NPR's interview programme Fresh Air is something of a mixed bag. At times it's very interesting. The interviews and guests are informative and I've benefitted and enjoyed listening to many episodes. For me, this is generally true when it comes to domestic social and political issues. The show also provides a great deal of time to pop culture figures which are not usually of interest to someone like me. Altogether I listen to maybe a third of the shows.
Though interesting when it comes to politics and history it's often pretty lightweight in it its coverage and depth of penetration. It's a starting point. Other times its coverage is nothing less than egregious and recently two programmes stood out in this regard. The misrepresentation of the issues was so profound as to be obfuscatory and almost qualify as not only misinformation but disinformation.
The first was a programme on The Secret War, the largely unknown and forgotten CIA-directed war in Laos that ran parallel to Vietnam. Laos was actually the early focus of the US government. During the early Kennedy years if you had asked someone where the big Indochina War is likely to develop, most would have said Laos. Obviously the later focus shifted to Vietnam and Cambodia. But during the whole era of the 1960s to the mid-1970s the CIA and Pentagon were involved in a brutal bombing, paramilitary and assassination campaign in Laos. On the ground it was the CIA and (largely) their Hmong allies acting as American proxies fighting the Pathet Lao.
There are many scandals surrounding the Laos episode. It was hidden from not only the American public but largely from Congress as well. With no accountability and run by the CIA it became highly unorthodox and it's full of dark activities and frankly eyebrow raising episodes. In the end the US dropped more bombs on Laos (a country the size of Oregon) than the total number of bombs dropped in World War II. It's hard to fully take in that staggering statistic.
It has been argued and briefly comes up in the interview, that the Colonel Kurtz character in 1979's Apocalypse Now was based on figures associated with The Secret War. In the movie, the Kurtz character is placed in Cambodia. The Fresh Air interview identifies one figure as the inspiration for the rogue military commander but he's by no means the only example. The movie is of course largely inspired by the Kurtz character in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness which takes place in the Belgian Congo, but is in reality something of composite, a blend of Conrad's character and at least a couple of figures associated with America's war in Indochina.
The Fresh Air interview not only ignores but even obfuscates the issue of how the CIA funded the war. The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) affiliated journalist speaks of how the Laos episode led to increased funding for the CIA. This is very misleading as it is well known that for most of the Secret War, congress was not informed and CIA activities in Laos were not part of its official budget.
The Laos episode eventually revealed the CIA's secret airlines and its reliance on black market activities to fund its secret or off-books budget. Since its creation in 1947 this has been a key component to understanding the nature of US clandestine activities. The existence of a secret funding source and its nature was most clearly revealed during the Iran-Contra episode in which funds were being generated from outside the purview of Congress. The story revealed how funds were generated through illegal activities.
From the beginning the CIA would be involved in illegal activities that it would necessarily want to hide from the public and largely from congress itself. So, what was done? How were these operations funded? The CIA has long utilised Wall Street, insider trading, the corporate world, front companies and though it's still shocking to some... the black market, illegal activities and the underworld. The latter sphere has involved the drug trade on a massive scale. From CIA activities and collaborations with Kuomintang (KMT) remnants in Burma in the 1950's, to Thailand and the Air America episodes in Indochina, to Central and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, to Afghanistan, Colombia and the Balkans today, there is overwhelming evidence that points to CIA collusion and even management of sectors of the drug trade. We could also speak of US collusion with Mexican drug cartels. The money involved in this as well as the process of laundering it in the US and global financial system is on such a massive scale that's it difficult to comprehend.
Now, I hardly expect a Fresh Air interviewer and a CFR hack to dive into this complicated and controversial subject and yet to conduct an interview on the Laos episode and not even mention it is telling. How can you discuss Laos and not even mention Air America? Kurlantzick's continued misleading comments about the CIA budget demonstrate that it was actually his intention to misrepresent the nature of the story. I have not read his book and probably won't bother with it. I would imagine he mentions the possibility of CIA participation in the drug trade somewhere within it, but it's clear his task is to criticise the war from a strategic level and he has no intention of pursuing the darker chapters of the story. His book serves the Establishment in providing a safe academic whitewash for the narrative. It sheds some light on dark deeds, the ones that cannot be denied, but actually hides the darkest.
The overall end result is that the interview in eliminating such a huge consideration within the larger story... proves false. The interview was not 'just' about Laos but about the militarisation of the CIA. If that was his goal then the interview (and perhaps the book) are total failures.
Secondly, I was left rather shocked by the Terry Gross interview with the Guardian's Luke Harding who is known to me by his book The Snowden Files which was published a couple of years ago. I remember being frustrated with the book and a little put off by the pro-Establishment take of Harding. By the way, the Glenn Greenwald book No Place to Hide gives a much better account and analysis of the Snowden episode, its context and certainly its meaning.
