Mark Mondalek

BFP Exclusive- PTSD, Community, and Character: Notes on the Trial of Rasmea Odeh

The Trial: Nothing about United States v. Odeh Seems to Add Up

It was as if all the air had been let out of the room. With a brief pause and puff of his cheeks this past November, Judge Gershwin Drain of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan—just hours after unconventionally lauding the jury for finding Palestinian-American Rasmea Odeh guilty of unlawfully procuring her U.S. citizenship––sided once more with the government’s lead prosecuting attorney, Jonathan Tukel, in moving to revoke Odeh’s bond and have the 67-year-old immediately detained.

The possibility that prosecutors would seek to establish Odeh as a flight risk prior to her sentencing reportedly took her attorneys by surprise in a hearing that many assumed to be a mere formality, including the friends and supporters who filled the benches of the Detroit courtroom to capacity in their support, a large majority having made the 300-mile trek from Chicago the night before. Odeh, dressed in an emerald-green taqsireh––an embroidered, waist-length Palestinian jacket––maintained her usual poise as the arresting officers barreled toward her, appearing almost instantaneously, as if mere fixtures of the art moderne architecture. Hulking over her as they handcuffed her arms behind her back, she was quickly rushed forward.

“We love you, Rasmea!” a woman shouted out from the back row, cutting through the shock waves of nervous disbelief that had suddenly pervaded the room.

“I love you!” Odeh responded, her chin lifted up toward the ceiling, adding last-gasp before being whisked away entirely: “Don’t mind––be strong!”

And then she was gone.

Why the trial was assigned to Detroit in the first place is in itself a point of contention. Odeh originally immigrated to Michigan via Jordan in 1994 to join her brother and help care for their father who was suffering from cancer, but by 2004––the same year that she acquired her U.S. citizenship––she had begun her work with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), a Chicago nonprofit dedicated to strengthening Chicagoland’s Arab American community through education and cultural outreach. Advancing from volunteer to her current position as associate director, she developed the Arab Women’s Committee within the organization, establishing an impressive base of a six hundred woman collective aimed at promoting leadership among Arab immigrant and Arab American women, along with challenging forms of oppression between the binds of patriarchy and racial discrimination.

Odeh’s strong commitment to her vocation, and the positive, significantly widespread impact that she has had not only upon her own community in Chicago, but all across the globe, is a direct testament to her character, and thereby strongly influenced by her personal life experiences and history. On February 28, 1969, Israeli soldiers and secret security police forcibly entered Odeh’s family home in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank and violently arrested her without a warrant or explanation, along with her father and two sisters. Hundreds of other Palestinians were likewise arrested in a massive, slipshod round-up following a week of resistance operations in response to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following their “Six-Day War” of June 1967. Odeh was accused of being involved in two separate bombings allegedly credited to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP): one involving a supermarket explosion in East Jerusalem and another at the British Consulate in Tel Aviv, the former killing two university students. She maintains that she was brutally tortured for 25 days while in custody, with a total of 45 days spent at Jerusalem’s infamous Moscobiyya Detention Center. Described as “more than hell” by a former detainee, it is primarily used as a place of interrogation before moving Palestinian prisoners to an Israeli prison. As Nahla Abdo writes in her book Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle Within the Israeli Prison System: “Transferring political prisoners from an occupied territory to the territory of the occupier represents a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and the Geneva Convention.”

From the moment that she was arrested and transported to the initial jail site, to the horrors of Moscobiyya, Odeh was beaten nonstop with fists and clubs, repeatedly raped, and subjected to further traumas in the form of threats, humiliation, deprivation, and electrical torture. Court documents filed by her defense team cite the torture she faced as being “consistent with reports from Israeli and Palestinian lawyers, the United Nations, Amnesty International and the American Vice-Counsel in Jerusalem.” Three months passed before she saw a Red Cross representative, during which time she was finally coerced into signing a false confession prepared for her in Hebrew (a language that she could not read or understand), taken before an Israeli military court, and given a life sentence. She was 21 years old.

In 1979, ten years into her sentence, Odeh was one of 76 Palestinian prisoners released in exchange for an Israeli soldier captured during the “Litani Operation” invasion of Lebanon. That same year, she testified before a U.N. special committee in Geneva, Switzerland regarding the heinous torture that was perpetrated against her while in Israeli custody. Living in Lebanon and then settling in Jordan, she worked to assist displaced Palestinians living in refugee camps to obtain U.N. humanitarian aid, in addition to achieving a law degree. On her time spent in prison, she would later relate, “It may have been ten years, but it felt like 100 years.”

Fast-forward to October 22, 2013: Odeh is arrested in Chicago by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, indicted on one charge of unlawful procurement of naturalization, and released on $15,000 bond. Her name and history had been dredged up in a 2010 COINTELPRO-type operation by the FBI that included targeted surveillance and house raids on various community and political activists. 26 people total were subpoenaed to a grand jury that never returned a single indictment from the investigation. As her defense writes: “Over two years later, with nothing to show for its raids in 2010, Ms. Odeh was indicted for falsely answering questions in 2004 in her naturalization application. Interestingly, the indictment was obtained by the office of the United States Attorney’s office from the Eastern District of Michigan through a grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Michigan. The United States Attorney in Illinois, which was the office that initiated the request for the Israeli documents and was carrying out the investigation, apparently passed the case to the office in Michigan, to divert attention from its failed efforts to criminalize the work of the AAAN in Chicago.”

Procuring several hundred documents provided to the Justice Department by the State of Israel––which later included thousands for the trial itself pursuant to the 1998 Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty Between the United States and Israel––Odeh was convicted of knowingly failing to disclose the nightmare she had survived 45 years prior. In what is essentially a retroactive witch hunt against a law-abiding and prosperous U.S. citizen, the prosecution, aided by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, cultivated an argument mainlined by the perceived notion that Odeh would not have been admitted into the country 20 years ago had she properly disclosed details of a personal history all but impossible to have ever kept hidden to begin with. Additionally, the government was allowed to dictate a trial in which her factual guilt or innocence for the crimes she was convicted of in Israel were considered “irrelevant to the question of whether or not she truthfully answered questions on her U.S. naturalization application about whether she ever had been arrested, charged, convicted or imprisoned,” and her claims of torture were barred from being entered into evidence.

After being held for over a month in St. Clair County Jail in Port Huron, Michigan, including two weeks spent in solitary confinement, Judge Drain granted Odeh’s Motion for Reconsideration of his decision to revoke her bond pending sentencing, despite the government’s Response in Opposition. In doing so, Judge Drain retracted and revised many of the reasons originally given for her detainment. In light of the Sentencing Memorandum of the United States filed on February 25 in which the government laid out its request for an unprecedented enhanced sentence of between five and seven years imprisonment––drastically higher than the usual 15-to-21 month guidelines––and with the upcoming sentencing hearing scheduled for March 12 in Detroit, it is increasingly imperative that the Court’s previous decision to detain Odeh be properly dissected.

POSTTRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER

In disallowing any mention of the torture that Odeh alleges she experienced while in Israeli custody––causing her to be coerced into signing a fraudulent confession––the Court likewise precluded what her attorneys described as the “heart of her defense,” which consisted of the professional diagnosis and testimony of Dr. Mary R. Fabri, a clinical psychologist with over 25 years of expert experience specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of survivors of war trauma and torture. Dr. Fabri met with Odeh six times for approximately three hours each time over a period of four months. She testified before the Court as to her belief that the experiences that Odeh related to her over this significant length of time were “very credible” and diagnosed her with chronic posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Citing scientifically grounded facts and examples under both direct and cross-examination, Dr. Fabri stated that it was a “strong possibility” that Odeh’s PTSD would have caused her brain to cognitively interpret the question of whether or not she had ever been convicted of a crime to apply strictly to her time in the U.S., thereby unconsciously protecting her from activating the terrible memories of her past traumas. “We all try to find ways of coping with our stresses,” she explained, “whether they’re extreme or mild. For survivors of severe trauma, they work really hard to develop filters that help keep the reminders out, so that during acute phases where someone is symptomatic, those filters aren’t working very well, and, again, that cognitive processing part is diminished.”

Odeh’s own personal coping devices were developed over the course of over 45 years and without the aid of therapy, making what she has been able to accomplish as an active member of society all the more impressive. People with chronic PTSD are vulnerable at all times to the effects of different sensory reminders of stress or past trauma; a constant, unpredictable handicap of sorts.

As Dr. Fabri testified:

When there’s a trauma happening, it can be overwhelming and the cognitive part of our brain can become overwhelmed. So if we look at different brain centers, and I’ll keep this simple, there is the emotional center, which is the hippocampus. There — I mean, I’m sorry, the amygdala, which is mediated by work of the hippocampus and pre medial frontal cortex. They mediate information.

So all of us process emotional information through the amygdala and if the hippocampus and the pre medial, the pre frontal medial cortex are functioning well, they’ll sensor for us so we don’t say or do things that are emotionally reacted.

During the traumatic event or, like torture, war trauma, many other things that are intense stress, those mediating parts of the brain become overwhelmed, and so in an experience of torture the memory is encoded in an emotional way, in a very sensory way in the amygdala so that when there are reminders of that past trauma and the memory is recalled, it’s recalled in a very emotional intense way without that cognitive processing.

She additionally submitted a 15 page psychological affidavit consisting of typewritten notes from her sessions with Odeh, along with her psychological assessment consisting of her behavioral observations, diagnosis, testing data, and treatment recommendations. Included in the affidavit were extensive details of Odeh’s torture at Moscobiyya: endless beatings with hands, fists, wooden batons, and metal rods; sleep-deprivation; denial of medical attention and legal resources. Left naked for the majority of the time, she was beaten in front of male detainees, and was likewise witness to the sights and sounds of others being tortured, including her father and sisters. At one point she was forced to watch the death of a man from electrical torture. Using chains to restrain her arms and legs, she was raped, tortured with electrical wires, and experienced pain and trauma so severe that she would often fall in and out of consciousness.

Dr. Fabri additionally interviewed Odeh following her five week imprisonment in St. Clair County Jail and wrote a letter indicating that her PTSD symptoms had been reactivated as a result of her recent arrest, trial, conviction, and imprisonment.

PTSD is an enduring condition that has profound implications for emotional and physical health. Reactivation of symptoms result in severe stress reactions in the body and has been demonstrated in multiple studies that PTSD contributes to a higher prevalence of mental illness, hypertension, heart disease, and diabetes.

It is this evaluator’s opinion, to a reasonable and psychological certainty, that someone with chronic PTSD has a higher risk to develop serious health conditions that impact psychological and physical health as they age. Ms. Odeh falls in this category as a 67-year-old woman with a history of multiple traumas and a diagnosis of chronic PTSD.

While the jury was never told a word about Odeh’s alleged torture or her PTSD diagnosis, Judge Drain had all of this information at his fingertips, and even surmised during the detainment hearing that it would be “very one-sided” and “unfair to the government” if he were to allow Odeh to properly testify about her real life experiences. One doesn’t have to be an expert in psychology to be able to accurately predict the serious mental and physical effects that incarceration can have on a woman of Odeh’s age and background, including the possibility that she could be placed in solitary confinement. Such punishment is known to cause PTSD symptoms in inmates, further evidenced by a 2011 report by a U.N. Special Rapporteur defining prolonged solitary confinement to be in excess of 15 days, during which time “certain changes in brain functions occur and the harmful psychological effects of isolation can become irreversible.”

Odeh was inexplicably placed in solitary confinement for the last two weeks of her incarceration in the St. Clair County Jail, completely segregated and confined to her cell for all but a half-hour of each day. The jail’s disciplinary records indicate that she was originally sentenced to six days over a dispute with a guard that seemingly consisted of a mere misunderstanding, perhaps heightened by a possible language gap. An excuse to then keep her in prolonged solitary confinement was possibly invented out of a previous incident in which another inmate discovered an article about Odeh’s trial in a local newspaper and shared it with her before the newspaper was “taken and disposed of.” From this arose a questionable narrative that Odeh was being kept in solitary for her own safety, an implication that was strongly rebuked by Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the AAAN and lead spokesperson for the Rasmea Defense Committee. Speaking to Ali Harb of The Arab American News, Abudayyeh described the explanation that he received from a prison administrator for the punitive measures taken against Odeh as “utter nonsense.”

“She had no issues with other inmates. She was getting along with them and had actually formed relationships with some people there.”

Such accounts are consistent with the ways in which Odeh was able to survive her previous imprisonment in Israel: building strong bonds and relationships with other inmates by educating and organizing; protesting prison conditions, going on hunger strikes together, and, most importantly, keeping their sumud, their determination.

COMMUNITY

In granting Odeh’s request for bond pending sentencing, Judge Drain asserted that her “dedication to her community work and the people that such work assists, as well as the presence of relatives in Chicago, demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that she is not as significant a flight risk as originally believed.”

Such a statement is so vastly contradictory of the opinions that he previously expressed during the November 10 detainment hearing that the sincerity behind his “as originally believed” pivot seems, well, difficult to believe.

In very indelicate fashion, and before a courtroom full of the many women whose lives she had touched and deeply affected through her work at the AAAN, her family, Judge Drain contended that Odeh “doesn’t have any real ties to the Chicago community,” labeling her community ties via the AAAN as insignificant, while insisting that she could easily be committed to “doing the same work in another country.”

