Biological Weapons & Experimentation on Humans (Frank Olson): echoes of 1953 death of CIA scientist still reverberating today

Egmont R Koch and Michael Wech, “Biological Weapons & Experimentation on Humans (Frank Olson)” (2002)

Recent news of the death of Chinese physicist Zhang Shoucheng, supposedly through suicide by falling from a building, on 1 December 2018, the same day Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecommunications / electronics company Huawei,  was arrested by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the bequest of the United States on vague charges – before the two were due to attend a dinner at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina – jogged my memory of having read about the death of a CIA scientist in similar circumstances more than a century ago. I had forgotten the name of the scientist but remembered he had been drugged with LSD by fellow CIA researchers without his consent some time before his death. Armed with those details, I did a search on DuckDuckGo and Google and very quickly found what I wanted: information on the death of Frank Olson in November, 1953, in circumstances eerily similar to those in which Zhang died – in Olson’s case, falling through a window on the 13th floor of a New York City hotel and onto the pavement below.

More than 20 years later, in 1975 the Rockefeller Commission released some of the details of the CIA’s notorious MKUltra project, a series of experiments aimed at mental manipulation of human subjects to weaken their resistance to questioning, and the US government admitted that Frank Olson had been doped with LSD. The Olson family pushed to sue the CIA; instead the US government offered them $750,000 and the then President Gerald Ford and the CIA apologised to them. In 1993, Frank Olson’s body was exhumed and an autopsy (the second one done on him; the first had been done soon after his death) determined that, in contrast to the results of the first autopsy, no cuts were present but instead Olson’s head and chest had suffered blunt-force trauma severe enough to have killed him before his body was tipped through the window. In 1997, the CIA inadvertently declassified the 1953 edition of its notorious assassination manual which among other things, suggested that … The most efficient accident, in simple assassination, is a fall of 75 feet or more onto a hard surface …In chase cases it will usually be necessary to stun or drug the subject before dropping him …, itself eerily close to the way in which Olson died. With this information, the Olson family sued the CIA in 2012, without success.

Koch and Wech’s documentary investigates the circumstances in which Dr Olson was drugged and killed, and traces his career as a biological researcher at the US Army Biological Warfare Laboratories and then with the CIA. This work took him through some very murky activities with both employers: Olson worked on the US bio-weapons program, experimenting with anthrax among other disease-causing agents, and later was drawn into the CIA’s Project Artichoke program (which investigated interrogation methods that could force people to confess and which included the use of LSD, forced morphine addiction and withdrawal, and hypnosis) and Project MKUltra. Olson became troubled by the direction the research was going into – the research included drugging people and subjecting them to painful physical and psychological torture – and wanted out. His superiors realised he had become a security risk and plotted to get rid of him. The film then starts to jump back and forth between 1953 and 1993, comparing the results of the second autopsy with those of the first, and discrepancies between them being observed. The film details Olson’s last overseas trip to Berlin where he appears to have done some private research on past CIA activities in Germany during World War II and Soviet methods of interrogation. This trip took place against the background of the Korean War, during which the CIA tortured POWs by injecting or threatening to inject anthrax – the very bacterium Olson had experimented on years before – into them. From this point on, the documentary follows the way in which the US government continued (and still continues) to lie about Olson’s death and avoid admitting responsibility and paying proper compensation to his family.

If one compares the circumstances surrounding Zhang Shoucheng’s death – like Olson’s death, also recorded as a suicide caused in large part by depression (which in Olson’s case could have been brought on by LSD ingestion) – one finds they are also quite suspicious. A tenured physics professor at Stanford University, Zhang was noted for his work in quantum physics (with applications for the global semiconductor industry) and was predicted by some to be a future Nobel Physics Prize laureate. He was also a founder of Danhua Capital aka Digital Horizon Capital, a venture capital fund investing in early-stage and growth-stage technology start-ups in Silicon Valley. Danhua Capital itself is funded by Zhangguancun Development Group, an entity owned by the Chinese government which invests in technology innovations. This background and connection to the Chinese government might have been enough to put Zhang on the radar of a US government agency suspicious of any secret  Chinese attempts, whether real and imaginary, to steal American cyber-knowledge and codes and transfer these to China through Chinese nationals like Zhang working and teaching in the US.

At the same time, the US government is irked that Huawei, being based in China rather than the US, is less amenable to communications ranging from suggestions to requests to threats that it allow US intel and military agencies to gain access into the software in the IT equipment it sells to gather information that could be later used by the Americans to blackmail people or generate disinformation. To this end, the US has persuaded its Five Eyes partners Australia and New Zealand, and Japan as well, to ban Huawei from supplying equipment for their 5G mobile networks. With Canada now having arrested Meng on charges relating to Huawei trading with Iran (under US economic sanctions), one expects that she will be used as a hostage in China-US trade talks by the US to pressure China to force Huawei into accepting back-doors into its equipment. This behaviour is the kind of sordid horse-trading expected of head-chopping takfiris terrorising civilians in parts of the Middle East.

