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Lies, Damned Lies, and Newspaper Reporting

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Where to start with this tangled skein of media spin, misrepresentation and outright hypocrisy?

Last week the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence presented this year's award to Dr Tom Fingar at a ceremony jointly hosted by the prestigious Oxford Union Society.

Dr Fingar, currently a visiting lecturer at Oxford, had in 2007 co-ordinated the production of the US National Intelligence Estimate - the combined analysis of all 16 of America's intelligence agencies - which assessed that the Iranian nuclear weaponisation programme had ceased in 2003. This considered and authoritative Estimate directly thwarted the 2008 US drive towards war against Iran, and has been reaffirmed every year since then.

By the very fact of doing his job of providing dispassionate and objective assessments and resisting any pressure to politicise the intelligence (à la Downing Street Memo), Dr Fingar's work is outstanding and he is the winner of Sam Adams Award, 2012. This may say something about the parlous state of our intelligence agencies generally, but don't get me started on that...

Anyway, as I said, the award ceremony was co-hosted by the Oxford Union Society last week, and many Sam Adams Associates attended, often travelling long distances to do so. Former winners were asked to speak at the ceremony, such as FBI Coleen Rowley, GCHQ Katherine Gun, NSA Thomas Drake, and former UK Ambassador Craig Murray. Other associates, including CIA Ray McGovern, diplomats Ann Wright and Brady Kiesling and myself also said a few words. As former insiders and whistleblowers, we recognised the vitally important work that Dr Fingar had done and all spoke about the importance of integrity in intelligence.

One other previous winner of the Sam Adams Award was also invited to speak - Julian Assange of Wikileaks. He spoke eloquently about the need for integrity and was gracious in praising the work of Dr Fingar.

All the national and international media were invited to attend what was an historic gathering of international whistleblowers and cover an award given to someone who, by doing their job with integrity, prevented yet further ruinous war and bloodshed in the Middle East.

Few attended, still fewer reported on the event, and the promised live streaming on YouTube was blocked by shadowy powers at the very last minute - an irony considering the Oxford Union is renowned as a free speech society.

But worse was to come. The next day theGuardian newspaper, which historically fell out with Wikileaks, published a myopic hit-piece about the event. No mention of all the whistleblowers who attended and what they said, no mention of the award to Dr Fingar, no mention of the fact that his work saved the Iranian people from needless war.

Oh no, the entire piece focused on the tawdry allegations emanating from Sweden about Julian Assange's extradition case. Discounting the 450 students who applauded all the speeches, discounting all the serious points raised by Julian Assange during his presentation, and discounting the speeches of all the other internationally renowned whistleblowers who spoke that evening, the Guardian's reporter, Amelia Hill, focused on the small demo outside the event and the only three attendees she could apparently find to criticise the fact that a platform, any platform, had been given to Assange from his political asylum at the Ecuadorian Embassy.

So this is where we arrive at the deep, really deep, hypocrisy of the evening. Amelia Hill is, I'm assuming, the same Guardian journalist who was threatened in 2011 with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. She had allegedly been receiving leaks from the Metropolitan Police about the on-going investigation into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.

At the time Fleet Street was up in arms - how dare the police threaten one of their own with prosecution under the OSA for exposing institutional corruption? Shades of the Shayler case were used in her defence. As I wrote at the time, it's a shame the UK media could not have been more consistently robust in condemning the chilling effects of the OSA on the free-flow of information and protect all the Poor Bloody Whistleblowers, and not just come out fighting when it is one of their own being threatened. But such is the way of the world....

But really, Ms Hill - if you are indeed the same reporter who was threatened with prosecution in 2011 under the OSA - examine your conscience.

How can you write a hit-piece focusing purely on Assange - a man who has designed a publishing system to protect potential whistleblowers from precisely such draconian secrecy laws as you were hyperbolically threatened with? And how could you, at the same time, airbrush out of history the testimony of so many whistleblowers gathered together, many of whom have indeed been arrested and have faced prosecution under the terms of the OSA or US secrecy legislation?

Have you no shame? You know how frightening it is to be faced with such a prosecution.

Your hypocrisy is breath-taking.

The offence was compounded when the Sam Adams Associates all wrote a letter to the Guardian to set the record straight. The original letter is reproduced below, and this is what was published. Of course, the Guardian has a perfect right under its Terms and Conditions to edit the letter, but I would like everyone to see how this can be used and abused.

And the old media wonders why it is in decline?

Letter to the Guardian, 29 January 2013:

Dear Sir

With regard to the 24 January article in the Guardian entitled "Julian Assange Finds No Allies and Tough Queries in Oxford University Talk," we question whether the newspaper's reporter was actually present at the event, since the account contains so many false and misleading statements.

If the Guardian could "find no allies" of Mr. Assange, it did not look very hard! They could be found among the appreciative audience of the packed Oxford Union Debate Hall, and - in case you missed us - in the group seated right at the front of the Hall: the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence.

Many in our group - which, you might be interested to know co-sponsored the event with Oxford Union - had traveled considerable distances at our own expense to confer the 10th annual Sam Adams award to Dr. Thomas Fingar for his work on overseeing the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that revealed the lack of an Iranian nuclear weaponization program.

Many of us spoke in turn about the need for integrity in intelligence, describing the terrible ethical dilemma that confronts government employees who witness illegal activity including serious threats to public safety and fraud, waste and abuse.

But none of this made it into what was supposed to pass for a news article; neither did any aspect of the acceptance speech delivered by Dr. Fingar. Also, why did the Guardian fail to provide even one salient quote from Mr Assange's substantial twenty-minute address?

By censoring the contributions of the Sam Adams Associates and the speeches by Dr. Fingar and Mr. Assange, and by focusing exclusively on tawdry and unproven allegations against Mr. Assange, rather than on the importance of exposing war crimes and maintaining integrity in intelligence processes, the Guardian has succeeded in diminishing none but itself.

Sincerely,

The Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence:

Ann Wright (retired Army Colonel and Foreign Service Officer of US State Department), Ray McGovern (retired CIA analyst), Elizabeth Murray (retired CIA analyst), Coleen Rowley (retired FBI agent), Annie Machon (former MI5 intelligence officer), Thomas Drake (former NSA official), Craig Murray (former British Ambassador), David MacMichael (retired CIA analyst), Brady Kiesling (former Foreign Service Officer of US State Department), and Todd Pierce (retired U.S. Army Major, Judge Advocate, Guantanamo Defense Counsel).