Gordon Campbell on the Defence Force’s paranoia about journalism

If the thousands of people who marched on the weekend against the GCSB Bill wanted further justification for their concerns, the Defence Force has just provided it with bells on. The mindset that treats journalists as being threats to security on a par with foreign hostiles, activist groups, criminal hackers and dishonest staff is an excellent illustration of why the surveillance powers bestowed by the Bill are so dangerous. A Defence Force that treats the normal querying of the status quo by the Fourth Estate as being essentially treasonous in nature, has gone off the reservation, and is out of control. Give it the power to do so, and such an organisation will readily use the surveillance powers in the GCSB Bill to substantiate its persecution complex.

It is already doing so. This isn’t just a theoretical danger, glimmering somewhere off in the future. It is already happening, even before the GCSB gets passed, with the help of Peter Dunne. As Nicky Hager revealed on the weekend, US spy agencies have already been asked to access the phone records of freelance investigative journalist Jon Stephenson, one of the journalists on the Defence Force’s hit list of subversive threats. All that the legislation will do is render such rogue actions legal, within the cozy quartet of the GCSB, the SIS, the Police and the Defence Force, and any other state agency that feels itself beset by the minions of al-Qaeda and/or Radio New Zealand.

The Defence Force manual in which the paranoid perception of journalism is set out was written, apparently, in 2003. Yet it cannot be written off as a relic of the war on terrorism, because the surveillance of Stephenson shows it to be part and parcel of current operations. Disturbing as the Defence Force mindset may be, it would be misleading to assume that such attitudes are confined to the armed forces and the Police. The hostility to investigative journalism is an outcome of the ongoing politicisation of the public service. When parliamentary and departmental staff are driven by the imperative to Protect The Minister From Embarrassment – to the point where their jobs depend on it – it is hardly surprising that good journalists get treated as the enemy, and the Official Information Act gets treated as an offensive weapon from which the Minister must be shielded at all costs. Thwarting journalistic inquiry is seen as business as usual. In that respect, the Defence Force manual is being specific about what is routine practice in the other arms of government, every day of the week.

That’s why the GCSB Bill has to be resisted. History would indicate that it really isn’t a good idea to give paranoids the unlimited power to spy on you in order to justify their delusions, especially when they’re wearing uniforms.

Bronies With Guns
I hope this doesn’t qualify as the kind of investigative journalism likely to inflame the military mindset, but the weirdest story of last week had to be the one about the infatuation of certain serving members of the US armed forces and National Guardsmen with….My Little Pony. Yes, the same superpower killing machine that brought you Predator drones and Kent State has spent part of its time last week debating whether US servicemen can attend My Little Pony conventions in uniform, or can wear My Little Pony badges and decals when they’re out on military maneouvres. Reportedly, the US service personnel in question are called “ Bronies” and there’s a news website about Bronies in Uniform here. There’s also a Facebook page for Military Bronies here.

I first came across this debate in an article on the US Air Force Flightlines website that cites the US Army blog Outside The Wire, which goes into far more detail about the phenomenon in a story entitled “Military Bronies Love Their Rifles And Their My Little Pony.”

[At the] recent “BronyCon Summer 2012” at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey…a special lunch for service members at BronyCon got a visit from Tara Strong, who voices the magical pony Twilight Sparkle. No sooner did Strong praise the men as “twilightlicious,” than they broke out in a baritone of Twilight Sparkle’s signature song: “T-W-I-L-I-G-H-T, and ain’t no other pony troll down like me. I’m twilightlicious!”

In an odd parallel with the US military’s former “don’t ask/don’t tell” stance towards gays, bronies wonder about how alone they are, and how visible they can afford to be:

On the Military Bronies page, one poster was worried. How common are bronies in the Army? He was about to join and wanted to know how open to be. “Hard to say,” was the reply. “Best advice I can give is be subtle about it. Those who share your interests will notice, and you may even make some battle buddies that way. Best of luck to you as you launch your Army career!”

Sigh. If only the New Zealand Defence Force could embrace the friendship, love and tolerance that’s celebrated on the My Little Pony website, there would be none of this rank hostility to the likes of Jon Stephenson.