Incidentally on the same day that Meng was arrested and Zhang died, a factory owned by Dutch tech company ASML, specialising in extreme ultraviolet lithography technology (used in the production of the next generation of semiconductors by Chinese, US and South Korean tech manufacturers), caught fire. This led to ASML advising of delays in supplying this technology to its customers in early 2019. One of these customers is semiconductor maker SMIC which is partnered with Huawei, Qualcomm and Belgian company IMEC to build China’s most advanced integrated circuit research and development programme.

The very strange occurrence of three seemingly unrelated incidents, their connections only becoming clear once the background context to them becomes known, on the same day, and one of these incidents bearing an uncanny resemblance to a death whose causes are still unsolved 65 years after it occurred, is sure to spark off conspiracy theories speculating on who or what may be responsible for them. It is likely that just as Frank Olson’s death continues to be the subject of controversy and his family continues to struggle for justice and closure, so too Zhang Shoucheng’s death will be shrouded in speculation and disinformation. The consequences of what transpired on 1 December 2018 are likely to be very far-reaching as well, not least because Meng’s arrest and the harassment of Huawei raise issues of sovereignty for the Five Eyes Anglocentric nations and their independence. 

How a new empire of global finance was created in “The Corbett Report (Episode 349: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Three: A New World Order)”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Episode 349: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Three: A New World Order)” (November 2018)

This third and last episode examines how World War I was used by British and American elites to reshape global politics and society, including the global economy, in their favour; and in the process destroy empires and an entire generation of young men across Europe, North America and other parts of the world, and bring about new polities, political ideologies and movements with consequences that still survive to this day. Among other outcomes, World War I destroyed the empires of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Turks, either replacing them with weak, unstable states that would later adopt extreme nationalist, even fascist governance, or subjugating their territories to British and French rule that divided them with artificial borders or introduced or encouraged new foreign settlement that itself would result in new conflicts of unrelenting brutality and violence and ongoing instability. The key message of this episode is that not only is war a tool of elites to steal other people’s wealth and territories but is also a tool to reshape society and beliefs and to rewrite histories and traditions to benefit themselves (the elites, that is). Among other things, World War I enabled governments to assert greater control over manufacturing and industry, to mould and direct public opinion by censoring the media and controlling literary, artistic and film output, and (in some countries) to introduce new taxes such as income tax on the general public.

Again with James Corbett’s clear and distinct voice-over narration, easy to follow and to understand, and with archived film footage as a backdrop to his narration, the documentary traces the way in which the Great War fulfilled, for the most part, the goals and ambitions of a Deep State within the British government (and which spread into the US government) in which the United States would be brought back into the British empire as the first step towards ultimate British domination of the world. By installing Woodrow Wilson as President of the United States, American financiers gained financial control of the US economy and of European powers at war by acquiring (through the Federal Reserve) the power to print money, by imposing income taxation and lending huge sums of money to European imperial governments. After 1913, American financiers profited from war financing and gaining ownership and control of major corporations and industries, setting production quotas, standardising products and product lines, fixing prices and developing psychological warfare techniques that would later become useful in mass advertising and public relations.

After 1918, the supposedly victorious European powers Britain and France found themselves so much in hock to Wall Street that in order to pay off their loans, they forced a defeated Germany and its weak new government to submit to paying heavy reparations under the Treaty of Versailles, setting that nation up for political and economic instability and the rise of extremist fascist politics that would dominate Germany. The new post-war financial arrangements also made Europe and Germany in particular vulnerable to the unstable business cycles that dominated the American economy under bankster rule; thus when the Great Depression hit the US in 1929, its effects spread to Europe as well.

The documentary digresses into a brief discussion of how the British and the German governments apparently encouraged Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky in their plans to install a socialist government in Russia and even gave them assistance: the German government allowed Lenin and other revolutionaries to travel by train through German territory to Petrograd (formerly Saint Petersburg, later Leningrad); and Trotsky was briefly detained in Halifax, Canada, by the British while travelling from New York back to Russia in early 1917 after Tsar Nicholas II was forced to abdicate and the Russian monarchy was abolished. The documentary insinuates that Trotsky may have been used (perhaps willingly, perhaps not) as a pawn by the British though the Wikipedia entry on Trotsky states that the British government released him from imprisonment in Canada after protests by the socialist Menshevik government in Russia. After the Bolsheviks overthrew the Mensheviks in November 1917, Trotsky published “The Secret Treaties and Understandings” that the Russian imperial government had signed with Britain and France to divide up the territories of the defeated Axis powers among themselves. These agreements included the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement which parcelled much of the Middle East between Britain and France, creating new colonies with artificial borders that divided the Arab peoples from one another, and which enabled the British to carve out territory in Palestine for a future Jewish state under the Balfour Declaration, itself initiated by Lord Walter Rothschild who had been a financial backer of Cecil Rhodes, one of the originators of the project to drive the West to war to isolate and destroy Germany and bring the US back under British imperial rule. Thus was the Middle East set on a road leading to repressive and brutal dictatorships, the corruption of Islam by a fundamentalist sect, constant political instability caused by foreign interference and the ongoing brutal genocide of the Palestinians by Israel after its founding by Zionist Jewish settlers in 1948 through acts of terrorism against the British.

