Truthout Stories Sun, 26 Oct 2014 05:47:04 -0400 en-gb Did Elizabeth Warren Just Change Her Tune on Running for President?

2014 1025 eliz stDemocratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (Photo: Ninian Reid)Senator Elizabeth Warren gave an interview to People magazine for this week's issue and was asked for roughly the thousandth time if she planned to run for president. But her answer to this query was different than all the others:

But is the freshman senator from Massachusetts herself on board with a run for the White House? Warren wrinkles her nose.

"I don't think so," she tells PEOPLE in an interview conducted at Warren's Cambridge, Massachusetts, home for this week's issue. "If there's any lesson I've learned in the last five years, it's don't be so sure about what lies ahead. There are amazing doors that could open."

She just doesn't see the door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue being one of them. Not yet, anyway. "Right now," Warren says, "I'm focused on figuring out what else I can do from this spot" in the U.S. Senate.

As a veteran Warren-watcher, I can say with certainty this is more ambiguous than she's ever been on the subject. "I don't think so," "amazing doors that could open," and "right now" are the traditional vernacular of a someone flirting with a campaign—-and someone who wants you to know it.

In the past, Warren has been much more unequivocal. (Examples: "I'm not running for president, and I plan to serve out my term," and "I am not running for president. Do you want to put an exclamation point at the end of that?")

It is certainly possible Warren just got sloppy during the umpteenth iteration of this question, and used looser language than normal while speaking with a non-political reporter. But it's also true that she's been increasingly explicit in her criticisms of the Democratic establishment and its relationship with big banks. She told Salon last week that the Obama administration "protected Wall Street. Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. And it happened over and over and over."

Warren's Senate office did not immediately return a request for comment.

UPDATE, 10/23: Warren's office responded to our query: "Nothing has changed," said her press secretary Lacey Rose.

Opinion Sat, 25 Oct 2014 13:17:03 -0400
Detroit: The Dispersal of Urban Black America Begins

"The water department is determined to solve its financial problems – and change the city's demographics – by ejecting the poor from the grid."

The two United Nations Special Rapporteurs have seen human rights violations around the world, but Detroit's massive water shut-offs are uniquely upsetting. "We were deeply disturbed to observe the indignity people have faced and continue to live with in one of the wealthiest countries in the world and in a city that was a symbol of America's prosperity," said Catarina de Albuquerque and Leilani Farha, in a joint statement. An "unprecedented" 27,000 households have been disconnected from the pipes that sustain life and dignity – most of them Black and poor, according to the rapporteurs' observations, although the city doesn't bother to maintain records on the race and income of those it casts into purgatory. The water department is deliberately blind to the shut-offs' "disproportionate impact on low-income African Americans."

Detroit, an 82 percent Black city, run for four decades by Black mayors and Black city councils, and presided over for the past year and a half by a Black state-appointed emergency financial manager, may well be in violation of the United Nations Convention on Elimination of Racial Discrimination, "which explicitly prohibits and calls for the elimination of racial discrimination in relation to several human rights directly affected by water disconnections, including the right to housing and the right to public health," wrote Albuquerque and Farha.

The poor are not asking for a free ride, said Albuquerque. "In the three days we were here, nobody asked us for free water. People want to pay their bills within their possibilities...they want affordable and fair bills." However, the water department is determined to solve its financial problems – and change the city's demographics – by ejecting the poor from the grid. Albuquerque was compelled to remind Detroit that the city's bankruptcy drama "doesn't exempt it from human rights obligations."

"We have decided to foreclose on everything."

High water bills and cascading shut-offs have added to the flood of forced evictions. "Our conclusion is that you have here in Detroit a man-made perfect storm," said the UN officials.

More precisely, a corporate-made vortex of ethnic and class cleansing, to make way for a new, gentrified city. Just as the water shut-offs are "unprecedented," so too is the pace of county home foreclosures, which have now targeted one of every five properties in Detroit. Wayne County is notifying 70,000 Detroit households that they have been caught up in the foreclosure frenzy. "We have decided to foreclose on everything," said Wayne County chief deputy treasurer David Szymanski. He claims the foreclosure proceedings are for the occupants own good, since they might then be eligible for federal housing aid.

It is obvious that the water disconnections and housing foreclosures are coordinated prongs of a hyper-aggressive gentrification pincer movement. While emergency manager Kevyn Orr completes the financial restructuring of the city under bankruptcy proceedings, the bureaucracy clears the land of unwanted populations. Back in September, the mayor and city council could have peremptorily dismissed Orr, whose term of authority under the emergency manager law had expired. Instead, they kept him on, so that he can complete the corporate handover of the city in bankruptcy court. The city council reclaimed its powers to award contracts and Mayor Mike Duggan, the first white person to occupy that office since 1974, took responsibility for the day-to-day duties of pushing out the poor.

"You have here in Detroit a man-made perfect storm."

Mayor Duggan resents the two young UN rapporteurs' interference with Detroit's race and class makeover project. Aid Alexis Wiley claims the city is in possession of facts that were not taken into account. "It's disappointing but it's kind of scary that you can have such a heavy name of the United Nations — that is such a responsibility — and to not live up to that responsibility, to come really without an interest in information," said Wiley. "No one's saying we're perfect. But if you want to work together, let's work together and make sure policy is built on facts. It's not built on an agenda."

Certainly, not on a human rights agenda. One wouldn't want that, would one?. After all, Detroit still has big dreams – it's just that poor Black people have no place in the plan.

Albuquerque and Farha recommended "that the Federal Government immediately undertake an investigation into the water shut-offs to determine if they are having a disproportionate impact on African Americans and other groups protected against discrimination" – an idea that will be flushed into the nearest Oval Office toilet. The Obama administration is a full partner in transforming Detroit into the model for urban "renaissance" across the country, having signed off on the city's financial restructuring and acquiesced in the effective disenfranchisement of Detroit – and half of all Black voters in Michigan – under the emergency manager regime.
The Great Black Urban Dispersal is set to accelerate.

Opinion Sat, 25 Oct 2014 12:40:59 -0400
Protesters Call for Justice for Transgender Filipina Allegedly Killed by Marine

2014 1025 vigil st(Image: Candlelight vigil via Shutterstock)On the evening of Wednesday, October 15, around 100 people gathered in San Francisco's Union Square to hold a candlelight vigil for Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old transgender Filipina woman who was allegedly murdered by a U.S. Marine in the Philippines last Saturday night.

The event was spearheaded by BAYAN-USA and GABRIELA-SF and supported by local Filipino, people of color, women's rights, and LGBT activists. Gatherers expressed sadness and anger at Gaude's murder at the hands of U.S. Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Late last Saturday night, Jennifer Laude apparently checked into a hotel in Olongapo City, northwest of the capital Manila, with Pemberton, a white male U.S. Marine she met at Ambyanz Disco bar.

Soon after, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Laude was found lifeless on the bathroom floor of one of the rooms of Celzone Lodge after checking in allegedly with Pemberton. The victim's head was slumped in the toilet." Laude died of asphyxiation and, according to police, was possibly strangled.

Protesters condemned the routine violence against transgender women of color and U.S. foreign policy in the Philippines. A 2013 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that of the more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence, 73.1% of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color and 53.8% were transgender women.

Isa Noyola of EL/LA Para Translatinas explained to The Post that Laude's death is one example of the systemic violence transgender women of color face. The root of this violence, she said, is "patriarchy and our society's view on how trans lives are disposable."

Protesters' major demand was to hold Pemberton accountable in the Philippines rather than U.S. military jurisdiction. Pemberton is currently detained aboard the USS Peleliu in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, about 50 miles northwest of Manila.

However, the 1999 U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) grants the United States jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in the Philippines. It also allows for joint military exercises and training between the U.S. and Philippine militaries, largely to fight Islamic militant groups as part of the U.S. War on Terror and counter Chinese influence. The recent Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) grants the United States greater access to Filipino military bases.

Protesters argued that these agreements benefit American military hegemony at the expense of Philippine self-determination and dignity. Faye Lacanilao, an organizer with BAYAN-USA, told The Post that ending VFA and EDCA was another demand, along with "letting us figure out how we can also defend ourselves, prioritize other things like creating national industry, supporting education, having solid healthcare, and not busying ourselves with dealing with [the] American military."

News Sat, 25 Oct 2014 12:04:15 -0400
Building Trades Chief Lauds Fracking Boom, Shrugs Off Environmental Concerns

2014 1025 frac fwA Halliburton worker poses at a fracking operation. (Photo: Joshua Doubek)

In its quest for jobs, the Building and Construction Trades Department (BCTD) of the AFL-CIO hasn't shied away from taking on environmentalists and progressives. The latest flashpoint is fracking, the controversial drilling practice propelling the nation's fossil fuel energy boom.

On this issue, public tolerance is waning, but the trades unions aren't backing down.

On Tuesday, October 14, the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee released a report by Dr. Robert Bruno and Michael Cornfield of the University of Illinois which found that from 2008 to 2014, oil and gas development created 45,000 new jobs in the Marcellus Shale region—an area that includes parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The data came from the BCTD; the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, a joint labor-management committee that oversees collective bargaining agreements in the construction industry; and Industrial Info Resources, a third party specializing in "global market intelligence."

Two days later, BCTD president Sean McGarvey, who also serves as chair of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee and whose union is a member of the committee, praised the report and defended the thriving industry.

"Oil and gas industry spending in the Marcellus Shale region has led to significant increases in construction and maintenance jobs," McGarvey told reporters on a conference call. "At a time when the U.S. construction industry was in the midst of what was arguably a depression, ... one of the few, if not only, bright spots, were the jobs that were created by virtue of domestic oil and gas development."

The report did not address workplace safety. Recent federal studies have shown that workers at fracking sites are exposed to dangerous levels of benzene and crystalline silica—both of which are known carcinogens.

McGarvey's affection for oil and gas may irritate environmentalists. But at least one of the BCTD's pro-drilling stances also puts the trades directly at odds with Pennsylvania's labor movement and its allies.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO backs an oil and gas severance tax that would tax fossil fuel companies and bring much-needed revenue to state coffers. Tom Wolf, the union-backed Democratic nominee for governor, has made that proposal a hallmark of his campaign; at the moment, Wolf leads Republican incumbent Tom Corbett by a roughly 15-point margin.

A 5 percent extraction tax, Wolf has said, would "make sure that we actually share in the benefits of having this resource beneath our feet."

McGarvey, however, insisted that a severance tax would "deter" future development.

"People have to be reasonable. It's a fledgling industry and you have to make sure the investments people are making can come to fruition," he told reporters. "Reasonable men and women can sit down and work out reasonable policy and tax issues to make sure that they don't kill this industry before it has a chance to make the largest impact it can possibly make—not just in the state of Pennsylvania, but across the country."

That stance puts him in the company of the American Petroleum Institute and other fracking hardliners. Even the state senate's leading Republican has voiced support for a drilling tax.

McGarvey also stated that Maryland should allow fracking—apparently the first time he has made such a declaration publicly.

Drillers have long had their eyes on gas-rich portions of Western Maryland, but the state currently prohibits fracking. It's a subject of heated debate: In 2011, Governor O'Malley created a special commission to determine whether or not the state can safely regulate the practice. The commission is expected to release its final report by the end of the year.

The BCTD endorsed Cove Point, a proposed $3.8 billion natural gas export plant in Lusby, Maryland, that was recently approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Opponents have charged that construction of the plant will pressure the state to drop its de facto fracking ban.

