When the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) was established at the end of 2012, Wikileaks had already faced a barrage of attacks from both the U.S. and Swedish governments, media outlets and movie studios, former Wikileaks volunteers, and banking and financial services institutions like PayPal, Visa and MasterCard who initiated a financial blockade against Wikileaks in December, 2010. When Julian Assange and John Perry Barlow decided to create the FPF it was in direct response to the blockade which was illegal and eating up most of Wikileaks’ revenue. Surprisingly, after its creation three FPF board members were offered cushy journalism and tech jobs courtesy of Pierre Omidyar whose company, PayPal, was directly involved in the financial blockade. Shockingly, they accepted.
In 2007, journalist Glenn Greenwald once said,
“I think it’s relevant who owns any journalist outlet. The reason for that is obvious. The reason is people who work for companies know who signs their paychecks and know the work they do ought to be pleasing to the people who sign their paychecks…there’s never any mathematic proof or evidence standing alone that can even demonstrate that any journalistic outlet has a particular bias or more of a political purpose all you can do is look at the body of evidence…One piece of evidence is the ideological background of the people who own and fund it.”
And yet, seven years later and after Greenwald partnered with Omidyar, his response to Pando journalist Mark Ames’ report that Omidyar co-invested hundreds of thousands of dollars with USAID, George Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation, and the National Endowment for Democracy into Ukrainian opposition groups involved in the overthrow of the country’s government, revealed that his attitude had inexplicably changed,
“…I was not previously aware that the Omidyar Network donated to this Ukrainian group [Center UA]. That’s because, prior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations..his political views and donations are of no special interest to me…”
In light of the fact that when Greenwald made those statements he was already cashing in paychecks signed by Omidyar his response unfortunately might not come as a shock. But what makes Greenwald’s seemingly apathetic attitude towards his boss’s involvement in foreign coups alarming is the fact that Greenwald sits on the board of the FPF which was established specifically to fight Omidyar and others who initiated the illegal financial blockade against Wikileaks. Last month the FPF’s board made the unanimous decision to cut ties with Wikileaks and cease accepting any and all donations on their behalf.
Besides the obvious questions like when Greenwald deluded himself into believing that Omidyar’s attempts to silence Wikileaks somehow means it won’t happen to him or when he came to the conclusion that Omidyar was above scrutiny, who is this Pierre Omidyar and how did he manage to convince more than one Wikileaks-supporting, FPF board member to turn a blind eye to his activities and their backs on Julian Assange? In order to find a possible answer Omidyar’s political ties, activities, and donations must be examined–the very thing that Greenwald refuses to do.
It was in September, 1995, when Pierre Omidyar, an Iranian businessman and naturalized American citizen who was born in Paris, France, created the online marketplace, eBay, which operates today in over thirty countries. Seven years later and for a cool $1.5 billion he acquired PayPay Holdings, Inc., a company originally created by several members of the “PayPal mafia,” including Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and Elon Musk. You might remember Peter Thiel. His company, Palantir, which was founded in 2004, works closely with the CIA and created this presentation on how to take down Wikileaks right around the time Omidyar used PayPal to cut off donations and freeze Wikileaks’ account. Coincidence? I doubt it.
Two years after purchasing PayPal, Omidyar also established the Omidyar Network which, let’s be honest, was a springboard for him to do what every “do-gooder” billionaire philanthropist likes to do: Tinker with U.S. domestic and foreign affairs even though they’ve never been elected to any office by any American at any time. The Network has given out grants around the world and even donated to GuideStar, I suspect in an effort to keep his shiz as opaque as possible. Additionally, Omidyar has donated to Soros’ Open Society Foundation, Tides Foundation, Electronic Freedom Foundation, and even the Tor Project through the Omidyar Network and other projects. He also funds the FPF and Field of Vision, a media company he and Laura Poitras co-founded in 2013.
