Yesterday, Josh Campbell of CNN, tweeted he was headed to Portland, Oregon, to “sort out what in the world is happening there.” As if there hasn’t been plenty of local media journalists, live-streamers, and freelancers covering what is happening in Portland every single day since protests began in the city after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
The truth is, there has been excellent coverage, and that’s why Portland is once again in the national spotlight. Unfortunately so far, most of that coverage seems to have received little attention outside of social media until footage of federal officers grabbing a protester off the street gained traction.
That footage is extremely disturbing and certainly demands national attention. We are at a point where anyone exercising their First Amendment rights can be detained by armed individuals who do not identify themselves, loaded into unmarked vehicles, and whisked away with no explanation. But the truth is, we’ve been slipping down this slope for quite some time, and what’s been happening in Portland is just another taste of what could happen anywhere in the US.
There have been several lawsuits filed by journalists against the Portland Police Bureau even before the federal officers moved in. Since the events of July 15th, there have been additional lawsuits filed against federal agencies.
Oregon’s Attorney General, Ellen Rosenblum, filed a lawsuit on July 17, 2020, against the United States Department of Homeland Security, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Protection Service, alleging they have violated Oregonians’ civil rights.
Rosenblum’s statement says, “these tactics must stop. They not only make it impossible for people to assert their First Amendment rights to protest peacefully. They also create a more volatile situation on our streets. We are today asking the federal court to stop the federal police from secretly stopping and forcibly grabbing Oregonians off our streets…”
The ACLU has also filed multiple lawsuits against federal agencies for actions around the country. Acting interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, Jann Carson, says, “what is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the United States. Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping. The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered.”
There’s little doubt protests will continue, in Portland and around the country. Time will tell what comes of them, and these lawsuits, and what the lasting effects on freedom will be in this country.
**If you want good, solid, local coverage of what is happening daily in the protests in Portland, as well as good sources for updates on the various related lawsuits, I have compiled a list of journalists and freelance live-streamers on Twitter you can check out here. Many of them have links in their bios to ways you can ‘tip’ them if you want.
The Department of Justice has unsealed an indictment this morning for Daniel Everette Hale, of Nashville, Tennessee. Hale was enlisted in the US Air Force from 2009-2013. He became a Language Analyst, and was assigned to work at the National Security Agency from December 2011 through May 2013.
He served as an Intelligence Analyst in Afghanistan for a Department of Defense Joint Special Operations Task Force from March 2012 through August 2012. Hale held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information security clearance. After leaving the Air Force, Hale worked for a defense contractor, Leidos.
Hale is charged with five counts related to obtaining classified information and giving classified information to an unnamed reporter. According to the indictment, this information was then published by the reporter on an Online news outlet, as well as in a book written by the reporter.
The unnamed reporter Hale is alleged to have given information to is likely Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept. Scahill and the Intercept published The Drone Papers in 2015 based on a cache of classified documents obtained by the Intercept. Scahill also wrote the book The Assassination Complex which was published in 2017.
Hale described having his home searched in 2014 by the FBI in the documentary National Bird. He was informed at that time he was under investigation for espionage and he states in National Bird that he would “probably get charged with a crime” and would “have to fight to stay out of prison.”
Hale’s attorney, Jesselyn Raddack, is quoted in The Washington Post as saying “the allegations against Hale are allegations of whistleblowing. The Intercept’s reporting on the US government’s secretive drone assassination program shed much needed light on a lethal program in dire need of more oversight.”
No details are given in the indictment as to how Hale ended up under investigation for leaking classified material. In video, Hale can be seen sitting with Scahill during a presentation at a book store on June 8, 2013. The indictment states that on or about June 8, 2013, “Hale sat next to the Reporter at a public event at the Bookstore to promote the Reporter’s book.” According to the indictment, this occurred before Hale leaked any documents to The Intercept.
Hale is not the first person known to face charges after leaking information to The Intercept. Reality Winner was sentenced to five years and three months for leaking a classified report to The Intercept regarding Russian hacking of election systems. Reporters for The Intercept sought confirmation the report was authentic from a defense contractor who informed authorities about it and turned over identifying numbers from the report that revealed Winner as the source of the leak.
Terry Albury, a former FBI agent, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2018 for sharing classified information, likely with The Intercept, according to the Washington Post. He may have been the source of The Intercept’s series of reports entitled The FBI’s Secret Rules.
