My recent BuzzFeed story showed how the historic discovery of the submerged wreck of Sir John Franklin's flagship, HMS Erebus, was used to help market the Conservative government's policies in a politically motivated information management operation.
The exchange of medals, which apparently are becoming a debased political coinage in Canada, played an important part in that story.
Here, I'll shed light on an intriguing international connection in that same nexus.
John Geiger, head of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and a loyal ally of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, was the lead spokesman for the shipwreck discovery in the early days, when most of the world was watching and listening.
His RCGS awarded an Erebus Medal, said to honor those who contributed to the wreck's discovery, to 220 people, including Jeremy Hunt, a senior political aide to the prime minister who has been described as Harper's "gatekeeper."
"All participants in the discovery, including those in the field and those who worked behind the scenes are being recognized," Geiger said in a March 4 statement announcing the award. "Together, they have rewritten the history books and underscored the importance of the geography of Canada’s arctic.”
Geiger later received the inaugural Polar Medal from the governor general, the Queen's representative in Canada. He was one of four people to get the high honor for their roles in discovering Erebus, even though frontline experts who found the wreck said Geiger did not play a direct role in the discovery. The other three were unquestionably heroes in that discovery..
As the BuzzFeed story shows, Geiger was roughly 65 nautical miles north-northwest of the wreck site, on a Russian cruise ship, and oblivious to the find for days.
Before receiving his medal, Geiger travelled to the U.S. headquarters of the International Strategic Studies Association, based in Alexandria, Virginia, to hand-deliver an RCGS Erebus Medal to the organization's president, Australian security and intelligence veteran Gregory Copley.
Below, you'll see a screenshot of Geiger's Erebus Medal presentation to Copley, which months later is still on the agency's homepage. The brief description says Copley was one of only three non-Canadians to receive the medal and that it was awarded because "Copley worked on some aspects of the 2014 expedition, particularly dealing with the impact on Canadian sovereignty issues as (sic) the Northwest Passage . . . ."
It's important to note, as the BuzzFeed story reports, that the Harper government's view on Canada's Arctic sovereignty was a point Geiger frequently raised in interviews he gave following the discovery of Erebus. Those policy points, and his praise for Harper, remained constant while his story on the moment of discovery, which Geiger neither witnessed nor played any part in, evolved with the telling.
The Harper government claims the Northwest Passage is an internal waterway which, if recognized by the international community, would give federal authorities the right to restrict access as climate change, and the melting polar ice pack, make it seem more attractive to countries and corporations looking for shorter routes to ship, oil, natural gas and other commodities.
Powerful neighbours, including the U.S. and Russia, insist the Northwest Passage, which is actually several possible routes through Canada's Arctic Archipelago, in an "international strait," through which all vessels have the right of "transit passage."
At the bottom of the same screenshot, you'll see Copley receiving an honor in Switzerland, 2013, from the late Shah of Iran's foreign minister, Ardeshir Zahedi.
Briefly, Zahedi is the son the of the general that overthrew the elected, left-leaning government of Mohamad Mosaddeq in 1953, with the backing of foreign intelligence agencies including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Mosaeddeq's young government had nationalized the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now known as BP.
The Shah of Iran was installed following that coup, to restore a pro-Western monarchy. As the Shah's ambassador to the U.S., Zahedi played a crucial role in propping up a repressive regime that was eventually toppled in Iran's 1979 revolution. It still reverberates today as the West confronts a broadening international jihadist movement. (You can read about the links in this brilliant book by veteran New York Times correspondent Stephen Kinzer: All the Shah's Men.)
Geiger is a senior fellow of Copley's security and intelligence analysis group, which includes names such as Israeli-American terrorism expert Youssef Bodansky. He famously claimed that anti-Assad Syrian opposition forces orchestrated a horrific August 23, 2013 chemical weapons strike on an area under their control with either the backing, or the acquiescence of, U.S. intelligence.
Copley backed Bodansky on the startling claim. A team of experts that investigated the attack for the United Nations Security Council concluded surface-to-surface rockets carrying the nerve gas Sarin hit a rebel-held zone of the Syrian capital, Damascus. The team's mandate did not allow it to assign blame for what the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called a war crime.
Just as Geiger was made a senior fellow of Copley's security and intelligence analysis group, so too was Copley made a senior fellow of Geiger's RCGS, a registered charity with reported revenue of $7.7 million in its most recent fiscal year. In its most recent annual report, RCGS lists "long-standing parters" that include Shell Canada, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the W. Garfield Weston Foundation.
Copley keeps other interesting company besides Geiger and the Shah of Iran's foreign minister, including (as you'll see in the following screenshot) the vice minister of defence of the Republic of China, which most people know as Taiwan. Defending the island against reunification with China, in one of the world's most dangerous regions, is a favourite neoconservative cause.
The website for Copley's book, the Art of Victory, includes a long list of career achievements in world hotspots dating back to the early 1970s.
I encourage you to read the list for yourself, but it includes:
"Privately, Mr Copley has worked at the highest levels with a number of governments in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region to establish national capabilities in intelligence and strategic analysis."
"Apart from his open information and other activities, he has, since the early 1970s, been heavily involved in classified strategic analysis and operations for governments worldwide. This has involved the preparation of strategic philosophies for the restoration of elected government in certain countries, including input into the preparation of constitutions and electoral processes. It has, on numerous occasions, involved urgent work of a practical and political nature to halt existing conflicts or to prevent the imminent outbreak of hostilities."
"Analysis in 1973 on the prospect for a space-based, energy-derived weapons system to be used in an ABM (anti-ballistic missile) mode to suppress a Soviet first strike capability (by Dr Stefan Possony). Information noted by then ex-Governor of California Ronald Reagan who later developed it as the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)."
You can hear Copley in his own words in a 2012 Globe and Mail interview with Geiger's wife, Marina Jimenez. Geiger and Jimenez were also colleagues on the Globe and Mail's editorial board when Geiger headed it. The Toronto Star announced Jimenez its new deputy editor for special sections earlier this year.