"Restrepo, War and The Washington Post: Reflections of a Vociferous Conspiracy Theorist" by Anthony J. Hall

Restrepo, War and The Washington Post:
Reflections of a Vociferous Conspiracy Theorist
by Anthony J. Hall
Professor of Globalization Studies
University of Lethbridge,
Alberta Canada
( Format courtesy of Josh Blakeney @ www.ourowncbc.info
(DOWNLOAD DOCUMENT HERE: ConspiracyTheories3-1.doc)

Real and Imagined Conspiracies

Real and Imagined Conspiracies

In his review in The Washington Post of the war documentary, Restrepo, Philip Kennicott refers to You Tubes where I respond spontaneously to Sebastian Junger’s presentation at the Los Angeles Public Library late last spring.(i) The You Tubes were produced by Jeremy Rothe-Kushel of We Are Change Los Angeles and Joshua Blakeney, Media Coordinator of Globalization Studies at the University of Lethbridge. In these Internet productions I do indeed refer to Junger’s recent spate of print and video media work as “classic propaganda.”(ii) I explain my position that Junger’s work as a so-called embedded journalist with a special forces unit in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan is ultimately more about advancing the interests of war hawks and war profiteers than trying to transcend politics in telling the personal stories of US soldiers.


In seeking to discredit my criticism of the work of Junger and his photographer colleague, Tim Hetherington, Kennicott demeans my intervention as that of “an angry and vociferous conspiracy theorist.” Like most commentators who resort to the hackneyed meme of “conspiracy theorist,” the intent seems to avert honest engagement with the ideas at issue; to shut down rather than advance constructive dialogue. This form of dismissal fails to deal with that fact that some theories highlighting the interactions of groups and individuals turn out to expose actual conspiracies. Of course people acting on their own behalf or on behalf of corporations, governments, financial institutions, armed forces and other organizations conspire from time to time in order to advance convergent or overlapping interests and agendas. To think otherwise is nothing short of absurd.
It has been many decades since two young reporters at The Washington Post, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, were permitted by their employer to investigate their hunch that conspiracies were seething in and around the White House. The result of Woodward’s and Bernstein’s investigative journalism would lead in 1973 and 1974 to the so-called Watergate scandal and the resignation in disgrace of former US President, Richard Nixon. In the atmosphere of aroused controversy churned up by the Watergate revelations, Senator Frank Church headed up a major Congressional investigation looking into possible wrongdoing by federal intelligence and counterintelligence agencies. Among the many revelations of the Church Committee was startling news about the deep involvement of the CIA in doctoring the content of mainstream media venues including The Washington Post.

Hence conspiracy theorists Woodward and Bernstein started off the process which would eventually led to the uncovering of strategic information about the CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, a massive enterprise that secretly put three thousand journalists on the spy agency’s payroll. The assigned work of these paid agents of the national security state included the dark arts of so-called “disinformation and smear.” The Washington Post’s Carl Bernstein was one of those who pursued the story of the CIA’s subversion of a free and democratic press in America. Bernstein’s report on the role of the CIA in controlling the content of print and broadcast news exploded into public attention in an article in Rolling Stone in 1977.(iii)

The impact of Bernstein’s article more than three decades ago was comparable to that generated by the recent Rolling Stone piece by Michael Hastings. The quotes grabbed by Hastings on his busy recording device led within hours of his article’s release to the forced resignation of Stanley McChrystal, the top general in charge of US military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan.(iv) Hastings’ article gives small but important glimpses into the wheeling and dealing that took place around General McChrystal. The kind of stealthy transactions that took place among the entourage of one of America’s most iconographic warriors will almost certainly continue under the watch of General David Petraeus, President Obama’s replacement for Rolling Stone’s surprisingly candid informant.

History offers many clues about the nature of the stealth transactions that have moved so much of the political economy of the ailing superpower from the manufacturing sector to what I describe in my forthcoming book,Earth into Property, as the privatized terror economy. In the 1980s much of Anglo-America’s growing involvement in Eurasia’s illicit drug production, money laundering, pipeline politics, selling of nuclear secrets, as well the training, transport, arming and funding of militant Islamic theocrats was handled through the Pakistani-based Bank Of Credit and Commerce International.(v) The Saudi-financed BCCI operated in 78 countries. This financial venue for some of the covert financial transactions that came to light in the Iran-Contra scandal owned the First American Bank in the United States. Ernst and Young as well as Price Waterhouse did much of BCCI’s global accounting and auditing, helping to make the transition from the old economy of Cold War confrontation to the sponsorship of proxy fighting forces like the mujahideen or the Blackwater private mercenary army that made its transition from the Bush to the Obama phases of the 9/11Wars by changing its name to Xe.(vi)

