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State-sponsored intimidation, or when FARA goes too far

The US government is blatantly violating the most basic tenets of its purportedly “sacred” ideology of “human rights” and “free speech” by egregiously overstepping the bounds of FARA to engage in the same type of state-sponsored intimidation that it regularly accuses its geopolitical opponents of for far less.

Andrew Korybko

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Originally published in Oriental Review

Yahoo broke the story earlier on Monday that the FBI questioned former Sputnik employee Andrew Feinburg following his public complaints to the media about how the company is supposedly being run, and this reportedly came after another former employee, Joseph John Fionda, allegedly contacted the FBI on his own initiative to share “a big packet” of information accusing Sputnik of breaking the law. The legislation at the center of this scandal is the “Foreign Agents Registration Act” (FARA), a 1938 law originally passed to expose Nazi influence operations inside of the US. It’s since been used for registering anyone who works as a “foreign agent”, which stereotypically refers to Congressional lobbyists hired by foreign governments but is nowadays being proposed by some US voices to apply to Sputnik and RT as well.

The basis for this move is that both companies are publicly funded by the Russian government, and that this therefore supposedly makes them “propaganda” because it’s assumed by the American authorities that all of their employees lack “editorial independence” from the Kremlin. As could have been expected, the same forces pushing for Sputnik and RT to register as “foreign agents” under FARA aren’t interested in equally applying these expanded “standards” to other publicly financed international media outlets such as Al Jazeera and the BBC.

Using the same criteria as is being applied against these two companies, one could rhetorically question the “independence” of US Congressmen and American government-connected “think tanks” to the “deep state”, which is another word for its permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies that hold disproportionate influence over policymaking decisions.

In any case, what’s important to focus on is the difference between publicly financed institutions and those which are “government-run”. The first one simply means that taxpayers are paying the bills, whereas the second refers to government employees being the final decision makers on all matters. All government employees work for publicly financed institutions, but not all employees at publicly financed institutions are government employees. Sputnik, for example, is a publicly financed media platform where the editors always have the final say as decision makers in what is a globally recognized industry-wide hierarchical standard. This doesn’t indicate “censorship” or a “cover-up” – it’s just plain journalism.

If Washington-funded media platforms happen to accuse Sputnik and RT of being “government-run”, then it might possibly be that they’re falsely projecting their own unstated but widely assumed internal arrangements onto their Russian counterparts.

Moreover, just because two disgruntled employees seem to have experienced communication issues with their superiors and failed to resolve – or in some cases, even address – them prior to continuing with their given assignments doesn’t mean that there’s a “Kremlin conspiracy” because their bosses were displeased with their overall work at the company as a result. Outcomes like that happen in those situations. It’s life – nothing more, nothing less – and should be used as a personal learning experience, not as someone’s “15 minutes of fame” driven by their desire to more easily land a new job elsewhere, whether in the same industry or the “think tank” one. It’s natural for people to have divergent views on any given subject, especially when it’s related to politics, but editors always have the final say when it comes to the journalism industry, and employees are supposed to respect that.

One of the more popular fake news claims going around about Sputnik and RT is that the two outlets were heavily biased in favor of Trump during the 2016 election, but that’s frankly not true, as anyone would know by listening to Sputnik’s radio programs from that time, watching RT’s shows, or reading both of their websites’ archives. Both platforms lean closer to the liberal-progressive side of things as opposed to the conservative one. Simply reporting on the many unfavorable stories surrounding Hillary Clinton and not blindly fawning over her candidacy doesn’t qualify as “institutional bias”, though in largely controlled systems such as the American one where most of the media openly back the Democrats, then the Overton window concept would suggest that Sputnik and RT’s balanced reporting and analyses would understandably stand out as attention-grabbing and exemplary.

In addition, it should never be forgotten that it was the on-the-fence population of the Rust Belt who surprisingly turned the election in Trump’s favor. One would presume that the liberal-progressive masses in the solidly Democratic states on each coast would be Sputnik and RT’s core audiences given how these two outlets’ more leftist-leaning stance on many matters overlap with the prevailing preferences there, so it’s ridiculous to believe that these Russian companies somehow convinced voters to want to “Make America Great Again” in the more stereotypically nationalistic heartland with their liberal-progressive messaging. In fact, it’s uncertain how many people in that part of the US listen to, watch, or read Sputnik and RT in the first place when Fox NewsCNN, and Rush Limbaughdominate those media markets, and whether these Russian companies are even capable of making any difference at all in those swing states.

