink and double standards. It is the height of journalistic hypocrisy and propaganda.

So, given that the opening of the July 7th Inquests has proven to be a huge disappointment for anyone seeking the truth about what happened, what are we to expect from the next few months of proceedings? The Provisional Index of Factual Issues and the timeline for what the Inquests will cover in the next four or five months are both weighted heavily on the question of 'preventability', i.e. the title of the 2009 ISC report 'Could 7/7 Have Been Prevented?' Having presumed what happened and who was responsible, this final part of the Inquests will examine whether or not the police and MI5 had enough information to have interdicted the bombing plot, and will serve to determine the boundaries of future discussions about 7/7 in the same way as the opening statements analysed above. In all likelihood, the Inquests will conclude that MI5 and the police were not sufficiently vigilant in their battle against the great terrorism menace. The upshot of asking the questions in this way is that MI5 in particular will be portrayed as not being paranoid enough to confront the 'real and serious' threat that we are facing. Even though their investigations have led to such ridiculous and corrupt convictions as that of paintballer Mohammed Hamid, they will be encouraged to become ever more suspicious of British Muslims in the name of stopping another attack from happening. The likely outcome is that this will then be exploited by our political masters to justify increasingly vicious counterterrorism policy and legislation, as has consistently been the case over the five years since the London bombings.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Leaks

Perhaps the two biggest and most-disputed news stories of 2010 have been the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the Wikileaks publication of the Afghan War Diary. The exact nature of both events is uncertain, and their motives and causes are the subject of some speculation. For the most part the mainstream media have portrayed the Deepwater oil spill as an accident. The dispute within the mainstream media has largely revolved around nationalistic prejudices - the US media blaming BRITISH petroleum for the largest oil spill in history, the British media objecting. This particular spin appears to have been an attempt by Barack Obama to appear more nationalistic, to recover some of the centre ground the 'right wing' have gained since the 2008 election. As this chart from shows, the Obama-fronted administration is suffering from serious mid-term ratings trouble.

Traditionally, two years into an administration is a difficult time for new presidents, but given the success of the populist, cult of personality election campaign (that won awards from the advertising industry) times look tough for Barack. Nonetheless, he came out fighting. He visited Louisiana, the area most heavily afflicted by the spill, taking care to be pictured on the beach, literally getting his hands dirty.

This was in stark contrast to George W Bush's visit to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was criticised for a doing a flyover of the flood-stricken city from Air Force One.

Obama's 'tough' approach to the problem of the oil spill included a highly embarrassing moment when the niggercommunistmuslimantichrist claiming he visited the area because the locals could tell him 'whose ass to kick'.

Very shortly, and not inspired at all by Gulf of Mexico fisherman put out of work by the spill, Barack started to kick some ass, and he opted for BP. Labelling them a British company and saying it was entirely their 'recklessness' that had led to the disaster, he adopted a policy not dissimilar to that of the Bush administration when launching the War on Terror. He turned BP, and in particular chief executive Tony Hayward, into the villains of the story he helped paint himself as the hero. However, as the chart above shows, his ratings continue to fall. Now, Hayward deserves no sympathy, he is, or at least was until the scandal forced him to step down, an overpaid executive of one company in an elite oil cartel who control the West's energy supplies. The arrogance of being a 'member of the club' was amply demonstrated by BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg referring to the afflicted as 'small people'. For all they have had to play the villains in this pantomime, the company is ultimately protected, and will no doubt recover its share price and position in the 'market'.

The whole story is ridiculous. 'BP' is only 40% British owned, and an equal share is held by Americans. BP's partner in the deep-drilling rig operation was the Texas-based Anadarko. In a memo obtained by TPMMuckraker BP attempted to bill Anadarko for $272 million, but the American company refused to pay. They claim it was entirely BP's recklessness that was to blame. However, the much-maligned Halliburton were at least partly responsible for the safety procedures that allegedly failed, and so we have a triumvirate of not particularly British companies in the firing line. But there are indications, largely buried by the transatlantic dick waving, that it was no accident, and this isn't just about corporate greed.

Several weeks before the 'blowout' Tony Hayward sold £1.4 million in BP shares, at the same time as the company were officially pinning their future on deepwater drilling. In the three months prior to the explosion, insider trading specialists Goldman Sachs sold 58% of their holdings in BP, worth around a quarter of a billion dollars. When you factor in that Goldman Sachs chairman and managing director Peter Sutherland is a former chairman of BP, as well as a Bilderberg attendee, European Chairman for the Trilateral Commission and financial advisor to the Vatican, the possibility of an inside job looks very plausible. Why did BP bend over backwards to pay up the $20 billion demanded by the US congress? Just as the insurance companies paid out after 9/11 for the destruction of three World Trade Center skyscrapers without the slightest investigation, BP have simply folded and given in.

Why might they have done this? According to Japan-based journalist Ben Fulford it was a reaction to the Chinese slowing down their buying of US debt. In his view, the blowing up of the rig and the initial failure to do much about it was the US saying 'if you do not give us the money, we will destroy the planet’s eco-system.' There are other possible reasons, and some distinct parallels with 9/11 that bear thinking about, aside from the insider trading that betrayed foreknowledge, and the apparent acceptance of financial liability after the event of a company powerful enough to fight their corner. Just as military and counterterrorism exercises were apparently exploited to help facilitate the 9/11 attacks, alarms and safety mechanisms on the Deepwater Horizon rig were switched off. This was done 'to help the workers sleep', but left the rig open to accident or sabotage.

There is also the visual nature of the event. On May 12th, weeks after the initial explosion and sinking of the rig, BP released footage of the spill as it progressed underwater. By May 21st they 'bowed to pressure' and produced a live feed of the spill. For weeks people could tune in to youtube and watch as underwater clouds of mud and oil flowed from the busted pipes. The comparison with 9/11 is quite simple. Though the timeframes for the oil spill were much longer, a simple pattern was followed. An initial explosion on the rig (the 'plane' hitting the South Tower) followed by the rig sinking and collapsing (the twin towers 'collapsing') followed by a billowing pyroclastic flow of oil and mud (the flow of the debris from the towers covering lower Manhattan).

On June 14th, President Obama explicitly compared the spill to the terrorist attack, calling it an 'environmental 9/11'.

