A snippet of advice about using pass phrases – Edward Snowden

This is an un-broadcast clip from John Oliver’s hilarious but excellent interview with Edward Snowden about surveillance earlier this week. (Which you can see here at youtube – as I post this it’s had a remarkable 4.7 MILLION views!)

This short discussion (below) about pass phrases (as opposed to passwords) is worth a watch too:

– P

Another useful article is this one from Micah Lee about using dice throws to (randomly) select words from a long list of words.

Public relations and the anti-democratic style of politics

I had an interesting chat online with some other journos yesterday/last night about the place (or, in my view, lack of place) of paid PR propagandists like Matthew Hooton as ‘pundits’ or ‘panelists’ in news and current affairs shows. (Click the image below to read around the conversation on Twitter. There was quite a lot of to-and-fro.)

At one point TV3’s The Nation producer Tim Watkins quite fairly asked me where I’d draw the line re unacceptable pundits … to which I answered:

click to read in context on Twitter

click to read in context on Twitter

Here are some thoughts from someone else who’s thought about it — Nicky Hager in 2008…

Imagining a world where the PR people had won

by Nicky Hager
a speech to Sociological Association of Aotearoa New Zealand Conference, University of Otago, November 2008.

Those of you who grew up in New Zealand will share my experience of a country of clean rivers and streams. We could swim in any river, drink from almost any stream and spend time by the smallest creek trying to catch little freshwater native fish. I remember as a child hearing about countries like the United States where they had “water pollution”. It seemed remote and unthinkable that New Zealand would ever have such problems.

As you know, New Zealand today, the land of water, has serious water pollution problems. A lot of rivers are too polluted to swim in, much less drink. Even some major ground water supplies are polluted. Lake Taupo is in risk of biologically dying. The creeks are mostly too polluted to have native fish. Many of them have dried up and disappeared. Even more surprising, there are water shortages. In Canterbury some rivers have so much water taken out of them for industrial farming that they disappear altogether in dry years.

These problems have grown slowly — too slowly to catch attention or prompt much concern — and then they have accelerated in the last 20 years when restructuring of the New Zealand economy led to changes to land use and farming practises. Until recently there was no awareness outside a few specialists and now suddenly people are waking up to what’s been lost, and how it changes our lives. But even now the major water users and polluters unsurprisingly are still denying anything’s wrong.

This, I will be arguing today, is a good analogy to what’s happening in the democratic sphere. We live in an era where the public spaces are being crowded with paid spokespeople, spin and trickery; where news and political discussion are being polluted by the glib outpourings of ever growing numbers of PR people; and where the public spaces available for real democratic activity are drying up.

These problems have grown slowly — too slowly to catch attention or prompt much concern — and then accelerated in the last 20 years as restructuring of the New Zealand economy has led to redistribution of power and resources and changes to our politics and media.

My subject for today is considering the CUMULATIVE IMPACT of the growth of public relations, and particularly its cumulative impact on the media and the other public spaces where politics occurs. I will give an overview of the trends: more and more paid manufacturing of news, more and more paid voices in so-called public discussion, increasing sophistication of manipulation, more media management, more fake community groups, more scripting of politicians by unseen advisers and so on. My question is, how much is too much? When is the system broken, the river polluted?

I will describe some of the range of influences that undermine modern democratic society. It is largely bad news but later I’ll talk about where I see the hope. Continue reading →

Guest post: The history of Propaganda

Paul Bieleski from Nelson sent this in as a comment on the last post … I found it interesting. – P


The “Congregation for Propagating the Faith” founded by the Catholic Church in 1622 is where our use of the word propaganda has come from. Its activity was aimed at “propagating” the Catholic faith in non-Catholic countries. From the 1790s, the term began being used also for propaganda in secular activities. The term began taking a pejorative connotation in the mid-19th century, when it was used in the political sphere. This is also shown in a 1961 dictionary where it had “Organised method and system of propagating or disseminating principles and doctrines.” but a more recent 1998 dictionary had “The organised spreading of doctrine, true or false information, opinions etc.”.

Edward Louis Bernays (1891 – 1995) is the author of a book “Propaganda.” published in 1928. He was an Austrian-American who was a nephew of Sigmund Freud. He combined the ideas of Gustave Le Bon and Wilfred Trotter on crowd psychology with the psychoanalytical ideas of his uncle. He saw that the use of the word Propaganda had acquired some negative connotations so invented the words Public Relations as an alternative. He is referred to in his obituary as “the father of public relations”.

Gustave Le Bon (1841 – 1931) was a French social psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, inventor, and amateur physicist. He is best known for his 1895 work “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind”. His writings incorporate theories of national traits, racial superiority, herd behaviour and particularly crowd psychology.