White House logs also show that the Omidyar Network had close ties with the Obama administration. He and his wife, and top executives visited the White House more than thirteen times between 2009-2013, including a meeting where Omidyar’s wife met with the Senior Director of the National Security Council and Matthew Bannick, a managing partner at Omidyar Network, met with President Obama, the First Lady, and Peter Rundlet, Deputy Assistant to the President, on three separate occasions. Omidyar and his wife also met with President Obama in his private residence and shortly thereafter, as journalist Paul Bradley Carr pointed out, the Omidyar Network invested in Ukraine’s Center UA, an organization heavily involved in the Kyiv protests and that I mentioned at the start of this post.
Omidyar’s last recorded visit to the White House was in December, 2012, which tells me this may have been more of a Hillary than Obama thing because he also donated $1 million to the Clinton Foundation for their do-gooding in Africa and $55 million to the Clinton Global Initiative. He was considered a top prospect donor for Obama but in this Wikileaks email attachment you can see that Hillary’s campaign also reached out to Omidyar for support. When the Clinton Foundation wanted to build a permanent endowment for the Foundation, Omidyar was on the list of “Endowment Interviewees.” Is it really a surprise then that the U.S. State Department under Hillary’s reign sent a letter to PayPal in 2011 inferring that PayPal should shut down Wikileaks’ account? Is it any wonder that PayPal did? The good news is that Omidyar lost $100,000 by donating to another losing horse, the anti-Trump super PAC NeverTrump. Ouch.
In 2013, Omidyar was busy establishing both the Democracy Fund and First Look Media and no, I have absolutely no idea what the Democracy Fund does minus the fact that its website says the organization is “working to ensure that our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people.” What does that even mean? Sitting on the Fund’s National Advisory Committee are political hobnobbers like Democrat Robin Carnahan who once hosted a $25,000/plate dinner at her home and Juleanna Glover, the lobbyist who worked closely with Bill Browder to push the Magnitsky Act through Congress.
After Omidyar decided he was going to help our political system “withstand new challenges” he pledged to “bankroll a new media website” led by FPF board members Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, and journalist Jeremy Scahill. As Scahill stated in a December 5, 2013 interview with Democracy Now,
“…Glenn, Laura and I were already talking about creating some kind of a news site that we were going to use…and at that sorta moment, I was in Rio discussing this with Glenn and then we get this email, uh, from a mutual friend of Glenn’s and Pierre’s basically saying that Pierre is, you know, working on starting this new news organization and wants to talk to you about possibly contributing.”
I encourage you to continue watching the video because essentially what Scahill says is that Omidyar told them everything they wanted to hear. As for Omidyar’s background, eh, Scahill talked to some people and Omidyar sounds like a great guy and an “effective leader.” Is this real life? And no, you’re not crazy. The Omidyar offer conveniently fell in their laps mere months after Snowden handed over his NSA documents to Greenwald and Poitras in a Hong Kong hotel room.
First Look Media, a subsidiary of Omidyar Network, became the new news network that Scahill boasted about and it promised its audience an adversarial, fearless, and independent approach to journalism. The multi-platform media company not only offered lucrative jobs to Greenwald and Poitras, both of whom accepted, the organization subsequently brought on another FPF board member and the Chief Technology Officer Micah Lee, as well. Hired to protect the Snowden documents among other things, according to a 2014 Mashable article, Lee wasn’t just First Look’s digital bodyguard who got to “peak at the the treasure trove of NSA top secret documents Snowden had turned over.” According to Greenwald, he was “the mastermind” behind their security operations and both Greenwald and Poitras hand picked him for their “dream team.” “He was top of my list,” according to Poitras.
