"Restrepo, War and The Washington Post: Reflections of a Vociferous Conspiracy Theorist" by Anthony J. Hall
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.
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)
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 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)
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?
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.
Ahmad Shah Massoud was the leader of the Northern Alliance until his assassination on September 9, 2001
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