Like the revelations concerning the exchange of arms for hostages during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the Congressional investigation into BCCI’s operations revealed the nature of the transactions linking the covert workings of the national security state to the more unseemly aspects of America’s bid to incorporate key Eurasian polities more deeply into its imperium. This entire class of topics, however, is not surprisingly placed well outside the visual and literary frames where Junger and Hetherington point their audience’s attention. The personal stories of “our boys” in uniform is thus spun in ways whose effect is to divert attention away from those elements of the conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan that the interests of power have good reason to want to conceal.

In this sense Restrepo and Junger’s book, War, exploit the very soldiers they profess to honor. In a weird kind of way the decision of Junger, Hetherington and their backers to emphasize all-American violence rather than address the corrupting force of twenty-first century empire building presents a kind of Disneyfied version of the AfPak conflict. Or maybe its more accurate to characterize their work as a Foxification of reality, given that Restrepo has been picked up by Rupert Murdoch’s heavily politicized National Geographic Channel. The long and short of it is that the war reporting which is the subject of The Washington Post’s review remains blind to issues like the military and political interventions to secure control of pipeline routes, the proliferation of illegal torture as a central element of this illegal war, and the enormous role of the heroin economy in the political economy of the US-backed puppet regime of Hamid Karzai.

In his zeal to justify the expansion of US military operations into Pakistan, however, Junger does tread very gently into one forbidden subject. He acknowledges that the United States has been directly or indirectly funding both sides in the Afghan civil war. This civil war is based largely on stirring up local ethnic antagonisms between two branches of the mujahideen, the theocratic proxy army built up by the deepening Saudi-US partnership in the final phase of the Cold War. The current civil war in Afghanistan creates the necessary pretext for a military intervention that really has much more to do with asserting US interests vis a vis Russia and China. It has more to do with the geopolitical contest to export oil and gas from the Caspian Basin than with fighting the all-purpose boogeyman of al-Qaeda, an entity first imagined and then set up by the CIA and its partners in the Pakistani intelligence service.(vii)


Ronald Reagan meeting with members of the Mujahideen who have been US proxies since the 1980s under various guises

Meritocracy or Spin Doctoring?

Once public knowledge spread that the workings of Operation Mockingbird showed that leading representatives of print and broadcast media had thrown overboard for money their professional responsibility to report the truth, the journalistic establishment rightfully suffered a huge loss of credibility. To this day nothing substantial has ever been done to demonstrate that the business of reporting the news does not continue to be monitored and sometimes directed by those running the psychological warfare forays crucial to the commercial viability of the military-industrial complex. Hence there is absolutely no reason to believe that the media manipulations from on high are any less pronounced in these times, when many old Cold Warriors have been saved from obsolescence by the so-called Global War on Terror. There is no reason to believe that the services of so-called journalists are any less available for purchase today by the national security state than they were in the era when thousands of reporters are known to have accepted secret federal payments to censor stories, twist stories, black list colleagues, or plant outright disinformation, all in the name of advancing the officially-sanctioned conspiracy theory that a cabal of communist internationalist were about to take over the world unless the capitalist superpower made anti-communism its highest priority.

Indeed, one of the keys to understanding humanity’s current predicament is to appreciate how certain elites cannot maintain their position of dominance without the existence, invention or mythological conjuring up of a sufficiently formidable global enemy seen to be effective enough to justify the continuation of the permanent war economy that began in the United States in 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. What would have been the fate of the military-industrial complex and its directors in the national security state if al-Qaeda had not appeared at just the right moment to keep the operations of the war machine in business with substantially enhanced funding and prestige?

Kristina Borjesson has been one of the most outspoken witnesses of the post-9/11 slide of the mainstream media in the United States into deeper and deeper quagmires of censorship and disinformation, sometimes extending to the black listing of those journalists and academic experts who refuse to subordinate truth to political expediency. Borjesson is an Emmy and Murrow Award winning investigative reporter with a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia University. She ran into trouble with her employer, CBS, in 1996 when she refused to back away from the sequence of evidence she was following that pointed to the shooting down of TWA Flight 800 by a missile. As part of her research Borjesson became the custodian of an item that the FBI sought to apprehend from her with the agreement of CBS. The investigative journalist lost her job when she resisted this intervention whose intent, she had cause to believe, was to cover up the truth of what had caused Flight 800 to plunge into the Atlantic. Rather than allow herself and her profession to be demeaned in this way, Borjesson became a whistle blower who has continued to deconstruct and expose “the myth of a free press.” Her experiences have taught her that intervention from on high is often “subtle and quiet” rather than “loud and crass.” That way, she continues, the media executives “avoid lawsuits and mask as much as possible the fact that they’re buckling to pressure and self-censoring.”

