For the past months, I have hosted a show called “This Week in WikiLeaks,” where I bring a guest on to talk about a WikiLeaks-related story or to talk about the latest news and updates on WikiLeaks, an organization that provides a lens for understanding so much about how the press, policy and politics, the national security state, etc. Sometimes, I don’t have guests on that are part of the WikiLeaks story. Sometimes they simply provide greater context for understanding the US government reaction to WikiLeaks and the many players that are part of the story.
This week the podcast welcomes Rania Khalek, a blogger and independent journalist who writes for AlterNet. Khalek published two major WikiLeaks stories that garnered a lot of attention—”5 WikiLeaks Hits of 2011 That are Turning the World on Its Head—And That the Media are Ignoring” and “5 WikiLeaks Revelations Exposing the Rapidly Growing Corporatism Dominating American Diplomacy Abroad.” She’s recently been writing about the militarization of police and the ever-expanding surveillance state in America. [*Follow her on Twitter at @rania_ak.]
For the podcast, we discuss why she thinks the media is ignoring WikiLeaks and the significance of the “WikiLeaks phenomenon.” Late in the episode, we discuss the “non-lethal” weaponry law enforcement now has to use to do crowd control at protests and what this means for US citizens who think this country needs a “Tahrir moment.”
To listen to the episode, go here or click on the player below. You can also download it off of iTunes by searching for “This Week in WikiLeaks” or clicking on the arrow icon next to this week’s episode that says “Download” on this page.
Here is a partial transcript of my conversation with Rania Khalek.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: I would like to begin our conversation by asking you how you began to write about WikiLeaks and maybe you can talk generally about the few posts that you have put together on WikiLeaks.
RANIA KHALEK: A couple months ago I put together a couple articles. The first one I put together was about revelations of WikiLeaks that I thought the media had ignored. The reason I wrote about was, after the Iraq War Logswhich did get a good amount of attention. People were aware that information did get leaked on Iraq. But after that everything WikiLeaks had begun to release afterwards the media ignored. It was ignored throughout the mainstream and there were a lot of important revelations that I thought demanded some attention. So, I put together this list of the top five that I thought didn’t get enough attention and that I thought were the top and most amazing of them.
The piece I wrote (I ended up writing it for AlterNet) generated a lot of interest. It seemed like people were craving information about WikiLeaks and what was happening in general. So, then I picked up on this theme reading through documents of the US government constantly working with or at the behest of multinational corporations to try and sway governments or intervene in sovereign countries around the world to get the way of the corporation. It was a really interesting theme because it was all over the world in Europe and there was a lot in South America. I wrote specifically about mining in Peru. The indigenous people were rising up against abusive mining practices and it was affecting the company’s potential profits. So, the US State Department stepped in on behalf of this company and swayed the government officials in Peru to do what they wanted.
It was just this theme I kept seeing. I thought it warranted a lot of attention. People understand that there’s this concept of this sort of merger between the corporate world and government and I think that the cables really illustrate and illuminate that partnership and how it works around the globe.
GOSZTOLA: Yeah and I think you can see that. I remember that I wrote a story that was related to a coal company called Drummond and they are connected to the possibility of being complicit in the killing of trade unionists as they have worked to preserve their mining operations against organizing of union people in Colombia.
KHALEK: Yes, and I didn’t cover every story. But yeah it is really fascinating. Everyone knows multinational corporations have these special powers. When you read these cables—You’ve probably read every cable. You report on these cables all the time. You’ve seen how deeply embedded corporations are with government officials and just being able to get what they want through the government. And a lot of times it’s the same people, that revolving door going back and forth. It’s really disturbing, twisted and scary.
GOSZTOLA: Now, I’d like to ask you if you have any hypothesis or opinion on why you think we don’t get to see these stories covered in the media?
KHALEK: I think there are a number of reasons. I’m sure a lot of people would agree, who are familiar with the kind of censorship/bias perspectives you get from the mainstream media. I think one of the biggest reasons is the corporate media in the US has really become a mouthpiece for the Defense Department, the Pentagon. It’s next to impossible to really get views into the mainstream media that are critical or really challenge the status quo of the Pentagon or the Defense Department and the military as being always right. I think that’s one of the reasons a lot of the WikiLeaks cables, a lot of the releases from the Iraq War Logs, the Afghanistan War Logs, and so on really shine a light on the workings of Pentagon and the military and the defensive establishment general. That goes against the view the mainstream media always trumpets. People in the mainstream don’t like to report negatively on these officials, especially those in the military.
I also think it is access. A lot of these mainstream reporters and journalists depend on these people for access. If they report on them in a negative light, they’re always scared that they will lose this access. That’s how they get to the positions they have is that they have this access and they have these buddies and friends that they can call up at the Defense Department and get a comment. And I also think a lot of it has to do with—WikiLeaks cables they portray power, the powerful, in a really negative light. The corporate media in the US is owned by the powerful. By reporting on the WIkiLeaks cables you are revealing to the world that the powerful are corrupt. I think these are just a couple of the reasons. But, I don’t think this is a full list.