When First Look Media decided to spread their wings with the media venture, The Intercept, the “dream team” joined the project which brings us back to Greenwald’s earlier statements that Omidyar’s political views and donations are of no special interest to him. How fearless, adversarial, and independent of a journalist can you be about the billionaire who literally just handed you multiple media platforms (One Look Media, The Intercept, Field of Vision) and a lucrative salary on a silver platter? The fact that Omidyar suddenly wanted to give these journalists the world— especially after that meeting in Hong Kong—should have given these journalists cause for concern. Greenwald’s statement that none of them investigated Omidyar before co-partnering with him is absurd at best and, under the circumstances, just as irresponsible as Laura Poitras continuing to travel with her source documents knowing full well she was going to be stopped at the border.
Worse, a large majority of Snowden’s documents which I suspect are now under Omidyar’s control have yet to be released to the public. But even if Greenwald and Poitras still maintain stewardship of them the same question remains: Is Omidyar and his connections which are shadier than a JANET jetliner’s preventing them from being released? I wonder, is the suppression of documents considered fierce and adversarial journalism?
Or what about Mark Ames’ report that “In India, the head of Omidyar Network’s operation, Jayant Sinha, concurrently worked for the far-right BJP Party leader Narendra Modi helping him take power in 2014, after which Modi appointed the Omidyar Network partner as his junior finance minister,” and The Intercept failed to cover the story because it directly implicated their boss? Is that considered fearless journalism? Or what about the fact that Sinha served as director in the BJP’s party’s “main policy think tank,” the India Foundation, which coincidentally was founded by the former director of Indian’s Intelligence Bureau?
Of course, The Intercept did cover Modi and his regime’s 2002 atrocities like killing 2,000 people, raping and lighting children on fire, and slaughtering mothers in this article but rather than mention that these horrific events were the reasons why Modi was blacklisted by the U.S. State Department in 2005, that it was the Obama administration that reinstated his visa, or their boss’s ties to Modi, they used the story to undermine President Donald Trump. That, my friends, is political bias and how you lie to your audience.
Folks, I don’t mean to beat a dead horse here but the fact that Greenwald, Poitras, Micah Lee, and Jeremy Scahill refuse to acknowledge any of this borders on a new level of absurdity. And if you think this level of absurdity is bad, there’s always Laura Poitras’ films.
Let’s start with Poitras’ documentary, Citizenfour. According to IMDb and Laura Poitra’s Praxis Films website, the film was produced by Praxis Films, Participant Media, and HBO Documentary Films. Praxis Films is Poitras’ film company while Participant Media, on the other hand, was founded by Jeff Skoll who is also the founder and director of Skoll Global Threat Fund and the the former (and first) president of…wait for it…eBay. But the really fun thing about Participant Media is Diane Weyermann who I mentioned in my previous post.
Weyermann, President of Documentary Film & Television at Participant Media and Poitras’ “dear friend,” previously spent seven years as director of George Soros’ Open Society Institute New York’s arts and culture program. She later launched the Soros Document Fund which was integrated into Sundance’s documentary program in 1996 and renamed the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. Interestingly, the same year that Citizenfour came out the Open Society Institute announced they were donating $5 million to the Sundance institute but I’m sure that’s just a coincendence even though the Sundance Documentary Fund is indeed listed as one of the film’s financers.
David Menschel, listed as a co-producer of the film is also the president of Vital Projects Fund, one of the film’s financiers. The Fund is controlled by Robert Menschel who I mentioned in the first of this series,
“Not familiar with the Menschels? Robert was the Senior Director of Goldman Sachs, the same investment firm that you might remember as an all-time favorite of Hillary Clinton’s. It should come as no surprise then that according to the WashingtonPost, Robert and Joyce supported “all six of the Clintons’ federal races” with donations ranging from $100,000-500,000. As a side note that’s not so side, they’ve also donated to the Freedom of the Press Foundation but who’s keeping count, right?”
In fact, the Robert and Joyce Menschel Family Foundation has been supporting Poitras since she started her film company, Praxis Films in 2002, and financially supported her 2006 documentary, My Country My Country.