The disaster will "shape how we think about the environment... for years to come", he told US website Politico. - BBC

This is entirely in keeping with comments made in the aftermath of the failure of the Copenhagen conference to reach anything even approaching a binding agreement on emission reductions. The failure of that much-hyped conference, along with the increased scepticism of climate science in the wake of the climategate scandal, meant that getting the carbon economy back on the agenda was going to be difficult. Back in January, things were looking so bad that banks were withdrawing from the carbon market that had seen such heavy investment over the previous two years. By June, and shortly before Obama's 9/11 comment, Reuters reported that they were once again actively investing. Not long afterwards, it was reported that a ban on offshore drilling enacted in response to the spill was going to result in a rise in the price of oil.

The need for a crisis to help reinvigorate this long-held agenda was flagged by prominent academics just prior to the events in the Gulf of Mexico. James Lovelock, the author of the Gaia hypothesis (which in most respects contradicts the climate change doommongers) gave a highly convenient interview to the Guardian:

Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change from radically impacting on our lives over the coming decades. This is the stark conclusion of James Lovelock, the globally respected environmental thinker and independent scientist who developed the Gaia theory.

It follows a tumultuous few months in which public opinion on efforts to tackle climate change has been undermined by events such as the climate scientists' emails leaked from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the failure of the Copenhagen climate summit.

"I don't think we're yet evolved to the point where we're clever enough to handle a complex a situation as climate change," said Lovelock in his first in-depth interview since the theft of the UEA emails last November. "The inertia of humans is so huge that you can't really do anything meaningful."

One of the main obstructions to meaningful action is "modern democracy", he added. "Even the best democracies agree that when a major war approaches, democracy must be put on hold for the time being. I have a feeling that climate change may be an issue as severe as a war. It may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while."

Lovelock, 90, believes the world's best hope is to invest in adaptation measures, such as building sea defences around the cities that are most vulnerable to sea-level rises. He thinks only a catastrophic event would now persuade humanity to take the threat of climate change seriously enough, such as the collapse of a giant glacier in Antarctica, such as the Pine Island glacier, which would immediately push up sea level.

"That would be the sort of event that would change public opinion," he said. "Or a return of the dust bowl in the mid-west. Another Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report won't be enough. We'll just argue over it like now." - Guardian
This followed on from comments made by BBC climate correspondent Richard Black and Financial Times Environment correspondent Fiona Harvey. During a question and answer session at Oxford University on February 26th they were asked about Met Office forecasts, and what would convince 'sceptics and deniers':
Q: What will persuade sceptics and deniers?

BJ: It’s curious how Met Office and WMO predictions on AGW came out in the week of CH (some audience disagreement as to whether there had been a change from their normal timetable). It was at least bad timing for organisations that value integrity. They should distance themselves from advocacy. The Met Office is ahead of the science.

FH: FT readers are versed in risk and probability which are difficult to communicate in the rest of the media. Climate scientists aren’t generally newsworthy; sceptics, IPCC problems and emails are making the news. “Climate – guess what? Still changing” is an unlikely headline. A short-term disaster is needed to guarantee coverage as people aren’t good at processing information about there being no ice at the poles in 30 years. Or get David Attenborough as the front man because everyone trusts him.

RB: I agree that a short term disaster would be effective in persuading people. - Bishop Hill blog
Much like PNAC called for a 'New Pearl Harbour' and Zbigniew Brzezinski spoke of the need for a 'widely perceived direct external threat' for the US to adopt a more aggressive foreign policy, these statements evoke the need for a climate catastrophe to get the carbon economy and emissions policies back in the public minds. The world's biggest ever oil leak? Not a bad effort. There was steady increase in stories of how bad it was, from initial estimates of 1,000 barrels a day soon becoming up to 100,000 barrels per day. Oil industry whistleblower Lindsey Williams got in on the act, going on the Alex Jones show saying his contacts in the industry were worried about poisonous gases emanating from the site of the spill. He appeared on the Jeff Rense show with much the same story. In keeping with his somewhat curious religious views he portrayed the disaster as being of biblical proportions, and that it would require a nuclear explosion to seal up the ocean floor. The possible use of a nuke was officially denied just as Williams was feeding the story to the alternative media. This was in June, and he was talking about four months being required to do the preparatory work before the nuke would be detonated. A couple of weeks later, BP announced that they'd stemmed the flow of oil. By August Obama and his daughter were pictured on holiday, swimming at Alligator Point in Florida. It seems unlikely that if toxic gases were spewing up out of the water than the President would be allowed to go swimming on the Northern shore of the Gulf of Mexico. That said, BP are allegedly still spending nearly $100 million a day on dealing with the leak, so though it appears Lindsey Williams had been given misinformation it remains to be seen what happens.

By the end of July the mainstream was reporting that the oil spill, though huge, may not have been as catastrophic as previously thought. Perhaps as a bolster against this, at the same time a joint report by the UK Met Office and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US declared itself the 'best evidence yet' of global warming, and that the evidence was 'unmistakable'. In the midst of the oil spill Professor Phil Jones, who was sacked to help manage the PR during climategate, was reinstated after yet another inquiry found he'd done no wrong in refusing FOIA requests, suggesting colleagues destroyed the data, and generally refusing to make public any of the information or analysis that had produced 'evidence' of global warming. A month later, as it appeared that oceanic bacteria were degrading the spilled oil much faster than anticipated, the EU's top climate official called for a reworking of the carbon markets. Connie Hedegaard, another Bilderberg attendee, called for an overhaul of the 'Clean Development Mechanism' to 'make the carbon market an even more powerful instrument to reduce emissions'. If the stories about the oil spill not being as bad as it was portrayed are true, that may help explain why another rig has just exploded.

The second biggest leak of the year was Wikileaks' publication of the Afghan War Diary. The 'compendium' of around 91,000 documents largely consisting of basic military intelligence reports has offered a more detailed view of the Afghan War than any prior coverage. The simultaneous reporting 'scoop' by the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the New York Times catapulted Wikileaks, and Julian Assange, into the limelight. Disputes began immediately. The Pentagon responded in typical fashion, saying that Wikileaks had 'blood on their hands' because they'd exposed sensitive information. Given the actual tedium of sifting through the documents to try to find strategically useful information, this is complete horseshit. The insurgency in Afghanistan, now 'spilling' into Pakistan, would be better off just looking on the ground with their own eyes than spending weeks poring over files on the internet. If Wikileaks starts broadcasting a live feed from the US's Predator drone aircraft then that's a different matter, and I for one would find it a lot more riveting than the oil spill. And herein lies one of the more prominent criticisms of the Wikileaks War Diary story, that it may in fact be a carefully manipulated internet-era psychological operation, carried out by the very people who it apparently damages.

