It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Life, it seems, has a funny way of mimicking art – so is the case with profound pieces of work at least.
Of course, drawing parallels between George Orwell’s 1984 and the current political climate is a battered cliché that the late British writer himself would have despised – most of us live in full knowledge of the extent to which the state apparatus can spy on its citizens and we have all read that something is “Orwellian” too many times for it to be effective – however, seeing images of military and medical professionals blindly accept lie after lie from Britain’s health minister Matt Hancock as he addressed them at the unnecessary NHS Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham warrants an exception, I believe.
For not only does the image mimic Orwell’s Big Brother all too precisely, it touches on another fundamental observation that the writer and journalist made.
“A society,” Orwell wrote, “becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.” Hence, as famously embodied in his classic novel:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
But precisely how does this relate to Hancock and Covid-19? Should you be gearing up to hear another conspiracy theory?
First, perhaps, it is worth re-defining this pernicious couplet of double-speak that has pervaded into almost every political conversation and debate – especially in recent days.
In my view, this couplet is outright cancerous because humans combine to work together all the time – most of the time for good, some of the time for bad – and we do not need a theory to label this phenomenon: this is the nature of organisations, be it in the form of governments or corporations, even in charities or organised religion. Invariably however, as these collectives go about their work, uncomfortable or inconvenient truths always crop up and the individuals within a given organisation have to make a choice about how this is dealt with. However, it is not a given that they always do the right or truthful thing – either out of blind negligence, cowardliness or wilful deceit. This, in my view, need not be controversial, for most of us at one time or another have signed non-disclosure agreements to protect business interests or have been pressured to keep quiet about seemingly minuscule deviations from reality so that consumers keep purchasing. Labelling these exceptional actions of deceit as conspiracy theory when they are identified is just one of the many examples of Orwellian double-speak we all use almost daily.
When one starts to look around in fact, you’ll find examples of this double-speak everywhere. Western-backed mercenaries that do our dirty work in foreign wars are called “moderate rebels”. The families of 9/11 victims and the lawyers and academics that have tried to help them get to the bottom of what really happened that day are called “truthers”. Those who had sympathy for the Syrian people when Western bombs devastated their lives for the sake of oil are called “genocide deniers”. This type of language is toxic.
Nonetheless, these forms of double-speak, in the form of euphemisms or veiled corporate language, is how we in the West have been programmed to ignore the crimes of our governments and their revolving-door relationships with security contractors and the arms industry. It is how we disassociate from the uncomfortable reality. Unfortunately, these euphemisms also exist outside of journalism, politics and foreign affairs. Take for example the perfectly decent family men and women I worked with while in Jersey’s financial services industry before embarking on journalism – we openly talked about “offshore financial planning” when in fact we were helping the world’s richest earners pay close to zero taxes. Interestingly enough, it was at this time I re-read 1984 and properly understood the power of language.
In using such euphemisms to shield ourselves from the realities of what we were engaged in, we create what academics call “gated institutional narratives”. These are necessary for the survival of institutions, but as these narratives stray further from the truth, the lies build upon one another until they reach tipping point. Then, in a flash, as fiction meets reality, the institution collapses. At large, I believe this is what is happening with Covid-19.
Undoubtedly however, before I proceed, I must stress that this process of collapse can be healthy. Think of a business owner that cons himself into believing he is offering a superior product in order to overcharge his customers and afford himself an inflated salary, only to start bleeding money when those customers realise they can purchase the product for cheaper elsewhere. Unless the organisation has good mechanisms for feedback and adequately adjusts for reality, it fails – customers flock to the alternative which provides a better service. Alternatively, the business owner can learn from the lessons of the collapse and grow. It all depends on humility.
This is all well and good, but what if these gated institutional narratives effect whole complex systems and industries, or even entire countries? Is this not the case for what took place in the financial crash of 2008? Faced with stagnation and the short-term need to grow profits year on year, Wall Street firms packaged up debt they knew to be high risk (or “subprime” in double-speak) and sold it off as AAA-rated “collateralised debt obligations”. When this Ponzi scheme ultimately collapsed, the world’s economy came crashing down with it. Is it a conspiracy theory to suggest that the actions of hundreds if not thousands of those employed by this industry were collectively responsible, though if you were to meet them individually in the street you would not consider them particularly evil?
That is the principal problem one incurs when attempting to conduct high-level analysis, for the criticism received is that it is not possible for a high-number of people to be complicit. On the face of it, this is justifiable – most people would likely not engage in these types criminal activities if they were spelled out in black and white terms. However, it is these gated institutional narratives that disassociate the participants from their actions and keep them living in alternate universes.