Last but not least is the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms which also helped finance the film. Julian Assange mentioned the Ford Foundation in his December, 2017 letter to the Freedom of the Press Foundation,
“The FPF faces criticism for receiving donations on our behalf, but that is its function. If it bows to political pressure it becomes part of the problem it was designed to solve and yet another spurious free speech organization–of which there are plenty. Wikileaks cannot be ‘cycled off’ as political pressure increases or as FPF seeks to embrace establishment foundations such Ford [sic], whose historical relationship with the CIA is well documented. To do so is a betrayal of the FPF’s founding purpose.”
First, I can assure you that Laura Poitras betrayed FPF’s founding purpose by climbing into bed with the Ford Foundation not just on her film, Citizenfour, but on Risk, as well. If you don’t believe Assange then start with a simple google like “Ford Foundation” + “CIA.” Better still, search Wikileaks for “Ford Foundation” and enjoy perusing through the results. For instance, you can find a 2012 email from Melanie Verveer to Hillary Clinton where Verveer noted, “We already have a $20m commitment from the Ford Foundation for you to announce…,” or this one from Wikileaks’ Podesta Emails where Heather Boushey asked John Podesta if he knew of any potential candidates that could fill the role of Director of Inclusive Economics. Of course, this was a candidate search for the Ford Foundation not the Hillary campaign so there’s that.
If vintage is more your style head over to the CIA Reading Room and read through some of the documents they have over there involving the Ford Foundation and former directors of the CIA. What’s interesting is how in the past (and most likely now) it seems the CIA liked to plant agents within the Ford Foundation and other organizations, tactics that the Ford Foundation was not only aware of but participated in.
And remember the Omidyar Network in India? Yeah, Ford was there too. In July, 2015, Ford Foundation President, Darren Walker, sent John Podesta an email thanking him for his “wise counsel and assistance.” Apparently Modi’s government put the Ford Foundation on a watch list for violating the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act but after “cultivating and cajoling Prime Minister Modi’s government” and Podesta’s “assistance,” Walter felt that things were looking up. In fact, Thurgood Marshall Jr., a Ford Foundation trustee, wrote to Podesta, “…I was relieved and pleasantly surprised by the swift positive turn of events…Darren [Walker] identified you as the primary reason for the positive turn” and he noted Podesta’s “pivotal assistance with the Indian Prime Minister.” Of course Marshall had to throw in how much he loves the fact that Ford gives money to the Center for American Progress (a million dollars to be exact), a liberal think tank whose board members include Senator Tom Daschle, John Podesta, Neera Tanden, Susan Sandler, Hansjörg Wyss, and former Bill Clinton advisor, Glen Hutchins.
As for Poitras’ film, Risk, which she not only edited in the United States after she agreed not to and then re-edited so that it now resembles something out of her therapist’s file instead of a documentary on Julian Assange, her website and IMDb list the usual suspects for production and funding: Praxis Films Berlin, Praxis Films, Vital Projects Fund, Sundance (“with support from Open Society Foundation”), and the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms. However, First Look Media and Field of Vision are also listed as producers and funders of the film. Maybe that explains why eleven minutes into the documentary, it states…
“Several financial institutions have blocked online donations, cutting off cash flow to the organization [Wikileaks]”
…and then nowhere before or after that does Poitras tell her audience that the guy who signs her paychecks, who helped produce the film, and who helped fund it, was behind that financial blockade. What an utter and pathetic joke.
There are two more things you should consider when it comes to Pierre Omidyar before I wrap this up: Source burning and whistleblowers. If you weren’t aware, as of today The Intercept has burned not one, but two sources: CIA whistleblowers John Kiriakou and Reality Winner. According to Kirakou, Matthew Cole, a journalist at Omidyar’s The Intercept not only misled him but played a “likely role in incriminating him” after which Kiriakou was arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced to prison for exposing the CIA’s torture program. Then there’s Reality Winner. After receiving documents from her a reporter at The Intercept actually sent them to the CIA for verification. Yes, that really happened. Because they’re idiots…or in bed with the CIA. Or both. Bottom line is that if you’re a source and Wikileaks’ submission system isn’t first on your list you should rethink your strategy. Unless orange is your new black, never send anything to The Intercept. Like, ever.
