Do We Really Want Nuclear War with Russia?

Special Report: The U.S. propaganda war against Russia is spinning out of control, rolling ever faster downhill with a dangerous momentum that threatens to drive the world into a nuclear showdown, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Through an endless barrage of ugly propaganda, the U.S. government and the mainstream American press have put the world on course for a potential nuclear showdown with Russia, an existential risk that has been undertaken cavalierly amid bizarre expressions of self-righteousness from Western institutions.

This extraordinarily dangerous moment reflects the insistence of the Establishment in Washington that it should continue to rule the world and that it will not broach the possibility of other nations asserting their own national interests even in their own neighborhoods.

Rather than adjust to a new multi-polar world, the powers-that-be in Washington have deployed a vast array of propaganda assets that are financed or otherwise encouraged to escalate an information war so aggressively that Russia is reading this onslaught of insults as the conditioning of the Western populations for a world war.

While that may not be the intention of President Obama, who in his recent United Nations address acknowledged the risks from imposing uni-polar order on the world, a powerful bureaucratic machinery is in place to advance U.S. propaganda goals. It is operating on a crazed auto-pilot hurtling toward destruction but beyond anyone’s ability to turn it off.

This machinery consists not just of outlets and activists funded by U.S. tax dollars via the National Endowment for Democracy or the U.S. Agency for International Development or NATO’s Strategic Communications Command, but like-minded “human rights” entities paid for by billionaire currency speculator George Soros or controlled by neoconservative ideologues who now run major U.S. newspapers, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times.

This propaganda apparatus now has so many specialized features that you get supposedly “progressive” and “anti-war” organizations promoting a major U.S. invasion of Syria under the guise of sweet-sounding policies like “no-fly zones” and “safe zones,” the same euphemisms that were used as the gateway to bloody “regime change” wars in Iraq and Libya.

There exists what intelligence veterans call a Mighty Wurlitzer, an organ with so many keys and pedals that it’s hard to know where all the sounds come from that make up the powerful harmony, all building to the same crescendo. But that crescendo may now be war with nuclear-armed Russia, which finds in all this demonizing the prelude to either a destabilization campaign aimed at “regime change” in Moscow or outright war.

Yet, the West can’t seem to muster the sanity or the honesty to begin toning down or even showing skepticism toward the escalating charges aimed at Russia. We saw similar patterns in the run-up to war in Iraq in 2002-2003 and in justifying the ouster, torture and murder of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Western propaganda also has enveloped the conflict in Syria to such an extent that the American people don’t understand that the U.S. government and its regional “allies” have been supporting and arming jihadist groups fighting under the command of Al Qaeda and even the Islamic State. The propaganda has focused on demonizing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while downplaying or ignoring the real nature of the “moderate” opposition.

Taking Aim at Putin

In many ways, the Western insistence on “regime change” in Syria ties in directly to the extraordinary escalation of that strategy to seek “regime change” in Russia. In August-September 2013, America’s neocons and liberal war hawks were salivating over the prospect of a U.S. military bombing campaign to devastate Assad’s army as punishment for his alleged role in a sarin gas attack outside Damascus.

Although the intelligence was weak regarding Assad’s “guilt” – and subsequent evidence has pointed to a likely provocation by radical jihadists using home-made sarin and a jerry-rigged rocket – Official Washington was rubbing its hands at the prospect of a retaliatory bombing operation that would punish Assad and advance the cause of “regime change.”

At the last minute, however, President Obama listened to the doubts from his intelligence advisers and rejected what he later called the Washington “playbook” of a military response to a complex problem. To the annoyance of Washington insiders, Obama then collaborated with President Putin in a diplomatic settlement in which Syria surrendered all its chemical weapons while still denying any role in the sarin attack. Obama was accused of weakness for not “enforcing his red line” against chemical weapons use.

The despair over Obama’s failure to bomb the Syrian government and open the path for a long-desired “regime change” in Damascus led to a search for other villains, the most obvious one being Putin, who then became the focus of neocon determination to make him share their pain and disappointment.

National Endowment for Democracy President Carl Gershman took to the op-ed page of The Washington Post in late September 2013 to declare that Ukraine was now “the biggest prize” and represented an important interim step toward eventually toppling Putin in Russia.