When asked in June, months before FERC approved Cove Point, McGarvey wouldn't say if he thought Maryland should allow fracking. This time around, though, he showed little hesitation.

"I see the economic growth and the economic opportunity," McGarvey said. "As a Maryland resident, I'd like to see my friends, neighbors and [fellow] Marylanders share in these opportunities."

In These Times asked the labor leader if he was concerned at all about the environmental impact of the Northeast's shale drilling boom. Concerns range from the local—reports have linked fracking to water contamination and upticks in seismic activity—to the global: A recently published study in Nature found that natural gas offers little benefit in the international fight to reduce carbon emissions.

McGarvey paused. "No," he stated. Chuckles could be heard in the background.

News Sat, 25 Oct 2014 11:24:07 -0400
Irked by Israel's Foot-Dragging

In his recent meeting with President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was "committed to the vision of peace for two states for two peoples."

That sounds nice. But Netanyahu has done everything possible to demonstrate that he's not interested in negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinian people.

2014 1025 isr fw(Photo: Jelle Drok)

This past summer alone, he authorized thousands of new Israeli housing units in Palestinian East Jerusalem, annexed nearly 1,000 acres of the West Bank, and launched a devastating war in Gaza that left over 2,000 people dead — the vast majority of them civilians.

Unless the Palestinians are given a state of their own, their higher birth rate will make Jews a minority in Israeli-controlled lands by 2025.

That's why a majority of Israelis — including most Netanyahu voters — still support a two-state solution.

And yet Netanyahu has refused to compromise. Right-wing members of his coalition continue to resist sharing Jerusalem, oppose swapping land to compensate Palestine for territory seized by Israeli settlers, and reject allowing displaced Palestinians to return to land they owned before their expulsion in 1948.

As the more powerful side in the negotiations, Israel is playing hardball, waiting for the Palestinians to buckle. But it's absurd to imagine that a state and a non-state can engage in fair negotiations. Without a real state, no one will stand up for the Palestinians scattered throughout the region.

For the last couple decades, the most likely route to statehood for Palestine was through negotiations with Israel, usually brokered by third parties like the United States. But there's another path that doesn't go through Israel: international recognition.

Quite a few countries have already recognized Palestine as a state — 134 of them, actually. That's a lot more than Taiwan (21), more even than Kosovo (108). But most of the countries that have recognized Palestine don't have much economic or diplomatic pull.

That's about to change.

A new center-left government recently took over in Sweden and immediately announced its intention to recognize Palestine as a state.

Shortly thereafter, the UK parliament voted by a large margin — 274 to 12 — to recommend recognition as well. The UK government isn't likely to take that step under its current political leadership, but that could change after the May 2015 elections.

Meanwhile, the French government is reportedly mulling a recognition move of its own.

Israel might ultimately care as little about the attitudes of "old Europe" as Donald Rumsfeld did around the invasion of Iraq. But Israel can't ignore the increasing impatience of its chief supporter — the United States.

Immediately after Netanyahu's October meeting with Obama, the White House issued a statement "call(ing) into question Israel's commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians."

At the moment, the United States and much of the world is focused on the Islamic State, so a new round of U.S.-brokered talks is unlikely. But the Islamic State is a reminder of what happens when legitimate grievances — in its own case, those of Sunnis in Syria and in Iraq — are ignored.

Strong, democratic states are an antidote to Islamic State-style extremism. As such, a strong Palestinian state would serve the interests of Israel, the United States, and the entire Middle East.

At his meeting with Obama, Netanyahu said that it was time to "think outside the box." The Palestinians, by pursuing statehood outside of talks with Israel, are doing just that. It's time for Israel to do the same.

Opinion Sat, 25 Oct 2014 10:44:56 -0400
AG Candidate Supports Reforming John Doe Law to Protect Politicians

2014 1025 schimel stRepublican attorney general candidate Brad Schimel discusses Wisconsin's John Doe process in a meeting with the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board and reporters. (Screengrab via Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

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Republican attorney general candidate Brad Schimel has taken some heat when it comes to his firm conviction that a prosecutor's job is to defend the laws on the books, whether that be a gay marriage ban or an old time interracial marriage ban. But when it comes to Wisconsin's John Doe statute, which has been successfully used to convict both Democrats and Republicans of criminal corruption in office, he is ready to make some changes.

Schimel spoke at length with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board recently and suggested that he would work to change Wisconsin's John Doe statute to give politicians more protections than average citizens. Wisconsin's John Doe process is similar to that of a grand jury, but the legal proceedings take place behind closed doors in front of a judge, and a strict gag order is in place to prevent those involved from talking to the press.

"There is a crisis in confidence," about the John Doe statute which is being used in an investigation of potentially illegal campaign coordination between so-called independent expenditure groups and the Walker campaign. "It works well when you're investigating a drug conspiracy, or a murder, a missing person... the problem is when it is used to investigate political problems, it gets political," Schimel told the Journal Sentinel.

"It's supposed to be a secret investigation, but with the John Doe that has caused all the attention in Milwaukee there have been leaks and that has contributed to the view that it is a witch hunt," he continued.

Siding with the Dark Money Groups at Center of John Doe Probe

Schimel is echoing the claims of Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O'Keefe and his supporters who claim that the group is the target of a political witch hunt by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm and special prosecutor Francis Schmitz. As CMD reported, Wisconsin Club for Growth spent $9 million in undisclosed funds during the recalls and funneled millions more to other groups defending GOP candidates. In an unprecedented move for a Wisconsin governor, Walker raised millions for Wisconsin Club for Growth during the recalls, and prosecutors allege that the Club may have coordinated their expenditures with his campaign in violation of Wisconsin's longstanding campaign finance law, enacted after the Watergate scandal.

O'Keefe is so angry about the investigation he has launched a slew of lawsuits against prosecutors and the nonpartisan state elections board, and has even likened the proceedings to rape, an analogy that drew condemnation from the left and the right.

The facts are these: The John Doe was approved by a vote of the bipartisan panel of retired judges, appointed by the governor, approved by a Senate Committee, that leads the Wisconsin elections board. It was approved by a group of both Republican and Democratic district attorneys in five counties. To avoid the incessant charges of partisanship that accompanied his last successful John Doe, which resulted in the convictions of six of Walker's staff and associates, Chisholm requested that the judge appoint a special prosecutor. The man who got the job was Francis Schmitz, a retired U.S. Army Colonel and an experienced federal prosecutor, who not only voted for Walker in the recall election, but also investigated threats against Walker in his role as Assistant U.S. Attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice during the recall.

As for leaks, O'Keefe himself is leaker-in-chief, defying the John Doe secrecy order in order to complain to the Wall Street Journal about the case and frame the criminal investigation as a partisan witch hunt and a violation of the first amendment.

But these facts have not quieted the howls of outrage from the right-wing media and the cascading lawsuits by O'Keefe, a die-hard ideologue with a long-standing relationship to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers going back to the 1980s. One of the Kochs' funding vehicles, the Center to Protect Patent Rights, bankrolled Wisconsin Club for Growth during the recalls. That same group was fined by the state of California for a similar secret money shell game. And Schimel himself has been a beneficiary of Koch funds, receiving $5,000 from Koch Industries in August.

Federal Judge Rudolph Randa, who is the only Wisconsin judge to regularly attend Koch-funded junkets, sided with O'Keefe and the investigation is on hold for now, but no one in the state thinks the case is over as legal proceedings are moving forward in multiple venues.

Protecting the Political Class from Justice

When asked how he would reform the John Doe law, Schimel cited a law passed by politicians to protect politicians in the middle of an investigation.

In an effort to put an end to state lawmakers doing political work on the public dime, Madison's Democratic district attorney Brian Blanchard began a John Doe prosecution of the capitol's Republican and Democratic leaders in 2002. Over some years, he secured multiple felony convictions of leaders of both political parties, in an investigation dubbed "the caucus scandal."

While Democratic Senator Chuck Chvala pled guilty and ended up serving time in work release and Democratic Senator Brian Burke pled guilty and served time under house arrest, Republican House Speaker Scott Jensen, initially convicted of three felony counts and a misdemeanor, dodged and delayed. In 2007, Jensen was able to change the venue for his proceeding when the legislature passed special protections for politicians allowing politicians charged with campaign violations to have their cases tried in the county of their residence. When Jensen moved his case to conservative Waukesha County, he encountered a district attorney more to his liking – Brad Schimel.

In 2010, Jensen reached a plea agreement with Schimel, where he avoided all jail time and paid just a $5,000 fine and lawyers' fees. While Democrats Burke and Chvala served their time under a Democratic DA, Jensen got off under a Republican one. Now, Schimel says we should apply that lesson to the John Doe, giving politicians even more latitude to control their own prosecutions.

Common Cause Director Jay Heck watched the caucus scandal unfold over many years and suggests that Schimel's alleged "crisis in confidence" over the John Doe process, following investigations into possible criminal wrongdoing by Scott Walker and people around him, is "selective and partisan."

"Did he think that the John Doe investigations of over a decade ago that criminally charged with felonies Democratic State Senators Brian Burke and Chuck Chvala were 'troubling?' If so, he hasn't said so. And after a jury, in 2006, convicted former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen of felony misconduct in public office but the verdict was set aside on a technicality, Schimel had no problem negotiating a gentle plea agreement with Jensen, after the new trial was moved to Waukesha County, absolving Jensen of the felony charges and jail time. That deal engendered a genuine 'crisis of confidence' for Wisconsin citizens that politicians would hence forward not be treated with the same of degree of justice that citizens themselves could expect. Politicians would receive a better deal," Heck told CMD.

And the selective prosecutions continue. Last year, Schimel decided not to prosecute an attorney who admitted deleting files from the computer of Walker aide Darlene Wink who was under investigation in the first John Doe. The files concerned the political activities of Wink, who was convicted of doing campaign work on the public dime while Walker was Milwaukee County Executive. The lawyer destroyed evidence in the midst of a criminal investigation, and lied about it, yet the lawyer was merely instructed by Schimel to write a mea culpa to the state agency that oversees the conduct of lawyers.

The John Doe may need reforms and more transparency needs to be brought to the process when campaign finance law and other issues of public importance are being ruled upon behind closed doors, but a two-tier system of justice is not the way to go.

As Heck put it: "The public has the right to expect a vigorous, non-partisan investigation and resolution that is at least as severe -- and ought to be more so -- than whatever penalty mere citizens are subjected to. Certainly we ought not to accept special and more lenient consideration for misdeeds committed by an elite political class."

Opinion Sat, 25 Oct 2014 09:12:17 -0400
European Privacy in the Age of Snowden: We Need a Debate About What Intelligence Agencies Are Doing

As the movie "Citizenfour" about National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden opens in theaters in the United States, we look at the impact his leaks have had on the debate over online privacy in Europe. The Austrian newspaper Der Standard reports the NSA has accessed nearly 70 percent of telecommunications in Vienna, home to thousands of diplomats from around the world. Earlier this year, Germany ordered the removal of a top U.S. intelligence official in the country after leaks from Snowden showed the United States was monitoring the communications of millions of Germans and tapping Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. In a victory for digital privacy, the European Court of Justice struck down a rule that required telecommunication companies to store the communications data of European Union citizens for up to two years. The ruling happened on the same day Snowden addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe from Moscow. We are joined by Andreas Krisch, president of European Digital Rights.