Suspicions were raised by the fact that two themes are relatively prevalent throughout the documents - ISI sponsorship of the insurgency, and intelligence maintaining the idea that Osama Bin Laden is actually still alive. To anyone who has actually been following the War on Terror with any integrity or critical faculties, that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence bureau are in the habit of sponsoring various militant/terrorist groups comes as no surprise. And yet, the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the NY Times all presented the story as though it were something new and outrageous. Of apparently less concern was the actions of a US Special Forces group called Task Force 373, basically a commando unit used for assassination missions. This is extra-judicial murder, like killing senior Nazis at the end of World War 2 instead of capturing them and putting them on trial. The NY Times reported that these missions frequently 'go wrong' and end up killing civilians. The net effect of this coverage is to maintain the notion of an 'us' and a 'them'. Now the 'them' who are inflicting the dreadful threat of terrorism on the West (not actual terrorism, just the threat of it) has been expanded to include Pakistan.

In all likelihood, the Brzezinski plan for Pakistan is to use them against Iran. Though there are fresh murmurs of a war against Iran, it remains highly unlikely given the US deficit and given how badly the existing wars are going. However, the murmurs do indicate that the neocons are taking ground from the Obama administration, since invasion of Iran is their policy. Brzezinski, ever the chess player, favours hiding behind proxies and manipulating the situation geopolitically, and hence wants to use the only existing Muslim nuclear power (Pakistan) to counter Iran's rather obvious efforts to become a nuclear power. So, they ratchet up the sponsorship of groups like Jundullah and Jaish-e-Mohammed to try to destabilise Iran and monopolise their military intelligence assets in fighting a dirty war. The problem with this is that the insurgency in Afghanistan becomes more powerful. In trying to deal with the Iran problem, the Obama administration has made the war in Afghanistan unwinnable. Hence, the neocons are able to seize some power saying that the only option is an all-out strike on Iran to take them out of the picture. In the midst of this struggle, Obama announced the 'end of combat operations' in Iraq. Not the end of the war. Not the end of the US occupation. But the end of 'combat operations'. Remind you of anything?

The other common criticism of the Wikileaks War Diary is that it promulgates the myth that Osama Bin Laden is still alive and causing trouble, and is a reason to be as afraid as you can manage. Even Fidel Castro got involved, saying that the Wikileaks documents 'prove' Bin Laden is a US spy. Either Castro is just being a cantankerous old Commie or he's being very clever in suggesting the presence of Bin Laden in the documents is reason to believe that his reputation as an international terrorist is one created and advanced by Western intelligence for their own ends. Either way, good on him. The world won't be quite the same when Fidel Castro isn't in it anymore.

One of the better critiques of this story is offered by Brendon O'Neill of Spiked:

[I]t’s worth noting that the documents reveal little that we didn’t already know, or couldn’t have guessed was happening...

...Truth is not something that is handed to us on a silver platter by know-it-all whistleblowers. It is something we discover for ourselves through a process of critical investigation and by quizzing and querying received wisdoms. The media’s pant-wetting excitement about these leaked documents only shows what a parlous state journalism is in, and how much journalists have become the passive recipients of information rather than active seekers of the truth...

...In equating Truth with exposure – so that Truth becomes something which is revealed to us by a supposedly heroic individual in the corridors of powers – journalists and editors are compliant in the denigration of the meaning of Truth. Truth becomes, not something we find out through critical study and investigation, but something we are handed by external forces who apparently have always pure, unimpeachable motives...

...Waiting for the Truth to be revealed is always a fool’s errand – whether you’re waiting for God to reveal it, or, even worse, some sap in a suit in the Pentagon who one morning has a very belated pang of guilt about his role in the destruction of Afghanistan. - Spiked

Giving credence to the notion that Wikileaks is an earnest website, working to put information in the public domain, who are seen as a threat by the CIA and Pentagon, is the treatment of Assange. On August 2oth, he was charged with rape in Sweden. However, within a day the arrest warrant was canceled and the charges dropped. Then at the beginning of September a 'top Swedish prosecuter' said that the case had been re-opened. So, is Assange being stigmatised and branded a rapist in order to try to discredit Wikileaks? It's possible. However, if anything the stories about Assange being charged, then the charges being dropped, then being potentially brought up again, all mentioned the War Diary as part of their coverage. It's almost as if they wanted us to make the connection, and presume the rape allegation false, and a concoction of Assange/Wikileaks apparent enemies.

A couple of days after the charges were dropped, Wikileaks published a new CIA document on their website. They pre-announced the publication on Twitter. The entries (reverse chronological order) read:

The possible prosecution of WikiLeaks | Antiwar
9:53 AM Aug 25th via bitly

WikiLeaks to release CIA paper tomorrow.
11:53 PM Aug 24th via bitly - Wikileaks on Twitter
Clearly Wikileaks wanted the publication of the CIA document to help distract from Assange's legal trouble, and firmly placed it in the context of them fighting back against 'prosecution' from outside. The document itself is from the CIA's 'Red Cell', supposedly responsible for 'outside the box' thinking. It's subject is the US 'export of terrorism', i.e. US citizens who'd gone and been involved with terrorism in other countries. The memo mentions several examples, and concludes that the PR damage of the rest of the world recognising that terrorism can originate in the US could undermine legal efforts to get foreign nations to extradite suspects to the US, and in general make US agents abroad into targets for retribution.

Perhaps the most interesting and revealing aspect of this memo is what it doesn't say. It talks of the US 'export' of terrorism. Not sponsorship. Not control or manipulation. 'Export'. One of the examples mentioned is that of David Headley from Chicago, who helped Lashkar-e-Taiba carry out the 2008 Mumbai attacks. However, the US refused to let Headley be interrogated by Indian authorities investigating the attacks, leading them and many others to believe he is in fact a CIA operative. They did eventually hand him over to the Indian authorities, but only after extensive interrogation (or debriefing) by US agents. Headley certainly worked for the Drug Enforcement Administration as an informant for years, including paying visits to Pakistan on their behalf and he may have been recruited from their by intelligence agencies higher up the food chain, such as the CIA. Though he ended up pleading guilty, just like Ali Mohamed there is no report of him actually being sentenced, and according to his lawyer this won't happen until next year when the trial of one of his co-accused is completed.