Harding is now writing about Putin and as an intelligence services-connected journalist he is clearly out to promote the Western narrative. Terry Gross was frankly out of her league. Dave Davies usually does these more serious geopolitical interviews and for good reason. Gross only embarrassed herself.
Harding echoes the typically false narrative regarding Russian 'aggression' vis-à-vis the West and completely ignores the possibility that Russia might seem threatened by NATO advancement on its borders, let alone the total violation of the Reagan-Bush era agreements with Gorbachev. Moscow has every reason to assume the United States is working to subvert them but this is not up for discussion.
He speaks of Putin's commitment to 19th century style Great Power bilateralism and his hostility to multilateral institutions both in terms of politics and trade. It's Putin's strategy of divide and conquer.
Well, there are certainly other possible interpretations to the 19th century narrative and considering the United States also has exercised a great deal of reticence and at times hostility to multi-lateral commitments, does that not imply the issue is perhaps a bit more complicated? Russia (like the US) is not hostile to multi-lateralism within its sphere. But the United States has long resisted some of the impetus behind the EU and has often exercised a great deal of hostility toward organisations such as the UN. It is certainly disdainful of its obligations with regard to the UN, especially when it doesn't rubber stamp US objectives. Washington's 'spirit' is hardly multi-lateral. Such relationships are viewed in terms of their usefulness. The US does not view them in terms of moral categories or somehow representing a commitment to classically liberal values. The US has also refused to sign various treaties involving weapons, the environment and organisations like the International Criminal Court (ICC).
There's nothing that Russia is doing that the United States doesn't already do. Russia deserves criticism but not from a Western vantage point. Harding's views represent the rank hypocrisy and partisanship of Western Establishment journalism. His promotion of these narratives has led to his present ascendancy. He probably thinks of himself as something of a cutting-edge controversialist but his promotion is directly tied to the fact that he's (knowingly or not) pushing the agenda.
Putin spies on journalists and harasses them! Is Harding to be taken seriously? This man wrote a book on the Snowden leaks. Did he not bother the read or comprehend the information Snowden revealed? The US certainly spies on journalists and worse collects data on them in order to destroy them. The documents reveal projects aimed at blackmailing journalists through precisely the same type of kompramat dossiers the US is accusing Moscow of holding on Donald Trump.
Some have discussed the American surveillance programme as opening the potential door to blackmail. They warn of the danger. That's not what the documents reveal. They reveal this is already a reality. It's not hypothetical, it's part of operational procedure. How this is being implemented and to what extent... we don't know.
This interview was nothing less than astonishing. Harding is not ignorant of these issues. Clearly he is acting in the capacity of an advocate and propagandist. A journalist he is not. Terry Gross is too ignorant of the subject and so biased in her own inclinations as to not grasp this. Gross, a promoter of feminism and sodomy is clearly horrified by Putin and what the new Authoritarian-Oligarchical-Russian Orthodox paradigm represents. Like many Western observers she cannot see beyond the 'right-ness' of the modern Western Liberal order and thus falls prey to Harding's specious and false line of argument. Whether you like Putin or his new order is hardly the point. The point is that the whole basis of this interview and certainly its posture is an exercise in deception.
The United States is as much a threat to Western Classical Liberalism as is Russia, the latter of which has no cultural basis or heritage for embracing those values in the first place. Anyone who expects them to is flaunting an ignorance of Russian culture and history and indeed the intellectual origins of the very Liberal values they purport to esteem. Harding and Gross are quite literally putting their arrogance and historical stupidity on display.
Putin spies on diplomats were told and yet nothing is said of US spying on not only diplomats but world leaders. In addition, long before the Snowden era the US was spying on world leaders and manipulating the political systems and elections of other countries, even to the extent of seeking to influence Vatican conclaves.
Harding is scandalised by Putin's support of the European Right including Marine LePen's Front National (FN). This is beyond absurd. The US has funded many political parties and movements throughout Europe and the world. The US record with regard to the European Right is well known. And in particular a strong case could be made that it funded the Front National through various connections including Sun Myung Moon's organisations, its connections with former Vichy figures and the shadowy OAS. In fact in many ways the Front National was a synthesis of various US-backed persons and projects within the French Far-Right sphere. The FN later moved away from the US and grew somewhat hostile to it but in no way does that erase its origins. It rose in the wake of Charles de Gaulle, a figure hated by Washington and one the US consistently tried to undermine and likely tried to assassinate.
The United States also notoriously initiated and funded West Germany's Gehlen Organisation, the precursor to today's BND. Gehlen was an ex-Nazi and filled his organisation with former members of the Third Reich. The US made great use of ex-Nazis and European fascist organisations all throughout the Cold War and after. This policy continues today and yet Harding, either displaying his own ignorance or banking on the ignorance of Gross and the Fresh Air audience, feigns outrage over Putin's dastardly deeds.
