See my full report on the Australian Government's Magnitsky Inquiry, including submission analysis: 'Sanctioned Targets'.
Parliament’s Magnitsky investigation is rigged. The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade - Human Rights Sub-committee’s “Inquiry into targeted sanctions to address human rights abuses” (aka ‘Magnitsky legislation’) is a litany of biased submissions, selective witnesses and suppression of vital evidence - which revealed Magnitsky-architect Bill Browder’s lies and exposed sanctions for what they are: a coercive trade weapon that has nothing to do with human rights.
Inquiry submissions are 91% in favour of Magnitsky-type legislation. 39% express qualifications: including identifying diplomatic impact, resource requirements, or the possibility of weaponisation of sanctions (61% are pro-Magnitsky, without reservation). The Committee expressly invited some submitters - all international campaigners for Magnitsky legislation. Conspicuously absent are global leaders on targeted sanctions research: Targeted Sanctions Consortium participants, the Watson Institute, the Cato Institute and the United Nations. If they were invited, their submissions aren’t published.
See my full report on the Australian Government's Magnitsky Inquiry, including submission analysis: 'Sanctioned Targets'.
The Parliament’s Inquiry into “targeted sanctions to address human rights abuses” or ‘Magnitsky sanctions’, is an appalling example of narrative management and selective ‘evidence gathering’. This Inquiry makes one thing abundantly clear: targeted sanctions have nothing to do with human rights.
Magnitsky sanctions use fundamental human rights as both shield and cudgel - a coercive foreign policy tool behind a facade of altruism, implemented despite collateral damage to human life. Research by the Targeted Sanctions Consortium revealed sanctions resulted in unintended negative humanitarian consequences in 44% of cases, results reflected in a 2019 report published by the International Peace Institute: “Those implementing the sanctions often lack sufficient understanding of—or are not willing to acknowledge—how sanctions regimes harm humanitarian action, in particular given the shift to more targeted sanctions… Sanction regimes can delay or block import of humanitarian goods… Violating sanctions can lead to fines, as well as civil or criminal prosecution, by states.” Smaller NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are most affected, as they “do not have the same resources and capacity as UN agencies or bigger NGOs, particularly local NGOs that often cover the last mile in delivering aid in difficult contexts.” De-risking by banks, insurance companies, online payment or donation services (ie Paypal) have “a direct impact on their ability to operate, causing programs to be delayed, scaled back, or even closed… humanitarian organizations have been unable to pay their vendors and local implementation partners, creating security risks for staff on the ground.”
NKHumanitarian, a UK/Australian organisation which researches humanitarian issues in North Korea (DPRK), authored the only submission which seriously addressed damaging effects of targeted sanctions on humanitarian work. “Based on the evidence provided by the long history of sanctions imposed upon the DPRK, it is the contention of NKHumanitarian that sanctions are largely ineffective and have an adverse and disproportionate humanitarian impact on the ordinary population of the country… Our position is that the adverse humanitarian consequences of sanctions are not lessened just because they are aimed at combatting human rights abuses rather than being directed at a country’s development of weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, the evidence suggests that sanctions weaken human rights…” NKHumanitarian did not testify at Inquiry hearings.
36% of Inquiry submissions identified as ‘human rights advocates’. Of these, 57% identified potentially negative issues (meaning 43% were pro-Magnitsky, without reservation). Under half (45%) acknowledged due process implications - including adequate procedural safeguards, appeal mechanisms and human rights compatibility of Magnitsky legislation, although sanctions clearly impact a number of fundamental human rights. 10% made recommendations which directly contravene human rights law - including recommending reverse burden of proof in ‘Unexplained Wealth Orders’ and that any Chinese businessman/official ‘suspected’ of human rights violations should be sanctioned.