While it is not surprising to find the CIA not explicitly referring to their own sponsorship of terrorists, if Wikileaks were honest in their coverage of the issue of terrorism you would expect them to mention that Headley was probably CIA, and certainly a secret agent of some type. But they didn't. This suggests that the publication of the CIA memo was part of a media campaign aimed at taking attention away from the rape allegations, and restoring credibility to Wikileaks in a period of criticism. But who is ultimately pulling the strings? Was this just a self-protectionist move by Wikileaks, or a more subtle propaganda strategy? Is the aim to grant credibility to Wikileaks only insofar as they continue to ignore the very biggest questions? Are they a product of the people they supposedly seek to expose? Certainly Webster Tarpley thinks so.

If the aim here is to promote and cultivate Wikileaks in such a way as to discredit and marginalise 'conspiracy theorists' then this leak is an excellent means of doing that. In the second part of the above video, Tarpley rightly asks of Assange 'who pays you?' Similar document-publishing, whistleblowing website Cryptome recently published a series of messages purportedly posted by Wikileaks insiders on an encrypted messageboard. Though cryptome cast doubt on the authenticity of the messages, but they include demands for a full audit of Wikileaks finances, allegations of Wikileaks manipulating their releases, and of the organisation having a 'pyramid structure'. How Wikileaks has determined that it needs $5 million a year is a question worth asking when all they ostensibly do is host a website and pay for Assange's travelling expenses. Whether these messages are authentic is virtually impossible to say, but they do make some important points. Nonetheless, Cryptome officially supports Wikileaks.

If Wikileaks has been created, infiltrated, or otherwise been manipulated by Western military intelligence then it is in keeping with strategies outlined in various significant reports. As outlined in David Ray Griffin's new book 'Cognitive Infiltration', Obama appointee Cass Sunstein advocated the covert infiltration of groups and movements deemed 'conspiracist' and therefore a threat. He did this in a 2009 paper published in the Journal of Political Philosophy titled 'Conspiracy Theories: Causes and Cures'. I've yet to find a fully available copy of the paper, but it is likely a rehash of his 2008 paper 'Conspiracy Theories'. In it, Sunstein attributes belief in conspiracy theories largely to psychological bases. The paper trots out the usual crap about how difficult it is for conspiracies to be real in an 'open society':

Consider all the work that must be done to hide and to cover up the government’s role in producing a terrorist attack on its own territory, or in arranging to kill political opponents. In a closed society, secrets are not difficult to keep, and distrust of official accounts makes a great deal of sense. In such societies, conspiracy theories are both more likely to be true and harder to show to be false in light of available information. But when the press is free, and when checks and balances are in force, government cannot easily keep its conspiracies hidden for long. These points do not mean that it is logically impossible, even in free societies, that conspiracy theories are true. But it does mean that institutional checks make it unlikely, in such societies, that powerful groups can keep dark secrets for extended periods, at least if those secrets involve important events with major social salience. - Sunstein, 2008
What this commonly repeated attempt to refute conspiracy theories in general is missing is that in fact, even in open societies, secrets are kept as a matter of routine. As the CIA loves to remind us, we know about their failures, but we'll never hear about their successes. Military secrets are routinely kept not only from opponents on the battlefield but from the very public they are supposedly protecting. Leaks such as the Wikileaks Afghan War Diary are 'sexy' media stories precisely because we live in a society where we basically know sod all about what our soldiers and spies are really up to. On the contrary to sort of argument put forth by Sunstein, in an open society where you can obfuscate, bury bad news, or just flood people with information so they can't process it in a meaningful way, it's actually rather easy to plan and carry out (for example) false flag terrorist attacks. In the case of 7/7, virtually no forensic evidence has been leaked into the public domain, making it impossible to draw any evidence-based narrative of what happened. Those claiming to know that 7/7 was an inside job are making a leap, but no greater leap than those who claim to know that it wasn't.

Sunstein moves on to the general ignorance of people, and finds in this another cause for conspiracy theories to be believed.

Some beliefs are also motivated, in the sense that people are pleased to hold them or displeased to reject them.35 Acceptance (or for that matter rejection) of a conspiracy theory is frequently motivated in that sense. Reactions to a claim of conspiracy to assassinate a political leader, or to commit or to allow some atrocity either domestically or abroad, are often determined by the motivations of those who hear the claim. These are points about individual judgments, bracketing social influences. But after some bad event has occurred, those influences are crucial, for most people will have little or no direct information about its cause. How many people know, directly or on the basis of personal investigation, whether Al Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, or whether Lee Harvey Oswald killed President Kennedy on his own? - Sunstein, 2008
In fact, the majority of people who believe that Al Qaeda were not responsible for 9/11 and that Oswald didn't kill JFK believe so on the basis of investigation. How rational that investigation is, how sound the evidence and how logical their conclusions are as to what really happened are all a matter of considerable dispute. But the sorts of people who affirm that 9/11 was an inside job typically have far more information about the event than they do about any other given major news event. They even have a tendency to bombard those who are unconvinced with information and arguments in attempts to convince the '9/11 truth sceptics'. So, the answer to Sunstein's rather rhetorical question is 'quite a lot, actually'.

Sunstein goes on to describe several possible responses by governments concerned about conspiracy theories.

What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do,
what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1)
Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) G
overnment might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions. However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5). - Sunstein, 2008

The idea of a tax on conspiracy theorists is truly wonderful, and could only ever be the product of a mind reaching for a predetermined conclusion with all its might, without caring how stupid the person it belongs to ends up looking. It would lead to a lengthy legal battle on the definition of a conspiracy theory, since there are dozens of official conspiracy theories that presumably would deserve to be taxed too. Maybe it isn't such a stupid idea after all.

He goes on to explain what this strategy of 'cognitive infiltration' might look like.

By this we do not mean 1960s-style infiltration with a view to surveillance and collecting information, possibly for use in future prosecutions. Rather, we mean that government efforts might succeed in weakening or even breaking up the ideological and epistemological complexes that constitute these networks and groups...

...We suggest a role for government efforts, and agents, in introducing such diversity. Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action. - Sunstein, 2008

As I imagine Griffin's book will discuss, infiltrating perceived dangerous social movements is not a new strategy, and if anything the likes of Sunstein talking about it so explicitly is itself an attempted psychological operation. By advocating the policy in such clear terms he is trying to make it seem normal, rational, and inevitable. It is the just response of a sensible government in the face of a menace.