Gershman, who is essentially a neocon paymaster dispensing $100 million a year in U.S. taxpayers’ money to activists, journalists and various other operatives, wrote: “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

Within weeks, U.S. neocons – including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain – were encouraging right-wing Ukrainian nationalists to overthrow Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych, a coup accomplished on Feb. 22, 2014, touching off a civil war between Ukraine’s west and east.

As part of that Western propaganda barrage, the Ukraine coup ousting the elected president was hailed as a victory for “democracy” and Yanukovych’s supporters in the south and east who resisted this imposition of illegitimate authority in Kiev became the target of a U.S.-backed “Anti-Terrorism Operation” or ATO.

Led by The New York Times and The Washington Post, the Western media fell in line behind the preferred narrative that there was “no coup,” that there were “no neo-Nazis” spearheading the non-coup (or maybe just a few), that the “Heavenly Hundred” who died in the putsch against Yanukovych had given their lives for Ukraine’s “freedom” even though some of the “heavenly” inconveniently were neo-Nazi street fighters, part of a paramilitary force that had killed some 16 police officers.

Killing ‘Terrorists’

Given the West’s pro-coup propaganda themes, it became necessary to justify the thousands of eastern Ukrainians slaughtered in the ATO as the killing of “terrorists” or Russian “stooges,” getting what they deserved. The 96 percent vote in Crimea’s referendum to reunify with Russia had to be a “sham” since the West’s narrative held that the Ukrainian people were thrilled with the putsch, so the Crimeans must have voted that way at Russian gunpoint.

The explanation of Crimea’s secession from Ukraine was that Russia “invaded” and “annexed” Crimea although there were no images of an invasion (no tanks crossing Crimea’s borders, no amphibious landings, no paratroopers descending from the sky – because Russian troops were already in Crimea as part of a basing agreement and helped protect Crimea’s inhabitants so they could hold their vote which did represent their desires).

Because the Western propaganda insisted that the new authorities in Kiev were wearing white hats, the Russians had to be fitted with black hats. Every bad thing that happened was automatically Putin’s fault. So, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, the West’s propaganda machinery whirred into action, blaming Russia for supposedly giving the ethnic Russian rebels powerful Buk anti-aircraft missiles.

The propaganda momentum was so strong by then that there was no Western support for Russia’s request for a United Nations investigation. Instead the inquiry was largely turned over to the torture-implicated Ukrainian intelligence service, the SBU, upon which the Dutch and Australians, the other two principal members, became increasingly dependent (by their own admissions). Belgium and Malaysia played lesser roles.

The Joint Investigation Committee (JIT) considered no serious alternatives to the Russians and the rebels being responsible. For instance, when the JIT released its “report” on Sept. 28, 2016, there was no explanation offered for why Dutch intelligence (i.e. NATO intelligence) had concluded that the only missile systems in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, capable of shooting down MH-17 were controlled by the Ukrainian military. The JIT “report” was silent about where those Ukrainian Buk missile systems were at the time of the shoot-down.

It’s also a bit of a misnomer to describe the JIT’s findings as a “report” since they were really expressed in a series of videos featuring computer-generated graphics supposedly showing a Russian Buk crew driving around Ukraine, mixed in with a few photos from social media of a Buk convoy.

Key to the JIT’s findings were phone intercepts provided by the SBU and assembled to reinforce the impression of Russian guilt. The problem, however, was that except for one intercept in which someone said he’d like to have Buks, the word “Buk” is not mentioned; nor the word “missiles”; nor the word “aircraft”; nor any discussion about shooting down a plane. That was all supposition with an authoritative narrator filling in the gaps.

Ignoring Contrary Evidence

The JIT also ignored evidence that contradicted its conclusions, such as other intercepts reporting that a Ukrainian convoy had penetrated close to the eastern city of Luhansk. The significance of that revelation is that it confirms a point that has been largely ignored, that the Ukrainian military could move almost at will across “rebel-controlled territory.” The notion that the Ukrainian civil war was like World War I with fixed trench lines was simply a fallacy.

The JIT also had to impose a bizarre route for the Russian Buk battery to follow on its way to the supposed firing location south of the remote eastern town of Snizhne. Because the “social media” photos show the Buk convoy heading east toward Russia, not west from Russia, the JIT had to map out a journey that ignored a simple, direct and discreet route from the Russian border to Snizhhe in favor of a trip more than twice as long roaming around eastern Ukraine all the way to Donetsk before turning eastward past a number of heavily populated areas where the Buk convoy, supposedly on a highly secret mission, could be photographed.