Perhaps the saddest and most tragic part of this episode – and indeed of the entire series – comes at the very end when war ceases abruptly in November 1918 and an entire generation of young men, knowing only war and nothing else, suddenly discovers that its life purpose has ended and from then on, its continued existence has no meaning.

This series dovetails with other documentaries and articles I have seen which posit that the British empire has never really ended but has instead mutated into an abstracted global financial empire that continues to brainwash people through dangerous political, economic and social ideologies that keep them divided and weak, and which continually attempts to penetrate those countries such as China, Iran and Russia for their lands and resources by demonising them in attempts to convince people around the world that these nations pose a threat and their governments should be overthrown, by force if necessary. Much recent American politics (at least since 1945) and foreign policy becomes understandable if one assumes that the US has been acting as an extension of the British global financial empire, and moreover is used by that empire to abuse Britain and Europe alike through the European Union. The continuous march towards war against Russia (a nation Britain has hated since the 1700s) and its allies in Iran and Syria who have defied Western regime-change attempts, and the accompanying global propaganda project involving most countries’ news media and cultural industries, should be seen in this context as well.

Apart from the insinuation that the Bolsheviks were tools of the Wall Street elite – it’s more likely that Lenin at least and his followers were happy to use whatever help they could get, wherever it came from, to advance their own aims and agenda, and the idea of using capitalists’ money against their sources would have appealed to the Russians – this documentary series seems fair to me.

 

The rise of Wall Street and the American Deep State in “The Corbett Report (Episode 348: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Two: The American Front)”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Episode 348: The WWI Conspiracy – Part Two: The American Front)” (November 2018)

Having established in Part 1 that a Deep State within the British government in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with connections to the monarchy and the civil service, connived to isolate Germany through propaganda and by forming alliances with nations on either side of that country, this three-part series continues with all the major European powers now at war after mid-1914, Germany having to fight enemies on two fronts on its western and eastern borders, and all opposing sides bogged down either in trench warfare in the west or ineffective leadership and strategies leading to constant back-and-forth exchanges of territory in the east. In the west, with both the British, French and German forces locked in stalemate, and all losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers in trench warfare, the British government connived with American financiers to get the American people involved in fighting the war against Germany. Part 2 examines how the groundwork was laid to push the US into allying with Britain and France to fight Germany in World War I well before the war even began.

The work begins with wealthy American banker John Pierpont Morgan and his allies in the US finance industry supporting obscure Princeton university professor Woodrow Wilson as Presidential candidate in the 1912 elections and ensuring that he wins by using former President Theodore Roosevelt as a third party candidate to split the Republican vote. Once in, in 1913 Wilson approves the passage of the income tax act and the Federal Reserve Act which creates the Federal Reserve as a central bank with Morgan and several of his friends as shareholders. From then on, these bankers would be in charge of printing money and would charge the government interest on any money it borrowed from the Federal Reserve. Several of these men were members of the Milner Group, that secret organisation formed by William T Stead, Reginald Brett and Cecil Rhodes, which had worked to influence the British government to make Germany an enemy and to turn the British people against Germany, and the American and British members of the Group plotted to turn the American people against Germany through extensive news propaganda – even though most Americans at the time, being of Irish or Germany descent, were opposed to Britain – and to create a pretext to bring the United States into fighting a European war.

The pretext comes with Britain’s war against Germany on the high seas in the North Atlantic, with Britain enforcing a trade blockade against Germany that eventually leads to widespread starvation in that country. Because of this blockade and other trade sanctions against it, Germany resorts to submarine warfare against British merchant shipping. In May 1915, Germany torpedoes the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania, resulting in the deaths of nearly 1,200 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans. The incident helped to turn American public opinion against Germany. In 1916, Wilson was re-elected President, riding high on propaganda that he had kept the US out of war. In April 1917, after continued German submarine warfare on merchant shipping in the North Atlantic (including US merchant ships), the Germans having become desperate due to the prolonged blockade, Wilson declares war on Germany and the US governt begins conscripting and training men to fight in the battlefields of northern France.