Covid-19 and the prolonged recession we will experience in most of the Western world as a result should shatter another one of these narratives – that is the ahistorical fallacy of American and British superiority – but our governments and media figures are already pushing a number of dangerous lies that will only exacerbate the crisis. Unless we address our deep institutional problems and correct the lies, we will near irreversible tyranny. For those of us watching, Orwell’s 1984 is already becoming a tangible reality.
The first lens that everything must be considered through is empire. As discussed in greater depths in my previous piece, since World War II, America and her allies in Britain, Canada, Israel, among others – via the tightening grip of arms companies and war profiteers on government – have taken it upon themselves to be the world’s police force, all to spread “peace and democracy” – and this was done by exporting weaponry, paying mercenaries to topple leaders they disapproved of or by direct invasion. All of this, of course, was not for the purposes of “defence”, but to grow and protect the interests of Western corporations. It was also done to plunder oil and natural resources. In doing so, we have routinely debased organisations like the United Nations – this was distinctly noticeable from the recent revelations from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In short, for those unaware, mercenaries that were funded by U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies, among others, staged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. They took the bodies of civilians they murdered and piled them on top of each other in apartments, placed them alongside gas cylinders and groups like the White Helmets, funded by the same sources, captured seemingly shocking images and videos purporting to be from the fallout of such attacks. These were shared to social media and politicians, journalists and the public at large swallowed these lies whole, still living in the false narrative we are the good guys on the world stage. In 2018, independent weapons inspectors visited one such scene in Douma following an alleged attack and it took them less than one hour to establish the scene was staged. They said so in their reports, documenting all the inconsistencies in the evidence, but when the time came for this report to be published, their findings were scrubbed at the behest of three U.S. intelligence officers that forced the organisation to publish a doctored report. Can you guess who they blamed? All of this information is widely available in WikiLeaks and the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media – nonetheless, only Peter Hitchens at the Daily Mail was able to get a story printed in the entirety of mainstream Western media about this scandal. I resigned from Newsweek when I was unable to report on the story myself, and in doing so, I wrote a detailed exposé of how the majority of media organisations have become utterly corrupted by their revolving door with think-tanks that are funded by the U.S. State Department.
As a result, this failure of journalism is repeated time and time again and countless horror stories like the above from Syria never see the light of day. Worse, media organisations actively participate in keeping the public wildly misinformed of empire’s crimes, locking us in to these narratives that we can do no evil. Figures like Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew or Ghislaine Maxwell are never properly investigated. In fact, we protect them for fear of who we may upset.
Meanwhile on the world stage, running this type of empire is a costly business – the upkeep fees of keeping foreign governments who do not approve of their masters and occupiers starts to yield a negative return. While defence spending goes up year on year, vital services at home such as public health, education and infrastructure are underfunded. The aforementioned financial crisis only worsened this underinvestment, and the root causes of the collapse and the corporate greed which underlay it all have never been addressed. It is also worth noting that the tax evasion racket which keeps trillions of tax dollars off the public books has remained largely unchanged, despite the damning revelations of the Panama Papers.
China, meanwhile, which had been inward facing for decades, began to open up its markets to the global economy in 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organisation. While its white-collar class expanded – with growing expertise in management, technology and artificial intelligence – it retained its manufacturing capabilities. As America and the U.K.’s national debts ballooned (now over $24 trillion and nearing £2 trillion respectively), China has been all too happy to be the financier and is the largest collector of these debts in the form of treasury bills. In 2008, while our leaders scrambled to avoid a colossal depression, the country launched the Thousand Talents Program – luring the best scientists and academics to Chinese universities with lucrative grants. Between then and 2017, at least 6,000 experts from overseas were recruited.
As all emergent superpowers do, keen to flex its growing stature, China set its sights on abroad and in 2013, it launched the Belt and Road Initiative. The project aims to connect Asia with Europe and Africa via investment in land and maritime networks and countries that have long been devastated by Western foreign policy have been nothing but eager to sign on the dotted line. So far, 70 countries have joined the initiative – over 65 per cent of the world’s population – and in essence, China has discovered a new, more cost-effective form of empire. Why spend trillions on bombs and covert operations when you can give out loans that allow much-needed infrastructure investment and simply control the purse strings from afar? A case in point is Iraq. After two devastating Gulf Wars and the emergence of Islamic State – a Western-backed propaganda operation – the country is preparing to sign a deal with China that will give the China Petroleum Engineering & Construction Corporation access to the Majnoon oil field, one of the largest in the world with an estimated reserve of 38 billion barrels. Not a single bullet was expended and nobody was killed.