Submitters and witnesses emphasise the necessity of involving NGOs in the sanctions process - with a leading or legislated role in providing evidence and determining sanctions targets. Inquiry witness Professor Irwin Cotler references Magnitsky sanctions applied against Venezuela, attributed to a report produced by a three person ‘independent panel of experts’ (of which Cotler was one), established by Washington DC-based NGO, the ‘Organisation of American States’ (OAS). Independent journalist Stephan Sefton reports the “bogus fact finding of the OAS, the UN and foreign NGOs…they systematically omit sources and facts that contradict or exclude their preferred finding.” According to Sefton, “…NGOs like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are all guilty of extreme bad faith, [and] non-compliance with basic norms… In effect, they are themselves all accomplices to very serious human rights violations by Nicaragua’s US supported armed opposition… none of these organizations have adhered even to the Huridocs guidelines... [which] propose concepts and good practice in relation to fact-finding, documentation and monitoring of human rights violations… [these] human rights organizations have categorically failed to comply…”
Sefton writes corrupt NGOs serve in ‘psychological warfare’ operations in service of the US-UK intelligence apparatus and regime-change profiteers: “…NGOs serve both as disinformation partners with Western news media and too as false interlocutors in international forums and institutions, where they attack governments challenging the U.S. elites and their allies. They actively subvert governments inside countries challenging the West… they also pervert due process in institutions like the UN, posing as civil society but in fact serving Western elite corporate imperatives, for example in international human rights and environmental mechanisms and forums…”
Inquiry submissions acknowledge gathering evidence for sanctions targets is “very time-consuming”, NGOs contributing to fact-finding “would create less work for the minister in gathering information and evidence.” The Department of Foreign Affairs acknowledges a new sanctions regime has substantial resource implications in evidence gathering and analysis. How is this expense so easily contributed by non-profit organisations? If we’re relying on NGO reports to impose punishing sanctions, we should know who’s paying for them.
‘Humanitarian’ organisations provide virtuous branding for politically-motivated undertakings. Amnesty International has a long and troubling history of collaboration with US & UK intelligence. Inquiry witness Human Rights Watch originated as U.S. anti-Soviet organisation, the Helsinki Watch Committee, co-founded by Aryeh Neier: “When we created Human Rights Watch, one of the main purposes at the outset was to leverage the power, the purse and the influence of the United States to try to promote human rights in other countries.” Independent journalist Max Blumenthal reports on Human Rights Watch’s direct involvement in regime change, support of military coups and encouraging devastating economic sanctions in South American countries.
The Magnitsky Inquiry exposes the ‘human rights cartel’ of the non-profit industrial complex. Powerful NGOs with shadowy, often undeclared vested interests and vast swathes of donated money, dominate the sector. Selective (or fabricated) reporting ignores humanitarian issues that do not contribute to a preconceived agenda. The human rights cartel are a grotesque charade, exploiting the compassion of a naive public - these seemingly benevolent NGOs are in fact industrial behemoths facilitating regime change and promoting corporate interests. Independent journalist Cory Morningstar writes, “There is an imperative here to understand that these organizations are the key to the behavioural change for the global populace – change sought and heavily financed by foundations. … One could rightly muse that the non-profit industrial complex is the largest army in the world.”
Human rights abuses that do not fit regime-change agendas are irrelevant, no matter how close to home. China’s 2019 report on distressing human rights violations in the US was likely tit-for-tat, but as independent journalist Alan Macleod points out, “China’s damning US Human Rights Report… may be propaganda, but it’s not wrong.” Committee MP Chris Hayes references Australia’s “strong role in settling refugees”, however there is no acknowledgement of recent UN rulings declaring Australia had breached multiple human rights laws in its arbitrary detention of refugees.
‘The Sentry’ is an NGO co-founded by George Clooney. The Sentry’s submission focusses on ‘messaging’ and ‘narratives surrounding sanctions’, including narrative management in the country imposing the sanctions (which in this case would be Australia).
