(MintPress) – Despite boasting a constitutionally protected free press, U.S. intelligence agencies have infiltrated and stifled the publication of stories allegedly for matters of national security. One such story is recent information about secret U.S. drone bases in Saudi Arabia.
Since 2011, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has sought to increase the surveillance of the U.S. media and social media outlined in the “Department of Homeland Security National Operations Center Media Monitoring Capability Desktop Reference Binder” — a report that could further debilitate what should be a free, critical press. Critics believe that this is part of a broader trend where intelligence agencies surveying the media limit the ability of journalists to publish reports on contentious topics, especially those dealing with U.S. foreign policy.
“The U.S. media, over the last decade (at least), has repeatedly acted to conceal newsworthy information it obtains about the actions of the U.S. government. In each instance, the self-proclaimed adversarial press corps conceals these facts at the behest of the U.S. government, based on patently absurd claims that reporting them will harm U.S. national security,” wrote Guardian security and liberty contributor Glenn Greenwald in a recent article.
Department of Homeland Security mandate
“It’s the primary function of the mass media to mobilize public support for the special interests that dominate the government and the private sector,” said prominent linguist and political scholar Noam Chomsky.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) follows this observation by outlining a mandate to “Leverage Operationally Relevant Data” for matters of intelligence gathering. Founded in 2002, the DHS was created in the aftermath of 9/11, increasing intelligence gathering after the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil which killed nearly 3,000 people.
The mandate’s first mission component is to leverage news stories, media reports and postings on social media sites concerning Homeland Security, Emergency Management and National Health for data, information and analysis.
DHS will reportedly separate news sources into “tiers” based upon their market reach. Top-tier newspapers the agency will watch include the Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today and other national publications. Lower on the list are “obviously partisan or agenda-driven sites” like MoveOn.org and Amnesty International.
The report also details plans to create an application that can search Twitter and other social media for breaking stories and unconfirmed reports. All of this will be carried out in order to gather information regarding matters of national security, terrorism, immigration and border control and cybersecurity, among 14 categories that will “increase the situational awareness of the DHS Secretary.”
Some believe that this leveraging and aggregation of news could lead to undue interference by DHS in news reporting. Critics cite the extensive history of FBI and CIA infiltration into newsrooms as reason to be wary of the latest DHS operations.
A historical look back at media infiltration
The latest DHS report aggregating information from the media is not conclusive evidence to suggest that there is some surveillance apparatus exerting undue influence or censoring the content of mainstream media.
There are numerous examples however, showing that the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies have sought to censor reports in the past, a chilling record that has stifled free criticism of controversial government policies.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post admitted that it has long known about a secret U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia, but chose not to publish reports at the request of the Obama administration.
“The Washington Post had refrained from disclosing the specific location at the request of the administration, which cited concern that exposing the facility would undermine operations against an al-Qaeda affiliate regarded as the network’s most potent threat to the United States, as well as potentially damage counterterrorism collaboration with Saudi Arabia.”
The Washington Post adds, “The Post learned Tuesday night that another news organization was planning to reveal the location of the base, effectively ending an informal arrangement among several news organizations that had been aware of the location for more than a year.”
The drone base in Saudi Arabia has been used as a base to attack sites in neighboring Yemen. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that since 2002, the U.S. has carried out extensive drone operations in Yemen, killing nearly 200 civilians and more than 1,000 alleged enemy combatants. Among those killed in Yemen are three U.S. citizens assassinated extralegally in 2011.
This comes after an incident in 2004 when the New York Times (NYT) discovered that the Bush administration was conducting illegal wiretaps on Americans without the necessary warrants required by law.
After discovering this information, George W. Bush summoned NYT Publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Executive Editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office, directing them to conceal what they had learned. The NYT waited until December 2005, a year and a half after the originally anticipated publication date. Only after Bush had secured a second term in office did the NYT run the story.
During the Iraq war, foreign news correspondents were contacted by the CIA in an attempt to gain knowledge from their contacts, some of whom were enemy combatants fighting the U.S. and NATO coalition troops.
“I was approached by the CIA during the Iraq War. I was working in the Middle East and as I can speak Farsi and know some other useful languages, I guess they thought I would be great to recruit,” said a former BBC news producer speaking anonymously to Mint Press News.
“I received an email – on my private email, not work. It asked me if I would consider working for the CIA organisation working in translation intelligence.”
The former BBC News producer added: “Days later, I received a telephone call for a woman from the CIA recruitment asking the same. I didn’t take up the offer. I know that MI4 does some recruiting at Oxford, Cambridge targeting Middle Eastern language speaking top students.” MI4 is the British equivalent of the CIA.
Domestically, the FBI has infiltrated top news organizations when attempting to gather sensitive information that could be used to thwart terrorist operations. A 2011 report by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization, suggested that FBI agents performed dubious intelligence gathering leading up to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
A declassified FBI memo shows that a senior ABC News journalist served as an informant for authorities, providing information from his sources to agents.
The unnamed journalist was assigned a number in the FBI database, meaning that he provided highly accurate and reliable information in the past, and maintained close contact with the Bureau in the hours after the attack.
The main piece of information given to the FBI was information linking Timothy McVeigh, the main terrorist behind the attack to the Iraqi Special services. According to the report, the journalist advised that a source within the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service advised that the Oklahoma City bombing was sponsored by the Iraqi Special Services who contracted seven former Afghani Freedom Fighters out of Pakistan. The link turned out to be false, but demonstrated the close working relationship the ABC journalist maintained with the FBI.
The truck bomb planted by McVeigh, with the assistance of Terry Nichols, targeted the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. The bombing killed 168 and injured 680.
ABC has not revealed the name of the journalist in question, but claims that the employee no longer works for the company. ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider found the Center for Public Integrity report, troubling saying that “it can create a perception of collusion between the government and the news organization. It would put journalists everywhere at risk if people believed that journalists are acting as government agents. And it could raise the specter of the government trying to spy on a news organization.”
The Oklahoma City bombing remained the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil until the 9/11 attacks.
Monitoring media and grassroot activist movements
The FBI has long been known to infiltrate and monitor the actions of activist organizations most notably during the years of J. Edgar Hoover’s Counter Intelligence Program monitoring the activities of the American Indian Movement, the Black Panthers and anti-war groups.
This continual infiltration of media has stifled news discourse and undermined trust that reporters have with sources. Those familiar with this trend believe that this created a necessary opening for groups like WikiLeaks to fill the void of a once robust, independent press.
As New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen described, the reason WikiLeaks and other forms of independent, stateless media emerged is because “the watchdog press died.”
This has been accelerated with the increased corporatization of mainstream media in recent years. According to Common Cause, a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, the number of corporations owning commercial TV stations has declined by 40 percent since 1995.
A handful of corporate conglomerates now control the majority of mainstream news sources, making it easier for intelligence to infiltrate and censor reports that reach millions of Americans on a daily basis.