the pork-bolter
Special report (February 2005)

Andrew Mueller - the journalist spooked by coincidences

A QUITE extraordinary statement cropped up towards the end of an article on Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu in the Independent on Sunday magazine on February 13, 2005.

It read: "It also seems a safe bet that there will be speculation, from Vanunu's legion of ardent sympathisers, that this feature is itself a set-up, an Israeli psy-ops sting intended to sabotage Vanunu's reputation."

This is rather strange to say the least – a journalist suggesting to his readers that they might not necessarily be able to trust what they are reading. The effect is meant to be humorous; poking fun at that reliable target for ridicule, the Conspiracy Theorist. But an unintended consequence was that this reader, at least, immediately checked the byline, re-read the article and started wondering why the author was quite so defensive about his work.

Andrew Mueller's interview with Vanunu is certainly not particularly kind. He cleverly signposts his intentions early on in the article, with teasing references to "some rather more dramatic concerns that he [Vanunu] wishes to address" and certain statements that "are, to put it charitably, eccentric". Otherwise, Mueller patiently goes through the motions of interviewing Vanunu fairly sympathetically, if a little glibly, about his horrendous kidnapping and 18-year confinement by the Israeli state.

Until, that is, the last third or so of the article, which is devoted to the put-down we know is coming. Vanunu's 'mistake' is to state: "My view is that there is a secret government in many democratic states. They are the real people behind many world events." Mueller treats this line of argument with little respect ("Mmmm. How does this work, exactly?") and even tries to accuse the Israeli of following the anti-Jewish agenda of "crypto-fascist cyber-paranoiacs".

Eventually he elicits from Vanunu the opinion that even events like the tsunami could be engineered by secret government operations. It is not really clear how much of this opinion originated from Vanunu himself, but it is still an eccentric enough comment to form the centrepiece of the whole interview, as Mueller gleefully notes. He writes: "The more lurid sections of this interview will, of course, be gratefully seized upon by supporters of Israel who believe that Vanunu is an irredeemable scoundrel, richly deserving of yet further punishment; his peculiar theories will be gleefully e-mailed, gloatingly blogged, and used to discredit the truth he tried to tell the world nearly two decades ago."

It is then that Mueller makes the initially cited comment effectively stating that the article is not (repeat, not!) a set-up job. But why, Andrew, would we think it would be? You did your job, he gifted you a hook for the story – that's just the ruthless world of journalism, isn't it? What's all this hang-up about a 'psy-ops sting'? Maybe Mueller has been traumatised by some previous incident in which he was falsely accused of secret state activities and that's why the poor thing has become so hyper-sensitive? Maybe we ought to take a dip into the archives?

Happily for the lazy researcher, Mueller has his own website where he showcases his journalistic back catalogue at www.andrewmueller.net. It has a nice photo of him, which shows he is a funky sort of dude and not someone you could really suspect of working for the secret police.

We learn that he was born in Wagga Wagga in Australia and has written for "a bewildering number of publications all over the world" – including The Independent, the Sunday Times, The Guardian and Time Out. Further down we learn, with familiar phraseology, that he has interviewed "a bewildering variety of public figures" and his journalism has taken him to more than 60 countries. He mostly seems to write about travel and rock music, just occasionally slipping in the odd interview with the likes of Gerry Adams, Saiff al-Islam Gaddafi, Vanunu and anti-war Labour MP George Galloway.

Let's see what he had to say about the latter, in the Independent on Sunday back in November 2003, just as an example. Nothing much to raise anyone's suspicions here, surely? Once again the tone of the interview is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but that's Mueller's trademark style. Mueller does feel it important to share with us the fact that: "I don't agree with George Galloway about much" – but that hardly places him on the state asset suspect list, does it?

There is one section, though, that may help us understand Mueller's current anxieties. When Galloway declares that the Iraqis "have a legal and moral right to resist violent, illegal, foreign occupation", Mueller puts it to him that those doing so "may not be acting from the noblest of motives". Replies Galloway: "I don't know that either you or I know who these people are. But that's what would have been said about the French resistance." "Hmm," comments our interviewer. "Would you accept that a large sector of the Iraq population saw the occupation, at least initially, as an opportunity?" "No. I don't accept that," answers Galloway. "That's what friends of mine in Baghdad said to me," retorts Mueller.

Could it be that some readers misinterpreted Mueller's reference to "friends in Baghdad" and outright hostility to the Iraqi resistance as representing some kind of alignment with US or UK government policies? Is that where all the worry about 'set-up' interviews began?