Another point that’s often brought up in the course of this conversation is that individual writers, analysts, and presenters might be “biased”, but human beings are unique and have their own way of understanding and relaying information, which in the media field leads to them expressing their individual viewpoints and perspectives in their work. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it should be celebrated that people feel comfortable enough in their professional environment to express themselves as they see fit, though provided that they’re not obnoxiously – and perhaps even deliberately – doing something to cross the line of the editorial standards which vary according to the media outlet. The Sputnik and RT employees that are in the public limelight sometimes have opinions that are just as passionate as their counterparts in The Washington Post and The New York Times, though the latter two are rarely – if ever – condemned for their zeal by the US government.

The double standard that’s being applied when it comes to Sputnik and RT should be clear for all to see, and it’s that the American “deep state” doesn’t tolerate foreigners having an opinion about the US unless they present it on a US-based media platform or on one of Washington’s allies’. Otherwise, as the witch-hunting “logic” now goes, they’re “foreign agents” possibly “spreading propaganda”, and their outlets need to be registered as such with the intimidating “scarlet letter(s)” of FARA if they’re foreign-funded. Even worse, the hysterical zeitgeist has now peaked at such a point that Americans are unable to talk about American-related issues (whether domestic or foreign) on non-American international media outlets publicly funded by a foreign government without potentially having to register as a “foreign agent” in their homelands, whether they still live there or emigrated already.

This is nothing less than state-sponsored intimidation, since Washington is implying that the Americans who work for and comment on these platforms might be “national security threats” because of their supposedly undeclared “foreign agent” status.

If Russia implemented the same media version of FARA that the US is seriously considering and decided to decree that its citizens working for publicly funded American information outlets both in the country and abroad are “foreign agents” that are forced to register with the Kremlin, then the US government would instantly condemn it as state-sponsored intimidation and political oppression, possibly even extending political asylum and an expedited path to citizenship for those said nationals who might be working in the US and are too afraid to ever go home again. Frighteningly, however, it’s not Russians who have to fear the long arm of their government in this respect, but Americans, though it’s “politically incorrect” for anyone to say so.

In the Twilight Zone of the New Cold War, Russia could plausibly – and with full ethical and legal backing behind it –contemplate granting its Russian-based American employees political asylum and potential citizenship because of the state-sponsored intimidation that they might become reasonably subjected to back home just because they decided to “Tell The Untold” and “Question More”. If the US government demands that Sputnik and RT employees register as “foreign agents” under FARA but selectively ignores enforcing this new “standard” against other publicly financed international media companies and their employees, then it’s not unrealistic to imagine that Edward Snowden might end up sharing a toast with some fellow American political refugees in Moscow before too long.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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Media meltdown hits stupid levels as Trump and Putin hold first summit (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 58.

Alex Christoforou

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It was, and still remains a media meltdown of epic proportions as that dastardly ‘traitor’ US President Donald Trump decided to meet with that ‘thug’ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Of course these are the simplistic and moronic epitaphs that are now universally being thrown around on everything from Morning Joe to Fox and Friends.

Mainstream media shills, and even intelligent alternative news political commentators, are all towing the same line, “thug” and “traitor”, while no one has given much thought to the policy and geo-political realities that have brought these two leaders together in Helsinki.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou provide some real news analysis of the historic Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, without the stupid ‘thug’ and ‘traitor’ monikers carelessly being thrown around by the tools that occupy much of the mainstream media. Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

And if you though that one summit between Putin and Trump was more than enough to send the media into code level red meltdown, POTUS Trump is now hinting (maybe trolling) at a second Putin summit.

Via Zerohedge

And cue another ‘meltdown’ in 3…2…1…

While arguments continue over whether the Helsinki Summit was a success (end of Cold War 2.0) or not (most treasonous president ever), President Trump is convinced “The Summit was a great success,” and hints that there will be a second summit soon, where they will address: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

However, we suspect what will ‘trigger’ the liberal media to melt down is his use of the Stalin-esque term “enemy of the people” to describe the Fake News Media once again…

 

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While US seeks to up the ante on pressure on the DPRK, Russia proposes easing sanctions

These proposals show the dichotomy between the philosophy of US and Russian foreign policy

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The United States last week accused the DPRK of violating refined petroleum caps imposed as a part of UN nuclear sanctions dating back to 2006, and is therefore submitting a proposal to cut all petroleum product sales to North Korea.

The Trump administration is keen on not only preserving pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms development, but in increasing that pressure even as DPRK Chairman, Kim Jong-Un, is serially meeting with world leaders in a bid to secure North Korea’s security and potential nuclear disarmament, a major move that could deescalate tensions in the region, end the war with the South, and ease global apprehensions about the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Russia is proposing to the UNSC sanctions relief in some form due to the North’s expressed commitment to nuclear disarmament in the light of recent developments.

