Embedded on the Frontline: Carole Cadwalladr and OSI

David Macilwain

“Investigative journalism” is all the rage nowadays, in the age of “fake news. And anyone can do it, from institutions like the Guardian – “support our independent investigative reporting” – to nerds with an iPhone and odd habits. What is revealed by these “investigations” of “Open Source Intelligence” – OPI – is only limited by one’s imagination, because one must imagine what “closed source intelligence” might reveal.

This is more of a problem with OSI than it might seem, as mostly it is only concealed information which needs investigating! No better example of this exists than the work of the renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. What has made his recent reports of such significance is information gleaned from “intelligence sources” – which Hersh has cultivated over years, and which have given us special insight into controversial events such as the alleged chemical weapon attacks in Syria.

Equally topical are the “closed source investigations” obtained by Wikileaks, whose revelations about US war crimes and covert actions in the Middle East have been of such fundamental importance and use to those pursuing “truth and justice” – and the people who try to avoid them.

That the work of these two genuine investigative journalists has been the cause of such strife to those caught in the headlights is evidenced by their reaction and the extreme efforts to stifle the incriminating truth. Hersh may not have been subject to trumped-up charges and imprisonment, but his writings have been stifled by publishers and his conclusions ignored by Western media.

Meanwhile, those media – the Guardian and its ilk – have given “investigative journalism” a bad name, particularly with solicitations like this:

And we need your help, too. More people, all around the world, are reading and supporting The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism. And unlike many news organisations, we have chosen an approach that allows us to keep our reporting accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.

The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion.

This is important as it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different from so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.

It’s often necessary to read Guardian articles, and be subjected to this obnoxious and mendacious hype. This particular version came at the end of this article, whose content perfectly summarises the problem with the Guardian:

Citizen journalists – the fighters on the Frontline against Russia’s attacks.”

“We can no longer count on our governments to protect us from a tide of disinformation. Our security rests in the hands of open source intelligence, as pioneered by Bellingcat.” – writes Carole Cadwalladr.

A chilling thought!

The mention of “frontline” in Cadwalladr’s title seems hardly coincidental, as it was at the Frontline Club in London that Chis Wiley, the whistleblower on Cambridge Analytica appeared in public following Cadwalladr’s dramatic expose’ in the Observer two days earlier. Her work in bringing this scandal to light was widely recognised and lauded, including with the Orwell prize in July last year, an irony that would have been lost on readers of the Observer and Guardian.

It would also be lost on those of our compatriots who suddenly discovered Cadwalladr following her dramatic presentation at the recent TED annual conference in Vancouver. And justifiably. Cadwalladr confounds our distrust of her allegiances and establishment status with her passionate and brave speech to Silicon Valley tech-heads, linked to in this article.

Orwell might have noted the irony also – or perhaps coincidence – that the Frontline club became known a decade ago when it became the forum for discussion of Wikileaks’ investigations, and the place where Julian Assange was the idol du jour amongst a similar cult social group before the insidious destruction of his credibility took hold of them. And the links go further. A youthful James Ball was working with Wikileaks back then, if fractiously. Ball claimed to support the “laudable aims” of Wikileaks, but objected to its practices as well as some of its adherents.

But any problem he may have had with Assange and Wikileaks is dwarfed by the problem we now have with James Ball as an agent for the Integrity Initiative working at the Guardian. Ball’s name was included in lists of II’s contacts in documents hacked and leaked by Anonymous in December 2018, and this forced the Guardian employee to come clean – after a fashion.

While admitting but downplaying his connection to Donnelly’s Institute for Statecraft, Ball spares no words to mouth off about Russia’s alleged disinformation tactics, and supposed responsibility for the shooting down of MH17 and the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury.