Bernays, working for the administration of Woodrow Wilson during World War I with the Committee on Public Information, was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”. Following the war, he was invited by Woodrow Wilson to attend the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. This thinking was heavily shared and influenced by Walter Lippmann, one of the most prominent American political columnists at the time. Bernays and Lippmann sat together on the U.S. Committee on Public Information, and Bernays quotes Lippmann extensively in his seminal work “Propaganda”. In 1919, he opened an office as Public Relations Counsellor in New York. He held the first Public Relations course at New York University in 1923, publishing the first groundbreaking book on public relations entitled Crystallizing Public Opinion that same year.

The mantra of promoting democracy is the mainstay of US propaganda and is still in use. Continue reading →

“Cameron Slater/Whaleoil is a bastard and we’ll do him over.” Reaping what you sow.

Hunua Falls_2015-Apr-03

click to visit radionz.co.nz

click to visit radionz.co.nz

By happy coincidence, as I was driving with family to Hunua Falls (above) for a swim and a picnic on Good Friday, I tuned into Radio NZ National in time to hear a panel discussion from a book festival held in Christchurch last year. It featured Guardian reporter and The Snowden Files author Luke Harding, Perth (Australia) journalist and author Richard KIng (Offence), and Nicky Hager whose book Dirty Politics had just been published.

Having enjoyed (if that’s the right word) Harding’s Snowden book, and devoured Nicky Hager’s (see Read it and weep. Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ and following) I found it interesting listening — especially a turn in the conversation where Hager was asked and talked about how he’d approached a source who had obtained a tranche of attack blogger Cameron Slater’s communications … and then explained the source’s motives.

You can hear the whole discussion by clicking on the links in that Radio NZ image above (let me know if that doesn’t work — I’ve archived it). But here’s a 7 minute clip of the relevant section. In it, Hager describes the dirty tricks politicians and sleazy PR companies used to “discourage, distract, demoralise, demonise and delegitimise” their opponents – and how Cameron Slater’s online nastiness and toxicity (eventually) led to his exposure as a secret tool of John Key’s National Party and dishonest corporate interests. Both groups, it seems clear, covertly used Slater’s PR attack blog to ‘bash’ political opponents — it seems Jason Ede was paid to do this from the PM’s office — sometimes through ghost-written pieces Slater published under his own name.

extract: Nicky Hager at the Word Festival Christchurch August 2014
MP3 file [6MB]

It’s worth listening to the whole 52 minute clip when you get a chance.

Whaleoil reduced

There’s been much wailing and thrashing about from the Slater camp since the revelations of Dirty Politics. They seem to have, frankly, undone him. Sure, superficially the WO ‘machine’ is still churning out content supported by deputy dawg and ‘moderator’ Pete Belt, Slater’s wife Juana (who, honestly, writes hateful dreck), and other acolytes.

But the trauma of Cameron Slater’s ‘examination’ since Dirty Politics — in inquiries, court cases, a privacy law suit, and in the media  — and his own admission, made through tears and grinding teeth no doubt, that he has systematically misled people (i.e. lied to them) about the extent of his influence (‘talking big’ about Judith Collins, exaggerating his links to John Key, fundamentally misrepresenting his role with the PM’s office) seem to have gutted him.

Of course, it’s tempting for Slater’s critics (of which I am one, in case there’s any doubt) to see the world as they want to see it. But it seems clear the failure to launch of Slater’s much-vaunted (does Mr Boastful do anything any other way?) “news service” which, he claimed was going to cause ‘carnage on the media landscape’ is a symptom of his radioactive potato status. Any way you look at it, the Slater brand is damaged, perhaps permanently.

In the aftermath of his dishonest behaviour being exposed, Cameron Slater has, at various times, expressed outrage at an alleged ‘left wing conspiracy’ aiming to ‘destroy’ him and drive him to suicide; bragged that he knows exactly who the whistle blower Rawshark is; begged for money to pay his lawyers’  bills; hawked branded T-shirts and sun hats; and issued menacing threats of recrimination and exposure against journalists he insists/admits/claims he was previously spoon-feeding his attack lines and smear stories.

Slater reacted particularly badly to Fairfax political editor Tracy Watkins when she described his ‘brand’ as ‘repugnant‘. (Not that she’s alone in the media drawing attention to that self-evident fact. And ask John Key and Judith Collins.)  Continue reading →

Sorry, but this man is treating us like children (or fools)

John Key's line:


Smearing the messenger before even hearing the message. That's how John Key works.