Again the documentary does a good job presenting its case that Wall Street financiers and banks created a situation in which they were able to select their own preferred Presidential candidate and install him as President by weakening his opposition, and then connived with their British partners to put a cruise ship and its passengers and crew in harm’s way to pressure Washington DC into agreeing to join the war in Europe. Archival film footage and photographic stills including cut-outs of significant personalities flesh out the voice-over narration and the whole film proceeds at a leisurely pace. Interviews with historians go into considerable detail on how the US government ignored the British blockade of Germany – clearly a war crime – and ignored British interference with American merchant shipping but castigate the Germans for blowing up British merchant ships carrying munitions if American citizens happen to be on board.

In this documentary, the way in which a secret cabal not only gains power behind the British government but also gains power behind the American government, and moreover uses that power to control America’s money supply and money creation functions, to potentially hold the American government and the American people to ransom by demanding interest payments on loans to the government, and (later) to influence post-war European politics and German reconstruction, resulting in the spread of the Great Depression and paving the way for Adolf Hitler to gain power in Germany, is made very clear.

Perfidious Albion’s road of deception and underhand scheming to global war in “The WWI Conspiracy – Part One: To Start A War”

James Corbett, “The Corbett Report (Episode 347: The WWI Conspiracy – Part One: To Start A War)” (November 2018)

At this time of writing, a century has passed since World War I ended, and swept with it into history beliefs in never-ending scientific and technological advancement and empires in Europe (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia). An entire generation of young men was brutally destroyed with grave repercussions for societies across the world that would last for decades to come (and which may still do, in the form of politically conservative societies and cultures with mediocre political cultures and leaders). Yet the ultimate causes of that war remain as puzzling and controversial as they did one hundred years ago.

The conventional narrative of what led to World War I – the various alliances formed by the major European powers that eventually fell into two opposed sides, each jealous of their own political, economic and military power; the competition among these powers for more resources and hence more territory; the nationalism of various ethnic groups in central and southeast Europe, governed by a weak Ottoman empire, which could be exploited by its enemies; the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo in 1914 – is well known but does not explain why an incident in a small provincial town should have been the tinderbox event that set off a series of chain-reaction events resulting in all-out war. This documentary, the first of a three-episode series made by The Corbett Report, looks at the background of historical events and trends beginning in the early 1890s, when in 1891, three men – the diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, newspaper editor William T Stead and aristocrat Lord Esher (Reginald Brett), a confidant to Queen Victoria and later King Edward VII and George V, met to discuss and form a plan to extend British rule throughout the world and reclaim the United States as an integral part of the British empire.

The plan which also involves the formation of a secret society, complete with an inner circle privy to esoteric knowledge and an outer circle of helpers who will be allowed to know only what is necessary for them to be of value, sounds completely outlandish but as the documentary outlines, it is carried out very cleverly and progressively, spanning two decades, co-opting Russia and France as allies against Germany, Britain’s main political, military and economic rival, and with the collusion of the British press. Firstly, the funding of the plan is secured by the British waging war against the Boers in southern Africa that results in the separate colonies and republics in that region becoming one unit (South Africa) under British control, and the gold wealth of that unit coming under the control of the British South Africa Company. The Boer War was incredibly brutal, with over 66,000 civilian casualties of whom 26,000 were Boer women and children who died in concentration camps along with another 20,000+ black Africans out of some 115,000 also interred in concentration camps. Secondly, British news propaganda increasingly paints Germany as a hostile and malevolent enemy seeking to stir up trouble in different parts of the world, even in areas where the British are the actual trouble-makers. Third, the British assist Japan against Russia when war breaks out between those two powers in 1905 by denying the use of the Suez Canal to the Russian naval fleet and forcing it to travel around Africa and through the Indian Ocean up towards Japan; Japan was able to crush an exhausted Russian fleet. In this way, Japan becomes a valuable ally to the British in the Far East.

The documentary presents its case well, that a Deep State formed within the British political establishment in the later 19th century and schemed to create conflicts, even wars, to achieve its goal of isolating Germany and targeting that nation for war. The voice-over narrative is delivered at a fairly leisurely pace and interviews with historians back up the documentary’s premise. Archival film footage, photographs and maps of the period help to delineate the world in which European imperial powers dominated all continents.

I would add only that the British desire to put the United States into its proper place as a colony within its empire preceded the machinations of Cecil Rhodes and his fellow conspirators; the British are known to have assisted the Confederate States of America during the US Civil War (1861 – 1865) to ensure the break-up of the US into two weak states that could easily be dominated by a foreign power.

Though the events covered by the documentary occurred over 100 years ago, they are worth viewing as the strategy used by the British to demonise Germany is much the same as the current British-American strategy to demonise and isolate Russia. Again, the English-language news media is being used to suppress truth and to incite public hostility against Russia and its allies in Asia and the Middle East.