Ball also mentions the Integrity Initiative event he attended, along with his colleague Carole Cadwalladr, at the Frontline club in mid December 2018. This twitter thread from Wikileaks tells almost the whole story:

But that was in December, and before further documents from the IfS had been released by Anonymous. Although Ball suggests that the Integrity Initiative “was doomed from the start” by operating covertly “like the Russians”, its agenda to spread disinformation and to extend malign influence into centres of government across Europe could hardly operate transparently! And it continues to operate as before; last week there was this event at the Frontline Club:

Meet some of the world’s leading Open Source Investigations teams to discuss the groundbreaking techniques being used to support and strengthen reporting of civilian harm in conflicts worldwide. Times senior foreign correspondent Anthony Loyd will be joined by Chris Woods, Director of Airwars, Bellingcat’s Yemen reporter Rawan Shaif and Milena Marin, project lead for Amnesty Decoders.

Enter OSI. Using mountains of data sourced from freely available online resources like Twitter, Facebook and Google Earth, and often on a shoestring budget, many of the world’s biggest stories are being broken from behind laptops across the globe.

From the Skripal poisoning to the Battle of Mosul, Open Source Investigations are bringing information to the public by harnessing the phenomena of mass communication. This panel will focus on how OSI teams and monitoring groups are working to strengthen our power to report, and uncover stories of civilian harm in the world’s bloodiest conflicts.

The chair for this event was none other than the BBC’s Defence correspondent Jonathan Beale, named in II documents as one of their own. Chris Woods has also worked for BBC Panorama, while Anthony Loyd recently distinguished himself by stumbling upon the “IS bride” Shamima Begum in Al Hol refugee camp.

Loyd “has witnessed the atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the brutal rise of the self-styled Islamic State and the desperate struggle of the Syrian people caught between the two.”

One wonders where he may have “witnessed” these things, given the problem in visiting parts of Syria controlled by the “regime” without a visa. Or perhaps he witnessed them on a laptop in London. But his story of Begum and her babies captivated British audiences for weeks, allowing the real action to pass almost unnoticed until the End of the Caliphate was announced.

Also at this significant planning meeting was Rawan Shaif from the very recently launched Bellingcat-Yemen project. Whatever is behind this “open source investigation” into the US coalition’s war on the Yemeni national resistance, it certainly isn’t intended to identify the culprits for Yemen’s humanitarian disaster, given they aren’t in Yemen but in Abu Dhabi, Tel Aviv, Washington, Paris and London. One might ask also “why now”, and not three years ago, when thousands were being killed by bombs and missile strikes, including one on a funeral that ended up killing over 400 people, and over a dozen officials from Ansarullah.

For that particular war crime, I wrote “Decapitation in Sana’a”, also reviewing the moves to form a new government after 18 months of war. Reading it again now, two and a half years later, it’s hard not to be cynical about anyone who claims to “investigate” the crimes of the aggressors, without setting a foot in Yemen. In fact, it’s hard not to be incensed, at the sheer wilful brutality and calculated mendacity of those behind the “world’s worst humanitarian disaster” – that they themselves created.

The truth of what has been done to Yemen, as revealed by brave investigative journalists like Marwa Osman and Vanessa Beeley, and ignored by the serried ranks of mainstream reporters and commentators, is representative of the whole crisis on the cyber-battlefield – the virtual frontline between the Western mainstream and the “Resistance” – or whatever we like to call those who stand against it. The chasm between the two – us and them – has become almost unbridgeable, as even if we can manage to stir an interest in “The Integrity Initiative”, or “the Nurse’s Tale”, the details will be incomprehensible and unacceptable.

The reality of this impotence – my inability to influence close friends and acquaintances – came home with a crash last week with a group email about Carole Cadwalladr’s TED talk. The chair of my local climate action group unusually sent it round saying:

I am compelled to share this straight away. It’s about how powerful elites bypassed UK electoral laws using platforms such as FaceBook and how this resulted in a vote to leave on Brexit. It’s not just about Brexit, it’s about all elections. I’d read bits and pieces about this issue, but not previously understood the full ramifications.”

There is an election underway in Australia at the moment, in which climate change and coal mining are big issues, as is electoral interference, so Cadwalladr’s message has struck a chord with my campaigning friends, and struck a nerve with me!

How to explain “the full ramifications” of Cadwalladr’s cooperation with the enemy that she herself seems barely aware of – that is embedded in her? And to a community where US and Israeli influence is so embedded as to be invisible?

Originally published at American Herald Tribune