The long-rumored and quietly discussed Longbow Productions came out of the shadows this week with the release of the Frontline documentary American Patriot which showed some clips of footage filmed by the Longbow team. Longbow Productions was a fake documentary film crew, created by the FBI to gather evidence against the people involved in the 2014 confrontation between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and supporters of rancher, Cliven Bundy.
Longbow Productions was the creation of the Las Vegas FBI office after the Bunkerville standoff in 2014. It was led by an undercover agent who went by the name of Charles Johnson, and who has since been arrested in an unrelated case where he posed as an “investigative consultant for a journalist.” A fake website was set up and the crew obtained professional recording equipment, and then approached the Bundy family and supporters requesting interviews.
A motion to exclude Longbow evidence from Cliven Bundy’s trial, filed in February 2017, states, “the FBI created a fake film production company designed to trick defendants into making boastful, false, and potentially incriminating statements that could be used against Defendants.” It also claims that the FBI “delayed filing of any criminal accusations in this case in order to launch a wide-reaching deceptive undercover operation known as ‘Longbow Productions.'”
The film crew traveled to five states, possibly more, and interviewed at least 20 different people in an effort to gather evidence. According to the Intercept article America Reloaded (named for the working title of Longbow’s supposed documentary) by Ryan Devereaux and Trevor Aaronson, there were over 100 hours of video and audio recordings from the Longbow team.
That article goes on to call into question the usefulness of such an undercover operation, pointing out that the majority of what was said in the Longbow interviews was already well-documented in many ways, by many different sources. The article states, “despite a clear risk that considerable resources would be expended to gather publically available information, incurring a guaranteed backlash from legitimate members of the news media along the way, Johnson and the FBI pressed on.”
Rick Rowley, Frontline producer of American Patriot, also questioned the operation in an interview with Dave Miller on OPB’s Think Out Loud. Rowley states, “it seems like it must be part of the case because it’s an embarrassing thing that you wouldn’t want to reveal unless you needed the evidence from it, but to my ears, it’s difficult for me to see what the logic is behind it.” He describes the questions asked in the Longbow interviews as leading, and that they “seem to be about trying to build a conspiracy.”
The effectiveness of evidence gathered using this undercover film crew is also worth questioning. In a February 7, 2017 Guardian article by Sam Levin, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Daniel Hill, is quoted as saying, “when the jury finds out this tactic they used, none of them will think it’s okay. It shows the lows the government was willing to go to.” Indeed, after Longbow evidence was presented in the first trial of defendants in the Bunkerville case, it’s been reported that jurors did in fact think that it was not okay. According to the Intercept article, Eric Parker’s attorney, Jess Marchese, “said a number of jurors he spoke to were turned off by the government’s presentation of the Longbow evidence.”
The Longbow operation undoubtedly had a high price tag as well. Cliven Bundy’s motion to exclude the Longbow evidence states, “the FBI’s Longbow operation spent taxpayer money extravagantly and with wild abandon.” It goes on to describe how the agents conducted many interviews in expensive hotels, plied some interviewees with alcohol, and paid for the interviews. Charles Johnson even offered to buy the rights to the Bundy’s story, and his assistant, known as Anna, offered to buy tickets to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo to entice the Bundy’s to Las Vegas for interviews, according to the Intercept article.
What is perhaps most disturbing about the entire undercover operation, is the effect it has on journalism and news gathering. From Levin’s February 2017 Guardian article, “‘if you think every reporter you meet could be an agent of law enforcement, it really has an immediate impact on any journalist coming to try and cover that story,’ said Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.”
Daniel Hill, Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, is quoted in this Frontline article by the producers of American Patriot as saying “they impersonated journalists so they could interrogate people the FBI fully intended on charging with serious crimes, without any lawyers present. We should not have to fear that our government is infiltrating America’s sacred press and media institutions in order to try to gain prosecutorial advantages against its own people.”
In 2015 the Associated Press (AP) along with the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press sued the Department of Justice. The lawsuit was the result of unanswered Freedom of Information requests made by the organizations seeking information about a 2007 sting operation in which an undercover FBI agent posed as an AP reporter.
“We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists,” Katie Townsend, the litigation director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement. “This practice undermines the credibility of the independent news media, and should not be tolerated.”
And of course, there is Rick Rowley’s perspective, from his Think Out Loud interview about the Longbow operation. “For people that are reporting on other stories, it puts their lives in danger. If criminal organizations in the world know that the FBI is willing to pose as journalists in order to try to infiltrate groups then it puts us all in danger.”