Such blunt disregard for Odeh’s assimilation into her adopted country is notable for two reasons. For one, it represents a manifestation of what Odeh and her supporters have suspected from the very beginning: that her indictment was a product of selective prosecution rooted in the discriminatory targeting of those doing political work in Arab and Muslim communities, particularly pro-Palestine activists. Furthermore, the government had made reference to the Rasmea Defense Committee’s “wide-ranging media campaign” as far back as July, culminating in their almost comical Motion to Empanel an Anonymous Jury and to Take Other Measures Necessary to Ensure an Untainted Jury. Claiming that Abudayyeh’s publicly stated goal of “filling the courtroom, rallying outside the courthouse, and chanting while holding posters” constituted a “concerted effort to sway the jury,” the prosecution even went so far as to cite the recent Detroit trial of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallah, the so-called “Underwear Bomber,” as an ideal example for how the Court should approach Odeh’s case. In what equated to a very translucent effort to paint both Odeh and her supporters in a terrorist light, the tenacity with which the government pursued the empaneling of an anonymous jury should have at least adversely alerted Judge Drain to the support she had from her community—branded as mobs and hoards by the government. Though he rejected their request, he did allow for a partial sequestration, meaning that the jurors arrived at an off-site location and were driven by federal marshals to the courthouse garage.

Just as absurd as the government’s plea for an anonymous jury was the flight risk narrative that it had concocted, surmising that Odeh might flee to the Palestinian Authority or Jordan ahead of her sentencing, which runs completely contrary to why she chose to exercise her constitutional right to a trial in the first place. The government had offered her a plea agreement that would have guaranteed no more than six months imprisonment and she would have been given 90 days to depart the country voluntarily, instead of being held in immigration custody awaiting deportation. “To speak of torture,” she told Dr. Fabri, “is to be tortured again.” That Odeh, a woman who suffers from chronic PTSD, chose to go through an entire federal trial undoubtedly guaranteed to activate her symptoms, gambling on the prospect of years of incarceration in the process, certainly speaks volumes of her will to remain in America.

At one point while she was under cross-examination, Dr. Fabri, being pestered over the fact that she had recommended to Odeh that she continue seeing a therapist, and that Odeh had declined, seemed to suddenly remember something.

“But, actually,” she began, “what Ms. Odeh told me is that her community supported her and she really didn’t feel the need.”

CHARACTER

According to the government’s expert witness Douglas C. Pierce, the section chief of U.S. Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS) in Detroit, Michigan, submission of the Israeli police and trial records relating to Odeh’s conviction would have been a “more than sufficient basis for USCIS to conclude that the defendant lacked the requisite good moral character to become a USC.”

As for evidence relating to Odeh’s claims of innocence of her underlying convictions, the government writes:

“Evidence of defendant’s factual guilt or innocence for crimes of which she was convicted in a foreign country (Israel) is irrelevant to the question of whether or not she truthfully answered questions on her U.S. naturalization application about whether she ever had been arrested, charged, convicted or imprisoned… Rather, this case focuses on the truthfulness of her answers in the immigration process, not the level of due process afforded her in Israel.”

And once more, just for clarification:

“What is relevant here is not the truthfulness or accuracy of the Israeli charges themselves, but only whether defendant was untruthful when she denied them.”

“Truthfulness” and “candor” seemed to stick to the tongue of Judge Drain as he listed more of the reasons why he needed to incarcerate her.

“She does have a little bit of history of flight,” he noted, citing her alleged escape attempt from prison back in 1975. Exhibits as to the authenticity of her fingerprint taken at the scene following her arrest were even entered into evidence.

This idea that she lacked the proper amount of respect for the criminal justice system was floated in numerous ways, most recently documented in the prosecution’s sentencing memorandum, quoting a comment Odeh gave to reporters following her conviction in which she states: “I felt the verdict is not justice, it was a racist verdict.”

“Given the clarity of defendant’s violation of United States immigration law,” writes the government, “the criminal history from Israel which she concealed, and the bombings which she undertook, as discussed in detail above, anything less than a significant sentence would grossly fail to promote respect for the law.”

Within the same paragraph, the government begins to cite the current world affairs issue of “foreign fighters” who fight on behalf of “ISIS and other designated terrorist organizations,” and then return home.

A light sentence in this case would be a signal to anyone who has fought overseas for ISIS or a similar organization that there is not much risk in coming to the United States, hiding one’s past, and seeking citizenship. If not caught, such a person derives all the benefits of citizenship. After perhaps 15-20 years of living in the United States, as was defendant Odeh, a person who is simply given a slap on the wrist and then deported is much better off than that person would have been by not having come to the United States in the first place.

Lastly (and notice I have not spent a great deal of time expounding on any of these quotes and incidents as to Odeh’s character much, as the arguments themselves speak louder than the words do), there is the issue of her blurting out while under intensive cross-examination the inadmissible “claim” that she was tortured while under Israeli custody. Also included was the fact that she called herself a “political prisoner” and stated that she was innocent of the crimes that she was charged with in Israel.

And so the underlying theme here for Odeh seems to be that she simply cannot win. She is punished either way, whether she is honest or (allegedly) not. When you put all of the statistics of the case together; the intangible attributes therein, nothing about United States v. Odeh seems to add up.

* * * *

One last lasting memory of Rasmea Odeh: speaking to her supporters a few hours before her detainment hearing, megaphone in hand, some still wiping tears from their eyes––a tenacious, impromptu piece of oratory outside of the Detroit Federal Courthouse shortly following her conviction. “We can find the justice in some place,” she solemnly began, reaching out toward the towering 10-story limestone structure: “There’s a justice in this world. We will find it. Don’t worry. We will find it. We will find the justice!”

Staring down the immediate prospect of prison, she was altruistic and brave. “I don’t mind,” she avowed. “I don’t want you to feel weak! We are strong!” she yelled out to the impassioned crowd, her voice strained with fervor: “We will be stronger than that!”

It reminds me of a quote from a woman who was in prison with Odeh in Israel. Remarking on the incredible fury and passion of the speeches that she would sometimes give to the women there, she wrote: “Her words were so strong; they could melt iron.”

# # # #

Mark Mondalek – BFP contributing author, is a writer and editor based in Detroit.

BFP Exclusive: And an Oligarch Shall Lead Them: Omidyar, Greenwald & First Look Media’s Attack on the Future of the Press

“Now, if you want to take the position that people should not work at organizations funded by oligarchs, or that journalism is inherently corrupted if funded by rich people with bad political views…” Glenn Greenwald

The long-term mission of the news blog The Intercept, launched in February 2014 by First Look Media—the recently developed news organization created and entirely funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar to the tune of $250 million—is “to produce fearless, adversarial journalism across a wide range of issues.” However, the vital basis behind its creation really lies in its short-term mission, which is “to provide a platform to report on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.”

That’s because two of the website’s three founding editors—former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras—are the only two people that are known to possess the entire cache of what Snowden stole from the National Security Agency’s networks, estimated to be anywhere in the range of 58,000 to 1.7 million documents, and possibly more.