Reuters reports:

MOSCOW/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s envoy to North Korea said on Wednesday it would be logical to raise the question of easing sanctions on North Korea with the United Nations Security Council, as the United States pushes for a halt to refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

“The positive change on the Korean peninsula is now obvious,” said the ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, according to the RIA news agency, adding that Russia was ready to help modernize North Korea’s energy system if sanctions were lifted and if Pyongyang can find funding for the modernization.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

China tried late last month to get the Security Council to issue a statement praising the June 12 Singapore meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressing its “willingness to adjust the measures on the DPRK in light of the DPRK’s compliance with the resolutions.”

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But the United States blocked the statement on June 28 given “ongoing and very sensitive talks between the United States and the DPRK at this time,” diplomats said. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the importance of sanctions enforcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to informally brief U.N. Security Council envoys along with South Korea and Japan on Friday.

Diplomats say they expect Pompeo to stress the need to maintain pressure on North Korea during his briefing on Friday.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said he elicited a promise from Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. He also said: “There is no rush, the sanctions remain!”

The United States accused North Korea last week of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

The United States submitted the complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to decide by Thursday whether it will tell all U.N. member states to halt all transfers of refined petroleum to Pyongyang.

Such decisions are made by consensus and some diplomats said they expected China or Russia to delay or block the move.

When asked on June 13 about whether sanctions should be loosened, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We should be thinking about steps in that direction because inevitably there is progress on the track that should be reciprocal, that should be a two-way street. The other side should see encouragement to go forward.”

The proposals of both the United States and Russia are likely to be vetoed by each other, resulting no real changes, but what it displays is the foreign policy positions of both nuclear powers towards the relative position of the DPRK and its rhetorical move towards denuclearization. The US demonstrates that its campaign of increased pressure on the North is necessary to accomplishing the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while Russia’s philosophy on the matter is to show a mutual willingness to follow through on verbal commitment with a real show of action towards an improved relationship, mirroring on the ground what is happening in politics.

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Europe divided over possible trade compromise with Trump

Even if a European proposal could score a trade cease fire, the war isn’t over

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US President Donald Trump has just lectured NATO on it member’s commitment performance and held a controversial meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and is next week to receive EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with trade matters being high up on the agenda.

Juncker is expected to present Trump with a package of proposals to help smooth relations and potentially heal areas of division, particularly those surrounding Europe’s trade relationship with America. Those proposals are precisely what is cropping up as another area of divergence between some members of the EU, specifically France and Germany, just after a major contention on migration has been driving discord within the Union.

This gets down to whether Europe should offer concessions to Trump on trade while Trump is admittedly describing the Union as a ‘foe’ and has initiated a trade spat with the Union by assessing trade tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, spurring retaliatory tariff measures from the EU Commission.

France, specifically, is opposed to any sort of compromise with Trump on the matter, where Trump is perceived as an opponent to the Union and its unity, whereas Germany is economically motivated to seek an end to the trade dispute under the threat of a new round of tariffs emanating from the Trump administration, and is therefore seeking to find some sort of proposal that Trump will accept and therefore back down on his protectionism against the EU, and Germany in particular.

Politico reports:

Only a week before European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker flies to Washington, France and Germany are divided over how much he should offer to U.S. President Donald Trump to end a deepening trade war, say European diplomats and officials.

But, they add, Germany has the upper hand. Berlin is shaping Juncker’s agenda, suggesting three offers that he could take to Trump on July 25 to resolve the dispute, according to people familiar with the plans.

The French are uneasy about the wisdom of such a conciliatory approach, however, and publicly accuse Trump of seeking to splinter and weaken the 28-member bloc, which he has called his “foe.”

Despite Paris’ reservations about giving away too much to the increasingly hostile U.S. president, the diplomats say that the European Commission’s powerful Secretary-General Martin Selmayr supports the German attempt at rapprochement, which makes it more likely that Juncker will offer some kind of trade fix next week.

“It’s clear that Juncker can’t go to Washington empty-handed,” one diplomat said. He stressed that Juncker’s proposals would be a political signal to Washington and would not be the formal beginning of negotiations, which would have to be approved by EU countries.

European ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the scope of Juncker’s offer — and indeed whether any offers should be made at all. France’s official position is that Europe must not strike any deal with a gun to its head, or with any country that has opted out of the Paris climate accord, as Trump’s America has done.

While Berlin is terrified by the prospect of 20 percent tariffs on cars and is desperate for a ceasefire deal, France has more fundamental suspicions that the time for compromise is over and that Trump simply wants to destroy EU unity. Paris is concerned that Trump’s next target is its sacred farm sector and is putting more emphasis on the importance of preserving a united political front against Washington.