The Sentry purportedly fights war profiteering, however its parent organisation, the Enough Project, was founded by the Center for American Progress (CAP). A 2013 investigation by Ken Silverstein revealed that CAP “takes money from corporate donors without disclosing it” and “sometimes acts as an undisclosed lobbyist for its donors.” Undisclosed benefactors of CAP’s Business Alliance, ‘a secret group of corporate donors’, included weapons manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Electric. Author/activist David Swanson says the CAP “has backed most recent wars… It turns out Clooney opposes, not war profiteering in general, but war profiteering while African… 79% of all weapons transfers to poor nations are from the United States.” The Sentry produces reports which Swanson says ignore US-UK contributions to war in African countries, instead advocating for regime change, most recently in South Sudan. Investigative journalist Whitney Webb writes: “the creation of South Sudan at America’s behest was the ultimate result of long-standing U.S. efforts to exploit the decades-old conflict between Sudan’s northern and southern elites in a bid to weaken the Sudanese government, whose growing ties to China and the Soviet Union threatened American access to Sudan’s oil fields as well as American hegemony in Africa.”
South Sudan is rich in natural resources and recently announced it was strengthening cooperation with China to increase oil production. The Sentry’s report infers that a Chinese mining company’s new land permits were responsible for military violence and displacement of thousands of people from the area several weeks later, although tracing back source information documents ongoing conflict between government troops and rebel militia, and does not mention the mining company at all. It appears the Sentry engages in selective reporting, taking opportunistic and reprehensible advantage of instances of human rights abuse to further their own agenda. The Sentry’s report recommends US persons should be prohibited from “conducting business with foreign persons found to be active in key sectors of South Sudan’s economy that the US Treasury Secretary identifies as captured by corrupt regime elites, including the oil and mining industries.” (Emphasis added) CNN reported Clooney & co were “hopeful that governments around the world are going to take [the Sentry’s South Sudan report] and act on it… they have already reached out to the White House about looking at expanding their sanctions regime… they say they’re optimistic that change will happen.”
NGO ‘Safeguard Defenders’ submission includes an attached report, overwhelmingly China-phobic, which instructs how to submit Magnitsky sanction filings. The report says submissions against an entire branch of government (the example referenced is ‘Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau’) are allowed but have not yet happened- in this case sanctions "would affect both the bureau and anyone associated with it. It could also prohibit sales of technology or arms to the bureau”. The report reveals Magnitsky sanctions are deeply political: the "best time to submit your Magnitsky filing may be when relations between the U.S. and the target country is at its most strained… In reality, these Acts often serve as a tool for furthering national interests and you should expect the government to act only when it has determined that it is in its own interests to do so. You will make your submission stronger if you argue that it will help advance the Magnitsky jurisdiction’s interests. You would need to bring in its wider objectives and not simply reflect its stated principles of promoting and upholding human rights.” The report warns that any “friendship groups” within parliaments are ‘probably pro-CCP'.
Inquiry witnesses lament the alleged failure of the UN Human Rights Council, which is “not exercising the roles and responsibilities it should…” The International Criminal Court is supposedly “blackballed” or ‘disdained’ by Russia, the US and China. Magnitsky sanctions are recommended as a workaround of these international organisations, “a kind of plan B for the global justice movement.” No-one acknowledges the danger of delegitimising international courts charged with investigating and prosecuting the gravest crimes against humanity.
Magnitsky proponents are ganging up - Australia is expected to join in. Clooney says, “We have a retreat of democracies, and so it's left for countries like Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, the US and the like to act in concert… to create an effective critical mass of countries that will be bringing about a measure of justice… [Australia] can form part of a coalition of the committed, working with other leading governments that are determined to make progress on human rights and act together to create accountability for abuse.” As Committee MP Chris Hayes points out, the US runs the international financial system: sanctions leveraged “without the support of the Americans and their banking system… would be symbolic, at its height, wouldn't it…”
Targeted sanctions negatively impact human rights and humanitarian work. This information is ignored or deflected in hearings- because it is irrelevant to the Inquiry’s pretence of evidence gathering and obstructs the obvious intent to subversively control the narrative and manufacture consensus, ushering in the ‘plan B’ of Magnitsky sanctioneers - the weaponisation of human rights.
