Wikileaks’ recent disclosure of the CIA’s hacking and surveillance capabilities highlights a frightening new reality for today’s journalists. Considering the CIA’s penchant for silencing and intimidating reporters and editors, journalists will have to overcome greater odds to protect the public’s right to know.
by Whitney Webb
Part 3 - The Government’s War on Journalists and Operation Mockingbird
However, it’s not just the CIA that journalists should be worried about, considering that the executive branch has upped its own war against journalists in recent years. This was particularly evident during the Obama years, which saw the harassment and wiretapping of numerous journalists.
In 2013, the Obama Justice Department secretly acquired two months’ worth of telephone records of Associated Press reporters and editors, which the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion.” Soon after, it was disclosed that the Justice Department had also spied extensively on Fox News reporter James Rosen. A year later, the Obama administration began relentlessly harassing a New York Times reporter for refusing to reveal one of his sources.
Of course, not all journalists will be alarmed by these latest revelations, particularly those that work on behalf of U.S. intelligence or have already been proven to be illegally colluding with politicians or other elements of the U.S. power structure. Most recently, Wikileaks’ disclosure of the Podesta emails exposed the widespread collusion of top journalists with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
One of the journalists who appeared in John Podesta’s emails was Glenn Thrush, a former chief White House correspondent for Politico and current White House correspondent for the New York Times. Thrush, in one email, referred to himself having become “a hack,” a reference to his self-admitted lack of journalistic integrity in service to the U.S. establishment.
The collusion of journalists with the U.S. government is nothing new, as the CIA – as part of its program Operation Mockingbird – has been recruiting journalists from across the country since the 1950s in order to more effectively influence public opinion. The program encompasses all forms of media, including newspapers, periodicals, press services, news agencies, book publishers and radio and TV stations.
The machinery behind Operation Mockingbird was exposed by the U.S. Senate when the Church Committee, a Nixon-era Senate committee tasked with investigating U.S. intelligence abuses, found that:
“Approximately 50 of the [CIA] assets are individual American journalists or employees of U.S. media organizations. Of these, fewer than half are “accredited” by U.S. media organizations … The remaining individuals are non-accredited freelance contributors and media representatives abroad … More than a dozen United States news organizations and commercial publishing houses formerly provided cover for CIA agents abroad.”
With the true extent of the CIA’s surveillance capabilities and their history for silencing or attacking reporters confirmed, journalists now face a rather stark choice. With the government able to read any and all forms of electronic communication, journalists can either choose to serve Washington’s interests, as many journalists already have, or to continue to fight for the public’s right to know. Though the former may be more comforting to some in the short-term, history is unlikely to remember them as kindly as the latter.
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