The Real Manchurian Candidate: a meandering set of interviews on the Robert F Kennedy assassination and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan’s role in it

Shane O’Sullivan, “The Real Manchurian Candidate” (e2 films, 2018)

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan is notorious as the man who fatally shot Senator Robert F Kennedy, the younger brother of the 35th President of the United States John F Kennedy, in Los Angeles in June 1968, while the senator was campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination for presidential elections later in the year. In this documentary, Dr Daniel Brown, a lecturer in hypnotherapy at Harvard Medical School, and Sirhan’s lawyer Laurie Dusek discuss their observations of Sirhan’s behaviours and their conversations with him in trying to recover his memories of what he did on that night in 1968, and both raise quite credible information that suggests that Sirhan had been hypnotised by other people into being a distraction for the real assassin and to take the blame for the murder. In particular, both Dr Brown and Dusek assert that Sirhan had been hypnotised and trained to respond to cues in his environment that would send him into “range mode” (a trance mode) during which he would shoot at certain targets, and of which he would later have no memories.

The film takes the form of two continuous interviews of Dr Brown and Dusek running in parallel, the camera switching from one to the other and back again, with archival film material of RFK (photographic stills) and of Sirhan being questioned inserted into the film at particular points. Film of Sirhan applying for parole is also shown. The flow of information can be haphazard, as interviews are wont to be, and the discussion jumps from details of the cues that Sirhan had been trained under several episodes of hypnosis to respond to (by falling into a trance state) and Sirhan’s belief that he was at a shooting range when in fact he was close to RFK, to Sirhan’s background and personality at the time he was selected to be the patsy to distract the crowds around RFK and the scapegoat for the crime. Viewers not familiar with the assassination or the hypnosis methods that were used on Sirhan may like to watch Episode 1 “The Assassin” of “Derren Brown: The Experiments”, made in 2011, in which host Derren Brown (no relation to Dr Brown) uses some of the hypnosis techniques and cues employed by the people who used Sirhan to hypnotise and train a subject to “assassinate” the actor Stephen Fry.

Near the end of the film, Dusek talks about the appalling treatment meted out to Sirhan in prison and how he bears up under bullying and intimation from the prison adminisation. Dusek vows to continue to defend Sirhan, recognising that his family has suffered and continues to suffer from the RFK assassination as Kennedy’s own family does. Dr Brown refers to the intimidation he has been subjected to by the US government but vows to continue assisting Sirhan and Dusek as part of his contribution to defending American democracy.

Perhaps the interviews could have been broken up and restructured so that parts could be regrouped under specific topic areas, such as those aspects of Sirhan’s personality and background that made him an ideal hypnosis subject, the cues that set him off (in particular, the woman in the blue dress with white polka dots) and the various MK-ULTRA experiments carried out by the CIA  on mind control in the 1960s and 1970s. This would have made the film a little more accessible to people not familiar with hypnosis or psychology. The information given is very dense and viewers may need repeated viewings to fully absorb what Dr Brown and Dusek say about Sirhan and the implications of what they say: that Sirhan may be innocent, that there may have been a real conspiracy (which could have involved the then head of the FBI J Edgar Hoover) to get rid of RFK and that other political assassinations in the US could also have been carried out by hypnotised scapegoats.

There are TWO Londons & Why It MATTERS: introducing viewers to a secret world of tax evasion in a city within a city

“There are TWO Londons & Why It MATTERS” (Black Pigeon Speaks, 2017)

Why indeed should we be concerned that not one London but TWO Londons exist? Why are most Britons unaware of the existence of two Londons? The City of London – or more properly, the City of London Corporation aka the Square Mile – physically occupies a small amount of land along the Thames River in the heart of Greater London; yet by being the home of the Bank of England and the headquarters of all major British banks and domicile of a good many foreign banks, this city state within a city exercises an enormous amount of power and influence in the global financial industry and through that in the global economy and in global politics.

In this attractively presented mini-documentary, the Black Pigeon Speaks channel (hereafter BPS for convenience) traces the history of the Square Mile back to Roman times when it was founded. (This means the Square Mile is much older than the English nation or the English language.) BPS emphasises how different and secret the City of London is from the rest of London: it is led by its own Lord Mayor (separate from the Mayor of London) who has his own costume and golden carriage, and an annual parade in his honour, and who can refuse permission to the British monarch to enter the City of London premises. The City of London exercises influence in the British government through its representative in Westminster, known as the Remembrancer, to ensure that legislation passed does not harm its interests. The City is divided into 25 wards: in just 4 of these wards voters are people who live there; in the other 21 wards, the voters are corporations who end up exerting more influence on the City’s government than the 9,000 souls who live within its limits.

The main business of the City is in being a tax haven and thus a magnet and channel for money laundering and black hole hoovering up monies from drug barons, oligarchs, corrupt politicians and their families, and global companies wanting to lower or evade their taxation obligations. Its presence in London and mostly autonomous status prevent the British government from carrying out any major financial reforms in the British banking and insurance industry, and enable the financial economy in other countries such as the US to ignore those nations’ regulations and requirements.

