Edit High #5: How to Spot Fake Official News About Official Fake News
It all begins and ends with the BBC. Always.
I grew up in the African bush. There were no tarred roads, electric lights, or telephones in the Ezulwini Valley in 1962 in the British Protectorate of Swaziland, now (after 50 years of independence) renamed the Kingdom of Eswatini. Our main source of news was a Philips shortwave receiver, a very ordinary household item of the day, but which at night flooded our farmhouse with signals from Tashkent to Honolulu, from Moscow to Rio.
We were in exile from South Africa, my parents were banned ex-Communists, thrown out of the Party for not toeing the Stalinist line. John F Kennedy was the President of the United States, and the Voice of America broadcast its news in what they called “Special English”, which was real slow and with a limited vocabulary for the folk in Africa to understand, it drove my old man nuts.
“Here .. is .. the .. news, read .. to .. you .. in .. Special .. English.”
I see they’re still at it:
Actually, in this era of the high-speed manically gabbled and garbled sound bite, it’s got a certain charm to it. I must be going soft.
We heard some English kids interviewed on the BBC, asking their opinions of Prime Minister Harold Wilson. “I don’t like him”, said one. “He’s got shifty eyes.” And forevermore in our house, whenever Wilson’s name was mentioned, we would chorus: “Shifty Eyes”. Go and watch the documentaries about the coup attempt in the UK to overthrow Harold Wilson. The army was ready to roll and Lord Mountbatten was going to declare himself Interim King. The poisonous aura around Wilson really was quite extraordinary. We were right. He had shifty eyes.
We heard Peking Petronella (the shrill news reader) denouncing the Running Dogs of both Western Imperialism and Soviet Revisionism. “Running dog” was just the worst possible insult in Chinese. Radio Moscow was an endless propaganda delight, with my father decoding the Soviet jargon and logic. The most impeccable English often came over All India Radio, with the most opaque words.
Astonishingly, though, almost every night we would religiously tune into the news from Radio Vatican, broadcast from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The sole reason for this was to hear the signature tune, the Elizabethan Serenade:
Now there’s a one-hit wonder that continues to amaze me, Ronald Binge never composed anything like that again.
The Radio Vatican news was always followed by a “feature”, often on quite esoteric Catholic issues, so I had a good background in Jesuit casuistry and sophistry as well. And you could not fault their choice in music. At age six, I could play that whole tune on the harmonica and I still can and often do.
When you hear all those voices banging up against each other on the crowded dial, through the static from the tropical storms, and fading as the world turns … you learn very quickly, everyone is spinning something. And yet, it was all so much more honest back then. I listen to VOA these days, they carry the news on Radio Eswatini at 9 am and 9 pm every weekday. The bulletin always begins the same way, in a very shocked voice: “President Donald Trump…” — they still can’t believe it, at VOA. And they just can’t hide their disbelief. Each of the President’s doings is reported with such horror. I don’t know how the snowflakes at the State Department cope, I worry about them. Honestly, I’ve never heard such consistently and clearly and openly distressed newsreaders.
You know how all the mainstream media tripped over themselves to report on this recent story of Catholic kids in Donald Trump caps who insulted a Native American. That was breathlessly reported on VOA right away, how these terrible kids were jeering and shouting pro-Trump slogans, this was the very first I heard of this incident. I never heard them mention it again, when the story got messy.
I kept wondering if those VOA newsreaders were going to get their jobs cut during the shutdown. I’m just saying: the discourse is just all so much snakier these days than it used to be.
And it all begins and ends with the BBC. I can’t find the book right now, but there’s a really telling story in Robert Behr’s The Devil We Know, about Iran, it’s a real must-read, believe me, you can’t understand the contemporary world until you’ve read this book. He describes the incredible tangle of intrigue and plotting and deception and subterfuge that constitutes Persian politics. Nothing of substance happens in the light. Everything happens in the shadows. There was a serious coup attempt against the Supreme Leader, I think this was Ayatollah Khamenei, at one stage. He retired to his room to see what was going to happen, no one really knew what was going on. You would think he had all kinds of emissaries and spies bringing him information. Not a bit of it. He just tuned into the BBC and waited to hear what the outcome was. Whoever was getting their throats slit, the Brits would know. How they know, you don’t want to know.
The first international broadcasters were the Dutch, followed by the British and the Russians. And to a very large extent, the Great Game — that vast battle between British and Russian intelligence — still dominates the media landscape today, if you look carefully. The biggest expulsion of diplomats we’ve seen in decades, of Russian envoys kicked out of all kinds of countries, was all orchestrated by the UK media around totally fake incidents: the Skripal poisoning (not a single scrap of credible evidence linking it with Russia) and a very suspect “chemical attack” in Syria (ditto).