Two diplomats said Berlin has a broad menu of offers that should be made to Trump: a bilateral deal to cut industrial tariffs, a plurilateral agreement to eliminate car duties worldwide, and a bigger transatlantic trade agreement including regulatory cooperation that potentially also comes with talks on increasing U.S. beef exports into Europe.

Making such generous offers is contentious when Trump crystallized his trade position toward Brussels on CBS news on Sunday: “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”

This undiplomatic bombshell came not long after he reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU to get a better trade deal than he was willing to offer the EU28.

In announcing Juncker’s visit on Tuesday, the White House said that he and Trump “will focus on improving transatlantic trade and forging a stronger economic partnership.”

Talking to the enemy

Diplomats note that a French-led camp in Brussels reckons Trump’s goals are strategic, and that he’s not after the sort of deal Germany is offering.

A French government official said that Washington quite simply wants to shift the EU off the stage: “Trump’s objective is that there are two big blocs: The United States and China. A multipower world with Europe as a strong player does not fit in.”

France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this month also issued a stark warning that Trump is seeking to drive a wedge between France and Germany — courting Paris, while simultaneously attacking Berlin’s trade surplus with the U.S. “In this globalized world, European countries must form a bloc, because what our partners or adversaries want is to divide us,” Le Maire said at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence. “What the United States want, that’s to divide France and Germany.”

Despite these remarks from Le Maire, Anthony Gardner, former ambassador to the EU under the Barack Obama administration, said that he suspects the full magnitude of the threat has not sunk in. “Europe wake up; the U.S. wants to break up the EU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Remember Belgium’s motto: L’union fait la force. [Unity creates strength]. Especially on trade. No side deals.”

One EU diplomat insisted that Brussels is not blind to these dangers in the run-up to Juncker’s visit.

Trump thinks that Europe is “too big to be controllable by DC, so it’s bad for America. Simple logic. And therefore the only deal that will bring the president to stop the trade war is the deal that breaks up the European market. I don’t quite think that’s the legacy Juncker is aiming for,” the diplomat said.

Europe is source of a deep frustration for Trump, as it runs a massive goods surplus with the U.S., at $147 billion in 2016. In particular, the U.S. president blames Germany’s mighty car exporters for this imbalance.

Leveling the field is not easy, however. With its market of 510 million consumers, Europe not only has the clout to stand up to the United States, but is increasingly setting global standards — particularly on food. This not only limits U.S. exports in Europe but also means that the European model is used in a broader trading ecosystem that includes Canada, Mexico and Japan.

New world order

Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch member of the European Parliament, observed that the U.S. trade strategy meshed with Trump’s political agenda.

“You could say there’s a new transatlantic relation emerging, of nationalists, populists and protectionists,” she said, pointing out that Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast doubt on America’s commitment to supporting European security.

Trump’s opposition to the EU partly builds on an long-standing American discomfort about the EU’s economic policies.

“We already saw problems during the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where the U.S. didn’t like EU demands such as on geographical indications [food name protections], and certainly didn’t like that we had ambitious requests in areas like public procurement,” said Pascal Kerneis, managing director of the European Services Forum and a member of the now defunct TTIP advisory group.

Kerneis said that Trump’s trade attacks are shifting the tensions to a completely new level: “He’s attacking on all fronts, hoping to break our unity, particularly between Germany and France.”

France particularly fears that Trump’s duties on Spanish olives could only be the first salvo on Europe’s whole system of farm subsidies.

EU lawmaker Schaake said that France is right to worry about a conflagration. “Once we give in in one area, he will attack at the next one,” she said. “If we allow Trump to play Europeans against each other, sector by sector, it will be a losing game.”

Even if Europe goes about capitulating to Trump’s gripes about the Union, whether it gets back to NATO defense spending or the trade deficit, the question remains whether this will satiate Trump’s political appetite and result in an improved trade perspective and politically acceptable position with Washington, and France’s concern that the matter runs deeper and has a foreign policy agenda behind it, and that caving to Trump’s pressure will only end in defeat for the EU would therefore appear reasonable.

But Germany is staring down the barrel of a possible new round of tariffs that would hurt some of their largest industries and is therefore under a lot of pressure to find a solution, or at least some sort of agreement that could deescalate the situation.

However, Germany’s recent record of resolving international issues is such that Germany is really only scoring cease fire agreements, rather than ending the real political conflicts, referring mainly to the immigration issue which recently resulted only in diffusing some inter Union tensions, but without resolving the problem itself.

In this context, Germany could promise the moon and stars to Trump, possibly avert further trade tensions, but yet fail to address the core political and trade conflicts that have already broken out. Essentially, then, such a compromise would only serve to function as damage control, while leaving Germany and the Union at a further disadvantaged political position relative to the States at the political table.

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