The COVID-19 outbreak has unmasked the narrative managers of the Western propaganda machine. Social media platforms can no longer claim they are benign, apolitical infrastructure. We are witnessing sweeping censorship and demonetisation of COVID-19 content deemed “fake news” by these self-appointed editors of the world. Big Tech is flexing its unsurpassed power to control free thought and silence dissent.
Social media platforms openly collude with governments, intelligence agencies and powerful vested interests. Cleverly, the premise of fighting “fake news” is an effective cover for a far more subtle and insidious motive—the control of public opinion at scale. Behavioural research psychologist Dr Robert Epstein argues that far more dangerous variants of “fake news” are unseen influences. Dr Epstein’s research exposes algorithmic manipulation and bias by Google and Facebook, “which are entirely invisible to most people and which are unprecedented in human history. ... These types of influence are nothing like billboards or fake news stories because virtually no one can detect the bias, and when people can’t see sources of influence, they mistakenly conclude they are making up their own minds.”
Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, recently partnered with the Atlantic Council to “monitor for misinformation and foreign interference”. Their joint “Digital Forensic Research Lab” combats “emerging threats” and “disinformation campaigns”. The Atlantic Council receives funding from the US State Department and military, NATO, various foreign governments, multinational corporations and the military-industrial complex.
Adam Johnson, reporting for media watch group FAIR: “Even if one thinks the Atlantic Council can be trusted—and its murderers’ row of spooks, dictators and corporate donors won’t influence its objectivity—at the very least readers should know who’s helping bankroll groups that get to define what the most influential media platform in the history of the world deems ‘fact and fiction’.” Facebook’s disinformation “culling campaigns” act on advice from cybersecurity firm FireEye, which has a strategic partnership with In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s investment arm. Initially, Facebook culled accounts belonging to alleged “coordinated influence operations” from Iran, Russia and Venezuela, but rapidly moved on to purging Western journalists, anti-war activists and independent media accounts, often without warning or explanation.
In response to COVID-19, Facebook announced a network of fact-checkers, who decide what content is flagged “fake news”.1 Facebook’s Australian “fact-checking partners” are the AAP—an Australian media organisation majority owned by Murdoch and Fairfax press;2 and AFP—an international media group heavily subsidised by the French government3 and involved in “CrossCheck”, a fact checking network supported by the Google News Initiative.4
In 2018, Google-owned YouTube announced they would use information sourced from Wikipedia to help viewers verify the trustworthiness of content. This announcement came in spite of numerous revelations of intelligence operatives and corporate actors found to be covertly editing Wikipedia, often with false information. Google has since branched out, committing millions in funding to international “fact-checker” networks.5 These include media outlets with dubious allegiances, including the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post.6 Bezos’s company Amazon has deep financial ties to the CIA. Journalist Norman Solomon noted the value of this working relationship: “The CIA’s zeal to increase its leverage over major American media outlets is longstanding.”7
In their book The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and fellow Google executive Jared Cohen write, “what Lockheed Martin was to the twentieth century, technology and cyber-security companies [like Google] will be to the twenty-first”. Eric Schmidt stepped down as Google’s CEO to immediately become Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defence Innovation Board. In 2016 Schmidt said, “How people get their information, what they believe, what they don’t, is, I think, the project for the next decade….”
Last year, it was revealed that a senior Twitter executive with editorial responsibility for the Middle East was also a part-time officer in the British Army’s psychological warfare unit (article below). This was largely ignored by the mainstream press. In response to COVID-19, Twitter announced it would broaden their definition of harmful content, to now include information that “goes directly against guidance from authoritative sources of global and local public health information”. Twitter says they need to “protect the conversation” and “keep people safe on Twitter”. Twitter is using internal systems and undisclosed “trusted partners” to “proactively monitor content related to COVID-19”, using automated technology to “proactively identify rule-breaking content before it’s reported”.
In 2014, documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed an array of highly sophisticated tools used by international governments, designed to manipulate and influence social media at scale. Big Tech’s zeal to protect us from “fake news” doesn’t apply to State-funded psychological warfare campaigns. Apparently, they’re for our own good.
