Laura Poitras was smart to stay out of the limelight so long. Her flowering emergence into the mainstream media sphere has been perfectly timed and her diligent work ultimately rewarded with CitizenFour earning the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 2015 Academy Awards.
But as soon as one sticks their head up above the parapet they are instantly subject to organised, concerted detractors, waiting to punish them for it. It appears Poitras is no exception.
The long-standing publication Counterpunch has some amazing work under its belt – especially pertinent, its reporting surrounding information gleaned from the outcome of the Partnership for Civil Justice FBI FOIA requests in the wake of the Occupy movement.
To citizen journalists in the movement, the name Counterpunch was synonymous with fearless and intrepid political journalism.
It could be counted on to provide cutting-edge counter-narrative to the political mainstream. Yet with recent attempts to debunk the work of Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and now Laura Poitras, Counterpunch seems to have shifted its critical focus from major political figures to those whose work exposes them.
It is extremely distressing to watch publications you have great respect for, printing wanton disparagement of those who have had to subject themselves to massive personal risk and sacrifice in order to raise valid issues and propel important ideas into the public domain.
In ‘Et Tu, Poitras?‘ ‘independent investigator’ Bill Blunden uses scraps of translated narrative to nail Poitras to the wall, rehashing the same title phrasing and acidic tone as an earlier Counterpunch piece entitled ‘Et Tu, Obama?‘
Coming from New Zealand, where the Maori ‘E Tu’ is a motivational call to action, “Stand Up”; the title of the article wasn’t initially distressing. However, ‘Et Tu‘ is in fact Latin and translates to a derisive “And, you?” Scanning through the preceding Obama take-down, it is clear the use of the title implies insult, indeed the provenance of the term is an accusation of betrayal.
The gall of invoking Poitras’ name if not in sequence with, then foreshadowing it by the name of the President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, is noteworthy. Laura Poitras is well known for going out on a limb to protect whistle-blowers, whereas Obama is the overseer of an administration that uses the archaic Espionage Act to prosecute them with unprecedented frequency.
Scratching below the surface of the negative analysis in the ‘Et Tu, Poitras?’ article, the logical transgressions are frequent and the flaws in the construction, transparent.
Blunden starts by explaining that his article relates to an interview Laura Poitras participated in with a Dutch news outlet. Blunden then points the readers to “a rough English translation” via Cryptome.
Yet astonishingly, he does not utilize the transcript he linked to, instead quoting from an unattributed translation with contextual framing that is a substantial departure from the Cryptome text.
Blunden’s version quotes Poitras as saying “Google’s servers are secure: that’s a big change” – which sounds like an absolute statement of personal endorsement which he then immediately lambasts her for at length.
Yet his own Cryptome reference quotes her as actually saying “Google securing its servers – that’s a big change“; an observation of progress made by Google rather than a carte blanche endorsement of Google’s services.
Blunden’s explosion of disgust at her position extrapolates to insinuate that Poitras is burying her head in the sand about everything from child slave labor to tax avoidance; ridiculous and reckless hyperbole given the innocence of her observation when absorbed in context.
Moving straight into a one-two punch by invoking Facebook, Blunden again violates the Cryptome translation by providing yet another skewed and uncredited version.
Blunden quotes Poitras as saying: “Facebook has its website available through the anonymous network Tor. Everyone has appreciation for it, while Facebook is always seen as the enemy of privacy.”
Yet the Cryptome translation reads “Facebook made its website available through the anonymizing network Tor. Everyone appreciates that, while Facebook is always seen as the enemy of privacy.”
The word “made” inferring progress from their prior positions; rather than the static stance implied in Blunden’s quote. His inflection – “appreciation for it” – insinuates Poitras is stating appreciation for Facebook, whereas Cryptome’s “appreciates that” clearly refers to appreciation for the Tor anonymity network rather than for Facebook.
But it gets worse. Much worse. As the Cryptome translation shows, these two individual quotes Blunden has bludgeoned in order to lampoon Poitras, featured a conjoining sentence which he has completely failed to mention in his article and which invalidates his entire premise for it.
Omitted by Blunden but revealed by Cryptome –
“Whether it is 100 percent secure or not, it means that a growing market for privacy exists, and that businesses will respond to that.”
Demonstrating that Poitras was not intending to argue security of the services at all but only to observe their changing positions in the wake of the Snowden revelations.