The alleged firing location also conflicts with the alleged reason for the Russians taking the extraordinary risk of introducing a Buk system – that it was needed to defend rebel soldiers then fighting mostly in the north against Ukrainian troops and aircraft. For that purpose, the positioning of a Buk battery far to the southeast makes little sense, nor does the decision for a Russian Buk crew to shoot down a commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet.

JIT’s account of the post-crash exfiltration of the Buk convoy back to Russia also is curious, since again the shortest, easiest and least populated route was ignored in favor of one that went far to the north past Luhansk, the alleged site of the supposed “getaway” video (although the supposed location of the “getaway” video was misplaced by Western media groups trying to pin the blame on Russia).

The confirmed parts of the Buk convoy’s route, i.e., along highways east of Donetsk, would fit better with a scenario that, I’m told, received serious consideration from U.S. intelligence analysts, that a Ukrainian Buk system under the control of a rogue military unit loyal to a fiercely anti-Putin oligarch traveled east into what was considered “rebel-controlled territory” to fire on what was hoped to be Putin’s official plane returning from a state visit to South America, i.e. to kill Putin.

A source briefed by these analysts said the missile was fired despite the unit’s doubt that the plane was Putin’s. Although it’s unclear to me exactly what the U.S. intelligence consensus ultimately turned out to be on MH-17 (since I have been refused official updates), there would be logic in a Ukrainian hardliner staging such an audacious missile attack deep inside “rebel territory,” since any assassination of Putin would have to be explained as an accidental attack by his own allies, i.e., the ultimate case of Putin being hoisted on his own petard.

To evaluate which scenario makes more sense – that the Russians dispatched a Buk missile battery on a wild ride across eastern Ukraine or that a Ukrainian Buk battery penetrated into supposedly rebel-controlled territory with the intent of attacking a civilian plane (although not MH-17) – it would be crucial to have an explanation of where the Ukrainian Buk batteries were located on July 17, 2014.

Silence on Dutch Intelligence

Some of the Russia-did-it crowd have dismissed claims that Ukrainian Buk systems were in the area as Russian disinformation, but their presence was confirmed by a report from the Dutch intelligence service, MIVD, relying on NATO information to explain why commercial airliners were still being allowed over the war zone.

The MIVD’s explanation was that the only anti-aircraft missiles that could hit a plane at 33,000 feet were controlled by Ukraine, which was presumed to have no interest in attacking commercial aircraft, and that the rebels lacked any missile system that could reach that high. Clearly, there was an intelligence failure because either some Ukrainian Buk operators did have an intent to strike a civilian plane or the rebels did have a Buk system in the area.

If the JIT were operating objectively, it would have included something about this intelligence failure, either by showing that it had investigated the possibility that Ukrainian Buk missiles were used by a rogue unit or explaining how Western intelligence could have missed Russia’s introduction of a Buk system into eastern Ukraine.

Instead, there was just this video that includes cryptic phone intercepts, assertions about unnamed witnesses and computer-generated graphics “showing” the movement of a Russian Buk convoy along darkened roads in Ukraine.

Despite the unusual nature of this “indictment,” it was widely accepted in Western media as the final proof of Russian perfidy. The evidence was called “overwhelming” and “conclusive.”

Rather than treating the video report as a prosecutor’s brief – a set of allegations yet to be proved – Western journalists accepted it as flat fact, much as they did Secretary of State Colin Powell’s similar presentation on Feb. 5, 2003, “proving” that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. (Powell also used computer-generated images — of Iraq’s “mobile chemical weapons labs” that, in reality, didn’t exist.)

The day after the JIT video report was issued, The New York Times’ lead editorial was headlined, “Mr. Putin’s Outlaw State.” It read:

“President Vladimir Putin is fast turning Russia into an outlaw nation. As one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, his country shares a special responsibility to uphold international law. Yet, his behavior in Ukraine and Syria violates not only the rules intended to promote peace instead of conflict, but also common human decency.