The third founding editor, war correspondent and Dirty Wars author Jeremy Scahill, is a fitting example of the types of professionals that First Look Media has actively pursued: independent-minded journalists with a history, be it perceived or real, of conducting adversarial, investigative reportage against the most powerful governmental and corporate bodies. 

This, all under the direct financial backing of Omidyar, The Intercept’s publisher, whose personal fortune is worth $8.2 billion (according to the most recent Forbes estimate).

The Deciders

In a December interview with The Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman (with whom he additionally leaked selected documents to), Snowden said that he wanted to give society “a chance to determine if it should change itself,” and that all he wanted was “for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed.”

Such an opportunity was never actually afforded to the public directly, however. This noble task was instead entrusted to only a select group of journalists. According to Greenwald, Snowden “carefully selected which documents he thought should be disclosed and concealed, then gave them to a newspaper with a team of editors and journalists and repeatedly insisted that journalistic judgments be exercised about which of those documents should be published in the public interest and which should be withheld.”

It is his “agreement” with his “source” that has become something of a faux-journalistic maxim for Greenwald to vigilantly cite ad nauseam.

As he wrote in January via his personal blog:

Anyone who demands that we "release all documents" - or even release large numbers in bulk - is demanding that we violate our agreement with our source, disregard the framework we created when he gave us the documents, jeopardize his interests in multiple ways, and subject him to far greater legal (and other) dangers. I find that demand to be unconscionable, and we will never, ever violate our agreement with him no matter how many people want us to.

Current calculations made by Cryptome read as follows:

Rate of release over 6 months, 132.8 pages per month, equals 436 months to release 58,000, or 36.3 years. Thus the period of release has decreased in the past month from 42 years.

That means that, judging by the current release rate, it will be another 36 years before the full scope of the NSA’s massive surveillance apparatus is actually revealed to the public.

To help provide context to what appears to be a dubious conflation of journalistic ethics and legalities, I sought the opinion of civil rights attorney Stanley L. Cohen, whose penchant for defending activists spans some three decades, ranging anywhere from the IRA to Hamas.

“Every time a journalist raises these arguments about—‘Oh, I’ve got agreements’ and ‘I’ve cut deals’—it is a blow against all journalists,” says Cohen, “because ultimately what protects the journalist from government over-reaching is the journalist’s privilege.

“The intent behind the journalist’s privilege is not that a journalist is going to exercise discretion to decide what he or she thinks is in the public’s best interest, but is designed to facilitate the free-flow of information from a source to an intermediary who performs the function of keeping the public in the know, the loop; informed. It doesn’t contemplate this kind of unique vetting, self-censorship, and selection process that seems to give such strength to Mr. Greenwald.”

As established in Cohen v. Cowles Media Co. (1991), the Supreme Court previously affirmed that a promise to a source does create an enforceable agreement, with the Court ruling that the First Amendment does not bar a promissory estoppel suit against the press. Additionally, the journalist’s privilege asserts that reporters have a right to protect the identity of those to whom confidentiality was promised, including also the unpublished information provided by the source—though such a privilege is still far from being averse to legal challenge.

Greenwald, a lawyer-turned-blogger-turned-journalist, operates somewhere in the middle grounds of this legal hodgepodge. 

“He’s positioned himself very nicely,” Cohen concedes. “Greenwald apparently tries to be all things to all people. The real problem is he’s not only done damage to the journalist’s privilege, he’s also violating legal privilege. He picks and chooses what is all too convenient at various crossroads.

“I think there’s also some very serious confusion floating around here, because I heard people talk about—‘Well, he’s a lawyer.’ Well, he may be a lawyer, but Snowden is not his client. Greenwald needs to decide who the fuck he is. If he’s a lawyer, let him start practicing law. If he’s an agent, let him start making movies and get on with his life. If he’s a journalist, he needs to stop deciding what is in the best interest of the public’s right to know.”

Cohen recently represented a hacktivist involved in the December 2010 Anonymous-affiliated “denial of service attack” conducted against PayPal, a wholly owned subsidiary of eBay, in response to the company’s decision to block donations to the Wikileaks website. 11 of the 14 defendants—who came to be known as the “PayPal 14”—accepted a plea deal this past December. In reference to Omidyar’s late call for leniency in the case, Cohen noted in a De-Manufacturing Consent interview with Guillermo Jimenez that “the notion that all of a sudden [Omidyar] woke up and became egalitarian because he really had concerns about people he had persecuted for two years is absolute bullshit.”

Legitimizing Billionaire Benefactors

In late February, Pando ran an article by Mark Ames revealing that Omidyar’s Omidyar Network had co-funded Ukraine revolution groups, investing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of several years into the same NGOs as the US government—which ultimately helped propel regime change in Ukraine.

As Pando’s Paul Carr noted: “Omidyar and First Look have made statement after statement about how they aim to be a thorn in the side of the US government, and yet in several cases Omidyar has co-invested with that same US government to shape foreign policy to suit his own worldview.”

Such a collaboration is incredibly significant (as is Carr’s more recent reportage on the high volume of White House visits that have been made by Omidyar and senior Omidyar Network officials since 2009) and further validates the prospect that compartmentalizing discourse and controlling dissent is First Look Media’s true modus operandi.

Interestingly enough, Greenwald’s lengthy, scoffing response to the Pando exposé, entitled “On the Meaning of Journalistic Independence,” proved almost more telling than the article itself.

Summoning strength through ignorance, he writes:

Despite its being publicly disclosed, I was not previously aware that the Omidyar Network donated to this Ukrainian group. That’s because, prior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations. That’s because his political views and donations are of no special interest to me – any more than I cared about the political views of the family that owns and funds Salon (about which I know literally nothing, despite having worked there for almost 6 years), or any more than I cared about the political views of those who control the Guardian Trust.

There’s a very simple reason for that: they have no effect whatsoever on my journalism or the journalism of The Intercept. That’s because we are guaranteed full editorial freedom and journalistic independence. The Omidyar Network’s political views or activities – or those of anyone else – have no effect whatsoever on what we report, how we report it, or what we say.

Newsroom pressures between those who produce and those who pay their salaries are obviously nothing new. “The pressure is applied subtly,” explain Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols in their book, The Death and Life of American Journalism. “Successful editors and reporters tend to internalize the necessary values so no pressure is necessary. At other times, the pressures can be explicit. The effect is that the news is altered, unbeknownst to the public, in a manner it would never had been had the newsroom been independent and freestanding.”

In an article that he wrote for Salon in August 2009 on General Electric’s editorial influence over NBC and MSNBC, Greenwald even echoes those very sentiments, noting that “corporate employees don’t need to be told what their bosses want. They know without being told.”