Borjesson was far from alone among her colleagues in reaching the conclusion that all the available evidence pointed to the finding that Flight 800 was downed by a projectile fired from somewhere around the east coast of New England. This experience led to other encounters with media gatekeepers intent on keeping certain types of stories from being accurately reported. Borjesson collected articles and conducted interviews with dozens of other professional journalists, many of whom who have faced various forms of pressures and penalties in the contest between the imperative of truth in reporting and top-down exercises of censoring authority. The result was two rich volumes that first appeared in 2004 and 2005. Among her literary subjects, interviewees and contributors were Dan Rather, Ted Koppel, Paul Krugman, Juan Cole, Anthony Shadid, Chris Hedges, Gerald Colby, John Kelly, and Ashley Banfield.(viii)

Borjesson includes in Into the Buzzsaw novelist and journalist Philip Weiss’s essay, “When Black Becomes White.” In this informative commentary Weiss describes a decline from an era that he remembers as a time when reporters were still allowed some measure of independence in deciding the content of their stories. That was before news rooms “began to look more like insurance offices,” before editors and assignment chiefs became “afraid of deep controversy.” Referring to the changes since the days when two cub reporters at The Washington Post set in motion the Watergate scandal, Weiss concludes, “The corporate media are just too big, and dependent on too many backers, their editors too answerable to business executives, and their reports too integrated into the economy, for them to be able to go out on a wing and a prayer, as Woodward and Bernstein did initially (they had nothing hard, they had some hard questions), and investigate the legitimacy of the powers-that-be.” Weiss adds, “The media came to understand, in an unspoken and instinctual way (as opposed to policy that anyone had to spell out), that certain types of stories are dangerous even to talk about, stories that suggested our leaders were not telling the truth about important questions.”(ix)

It would be fair to say that the recent literary and film work done by Junger has received perhaps a hundred times more attention in mainstream media venues in just the last month than have the revelations of Borjesson and her peer group during half a decade. Is this contrast just the reflection of a lively meritocracy or is something more insidious at work here. Is Junger being set up for exploitation in much the same way that I believe he exploits his subjects in Restrepo and War? I think it is common sense that the big media conglomerates have latched onto War and Restrepo because these products provide them with an easy way to cover the escalating US invasion of Afghanistan and Pakistan without having to look too closely at the many aspects of this dubious military enterprise that really cannot sustain close scrutiny.

In choosing, for instance, between the substantial and honest work of Borjesson and what I see as the ephemeral, specious and war-promoting offerings of Junger, its hardly surprising what the owners and managers of the media conglomerates decided. Why would the media gatekeepers want to allow a focus in their news reporting or in whatever is left of their book review sections to highlight the huge ailments of their industry and how this malaise undermines the health of the body politic. Once the real professionals like Kristina Borjesson have been swept from the most responsible jobs of news reporting and documentary making in the United States, somebody has to fill the vacuum. Enter the handsome New Age war correspondent Sebastian Junger, who introduced himself as a “left-wing” commentator on NBC’s Meet the Press on June 27.”(x) Is Junger the new point man charged with the task of rebranding the 9/11 Wars to make the troop build up in AfPak more acceptable to the core demographic that elected President Barack Obama? Will those who see themselves as the sensible moderates of the Democratic Party accept President Obama’s servitude to chain of command governing the increasingly privatized terror economy? Will they fall for the hoax embodied by the Jungerian model of “left-wing” complicity in military aggression, covert regime change, illegal torture and the continuing sabotaging of civil liberties at home?