These developments have not gone unnoticed in the halls of Western intelligence agencies. Not only has a quiet trade war waged between America and China, the Economist reported that “agents from the FBI’s 56 national field offices contacted hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students, researchers and professors with ties to China – many of them from China or ethnically Chinese, including Chinese-Americans – to determine whether they might be working on behalf of the Communist Party.” In an article titled “The new red scare,” the Economist details how the scrutiny triggered a backlash from academics including Rafael Reif, the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post titled: “No, I won’t start spying on my foreign-born students.” A number of Chinese-American academics also published a letter in Science expressing fears of “scapegoating, stereotyping and racial profiling.”
Scrutiny such as this is to be expected of course, and is justified given the authoritarian tendencies of China, but to think that the United States will happily cede its power to this growing force is simply naive. In an interim report by the newly formed National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence (NSCIA) from November of last year, acquired by the Electronic Privacy Information Center by a Freedom of Information Act request, the body detailed in length how it plans to deal with this threat posed by Chinese leadership in technology. Aside from terrifying reading on the prospect of using AI-enabled machines and “autonomous combat systems”, the document suggests that America needs to urgently ramp up its AI capabilities as its authors “see no way to protect the American people, U.S. interests, and shape the development of international norms for using AI if the United States is not leading the way in application.”
Such thinking is optimistic at best. China has led the way in innovation of 5G – the next generation of wireless connectivity which will bring about “the internet of things” and underlie future developments in AI – and despite U.S. attempts to hamper Huawei, the Chinese leader in 5G that has existed since the 1980s, its sales rose by 18 per cent in 2019, bringing in an income of $122 billion. Despite its clear market dominance, the U.S. Senate passed the “United States 5G Leadership Act of 2019” in May last year which effectively blacklists Huawei and Zhongxing Telecommunications Equipment Corporation on American soil. Meanwhile grants have been made available to corporations like AT&T and Verizon in hopes they can catch up in this technological arms race.
In losing ground to China, one fear raised in the NSCIA document is that the country “is using AI to build a dystopian surveillance state” – ironic given the Edward Snowden revelations and the Vault 7 disclosures on WikiLeaks that followed – “and aspires to create social credit systems that assign people to ‘blacklists’ based on who they communicate with, where they travel, what they buy, and how they use their mobile phones.” In the source notes for such a claim, the document relies on two articles titled “China’s Orwellian Social Credit Score Isn’t Real,” published in Foreign Policy, and “How the West Got China’s Social Credit System Wrong,” published in WIRED Magazine. What could be more dystopian than that?
While the emergence of 5G does raise legitimate concerns about surveillance, a study of the evidence suggests Western intelligence agencies are more at fault for this than China is. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), an umbrella group of telecommunications companies responsible for defining industry standards and security protocols, has been strong-armed by the FBI’s Operational Technology Division (OTD) into adopting amendments that allow precise geolocation and the collection of metadata – not previously possible under previous versions of the agreements. At a 2018 meeting in Poland, 26 of the 85 proposed amendments came from the OTD. Other changes come at the behest of Britain’s GCHQ, its Swedish counterpart, the NDRE, and the German Federal Criminal Police Office.
Erich Moechel, for the Austrian news site FM4, sums it up nicely. “This fits seamlessly into the plentifully paradoxical picture: A Chinese company, which is accused of installing hidden backdoors in its software for espionage purposes in the USA, is working on the implementation of back doors for surveillance in an international committee, according to the requirements of secret services and law enforcement officers from Europe and the United States.”
U.S. corporations – already at ease with handing over their data to the intelligence services – are preparing to make maximal use of this technology. In June last year, Microsoft – which acquired the Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud computing contract a few months later and is an advisor to the NSCIA – filed a patent with the World Intellectual Property Organization that indicates the company is preparing to deploy technology which uses the human body as a sensor, coupling the technology with cryptocurrencies.
That may sound innocuous enough until you discover that Microsoft is also a founding partner of the ID2020 Alliance, a partnership which aims to give every individual on the planet a unique digital identifier with vaccines, hence collecting activities picked up by their sensors – humans too will be assets on this internet of things. Other founding partners include The Rockefeller Foundation and GAVI, an international vaccine alliance founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It is just our luck then that these networks of multi-billion dollar corporations are so prepared for a global pandemic. In 2007, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Global Business Network – a now-defunct private members club made up of corporations and wealthy individuals – published a document titled “Scenarios for the Future of Technology and International Development.” One of the possible scenarios it told its readers to prepare for is titled “Lock Step”.