Indeed the second and third leaked documents from Edward Snowden ever published implicated Google and Facebook in the now infamous PRISM program. The authors of the resulting 6 June 2013 Washington Post article were Barton Gellman and… Laura Poitras! (For trivia purposes; PRISM was also written about in The Guardian by Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill 7 June 2013 which due to time zones was within the same 24 hour period, indeed a simultaneous release.)
So the very woman Bill Blunden attempts to smear as being pro-Google and Facebook was in fact a co-author of the articles which exposed those corporation’s participation in government mass surveillance in the first place.
Given the historic significance of her many achievements it is no surprise Poitras is both envied and reviled in unsavory circles.
According to TruthDig, Poitras is “a model for a new generation of investigative journalists bent on protecting their sources while uncovering wrongdoing“.
Her film work pre-Snowden saw her named 2012 MacArthur Fellow by the MacArthur Foundation, an award which she says reduced her to tears at the outpouring of support and recognition from her peers. Doubtless because extracting oneself from the matrix of conventional Western suburban existence to participate in revealing its many geopolitical crimes and hypocrisies, is a long, lonely and arduous road seldom rewarded with anything more than invasion of privacy and violation of human rights and civil liberties, if not outright derision and ostracism.
In this Village Voice article aptly titled ‘Laura Poitras Explains Why Edward Snowden Did It And Asks You To Consider Your Relationship With Google‘, Poitras discusses some of the risks and her motivations for taking them:
“I’ve been working on these issues for a long time, so the feeling, as an American, that this country is drifting — morally — away from basic principles like the rule of law is very concerning,” she explains. “I feel like I’m in a position where I can contribute to a conversation that may shed some light on the human implications of some of these policies. I’ve been on this path for a while. There was a high degree of risk in this, but I also felt that with the magnitude of these disclosures, moving forward was a no-brainer…there were risks for the journalists, but the risks were far greater for the source.”
That’s not to diminish the sacrifice Poitras herself has made — as she admits, “There were moments of real tension and stress, thinking about how the implications of this stuff would be really intense and dangerous. It will change my life moving forward.” — Laura Poitras, interviewed by The Village Voice
The conclusion to the Village Voice article is perfection – they summarise, “Indeed, [Poitras’] life has changed — but due to the risks she and her source have undertaken, the lives of every American citizen have changed as well.”
By contrast, Below Gotham Labs’ Bill Blunden, ‘professional investigator’, certainly hasn’t impacted the lives of every American citizen and the subtle manipulations within his articles substantially drag down the efficacy of Counterpunch’s publication. The BGL website is in fact little more than a blog aggregator, featuring such easily disputed sources as Pando and underpinned by the same prominent and recurring anti-Tor themes.
Anti-climatically the grand finale` of ‘Et Tu Poitras‘ widens his net of disparagement to include Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and even Snowden himself.
One need not think too hard to imagine which persons and/or organisations might have a motive to malign Poitras, Omidyar, Greenwald, Snowden and the Tor network in one fell swoop, or how a market might easily exist for authors willing to do so.
Had he performed even the most rudimentary web searches on the aforementioned in conjunction with the keywords ‘Google’ and ‘Facebook’, Blunden might have had to publish what they really think, some rudimentary examples being:
Laura Poitras: ‘Facebook is a gift to intelligence agencies‘
Edward Snowden: ‘called networks like Facebook and Google “dangerous” for being hostile to privacy‘
Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald’s book about his experiences with Poitras and Snowden, ‘No Place To Hide‘, discusses Google’s culpability in mass surveillance and other related factors on pages 18, 20, 21, 74-75, 94, 108-111, 135, 153, 156, 170-171, and 252.
The “techno-libertarians”, Blunden calls them, and suggests they believe privacy can come from “the next app”. Well he must not have watched too many Edward Snowden videos then.
Snowden has repeatedly stated that if individually targeted by the agencies, that they will subvert your communications regardless of your methods of communication. They will locate and subvert your hardware, monitoring and violating your physical environment, and invest significant resources to do so, given political or criminal imperative.
The reason he advocates encryption is not to prevent individual targeting, no matter how fairly or unfairly it is applied, but to prevent MASS surveillance, where entire populations are caught in a wholesale, illegal and immoral dragnet.
At this point it’s difficult to tell what is more disappointing – that there are authors who still refuse to acknowledge this point or that they continue to get publishing credits while doing so.
Written by Suzie Dawson