It is instructive to look at the coverage devoted to Junger and his productions in just The Washington Post in recent weeks. Philip Kennicott’s review of Restrepo is just the latest in a stream of Post publicity. On May 23 The WP published an interview with Junger by Manuel Roig-Franzia. The Internet version of the publication includes a web rendition of the war correspondent’s Schwartzenegger-like visage by artist Patterson Clark. The WP editors tell us in the explanatory text that Clark used the “Brushes app” of the new iPad to do the New Media portrait.(xi)

On May 9 Philip Caputo led off The Washington Post’s laudatory commentary by reviewing Junger’s new book. Caputo tried to rise to the occasion of helping to introduce the text of his media conglomerate’s new featured interpreter of America’s role in Afghanistan. “Thank God,” Caputo wrote, that Junger’s book is “as free of literary posturing as it is of war correspondent chest thumping.” Junger is said to be “a 21st century battle singer, narrating the deeds and misdeeds of his heroes while explaining what makes them do what they do.” (xii)

A striking contrast to the praise heaped on Junger by the likes of Caputo and a hundred other handlers with good jobs in the big media conglomerates is the scathing review by Sargeant Lewis Manalo on a web site entitled Publishing Perspectives. Sargeant Manalo explains that in 2003 and 2004 he served his country as a “sapper” in eastern Afghanistan, sweeping large swaths of territory for land mines and blowing up the weapons caches of opposing forces. As he sees it, “Sebastian Junger, War Tourist, has war wrong in a way that’s offensive to soldiers and that will further encourage their discrimination in later life.” Junger’s analysis is said to be “superficial and unsophisticated.” The war correspondent’s longest period in the field was “a mere month.” Junger is characterized as being “patronizing,” full of “prejudices that make him narrow minded,” and a study in “bad reporting and worst logic.” He treats war as a “glorious thing” and his depictions of battle are steeped in “jingoistic thrill.” The veteran of the Afghanistan conflict wonders why Junger made no attempt to develop his profiles of the soldiers with whom he was embedded by interviewing their parents, girlfriends or wives. Sargeant Manalo concludes, “We’re supposed to take him seriously in defiance of common sense.”(xiii)

Like Christopher Hitchens, Junger seems to claim that he is promoting heightened military intervention by US troops in Eurasia from a supposedly “left-wing” perspective. With this as his pretext, the war correspondent has included in his whirlwind promotional tour some stints on so-called alternative radio. He was a guest, for instance, on Ian Masters Daily Briefing show on KPFK in Los Angeles. (xiv) KPFK is part of the Pacifica network, the vehicle that gave birth to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now. The fact that Junger was able to move so easily from mainstream media venues to venues that have historically been the mainstay of the peace movement symbolizes for some how far Pacifica has veered from its original mission to provide openings for voices of change that might not otherwise make into onto the airwaves.

Junger’s warm embrace by a fawning Ian Masters embodied harsh proof for some of how profoundly the left has been eviscerated, betrayed and infiltrated at a time when the paradoxes of the Obama administration are becoming concurrently more clear and problematic. This paradox arises because many on the left believed that they were voting in 2008 for a candidate that would wind down the enormous Pentagon budget rather than continue to increase it with assurances from the likes of Sebastian Junger that the ritual of war is good for things like making men of boys.

The Deeper Meanings of Ahmad Shah Massoud’s Assassination

Ahmad Shah Massoud was the leader of the Northern Alliance until his assassination on September 9, 2001

Sebastian Junger seems to have his own conspiracy theory about the events of 9/11. He has alluded to the failure of the administration of President George W. Bush to respond to all the warnings that something cataclysmic was in the works in the months leading up to the events of September 11, 2001. The instant identification without any formal investigation whatsoever of the evidence at the crime scenes created the basic story line to justify the immediate military intervention in Afghanistan and the subsequent military invasion of Iraq.

Junger outlined his theory in 2002 in a speech he delivered at the University of California in Santa Barbara.(xv) In it he devoted considerable time, as he did the night I saw him perform at the Los Angeles Public Library, to celebrating the life and bemoaning the death of Ahmed Shah Massoud. A warrior prince of Tajik ancestry who is afforded considerable credit for expelling Soviet forces and overturning the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, in the late 1990s Massoud led a military alliance of anti-Taliban forces sometimes known as the Northern Alliance. As he outlined in 2002, Junger spent considerable time with Massoud in 2000, a period when the martyred leader traveled to Paris to carry a warning about an impending disaster for the West that would emanate from his largely Pashtun enemies that formed the main ethnic base of the Taliban government of Afghanistan.(xvi)

Referring to the events of 9/11 Junger editorialized, “There was a helluva of lot of people in the world that knew something was coming. Its really extraordinary. Its not talked about that much, I think because its extraordinary who didn’t know.” Junger then pauses and laughs, asking the audience if “you guys get it?” From this comment it seems to me that Junger was straying from the orthodoxy of the Bush regime, whose spokesmen regularly explained the events of 9/11 as an outgrowth of a complex series of mistakes, including a breakdown in the workings of the US intelligence. Is Junger was putting himself in the camp of those that believe the Bush government let 9/11 happen?