The same basic thesis can be found in more recent report, which reference Sunstein's work. Supposedly 'third way' think tank DEMOS recently published 'The Power of Unreason: Conspiracy Theories, Extremism and Counter-Terrorism'. Even more so than Sunstein, they identify belief in conspiracy theories with 'extreme' beliefs and ultimately with terrorism. They note how groups from the Ku Klux Klan to Aum Shinrikyo have believed they were the targets of persecution, or that they were a vanguard against the onslaught of tyrannical government. They note how anarchist group the Angry Brigade sent communiques 'bursting with conspiracy':

Communique 7: …THEY shoved garbage from their media down our
throats. THEY made us obscure sexual caricatures, all of us men and
women. They killed, napalmed, burned us into soap, mutilated us,
raped us. It’s gone on for centuries. Slowly we started understanding

Communique 9: We are slowly destroying the long tentacles of the
oppressive state machine…bureaucracy and technology used against
the people…to speed up our work, to slow down our minds and actions,
to obliterate the truth. - Angry brigade communiques, cited in The Power of Unreason

Frankly, however stupid and counterproductive and needlessly violent I think terrorism is, there's a lot to identify with in the statements, however 'conspiratorial' their tone. DEMOS show much the same sort of intellectual dishonesty as Sunstein, describing the story of US group MOVE thus:

MOVE – an anarcho-primitivist group involved in a police
shooting in 1985
in the United States – spoke of government
corruption and blamed all the world’s ills on technology. - The Power of Unreason
DEMOS's analysis is almost entirely inaccurate.  Several members of the commune were involved in a shootout where a police officer was killed, but that was in 1978, not 1985.  Completely ommitted from the analysis above is the fact that the MOVE commune in was subjected to a horrific siege by Philadelphia police in 1985. Tear gas canisters were hurled in, the house was drenched with water cannons, thousands of rounds were fired at the building and then to cap it all a helicopter dropped a bomb primarily made of C-4 on top of them, killing 11 people including 5 children, and causing fire and destruction that ultimately consumed 65 houses. That's a pretty good psychological motivation for people to believe the state is capable of terrorism against its own people. Echoing Sunstein once more, DEMOS cite the Wikileaks War Diary as an example of how hard it is to keep secrets:

It is also becoming more difficult for security services to operate
behind a veil of secrecy. The recent leaking of thousands of
classified US intelligence documents to Wikileaks highlight
mounting challenges. - The Power of Unreason

To respond to this, DEMOS advocate policies entirely similar to those offered by Sunstein:

Government agents or their allies should openly infiltrate the
Internet sites or spaces to plant doubts about conspiracy theories,
introducing alternative information. - The Power of Unreason

However, they did add a new policy:

As the government conducts its review of counter-terrorism powers,
it should consider how the intelligence agencies and other counterterrorism
operations could be more transparent...

---Make intelligence announcements more explicit.
In Denmark, intelligence agencies publish an unclassified
assessment of their judgement of the threats facing the country.- The Power of Unreason

Not only do they suggest the infiltration of 'undesirable' groups, in physical and cyberspace, but also that the intelligence agencies should provide more information and be more explicit about the threats we face. Now, if this were done in anything even approaching an honest fashion, it might be a somewhat sensible strategy. Stability via transparent government. But in reality, that isn't going to happen, and what DEMOS is really advocating is that intelligence agencies see conspiracy theories as an ideological enemy, to be confronted and eliminated. I'm no fearmonger, but this is all getting a bit KGB for my liking.

One final document also suggests that the Wikileaks storm might be taking place in the Pentagon's teacup. The Joint Special Operations University published a report in 2006 called Blogs and Military Information Strategy. It outlines how the blogosphere, as a synecdoche of the internet in general, is a new battleground for the US Army, and in particular the implications blogs have for 'influence operations', one category of psychological operations. It includes some rather natty diagrams and graphs, including W.L. Bennet's model of the infosphere.

The JSOU report explains a complex set of strategies to deal with the problems posed by blogs (and therefore all independent news sites) with regard to 'influence operations. It says:

Information strategists can consider clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers or other persons of prominence already within the target nation, group, or community to pass the U.S. message. In this way, the U.S. can overleap the entrenched inequalities and make use of preexisting intellectual and social capital...

...An alternative strategy is to “make” a blog and blogger. The process of boosting the blog to a position of influence could take some time, however, and depending on the person running the blog, may impose a significant educational burden, in terms of cultural and linguistic training before the blog could be put online to any useful effect. Still, there are people in the military today who like to blog. In some cases, their talents might be redirected toward operating blogs as part of an information campaign. If a military blog offers valuable information that is not available from other sources, it could rise in rank fairly rapidly...

...There are certain to be cases where some blog, outside the control of the U.S. government, promotes a message that is antithetical to U.S. interests, or actively supports the informational, recruiting and logistical activities of our enemies. The initial reaction may be to take down the site, but this is problematic in that doing so does not guarantee that the site will remain down. As has been the case with many such sites, the offending site will likely move to a different host server, often in a third country. Moreover, such action will likely produce even more interest in the site and its contents. Also, taking down a site that is known to pass enemy EEIs (essential elements of information) and that gives us their key messages denies us a valuable information source. This is not to say that once the information passed becomes redundant or is superseded by a better source that the site should be taken down. At that point the enemy blog might be used covertly as a vehicle for friendly information operations. Hacking the site and subtly changing the messages and data—merely a few words or phrases—may be sufficient to begin destroying the blogger’s credibility with the audience. Better yet, if the blogger happens to be passing enemy communications and logistics data, the information content could be corrupted. If the messages are subtly tweaked and the data corrupted in the right way, the enemy may reason that the blogger in question has betrayed them and either take down the site (and the blogger) themselves, or by threatening such action, give the U.S. an opportunity to offer the individual amnesty in exchange for information...

...There will also be times when it is thought to be necessary, in the context of an integrated information campaign, to pass false or erroneous information through the media, on all three layers, in support of military deception activities...

...Credibility is the heart and soul of influence operations. In these cases, extra care must be taken to ensure plausible deniability and nonattribution, as well as employing a well-thought-out deception operation that minimizes the risks of exposure. Because of the potential blowback effect, information strategy should avoid planting false information as much as possible. - JSOU Report 06-5 Blogs and Military Information Strategy

So even if Wikileaks is not a pure creation of military intelligence, the question remains as to whether it has been given undue prominence via the publication of the Afghan War Diary as part of an influence operation. To take the website offline would be a relatively simple matter for the US Army, but as noted in this paper that wouldn't solve the problem, and manipulation of the website, its content, and how it is perceived is a more sophisticated and effective strategy. Nonetheless, Assange might not even be aware of this, and might be perfectly honest in saying he is 'annoyed' by the 9/11 Truth movement. He may simply be an egotistical, unwitting pawn in a propaganda game that extends far beyond his influence.