Please check back later for full transcript.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:05:12 -0400
"Citizenfour": Inside Story of NSA Leaker Edward Snowden Captured in New Film by Laura Poitras

"At this stage I can offer nothing more than my word. I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk … This will not be a waste of your time." This was one of the first messages Edward Snowden wrote to filmmaker Laura Poitras beginning an exchange that helped expose the massive surveillance apparatus set up by the National Security Agency. Months later, Poitras would meet Snowden for the first time in a Hong Kong hotel room. Poitras filmed more than 20 hours of footage as Snowden debriefed reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill. That footage — most unseen until now — forms the backbone of Poitras’ new film, "Citizenfour." She joins us to talk about the film and her own experience with government surveillance. The film is the third installment of her 9/11 trilogy that also includes "My Country, My Country" about the Iraq War and "The Oath" about the U.S. military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Poitras’ NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post. We also speak with Jeremy Scahill, who appears in the film reporting on recent disclosures about NSA surveillance from a new, anonymous government source. Scahill, along with Poitras and Greenwald, founded The Intercept, a new media venture to continue investigating whistleblower leaks.

Image Credit: RADiUS-TWC

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, Citizenfour.

LAURA POITRAS: [reading Edward Snowden] "Laura, at this stage I can offer nothing more than my word. I am a senior government employee in the intelligence community. I hope you understand that contacting you is extremely high risk ... From now, know that every border you cross, every purchase you make, every call you dial, every cell phone tower you pass, friend you keep, ... site you visit [and] subject line you type ... is in the hands of a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not. ... In the end if you publish the source material, I will likely be immediately implicated. ... I ask only that you ensure this information makes it home to the American public. ... Thank you, and be careful. Citizen Four."

EWEN MacASKILL: Sorry, I don’t know anything about you.


EWEN MacASKILL: Sorry, I don’t know even your name.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Oh, sorry, my name is Edward Snowden. I go by Ed. Edward Joseph Snowden is the full name.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That’s the trailer to the new film, Citizenfour, directed by filmmaker Laura Poitras about National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. The new documentary offers an inside look at what transpired in a Hong Kong hotel room over eight days in June 2013 when Snowden first met with Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill to leak a trove of secret documents about how the United States had built a massive surveillance apparatus to spy on Americans and people across the globe.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Poitras filmed over 20 hours in the hotel room, including this moment when Snowden was questioned by _Guardian_’s Ewen MacAskill. By this point, the first exposés based on Snowden’s leaks had been published, but his identity was not yet known to the public.

EWEN MacASKILL: What’s the next step? When do you think you’ll go public? Or—

EDWARD SNOWDEN: I think it’s pretty soon. I mean, with the reaction, this escalated more quickly. I think pretty much as soon as they start trying to make this about me, which should be any day now—


EDWARD SNOWDEN: —I’ll come out, just to go, "Hey, you know, this is—this is not a question of somebody skulking around in the shadows. These are public issues. These are not my issues. You know, these are everybody’s issues. And I’m not afraid of you. You know, you’re not going to bully me into silence like you’ve done to everybody else. And if nobody else is going to do it, I will. And hopefully, when I’m gone, whatever you do to me, there will be somebody else who will do the same thing. It will be the sort of Internet principle of the Hydra: You know, you can stomp one person, but there’s going to be seven more of us."

EWEN MacASKILL: Yeah. Are you getting more nervous?

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Um, I mean, no. I think—I think the way I look at stress, particularly because I sort of knew this was coming, you know, because I sort of volunteered to walk into it, I’m already sort of familiar with the idea. I’m not worried about it. When somebody like busts in the door, suddenly I’ll get nervous and it’ll affect me. But until they do...

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt from Citizenfour, the new film by director Laura Poitras. Her first film, My Country, My Country, focused on the Iraq War, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2007. Her second, The Oath, was about Guantánamo. Citizenfour is the third installment of her 9/11 trilogy. The film opens in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on Friday. Her NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post. We spoke to Laura on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., and began by asking her about the name of her film, Citizenfour.

LAURA POITRAS: "Citizen Four" was the alias that Edward Snowden used to contact me in January 2013. And we corresponded over the course of five months, and he—when I didn’t know who he was. And it was only actually days before traveling to Hong Kong that I actually had a name for the person that I had been talking to.

AMY GOODMAN: But why did he choose "Citizen Four"? What does it mean?

LAURA POITRAS: Yeah, yeah, that’s a good question. Actually, I made a trip to Moscow not that long ago, where I filmed part of the end of the film where he’s with his longtime partner Lindsay Mills. And I asked him, you know, because I didn’t actually ever know what it was, and he said, "Well, I’m not the first person who’s going to come forward and reveal information that the public should know, and I won’t be the last." And so, that’s where it comes from.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the most striking things, Laura, about the film is that Snowden never appears to have considered the possibility of leaking anonymously. Were you struck by that?

LAURA POITRAS: Yeah, I mean, I was actually very shocked. I was contacted in January, and we had email correspondence for a long time. And for all of—for the first three months, I assumed he would remain an anonymous source. He wouldn’t tell me any details about his—you know, where he worked or where he lived. And I thought that I was talking to somebody, at some point I’d receive documents, and then, you know, he would disappear and I would never know who the person was. And then, in April, he revealed to me—he said, "You know, you should know that I actually intend to come forward and say that I’m the source of this information," and that he didn’t want to hide, and he didn’t want others to take responsibility and that he didn’t—if there was a leak investigation, etc.

And so, he told me that, and that’s when I said, "Well, then, if that’s the case, then I would really like to meet you and be able to film, so that I could understand, you know, your motivations." And his first response was that he didn’t feel comfortable about that, because he didn’t want the story to be about him, which is something he also—you see he echoes in the film when he’s talking to Glenn in the very first interview. He says, "I’m not the story." And I said, "Well, people are going to—the media will make you the story and that your motivations really do matter." And then he agreed, and that’s how—sort of what led to the face-to-face meeting in Hong Kong.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura, how did he find you?

LAURA POITRAS: You know, so, as Glenn Greenwald has written in his book, he had received emails in December of 2012 asking to set up an encrypted way of talking, saying he had some information that he thought Glenn would be interested in, but he was very, very vague and didn’t say anything specific. And Glenn didn’t have—he wasn’t using encryption at that point, encrypted email. And so, I then received an anonymous email in January from someone I didn’t know, just asking me for my public key. And a public key is what’s used for encryption. It’s called PGP encryption. You have a key—you exchange keys, and then you’re able to communicate securely. And so, I had a key. I had been using encryption for a while, so it was an easy thing for me to do.

And I just said, you know, "Here you go, here’s my key," you know, and "Who are you, and what do you want?" And that’s—then we started this correspondence. And the first—then, the following email was the one that you hear at the beginning of the film as we’re moving through a tunnel, which he says, you know, "I’m a member of the intelligence community. This is not going to be a waste of your time." And he says other details, like "Imagine your adversary is capable of one trillion guesses per second." And that was sort of the beginning of our correspondence in January.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, in fact, Snowden says to you, or writes, that "You ask[ed] why I [chose] you. I didn’t. You [chose yourself]," he says to you in one of your chats.

LAURA POITRAS: Right. So that was—so, after he—the first email that I respond is like, "OK, well, then, why me? You need to help me understand this," because I was being a little bit cautious, not knowing—it could be potentially, you know, entrapment or something. And then he said—he referenced the fact that I had been put on a watchlist and stopped at the U.S. border many times. So he had, I think, read about that. Glenn had written about the fact that I had been stopped at the border. I had also published a short video about another NSA whistleblower, William Binney, on the New York Times website in August of 2012. And my guess is that he had seen both those things, and he knew that I was somebody who was working on NSA-related things, and he knew that also I had been targeted in some way, so that I had, I guess, maybe a personal connection to the issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Laura, Edward Snowden wrote, "Your victimization by the NSA system means that you are well aware of the threat that unrestricted, secret abilities pose for democracies. This is a story that few but you can tell." You talked about being stopped at the border dozens and dozens of times. In fact, it’s how you open Citizenfour. It’s what you told us on Democracy Now! before. Talk about those experiences. How many times have you been stopped crossing the border?

LAURA POITRAS: I think it’s about 40 times. And it started in 2006, and it continued until 2012—actually, until Glenn wrote about it. And then they stopped detaining me and questioning me at the border. And, you know, in terms of what happens at the border, I mean—you know, I had made a film about the Iraq War, so I had spent some time in the war zone, and it happened about a year and a half after finishing that film. And what I think—I mean, what I don’t think it is, I don’t think the U.S. government is watching films, and, you know, they’re just some thought police that says, "We don’t like this film, and we’re going to stop this person." But there is certainly—as we know, there is this growth of the intelligence community, which has created this sort of secret watchlist process. And people get put on it, and then, once you’re put on it, there’s actually no way to know why you’re on it or how to get off of it.

And so, yeah, every time I would return to the United States, they would—border agents would be sent to the plane, and I would be walked off into an area where I’d be questioned. And many different things happened. You know, each time was slightly different. Sometimes they would photocopy my notebook. Sometimes they would photocopy my credit cards. I had my computer confiscated once, my camera confiscated once. And, you know, they were asking questions about what I was doing, you know, why was I traveling the places I was traveling. And when it first started, I was naive. I thought, well, this is just clearly a mistake, and I answered questions. I said, "Well, I’m a filmmaker. I was going to a film festival. I made a film about the Iraq War," thinking like, well, once I sort of explained all those things, that I would be taken off the watchlist.

AMY GOODMAN: They got mad when you started taking notes about their questions.

LAURA POITRAS: Right, and then—right, and then things changed. And then I became a little bit more, "OK, well, this doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon." And then I started taking notes every time that I traveled, writing down the names of the agents, writing down the questions, the times that I was detained, and etc. And then they weren’t particularly happy about that. And it did escalate in 2012, when I was returning via Newark airport, when I was taking notes, and they threatened to handcuff me for taking notes. You know, they made the argument that they thought that I was going to hurt them, physically hurt them, with the pen, which, you know, was of course absurd.

And then, after that, I sort of went public. I hadn’t made a secret of the fact that I was being stopped. But the work that I do, I often go—I was going places and trying to stay under the radar, and, you know, going public, it’s hard. You can’t dial something like that back, so—but it was just so outrageous, you know, that border agents were ordering me to not take notes or they were going to handcuff me, was so outrageous that I called Glenn, and he ended up doing an article about that for

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Laura, that’s part of the reason that you decided to take the material to Berlin that you got of Edward Snowden and to do the editing there rather than here in the U.S.?

LAURA POITRAS: Right. Actually, it was before I was contacted by Snowden that I—you know, I had been filming for a while, and I wanted to edit, and I just felt like that I couldn’t assure that I was going to be able to keep my footage source material secure crossing the border. And I was at that point filming with several people who were all being targeted by the government, and that includes William Binney, the NSA whistleblower; Thomas Drake, another NSA whistleblower; Jacob Appelbaum, who works with the Tor Project and has been training activists on countersurveillance; and also with Julian Assange. So, I was filming with people that I knew that the government had an interest in, and I just felt like it wasn’t safe for me to travel with the footage. So I had moved to Berlin to edit. And that’s when I was actually in Berlin that I received the first email from Edward Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to the first video of Edward Snowden that the world saw back in June of 2013. You shot this inside his Hong Kong hotel room. It was then published on the Guardian website.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: NSA and the intelligence community, in general, is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can, by any means possible, that it believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it’s happening domestically. And to do that, they—the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system, and it filters them, and it analyzes them, and it measures them, and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone that they suspect of terrorism, they’re collecting your communications to do so. Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Edward Snowden, filmed by Laura Poitras, the first time the world saw him. And, Laura, even the way you filmed him back then, I think, sent quite a message. You have him—on one side, there is a window, you know, very bright, and on the other side, a mirror that shows his back. It’s all about transparency. That’s the message, I think, that comes through. You could see him every which way.

