Category Archives: secrecy

Mr. Greenwald Promises Transparency But Delivers Opaqueness


Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.  Wikipedia

Some four years ago I had the occasion to visit the northern German city of Lübeck, home to Thomas Mann and setting of his Buddenbrooks, where  I joined a sightseeing groups of German-speaking tourists.  Our guide explained various periods of the city’s history.  For WWII, he found only one event worth mentioning:  what he described as the barbarity of bombings by the RAF.  Indeed, it occurred to me while listening, the people of Lübeck had suffered.  But I also recalled something the guide did not mention, i.e. the Holocaust that had occurred  some kilometers further east.

Fast forward four years.  Within the last three weeks Mr. Glenn Greenwald and his Omidyar-financed website Intercept have thundered against Israel and Israel’s various putative barbarities in Gaza.  I found not one word, not a single one, that could be construed as criticism or even reservation concerning the actions of Hamas.  (I have blogged about one of these recent Greenwald anti-Israel broadsides.)

So one of Glenn Greenwald’s offenses against intellectual integrity — and there are a number of these  is cherry picking, as defined in my quotation above.  But the problem with the Omidyar-Greenwald website is actually much more extreme because it is not just some ordinary  propagandistic one-sidedness  that  can be detected by the observant reader.  I would call it a higher cherry picking, consisting of the total suppression of any information  that does not fit into the author’s ideology.

It is no secret that Greenwald has obtained the vast trove of US government secrets that were stoled by Edward Snowden.  Now, more than a year later, Greenwald and his collaborators dip into this trove and other stolen government documents from time to time, pick from them whatever they want to pick,  and present the result as a truthful representation of what the world is all about.  Since nobody outside of the Greenwald organization has access to these materials there is no way for Greenwald’s readers to know whether a) the particular document now “revealed” actually comes from US government sources;  whether b) if indeed it does, it is presented in its entirety;  and finally whether c) if it is, there are other documents in the collection that limit or contradict it.  In other words, a reader must accept, on faith alone, that the document exists and that it means what Greenwald says it means.

A typical example of the Greenwald method is his posting, just three days ago, of an article “Cash, Weapons and Surveillance:  the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack.”  The piece purports to tell a story, using Snowden documents, of secret US military, financial, and intelligence support of “Israel’s military assaults — such as the one in Gaza.”

First of all, there are publicly available materials that US assistance of this kind is routinely given to Arab countries as well, something Greenwald does not mention.  We know, for instance, that the US has provided Qatar, the ally of Hamas, with such cooperation. Moreover, as Cliff Kincaid has reported,  ” [Greenwald’s] own reporting [inadvertently] discloses that the NSA and the Israeli signals intelligence unit (ISNU) have shared information with the Palestinian Authority Security Forces.”

So much for Greenwald’s cherry picking, which, indeed, can be detected by diligent googling.  But there is the more insidious “higher cherry picking,” which consists of citing wholly opaque sources (the Snowden papers), not accessible to anyone but Greenwald himself, and which Greenwald expects his readers to accept on his sole say-so.

So here is my question to all those who see some value in Greenwald’s journalism:  since there is no way of verifying his assertions, and since, moreover, his record for veracity has never been established, what possible grounds can there be for defending his work ? Mr. Greenwald says that he favors “transparency” of government, but what he practices is total opaqueness.


"The Nation’s" Hidden Angels

The Nation magazine, under date of September 30, is indignant that the Tea Party, apparently, does not reveal its donors adequately.  Nation writer George Zornick wants to “force [the] secret donors into daylight.” Do I agree ?  You betcha.

But, guess what, The Nation itself clouds its finances in a most unusual and extreme secrecy.  It avoids financial disclosures to the IRS by being a “limited partnership,” not a non-profit entity, so neither the government nor the public can have an insight into the identity of the donors who keep it afloat.  It is claimed that some thirty percent of its revenues come from these sources, but there is no independent verification of this or of any of the magazine’s financial data.  What we do know is that, not being a registered non-profit organization, donations to The Nation are not tax-deductible.  In other words, the magazine is willing to forego the very substantial financial advantages of tax deductibility for the sake maintaining an absolute secrecy of its contributing angels.

(The Nation magazine has undergone a number of incarnations, some of which were perfectly honorable.  In this article I deal only with its current one, which, it would seem, began with the editorship of Victor Navasky at the end of the 1970’s. For an assessment of the magazine as of 1951, see the article by Granville Hicks, “The Liberals Who Haven’t Learned,” Commentary, April 1951)

Who might want to be an angel to this Nation ?  And why would such a person, or entity, hide his generosity from the “daylight” of public knowledge ?  To get an understanding of such questions, it is instructive to review some of the magazine’s more notorious articles of faith, to wit:

1. The Stalinist movement, in balance, was a “progressive” force, working for the benefit of mankind.  So Stalin’s most steadfast American supporter, Paul Robeson, is one of the fifty greatest American “progressives” of all time, as is his comrade in arms, I. F. Stone.  Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, far from being some sort of criminals, were idealistic American “progressives.”  And so on.

2.  When it comes to the conflict between the old Soviet Union and the Jews who attempted to escape from it, guess who was in the right ?  Well,  The Nation weighed in on that one on March 1, 1986, under byline of  Mr. Alexander Cockburn.  It is true, at least according to Franklin Foer, that this Mr. Cockburn does not much like Jews to begin with.  But even so, this article was extraordinary.  The immediate issue  was that of the famous refusenik Nathan Sharansky, who had languished in the Gulag for many years on trumped-up charges.  Mr. Cockburn opined, contrary to the views of just about everyone else outside the KGB,  that Sharansky was most probably “an American spy.”   I must say that when I first saw this article some twenty-five years ago I thought that the The Nation had been taken over by psychopaths;  my subsequent occasional forays into its pages haven’t changed this impression to any substantial degree.  (For anyone interested in the details of the Sharansky case, there is the definitive  600-page analysis by the Canadian law professor Irwin Cotler.)

3.  Israel is always in the wrong.  While The Nation has never explicitly endorsed the popular Arab slogan “Death to the Jews,” the import of what the magazine has to say, week after week,  is not far from this.  When the magazine wrote one of its routine attacks on Israel in connection with the Gaza “flotilla” of 2010,  there was a protest from a surprising source:  Eric Alterman, himself a left-wing critic of Israel and indeed a columnist for The Nation.  “This editorial,” he wrote, “like most Nation editorials on the topic, simply assumes that Israel is 100 percent at fault in this conflict, and that whoever opposes it is 100 percent correct.”

Now, in addition to perhaps some unreconstructed old Stalinist lately come into a bit of cash, which person or entity, foreign or domestic, would care to finance this kind of ranting and raving and malicious insinuation, week in week out ?  And who would do this without any kind of tax benefit to himself, being rewarded only by having his bad deeds clouded in the deepest of secrecy ?  Well, to ask the question is to answer it, isn’t it.

Also read, on related subjects:
Eli Lake on Soros funding for JStreet
Israel Matsav on off-shore, non-Jewish funding of JStreet