“This bitter truth was driven home twice on Wednesday [Sept. 28]. An investigative team led by the Netherlands concluded that the surface-to-air missile system that shot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine in July 2014, killing 298 on board, was sent from Russia to Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night. …

“Russia has tried hard to pin the blame for the airline crash on Ukraine. But the new report, produced by prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, confirms earlier findings. It uses strict standards of evidence and meticulously documents not only the deployment of the Russian missile system that caused the disaster but also Moscow’s continuing cover-up. …

“President Obama has long refused to approve direct military intervention in Syria. And Mr. Putin may be assuming that Mr. Obama is unlikely to confront Russia in his final months and with an American election season in full swing. But with the rebel stronghold in Aleppo under threat of falling to the government, administration officials said that such a response is again under consideration.

“Mr. Putin fancies himself a man on a mission to restore Russia to greatness. Russia could indeed be a great force for good. Yet his unconscionable behavior — butchering civilians in Syria and Ukraine, annexing Crimea, computer-hacking American government agencies, crushing dissent at home — suggests that the furthest thing from his mind is becoming a constructive partner in the search for peace.”

Rich Irony

Granted, there is some rich irony in a major U.S. newspaper, which helped justify illegal aggression against Iraq with false reporting about Iraq buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges, pontificating about international law.

Indeed, the very idea that any serious person in the United States would lecture other countries about international law would be laughable if the hypocrisy were not delivered in such a serious set of circumstances. For decades now, the United States has been a law onto itself, deciding which countries should be bombed and who should be assassinated.

President Obama himself has acknowledged authorizing military strikes in seven countries during his presidency and many of those attacks were done outside international law. Indeed, the Times editorial appears to urge Obama to launch illegal military strikes against the Syrian government and, not surprisingly, doesn’t mention the U.S. airstrike that killed some 62 Syrian government soldiers just last month, delivering a death blow to the partial ceasefire.

Instead, you get a medley of the Times’ greatest anti-Russian propaganda hits while ignoring the U.S. role in destabilizing and overthrowing Ukraine’s elected government in favor of a harshly anti-Russian nationalist regime that then began slaughtering thousands of ethnic Russians who resisted the coup.

Nor does the Times mention that Russia is operating inside Syria by invitation of the sovereign government, while the U.S. has no such authority. And the Times leaves out how the U.S. government and its allies have covertly armed and funded jihadist rebels who have inflicted many of the hundreds of thousands of dead in Syria. Not everyone, including Syrian soldiers, was killed by Assad and the Russians, although that’s the impression the Times leaves.

A more nuanced account would reflect this murky reality in which sophisticated U.S. weapons, such as TOW missiles, have ended up in the possession of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and its jihadist allies. It would acknowledge that many sides are at fault for these tragedies in Syria and Ukraine – not to mention all the bloodshed that has followed the U.S.-led and U.S.-enabled wars that have torn apart the Middle East over the past decade and a half.

The Times might also admit that Putin was helpful in resolving the 2013 sarin crisis in Syria and achieving a breakthrough on the Iran nuclear talks in 2014. But that would not fit the propaganda need to demonize Putin and ready the American people for another, even more terrifying “regime change,” this time in Moscow.

What we can now expect are a series of legal actions brought against Russia in connection with the MH-17 case and other controversies. The goal will be to further demonize Putin and to destabilize Russia, a process already underway with economic sanctions that have helped throw Russia’s economy into recession.

The neocon plan is to ratchet up tensions and pain so Putin’s elected government will somehow collapse with the neocons hoping that some U.S. lackey will take over and allow another round of “shock therapy,” i.e. the plunder of Russia’s resources to the benefit of a few favored oligarchs and their American consultants.

However, given the dreadful experience that the average Russian faced from the earlier round of “shock therapy” in the 1990s – including a stunning decline in life expectancy – the more likely outcome from even a successful neocon scheme of “regime change” would be the emergence of a much more hard-line Russian nationalist than Putin.

Whereas Putin is a calculating and rational leader, the guy who follows him might well be an ideologue ready to use nuclear weapons to protect Mother Russia’s honor. After all, it’s not as if one of these neocon “regime change” calculations has ever gone wrong before.

Yet, whichever way things go, Official Washington – and its complicit mainstream media – now appear determined to push Russia into a corner with military encroachments from NATO on Russia’s borders and with criminal accusations before biased international “investigations.” Any misstep in this dangerous game could quickly end life as we know it.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).




Obama Warned to Defuse Tensions with Russia

A group of ex-U.S. intelligence officials is warning President Obama to defuse growing tensions with Russia over Syria by reining in the demonization of President Putin and asserting White House civilian control over the Pentagon.

