Monday, March 25, 2013


Greg Palast

In 2000, Aaron Swartz had just released his astonishing invention, RSS, to ease the flow of information and news around the internet. Around the same time, one of Piers Morgan’s stringers hacked into the phone of Sir Paul McCartney’s wife and stole some highly personal, and highly valuable, information – the type of gossip used to sell Morgan’s grotty little scandal sheet, The Daily Mirror. The idea of Piers listening in on private phone messages, whether he remained zipped or not, is too creepy to think about. But he did it. Often. Electronic burglary for profit is a crime in the UK and USA both.

Editors and executives from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation were arrested and face hard time for knowing about it and covering it up. Not Piers, though.

Then there was the little matter of his insider stock trades, called a “fraud on the market” in the United States where it would earn you substantial time breaking rocks on a chain gang. The scheme Morgan profited from was elegantly simple and utterly criminal. Two of Morgan’s influential financial columnists would make recommendations to the rubes reading The Mirror. Morgan and his so-called reporters bought the stocks just before they would print the names of their picks – which would, of course, immediately shoot skyward. Morgan pocketed tens of thousands of pounds. His co-conspirators, the reporters, got jail time. Not Piers. He admitted to the profiteering and walked away with a fine.

There was yet another fraud. In 2004, Piers ran laughably staged photos of British troops “torturing” an Iraqi. Except they weren’t in Iraq and the Iraqi was a swarthy Brit soldier posing with his mates. Piers sold a lot of tabloids with this fakery. Just like he sold a lot of pulp on a fabricated story about my penis. When he was confronted with the clear evidence the “torture” photo was a con, Morgan still claimed the story was true, even if the photos lied. But the story was a lie. Piers defended running the fantasy as truth – just as he continued to stand by his discredited expose of my knicker knockwurst.

Piers’ obvious journalistic talents were simply too stellar for American news media to ignore and he was subsequently given CNN’s top news interview programme, after proving his analytical credentials by winning Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. All he had to do, was get there. Solved by the little matter of sneaking across the border surrounded by a cloud of criminality. In 2011 alone, the Obama Administration was proud to have deported 188,382 alien residents for evidence of criminal activity, from a boyfriend having a joint in your car, to ancient records of crimes confessed under torture. God Bless America.

The US law, especially the mellifluously titled, “Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act” of 1996, bar work visas to those who have admitted to “the essential elements of a crime” including fraud and white collar felonies involving more than $10,000. The US Embassy can exercise its discretion. And no one is more discrete than the US Ambassador to the Court of St. James, Mr. Louis Susman, whose credentials are listed as “prolific fundraiser for [the] Democratic Party” and former Vice-Chairman of Citibank. Susman’s embassy did a thorough review of Piers’ visa. (Here is a photo of Ambassador Susman with Piers at the CNN launch party of Morgan’s show.)

This was no ordinary visa, but what is known as the rare O-1 “Genius” visa, supposedly granted for the “individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts…”. Nobel Prize laureates, for example. Or, Piers Morgan.

Giselle Bonilla is no genius. Giselle, age 7, was denied a visa to the US; she hoped to transfer bone marrow to her dying five-year-old sister. Immigration attorney Santiago Juarez of New Mexico told me, “Immigration is one of the most politicised agencies in the government” tilted to the rich and connected.

What does Morgan have to do with the horror of the arrest and death of Aaron Swartz?

It’s the story of How The System Works – and Who It Works For.

Swartz was the Robin Hood of America’s Information Liberation Front.

Swartz, after creating RSS, went on to co-found Reddit, then social activist group Demand Progress and was named Research Fellow at Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics. From there, he led the national uprising against SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have criminalised the spread of information and corporatised its control – all by the age of 26. (Makes you question what the hell you’ve been doing all these years.)

But Aaron won’t see 27. Last January, Swartz was arrested and charged with crimes that could put him away for 35 years.

I’ve read the indictment. The charge would have made Pinochet blush – and Torquemada proud. The prosecution said that Swartz had planned to make public millions of university research papers that had been sequestered by an information monopoly called JSTOR. The Internet was supposed to bring us freedom by making the world’s information available to all. No tyrant, no corporation, no commercial or political monopolist could keep vital information from the least village. Electronic democracy, the free flow of information, has always scared the crap out of the political and commercial oligarchs. SOPA and JSTOR were two of their responses.

If JSTOR were operating when Isaac Newton published, only a well-heeled elite would have the secret of thermodynamics. If Newton worked for Microsoft, we’d be paying a royalty for the use of gravity.

Just yesterday, I used JSTOR to look up university research papers on assault weapons. Thank you, Aaron. Because of Aaron Swartz’ planned emancipation of JSTOR documents, and the public disgust at his persecution, the JSTOR monopolists agreed to voluntarily release some (though not all) of this crucial research without charge.

But the Information Lords still insisted on collecting their pound of Aaron’s flesh: imprisonment, silencing – just as they have imprisoned and silenced his fellow information liberator Pvt. Bradley Manning, source of the WikiLeaks.

Aaron could not morally accept a plea deal that would discredit his life’s work; and the alternative, prison, would be unbearable to the depression to which great minds are susceptible. Two weeks ago, Aaron hanged himself.

Was Aaron a thief? Was Manning? In the case of the Manning WikiLeaks documents, these were US government cables laying bare the ugliest skullduggery of government and corporate co-conspirators.

Who is the rightful owner of this information? A document called The Constitution says, “We, The People.” (The Bill of Rights is now available on JSTOR free of charge.)

Aaron released documents from publicly funded research at public institutions required by the public for our health, safety and democracy (cf. assault rifle studies above). Theft by wire, the main charge, was meant to bust those who made money off stolen or misused information. Meant to catch those like, say, … Piers Morgan.

Another count against Aaron: denying professors access to information while computers were down during the hunt for the leak. Odd:  Aaron was making it easier to access the information. Did he deny the oligarchs the ability to extract a monopoly rent for information rightly belonging to us? He did. And by stopping the “Stop Online Piracy Act” he stopped the theft of our online discourse. He had to be punished.

But not Piers.

Because Piers is the information counter-revolutionary. I joke about Piers and his attack on my passion pickle – but, as I’ve explained, his only interest was to smear a reporter to discredit news of the corporate takeover of the Blair government.

The week of October 15, The Nation magazine cover broke our story that Mitt Romney and his Wall Street donors had ripped off the US Treasury for $4 billion. That’s the week Piers had the four Romney boys on his show to talk about the joys of their trust-fund childhood.

You might find it ironic that the government gave Morgan, the fraudster, a Genius visa while indicting Swartz, a true genius.

But that’s the genius of the system. Democrats and Republicans, Microsoft and Citibank, not to mention the Chinese Politburo, need a huckster like Morgan who, for a mere $2 million from Time Warner (CNN’s owner) will present whatever tickles his bosses and betters, whether fawning on the feckless landlords of the planet (“Romney is one of the least principled politicians I’ve ever met – and [so] Mitt Romney might just save America”), or merely distract the public with celebrity tittle and titties.

Should we deport Piers? Yes: certainly America’s Got Talent has got to be a deportable offense. But as long as the puppeteers dangle $2 million strings, they’ll find a new willing puppet with the genius to let the show go on.

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