As I had reason to tell someone in a completely different context recently …


No doubt Mr Key's line, “Look, members of the news media, despite what those NSA/GCSB documents say, you're completely wrong — but it's not my job to tell you how you are” approach will work for some people, — like National Party/SkyCity cheerleader Mike Hosking, and this group, which Alastair Thompson described as the “cult of Key”, in particular:

Click to view conversation on Twitter

Click to view conversation on Twitter

Personally, reading the articles Nicky Hager, Ryan Gallagher and David Fisher have been publishing over the last day or so, I think it's requisite on the political leader of our country (and minister in charge of the state spy agencies, hand-off to the Attorney General notwithstanding) to offer the electorate something more substantial than a child's bedtime assurance akin to, “Everything is going to be OK, because I say it is”.

In my view, Mr Key is exposed as his most intellectually vapid in these matters. He also seems petulant.Key inconsistentLike his double-minded (right), inconsistent rationale for the imminent NZ Army deployment to Iraq, in 'explaining' his government's international security policy the prime minister seems to suffer from a real authenticity deficit.

The effect of that is to leave us with a slippery, politics-of-convenience moral leadership vacuum. [See also: John Key’s changing narrative on al-Qaeda threat in NZ]

It's troubling, because these are important things.

– P

UPDATE: Fairfax NZ's Tracy Watkins considers aspects of Mr Key's handling of these matters in a thoughtful, and perhaps more diplomatic way than my brief comments.


I recommend you read it, if you're interested. See: John Key burning up political capital following Edward Snowden revelations



The escape of exnzpat, Part 29

Bartholomew Leading


A broken rib is no big deal. Sure, it hurts like Hell, but three or more broken ribs hurt worse and, snapped and broken and freely moving under the weight and pressure of a 280lb man can be unpleasantly deadly. The man in my body struggled madly, and Jerry, angry and frightened for his dying friend with the giant sliver of wood sticking from out of his chest, fought executionerofthewill back to the cell floor to contain him.

My separated ribs floated freely and one penetrated my thoracic cavity. It sliced cleanly through the protective layers of fat and sinuous fiber shrouding my lungs and heart. Blood vessels exploded and blood bubbled liberally into my lungs. I was drowning, but of all this I was blissfully unaware, for I sat under a golden sun in a faraway time with a hairy Chaldean at my side.

Continue reading →

For some reason this SERCO baby ID card troubles me

I saw this image shortly after it was published on Twitter, and it has affected me. My kids both had passports at very early ages — my daughter starting walking on one of our (then) frequent business trips to Malaysia and Singapore. My son could barely hold his head up for the pharmacy assistant taking his passport photo when it was his turn. We liked to travel with our children.

Click to view on Twitter

Click to view on Twitter

But this image, and the implicit background ‘facts of life’ for the child in it, hurts, somehow.

It has troubled me for days.

– P

BlueChip: Running out of courts to appeal to

It’s a bad look when someone wins in the District Court, loses in the Court of Appeal, then wins in the Supreme Court.

Still, them’s the breaks.

Click to read at the NZ Herald website (includes link to SC decision)

Click to read at the NZ Herald website (includes link to SC decision)

What a terrible trail of devastation Mark Bryers and his BlueChip gang left in New Zealand — and that was among the people who got off their chuff to do something about providing for their retirement. Ghastly.

– P

The escape of exnzpat, Part 28

The Ghost of things to come


I went up the tree and, taking one last look across the pallid, soup-bowl horizon of Wormwood, I saw it as dismal.  Its flatness and smell of rotting vegetation from the vast swamp below seemed somehow now appalling to me after the glory of the hive mound.  I looked away and pushed my way through the ferns and vines of the enormous tree to find whatever was hiding up there.

Wide branches the size of regular tree trunks had grown together to make a flat, woven raft on which it was easy to walk, drifting dirt had caught in its weave and from out of this grew grasses, ferns, and tall flowering plants.  The flowers were not particularly attractive.  They looked sickly, and from out of their gaping, mouth-like petals wept a pale, viscous fluid that looked poisonous.  Only one branch was clear of them and so I made my way along it.  There was a path of sorts along this branch and I decided that it must be right one.  And after only a few yards I was rewarded with a brilliant, golden light creeping in between the fronds of the wide-splayed leaves of the old oak.  I pushed the foliage aside and stepped out onto a pasture of green grass. Continue reading →

BBC Scotland on spying. Some of the same issues and questions as New Zealand

I heard part of this BBC Scotland report by Eamonn O’Neill as he “explores the world of contemporary espionage” this morning and recognised several of the same talking points about increased state security agency surveillance keeping us ‘safe’ as are deployed here in New Zealand — it’s right there in the title: ‘How safe are you?’

Beyond the interesting discussion of UK spy recruitment, the distinctions between ‘agents’ and ‘officers’, and questions about the potential impact of future Scottish independence, further into the report, there are a number of parallels with the controversy in New Zealand about such matters.