Putin murders his opponents including journalists it is argued. I don't doubt it for a moment. And yet, to suggest that the United States (and likely the UK) hasn't done the same is to be willingly blind. Are these cases difficult, do they contain a degree of inconclusive evidence? Are the cases air tight? Almost never. That's sort of the point isn't it? And yet Harding and other Western media pundits have no trouble 'believing' Putin is guilty and yet they will never extend the same kind of conclusive analysis to data that points to US intelligence involvement in the murder of business figures, diplomats and certainly journalists.
Russia's fingerprints are everywhere. The Western media will believe that Putin is behind any suggested plot or even a hint of one. But then Harding goes on to suggest there's no evidence of CIA involvement in Russia or backing for the anti-Putin opposition.
Is this a serious person? Is Harding a person that can be considered credible? This is a person who lived in Russia and knows nothing of what occurred in the 1990s, let alone what has been happening since at least 2008? He clearly does not understand its culture or history and doesn't want to.
Terry Gross is upset by all the 'fake news' that's out there. Considering the quality of this interview with Harding, one is left somewhat speechless. The world, nay reality, is being turned on its head.
There's plenty of Russian generated fake news to be sure but undoubtedly one of the greatest propagators of specious news stories is the Western Establishment media. Luke Harding's work can easily be described as false and biased analysis. And in it he seems to rabidly defend the various 'facts' and narratives of the Western Establishment during the post-Cold War era. Many of which are patently fake.
Harding next argues Putin's regime is clearly allied with organised crime. The Russian mafia and the Kremlin are part of the same machine.
This is certainly the case but to assert this while defending the American dominated Western system once again reeks of rank hypocrisy. US government collusion with organised crime in America itself, Latin America, Europe and Asia is well documented and longstanding. And like the Russians these relationships sometimes explode and one-time allies become enemies and end up dead or incarcerated. This is the nature of politics and the underworld. The recent extradition of 'El Chapo' Guzman represents just such an example. US collaboration with the Sinaloa Cartel is well established and hardly unique. The fact that he (like Noriega) ends up becoming an enemy is just another chapter in an oft-repeated tale.
Anyone who hitches their wagon to the United States is foolish. Washington frequently turns on and destroys its allies. It creates the crime, facilitates it and then covers its tracks by being the 'hero' that vanquishes it.
Drugs, murder, smuggling, larceny, blackmail and white collar crime are all the province of both the CIA and organised criminal syndicates. The overlap between them is often so pervasive as to make it hard to distinguish who works for whom. In some cases intelligence agents and mafia figures have even been known to socialise. They inhabit the same world.
Harding proves once again that he is either very ignorant or a complete shill for Establishment interests to which he is connected. Terry Gross is once again clearly way out of her league. Her conduct and commentary during the interview are frankly embarrassing.
Russia is the enemy of free speech, democracy, human rights and is manipulating the news and throwing elections. It is the embodiment of evil versus the moral orthodoxy of Western Liberalism.
The truth is that the United States does not represent any of these values. It's a facade, a fabrication, a narrative that it presents to its own public and the world at large. Intelligent and informed people know this is all a lie and understand the nature of the US deception.
The US cares nothing about free speech. It has supported literally dozens of regimes that have violently suppressed free speech. And once again Harding wrote a book on Edward Snowden whose leaks reveal not only American hostility to free speech and liberal values but the whole of the Western order. At the very least one must include the Five Eyes, the Anglo-alliance of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These nations (almost like Anglo-British Empire 2.0) have formed a tight intelligence alliance that completely undermines liberal values. Their lip-service is a lie. This statement can be made without qualification.
The US and its allies are in many cases overtly hostile to democracy and while they tout it and even wield it as a means of manipulation they are happy to dispense with it ad hoc, depending on the situation. Is Putin an authoritarian? Certainly. But the US and its allies have supported a literal myriad of dictatorial regimes, juntas, and brutal authoritarian states that have suppressed their populations through police-state tactics, concentration camps, political murder and death squads. Quite literally millions have died as a result of US Imperialism.
The US has demonstrated repeatedly it cares nothing for human rights. The notion that the Western order somehow cares for the rights of the poor, oppressed or those that live in nations that don't comply with its wishes is a highly-offensive lie.
The US and its colluding allies have a long history of manipulating and fabricating news. This is documented. And it can be said once again without qualification that no nation on Earth has manipulated and thrown more elections than the United States. This simply cannot be contested.
Putin is worthy of criticism and yet his crimes absolutely pale in comparison to the Western order defended by Harding. Once again he is either incompetent, a useful idiot or exposed as a bought-and-paid-for partisan. Either way he is not to be taken seriously. The idea that this NPR forum is supposedly a place to reveal truth and engage in honest open discussion is exposed as a deception.