That same year, Greenwald was a recipient of the Ithaca College’s Park Center for Independent Media’s first annual Izzy Award for special achievement in independent media. In a quote attributed to that event, he states the following:

Media outlets controlled by large corporations and all of their conflicting interests not only have proven largely ineffective at serving as an adversarial check on the government, but worse, have become mindless amplifiers of government claims. Being outside that system is now virtually a prerequisite to genuinely [critical] reporting on the actions and statements of the government.

In his acceptance speech, further pontification over his valiant views on journalistic independence and the importance of remaining distant from the political power structure: “I think that’s absolutely vital to being a real journalist,” he states. “If anything, the independence of journalism means keeping a distance from, rather than blending into—becoming an appendage of the entities of political power structure, the financial elites, that you intend to cover.”

Fast-forward to 2014, and such idealism has evidently faded quickly from Greenwald’s point-of-view.

Take this blog excerpt from January, for example:

For me, "activism" is about effects and outcomes. Successful activism means successful outcomes, and that in turn takes resources. It's very easy to maintain a perception of purity by remaining resource-starved and thus unable to really challenge large institutions in a comprehensive and sustained way. I know there are some people on the left who are so suspicious of anyone who is called "billionaire" that they think you're fully and instantly guilty by virtue of any association with such a person.

That's fine: there's no arguing against that view, though I would hope they'd apply it consistently to everyone who takes funding from very rich people or who works with media outlets and organizations funded by rich people - including their friends and other journalists and groups they admire (or even themselves).

Though repetitive in rhetoric, it is relevant to note that this is the exact same line being drawn two months later in his Pando response:

That journalistic outlets fail to hold accountable large governmental and corporate entities is a common complaint. It’s one I share. It’s possible to do great journalism in discrete, isolated cases without much funding and by working alone, but it’s virtually impossible to do sustained, broad-scale investigative journalism aimed at large and powerful entities without such funding. As I’ve learned quite well over the last eight months, you need teams of journalists, and editors, and lawyers, and experts, and travel and technology budgets, and a whole slew of other tools that require serious funding. The same is true for large-scale activism.

That funding, by definition, is going to come from people rich enough to provide it. And such people are almost certainly going to have views and activities that you find objectionable. If you want to take the position that this should never be done, that’s fine: just be sure to apply it consistently to the media outlets and groups you really like.

Not only does Greenwald now openly advocate the fusing of journalism with the same corporate-capitalist powers that he once deplored, but he even appears to be making a concerted effort to link activism into the fray as well, thereby successfully commoditizing all forms of dissent into one big pre-packaged, for-profit bundle to the masses.

Notice too the Romney-esque “billionaires-are-people” motif being casually floated, along with the notion that those who abhor the influence of billionaire benefactors on both the press and activism on a general scale are really just succumbing to their own naive, unrealistic worldview and will therefore never be able to effect policy or produce change on any significant level.

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Thomas Jefferson called the free press “the only security of all,” describing the agitation that it produces as something that must be submitted to, “to keep the waters pure.”

No matter how unique or trying are the times, the raw autonomy of such a freedom should never be made available to alteration. Allowing even the smallest of amendments could easily imperil the very fabric of our democracy.

With every new step that Greenwald takes to justify his own actions, he consequently leads us that much deeper into the murky, authoritarian waters that our founding fathers feared the most.

Acceptance of the endless regurgitation of government secrets slowly served up by the teaspoon doesn’t appear to be the only concession being forced upon a public bedazzled by the spectacle.

We are being told, against all reason and better judgment, that Omidyar is somehow the two hundred and fifty million dollar exception to the rules, and that Greenwald and the select few journalists with access to the Snowden-NSA treasure-trove are thusly incorruptible and pure.

We are to ignore the blatant corporate-government collusion that plagues this entire affair and accept the defeatist standpoint that those afflicted with the disease of integrity will never be able to bring about any real, lasting change to society without the essential aid of “philanthropic” billionaires along the way.

Taking all of this into account, along with the slow crawl of NSA documents being promised to us as our eventual reward for our complete compliance to the corporate state, it is imperative that we ask ourselves: Do the ends really justify the means?

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Mark Mondalek – BFP contributing author, is a writer and editor based in Detroit.

BFP Exclusive- Interview with Andrew Kreig: The CIA, Global Empire & the U.S. Presidency

“Uncovering the Puppet Master Class of the Mega-Corporations”

In this exclusive interview with Andrew Kreig, author of Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters (Eagle View Books, June 2013), we discuss the findings behind his most recent research into President Obama’s contentious past, the current and historical impact of the intelligence services on American politics, and the Mitt Romney, Mormon-inspired presidency that might-have-been.

Boiling Frogs Post: Early on in Presidential Puppetry you talk about your visit to the National Archives with Wayne Madsen, a fellow investigative reporter, who showed you a New York Times article from 1977 asserting that Business International Corporation, President Obama's first job after graduating from Columbia University in 1983, was, at one point, a CIA front company. Did that discovery form the early inspiration for your book?

Andrew Kreig: Yes, it did. Wayne Madsen, the former Navy intelligence officer and national security analyst, took me over to the National Archives in February 2009 to show me how to look up de-classified documents, and like most people right at that time we thought we had a whole new big change from the Bush administration. In fact, I’m based right in downtown Washington, right across the street from the National Archives; the parade came right by my office on Pennsylvania Avenue in late January. So this was quite a jolt to see this New York Times article. It started the unraveling of mysteries that did result in the book, as you pointed out.

BFP: It’s interesting because, on the one hand, working for the CIA obviously doesn't automatically implicate a person. Your own mother, for example, would occasionally brief the agency as a globetrotting author/editor in the 1960s, and you also note that informants, in many cases, aren't always aware of what their research is really being used for in the first place. With that said, if a former intelligence asset winds up president of the United States one day, do you believe that that one aspect of his or her life is really grounds for throwing their entire biography into question? 

AK: First, I’m going to try to be very neutral when you say “implicate” someone. That has a certain sense that it’s bad. I’m trying to be neutral in this reportage and say that my own mother, as you noted, was, out of a sense of patriotism, an asset, and many other people are working for government agencies both as a livelihood, but also out of a sense of patriotism, so it’s not positive or negative. It’s fact. That’s the way to approach it. But it’s an indication of a part of a biographical record. In my view, we spend a lot of time in the media and in the public consciousness paying attention to things that are far less important. For example, New York Daily News this week, and many other publications, are trying analyze the facial expressions of President Obama as he momentarily talked to a fellow leader at the Mandela funeral. And all of that stuff is almost nonsensical compared to whether his career may have been enabled by the Central Intelligence Agency. I don’t want to talk too long, but let me try to respond to the guts of your question. This document I found, it’s more of an indication leading to much greater research both of President Obama’s latter career, his previous career, and that of his family background. In fact, the story really develops even broader than that. The larger story is not just his job after he graduated from Columbia University. Most important is what his current policies are right now, but also this century’s history of utilizing the intelligence organizations to recruit assets and do their job. 