A similar line emerges from Mueller's report on Post-War Iraq published in The Face in May 2003. He declares early on: "Like many people in Britain, I was against the war". But Mueller's subsequent experiences seem to have taught him that the issue is much too complex for simplistic notions like that, and he builds up the lengthy article to a grand finale in which he takes an Iraqi called Amar to the ruins of one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, destroyed by the American invaders. The triumphant closing sentence quotes Amar as saying: "Do you know where I could find the pilot who bombed this place? I would like to kiss him."

The trouble for Mueller is that this is exactly the line the British establishment was hoping to sell to the 'liberal' public at this juncture. The war was terrible, we may have opposed it, but now at least Saddam has gone and the Iraqi people are probably jolly grateful really. By sculpting his article (or 'reportage' as he likes to term it on his website) in such a way as to perfectly convey this message, Mueller is laying himself open to unfounded accusations of being nothing but a highly polished state propagandist.

Unfortunately, other comments around the same issue do nothing to protect his reputation from such misunderstandings. Mueller asks in his Baghdad piece: "If I'd been shown this aftermath in advance, would I have stayed home on the days of the marches, written columns castigating the war's opponents as snivelling cowards and fascist sympathisers?" This gives the impression that he was in fact a keen anti-war campaigner before the invasion of Iraq – even if the glorious success of the whole operation had since proved him to have been a little naïve.

But a rather different picture emerges from what he was actually publishing at the time. A piece in Time Out in March 2002 entitled 'Stop The War' adopts a by-now familiar sneer in its account of the anti-war movement, although Mueller presumably thinks he can dispel this impression by boldly stating the opposite: "I went not to mock, honestly." We learn that poor, sensitive Andrew was upset by the "puerile anti-American bleating" he heard at the anti-war meeting. He also cannot help slipping in his support for George W Bush's post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan: "I certainly did wish that someone who objected to the war in Afghanistan would explain what else America should have done." Errrm. Not invade Afghanistan, perhaps, Andrew?

Bearing in mind his target audience in Time Out, though, Mueller doesn't go in too hard on the anti-war crowd, declaring that their "immediate cause is, I think, an honourable one". No, instead, he takes the unusual line that they're wasting their time as the bombing of Iraq has been going on for years anyway and nobody cares. He concludes the column: "Rarely in the field of human conflict can so much have been dropped to so little effect while arousing the interest of so few. The Stop the War Coalition are slamming the door of a long-empty stable."

This was, of course, written before the protests against the Iraq war turned into the biggest political rebellion this country has seen for decades. It is understandable that with hindsight Mueller may have wished he had been fully part of that movement. But as a result he has a problem with the picture that his shifting positions paint. First he is vaguely anti-war but turned off the pre-war protests by the laughable views of those involved and the fact that they won't get anywhere anyway. Then later he states he was always very anti-war, but on visiting Baghdad has seen for himself just how grateful the Iraqi people are to be rid of Saddam Hussein, and begins to think he may have got it wrong all along.

George Orwell once pointed out the refined propaganda technique of the 'unwilling witness' who seems to have his eyes opened by damning evidence that conflicts with his personal opinions. While the honesty of Mueller's views must surely be completely beyond question, there may be wrong-headed cynics out there who would erroneously imagine this is exactly what he was trying to achieve here.

A rather predictable pattern emerges when one studies Mueller's past writings closely and curious readers may want to continue the process in their own time, the better to understand the man. But we have just got time to mention the article he wrote for The Face in March 1998 on the 30th anniversary of the 1968 uprisings in Paris. Mueller travels to the French capital "in an effort to get closer to the revolutionary soul of Paris" He makes contact with some anarchists, who allow him to join in their activities, and speaks to Italian writer Angelo Quattrochi.

For all his usual wiseguy stereotyping of his interviewee (as a Latin type, Quatrrochi is humorously branded "an excitable sort of indeterminate age") Mueller actually gets a great quote from him. The Italian says: "In 1968 we liberated Paris from the banks and the cops – same thing, to me – and we controlled it for 15 days. To be there, to start a new life without money, was such an exhilarating feeling. People today don't think. They are told the present is the only possible present. This last generation, patrolled by the media, this cop of the mind, has not had a single original thought."

Mueller's immediate comment is "Kids today, tch," followed by "Nobody so conservative as an old hippy."

The bubble of inspiration from the "revolutionary soul" is well and truly burst, in case The Face's readers were getting any funny ideas. But just to ram the message right home, he slips in another jibe in that crucial last paragraph. Mueller writes: "My path to Gare Du Nord station on my last day in Paris is blocked by a demonstration. I don't know what it's about and by now I wonder if the demonstrators do themselves."

Readers may recall that similar derisive comments were made about supposedly muddle-headed anti-capitalist protesters in the early days of the big mobilisations. This seemed to be the predominant establishment line against the rebels back in 1997, 1998 or 1999, in the middle of which period Mueller's contribution was penned. Coincidentally, of course.

Mmmm, as Mueller might himself say.