The use of a fake documentary film crew is just one more thing to question about the way the FBI handled this entire investigation, from Bunkerville to Malheur.
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The reporting on the Malheur refuge occupation in Harney County has, for me, been a perfect example of how corporate news networks manipulate the narrative of events to fit their own position on the issues and people involved. Admittedly, I have questioned corporate media for a very long time, for many reasons. Perhaps it started for me with the way events were covered between September 2001 and March of 2003. Confusion, lies and omissions, controlling (and co-opting) the narrative, and what do you know, endless war resulted. There have been so many big events since (and before) then that show the same patterns in the media as the narrative is spun to portray a story a certain way. So, the way the narrative in Harney County has been spun hasn’t surprised me, but it has been an up close view of the process.
With this situation taking place so close to home, I have had the opportunity to communicate with some of the people involved. I have had the opportunity to learn about the underlying issues, to try and get a genuine understanding of why the protests and occupation happened. Now, I certainly don’t expect everyone to come away from this story changing everything about their own opinions on the matter. I don’t expect people to agree on every aspect of the issues involved. It is, after all, a tangled combination of complicated and sensitive matters. But, what I do expect, or rather, what I would like to be able to expect, is some honest reporting.
It has been sadly lacking, both in the mainstream media and the alternative media. There have been some honest and unbiased stories here and there, scattered throughout a wide range of sources. I’ll specifically shout out to Oregon Public Broadcasting here who’s reporters have followed the story closely. But the good coverage was often buried in avalanches of speculation, distortion, name-calling, and outright hatred. Social media has played an increasing role in this as well. On one hand, social media has given us a platform to communicate with people involved in these stories and to share what we learn. On the other hand, in what appears to me to be a desperate attempt to keep their stranglehold on the narrative by the media, it has become a place to whip the hateful and divisive rhetoric into a frenzy.
What is perhaps even more notable to me as I’ve followed the story obsessively, is the meticulous avoidance by the mainstream media of any perspectives that challenge the narrative the federal government has an interest in maintaining. After all, if it isn’t in the news on TV, we Americans won’t bother to look at or think about it. On the flip side, what has stood out to me in the alternative media is the sensationalizing and manipulations of the facts, and the constant repetitions of false information. Again, social media, with all of its clever algorithms, plays a powerful role in this.
How many have taken the time to look beyond our own assumptions about the Malheur refuge occupation and the shooting of Robert Lavoy Finicum? How many have bothered to challenge the media’s presentation, whether mainstream or alternative, of the story rather than simply allowing it to shape or reinforce our own perspectives?
Can we not see that an inability, or unwillingness to question the distorted narrative handed to us will only lead to more excessive police force, more ambushes conveniently hidden from public view? More lies about safe drinking water? More invasions of foreign lands, more slaughtering of countless civilians? More division, more laws, more repression? Have we become so hopelessly detached from reality that we can’t see that every American is losing rights? The front line is different for all of us, but the enemy is the same.
You may not see or feel it yet. It may not have touched your life yet, and your news might not be telling you about it yet. I wonder at what point the citizens of Germany woke up to the tyranny of the Nazi regime? I doubt the media in Germany in the 1930’s and 1940’s was doing much reporting on all the atrocities being committed by the Nazis. And the same can be said for our own media today when it comes to the atrocities being committed by the US government.
I’m sickened by that fact. Rather than bowing to the government’s narrative, or acting as advertising for mega-corporations, the press is supposed to report the truth. The press is supposed to investigate all angles and ask the hard questions. The press is supposed to be a weapon for the people to wield to maintain transparency and accountability within our government.
The press isn’t supposed to be info-tainment to benefit corporate or political interests.
We can do better. We need to do better. And we can’t wait any longer. Let’s start asking the hard questions in order to get to the truth in any story. Let’s push our lawmakers to confront the hard questions in order to make positive changes. Let’s make the Tamir Rices, Eric Garners, Lavoy Finicums, lead-poisoned Flint families, PTSD suffering Veterans, homeless, under-educated children, victims of wars of aggression, victims of excessive prison sentences…WE THE PEOPLE relevant again.
Author’s Note: this post has been edited from its original version to remove content that promoted Newsbud, as well as to reflect changes in my own perspectives. If you want to read the original version, contact me.