War and Propaganda: An Interview with @AnimethinktankDevon Douglas-Bowers I Society & Culture I Interview I May 20th, 2016
Below is a transcript of a recent email interview I had with Animethinktank about their article entitled " Molly Crabapple, Vice & Buzzfeed Exposed a Syrian War Journalist to Terrorist Reprisals in an Attempt to Discredit The United Nations " written in February 2016. In the interview we discuss the media blitz on Emma Quangel and how it relates in a larger context to the how the media operates in fabricating tragedies.
What prompted you to write the article regarding Emma Quangel? How did you become interested in the Syrian conflict?
I tend to write on subjects I want to understand, but most of all there was an injustice yet incumbent journalism remained silent despite a story full of revelation. At least one publisher should have taken interest because the people involved aren't obscure and Syria remains a hot topic. There indeed was no excuse especially because all the heavy lifting was essentially done with evidence found, counter accusations made, and conspiracy unearthed even down to a written confession. The event is a perfect live case one can study and even interact with to understand exactly how journalism is designed to further real world objectives which is essentially based around population control at home and abroad.
I wouldn't call the imperial thrust into Syria the point of interest per se but rather the current Imperial landscape. My focus is generally the journalism of journalism which is always more interesting than superficial readings, and presented, was a particularly egregious display of how the ideological warfare of the press is the front line of militarism proper.
Talk about the role that Vice and Buzzfeed played in this entire situation. Why do you think that Buzzfeed became involved and why do you think that Vice, which is so viewed as a kind of edgy, against the grain publication, was/is being used to further the US foreign policy agenda?
Vice appears to be operational cover for a number of spooks who have a surprising knack of dealing with terrorist groups in the Middle East and Africa without ending up hanged in a Turkish airport. I'm not privy to internal strategy, but from the outside one can actually see a western publisher engaged with promoting ISIS as both scary to your typical US audience, but also dog-whistle recruitment for disaffected Muslims. There are various articles where Syrian militants are pictured having fun, eating well, enjoying Playstation and swimming pools, as if Grand Theft Arabia affords such a glamorous life at least when seen through the eyes of a Vice writer-type .
If one cuts through the "edgy" branding Vice is little more than "with the grain publication", but it's that very brand that is leveraged by owners like Rupert Murdoch who want to sell US war narratives to a youthful demographic that have perhaps have lost faith or interest in the traditional mediums like the New York Times. You see this across the spectrum where incumbents are having to re-market or find new conduits for reactionary propaganda. The Guardian has managed to trade on the Bourne film franchise whilst delivering no meaningful resistance, ABC News exploits Fusion Media to target the Americas, and Ebay billionaire, Pierre Omidyar, has the Intercept to flirt toothless revelation mixing in the odd attack on CIA antagonists like Gary Webb.
Moving back to Vice, one should question why editors Caban and Danny Gold actively gave "rival" Buzzfeed the scoop on Quangel when Syria is something of an obsession for them and after all, aren't they in the business of writing for a living? Probably not. An obvious answer for this contradiction is viewing Buzzfeed as an active participant from the start, but also a safe tabloid brand on which the story could be floated, then depending on reaction, perhaps forgotten to the noise of expected shoddy journalism. To my knowledge no other organisation advanced or even repeated the ridiculous accusations, but I suspect the story died because this was a desperate smear campaign that no other editor wanted to touch. More significantly, people drew attention to the fake documents, identity fraud, and web hacking used to destroy Quangel which could even have forced those managing the narrative into damage limitation.
Analysing Buzzfeed's Hayes Brown (the writer-type who brought the smear campaign to global attention) and you see he is something of a neocon thinktanky militant with a history of infiltrating the United Nations as an actual employee. He's definitely smart enough to have seen through the bullshit smear campaign yet put his name to it anyway, so perhaps the simplest explanation accounting for minimum complexity, is judging Brown to be some sort of asset consciously involved in the war against Syria.
With regards to Molly Crabapple, how did she go from artist to journalist and why is it that she targeted Quangel?
I think journalist there should be in quotes because Molly Crabapple is a work of fiction, even down to her made-up name. Neither under pseudonym nor as Jennifer Caban does journalist seem appropriate because she is a marketing construct designed to appeal to a millennial aesthetic, catching those that might drift towards radical politics. As such it's difficult to take her writing at face value but there's an interesting note in her recent memoir. Towards the end Jennifer Caban gives credit to her agent Lydia Wills for being the one "who scooped [her] up before [she] knew what [she] wanted to do with [her] art" becoming her "professional other half [there after]". Where an agent ends and a handler begins probably has no discreet boundary, and in this case I could well believe Caban was "recruited" for the want of a better word, with specific goals in mind. One should therefore work back from the media hit on Quangel and reassess Caban's time with Occupy Wall Street. If she wasn't back then there is no longer plausible deniability that she isn't a self-aware tool of misinformation.