ALERT MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: PREVENTING STILL WORSE IN SYRIA

We write to alert you, as we did President George W. Bush, six weeks before the attack on Iraq, that the consequences of limiting your circle of advisers to a small, relatively inexperienced coterie with a dubious record for wisdom can prove disastrous.* Our concern this time regards Syria.

We are hoping that your President’s Daily Brief tomorrow will give appropriate attention to Saturday’s warning by Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova: “If the US launches a direct aggression against Damascus and the Syrian Army, it would cause a terrible, tectonic shift not only in the country, but in the entire region.”

Speaking on Russian TV, she warned of those whose “logic is ‘why do we need diplomacy’ … when there is power … and methods of resolving a problem by power. We already know this logic; there is nothing new about it. It usually ends with one thing – full-scale war.”

We are also hoping that this is not the first you have heard of this – no doubt officially approved – statement. If on Sundays you rely on the “mainstream” press, you may well have missed it. In the Washington Post, an abridged report of Zakharova’s remarks (nothing about “full-scale war”) was buried in the last paragraph of an 11-paragraph article titled “Hospital in Aleppo is hit again by bombs.” Sunday’s New York Times totally ignored the Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s statements.

In our view, it would be a huge mistake to allow your national security advisers to follow the example of the Post and Times in minimizing the importance of Zakharova’s remarks.

Events over the past several weeks have led Russian officials to distrust Secretary of State John Kerry. Indeed, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who parses his words carefully, has publicly expressed that distrust. Some Russian officials suspect that Kerry has been playing a double game; others believe that, however much he may strive for progress through diplomacy, he cannot deliver on his commitments because the Pentagon undercuts him every time. We believe that this lack of trust is a challenge that must be overcome and that, at this point, only you can accomplish this.

It should not be attributed to paranoia on the Russians’ part that they suspect the Sept. 17 U.S. and Australian air attacks on Syrian army troops that killed 62 and wounded 100 was no “mistake,” but rather a deliberate attempt to scuttle the partial cease-fire Kerry and Lavrov had agreed on – with your approval and that of President Putin – that took effect just five days earlier.

In public remarks bordering on the insubordinate, senior Pentagon officials showed unusually open skepticism regarding key aspects of the Kerry-Lavrov deal. We can assume that what Lavrov has told his boss in private is close to his uncharacteristically blunt words on Russian NTV on Sept. 26:

“My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the US military machine. Despite the fact that, as always, [they] made assurances that the US Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin), apparently the military does not really listen to the Commander in Chief.”

Lavrov’s words are not mere rhetoric. He also criticized JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford for telling Congress that he opposed sharing intelligence with Russia, “after the agreements concluded on direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama stipulated that they would share intelligence. … It is difficult to work with such partners. …”

Policy differences between the White House and the Pentagon are rarely as openly expressed as they are now over policy on Syria. We suggest you get hold of a new book to be released this week titled The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by master historian H. W. Brands. It includes testimony, earlier redacted, that sheds light on why President Truman dismissed WWII hero Gen. Douglas MacArthur from command of U.N. forces in Korea in April 1951. One early reviewer notes that “Brands’s narrative makes us wonder about challenges of military versus civilian leadership we still face today.” You may find this new book more relevant at this point in time than the Team of Rivals.

The door to further negotiations remains ajar. In recent days, officials of the Russian foreign and defense ministries, as well as President Putin’s spokesman, have carefully avoided shutting that door, and we find it a good sign that Secretary Kerry has been on the phone with Foreign Minister Lavrov. And the Russians have also emphasized Moscow’s continued willingness to honor previous agreements on Syria.

In the Kremlin’s view, Russia has far more skin in the game than the U.S. does. Thousands of Russian dissident terrorists have found their way to Syria, where they obtain weapons, funding, and practical experience in waging violent insurgency. There is understandable worry on Moscow’s part over the threat they will pose when they come back home. In addition, President Putin can be assumed to be under the same kind of pressure you face from the military to order it to try to clean out the mess in Syria “once and for all,” regardless how dim the prospects for a military solution are for either side in Syria.

We are aware that many in Congress and the “mainstream” media are now calling on you to up the ante and respond – overtly or covertly or both – with more violence in Syria. Shades of the “Washington Playbook,” about which you spoke derisively in interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this year. We take some encouragement in your acknowledgment to Goldberg that the “playbook” can be “a trap that can lead to bad decisions” – not to mention doing “stupid stuff.”