BFP: A great deal of scholarship has been devoted to examining Obama's personal memoir, Dreams from My Father, not only scrutinizing the contents therein, but even calling into question the author's authenticity as the person who actually penned it to begin with. What sort of general thoughts do you have on this intriguing work of autobiography?

AK: The facts are rather obvious about what I think is most important. It doesn’t have footnotes. It uses composite characters. It doesn’t even have an index to make it easy to look up different parts. And this is from a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, and those of us who know something about law reviews [know] it’s incredibly detail-oriented work. The footnoting that goes into a law review is incredibly detailed and precise. And, to me, as a law school graduate myself, it’s a conscious decision by Barack Obama to write a book that has no index and no endnotes. He’s entirely used to that. And so I think the larger question is not what assistance he may have gotten—because everyone who writes a significant book gets assistance—it’s: why did he choose to create a book that makes it extremely difficult for anyone to follow his story, except through a narrative of composites? And I think that helps, at least in a small way, to underscore my thesis. The research on Presidential Puppetry, which is my second [book], has been very intensive; over four years, and I’ve read or at least leafed through hundreds of books, and it’s led me to get all kinds of theories about publishing history. Even though my mother was a successful book author, I’ve learned a lot more about it. I’m much less impressed than previously over the fact that somebody’s had a book published. I mean, it’s an important achievement, but—particularly those who are in public life and have a healthy contract and so forth—they’re able to get all kinds of combinations of co-authorship, ghostwriting and research assistance that are incredibly common in higher levels of authorship. To debate whether [President Obama] received surreptitious help in writing his book—that’s not a scandal, in my mind. Even if he did, it’s not really worth investigating that much. And I don’t mean to denigrate other peoples research. I’d be interested if somebody had some big finding. But at the end of the day: so what? It’s doubtless the case that Clinton’s received help drafting books, or the Bushes, or anybody else.

BFP: Taking into account that Obama was really an unknown on the national stage at the time that his book was released back in 1995—that kind of plays into the general theory a little bit, doesn’t it?

AK: It does. I think there’s actually much more solid evidence. Here’s what I would take as a very intriguing fact. A lot of this is circumstantial, but ultimately the question is: why aren’t people asking more questions? At the precise time that he was working with Business International in New York in approximately 1984, that was when he was dating Genevieve Cook, who was, until last year, his long lost lover from that era. David Maraniss, a writer from the Washington Post, spent a couple years writing a biography of Barack Obama’s early years, and the big discovery in his research was finding Genevieve Cook and persuading her to talk about her life and her memories with Barack. Maraniss wrote extensively about this and that was part of the major publicity for his book when it came out. He’s got a sentence or so in his book mentioning that her father, Michael Cook, was head of a board in Australia. Maraniss doesn’t really make too much of this, but the board was Australia’s equivalent of our National Security Council. I believe he had been an ambassador to Indonesia in the ’60s. And Genevieve Cook’s step-father, Philip Jessup, was quite prominent. He came from a diplomatic U.S. family and later led a big billion-dollar mining company in Indonesia. So what we have here is very high-powered connections to not simply security agencies, but what I call in the book the “puppet master class” of mega-corporations that are involved in the global empire. One could say about any of these scenarios, “Well, anybody who goes to an Ivy League university like Columbia may meet or fall in love with someone who has a wealthy or prestigious or governmental family.” And that’s certainly the case. However, there are just interesting questions that are not pursued by virtually any of these authors, and it just seems that you have these little dots that nobody wants to connect. “Oh, he worked for a CIA front company.” “Oh, he’s dating, in his first big love affair, for quite a long time, the daughter of the head of the National Security Council of Australia.” And nobody wants to talk about it. So, in many ways, my book is just connecting the dots. Quite frankly, I can’t say—even after connecting dozens of these dots—with one-hundred percent accuracy, or even ninety-eight percent accuracy, that I absolutely know everything. But we’ve got to start somewhere. The fact of the matter is that those in the New York Times and Washington Post who have the access and the ability to ask questions do not want to ask the logical questions that my research leads to.

BFP: Could you talk a little more about your research process?

AK: I guess part of it, which also comes from all my experience as a newspaper reporter and other life experiences; part of it is just a basic questioning of almost anything and being open to new information. Here’s kind of an inspiring method: as a young newspaper reporter I was assigned by my boss at the Hartford Courant, the largest newspaper in Connecticut, to cover courts. I was led over to the courthouse and introduced to judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys by an old-time reporter. His name was Dennie Williams. And during the beginning of the tour I met the Strike Force prosecutor from the Justice Department who went on to become the head of the whole Strike Force of the entire country against organized crime, Paul Coffey, a very distinguished public servant. He was based in Hartford, and when he met me he said with a little smile, “Remember in your reporting, the government is always right.” He said it with a smile so I could tell he was joking, but that’s often the attitude of those in government, and that’s, I guess, in a certain sense, what motivates them. But here’s what my predecessor said at the end. He sort of touched me on the arm and said, “Remember in your reporting that, for some of the people coming through this courthouse, you’re the last chance they’ve got.” So, you see, in a sense, everyone’s busy and we don’t have time to look into everything, but some situations where people are actually innocent or they’re framed—or maybe they’re not innocent, but they’ve done something that is not as bad as it looks—those of us who get into this field have an obligation to poke around. To fast-forward to the book process: it involves reading and obtaining books, a lot of Googling and talking with people; some are official status, others are investigators or even disreputable people who may have information. One of the things that’s rare about Presidential Puppetry is that I’ve drawn heavily from all parts of the political spectrum. For example, some of the research from extreme right-wingers about President Obama is helpful, sometimes in a way not as they intended. By the same token, I’ve gotten a lot of information from the left. So it all goes into the stewpot, or what do you call it?—goulash—and out comes the book. 

BFP: It does all seem to rest upon keeping that open mind.

AK: Here’s an example that in a way goes back to one of your earlier questions. Many who are very conservative bash President Obama for his friendships with Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn and other radicals, but what some of these conservatives really haven’t imagined is: suppose some of these radicals are agent provocateurs or government agents themselves. I’ve questioned them on it. They hadn’t even thought of it. They think, “Well, once someone says radical things, that must mean they are and have always been a radical.” I document in the book that the CIA was actually funding one of the first presidents of Students for a Democratic Society, Paul Potter. They were funding the Daily Worker, which is the American communist newspaper. And this is so off the charts of conventional thinking, but we know, if we just look at the documents, that the CIA was doing it, and internally they were proud of it. And the concept of why, which again goes back to the puppet category, is to control leading messengers from all parts of the political spectrum. Not everything, but enough to help control the dialogue no matter where events take us. The public needs to know that this is a deeply textured play that we watch on the political scene, not just what it appears to be. 