Read The Great Game, the autobiography of Leopold Trepper, whom I regard as the greatest spy of all time, if you really want to understand this Great Game they always talk about. As head of the Red Orchestra spy network, he managed to get all the German military plans to take Moscow into the hands of the Soviets before even the Germans at the front had them (he had recruited the German High Command’s stenographer). When he was finally caught and confined to a cell, Trepper had the Gestapo chief Heinrich Muller chasing all over Germany to find him genuine intelligence he could feed back to Moscow, to maintain the pretence that he hadn’t been captured. He managed to escape and took part in the liberation of Paris, revolver in hand. He found that the KGB cell that Stalin stuck him in for ten years, when he finally got back to the USSR, was far worse than the Gestapo version.
In the old days, there really was something called “intelligence”. You tried to find out what the other bastards were doing. I wrote a little essay on intelligence elsewhere on Medium, comparing the work of a newspaper subeditor with that of an intelligence analyst. Again, this really applies to the good old days. These days, you go out and you create the intelligence you want, you manufacture the evidence of weapons of mass destruction and chemical attacks. And then you have to believe your own lies, this is the cardinal rule of modern Western intelligence. Every newsreader on every mainstream channel not just reads the news, but really really really believes it. Especially when it involves the Russians.
The Russians, as I’ve pointed out, would never, ever, be so dumb as to believe their own propaganda. And they watch the West doing this with absolute amazement. Watch Russian Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova saying “American stupidity is worse than terrorism”, if you want to see a fine and feisty example:
Okay, I am now going to give you some insight from a real intelligence operative, in fact a true British 007 agent. This is Mr Barrie Trower, who was a secret agent and scientific officer investigating microwave warfare in the 1960s and ’70s. We brought him to South Africa and Botswana in 2010, I travelled with him for a week, and I can assure you he is the real deal. He told us about anti-terrorist missions he was sent on, armed with a large revolver and instructions on which terrorist to take out, if and when. A bullet in the head and a bullet in the heart, were his instructions. I wondered if this was where the “double-O” legend really came from.
Mr Trower now travels the world, trying to warn people about the dangers of microwave radiation and 5G in particular. This whole presentation is worth watching, but he makes a very interesting comment from 1:56:13. He’s talking about the BBC getting league with Google to launch global microwave media platforms, and this is why you won’t hear about the health risks of 5G over the BBC.
He then adds that he has done hundreds of TV and radio interviews all over the world, and in each case, signs a release allowing use of what he’s said.
In all those years, the only time the editing has been deliberately wrong — when I watched the programme, and I said, “I didn’t say that, like that, those are not my words”— it was Countryfile, John Craven … and it’s the only time that my editing has been deliberately not true, and that’s with the BBC.
And that is a bit of intelligence from a real intelligence insider. You either know the BBC is the first and last word in fake news or you don’t. Remember, it was the BBC that announced prematurely that Building 7 had come down on September 11, 2001. This is one of the real media smoking guns of that day of infamy. I’ve tried to see if this story has ever been “debunked”. The BBC says, in one and the same paragraph, that
Our reporter Jane Standley … has the events seared on her mind … unsurprisingly, she doesn’t remember minute-by-minute what she said or did — like everybody else that day she was trying to make sense of what she was seeing; what she was being told; and what was being told to her by colleagues in London who were monitoring feeds and wires services.
In all that hurly-burly, it’s not so surprising that someone got the timeline muddled and fed her the information about Building 7’s collapse 20 minutes early. The unfortunate fact that the building was still standing and clearly visible behind her left shoulder was just a continuity error, nothing to worry about.
In the old days, the Chinese had one stalwart ally against the Soviet Union on the shortwaves. This was Radio Tirana, in Albania, which carried the Albanian version of the Running Dogs diatribe, especially against Soviet Revisionism. The Chinese must have given them a big transmitter, because tiny Albania had a huge sound on the shortwaves. And all night, the Russians would jam them, with a transmitter I called the concrete-mixer, an enormous clatter and rumble across the frequency, obliterating everything in its path. This used to splatter through into the radio amateur 40-metre band, where I was often hunting out faint signals in Morse code. And then the Albanians would shift frequency, right on top of where I was listening. And a few seconds later, the Soviet jammer would follow them. And they would play cat and mouse all night.
You could hear when the Russian operator took a smoke break, the Albanians would shift frequency and remain unmolested for up to three whole minutes, before the din followed them down the band.
Those were the honest days of the international discourse. I miss them.