In both of these stories there is much that remains uncertain, and while the people pulling the strings may still be in the shadows, the agendas being advanced via these major news events are quite obvious. What is certain is that these are stories of and for the internet age. Though they affect very real events, the video stream of the oil spill that turned it into an issue of global opinion, and the documents published by Wikileaks are things that happened online, and could only have happened online. Given the open concern about 'conspiracy theories' and the policies already adopted by military intelligence institutions, we need new strategies to counteract the effects. To that end we need 100 sites like Wikileaks, offering places for the disaffected who work in these institutions to help lay bare how they really work. Thus whether or not Wikileaks is a CIA operation would be irrelevant, because they would be but one site among many, rather than the world's premier online resource for whistleblowers. What we must also do as a critically concerned public is to remember that any individual news story produces easy, comfortable heroes and villains. We need to study these stories in context, because no one story ever explains that much, however big it is. We need to look for trends, connections across time and space, use our lateral thinking skills to always be able to consider what it beyond what we're being told. We also need to demand and expect more of investigative journalists, who will pro-actively seek out secret information rather than waiting to copy-paste it from Wikileaks. It is a dying art, but one absolutely crucial if democracy is to mean anything at all. Ultimately, we cannot trust the authorities who dominate the airwaves, because by their own confession they are more interested in deception than they are in truth.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mendacious metaphors

Inception, this summer's sci-fi thriller blockbuster, ranks at the time of writing at number 3 in the all-time movie rankings on IMDB. A similar phenomenon was seen two years ago with director Christopher Nolan's Batman relaunch sequel The Dark Knight, which reached similarly dizzying heights on IMDB and has only now fallen out of the top 10. While The Dark Knight does not pretend to be anything but a well thought out take on a classic comic book action story, Inception broaches far more philosophical topics and has loftier ambitions. Though it is a textbook example of narrative complexity, and derives tremendous tension from its pinnacle of quadruple jeopardy, in essence it says absolutely nothing. Though the script is full of references to the subconscious, and the entire story takes place in a multi-layered dream, the movie makes no effort to discuss the importance or relevance of dreams or what psychologists call the subconscious, they are mere tools and excuses used to create dramatic tension. It is an outstanding example of modernist filmmaking, concerned only with form, only with the cinematic experience of watching it. Philosophically speaking, it is totally vacuous. The concepts and references are just there for the sake of creating a point in the story where the success or failure of the protagonists rests not on a single or dual factors, but on a succession of well-sychronised 'kicks' that wake our heroes from several successive 'levels' of 'dream state'. The twist at the end appears to be the rather obvious in-story joke that the entire thing is one big dream of Leonardo Dicaprio's character. As far as cop-out, obviously leaving it open for a lucrative sequel endings go, it was a tour de force of which Nolan is presumably very proud.

The movie is a well designed trick. It convinces people that it must be about something, because there's always something going on and you have to add it all up to make sure you follow the plot correctly. But that is all it is about - the plot itself. As an intellectual experience, it is completely insular. An analysis of the essential plot points and creative decisions made in the story telling process illustrate that this can only be intentional. The movie is ostensibly set in a world different to ours, but the only exploration of the way in which it is different is the existence of a technology that allows people to enter other people's dreams. Basically they all sit in a room together, wired up to a silver suitcase. The only other information that we're offered about the world is when a Japanese businessman (cliche alert!) hires Dicaprio and his anonymous, one dimensional band of associates to attempt 'inception', the use of the technology to try to plant an idea in a rival businessman's head.

Briefly, it is explained that the rival is about to inherit a monopolistic energy company with which no one can compete, and so the Japanese businessman wants to implant the idea that the rival should split up the monopolistic company and sell it off. This is the only other information we're given about the 'real' world in which the story occurs. Unlike virtually every other sci-fi story set in a different world, the narrative conceit of setting isn't used to say anything about our own world. It simply isn't part of the story.

Instead we are invited to try to get interested and engaged by Dicaprio having a dead wife, who for reasons that are too tedious to get into, he is wrongly thought to have killed and hence he is separated from his children. The last Dicaprio movie I watched was Shutter Island, which also involved having to sit through two hours of his shitly-bearded face try to convey the emotion of having a dead wife. The central character in Memento (which is identical to Inception in several regards) also has a dead wife. As does as least one contestant on The X-Factor every year. Indeed, the story of 'man with dead wife' is about as overused as having a fat black guy play the busdriver. There is, incidentally, a lovely moment in season two of The Wire where McNulty jokes about having a dead wife in a playful attempt to curry interest from Beadie. Nolan himself shows that he knows this is a cliche by making this plot element entirely subservient to the story. That is to say, there is no exploration of the experience of a man who has lost his wife, it is merely a fact that is necessary for the climax to happen in the way that it does.

Indeed, several other factors are likewise subservient, to the extent that the entire plot is supporting one climactic sequence of cutting between successfully dependent events. Ignoring the storyteller's mantra to 'show' rather than 'tell', we are told virtually the whole story explicitly through dialogue to make sure that even the thickos at the back can grasp what's going on. We are told that in order to plant the idea (incept? inceive?) in the business rival's head they need a three-layered dream - a dream within a dream within a dream - so they can ensure the idea goes 'deep' enough. (This is only one of a dozen different uses of the word 'deep' in the script, more on that lower down) Why is this the case? Why a three-layered dream? Purely because the plot demands it. We are told that three layers is highly unstable. Why is this the case? Why would dreaming within dreaming within dreaming involve experiencing a reality that is less stable than mere dreaming within dreaming? No explanation is given. It is purely because the plot demands it.

So, they drug the target with a powerful sedative, and drug themselves with it too. Once in the first level of the dream, we are told that because of the sedative if they 'die' in the dream that they won't wake up, but will go into another, apparently parallel, dream state they call 'limbo'. No one bothers to ask 'what happens if you die in limbo, do you wake up then?' which is important, because the film has no answer for that rather obvious question, at least at that point in the story. Again, the whole 'limbo' diversion is an excuse for something else that needs to happen so that the narrative conclusion can be what the writers want it to be. It isn't saying anything about the nature of experiencing death within a dream, or being conscious of experiencing death in a dream, and it sure as hell isn't saying anything about humans being the only creatures that know that they are going to die. It's just a piece of a jigsaw. If people are satisfied with themselves for having put the jigsaw together by the end of the movie then they will go home happy with the cinematic experience, happy to have consumed Inception as a product.