BFP: There’s also an interesting parallel between the puppet masters and their puppets in that, in one sense, the masters of course act as great enablers, but likewise they always have full control to completely reverse their candidates’ good fortune. For instance, if it ever got out that Obama, while working for the intelligence agencies, had spied on radical blacks in Chicago, or, in the case of Clinton, Vietnam protestors while he was in college—those types of allegations are potential career-killers for those seeking the Democratic ticket.

AK: That’s partly why it doesnt come out, because the Democratic Party functionaries and those who swear allegiance to the Democratic Party, they’re not going to like my book unless they’re open-minded and want to get out of the matrix and see things as they really are. But many people are quite comfortable in the matrix and just don’t want to know, or think it can’t be true that their heroes would have done some things to rise up out of the hatch. In the case of President Clinton, you referenced it, but it’s a fairly brief interlude. There’s evidence that, according to some expert observers, in his attempt to escape the draft he was cooperating with intelligence agencies. And I’m just connecting the dots. But that was quite common then. It is what it is.

BFP: Digging deeper into the past and looking at it from the full spectrum with Obama, Clinton, both of the Bushes, Reagan—where does it stop, exactly?

AK: It stops at Jimmy Carter. Here’s why. [In Presidential Puppetry] I make the statement that all recent U.S. presidents have been secret assets of the CIA or FBI before they entered politics, and that means Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush before he was the CIA director; going back to just after he graduated from Yale in the 1940s, and of course Clinton, the younger Bush, and Obama. The reason it stops at Carter is [because] Carter was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, so he was a uniformed military member, and those before Carter are predominantly World War II veterans. There’s not a question of becoming confidential assets. They were in the military as young people. So they had that experience there. I’m trying not to be positive or negative—actually, it’s positive. I’m just saying: there’s a very strong connection to the military forces that the public today doesn’t realize, but people should just know it as basic biographical information. That’s not to say [President Carter] hasn’t had connections afterwards. Just quoting from a relevant part of the book: when Carter began to think about running for president, the Trilateral Commission invited him [for an interview]—this is a kind of Rockefeller-founded not-quite-secret-society, but it’s a big foreign policy group that David Rockefeller created. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became a national security advisor in the Carter administration, is actually quoted in one of his own books. After [the Trilateral Commission] interviewed Carter—before he ran for president—Brzezinski said to one of his colleagues: “I think we found our candidate for the presidency.” So it shows how circular this is. Brzezinski was, in a sense, at that time, the main foreign policy guru for the Rockefeller family on the Democratic side, while Henry Kissinger was the main apparatchik for the Rockefeller array of goals on the Republican side. So they’re kind of the estranged puppet masters. And here Brzezinski picks Carter, in effect saying, “We’re gonna put our weight on him to be president,” and then Carter picks Brzezinski to be his top national security advisor, and Brzezinski goes to Columbia University after office and, gee, who went to Columbia University? [Laughs] Now, we don’t quite have a connection that anybody’s able to talk about directly between Brzezinski and Obama, but I’m not sure people have pushed that hard on that question. By the way, all the records are secret. Nobody wants to ask, “What’s the big secrecy of records of Columbia or high school or law school?” What’s the issue? You see, it goes back to what we were talking about before. Why is there no index in his book? Here’s a story I’ll just share that was a part of the process. I was at the National Press Club, where I go here in Washington, and I was chatting with a bureau chief of a major newspaper. I’m not gonna name the person, but I said, “Well, what’s the big secret about President Obama’s school records? Why didn’t someone just ask for them?” And the bureau chief said: “Rahm Emanuel wouldn’t like it,” who was the chief of staff at that time. And I said, “So what?” And the person said, “Well, you don’t want him mad at you!”

See, that’s the kind of mentality, that there’s all these reporters who would ask any question, but they’re worried that there might be some reprisal; that they wouldn’t have access if they decide to write a book or some story. And they’re basically worried about their jobs. All these newspapers are cutting back staff and they’re worried that the boss will say, “Yeah, people don’t seem to like you at the White House; we can’t find a good job for you.” That’s maybe a little bit dramatic. But it can also just be that—maybe they won’t lose their job, but maybe they’re just not invited to some function. And it’s just not worth it to antagonize people by asking for something like a transcript of the President’s records. We in the public and we other researchers who are not over there everyday, we just have to ask, “What’s the secret?” What are they trying to hide? Here’s what it likely is—but I don’t know, because we don’t have the records! It’s likely to be evidence that could help researchers like me weave together a fuller picture of his life. Maybe he had a course or an independent study with Brzezinski, and maybe—I’m just speculating—but maybe part of the reason that so few people remember Obama at Columbia is that part of his independent study was overseas, and who knows what that might have been? And if, let’s say his independent study was overseas with some professor, whether Brzezinski or someone else who has a big national security connection, then people might say, “Well, I wonder if this person recommended him to go to Harvard Law School.” Then you see where the whole thing goes? And, you know, maybe not, but this is a two-term president of the United States and—again, going back to my journalism circles quite often, particularly as I got more advanced in this research, I would ask people just basic questions. “What do you think President Obama’s mother did for a living? What do you think his career was?” Or I’ll ask about cabinet members. And, by the way, at least half of my book is about Republicans. It’s quite in-depth on the Bush family, Romney, Paul Ryan, and others. But I ask reporters who cover some of these beats basic questions about biographies or things that I’ve discovered and they just don’t know, because they don’t have the flexibility, either in terms of time or assignment, to develop alternative sources of information. It’s very focused on official comments; responses by the opposition party. It’s kind of a dialogue between the Republican and Democrat officials. What I’ve discovered is you’ve got this puppetry again, and nobody is saying, “Well, what are the elites, what are the enablers, what are the Wall Street people who are organizing this—what are they seeking to achieve and make the public think about?”

BFP: To stay on the subject of control: beyond politicians’ fear of being blackmailed or scandalized, or of losing votes or support—

AK: It can be much harsher than that. For lack of a better word I’ll talk about sociopaths, who are involved in this type of stuff: the one-percent of the population that has no conscious. So when they want to punish someone it can be much more than that. It can be exposure of sexual secrets, loss of job, loss of freedom, criminal prosecution, targeting family, and just creating excruciating choices for people. And in the case of foreign leaders it can be airplane accidents and other matters that may result in death. So the consequences are potentially quite serious. In fact, I quote in the book one key advisor to President Obama saying that his transition team in 2008 and 2009, after he was elected, feared a revolt if the President undertook certain actions, such as prosecuting the CIA for torture activities. The revolt would not be the ordinary person in the street, it would be presumably high-level officials. So the threats here are quite serious. And much of the book goes into the history of surveillance, which of course came into the news this year, but I was researching that long in advance of the Snowden revelations. It really ties into the theory, because, through my research, sources, and documentation, it’s clear that the agencies have the ability to encompass all of our electronic communications, store it, and retrieve it. So that means members of Congress, the Senate, and political candidates. Much of this capability is delegated to contractors. Remember, Snowden was a contractor who wasn’t employed directly by the government at the end of his career. So if somebody has the ability to capture and retrieve virtually all communications, this can lead to sexual blackmail or other things of blackmail, because politicians—I mean, I’m right here in Washington. I’m very familiar with the situation. Politicians have to raise money, and they’re not going to raise much money unless they pretend to be grateful to their donors. Actually, they are grateful. And it can happen that those who want favors from politicians are hiring extremely attractive and friendly lobbyists, male or female, or just arranging parties where attractive people come onto the government officials who are here separated from their families. So if one has access to all these electronic communications a situation for ongoing blackmail is ever-present, and we in the public have to understand that it’s not just about surveillance. It’s about using surveillance to extract government action.