As for whistleblower and leakers in general, take a look at this tweet sent out by Pierre Omidyar in 2009.
And now the guy has Poitras, Greenwald, Lee, and Scahill on his payroll? Come on. We’re suppose to believe that Omidyar did some sort of about face shortly (and miraculously) after Snowden handed Poitras and Greenwald NSA documents? As they say, a leopard never changes its spots so it goes without saying that The Intercept and Field of Vision could function more or less as a CIA front and a honeypot. But that seems a little crazy, doesn’t it? Perhaps almost as crazy as thinking that the December 18, 2017 break-in and attempted robbery that occurred at the office of Julian Assange’s attorney, Baltasar Garzón, was a direct response to Assange’s posting his letter to the FPF a mere two days before the break in occurred. Or maybe it’s not so crazy.
As for the rest of the Freedom of the Press Foundation board members there’s John Perry Barlow who co-founded both the FPF and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) where three other FPF board members have worked: Micah Lee, Rainey Reitman, and Trevor Timm. As for funding, the EFF has received money from the Open Society Institute and it appears they also partner with the Ford Foundation so that’s good news. John Cusack is also on the board and no, I didn’t research him. Like, at all. The same goes for Rainey Reitman and Trevor Timm. That leaves us with Daniel Ellsberg (Pentagon Papers) and Edward Snowden and the only thing I’ll say about them is that it’s disappointing they not only voted against Wikileaks but have remained silent on Micah Lee’s unprofessional behavior and defamatory remarks on Twitter.
I mean, how is this even acceptable? Recently @AnonScan posted an article about Snowden who was quoted as saying, “I don’t pass judgment on whether Wikileaks did the right thing or the wrong thing, because I think this kind of experimentation is important. We need to challenge the orthodoxy,” which is great and all but the fact that he and other board members tolerate Lee’s behavior is inexplicable. In simpler terms, this is a group of people who have no problem standing up to the Intelligence community and the U.S. government as a whole but then seem unable to tell Micah Lee to pack his things because he gets off on defaming Julian Assange on Twitter and has made a mockery of the FPF. Something is obviously amiss here.
So what was it that made the FPF board unamiously vote to stop accepting Wikileaks donations? Was it really about that lack of evidence showing Wikileaks is free and clear of any sort of financial blockade? And even if there isn’t a blockade right now history shows that Julian Assange, Wikileaks, and its staff have faced a litany of attacks over the course of the last eight years so who’s to say a financial blockade won’t happen tomorrow? The first two sentences on the FPF’s website state,
“Freedom of the Press Foundation protects and defends adversarial journalism in the 21st century. We use crowdfunding, digital security, and internet advocacy to support journalists and whistleblowers worldwide.”
And yet now the FPF is doing nothing to support Wikileaks minus Micah Lee’s very public and defamatory statements about Julian Assange which obviously isn’t helpful. Does the FPF need Julian Assange to be a bit more “fearless” and “adversarial” like Greenwald and Poitras are towards Omidyar in order for them to support him? And how did Omidyar convince three board members to join him after he tried to destroy Wikileaks? Was it the money or something else? Whatever the case, the FPF is a hot, untrustworthy mess and it’s probably a good thing that Wikileaks is no longer tied up with this organization—at least not until it gets cleaned up.
As you may have learned in the news, Julian Assange has been granted citizenship by Ecuador. What that means for him and his future I’m not entirely sure but it feels like things are moving in the right direction. But even if Julian walks out of the Embassy tomorrow a free man, one day Wikileaks may once again need help protecting its revenue. If that ever happens, let’s hope the board has cleaned up its act because Greenwald’s latest desire for journalists to be judged “by the journalism they produce, not by those who fund the outlets where they do it,” will never entirely happen. Nor should it.
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