Goldberg wrote that you felt the Pentagon had “jammed” you on the troop surge for Afghanistan seven years ago and that the same thing almost happened three years ago on Syria, before President Putin persuaded Syria to surrender its chemical weapons for destruction. It seems that the kind of approach that worked then should be tried now, as well – particularly if you are starting to feel jammed once again.

Incidentally, it would be helpful toward that end if you had one of your staffers tell the “mainstream” media to tone down it puerile, nasty – and for the most part unjustified and certainly unhelpful – personal vilification of President Putin.

Renewing direct dialogue with President Putin might well offer the best chance to ensure an end, finally, to unwanted “jamming.” We believe John Kerry is correct in emphasizing how frightfully complicated the disarray in Syria is amid the various vying interests and factions. At the same time, he has already done much of the necessary spadework and has found Lavrov for the most part, a helpful partner.

Still, in view of lingering Russian – and not only Russian – skepticism regarding the strength of your support for your secretary of state, we believe that discussions at the highest level would be the best way to prevent hotheads on either side from risking the kind of armed confrontation that nobody should want.

Therefore, we strongly recommend that you invite President Putin to meet with you in a mutually convenient place, in order to try to sort things out and prevent still worse for the people of Syria.

In the wake of the carnage of World War II, Winston Churchill made an observation that is equally applicable to our 21st Century: “To jaw, jaw, jaw, is better than to war, war, war.”

* In a Memorandum to President Bush criticizing Colin Powell’s address to the UN earlier on February 5, 2003, VIPS ended with these words: “After watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion … beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Fred Costello, Former Russian Linguist, USAF

Mike Gravel, former Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service; special agent of the Counter Intelligence Corps and former United States Senator

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C. Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism officer and former senior investigator, Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East, CIA (ret.)

Todd Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Coleen Rowley, Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)

Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA, (ret.)

Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat




Trump’s Blindness Toward Slavery, Jim Crow

Exclusive: Donald Trump’s remarkable comments about American blacks never being worse off demonstrated a stunning ignorance of or callousness toward the grotesque evils of slavery and Jim Crow, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

The almost daily reports of police killings of African-Americans and resulting community outrage have shined a light on persistent racism in the United States. Yet, in the first presidential debate, Donald Trump was asked what he would do to heal the racial divide and replied: “Bring back law and order.”

He added that the use of stop-and-frisk in New York and Chicago “worked very well” and “brought the crime rate way down.”

But, as reported in the New York Times, “about 90 percent of the people who were stopped were young black or Latino men who had committed no crime whatsoever, according to police data. Of those few who were arrested, the vast majority were charged with nothing more serious than possession of marijuana, not having guns.”

When debate moderator Lester Holt noted that stop-and-frisk had been ruled unconstitutional in New York because it “largely singled out black and Hispanic young men,” Trump disagreed.

In fact, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in the 2013 case of Floyd v. City of New York that New York’s stop-and-frisk program violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures since they were conducted without reasonable suspicion. It also violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because the stops and frisks were racially discriminatory, the judge found.

Darius Charney, lead attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights in Floyd, said, “Stop-and-frisk, as practiced by the NYPD up until 2014, was at its root about equating blackness with criminality and dangerousness, which is exactly the same kind of thinking that has led to all of the horrific and avoidable police shootings of people of color that have captured the nation’s attention over the past few years.”

Before the debate, Trump had said at a rally that “African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever.”

Trump apparently forgot about slavery and Jim Crow. In her 1861 slave narrative, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Harriet Jacobs wrote, “Various were the punishments [of slaves] resorted to. A favorite one was to tie a rope round a man’s body, and suspend him from the ground. A fire was kindled over him, from which was suspended a piece of fat pork. As this cooked, the scalding drops of fat continually fell on the bare flesh.”

When a slave ran away, Jacobs added, bloodhounds tracked him, then “literally tore the flesh from his bones.” If a slave resisted going with his new master, Jacobs noted, “The whip is used till the blood flows at his feet; and his stiffened limbs are put in chains, to be dragged in the field for days and days!”

‘Insulting’ Ignorance

NAACP president Cornell William Brooks said on CNN that Trump’s comments that blacks are worse off now than ever demonstrated “an insulting degree of ignorance and/or insensitivity,” ignoring the lynching of African-Americans, separate drinking fountains, forced seating at the back of the bus, and slavery. Brooks added that Trump’s remarks revealed “a profound insensitivity to what we are going through at this very moment.”