BFP: The threat of death facing politicians is something I don’t think we always really think about, either.

AK: Well I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve recently finished the last part of the Readers Guide to the JFK assassination. It’s an ambitious project that just came up because it’s the fiftieth anniversary. It’s relevant to my book for exactly the reasons that you mentioned. But as I got more deeply into the research on the JFK assassination—there’s a reason that there’s more than two thousand books about him; more than a hundred this year alone. It’s quite likely that the public is not hearing the full story about that assassination, that there in fact was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy that involved Oswald, but it’s quite possible that he did not fire a shot, or at least the shot that hit Kennedy. And it’s highly unlikely that his shot killed him, because the medical evidence indicates that Kennedy was shot from the front with the fatal bullet. I was just down at several conferences in Dallas, had a good look, took photos of the scene, and it’s—well, I’ll just give the title of my last column: “JFK’s Murder, the CIA, and 8 Things Every American Should Know.” But going back to your original point: the chance of assassination has got to weigh on every president. The public is trained to think that assassins are lone nuts. Well, that’s not necessarily the case. Actually, just today, in reaction to my story—I’ve been in e-mail communication with Oswald’s girlfriend from 1963, Judyth Baker. She wrote a book about her experiences. She thought he was a pretty nice guy. In fact, she wants to be buried next to him. I also just got an e-mail from a Russian physician, Ernst Titovets, who was Oswald’s best friend during his time in Russia, and Titovets also thinks that Oswald was not the type to kill anyone. And all of this—I mean, it doesn’t by itself prove the case, but we remember that Oswald said he was just a patsy, a person who was setup to look guilty. That’s another area where the mainstream media just doesn’t want to connect the dots and explore this. They may have a little bit in their coverage, but when the Washington Post draws an official diagram a couple of weeks ago that says: “Here’s where Oswald shot the bullets that killed Kennedy,” there’s no alleged in there. It’s conclusive. And one of the things I point out in the book is how deeply complicit with the CIA the Washington Post and other mainstream media were at this time. I mean, the publisher of the Washington Post was having weekly dinners with Frank Wisner, who was head of the CIA’s program of outreach control to the news page. And the Washington Post spiked a column by former President Harry Truman on December 22, 1963, in which Truman, who created the CIA, argued in his column that it was getting too powerful and needed to be brought back under control. And the Washington Post killed Truman’s column, and other media didn’t even pick it up. So this is the kind of hidden control that our supposedly free press submits to on certain issues. And it’s [for] patriotic reasons, but ultimately I think the public deserves to know they’re not getting the full story. 

BFP: I know we’ve mostly been discussing the actual presidents, but Presidential Puppetry takes a really deep look at Mitt Romney as well. On the subject of his Mormon beliefs, you wrote that the conventional news media is “reluctant to draw the connection between his secrecy, moneymaking, and religion.” Why do you think that is? 

AK: I think it’s an exact parallel to the medias treatment of Obama; that they don’t want to get into things that he doesn't want to get into, like his intelligence background. Here, Romney made it clear that he didn't want to talk about his religion. [There were] some feature stories in a few places. It really was once-over lightly. And I think it’s important to understand, even though he lost the election narrowly, how close we came to having a religiously motivated administration of those who believe in a religion that’s not really been examined. Both the Romney family and his chief of staff and close colleague, Mike Leavitt, the former HHS secretary, their families go back to the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith, and my book traces back the creation of this religion: the quest for digging for gold, the creation of a bank with no assets, and the extremely controversial history of the founder of the church, who was actually murdered while he was running for president of the United States in 1844 by citizens of Illinois who just despised him and his religion and polygamy. And it’s important to understand that the Romneys and Leavitts go all the way back to that period. I trace it through to the campaign era. So here’s Mitt Romney, who ran for president twice, and this whole part of his life has not been examined. There’s some very interesting relationships with his company Bain, with Howard Hughes—here’s one of the most fascinating people of the entire 20th century, Howard Hughes, and the person who controlled the Hughes empire at the end was the father of Mitt Romney’s long-time business partner at Bain. Howard Hughes was of course involved in defense contracts, the CIA, the mob, and all kinds of things. You would just think, if the major news media was really trying to sell newspapers, which is sometimes used as an attack—“Oh, theyre just trying to sell newspapers!”—actually, it’s much worse than that, because if they were just trying to sell newspapers they would get into some of these issues because people would be interested. I mean, how could you not be interested in Howard Hughes and some of these other things? But the fact of the matter is, to take the Washington Post [as an example]: they recently have been making only four-percent of their money from circulation, which means sales in newspapers, and only fourteen or fifteen-percent from advertising. So the issue is: they’ve got other agendas besides reporting the news and selling newspapers. People said, “Well, maybe things will be better after the new owner.” Well, maybe. I mean, he founded a very outstanding consumer-friendly company, Amazon. But the new owner—in addition to sitting on this incredible database of what everybody in the country buys and wants, and the most powerful news organization still in Washington, the Washington Post—his company Amazon just won a contract to handle the advanced data needs for a certain government agency. That agency is the Central Intelligence Agency. People can say, “Well, it’s all separate, because he personally owns the Washington Post. There can’t be any cross-pollination of any of these entities, can there?” Well, who’s asking that question? 

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Washington, DC-based Andrew Kreig is an investigative reporter, attorney, and public affairs strategist listed in Who’s Who in the World since the mid-1990s. He currently leads the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project’s legal reform efforts found on the web at www.justice-integrity.org. From 1996 to 2008, he led the Wireless Communications Association in its worldwide advocacy. In 1987, he authored Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America’s Oldest Newspaper, a pioneering case study. He holds a law degree from Yale and the University of Chicago, and a history degree from Cornell, and he has lectured on five continents about public affairs and business. His latest book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney, and Their Masters, was published by Eagle View Books in June 2013. Read the BFP book review here.

Mark Mondalek – BFP contributing author, is a writer and editor based in Detroit. Follow @ Twitter