There are echoes of the tensions our own nation faces: being part of a bigger ‘alliance’ or network of electronic spy agencies; economic spying on allies and neighbours; the insatiable hunger of state spy agencies to ‘make the haystack bigger and bigger’ by bringing in more data (and retaining it) – supposedly in an effort to pick up terrorism ‘clues’; the shift of the field of engagement to the ‘cyber frontier’ i.e. electronic communications, with ‘human intelligence’ discounted in favour of electronic information/surveillance — all making computer boffins GCHQ and their equivalents the ‘lead agencies’.

Also, listen to what they say about the burgeoning cost of surveillance of computer and communications networks, and the public’s innocent ignorance of the ‘risks the country faces’ (epitomised here recently by MP Jami-Lee Ross’s reported comment to a select committee submitter on the ‘Countering Terrorist Fighters’ Bill: “If you knew what we know you’d support this legislation”. Oh, god.) And its corollary, the self-proving justification: “Look, the lack of attacks shows just how effective we are!”

The whole episode (28 mins) is definitely worth hearing, if these topics interest you, as they do me.

You can listen here at the BBC website using iPlayer (Flash required) for the next month. After that, drop me a line by email (address on the ‘About’ page) and I’ll point you to a friendly MP3 archive of it. :-)

click to visit BBC to listen

click to visit BBC to listen

At the beach over the Christmas break I read a couple of books about the fairly paranoid intelligence and counter-intelligence efforts of the British and Americans during the Cold War (MI5’s Peter Wright and CIA’s James Jesus Angleton). I was struck by how routine it was for these agencies to burgle and bug foreign embassies, consulates and various delegations … and to spy on other countries (even allies) purely to gain economic advantage. No such fig leaf excuses as ‘War on Terror’ were deployed.
nsa octopus
Human nature hasn’t changed. Then it was just a case of “if we can do it, we should do it”. Ask Angela Merkel. The same gung-ho attitudes to spying on ‘friends’ and domestic political organisations or ‘activists’ apply just as much now. Edward Snowden’s revelations and others show that increasingly the key resources have become ‘taps’ on computer networks.

For instance, remember this NSA spy satellite launch rocket logo? This was real.

'Nothing is beyond our reach' - click to enlarge

‘Nothing is beyond our reach’ – click to enlarge

Fletcher resignation ‘welcome’

There was a very good editorial (translation: I agree with it) in the Dominion Post recently about the sudden announcement of Ian Fletcher’s imminent departure from the post of GCSB Director. The Dom writer makes the point that Fletcher’s appointment was controversial for several reasons (family friend of our ‘forgetful’ PM) and those reasons weren’t going away. Also, the editorial calls for a politically bipartisan approach to appointing the next GCSB director (assuming there is such a post after the proposed ‘statutory review’ of security agencies, I guess. (Mr Key has scotched as ‘speculation’ the idea of a GCSB-SIS merger.)

Read the Dominion Post editorial here:

click to read at stuff.co.nz

click to read at stuff.co.nz

– P

Nicky Hager on protecting sources

Investigative journalist and author Nicky Hager was part of the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s recent Logan Symposium …

Check out CIJournalism’s YouTube channel for more.

Update: If you’re a journalist, don’t miss John Pilger’s blistering presentation on media vs propaganda & news ‘agenda’. An important message. Pilger’s speech notes War by media and the triumph of propaganda are available at his website www.johnpilger.com too, but the speech is definitely worth a watch.

So why say it, Mr Cameron?

Very odd.

click to read at the Guardian

click to read at the Guardian

See also Cory Doctorow’s article at Boingboing: ‘What David Cameron just proposed would endanger every Briton and destroy the IT industry

From ‘News of the World tactics’, journalists as ‘little henchmen’ to … #hypocrisy

Context is everything.

Context is everything.

See earlier: Teapot tape saga sputters out with withdrawal of ‘costs’ action against cameraman.

Another deceitful photoshop fail

One more in my occasional series highlighting Photoshop deceit… this time showing the unreality of distorting body images using Photoshop — i.e. bulking up Justin Bieber.

Before and after

Before and after – bulging in all the right places?

via @caffiene_addict

Of course, as previously noted, women generally get slimmed down …



“We love surveillance”

On the day it’s announced that Ian Fletcher is to depart from the GCSB, a few thoughts about surveillance …

(click to read at NZ Herald)

(click to read at NZ Herald)

British PM David Cameron is already making the appropriate noises … nicely framed by John Gruber at DaringFireball.net.


click to read the Independent’s report

And, for context, here’s Mr Fletcher’s rather soothing speech to the 2014 Privacy Forum …