“In 2012, the pandemic that the world had been anticipating for years finally hit,” the document reads. “Unlike 2009’s H1N1, this new influenza strain – originating from wild geese – was extremely virulent and deadly. Even the most pandemic prepared nations were quickly overwhelmed when the virus streaked around the world, infecting 20 per cent of the global population and killing 8 million in just seven months, the majority of them healthy young adults.
“The pandemic also had a deadly effect on economies: international mobility of both people and goods screeched to a halt, debilitating industries like tourism and breaking global supply chains. Even locally, normally bustling shops and office buildings sat empty for months, devoid of both employees and customers.”
It goes on to state: “Technological innovation in ‘Lock Step’ is largely driven by government and is focused on issues of national security and health and safety. Most technological improvements are created by and for developed countries, shaped by governments’ dual desire to control and to monitor their citizens.”
The document is no smoking gun – organisations prepare for future scenarios on a regular basis – but it outlined how corporations and philanthropists could be ready for such an eventuality. Perhaps Bill Gates, our new philanthropist-in-chief, saw the business opportunity at a time when Microsoft was fledgeling behind Apple, Google and Facebook. He is on record as saying that getting into the vaccine business, was “the best investment I’ve ever made.”
In October of last year, taking those preparations one step further, Gates organised “a global pandemic exercise” titled Event 201 – a simulation of what such a crisis could look like. Organised by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Economic Forum and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, its staged news broadcasts from a “GNN special report” are a little too eery for comfort:
At the conclusion of the event – which was attended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other world health organisations, as well as central bank, intelligence and military officials – organisers prepared seven recommendations for governments worldwide, including how to control the spread of communication. “Governments and the private sector should assign a greater priority to developing methods to combat mis- and disinformation prior to the next pandemic response. Governments will need to partner with traditional and social media companies to research and develop nimble approaches to countering misinformation.” It is interesting how Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been uniform in deciding which information to remove since the outbreak of Covid-19, including an article including the views of Luc Montagnier, the Nobel laureate who discovered HIV. His view, of course, is something we are not supposed to hear: this was a man-made creation.
But why should we trust him? Shouldn’t we trust WHO? (Who, by the way, received $35 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $50,000 from the GAVI Alliance and $3 million The Rockefeller Foundation between 1974 and 2015.) Following a hack of WHO, CDC and the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) which led to hundreds of emails and passwords being dumped online, 4chan users posted the following from WHO’s extranet. It shows an application for splicing HIV into Coronavirus.
Is that why Dr. Anthony Fauci, the NIH’s director at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1980, serving under every U.S. President since Ronald Reagan and now head of the current administration’s White House Coronavirus Taskforce, could say with absolute certainty in 2017: “The history of the last 32 years that I have been the director of the NIAID will tell the next administration that there is no doubt they will be faced with challenges their predecessors were faced with. We will definitely get surprised in the next few years.”
After all, in the same year, after President Barack Obama signed an executive order banning Fauci’s coronavirus research in Fort Detrick in Maryland in 2014, given there had been a series of dangerous leaks from the facility, Fauci allocated $3.7 million to the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China so that the research could continue there – even though Dr. Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Communicable Disease Center told The New York Times that “these researchers risk creating a monster germ that could escape the lab and seed a pandemic.” He added that Fauci’s experiments “have given us some modest scientific knowledge and done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemic.” Fauci is aware of this.
To assume that the United States is incapable of such an operation shows no understanding of history. The simulation Dark Winter, also organised Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, was a pre-run of the 2001 Anthrax attacks that were blamed on Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. But who, in the end, do we blame for this crisis? Is it Fauci, Gates, or the WHO? Or is it Western intelligence agencies? Perhaps Johns Hopkins University? Maybe journalists and the tech companies too? No. It is all of us, at an individual level, myself included, for we have all been co-conspirators in this complex gated institutional narrative. All of us have not been truthful enough about the actions of our countries and as such, our institutions have become utterly corrupted by this shirking of responsibility. Fixing this heap may seem like a mammoth responsibility for any individual alone, but were we not all able to shut down the world’s economy?
Or instead would you like to live in a world governed by Big Brother? A man on a screen that lies to us, while we give up all our rights away?