LAURA POITRAS: Well, I mean, as a filmmaker, I was actually working with some constraints, because we were in a hotel room, and there weren’t that many options. And so, yeah, you know, people have tried to read into the symbolism of the mirror, and, I mean, it wasn’t that planned. I mean, I just thought it was—it was a nice shot, and I was able to get rid of other things that were in the room. And so, it wasn’t all that, you know, intended to be symbolic.

AMY GOODMAN: But talk about—and this is the power of your film, is it is as if we are, you know, watching a thriller, and because it certainly was this, as all this unfolded—first, the reports coming out, then people wondering who was behind this, and interestingly, as you’ve said, Edward Snowden decides to name himself because he doesn’t want it to be about him. He doesn’t want people speculating. But explain the revelations that so rocked the world.

LAURA POITRAS: Yeah, I mean, in terms of how the film happens, I mean, I come out of a—I make films that are done in a style or tradition called cinéma vérité, or direct cinema. And what happens when you do that is like you’re actually in the moment when things are happening, as things are unfolding, and you document them. And then, after that—and when you’re in the moment, all that kind of uncertainty exists, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And so, that’s what you sort of feel as the narrative, dramatic pull. So, you know, you have these letters that come and then take us to Hong Kong, and then Hong Kong unfolds day by day, beginning on a Monday and ending on the following Monday. And I’m not doing many interviews, actually. I did—the only interview that I did was the one that we released on the Guardian website. Everything else was filmed in a, you know, as-it-happens style.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened after this, after he came forward? Explain what took place.

LAURA POITRAS: I mean, after he came forward in terms of the repercussions of the reporting?

AMY GOODMAN: Exactly, as he moved from his hotel room—


AMY GOODMAN: —then to your hotel room, and how he made it out of the country.

LAURA POITRAS: Right, sure, OK. So, you know, it begins—so, we’re sort of beginning the reporting, and then on the—you know, soon after, Glenn publishes the first story, the Verizon story, and then we see that his partner starts to receive emails. Somebody comes to their house looking for him. So it’s clear that the government suspects him of being the source. And so we continue to report, and we’re seeing the news breaking, and it’s clear that there’s also a bit of a—you know, the government knows that he’s missing. So, we then release the video. And the last time we see him in Hong Kong, he’s having a meeting with human rights lawyers, and he leaves. And then, after that, the film then transitions to where the reporting is happening. And so, I guess it’s also important to say that because I’m really a participant in the film, I’m also one of the sort of protagonists, and it’s told from a subjective point of view. So we go to Berlin, where I’m based, and there’s—you know, we see myself and him chatting, and Glenn, and we get the reverberations of these disclosures happening globally.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning filmmaker Laura Poitras, speaking about her new documentary, Citizenfour, which features NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. You can go to our website,, to see a video timeline featuring all our coverage based on Snowden’s revelations. When we come back from break, we continue our interview with Laura Poitras talking about the new revelations the film contains—from a second whistleblower. And we’ll speak with Jeremy Scahill about the guilty verdict in Blackwater. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: Nine Inch Nails. Oscar-winning composer Trent Reznor created the Citizenfour soundtrack. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh, as we return to our interview with the award-winning filmmaker, Laura Poitras, about her new documentary, out this weekend, Citizenfour.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I asked Laura to describe another clip from the film, which shows an editorial discussion in the newsroom of The Guardian newspaper about how to publish the leaked materials NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had given them.

LAURA POITRAS: You have there, I think The Guardian might be working on the Tempora story. So, when we’re in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden explains to Ewen MacAskill—and Ewen MacAskill is an investigative journalist with The Guardian, who joined Glenn on the trip. And so, when we were in Hong Kong, Edward Snowden explains to him a program called Tempora, which he describes as, you know, one of—I think he says "the most invasive" Internet collection programs, where the U.K. is buffering the entire, full take of the Internet. And so he shares this with Ewen, and he explains what it means. And so, after Hong Kong, Ewen then passes this information along to his colleagues at The Guardian, and they report on it. So, it’s about the GCHQ’s program, Tempora.

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s go to that clip.

PAUL JOHNSON: All right. So, which ones do we want here then? This is operational stuff, so we mustn’t say any of this.

JULIAN BORGER: So, redact that.

PAUL JOHNSON: Go near the top. What about the Alexander quote? Is that something—

JULIAN BORGER: Yeah, that’s in TARMAC. "Why can’t we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer homework project for Menwith." Keith Alexander, the head of the NSA, on a visit to U.K. This one.

PAUL JOHNSON: Yeah. It’s a secret document in that secret document. We’ve got a stick here that should just have three single slides on it. If it’s got more than three single slides, we have to be extremely careful.


PAUL JOHNSON: Yeah, that’s it. This is really dangerous stuff for us, Guardian [inaudible]. If we make mistakes, [inaudible] very angry. We kept it all under lock and key. And no one knows. No, I’m not saying that. They will come in and snap the front door down if we elaborate on that. And he said, "The prime minister is desperately concerned about this." And they kept saying, "This is from the very top."

AMY GOODMAN: The clip ends with an on-air screen chat between our guest, Laura Poitras, and Snowden. He types, "How are things over there?"

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Poitras responds, "I’m at the Guardian. They’re publishing TEMPORA today. [T]hey are very nervous—worried about an injunction."

AMY GOODMAN: Snowden says, "The NSA love that program."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Poitras asks, "Why?"

AMY GOODMAN: Snowden answers, "Because they aren’t allowed to do it in the US. The UK lets us query it all day long."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Poitras writes back, "They are getting cold feet about publishing names of the telecoms collaborating."

AMY GOODMAN: Snowden says, "Do they know the companies?"

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Poitras replies, "Yes, I believe so."

AMY GOODMAN: The conversation between Edward Snowden and Laura Poitras. Of course, they’re communicating cryptically. Explain Tempora to us, Laura Poitras.

LAURA POITRAS: Well, I mean, so, Tempora is what’s called a full-take Internet buffer, where the GCHQ collects all the information coming across the Internet, and what they do as a buffer is they slow everything down so that they can look at everything and take things out of it. So, it’s, you know, full-take everything. And what you see in this chat is the fact that Edward Snowden is saying that the NSA is not able to do this, so they actually query the U.K.'s buffer to find—to search for selectors and those kinds of things. So, you know, it's described as very invasive and full-take. So this is—I mean, I think that’s the most important thing to underline in terms of the information that he’s come forward with, is the sort of the scale of it and that these—you know, the NSA and the "Five Eyes" are interested in taking as much information as they can, a sort of bulk dragnet approach to collection of signals intelligence, rather than sort of targeted, you know, so you have this sort of suspicionless gathering of our communications.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In your film, you show a congressional hearing. It’s 2012 before Snowden’s revelations, and Democratic Congressmember Hank Johnson is questioning then-NSA Director Keith Alexander about the agency’s ability to conduct domestic surveillance.

REP. HANK JOHNSON: Does the NSA routinely intercept American citizens’ emails?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: Does the NSA intercept Americans’ cellphone conversations?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: Google searches?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: Text messages?




REP. HANK JOHNSON: Bank records?


REP. HANK JOHNSON: What judicial consent is required for NSA to intercept communications and information involving American citizens?

KEITH ALEXANDER: Within the United States, that would be the FBI lead. If it was a foreign actor in the United States, the FBI would still have to lead and could work that with NSA or other intelligence agencies as authorized. But to conduct that kind of collection in the United States, it would have to go through a court order, and the court would have to authorize it. We’re not authorized to do it, nor do we do it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was then-NSA Director Keith Alexander responding to questions from Democratic Congressmember Hank Johnson in 2012. Laura Poitras, in light of what Snowden revealed, your response to what Keith Alexander stated so emphatically?

LAURA POITRAS: I mean, actually, what I would say is, at the beginning of the film what we’re doing, in the sort of first act before we go to Hong Kong, is sort of set the stage for what’s happening and the denials that were being made by the government. I think actually the most revealing one is the one of James Clapper, where he’s being questioned by Ron Wyden, who—Senator Ron Wyden, who actually knows about the metadata collection program, but he doesn’t want to say it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden questioning Director of Intelligence James Clapper during a 2013 Senate hearing. Of course, this is before Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s surveillance program.

SEN. RON WYDEN: Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?


SEN. RON WYDEN: It does not.

JAMES CLAPPER: Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently, perhaps, collect, but not wittingly.

AMY GOODMAN: So, there you have James Clapper, who—well, Laura, explain what he was forced to say after the Snowden revelations.

LAURA POITRAS: Sure. I mean, this was an important moment, I think, both for Snowden, when he was watching it, but looking at the government, because the situation, what’s happening there, is that Ron Wyden actually sits on the Intelligence Committee, and he knew very well that the NSA was collecting the metadata records, the sort of call records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act under a, quote-unquote, "secret interpretation of the law." So Ron Wyden knows this. So, he’s trying to question James Clapper, and James Clapper clearly lies, because he knows also that they’re collecting the phone records.

And then it actually—you know, fast-forward to Hong Kong. It’s the first story that Glenn reveals, which is the Verizon order, which is the FISA court—again, the secret court—order that collects the call records of U.S. citizens and gathers them. So this is an example of, you know, the government clearly lying in Congress. And also, I mean, I find it—I mean, one of the things that I think this—hopefully, think people think about when watching this film, and here’s a case where Ron Wyden himself actually knew that this was happening, and he was against it, and yet he didn’t come forward. And then, a whistleblower then, you know, is the one who comes forward to say that the public has a right to know about this. And Wyden and Udall, on one hand, I think that they’ve been trying to push the intelligence agencies to be more transparent; on the other hand, they actually—they have a lot of protection. I mean, they actually could say much more. They have immunity. They could come forward and tell the population. If they think that the people should know what the government is doing, they actually are empowered to do so.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Laura Poitras, what kind of message do you think your film or would you want this film to convey to future whistleblowers?

LAURA POITRAS: I don’t know if it’s so much—I mean, the film begins with William Binney, NSA whistleblower, who worked for three decades in the NSA and knew about the domestic spying and Stellar Wind. And then you see what happens. The FBI shows up at his home with guns, and then Edward Snowden makes different choices. He has documents, unlike Binney, who didn’t have documents, and leaves the country and seeks political asylum. I mean, I don’t know if it’s so much a message for whistleblowers. I mean, I think it’s a question for us as—you know, why is it that people have to make these sacrifices for the public to know what our government is doing? I think that that’s the real question.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go for a moment to William Binney, who actually you brought to our studios when you did this Whitney event with both Jacob Appelbaum, who you feature in the film, and Bill Binney, who spent nearly 40 years at the National Security Agency but retired a month after September 11, 2001, after the attacks, because of his concerns about unchecked domestic surveillance, for a time largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network. In 2012, he gave his first-ever television interview on the show that you were also on, Laura, to Democracy Now!