The head of the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent compared police killings of African-Americans in the United States to lynchings.

“Contemporary police killings, and the trauma they create, are reminiscent of the past racial terror of lynching,” Ricardo Sunga III said. He attributed the “current human rights crisis” to “impunity for state violence,” noting the working group “is convinced that the root of the problem lies in the serious lack of accountability for perpetrators of such killings despite the evidence.”

Human rights experts from New York University Law School, University of Virginia School of Law, and St. Louis University School of Law concur. In a submission to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for a hearing on “Excessive Use of Force by the Police against Black Americans in the United States,” they wrote that in 2015, police officers killed at least 1,139 people in the U.S. More than 25 percent of the victims of police violence were black, which is “grossly disproportionate” to their numbers in the national population.

“Impunity and the lack of accountability lie at the heart of a cycle of police violence and discrimination against Black Americans,” the legal experts noted. They added that the legal framework regulating the use of force in the U.S. “does not conform to the requirements of international human rights law or international best practices,” which require law enforcement to “apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force.”

If force is “unavoidable,” officers must “exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.” In all circumstances where force is used, police must “minimize damage . . . and respect and preserve human life” and dignity. “Intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

We see repeated situations in which officers respond to a scene and use deadly force as a first, not a last, resort. Police are trained to shoot to kill, not to incapacitate. They often opt to shoot rather than using tasers, although there is also overuse of tasers.

Officers in San Diego County’s El Cajon knew that Alfred Olango had mental illness. Yet instead of calling the Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams, which is trained to defuse these types of situations, the police responded to Olango’s sister’s call for help earlier this week by shooting him while his hands were in the air.

Three days after Olango was killed, a black man with bipolar disorder was shot and killed by Los Angeles County police following his call for help.

Inherent Police Bias

The IACHR report charged that “deferring to the views of officers” about what constitutes a lawful use of force “runs the risk of allowing their biases – whether explicit or implicit – to define the parameter of the lawful use of force.”

Implicit bias describes unconscious prejudices, attitudes and stereotypes. Researchers at the Yale Child Study Center concluded that implicit bias determines the way teachers deal with African-American male students beginning at four years of age.

“The problem of discriminatory police violence is not simply one of inadequate training,” the IACHR report continued. “It cannot be separated from systemic racism and inadequate accountability mechanisms.”

“Aggressive police practices are deeply rooted in a history of discrimination against Black Americans and are part of a system of racial and social control,” the report noted. Its authors identify “broken windows” policing, which targets petty crime; racial profiling, in which people of color are “stereotyped as violent criminals or drug abusers”; increasing militarization of police, who use military equipment even when responding to non-violent crime; and “for-profit policing,” where law enforcement raises considerable revenue from fines and criminal and civil forfeiture.

Three sociology professors from Harvard, Yale and Oxford determined that 911 calls decreased by 17 percent in Milwaukee during the year after the 2004 beating of Frank Jude Jr. They found that African-Americans were less likely to call the police after learning that officers “boot-stomped [Jude’s] face, snapped his fingers and pressed pens into his ear canals” because they suspected him of stealing a police badge.

Matthew Desmond and Andrew Papachristos, two of the professors who conducted the Milwaukee study, wrote in the New York Times: “Each new tragedy contributes to and reawakens the collective trauma of black communities, which have been subjected to state-sanctioned assaults – from slave whippings and lynching campaigns to Jim Crow enforcement and mass incarceration – for generations.”

Clinton’s Proposals

Hillary Clinton has called for police training programs to eliminate implicit bias and proposed a plan “to restore bonds between communities and law enforcement.” She vowed to bring law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers, support legislation to end racial profiling, dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and provide greater transparency and accountability for officer-involved shootings.

All police shootings should be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted by an independent and impartial special prosecutor. Citizens police review boards should have independent investigators, independent legal counsel, and subpoena power.

“We need an investigative model rather than a review model, where the board does its own investigations rather than just reviewing what the police have done,” Kate Yavenditti, from the National Lawyers Guild and Women Occupy San Diego, told me.

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Black Lives Matter movement across the country, which has exposed the way in which local, state and federal governments, the corporate media, and the judicial system actively participate in exonerating the police and demonizing the victim.