The narration is clear and easy to follow and the presentation is quite relaxed and leisurely in pace. No actual data or statistics are given so the mini-documentary best serves as an introduction to the topic of the existence of the City of London and its malignant parasitic effect on proper and open governance, the economy of the United Kingdom, its people’s prosperity (or absence thereof) and on the economy of the rest of the world. I do get the feeling that BPS has relied quite a lot on known sources like Nicholas Shaxson on global tax evasion and tax havens. Viewers should not stop at this film but find out more about the City of London and its activities and about the scourge of tax havens and tax evasion, how it threatens the welfare and livelihoods of people throughout the world and the destruction of global environments, through their own investigations.

Black Pigeon Speaks is a controversial Youtube alternative news media channel that often espouses very right-wing opinions on a number of issues such as immigration and equality between men and women.

The Syria Deception (Part 1: Al Qaeda Goes to Hollywood): a blunt examination of the cynicism of Western propaganda

Dan Cohen, “The Syria Deception (Part 1: Al Qaeda Goes to Hollywood)” (2018)

This first part of a two-part series is a blunt and uncompromising examination of how Hollywood collaborates with the US government and its agencies in creating propaganda films that misrepresent the war in Syria and demonise the Syrian government and President Bashar al Assad. Narrated by Dan Cohen, the program uses the recent HBO documentary “Cries From Syria” (screened at the Sundance Film Festival and available on Netflix) as an example of the propaganda being promoted by Western news media outlets.

The incredible and cynical lengths to which the Western media and entertainment industry goes in creating such propaganda to convince Western audiences to support an invasion of Syria and the overthrow of its government are illustrated in the exploitation of the 7-year-old girl Bana Alabed, through a Twitter account under her name in which she constantly calls for war in English, a language she actually barely understands; and in the supposed adventures of “journalist” Hadi al Abdullah, in reality a propagandist friendly with jihadists, providing “updates” on the supposed “civil war” being fought by “moderate rebels” against the government.

In the film’s second half, Cohen follows the efforts of American politicians, media outlets and self-styled “activist” propagandists like Nora Barre to talk up public support for a US-led intervention in Syria after a screening of “Cries From Syria” in Congress. Barre makes emotional appeals to people’s compassion, reminding one and all of the helpless women and children held hostage by both jihadis and the government (but emphasising the ferocity of the government much more); while the unpleasant Charles Lister, resident fellow with the Middle East Institute, a neoconservative US think-tank, openly advocates the assassination of Assad. In the waning moments of the film, Cohen accosts the film director who made a documentary about the false humanitarian aid group the Syrian White Helmets, made up of jihadis who film themselves pulling children and babies out of rubble, racing through alleys while carrying the youngsters, and flinging them into empty ambulances without so much as checking their breathing or stabilising them in case of internal injuries.

Featuring stills of media reports, excerpts of videos, films and interviews with propaganda shills like Barre, the documentary pulls no punches in showing how distasteful, abhorrent and, above all, extremely manipulative and exploitative the Western propaganda machine is in trying to convince people of the need to remove Assad, over and above the wishes of the Syrian public. At times the documentary can be a bit confusing in the speed that it pursues its topics, jumping from Hadi al Abdullah to Bana Alabed to Barre and Lister. Each topic (Bana Alabed in particular) is investigated in some depth though the documentary provides no analysis, however brief it would have to be, as to why the exploitation of children has become essential in the making of modern propaganda and who the most likely targets of this propaganda would be.

Though the documentary is aimed at a mainly American audience, it is relevant to overseas audiences as well. Even if it skims over subject matter like the White Helmets, and the purpose behind their creation, the documentary flows with passion, energy and indignation. I’m already looking forward to the second part.

Adam Ruins Everything (Season 2, Episode 4: Adam Ruins Dating): everything else except the institution of dating put under the spotlight

Tim Wilkime, “Adam Ruins Everything (Season 2, Episode 4: Adam Ruins Dating)” (2017)

If ever there were profitable scams preying on people’s insecurities in finding lasting and fulfilling relationships, the ones on offer in this episode of “Adam Ruins Everything” qualify as three of the more outrageous. Our hero Adam Conover turns up to a date with Sarah (Emily Althaus) who’s under the impression that he must be the perfect date for her – even if he strikes her as super-geeky – because the dating website she consulted and which matched her up with Adam used apparently scientific methods and algorithms to do so. As it turns out, dating websites like eHarmony and others are no better than allowing chance to determine whether two strangers matched together will stay together, for the reason that among other things the criteria used (personality characteristics or shared likes and dislikes) are poor, even irrelevant guides to a couple’s compatibility.