WILLIAM BINNEY: After 9/11, all the wraps came off for NSA, and they decided to—between the White House and NSA and CIA, they decided to eliminate the protections on U.S. citizens and collect on domestically. So they started collecting from a commercial—the one commercial company that I know of that participated provided over 300—probably, on the average, about 320 million records of communication of a U.S. citizen to a U.S. citizen inside this country.

AMY GOODMAN: What company?

WILLIAM BINNEY: AT&T. It was long-distance communications. So they were providing billing data. At that point, I knew I could not stay, because it was a direct violation of the constitutional rights of everybody in the country. Plus it violated the pen register law and Stored Communications Act, the Electronic Privacy Act, the intelligence acts of 1947 and 1978. I mean, it was just this whole series of—plus all the laws covering federal communications governing telecoms. I mean, all those laws were being violated, including the Constitution. And that was a decision made that wasn’t going to be reversed, so I could not stay there. I had to leave.

AMY GOODMAN: That was NSA whistleblower Bill Binney, who went on to describe what happened in 2007, years after he left the NSA, when his home was raided.

WILLIAM BINNEY: They came busting in.

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s "they"?

WILLIAM BINNEY: The FBI. About 12 of them, I think, 10 to 12. They came in with the guns drawn, on my house.

AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?

WILLIAM BINNEY: I was in the shower. I was taking a shower, so my son answered the door. And they of course pushed him out of the way at gunpoint and came running upstairs and found me in the shower, and came in and pointed the gun at me while I was, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Pointed a gun at your head?

WILLIAM BINNEY: Oh, yeah. Yes. Wanted to make sure I saw it and that I was duly intimidated, I guess.

AMY GOODMAN: That again was Bill Binney describing what happened. And, Laura, he is featured in your film not only before the Snowden revelations, but after. And this is a powerful part of your film: what Snowden empowered others to do afterward. Soon you see Bill Binney—Bill Binney, who’s a diabetic amputee—in his wheelchair rolling in to testify, as well as others, as the world, country by country, comes to realize what is taking place.

LAURA POITRAS: Right. I mean, that’s one of the things. I mean, when I started filming with Bill and also Tom Drake and Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis, I mean, this was the first time that people from the NSA were coming forward, right? And so, I thought, wow, the world should be paying more attention to them. And, you know, people were. I mean, you featured him, and he started doing more interviews. But it didn’t seem to shake things up. And I just remember thinking like, he should be filling auditoriums to talk about what he knows. And then, you know, after Snowden comes forward, where he actually has evidence and documentation, you see Bill has been traveling around the world to talk about the dangers of what the NSA and other intelligence communities are doing and the threat that he feels that it poses to democracies. And so, he—right now in Germany, there’s an inquiry investigating what NSA spying is happening, so it’s an ongoing inquiry, and they invited him to testify. And so, that’s part of the latter part of the film.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura, I know you have to go. You end with Jeremy Scahill and possibly a second whistleblower. Jeremy will pick it up from where you describe what’s happening now.

LAURA POITRAS: I felt strongly that this is not a film that was over, that there were things that—you know, that although Snowden had taken these risks to come forward with this information, that things were still ongoing. And I wanted a sense of that the film is not—doesn’t have a sense of closure. And at the end of the film, we sort of return to the theme of both the war on journalists that we’ve seen, the targeting of journalists and how difficult it is to do investigative journalism when you have intelligence agencies that are able to collect so much information about us and who we talk to—and there’s a scene with William Binney and Jeremy Scahill talking about those risks—and then the film sort of moves on to look at other people who are also coming forward, other whistleblowers who are also under threat as we continue reporting.

And, I mean, for me, it kind of comes full circle, because this whistleblower, who was taken enormous risks, has revealed something that, for me, is quite valuable or important, because it talks about the watchlist, and it talks about the fact that there are 1.2 million people on U.S. watchlists. And this is something that, you know, when I first started being stopped at the border, I would ask the government, "Well, why am I on this list?" And the government’s response to it was: "We won’t even confirm or deny there is a list." And so, now we actually, thanks to the risks and sacrifice of a whistleblower, we actually know that the government has a watchlist. There are documents that support it, which now then opens the possibility for legal challenges, which we’ve already seen come forward, where people—now the courts can intervene and say, "What is this process? What is this watchlist process? And is it legal?" And so, that’s now where things are.

AMY GOODMAN: It even shocks Edward Snowden, the information, as Glenn reveals it to him, as he’s now living in Russia, and you reveal—with his girlfriend, who he had left in Hawaii, not daring to tell her what he was doing because he didn’t want to jeopardize her for having the knowledge.

LAURA POITRAS: Right. I mean, you see—I mean, it’s a really powerful scene between Snowden and Glenn and me, as well. We sort of come together in a different hotel room, you know, later, after the Hong Kong revelations. So, that’s—yeah, I don’t want to say too much about the film, though, the ending of the film.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura, there is a lot of Oscar buzz out there. What else are you hoping will happen with this film, as it opens first in four cities and then around the country?

LAURA POITRAS: I mean, honestly, I’m in a position as a filmmaker—there are people that allow me to document and who put their lives on the line. And so, I hope that the film shows the risk that these people take and that, you know, people should stand up for them and that this is information that the public should know. And it’s people who are having to take personal sacrifice to share information that the public should know.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning journalist Laura Poitras, director of the new documentary, Citizenfour, about surveillance and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It opens Friday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Her NSA reporting contributed to a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service awarded to The Guardian and The Washington Post. Along with Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, she is co-founder of The Intercept. Jeremy joins us now here in studio, featured at the end of Citizenfour, when it’s revealed a second whistleblower has followed in Snowden’s steps to leak information about the national security state. On two issues, Jeremy, you’ve got this second source. Talk about him and what he’s revealing about watchlists and drone strikes.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, you said "him." I didn’t. You know, I just want to make clear from the onset that our absolute top priority is protecting our sources. And so, you know, any information that’s being revealed that comes from this source is being revealed in a manner that’s consistent with protecting the source.

What you see in the film is that we have a source who provided us with a 166-page document, that was not a public document, from the entire intelligence community that outlined the rulebooks for placing people on a variety of watchlists. This document and others like it had been long sought after by the American Civil Liberties Union and other legal organizations and lawyers who represent clients who have been unjustly placed on the no-fly list. We saw an immediate impact from what this extremely principled and brave whistleblower did, in that it’s already been used in court cases. A federal judge has declared the aspects of the watchlisting program that disallow people from knowing their status on the watchlist to be unconstitutional. A coalition of civil liberties groups are now in a major political battle with the Obama Justice Department over releasing this information, asserting that it basically represents a parallel secret legal system consisting of rules that the American people and visitors to the United States are not allowed to know. And so, how do you fight against charges that you’re facing in a secret process when no one tells you that you’ve sort of been labeled a known or suspected terrorist? There were a number of other documents that we published, that were classified as secret, that revealed that there are over a million people on these watchlists, that dead people can be placed on the watchlists, that family members of people that are suspected of having communications with suspected terrorists can be placed on the watchlists.

So, what this individual did, this whistleblower, was done at great personal risk, but also has had an immediate impact on an issue that affects well over a million people, including many, many American citizens. What it also revealed is that the city of Dearborn, Michigan, population 96,000, which has the largest percentage of Arab Americans per capita and Muslim Americans per capita, is the number two city in the United States—the top five all consist of huge cities—New York City, Chicago, San Diego, Houston—but this small city outside of Detroit, Michigan, is the number two place where the U.S. intelligence community says there are known or suspected terrorists residing. It is abundantly clear that that is—it is religious and ethnic profiling at its core. And the only reason we know that is because of a whistleblower taking great personal risk to reveal this to the American public and to the world.

AMY GOODMAN: And Rammstein—how do drone strikes fit into what this source has revealed?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, I’m not going to say much beyond what you see in the film, and I don’t want to spoil too much about it. When this film was shown, and the German government was asked about it—basically, what you see in the film is Glenn Greenwald describing a document that I obtained, that has not yet been published, that indicates that drone strikes are coordinated through the U.S. military base at Rammstein in Germany. And the German government spokesperson denied that any U.S. bases in Germany play any role in the extrajudicial killing operations around the world. It’s interesting that they use that, because maybe they think that they are judicial, which of course, you know, most legal experts say that that’s not true. The only thing I’ll say about that is that either the German government is lying about the role that this U.S. military base is playing in the drone program, or they’re not in the know and the United States is not telling Germany the role that it’s playing.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, we have to break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about the stunning Blackwater verdicts that came down yesterday. Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of, author of the best-selling book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His most recent book is Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield; it’s just been released in paperback. We’ll be back with him in a minute.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 12:01:03 -0400
Obama Promised a "World Without Nuclear Weapons," but May Now Spend $1 Trillion on Upgrades

We are on the road in the historic city of Vienna, Austria, not far from the Czech Republic where President Obama gave a major address in 2009 that called for a nuclear-free world. His disarmament efforts were cited when he won the Nobel Peace Prize, but since then advocates say little progress has been made. A recent New York Times investigation found the United States is on pace to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades to modernize its nuclear arsenal and facilities. This week, more than 150 countries at the United Nations signed a joint statement calling on nuclear powers to attend the third major conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons scheduled this December in Vienna. The United States has yet to attend one of the meetings. We are joined by Elena Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road broadcasting from the studios of Okto Community Television here in the historic city of Vienna, capital of Austria, in the heart of Europe. It was five years ago that President Obama was in the neighboring country, the Czech Republic, for a major address in Prague where he called for a world free from nuclear weapons.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. First, the United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary and guarantee that defense to our allies, including the Czech Republic. But we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal. To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with the Russians this year. To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that was April 2009. Later that year, President Obama’s disarmament efforts were cited when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, the United States has failed to meet its nuclear promises. In fact, a recent New York Times investigation found the United States is on pace to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades to rebuild its nuclear arsenal and facilities. As of 2013, the Federation of American Scientists estimates Russia has about—a stockpile of about 8,000 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has about 7,300.

Meanwhile, this week, more than 150 countries at the United Nations signed a Joint Statement on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons—nearly 80 percent of the body’s member states. It cited the "catastrophic effects" of a nuclear weapon detonation, whether by accident or design, and said, quote, "The only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons will never be used again is through their total elimination." The statement also called on nuclear powers to attend the third Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons scheduled this December here in Vienna, Austria. The United States has yet to attend one of the meetings.

Well, for more, we’re joined here in Vienna by Elena Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.

Elena, we welcome you to Democracy Now!

ELENA SOKOVA: Thank you for inviting me.

AMY GOODMAN: There is not a tremendous amount of attention on nuclear weapons. You know, there’s a great deal of attention, for example, on the threat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But behind the scenes—I mean, this exposé in The New York Times was quite stunning, the difference between what President Obama was saying just next door here, in the Czech Republic, in 2009 about a nuclear-free world and what is actually happening.

ELENA SOKOVA: You’re right that the promises and the announcements made in 2009 in Prague really elevated hopes of people around the world that we’re seriously approaching and dealing with the nuclear weapons and their reductions. But the recent requests from Pentagon and Congress, that President Obama yet to decide upon, project the U.S. arsenal upgrades and modernizations into 40, 50 years from now. Is that the wrong message to send? If you’re going down the goal of Global Zero, elimination of weapons, you’re not spending one trillion of dollars into upgrading your nuclear arsenal. No one says that nuclear weapons should be completely abandoned and not kept safe and secure. But nevertheless, there are a number of these weapons that are completely obsolete: Military doesn’t like them; they have no real purpose. Some of them are, for example, nuclear bombs, gravity bombs, that used on—by heavy bombers as delivery systems. They haven’t been really factored into many of the even military scenarios.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what "Global Zero" is.