And here is the crucial factor in the deception of Inception. It isn't even Titanic. Titanic was a largely meaningless blockbuster, also starring Dicaprio, but at least it gave its audience a good emotional work out. It may not have taught them anything, it may not have informed them, it may not have inspired them, but at least it made people feel something. Inception doesn't even accomplish that. All it is offering its audience is the prize of being able to follow the plot, which isn't even that complex relative to, just for example, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It is the cinematic equivalent of a Sudoku puzzle. In many tabletop games, in particular most board games, the multiplayer aspect means that one is testing oneself against other people within the framework of the rules. There is an unpredictable exchange that requires an ad hoc mental process. In Sudoku, either one 'gets' it and completes the puzzle, or one doesn't. In Inception, either you follow the plot, or you don't. In a movie where so much is at stake for the characters, virtually nothing is at stake for the watching audience.

Indeed, even the title is misleading gibberish. The word 'inception' means the beginning of something. It does not mean planting an idea in someone's mind through their subconscious. 'Insertion' would be more accurate. However, Nolan clearly isn't concerned with actually using words to mean what they mean, but solely with finding a single-word, cool sounding title for a movie that says nothing about anything. Calling a movie 'insertion' would make it sound like an unimaginative porn film, presumably based around people placing objects in their bodily orifices. The title 'Inception' plays the same role as the sunglasses and long leather jackets in The Matrix. It is almost empty data - signifying nothing other than the filmmaker's desire to be thought of as having made a cool movie. All the talk, in both films, of perception of reality is not an effort to explore ontology through cinema, but as part of a carefully arranged group of symbols which are collectively meaningless but individually compelling enough to appear meaningful at least for the duration of the film. The film is not only driven by almost pure formalism, it engages in a form of psychological deception.

That is not to say people shouldn't find the movie enjoyable, more so that they should realise what it is that they are enjoying. That is, their own ability to follow a reasonably complex plot, their own capacity to solve a puzzle so that they can buy into the dramatic tension of the climactic sequence. Inception does make its audience work a little harder than most mainstream action thrillers, but this is only to make the film more compelling as a physical, formal experience. It's the equivalent of using more contrasting colours in a painting, or slightly cruder language in a sitcom. Not subtle, not particularly clever and most certainly not philosophical. David Denby of the New Yorker twigged this:

Christopher Nolan(...) appears to believe that if he can do certain things in cinema—especially very complicated things—then he has to do them. But why? To what end? His new movie, “Inception,” is an astonishment, an engineering feat, and, finally, a folly...

...“Inception” is a stunning-looking film that gets lost in fabulous intricacies, a movie devoted to its own workings and to little else...

...Bizarre oddities, which complicate the puzzle but are meaningless in themselves, flash by in an instant. The actors, trying to suggest familiarity with the task of dream invasion, spin off gibberish in the most casual way. Parodies, I assume, will follow on YouTube...

...But who cares if Cobb gets back to two kids we don’t know? And why would we root for one energy company over another? There’s no spiritual meaning or social resonance to any of this, no critique of power in the dream-world struggle between C.E.O.s. - Inception review, New Yorker

There is something much more important at stake than Nolan's aesthetic philosophy, and that is that Inception works as a corporate psychological operation, as mass propaganda. This is most obvious in its treatment of dreams-within-dreams. The characters are seen entering a dream, and then falling asleep within it and entering another dream, and then falling asleep within that and entering another dream. These dreams are arranged in a linear, vertical formation so to fully wake up they need to wake up from the 'deepest level' (3rd dream) to the 'deeper level' (2nd dream) to the merely 'deep level' (1st dream) and from there wake up to reality. The neat planning and execution of these four successive 'wake ups' is what creates the quadruple jeopardy - to successfully wake up, all four must work in the right way and the right order.

However, this isn't how dreams work. No one falls asleep in a dream and finds themself in another dream. Sometimes, people experience 'waking up' in a dream but that is usually the beginning of the dream (insofar as they remember it), not a transition from a prior dream state, and certainly not a passage up some imaginary ladder of different dream states. No one actually experiences lucid dreaming in the manner portrayed in Inception. The film is also asexual. Aside from Dicaprio's dead wife, there is no indication that any of the characters even have a sexuality or any kind of romantic emotion whatsoever, and yet this is perhaps the number one topic for real dreams. This confirms that Nolan has no interest in discussing people's real experience of dreams.

In reality, most people experience dreams within dreams laterally, not vertically. As is portrayed in the far superior film based on a very, very similar premise Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we tumble sideways, never in full control, finding the world of our own mind a constantly shifting, unsteady ground, rather than the rigid military formation demanded by Nolan's plot. But Nolan could have created the same quadruple jeopardy without arranging the dreams vertically. Had the various dreams been parallel, he could have simply had the characters explain with their psychobabble that they needed to exit the dreams simultaneously at the same time as the target, the rival businessman, so he didn't realise he'd been in a dream all along while they were planting the idea. Or whatever. It could have not been dreams at all, but three or four events needing to happen in different places for the desired conclusion to happen. Instead of parallel dream states one could have Sliders-style parallel universes, causally interconnected. There are an infinite number of possible scenarios where four stories or situations have mutually dependent influence.

So why all the crap about dreams, the subconscious, perception of reality, and saying 'levels' and 'deep' like there's a legal quota to be hit? Two key reasons springs to mind. The first is to make the film appear to be about far more than it really is. Bombard people with words that sound clever, and a fair number of them will think you are being clever. Whether you are saying anything meaningful is irrelevant. It's akin to the infamous Milgram Experiment in the 1960s, where participants were told they were to give electric shocks to subjects. The experiment found that in a scientific setting, told to do so by an apparent authority figure, the majority of people would gladly administer what they believed were lethal electric shocks. This experiment has been recreated several times, including by the BBC:

In these experiments, the symbols of authority are that of science. The authoritarian white, middle aged male wearing a lab coat, in a room with the sort of functional equipment one would expect in a lab experiment. In Inception, the symbols of authority are those of science fiction, pseudo-psychological and technical dialogue, paradoxically complex plots reminiscent of those in the Back to the Future films, and pretty young things/swarthy middle aged hacks doing the walking and talking. But Inception is solely concerned with its own exposition, with blending the established elements of the sci-fi thriller in a sufficiently familiar but sufficiently fresh way to attain blockbuster status. It is an exercise in the balance of entropy and redundancy, the predictable and the unpredictable.