Having disabused Sarah of her misconceptions about dating websites, Adam proceeds to demolish the myth of the alpha male – based in part on research done by L David Mech on the social lives of wolves in the 1970s which the scientist later found he could not replicate two decades later and which (to his credit) he disavowed and tried to warn other researchers not to repeat – and the credibility of the Myer-Briggs psychological questionnaire, the related Keirsey Temperament Sorter and other personality tests based on fixed personality stereotypes. Wolves are now known to form family groups consisting of a male-female adult pair accompanied by two sets of offspring, one set older than the younger; the older offspring usually help teach the younger cubs to hunt. Only in very exceptional circumstances (if the animals’ environment has restrictions that don’t permit wolves to roam freely, or the prey species are experiencing a population boom) would wolves form large packs in which the animals observe  strict social hierarchy and bully others. The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator lacks scientific rigour and depends largely on self-reporting questionnaires; in the way it assigns up to 16 personality types to people, it resembles astrology.

The episode is very entertaining with just enough slapstick to hold young viewers’ attention. It can be buffoonish in parts but the breathless pace sweeps scenes out of sight before they become too silly. As in most episodes, Adam’s companion becomes despondent and Adam has to try to cheer her up without becoming too upset himself.

What the episode has no time for, given that it’s only about 25 minutes and has to deal with three more or less unrelated popular myths, is the issue of dating itself and the cultural assumptions and expectations that accompany it. How did dating arise in Western society as an institution and why does Western society regard the notion of two strangers meeting and being swept off their feet emotionally by one another as the best way for love and families to develop? What is implied about the nature of Western society that the institution of dating attracts dodgy schemes and practitioners like dating websites or match-makers of one sort or another to exploit people’s uncertainties and credulity for profit?

Three Identical Strangers: a compelling documentary on a chilling psychological experiment

Tim Wardle, “Three Identical Strangers” (2018)

That a set of triplets should be separated at birth and farmed out to three different families, each representing a different socioeconomic level (upper middle class, middle class, working class), by the same adoption agency without telling the families that the children they were adopting belonged to a set of identical triplets, seems unbelievably callous and stupid; but the fact that the children were deliberately separated and given to the families as part of an ongoing secret scientific study, funded by powerful political interests with a secret agenda and conducted by a scientist who had survived the Shoah during World War II, is truly disturbing. “Three Identical Strangers” tells the story of three identical triplet brothers, Edward Galland, Robert Shafran and David Kellman, born to a Jewish teenage girl who put them up for adoption with an adoption agency in New York that specialised in placing babies of Jewish background with adoptive Jewish families. The brothers discover one another by accident when one of them, Robert, enrolls in a community college and is surprised to be greeted familiarly by other students there who call him Eddie. The two are quickly acquainted with each other by a student and the story of their meeting is written up in a local New York newspaper. The third brother David reads the story and sees the photograph of the pair and contacts the newspaper. The three reunited young men are feted by the news media and appear on talk shows; they are even offered cameo roles on the film “Desperately Seeking Susan”. Ed, Bobby and David discover they have many quirks, habits, likes and dislikes in common, which they and everyone else find very weird; this would seem to suggest that genetics plays a huge part in determining a person’s personality, identity and character.

Having found one another, the boys locate their birth mother but their reunion with her does not go off very well and the birth mother soon disappears from their lives. While the boys set up home together and embark on a partying lifestyle,  their adoptive parents descend upon the adoptive agency to demand answers as to why they were never advised that the babies they adopted were part of a triplet set. The agency fobs them off but not before one of the parents finds its senior officers toasting one another with champagne after their meeting, a scene that strikes him as peculiar.

In the 1990s, an investigative reporter, Lawrence Wright, uncovers evidence that from the 1950s on, child psychiatrist / psychoanalyst Peter B Neubauer began a long-term project that involved separating sets of identical twins and the set of identical triplets, and placing each and every child with a different family. None of the families was told that the children they were adopting had identical siblings or that they were all being studied. The families that adopted the triplet boys were not told that they had been specifically selected by Neubauer’s research group and the adoption agency to take the boys as they all already had adopted older girls of similar age.

The film develops its theme and the story of the triplets through interviews with two of the triplets – viewers are left to guess as to what happened to the absent triplet – and their family members, wives and friends. Old family photographs and archival film footage are also used to trace the direction of the triplets’ lives as they mature. Lawrence Wright discusses his research into the science study and two people who briefly worked on the study are tracked down by the documentary makers and interviewed. These two admit that the study was unethical but defend it by saying that when the study first began, the cultural climate was very different and the study was informed by the famous “nature versus nurture” debate of whether human behaviour is mostly determined by environment or by genetic inheritance. The documentary makers also interview a set of identical twin sisters, Elyse Schein and Paula Bernstein, also adopted out to different families by the same adoption agency and who discovered each other by accident, who then set out to find Dr Neubauer themselves.