ELENA SOKOVA: Global Zero is a goal of getting down to zero nuclear weapons. Of course, even president in his speech said that is a long road, and it’s a tedious road, and expected many bumps in this road. But if we are not working towards that goal, if we are not pushing, we are not agreeing on concrete steps to, first, reducing nuclear weapons significantly and then eliminating them, then how do we reach that Global Zero goal? And speaking here from Europe, some of these modernizations and upgrades really don’t make sense. Some of the—the only weapons that U.S. has outside of its border are in Europe. These are the same B-61 gravity bombs that are located in five countries in Europe, literally next door—Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey. It’s 180 bombs that have no, really, mission here in Europe or in the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: In 2012, three peace activists infiltrated a U.S. nuclear facility that holds more than 400 tons of highly enriched uranium, enough to fuel more than 10,000 nuclear warheads. It was a house painter, a Vietnam vet and an 82-year-old nun who broke into the Y-12 nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and cut holes in the fence to paint peace slogans. And they also threw blood on the wall. This is Sister Megan Rice speaking about the action in an interview with The Tennessean.

SISTER MEGAN RICE: The appropriate thing was to bring the truth, express the truth, in a way that we could do as quickly as we could and as clearly and as starkly. So we used symbols. Then we also brought the sacred element or symbol of human blood, because so much blood has been shed or would be shed by any of the weapons that would be either refurbished or refined or continue to be built, and hopefully never to be used, but as a stark reminder.

AMY GOODMAN: Sister Megan Rice received a nearly three-year sentence for her actions, and the other two activists involved were sentenced to five years in prison. Their actions prompted the facility to shut down for two weeks and led to congressional hearings about vulnerability of nuclear material. Recent reports show the price tag for renovations to buildings that process uranium at the Oak Ridge facility in Tennessee has soared from $6.5 billion to $19 billion. Elena Sokova, what about these kind of actions and what they show?

ELENA SOKOVA: These actions and the fact that three activists could break into the so-called Fort Knox of the U.S., which houses highly enriched uranium, the material that goes into the nuclear weapons, demonstrates that there are risks and vulnerabilities. And the only way to eliminate these risks is to go down the road and eliminating the weapons and materials for them. And that is a bigger goal. And even if the U.S. has problems with securing some of these top-secret facilities housing them, what about the rest of the world?

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to turn Eric Schlosser, the author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety_. During an interviewa on Democracy Now!, he described one of several nuclear "near misses" on American soil.

ERIC SCHLOSSER: One of the most significant near misses occurred just three days after John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. A B-52 bomber broke apart in the sky over North Carolina, and as it was breaking apart, the centrifugal forces affecting the plane pulled a lanyard in the cockpit, which released one of the hydrogen bombs that it was carrying. And the weapon behaved as though it had been released over the Soviet Union, over an enemy target deliberately. And it went through all of its arming stages, except one. And there was one switch that prevented it from detonating in North Carolina. And that switch later was found to be defective and would never be put into a plane today. Stray electricity in the bomber as it was disintegrating could have detonated the bomb.

AMY GOODMAN: Eric Schlosser also noted that in 2010, 50 U.S. nuclear missiles suddenly went offline and were unable to communicate with launch control centers for about an hour due to a computer malfunction. Elena Sokova, if you could comment?

ELENA SOKOVA: What Eric Schlosser described in his book are not the only cases when we almost had near uses or near misses, where nuclear weapons were almost launched because something else was mistaken for the incoming nuclear missiles. There is a recent study published by the Chatham House in London that describes additional cases. And what it demonstrates, that there are vulnerabilities, there are risks, and risk is more than zero, and how we can afford not dealing with this problem of nuclear weapons and the reduction and elimination, if this risk indeed exists. And it’s larger than we thought. All these cases that are now become public demonstrates that we didn’t know about it, and we were really fortunate not to have these incidents happen. Sometimes it’s just a human decision that said that "I cannot believe the data on the radar. I better not do a false alarm." But how we, as a humankind, we can rely always on these decisions?

That’s why the conferences that will be held in Vienna here in December, on December 8 and 9, on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, it will look not only at what are the impacts, short- and long-term, of the weapons on health, on environment, on the food security, on the climate change. But most importantly, it will also look at what the risks are, how vulnerable we are, and how we can deal with that risk, and what if indeed a miscalculation happened or an accident happened, or even premeditated. We speak about nuclear terrorism and other problems. There is no adequate response that we can have. The International Red Cross conducted studies a couple of years ago where they say even a limited, a one nuclear weapon detonation would put severe stress on the whole response system, on medical personnel, on how do you even go and help the individuals who have been under radiation and burns suffering there, because you cannot even move in. Your infrastructure is shattered by the explosion, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, in the editorial in The New York Times that accompanied this big exposé on how President Obama, despite his promises in 2009 next door in Czech Republic, has now spent—invested tens of billions of dollars in rebuilding America’s nuclear arsenal, yet, they say, "after good progress in making nuclear bomb material more secure around the world, [Mr.] Obama has reduced his budget requests for that priority." The significance of this, both increasing the money that’s going into developing nuclear weapons, but then cutting back on securing the nuclear weapons around the world that we have?

ELENA SOKOVA: Well, I think the message is clear, that we really need to follow the priorities that we announced, and that the priorities identified in the Prague agenda were to deal with the elimination of nuclear weapons and risks. Securing nuclear materials is very important, and the funding need to be continued. There are more places in the world that we need still to clean up these materials, and we want to make sure that even the weapons that are remained are kept secure.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the U.S. attending the December conference?

ELENA SOKOVA: That, we don’t know yet. We really hope that they will, that the U.S. will attend—hopefully, other countries will do, as well—because U.S. probably one of the countries that know more than anyone else about the effects. It used their nuclear weapons, the only country that ever used their nuclear weapons. It has an, you know, abundance of data from the nuclear testing and could really contribute to the discussion. What the conference and this humanitarian approach is trying to do is to look at the issue of nuclear weapons not from the security, strategic security viewpoint that has been on the agenda for a long time; it looks at the issue from the humankind perspective of what are we dealing with, can we cope with this, what are the risks, and why don’t we turn table around and look at as an entire humankind, not only the countries that have nuclear weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Elena Sokova, I want to thank you so much for being with us, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation right here in Vienna, Austria.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. As negotiations around Iran and their nuclear facilities go on here in Vienna, one former U.N. weapons inspector, Robert Kelley, is raising questions about what Western officials are saying about Iran. Stay with us.

News Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:55:13 -0400
Greek Mainstream Media: Economic Interests Come Before the Law

One factor connecting censorship, political favoritism, violence toward journalists, and selective enforcement of the law is economic influence, and in Greece, media is dominated by a few business tycoons, with significant commercial, industrial and financial interests.


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This is the sixth in a series of articles that chronicle the long history of corruption, lawlessness and censorship in Greece's media and journalism landscapes. This is a situation that has worsened in recent years in the midst of the country's severe economic crisis, but which has a deeply-rooted history.

Censorship, political favoritism, violence towards journalists, and selective enforcement of the law collectively pose a tremendous threat to press freedom. One factor which connects all of the above, however, is economic influence, and in Greece, media has traditionally been dominated by a select few business tycoons, with significant investments not just in media and publishing, but in sectors such as shipping, banking, oil and gas, construction, and insurance.

In recent years, this situation has arguably worsened, as the ownership of major media outlets, including upstart internet outlets, has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few major media and business moguls, who take full advantage of the power their media outlets afford them to flex their financial and political muscle, and influence both politicians and the public at large.

For decades, newspaper publishing in Greece was the realm of the few and the well-connected, who used their newspapers to support particular partisan interests or even specific individual politicians. When private broadcasting emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, this situation was essentially replicated, as the major radio and television stations established were backed by many of the same prominent publishing interests. Despite this, the ownership of more than one radio and one television station was not permitted, legally. This law was, however, easily and quite openly flouted. Media owners skirted the ownership limits by placing additional outlets under the ownership of holding companies, individuals from their other business interests, or even spouses and relatives.

Media owners have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own interests.

With the previous ownership law having become a mockery of itself, in 2007, the Greek government dropped all remaining pretense and, as part of the wide-ranging media law 3592/2007, officially permitted ownership of multiple television and radio stations. Following the elimination of the few remaining obstacles for the concentration of ownership in broadcasting, a buying spree ensued, with major media owners buying up additional television and radio stations, in the waning high-flying pre-crisis days.

While the major media outlets and their owners have argued that media concentration would lead to economic efficiencies and the development of economies of scale, which would permit money to be reinvested into their media holdings as a whole, what has followed has been a growing trend of layoffs and firings at media outlets as entire departments have been consolidated or eliminated, while program offerings have become increasingly homogenized, reducing variety and choice for viewers and listeners.

Meanwhile, the position of media owners has been strengthened and reinforced, and they have used this power to wield tremendous influence politically and economically, through the broadcast of outright pro-government propaganda, and through the promotion of their own extensive non-media business interests. Indeed, these media outlets continue to be used as a "weapon" of choice by media moguls  to threaten the government of the day and to exert pressure, with the goal of receiving lucrative contracts for public works and major state contracts.

The tremendous degree of media and business concentration is concealed within a labyrinth of different holding companies and shell corporations, which in turn are owned, in whole or in part, by other shell corporations, holding companies, or by the media moguls in question, as well as their families and other individuals in certain cases. One prominent example is Ioannis Bobolas, a shareholder in Pegasus Publishing S.A., which in turn is a shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., which is part owner of Mega Channel and of the DIGEA terrestrial digital broadcasting network provider. Bobolas, through Pegasus Publishing S.A., also holds prominent ownership interests in the newspapers Ethnos and Imerisia, the web portal, magazine publishing interests (Elle, Car and Driver, TV Zapping, among others), the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, a share of the TVE television production company, concert promotion and nightclub interests (such as Club 22 in Athens), stakes in companies involved in the printing of newspapers and periodicals, as well as the distribution and sale of these periodicals, and until recently, radio station Sentra FM.

In addition to his media-related holdings, Bobolas is a major shareholder in Ellaktor, one of Greece's major construction firms, which was responsible for the construction of such projects as the new Acropolis Museum, the Olympic Stadium and Olympic Village in Athens, the Attiki Odos highway, and the Rio-Antirrio bridge, among many others. Indeed, Bobolas also remains a shareholder in the parent company of the Attiki Odos highway, while also possessing shares of the Parnitha Casino near Athens, as well as shares in Hellas Gold, the subsidiary company of Canada-based Eldorado Gold, which is conducting controversial gold mining operations in the economically and environmentally sensitive area of Skouries, in the Halkidiki region of Northern Greece.

The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees.

Bobolas, as well as Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos, are closely connected to Stavros Psiharis of the Lambrakis Journalism Group, which is a shareholder in Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Lambrakis Journalism Group also fully owns the newspapers Ta Nea and To Vima, and possesses significant ownership interests in radio station Vima FM 99.5, web portal, the Studio ATA television studios, the TVE television studios, in the Aggelioforos newspaper in Thessaloniki, the Papasotiriou bookstores and press kiosks, in the distributors for Disney and Hearst Magazines in Greece, and in other newspaper and book publishing and distribution endeavors, as well as tourism services.