As such, using metaphors like 'deep' and 'levels' to describe different dream states/parts of the story is a reasonably cunning move. These are extremely common metaphors, the Swiss Army Knives of critical language. 'On one level' 'an another level' 'on different levels' are used to fill in spaces in sentences where the analysis is lacking, or even where it fails. Commonly, 'deep' is used to mean 'profound' but, significantly, it is also often used to mean 'compelling'. The two meanings are quite different. An illusion can be compelling, people who think they've seen ghosts and UFOs (or maybe actually have seen ghosts and/or UFOs) find their visions compelling. Whether those visions are profound, or the results of a superficial failure of the senses, or a deliberate illusion, or of a willing mind seeing what it wants to see, remains uncertain. Inception plays on this dual meaning, as it is very compelling to watch, but ultimately lacks any kind of profundity. Its adherents will defend it, claiming to see all sorts of fabulous and wonderful meanings (or just appreciating it technically) but the conjunction of the signs in the film show that this is probably not the case.

'Subconscious' and 'subconsciously' are likewise overused, from pop-psychological studies of why women eat less when men are around to highly convenient and misleading explanations of what motivates terrorists. Again, the 'sub' prefix implies a vertical arrangement, a hierarchy, though ironically most claims about the subconscious grant it great authority. The word 'subconscious' is mentioned throughout Inception, but no notable exploration of its role takes place. It is merely the place where the anonymous team of nubiles and veterans have to plant the idea in the target. All this language firmly encourages the audience to phrase their thoughts, not just about the film, in a language which presumes hierarchy, which presumes authority, which assumes some kind of chain of command. Shit rolls downhill.

Of course, people repeat this nonsense, further encouraging these thought patterns. People come to accept the hierarchy, because they find it difficult to articulate thoughts in the absence of such hierarchical metaphors. Not only does Inception dupe its audience into thinking it is about far more interesting and complex things than it really is about, it further encourages them to accept a top-down order of things, by further propagating and entrenching a vocabulary that wholly presumes and affirms such an order. That it does so while satisfying people through the use of their own minds, feeling as though they are getting a mental workout when they are actually being blinded by propaganda, makes Inception a work of supreme doublethink. It rewards you for accepting its precepts and presumptions, which themselves entail you thinking in such a way that is wholly unrewarding. Well done for staying in your designated place. We thank you for not smoking.

I refer again to George Orwell's essay Politics and the English language. In the essay, Orwell criticises several passages of writing for their 'staleness of imagery' and 'is lack of precision'.

The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not...

...As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of WORDS chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of PHRASES tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house. - Orwell, Politics and the English language

Inception is guilty of many of the charges Orwell was levelling at writers several decades ago, in particular 'dying metaphors' ('deep') and 'pretentious diction' ('subconscious'). My interpretation of the film outlined above is not an exposition of a meaning contained within it, but of the role it plays linguistically. It has a carefully arranged veneer of appearing meaningful, but is ultimately meaningless. Yet in duping its audience in this way, it makes use of words (and indeed, images and plot elements) that maintain in the audience habits of thinking that keep them susceptible to this sort of deception. Indeed, 'deception' would be a far more accurate title for the film.

Ultimately, Inception makes a philosophical error common to many sci-fi films, namely of upholding the dualism and binary opposition of appearance and reality. The danger implicit (and sometimes explicit) in the movie's dramatic height is that while the characters could simply be woken from their dream state, that they would have lost their grip on reality. The conceit at the end of the film indicating that Dicaprio is still in a dream, having lost that grip, firmly upholds this opposition and dualism. But dreams are not mere appearance, they are compelling fantasy, apparent visions that we generate for ourselves when asleep. They conform to a different logic to waking life, but they aren't the opposite of waking life. They are experienced in much the same way, and have very real effects, perhaps more than we presently understand. It is an opposition of convenience - asleep/awake appearance/reality falsity/truth - but not one that is easily upheld. You can dream and know you are dreaming. You can be awake and think you are still dreaming. The line is far from clear, without the need for any ludicrous, convoluted, jargon-laden exposition through cinema.

The most famous assault on this binary opposition came a century before poststructuralism in the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. He argued that there is only appearance, that when we replace one 'appearance' with 'reality' (for example, due to a new observation or deduction) then all we are doing is replacing one appearance with another. The metaphysical realism and rationalism of Immanuel Kant in particular would have us believe that if only we use our faculty of reason to disengage from our particular subjective motives and interests is the knowledge we produce an adequate presentation of reality. This understanding has reality as a thing in itself, out there, which we generally only understand through the veil of our subjective perceptions of it. For Nietzsche, this distinction is a nonsense, an attempt by philosophers to look round a corner they haven't reached. Appearance is reality, as far as we can ever know. While this idea is contested and explored through Nietzsche's work, perhaps his most simple deconstruction of the opposition of appearance and reality came in Twilight of the Idols:

1. The true world — attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it.
(The oldest form of the idea, relatively sensible, simple, and persuasive. A circumlocution for the sentence, "I, Plato, am the truth.")
2. The true world — unattainable for now, but promised for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man ("for the sinner who repents").
(Progress of the idea: it becomes more subtle, insidious, incomprehensible — it becomes female, it becomes Christian. )
3. The true world — unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it — a consolation, an obligation, an imperative.
(At bottom, the old sun, but seen through mist and skepticism. The idea has become elusive, pale, Nordic, Königsbergian.)
4. The true world — unattainable? At any rate, unattained. And being unattained, also unknown. Consequently, not consoling, redeeming, or obligating: how could something unknown obligate us?
(Gray morning. The first yawn of reason. The cockcrow of positivism.)
5. The "true" world — an idea which is no longer good for anything, not even obligating — an idea which has become useless and superfluous — consequently, a refuted idea: let us abolish it!
(Bright day; breakfast; return of bon sens and cheerfulness; Plato's embarrassed blush; pandemonium of all free spirits.)
6. The true world — we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.
(Noon; moment of the briefest shadow; end of the longest error; high point of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.) - Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
And so, as he concluded:
The antithesis of the apparent world and the true world reduced to the antithesis "world" and "nothing." - Nietzsche, Will to Power §567

As such, I am not calling Inception 'shallow' or 'superficial' as these are analogies of the same type, language from the same wrongheaded conceptual scheme Nolan seems to subscribe to. Rather, the film is vapid, meaningless and willfully deceitful, a carefully constructed psychological operation that will only contribute to a world of mendacious metaphors that make clarity of thought and word that much harder.