The “show, don’t tell” approach draws viewers deeply into the film and manages to keep viewers on side and attentive the whole way through, despite the rapid pace established in its first ten minutes when all three triplets are reunited. After the boys are back together, the pace seems to slow down a little and the film coasts along, retelling parts of the threesome’s lives and revealing that all three had troubled childhoods and experienced mental health issues; one of the three eventually is diagnosed as manic depressive. However the film becomes truly upsetting when the triplets and their families discover that other sets of identical siblings also experienced mental health problems to the extent that a couple of people committed suicide.

The film tends to be uneven and is rushed in its last few minutes. It does not make a very good case for stating that nurture trumps nature in determining human behaviour; if anything, the experiences of the triplets, and in particular the different father-son experiences they had, suggest that innate genetic tendencies will or will not manifest and become part of a person’s usual behaviour and make-up depending on the environment in which that person grows up. The film does a good job of showing the connection between having a supportive father and a close relationship with him on the one hand, and not having such support on the other, and how such relationships affect the children’s future emotional well-being and stability, especially when hardships befall them.

One is really curious as to what Neubauer had hoped to achieve or demonstrate with the long-term study – he decided to shelve it and never published the results, instead placing the papers with the Yale University Library and sealing them with an expiry date of 2066 – or what the unnamed interests who funded the research also hoped to learn. One possibility that the study was to serve an agenda beyond child development is that the triplets were placed with families of very different socioeconomic levels. If the boys had turned out much the same, would that not suggest that people’s behaviour and intelligence are unaffected by different environments, and that therefore attempts to enrich children’s environments, provide youngsters and their families with social and financial support, and invest in their education and healthcare are all unnecessary and should be abandoned? The answer to this questions enters the realm of political ideology, in particular the ideological battle between those advocating for socialism and those preferring a society dominated by small elites who also command most of that society’s wealth and natural resources for their own self-interests. Also unanswered is the question of how and why a survivor of the Shoah, who must have been well aware of the Nazis’ own experimentation on sets of twins, should have set up his own long-term (and ultimately flawed) study of groups of identical siblings without the consent of the families who adopted the children .

The Faces of North Korea: a soulful visual poem showcasing the humanity and achievements of North Korea

Andre Vltchek, “The Faces of North Korea” (2018)

Visually poetic, even soulful to watch, this documentary is a travelogue of the sights and experiences, along with recent history to establish the context for much of what he saw and heard, of Russian-American journalist and film-maker Andre Vltchek while travelling in North Korea.  “The Faces …” is not just a beautiful travelogue – it’s also a reminder of the humanity of the people of the country and a homage to what they have been able to achieve since the end of the Korean War in 1953, during which conflict all major cities in the country including Pyongyang the capital were completely destroyed and some 20% of the total population were killed by American-led forces.

Vltchek travels around mostly in Pyongyang and to the demilitarised zone so this film isn’t really representative of North Koreans generally and how they live and perhaps flourish. Pyongyang is a clean and modern city with wide boulevards lined with nature strips and trees, and a moderate amount of traffic. There is plenty of astonishing large-scale architecture, much of it either very imaginative or eccentric. Scenes shot from the viewpoint of a front-seat passenger in a car show urban landscapes of quiet pride and matter-of-fact orderliness.

The journalist visits a museum near the demilitarised zone to see photographs and paintings, and to hear talks by the museum lecturer (translated into English by his guide) about the Korean War and its effects on ordinary North Korean people. On hearing of the horrors inflicted on North Koreans – in addition to the carpet-bombing that incinerated entire towns, US-allied soldiers also tortured people – Vltchek better understands the paranoia and fear of another US invasion that North Koreans still carry. To underline his point, Vltchek includes film footage of a US military base in Okinawa from which the Americans launched their invasion of the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s, and of part of an earlier trip he made to South Korea where the militarism and anti-DPRK propaganda propagated and promoted by the government there disgusted him.

What sets Vltchek’s film apart from other documentaries and short films on North Korea that I have seen is his delight in photographing or filming ordinary people going about their lives, in particular children skating about the streets on roller-blades and small girls performing songs and dance routines. A continuous music soundtrack of solo piano melodies enhances the intimacy of these scenes. Of course, as with the other films I have mentioned, Vltchek’s film shows up much of the current Western news propaganda about North Korea for what it is: not only does it deal in worn-out stereotypes about the country and its leadership but the constant repetition is mind-numbing, suggesting that imagination and open-mindedness are in direly short supply among the Western MSM.

The film finishes on an ambiguous note of foreboding and hope that North Korea will continue to progress and follow its own path despite the pressures of economic sanctions and the constant sabre-rattling from its neighbours and beyond, exemplified in the biannual military exercises undertaken during the northern spring and late summer near North Korea’s borders by South Korea and the US. As long as countries like North Korea not only survive but even thrive, there is hope for the rest of the world yet that one day all nations can pursue their own directions towards prosperity and shared wealth among their peoples without the fear that a giant bully will invade them with the aim of taking their land and its resources.