Try as the propagandists for aggressive war might to avoid the subject, there is simply no way to discuss intelligently the way ahead in Afghanistan without addressing the huge unanswered questions about what really happened on that fateful day when three World Trade Centres were pulverized after two of them were struck by passenger airplanes. Junger surmises that the assassination of Massoud on September 9, 2001 was connected to the events of 9/11 through al-Qaeda. My view of the most likely scenario is that those behind Massoud’s killing did not want a really effective Afghan leader of the Northern Alliance to direct the anti-Taliban charge on Kabul that was already planned well before the three towers were pulverized into masses of toxic, cancer-inducing dust. Without Massoud to provide authentic indigenous leadership for the Afghanis, including through collaboration with his allies and ethnic cousins in Iran, the US invaders could more easily set up a full-fledged puppet government that could be made to conform more readily to foreign agendas for pipeline development with attending military bases in this historic cross-roads of Eurasia.(xvii)


No less than Sebastian Junger’s conspiracy theory, my thesis about Masood’s assassination flows from speculative interpretation of an incomplete base of evidence. And just as most of us have no way of knowing what we should be able to know about the killing of Masoud, media and government cover up deprives the world’s citizens of what we need to know about the realities behind the official pretext for the 9/11 Wars.

Enough is enough! Many of us are no longer willing to accept being fed poisonous lies by media spin doctors who serve up a completely implausible conspiracy theory about the events that led the armed forces of my country, Canada, to join the United States in invading Afghanistan supposedly to track down a supposedly rogue CIA asset named Osama bin Laden.



[i] Philip Kennicott, In Restrepo, the Afghan Wars Brutality is Viewed Through the Soldiers Scope,Washington Post, 27 June, 2010, at





[iii] Carl Bernstein, The CIA and the Media, Rolling Stone Magazine, 20 October, 1977;
See Hugh Wilford, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008)

[iv] Michael Hastings, The Runaway General,Rolling Stone, 8-22 July, 2010, at


[v] "The BCCI Affair", Report to the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Senator John Kerry and Senator Hank Brown, 1992, 102nd Congress 2nd Session Senate Print 102-140 (Kerry Report); Lucy Komisar, "BCCI's Double Game: Banking on America, Banking on Jihad," in A Game As Old As Empire (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2007)

[vi] Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004); Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the Worlds Most Powerful Mercenary Army (New York: Nation Books, 2007)

[vii] See, for instance, the BBCs documentary, The Power of Nightmares starting at


[viii] Into The Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Kristina Borjesson, ed. (Amherst N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2004); Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11, Top Journalists Speak Out (Amherst N.Y.: PrometheusBooks, 2005)

[ix] Philip Weiss, When Black Becomes White, in Into the Buzzsaw, 364-65, 368-69

[x] NBCs Meet The Press, 27 June, 2010, at


[xi] Battlefield Truth Reverberates Through Jungers Latest Work, War, Manuel Roig-Franzia interviews Sebastian Junger, The Washington Post, 23 May, 2010 at


[xii]Philip Caputo, Sebastian JungersWar, The Washington Post, 9 May, 2010, at


[xiii]Lewis Manalo, Sebastian Junger, War Tourist, Publishing Perspectives, 7 May, 2010, at

[xiv] Here is the link for downloading the KPFK Ian Masters program, Daily Briefing from Wednesday, June 23, 2010,

Scroll to the 13:30 minute mark for the beginning of the interview of Sebastian Junger.

[xv] An Afternoon with Sebastian Junger, University of California at Santa Barbara, 2002,


[xvi] Sebastian Junger,Massouds Last Conquest, Vanity Fair, February 2002 at


[xvii] Paul Wolf, The Assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, Global Research.ca, 14 September 2003 at


 Professor Hall’s Earth into Property: Colonization, Decolonization, and Capitalism will appear in September. Earth into Property, a 1000 page peer-reviewed text, is the second volume in a larger project entitled The Bowl with One Spoon. The paperback version of the first volume of The Bowl project appeared in 2005. It is entitled The American Empire and the Fourth World. Both texts are published by McGill-Queen’s University Press. Professor Hall can be reached at raprockprof2@gmail.com.