Interestingly that's where the two protagonists possibly first interact. They are both from New York, Quangel was active with Occupy London, and Caban was one of the very few who turned Wall Street "activism" into a career. A year or more leading up to the smear campaign, the pair had publicly feuded but it would be wrong to think the hate campaign was a settling of personal scores, and because they knew each other, the dox on January 8th was all the more dishonest.
Quangel had written a book called "Spooks", which will likely have threads of real events mixed through a fictional narrative, so a network wanting revenge may be a component. However, spite cannot be the only motive because it was actually Scottish academic and Vice contributor, Idrees Ahmad, who shot first (a fact judiciously avoided by Hayes Brown). I even suspect that Ahmad had become desperate with a mission brief, and forced Caban into being the female face of the dox because a man attacking a female refugee worker is vulnerable to claims of misogyny.
A more pertinent question might be: why did Idrees Ahmad choose to go after Quangel, or better still, why did a group of Vice writer-types in coordination with the Syrian Campaign invent war crimes denial and attack the United Nations?
I documented the link between Vice, the Syria Campaign and the British-Syrian oil billionaire, Ayman Asfari. The Clinton Foundation via Ali Wiener may even be involved, but sticking with Asfari, he is active in recruiting favourable journalists by providing academic grants at British universities, particularly in Scotland and Oxbridge. In return they usually must go and work in the Levant, so it's plausible that Ahmad (maybe even Oz Katerji) received this style of assistance which would explain his loyalties. Regardless though, the most plausible explanation for the attack is as part of psychological operations directed by the CIA and British Intelligence services who mobilised assets across multiple countries to support a war effort. This was designed to discredit the United Nations, who at the time, were a political and likely practical obstruction to military goals. Al Qaeda groups inside Syria are essentially fighting for companies like British Petroleum and Shell, so I suspect the great need to help starving Madayans was just the pretext under which the West wanted to resupply militants so they could continue carving up the nation. "Break the Sieges" , indeed.
Why do you think that Crabapple volunteered or was used as it seems to make no sense to use an artist to push propaganda rather than a journalist. It seemed to me when I first heard about this situation, that it didn't make sense and was completely random.
There is nothing really surprising here because it makes complete sense to have artists front psychological operations which is a tactic that predates even the CIA. Undeserved Left icon, author, and ex-colonial police officer, George Orwell, was actively promoted by British intelligence as reactionary propaganda aimed at keeping control of colonies drifting towards communism. He would later spy on fellow writers on behalf of Britain's Information Research Department, informing on communists and even homosexuals , and this, at a time when being gay was punished with castration. It's a perfect way to rebrand authoritarianism or totalitarian ideology through artistic sentiment and the CIA of course hasn't overlooked such strategy.
During the 50s and 60s the CIA promoted a whole art movement as an ideological weapon in the Cold War. American expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko were used to assert America as being a bastion of artistic freedom and thought. Also if journalists can go places badge carrying law enforcement cannot, maybe artists can go a little deeper. One might be guarded talking to police but be disarmed by a journalist or even more so dealing with an activist-artist. Throw enough paint on a warship and you may not see it coming . Stick a black face in the presidency and you could get away with an America Reich executing black youth at home and colonising Africa abroad. (Talking of which you even have the strange scenario where actor George Clooney funded spy satellites over Sudan .)
This entire fiasco is definitely a case study in the power of social media converging with state foreign policy objectives. In what ways do you think that this model will be leveraged in the future? Would you say that this is an extension of US State Department soft power?
I don't believe social media is converging with foreign policy objectives, rather social media was itself a foreign policy objective from the beginning, and one just needs to look at the past to see the future. For a few centuries aristocracies have wanted to tag its citizens, particularly its slaves. They paid people like Jeremy Bentham to come up with the Panopticon in the 18th century, then others like Robert Peel to formalise para-militarism over an increasingly disruptive population raging against dispossession, and then someone somewhere invented the idea of the totalitarian passport.
Identification may no longer be seared into flesh or tattooed on skin, but electronic surveillance has everyone tagged and tagging each other. Snowden would have you believe that danger comes when government starts accessing this data, but the personal secrets, associations, kinks, misdeeds, and vulnerabilities are already centralised in companies like Google and Facebook who have built a surveillance system that makes the Stasi look like amateurs. Created by General Motors, Henry Ford, Standard Oil, IBM and other industrialists, the Stasi industrialised surveillance offering particular benefits to Capital. Once tracked "trouble makers" are easily identifiable, and should you have long term plans of invading Poland as part of a move on Russia, there is advantage to knowing who at home could be a conscientious objector or obstructor.
Even back then, industrialists were able to use such strategy to filter out malcontents. Perhaps you don't get that job, perhaps you don't get that promotion. Staying outside the US, the BBC is thought of as having great integrity, yet from conception all employees went through a process of military vetting where socialists, republicans, anarchists, and pacifists were deliberately excluded from the organisation. Back in the US in extreme form, political profiling leads to anything up to COINTELPRO assassination as suffered by the Black Panthers.