Notably, the Lambrakis Journalism Group and Pegasus Publishing are, as of July 2013, in talks to proceed forward with a merger of the two entities, with possible future plans to merge the new entity with Tiletypos, owner of Mega Channel. The impending merger was helped along by a law passed on August 1, at the start of the summer vacation period in Greece, which loosened regulations concerning mergers, while also making it easier for media groups to fire employees. This law, which was included in a rider in an unrelated health bill, was said to be a longstanding demand of the major media owners and was passed hastily, without a review from the General Accounting Office of the Ministry of Finance.

Another prominent business mogul who is also connected to Pegasus Publishing and Tiletypos is Vardis Vardinogiannis and the Vardinogiannis family, which also owns a stake of Tiletypos, and by extension, Mega Channel and DIGEA. The Vardinogiannis family owns a majority stake in national television station Star Channel (which in turn holds a stake in DIGEA), as well as in Attikes Ekdoseis (Attica Media), which publishes periodicals such as PC Magazine, Esquire, Harper's Bazaar and Playboy in Greece. Attikes Ekdoseis also owns radio stations Lampsi FM 92.3, Athens Deejay 95.2, and Rock FM 96.9 in Athens, while through Star Channel and Star Investments, the Vardinogiannis family also has stakes in radio station Dromos FM 89.8 and Diesi 101.3 FM in Athens. Furthermore, the Vardinogiannis family has a minority stake in MTV Greece, stakes in production company On Productions, in movie theater chain Ster Cinemas and in the Allou Fun Park theme parks. The Vardinogiannis family is said to have stakes in 98 companies in total, in Greece and abroad, with prominent non-media interests in the Motor Oil refineries, the Avin chain of gas stations, Vegas Oil and Gas, and numerous other shipping and business interests.

A figure well-connected to Star Channel, in turn, is prominent journalist Nikos Hatzinikolaou, who is the owner of Greece's top Sunday newspaper, Real News, and part-owner of leading radio station Real FM in Athens and Thessaloniki. Hatzinikolaou is also the owner of the web portal, which spawned a television program, "Ston Eniko," which now airs on Star Channel, where Hatzinikolaou is also the main commentator on the station's main evening newscast. Real FM is, in turn, partially owned by Andreas Kouris of the prominent Kouris family, which has interests, directly or indirectly, in television stations Kontra Channel and Mad TV and in radio stations Mad Radio 106.2, Love Radio 97.5, 104 FM (formerly Parea FM), and Orange 93.2.

The Kouris family also held a prominent interest in national television station Alter Channel, which ceased operations in November 2011 and which has since gone bankrupt. The Kouris family also has stakes in the newspaper Kontra News and the online portal, operates the (nearly bankrupt) Metropolis music store, and for years published the now-defunct newspapers Avriani, Filathlos, and O Kosmos tou Ependiti.

Another prominent business and shipping magnate who is a major player in Greece's media landscape is Minos Kyriakou, owner of the Antenna Group of companies. The Antenna Group owns and operates the nationwide broadcaster ANT1 Television, the ANT1 Online news portal and web TV platform, radio stations Rythmos 94.9 and Easy 97.2 in Athens, Easy 97.5 and Rythmos 104.0 in Thessaloniki, record company Heaven Music (a strategic partner of Warner Music), the Audiotex telecommunications service, a variety of online services ranging from to the matchmaking website, the ANT1 Studies Center and Fame Studio training center, television and radio stations in several Balkan and Eastern European countries (Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Moldova), and Daphne Communications, which publishes such periodicals as OK! Magazine, House & Deco, and Astrologist.

The Antenna Group, officially based in Holland, also publishes Vice magazine for the Greek market. In addition, Kyriakou also indirectly controls another national television broadcaster, Macedonia TV, and both ANT1 and Macedonia TV are, in turn, shareholders in DIGEA. Kyriakou's non-media ventures include the ownership of oil companies Bacoil International and Athenian Oil Trading, a share in Singapore Airlines, the chairmanship of the Aegean Foundation, and, until recently, the chairmanship of the Panellinios athletic club.

Another shipping magnate with a tremendous presence in Greece's media landscape is Giannis Alafouzos from the prominent Alafouzos shipping family. Alafouzos is the owner of the Skai Group, which encompasses the national television station Skai TV, major Athens radio station Skai 100.3, radio stations Melodia 99.2 and Red 96.3, shares in DIGEA, and the and web portals. Additionally, Alafouzos is the president of Kathimerini Publishing, which publishes the Kathimerini newspaper and the English-language e-Kathimerini and International New York Times in Greece, and which also holds stakes in Maison Publishing S.A., newspaper publishing and distribution firms Apostoli S.A. and Evropi S.A., the press kiosk at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, and other endeavors. Presently, he is also in talks to purchase leading sports radio station NovaSpor FM and the sports newspaper Sportday. Alafouzos has extensive shipping interests, as the president of Ermis Maritime Holdings. He is also the majority shareholder of the Panathinaikos football club, based in Athens.

Dimitris Contominas is another major name in the world of Greek media, with an extensive non-media background in insurance and banking. He is the owner of national television broadcaster Alpha TV (which, in turn, holds shares in DIGEA), television station Channel 9 in Athens and Kanali 9 in Thessaloniki, radio stations Alpha 98.9 in Athens and Alpha 96.5 in Thessaloniki, the Plus Productions television production company, the Cosmoline telecommunications company, the KB Impuls satellite distribution company, and the Village Group of film distributors and movie theaters. Outside of the realm of the mass media, Contominas holds significant interests, through the holding company Demco Group, in companies such as Prime Insurance, myDirect online insurance, the Euroclinic medical clinic of Athens, the InterJet private aviation firm, in Intertech, and in Panasonic's exclusive representative in Greece, as well as holdings in the realms of construction, gaming, multimedia, gastronomy, and winemaking.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time.

Other prominent business and shipping interests with major media holdings include Christos Copelouzos, the chairman of the Copelouzos Group, with major interests in energy (Prometheus Gas, Elica Group), exhibitions (Metropolitan Expo Center in Athens), a share in the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, as well as Prime Media, which runs news portals Newsbeast and, as well as websites such as The Giannakopoulos family holds major interests in pharmaceuticals (Vianex), a major share of the Panathinaikos basketball club, and the DPG media group, which publishes various print and online titles, including the Newsbomb news portal and the Panathinaikos-friendly Prasini sports newspaper.

Shipping magnate Victor Restis (Enterprises Shipping and Trading) owns shares in electronics retailer Multirama, food manufacturer Nikas, various tourism holdings, as well as majority stakes in MTV Greece and Nickelodeon Greece plus radio station Music 89.2 in Athens. He has also owned shares in Tiletypos S.A. (owner of Mega Channel) and the Lambrakis Publishing Group. Evangelos Marinakis, aside from his substantial shipping interests (Capital Maritime and Capital Product Partners), is the president of the Olympiacos football club, and a major stakeholder in the Parapolitika newspaper and the radio station Parapolitika FM. Marinakis has also recently acquired sports radio station Sentra FM and sports newspaper Goal.

Well-connected media personalities have also become media owners in their own right: Nikos Evagellatos, until recently a news presenter on Skai TV, operates news portal; Themis Anastasiadis, another celebrity television personality, owns a majority stake in major Sunday newspaper Proto Thema; while the notorious and well-connected television personality Makis Triantafillopoulos operates the tabloid news portal and is connected to Athens-based television station AB Channel.

Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, had been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman.

In numerous cases in recent years, many of the aforementioned media, business, and shipping barons have not been able to escape legal controversy, and in some cases, even jail time. For instance, Kyriakou, in 2007, was given a 48-month prison sentence without deferment and issued a €15,000 fine, in connection with illegal construction which had occurred at his vacation property in Porto Heli, Greece. In January, Contominas was one of 25 individuals arrested as part of a probe into €500 million worth of bad loans given by the failed Hellenic Postbank. He was released on €4 million bail and ordered to report to police twice per month. He was also barred from leaving Greece, which however has not prevented him from reportedly visiting the United States for a series of meetings with businesspeople, as well as visits to family and to medical personnel.

Andreas Kouris has been arrested repeatedly in connection with debts to the Greek state, most recently in June over a debt of over €700,000 stemming from the Metropolis chain of music stores. Similarly, his uncle Makis Kouris was arrested in January and is also facing charges over alleged debts towards the Greek state. Costas Giannikos, a former major shareholder of the now-bankrupt Alter television station and former owner of three Athens-based radio stations and several publications, was, in early July, granted release from prison and placed on probation. He was jailed in connection with alleged unpaid taxes towards the Greek state, stemming from his involvement with Alter Channel. Restis spent four months in prison in 2013, prior to being released in December pending trial in connection with loans totalling €5.8 million issued by First Business Bank, which had been under his control, to off-shore corporations said to be connected to family members of his.

Petros Kyriakidis, a former executive at the scandal-ridden and now-dissolved Proton Bank, and former owner of several radio stations and newspapers, left Greece in December 2012, one day prior to the issuance of an arrest warrant against him in connection with charges of money laundering. He remains at large, allegedly in Latin America, to this day. Lavrentis Lavrentiadis, the former major shareholder and president of Proton Bank, who had acquired a significant media portfolio of his own, was released on €500,000 bail in June after being held in custody for over two years over charges of money laundering and the embezzlement of over €700 million from Proton Bank, through unsecured loans granted to companies in which he had an ownership interest. Lavrentiadis had also been held in connection with charges of being the moral accomplice in the attempted murder of a 43-year-old businessman who was seriously injured after a bomb went off at his home in Athens in June 2012.

Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society.

In other examples, Themis Anastasiadis was arrested in December 2012 following charges of tax evasion and money laundering, following the discovery of bank accounts totaling €5.5 million which he was said to possess in Switzerland. Anastasiadis was later found not guilty on these charges, though in October 2009, he received a deferred sentence of 19 months in prison stemming from his publication, in Proto Thema, of sensitive personal photographs of Christos Zahopoulos, who was embroiled in a major political and sex scandal that rocked the Kostas Karamanlis-led New Democracy government in late 2007 and early 2008. And recently, Evangelos Marinakis has faced accusations that he participates in a criminal conspiracy that has attempted to manipulate and control police officers, judges, politicians, and other public figures. Despite the severity of these charges, however, few, if any, media outlets have reported the allegations.

It should be stressed that Greece's prominent business, financial, and shipping interests have made heavy investments in the media sector not because of its profitability, but instead for the influence that media ownership affords them within Greek society. Indeed, most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations are either unprofitable or only marginally profitable. However, for their owners, they serve arguably a more important set of objectives: to promote their other business and financial interests, to influence public opinion, and to exert pressure on politicians and the government of the day.

When necessary though, these media outlets have other ways to support themselves financially, other than from their performance within the marketplace. One such method is through loans. At a time when Greece's banking sector is being recapitalized with public funds and numerous banks have been liquidated or absorbed, and at a time where bank loans to individuals and small businesses in Greece has all but ceased, several large media groups have received tremendously large loans often for the purposes of servicing previously existing debt. In early 2013, for instance, Tiletypos S.A., the owner of Mega Channel, received a €98 million loan from Alpha Bank and Piraeus Bank, allegedly to service a previous loan of €50 million granted by the two banks to Tiletypos in 2009, which the company was unable to repay.

Other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time.