GOSZTOLA: It’s interesting if I look at, you know, one of your hits is “world leaders are practically lighting a fire under the Arctic.” You’re looking at the Arctic oil rush and what the cables uncover in relation to that. You know, US allies being the leading funders of US terrorism from the Pakistan Papers. Taking those two examples, I am wondering what you have to say about the failure of journalism. I put it in those terms rather than saying journalist are not doing their job because I do think there are a number of journalists out there that would like to get these scoops. These scoops have been really blockbuster. People who have reported and published these stories have gotten enormous attention and whether they follow this all the way to the end and connect the dots, I would think if you were a reporter you would want something like this cause you could make a name for yourself. Do you have any reaction to the fact that we have these ginormous stories that haven’t been reported on up to this point?
KHALEK: I think you’re right when you say it generates a lot of attention. I think people are hungry for this kind of information in general. They want to know. These stories are huge. I don’t want to sound conspiratorial, but some of these stories, when you look at them, it’s almost like there are people sitting in a room around a table just concocting these awful schemes. People are interested in reading and understanding what’s happening and understanding this kind of corruption. I think you are right the establishment press is not a monolith and there are a lot of good—Well, not a lot. There are a number of good reporters and journalists out there but I don’t think they have the editorial power to write and talk about and report about whatever they want to report about. MSNBC’s Cenk Uygur didn’t get fired. He quit because of the kind of editorial control they were trying to put over his head. So I think there’s a lot of that. I think there’s a lot of people at the top, who decide what stories get talked about, what stories get written about. They get to say no I don’t want you to write about this so those reporters who want to write about this stuff don’t get to, I would say. But, I do agree. These stories are huge and they do generate a huge amount of attention. And, they’re really, really important. These are stories that affect so many people, like climate change with the Arctic. I can’t believe that one didn’t get more attention than it did.
GOSZTOLA: As we talk about the revelations from the cables, it seems like one of the discussions that might be had in the election is going to involve suggestions of doing more drilling in the Arctic and that we are actually considering sending more exploratory teams there. And, they’ll actually start to sell it. I think I’ve even heard Secretary of State Clinton discussing it openly now.
KHALEK: …Obama’s opened it up to bidding. I don’t know if that’s completely accurate but I know he’s done something making it more okay to drill there. He’s hinting that he’s okay with it. It’s just insane, with climate change the way it is right now, the idea that we are going into this precious area that were sort of hoping that it melts. These large corporations are waiting for it to melt so they can make lots and lots of money. And, the fact that our government is in cahoots with these corporations and starting a war of words with one another of who gets to drill where—It sounds insane. It sounds like it’s out of a movie.
GOSZTOLA: And, to put one more point to you to comment on, I wonder what you would say because this is all information that was classified. So, as you look at this, it doesn’t probably pass your smell test for information that should be classified and would put our country at risk if it was unveiled, right?
KHALEK: Of course. That’s a great point. One thing that WikiLeaks has shown us is we have a serious secrecy problem in our government. The things that are listed as classified, the things that are given that label, it’s absolutely ridiculous. This is stuff that should be public knowledge.
When you think of classified, it’s supposed to be this will put people’s lives in danger if we let people know about this. It’s like troop movements and various military installments that are supposed to be classified. I mean, a lot of these stories are just pure gossip. It’s ludicrous that they’ve been labeled classified. Other stories I would think are classified because as the leaks have shown they can be really, really embarrassing if they get out. It just shows government dealings in the worst light possible. I think it really does shed light on this overclassification problem we have and this broader theme of our government, the US government specifically—Everything is a secret. We don’t know anything our government is doing. And that’s one of the reasons WikiLeaks exists. It’s because governments hide so much. That’s one of the purposes to show the public what its government is doing in their name.
GOSZTOLA: You’ve been doing a lot of other work on the side that I think in the context of WikiLeaks is definitely important because I see the WikiLeaks organization pushing back on all of these things. Because, I think the trends that you’re uncovering are trends that would not take place in a society that had open government and was more transparent. I can’t see many societies accepting it. So, to come out and more specifically introduce the work that you’ve been doing, you’ve been looking at the militarization of police. And, you’ve been looking at the ever-expanding surveillance society that is in the United States here. I’ll let you begin and talk about what you’ve been highlighting.
KHALEK: Before I wrote about WikiLeaks, one of the things I did write about most was the economy. Writing about WikiLeaks got me to pick up this civil liberties/militarization beat because it’s just sort of this broader theme that’s really outrageous. It’s all connected in a sense that the existence of WikiLeaks and leaking all this information that shouldn’t be classified in the first place just shows that we have a secrecy problem. But it’s also like you said that the stuff that I have been writing about wouldn’t be able to happen in an open society.
So, one thing I have been writing about is the militarization of US police forces. This is a really disturbing trend. It’s something that nobody really notices anymore because it’s become normalized to sort of have these police that are armed to teeth. When you look around, it’s not healthy that we have these SWAT raids that take place regularly. It’s something like 40,000 SWAT raids here. These SWAT teams are like paramilitary units that serve search warrants. We are sending these paramilitary units armed to the teeth that literally look like soldiers 40,000 times a year to go search people’s homes, usually for drug-related narcotics warrants.
To listen to the full episode with Rania Khalek, click here.