With this kind of intriguing pattern to the freelance's work, it is perhaps understandable that he might occasionally feel a little misunderstood and thus over-defensive. However, it still has to be said that it was a major over-reaction on his part to actually draw attention to and then dismiss the idea that the Vanunu article could be a 'psy-ops' set-up. After all, the belief that journalists might be working directly for the secret state is not exactly very widely held. The left will criticise the corporate media for its bias, of course, but this is usually seen as reflecting the ownership and commercial vested interests of the organ or its owner.

Occasionally the world beyond the Conspiracy Theory ghetto gets a whiff of something amiss, such as an article by David Leigh in British Journalism Review in 2000. He begins by declaring that "British journalists – and British journals – are being manipulated by the secret intelligence agencies and I think we ought to try and put a stop to it." He refers to "the attempt to recruit journalists to spy on other people, or for spies to go themselves under journalistic 'cover'. This occurs today and it has gone on for years." Leigh also declares: "There is – or has been until recently – a very active programme by the secret agencies to colour what appears in the British press, called, if publications by various defectors can be believed, 'I/Ops'. That is an abbreviation for Information operations and I am – unusually – in a position to provide some information about it."

Unfortunately the rest of his article doesn't shed much light on the kind of circumstances in which Andrew Mueller fears some people may think his articles are devised. But an enormous insight into that world can be gleaned from Gordon Winter's astonishing book 'Inside Boss' (Penguin 1981). Winter blows the whistle on his career as a journalist working for the South African intelligence forces during the Apartheid years. And he makes it quite clear that the same methods are being used by agencies a lot closer to home. What is quite remarkable in his account is the care with which each planted story is created, with a highly sophisticated spin placed on it to elicit the correct response from the target audience. He refers openly to "the pro-government propaganda I had carefully inserted into the story" and admits: "I was Pretoria's number one hatchetman; a character assassin." Reveals Winter: "The unscrupulous journalist does not have to write deliberate lies. He can pervert the truth by concentrating on the negative and diminishing the positive."

He also explains how he successfully maintained the façade of being a liberal, with "cunningly angled stories" placed in the likes of black magazine Drum and its sister paper Post – South African equivalents of Time Out, one might say. Sometimes this led him to write anti-establishment stories, he recalls. "Some government officials were not amused, but my spy-master, H. J Van Den Bergh, didn't mind in the least. He knew the story would please the liberals and leftists and make them trust me all the more."

As well as penning pro-Apartheid propaganda and gathering valuable information on the left for the intelligence forces, Winter was trusted enough to become part of some big secret state initiatives. For instance, he describes himself as having been "number one propagandist" for the MNR, South Africa's fake Black liberation movement in Mozambique. Thanks to his hype, and much to his bosses' delight, this eventually actually took on a life of its own. In current times, this operation is reminiscent of the "pro-democracy" movements springing up in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, which have been shown to be linked to the CIA and other shady US organisations.

One example is Kmara (meaning 'Enough!'), the student organisation that helped pro-western US-educated Mikhail Saakashvili come to power in Georgia. Otpor ('Resistance'), the anti-Milosevic movement in Yugoslavia, was also funded by the US Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy. In Ukraine the similar group Pora ('It's Time') has had support from Kmara and Otpor activists, plus backing from the US National Democratic Institute. And in Albania, the youth movement Mjaft! (which also means 'Enough!') has been receiving substantial support from overseas in the run-up to the elections scheduled for 2005.

A press release found on a Google cache of their website is quite open about these links. Mjaft! defines its aim as to "shape the future for economic improvement, political integrity and social decency". It describes "free training courses on Direct Action Organising (DAO) and community change, based on a manual produced by Campaign members" and later states this manual was "sponsored by the British Embassy". This is very peculiar indeed, at a time when the British state has been going about criminalising direct action on its own territory!

In a section boasting about its "International Recognition", the press release states: "The British Ambassador had also contributed an editorial in the 'Gazeta Shqiptare' outlining the reasons why the British Embassy supports the Campaign. In addition MJAFT! has received two commendation letters from the US Congressmen Eliot Engel and Tom Lantos."

Best of all, however, was the super news that an article featuring their movement had been published in "The Independent, a world-renowned British newspaper". You can see why they were pleased. The article contains statements like: "The one Albanian word we see everywhere, on posters and stickers next to print of a red hand, is 'Mjaft!'." And it says of Mjaft!'s young leaders: "Erion and Arbjan are terrifyingly bright and I suspect that if I visit Albania 20 years hence, I might find myself addressing one of them as Mr President."

And the author of this June 2003 piece, whose enthusiastic endorsement of MJAFT! is cleverly concealed within the framework of a travel article about Albania? Why it's none other than our cynical chum Andrew Mueller!

Mmmm.


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