Earlier this year, Pegasus Publishing S.A., a major shareholder in Tiletypos S.A., had a €20 million loan from the National Bank of Greece, which would otherwise had expired on December 31, 2013, renewed. Meanwhile, another shareholder in Pegasus Publishing, the Lambrakis Journalism Group, received a €98 million loan earlier this year, issued jointly by the National Bank of Greece, Alpha Bank, Eurobank, and Piraeus Bank. €83 of the €98 million are intended to service previously existing debt.

One further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds.

Notably, Pegasus Publishing and the Lambrakis Journalism Group, through their proposed merger, are said to be aiming to have 60 percent of their outstanding debts written off. For the first three quarters of 2013, the Lambrakis Journalism Group faced €21.7 million in losses and total debts of €216 million; Pegasus faced losses of €21.8 million and €223 million in outstanding debts; Tiletypos had losses of €17.3 million and outstanding debts of €190.1 million Euros and Kathimerini S.A. faced €13.3 million in losses and total outstanding debts totaling €185.9 million.

Meanwhile, other formerly prominent media moguls have not escaped the loss of their media empires, even if they have avoided jail time. One notable example is that of Petros Kostopoulos, the former owner of radio stations Nitro Radio, Sfera 102.2 and Derti 98.6, and the IMAKO publishing group, whose titles included high-circulation magazines such as Nitro and DownTown, among others. Kostopoulos, however, remains a prominent figure on television and in Greece's celebrity culture.

Despite the many financial and legal troubles which have plagued the sector, one further way in which the operation of Greece's major media groups is financially supported is through the rather generous distribution of state advertising funds. These funds are not always distributed based on audience size or other similar criteria. For instance, in 2008, the newspaper "Hora tis Kyriakis" received over €2.6 million in state advertising, finishing in 11th place overall among all daily and Sunday newspapers in Greece, even though its circulation hovered at around 1,000 sheets nationwide.

Successive governments have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state.

Hora was published by prominent journalist Giorgos Tragkas, who at that time was still considered to be close to the then-New Democracy government. The paper, which finished in first place that year with over €5.9 million in state advertising funds, City Press, was a free weekly newspaper published by Giorgos Kirtsos, who also maintained close ties with New Democracy and who, in the May 2014 European parliamentary elections, was elected as a representative for Greece with the New Democracy party. In yet another example, Panagiotis Mavrikos, the publisher of four newspapers with a total average nationwide circulation of approximately 1,000 sheets per day (24 Ores, Epikairotita, Acropolis, and Athlitiki Imera) received approximately €150.000 in state advertising fundsin 2008.

At the same time that successive governments have curried favor with media outlets through the generous outlay of state advertising expenditures, they have also allowed media outlets, and broadcast media outlets in particular, to avoid other financial obligations toward the Greek state. For instance, ever since 1995, when legislation was first passed which required broadcast stations to pay for the use of public over-the-air frequencies, broadcasters have often been able to avoid paying the full amount to which they would have otherwise been legally obliged.

For instance, while national television stations were once required to pay 2 percent of their annual revenues each year for the right to use public broadcast frequencies (with a 50 percent reduction during election years due to the legally mandated free airtime broadcasters are required to provide to political parties), in 2009, an election year, that fee dropped to 0.1 percent, and remained at 0.1 percent in 2010, which was not an election year.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state.

This meant that Greece's largest television station, Mega Channel, paid a total of just over €1.2 million Euros for its use of frequencies nationwide for 2009 and 2010 combined, while 902 TV, another television station which broadcast nationally, paid just €1,416 for the use of all of its frequencies nationwide for the year 2009. And as if that isn't enough, the government has delayed enforcement of law 3845/2010, which foresees a tax levy of 20 percent on television advertising revenues. Originally passed in 2010, the tax has not yet been levied, and in December 2013, the enforcement of this tax was pushed further back, to 2015.

Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns.

Many major media groups also have amassed a tremendous amount of back taxes that are owed to the Greek state. Tiletypos, the parent company of Mega Channel, reportedly owes over €123 million in unpaid taxes, with Pegasus Publishing said to owe an additional €164.3 million Euros. In turn, the Lambrakis Journalism Group reportedly has an outstanding tax debt of €134 million, while the parent companies of Star Channel and Alpha TV each are said to owe approximately €58 million to the Greek State.

Finally, Forthnet, the parent company of the Nova subscription television service, reportedly owes €331 million in unpaid taxes to the Greek state. All this, at a time where the tax burden on ordinary citizens in Greece, as well as Greece's outstanding national debt, are ballooning.

Within this framework of increasing concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few extremely wealthy individuals and corporations, the argument was often made that increased concentration would be beneficial for the media marketplace, for consumers and viewers - and for the media outlets themselves. It was said that increased economies of scale would allow media outlets to expand their operations and to eventually hire more employees, and that consumers would benefit from expanded choice and presumably by higher-quality media outlets that would be financially secure and which would have the ability to make increased investment in their content.

Instead, the opposite seems to have taken place: Television, in particular, has become a visual wasteland of soap operas, low-budget reality shows, celebrity gossip programs, as well as lots of reruns. And that just refers to the stations which remain on the air. Many other media outlets have, in recent years, gone bankrupt. The most prominent example is Alter Channel, a nationwide television station which ceased broadcasts in November 2011, leaving over 600 employees unpaid to this day.

At other prominent media outlets, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions.

Indeed, there have been numerous cases in recent years where journalists and other employees at media outlets have been fired without warning, or have been unpaid for long periods of time, while several other formerly prominent media outlets have gone bankrupt and ceased operations. Aside from Alter Channel, media outlets which have filed for bankruptcy and halted their operations include formerly high-rated radio stations VFM and Best Radio in Athens, and Star FM, Heart FM, and Aris FM in Thessaloniki; municipal radio station Xenios FM from Ano Liosia, an Athens suburb; newspapers including Adesmeftos Typos, Apogevmatini, Avriani, City Press, Derby, Filathlos, O Kosmos tou Ependiti, Paraskevi+13, the English-language Athens News, among others; magazines such as DownTown and Difono; and web portals such as And while some radio stations that had been on the brink of bankruptcy were permitted by the National Council for Radio-Television (ESR) to be taken over by their unpaid staffers, most of these radio stations (such as Xenios FM) remain closed, or operate without any live staffers on the air.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists.

At other prominent media outlets, including Skai and Vima FM, successive waves of layoffs have taken place over the past few years, as well as successive staff-wide salary reductions, which have also been seen at the Antenna Media Group, Sentra FM, Music 89.2, and elsewhere. It is also common for employees at media outlets to go months (or longer) without being paid, as is the case at the municipal radio station Epikoinonia FM of Neo Iraklio, a suburb of Athens, were staffers have been unpaid for over one year.

In other cases, such as at Music 89.2, ownership has attempted to replace collective bargaining agreements with individual contracts with each staffer, firing those who refuse to comply. In other cases, companies such as the Lambrakis Publishing Group have been said to owe significant amounts of money to their employees' insurance funds.

Perhaps most tellingly though, a recent classified advertisement posted by an online news portal sought to hire an individual who would be responsible for copying and pasting 100 articles per day to the online portal, all for a monthly "salary" of €100.

At a time where the media sector as a whole in Greece is facing a tremendous crisis, as advertising revenue and circulation figures have sharply declined, while recent waves of layoffs (including the 2,690 staffers of ERT who lost their jobs) have led to a surplus of journalists and media professionals seeking jobs, employers in Greece have the luxury of sharply reducing salaries and eliminating benefits, including social security contributions, taking advantage of the dire and often desperate situation in which journalists and media professionals find themselves.

Fear of being laid off has also led to increased instances of self-censorship among journalists, fearing that any work which might be considered inexpedient by the government or by ownership interests and the country's financial elite might result in their firing and the prospect of long-term unemployment. This situation, in turn, has a dire impact on the quality of journalism being delivered to the Greek populace.

In the meantime, major media outlets in Greece continue to operate, in many cases, without a modicum of transparency. One recent example comes from the sale of 902 TV, the television station of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) which was sold, in August 2013, along with radio station 902 Aristera sta FM to a mysterious offshore holding company, based in Cyprus, and said to belong to business mogul Filippos Vryonis, owner of television station Extra Channel, based in Athens.

Uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations.

Notably, the identity of the new ownership of 902 TV (since renamed E Channel) remained shrouded in mystery for many weeks after the sale, but this nevertheless did not prevent the ESR from quickly approving the sale.

While the media outlets owned or associated with major media, business, and political interests have often found themselves operating above the law and outside of normal market norms, subsidized both by the state and by the other business operations of their owners, smaller media outlets that do not have such luxuries are finding it extraordinarily difficult to continue their operations in Greece's current economic environment.

The ever-rising costs of electricity and other utilities, higher taxes, and reduced advertising and circulation have backed smaller media outlets into a tight corner, and throughout the country, many such outlets have ceased operations in recent years. In addition, smaller radio and television stations are faced with disproportionately high costs for copyright and music royalties, regardless of their profitability or revenue, and are constantly operating under the threat that they may be shut down at any time, due to the fact that no formal broadcast licenses have been granted by the state.

Indeed, this uncertainty has, for years, prevented the owners of many smaller radio and television stations from making significant investments in their stations, for fear that these investments would be lost if the state decided to take their stations off the air at any point, as was the case with the 66 radio stations that were suddenly and violently taken off the air in one night by riot police in Athens, back in 2001.

In light of the growing immigrant population in the country in the past two decades, foreign-language media in Greece have become more important. While foreign-language press does operate in Greece without any particular interference, including newspapers, magazines and online outlets, foreign-language broadcasters have faced numerous challenges.

Athens International Radio, a foreign-language broadcaster operated by the municipality of Athens, which was on the air with a "temporary" license issued by Greece's Communications Ministry prior to the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, was taken off the air by the EETT in September 2010.

Perhaps not coincidentally, that same month ERT placed its newly-launched foreign-langauge service, "Filia" (Friendship) on the FM dial in Athens. When ERT was shut down in June 2013, this service ceased broadcasting, as did ERT's international service, The Voice of Greece, which also carried some foreign-language programming.These services have not been replaced by Greece's new "public" broadcaster NERIT. On the other hand, privately-owned radio stations which have aired programming in other languages have selectively been fined by the ESR for broadcasting in languages other than Greek.

Typically, stations in northern Greece broadcasting in Turkish have been fined, at the same time that ERT, Athens International Radio, and the handful of English-language radio stations throughout Greece have never faced similar sanctions. Nor have Greece's major private television broadcasters, such as ANT1 and Mega Channel, been fined for their airing of Turkish soap operas, which are broadcast without a Greek voiceover, but instead with subtitles.

Ironically, at the same time that most of Greece's major media outlets are unprofitable and are supported financially by other means, and while Greece's smaller media outlets are suffering the consequences of the country's financial crisis, the supposedly spendthrift and bloated ERT was, in fact, profitable and financially healthy prior to its sudden shutdown by the government in June 2013. It is within this broader economic and political context, examined in this section and all of the previous articles of this series, that the shutdown of ERT should be analyzed and examined.

Related Articles:

Corruption, Clientelism and Censorship in Greece's Media Landscape

Savage Deregulation: Further Censorship and Crackdowns in Greek Media 

12 Years Before ERT Shutdown, A Dark Chapter in Greece's Media History

Setting a Bad Example: Flouting Legal Requirements in Greek Broadcasting

In Greece, Media Censorship, Self-Censorship, Journalist Arrests and Murder

News Sat, 25 Oct 2014 10:58:31 -0400