A 2013 Australian Defence Force publication revealed the ADF’s use of cyber and psychological warfare.8 Disturbingly, as reported by the Guardian’s Philip Dorling, these “newly declassified ADF papers provide no guidance on how efforts to influence and deceive adversaries will not also mislead the Australian public and media”.9
The ADF publication acknowledged “Psychological Operations (PSYOPS)”: “planned activities directed to adversary, friendly and neutral audiences to influence attitudes and behaviour affecting the achievement of political and military objectives”. Influence is directed at shaping the “will” of target audiences: “aimed at all decision makers at any level capable of influencing the situation whether adversary, friendly or uncommitted. This may be achieved by the promotion of identified themes to approved audiences through verbal and non-verbal [messages]. It seeks to predispose, persuade, convince, deter, disrupt, compel or coerce audiences to adopt [or] reinforce a particular course of action….” The ADF’s “information operations” may potentially be aimed at Australian citizens, as targeted audiences can include “domestic players such as the general public and government”. The ADF describes “narrative” as “a compelling story line capable of explaining events convincingly and from which inferences can be drawn”, which “need to be convincing at a local level through the use of logic, emotions and ethics”. (Emphasis added)
In 2019, China-hawk Liberal MP Andrew Hastie said “hybrid and political warfare” was required to fight “authoritarian states that undermine the global order”. Hastie was referring to Russia and China, which he implied threatened the “global peace built by the United States and its allies”. The US-UK-Anglo Saxon alliance as proclaimed guardians of “global peace” is arguable—as former top Australian public servant and diplomat John Menadue observed: “In 1961, President Eisenhower warned Americans about the power of the military and industrial complex.... That incestuous complex including ‘think tanks’ has enormous influence in the US but also around the world. The US is scarcely ever at peace. In part that is due to the responsibilities that US Presidents feel have been imposed upon them but it is also driven by the power of vested defence/military interests throughout the US. War is in the American DNA. We have the same problem….”
Hastie writes, “A powerful narrative, [that] supports our own values ... must be constructed. ... [D]emocracies should develop and establish expertise in hybrid and political warfare ... [requiring skills] for the disruption of rival subversive campaigns, and for the conduct of our own— where necessary.”
“…[We] must build an array of political warfare instruments. This would include cyber, diplomatic, information, and media capabilities. These are important for informing domestic publics about the nature and scale of the challenge, but also for exposing to international publics the activities of authoritarian regimes. These activities include corruption, espionage, fake news, and human rights abuses.” (Emphasis added.) A Member of Australian Parliament openly advocating for political warfare and narrative management, using “media and cyber capabilities” directed towards “informing” the Australian public. Sounds a lot like propaganda: Australian media as a tool of the State.
The danger of Western propaganda lies in its deep currents of subtlety—we don’t believe it’s happening to us. Noam Chomsky’s and Edward Herman’s 1988 Manufacturing Consent details the “systematic propaganda” of Western media and the difficulty of seeing it. “In countries where the levers of power are in the hands of a state bureaucracy, the monopolistic control over the media, often supplemented by official censorship, makes it clear that the media serve the ends of a dominant elite. It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent. This is especially true where the media actively compete, periodically attack and expose corporate and governmental malfeasance, and aggressively portray themselves as spokesmen for free speech and the general community interest. What is not evident (and remains undiscussed in the media) is the limited nature of such critiques, as well as the huge inequality in command of resources, and its effect both on access to a private media system and on its behaviour and performance.”
Censorship under the guise of “fighting fake news” and “keeping us safe” is still censorship. The public is expected to surrender their freedom of opinion and personal responsibility to the safekeeping of paternalistic platforms. The unprecedented power of Big Tech, in willing service of the State apparatus, has weaponised narrative management on an industrial scale. Australians are exposed to manipulation by psychological warfare campaigns conducted by our own government. The right to a dissenting voice, the right to freely access and publish counter-narrative information is the last defence of citizens against the money, might and authority of powerful institutions and the State. Pandemic or not—this must be defended.