Now though, Capital has built a totalitarian nightmare where pretty much all have an electronic file containing political associations, and if you've managed to avoid building a social media presence that might be even more incriminating. Without needing a search warrant, any large or small bureaucrat is now able to apply almost any level of filtering. Perhaps police have a better capacity to select for white supremacy and authoritarianism, perhaps your application to Harvard gets turned down because you followed too many Marxists on Twitter. All politicians that are engaged in tax fraud are only a click away, and I'm sure there are darker skeletons used as blackmail.
For more on this use of soft power see Hayes Brown talking with a United Nations interviewer .
Why were Vice and Buzzfeed pushing so hard against the United Nations? How did the UN respond to the attack on it?
This question seems to answer itself. Vice and Buzzfeed are mouthpieces of US foreign policy, and someone told them to target the United Nations because they were obstructing the long term plan to gain control over Syria, one that goes back decades . The obvious motive to explain the present is that which existed back then. Oil companies that are still priced in dollars, pounds (and now euros) require dominion over the middle east, which unmasks ISIS as just another contra force invented by the West to terrorise a country into subjugation. Murdoch along with ex-CIA director James Worsley , have drilling rights in the Golan Heights so it's no wonder Vice push in the Syrian direction.
People inside the United Nations and affiliate organisations, are in prime position to reveal the lie of a Syrian "civil war", therefore it's effective strategy to poison the well for any testimony coming from refugees or aid workers that might contradict official narrative. In the extreme, journalists looking into NATOs instrumentalisation of terrorism do end up dead so a media hate campaign is really nothing for these people.
I can't really answer how the United Nations responded to the attack, that's a whole new line of analysis that someone might want to look at. If a response happened it seems to have been private, low-key and perhaps a desire to forget the episode. I'm willing to speculate elsewhere but here would be just guesswork. It's worth remembering that Quangel wasn't employed directly by the United Nations so a smaller contracted aid organisation (that I'll not name out of respect for the victim) had to mount the defence. I presume they had to balance existential concerns against a noisy rebuttal, but a line of least resistance might be quietly letting Quangel go then continuing to moderate the worst of US imperialism.
The people involved in burning Quangel, why do you think they were involved, do you think there was some type of payoff for them? What exactly have been the positive or negative consequences that have happened so far on a small or large level due to their involvement in this attack on Quangel?
The payoff for the frontline droogs seems to be cash but I think I've answered much of this question regarding motivation and macro-level intent.
For the second part, Caban has since pivoted to Asia, having gone on an extended tour selling herself to Indian activists. Whether that's a long term strategy, who knows? For the perpetrators there exists a vulnerability for actual prosecution, at least investigation and possible crimes include identity fraud, misuse of a computer, web hacking, and libel but I have no knowledge of any legal proceedings. Usually law enforcement would be proactive perhaps seizing computers and issuing search warrants for emails, so this may be indicative that those involved aren't just typical netizens but have a certain level of impunity.
I'm not sure what the positive or negative consequences have been because events seemed to have proceeded as if nothing happened, but I suspect impact will rumble into the future. Should my tame speculation be correct I imagine that some handler somewhere got scolded for this bumble-fuck psyop and in future people will pay closer attention to dates on documents. Awareness raising has severe limitations, one could tell the hen exactly what the farmer's agenda really is but they are in no position to mount a defence. Likewise, one can point at these events but the difficulty lies in turning information into meaningful change, but you should at least be cancelling Vice and other relevant subscriptions, if only as a petulant show of force.
When getting information for this story, did you find that people were skeptical of what was going on with regards to Crabapple and company's attack or did many take it at face value?
All the information for the story is taken from public tweets, documents and web archive services so I never had to approach anyone specifically. The only exception is a comrade of Quangel providing the evidence for the anonymous hate campaign active through December.
The accused have been unable to mount any sort of defence, in fact the attempt by Oz Katerji incriminated them further. Caban has flat out pretended my investigation doesn't exist. Gold and Schapiro have acted like school boys caught red handed. A further investigation could be analysing those who have and still do support Caban. UK media persona Laura Penny (something of a "Crabapple" equivalent) fronted the predictable accusation of conspiracy theory, and Guardian Journalist, Paul Mason has shown no journalistic interest beyond creeping in timelines. I'm sure in time, some of these people will be revealed as infiltrator saboteurs tasked with neutralising anti-capitalist sentiment. In fact Paul Mason has since even helped Caban by hosting a recent London talk promoting her book, and you can't pretend to be a "post-capitalist" pro-left sort whilst platforming an outed Mccarthyist informer.
The other point worthy of remark is that this isn't just a few bad apples, this sort of fabrication of events goes on unchallenged by the institutions involved because nothing is broken, all works as planned. In fact you are the first journalist to approach with any questions but I can't speak for Emma Quangel.
How can people find and support your work?
Pursue any threads here, distrust any person that can create a successful media career, and if information is only a power multiplier, figure out a way to increase the seed value above zero.