“It’s Helpful To Be Skeptical Of Everything”. Interview With Former Presidential Translator Fred Burks


Fred Burks served for eighteen years as a high level translator for several American Presidential administrations specializing in Indonesian and Mandarin Chinese. Following 9/11 and the advent of the global War on Terror he became recognized as a crucial asset in the Bush administrations’ dealings with Indonesia, the worlds’ most populous Muslim country.

Unusually Mr Burks did not sign a confidentiality agreement and resigned from his position after the executive insisted that he do so. Since then he has embarked on a mission to expose a variety of secretive government schemes to an uninformed public particularly in the fields of media and mind control. 

In 2005 he gained national fame in Indonesia and disapproval from his former superiors when he appeared as a key witness in the trial of Abu Bakar Baasyir, an Islamic preacher the U.S. believed was behind the 2002 Bali bombings. His testimony claimed that secret meetings between American envoys and former President Megawati Sukarnoputri indicated that Baasyir was being targeted as a culprit before the terrorist attack occurred. He went on to become something of a local celebrity appearing on television, speaking at universities and writing prodigiously on the subject.

Mr Burks has since featured in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal and was kind enough to conduct an interview with Youth Time Magazine. We asked him some questions related to the field of media manipulation and have included some extracts of our interview.

Do you perceive 21st century methods of propaganda to be a new paradigm in the field or simply innovations of techniques used for centuries?

I haven’t noticed anything that particularly suggests a new paradigm in propaganda methods, though I do see ever greater sophistication and subtlety.

Political scientists suppose that propaganda and manipulation are the most effective means of controlling the masses. Do you see an alternative avenue of gathering people within one system?

I find that deep down all people can sense in their heart when something feels really right and when it is feeding their base desires. When we appeal directly to people’s hearts and desire for transformation, I believe we can come together to create powerful and meaningful change.

Do you have a favorite example of the most effective propaganda campaign or example of media manipulation?

Look at how so much advertising uses sexual innuendo and appeals to the limbic brain. It’s all over the place and affects everyone on both conscious and subconscious levels. The more we make it conscious, the less power it has over us.

 What field do you perceive to be the main battleground of information warfare?

I choose not to engage in battles and warfare. I’m all about working together for change. An informed public is what I believe will change everything, which is why I do my best to open the eyes of all those who want to know.

What did you learn about manipulation and propaganda when you worked with in the President’s administration?  

It’s all about appearance and public image. That is how you manipulate people’s feelings, which are much more important than their rational minds. The President’s staff, for instance, would calculate carefully how to have maximum emotional affect to the point of even having me stand in a very certain spot next to the President even when that was not a good place to stand for the purposes of interpreting.”

How can people separate truth from falsehoods? Do you have some tips for youth and inexperienced readers and viewers?

I’ve found it’s helpful to be skeptical of everything – even my own beliefs. Yet it’s also very helpful to look for reliable sources and trust my own spiritual guidance and intuition.

Concluding he pointed to the contemporary relevance of his favorite quote from Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

 If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, 
and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. 
But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. 
And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Sometimes it is helpful to paint the world in much simpler terms, contrasting good and evil, black and white, us and them. Sometimes this contrast is drawn deliberately to serve the ends of those in power and persuade the public to a particular cause. To arrive at the heart and truth of a matter it is important to open ourselves to a prism of alternating, conflicting and uncomfortable viewpoints. We thank Mr Burke for his insights and hope our readers digest this key message – Question Everything, governments, messages, even this interview, ‘why’ is never a dirty word.

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