The U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, comprised of top human rights lawyers from around the world, told the U.N. Human Rights Council last week that the United States owes reparations to African-Americans as compensation for “the legacy of colonial history, enslavement, racial subordination and segregation, racial terrorism and racial inequality.”

The working group concluded that U.S. slave labor would be worth about $5.9 trillion today. But reparations could be provided in the form of “a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities . . . psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation.”

Our society continues to be plagued by the legacy of slavery – the “peculiar institution” – as well as Jim Crow and continuing, pernicious racism. Calls for “law and order” and stop-and-frisk will not heal the wounds, and will only exacerbate the tensions. Yet, that is what Donald Trump has prescribed.

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is a frequent writer, lecturer and commentator about civil rights and civil liberties. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter @marjoriecohn.




Clinton Shows a Dovish Side on Nukes

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton, who has carved out a reputation as a war hawk, has quietly voiced opposition to a $1 trillion plan to modernize America’s nuclear arsenal, including a nuke-tipped cruise missile, notes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Whoever is hacking Hillary Clinton’s emails just did her a big favor, at least with anti-war critics: One newly released message reveals her skepticism about wasteful and dangerous spending on new nuclear weapons in the name of “modernization.” It’s a refreshing change from her usual hawkish stand on national security.

An email leaked to the conservative Washington Free Beacon includes an audio file of Clinton’s remarks at a private fundraiser in McLean, Virginia, last February. Asked by a former senior Pentagon official about her willingness to cancel plans for a next-generation nuclear cruise missile program, she replied, “I certainly would be inclined to do that.”

“The last thing we need are sophisticated cruise missiles that are nuclear armed,” Clinton added.

Current Air Force plans call for spending upward of $30 billion on the Long Range Stand-Off (LRSO) missile program to acquire 1,000 such weapons. The Air Force says it will begin awarding contracts as early as next summer for the stealthy missiles, which will be launched from bombers more than 2,000 kilometers from their targets.

The LRSO program, in turn, is part of the Obama administration’s grandiose plan to spend more than $1 trillion over the next three decades on new land, sea, and air-launched nuclear weapons. That plan calls for building 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, 100 long-range strategic bombers armed with a new class of bombs, and at least 400 silo-based ballistic missiles, in addition to the new cruise missiles.

While nearly every aspect of the administration’s plan has garnered criticism, including the sheer improbability of finding enough funds to pay for such an extravagant “all of the above” program, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter delivered a resounding defense during a recent speech at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, home to Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, B-52 bombers, and several hundred nuclear-armed cruise missiles.

Offering more rhetoric than substance, Carter insisted that failure to rebuild every leg of America’s nuclear force “would mean losing confidence in our ability to deter, which we can’t afford in today’s volatile security environment.”

Senators Object

Carter’s speech was a belated reply to a letter from 10 prominent progressive senators, including Bernie Sanders, asking President Obama to reconsider his nuclear modernization program. “In particular,” they wrote, echoing Clinton’s own concerns, “we urge you to cancel plans to spend at least $20 billion on a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff weapon, which would provide an unnecessary capability that could increase the risk of nuclear war.”

Experts in the arms control community backed them up. “The Air Force does not need a costly new and more capable nuclear-armed cruise missile,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, “especially if the new long-range penetrating bomber is truly penetrating. We are seeing a return to the days of nuclear excess and overkill.”

Even more authoritative criticism of the LRSO program came from former Secretary of Defense William Perry, who guided development of the current generation of air-launched cruise missiles, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Andy Weber, who oversaw all nuclear weapons programs in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2014.

They warned that the missiles are not just a waste of money, but could actually put our national security at risk.

“Because they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants, cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon,” Perry and Weber observed. Canceling the new cruise missile program, they declared, “would not diminish the formidable U.S. nuclear deterrent in the least” and “could lay the foundation for a global ban on these dangerous weapons.”

British Defense Secretary and Conservative Party politician Philip Hammond offered a similar view in 2013: “A cruise-based deterrent would carry significant risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation. At the point of firing, other states could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead. Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension. So, the cruise option would carry enormous financial, technical and strategic risk.”

Nuclear War ‘Flexibility’

To such criticisms, the Pentagon has argued chillingly that the new cruise missiles will give the United States greater “flexibility” in fighting a nuclear war — contrary to President Reagan’s common-sense dictum that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Clinton has made few firm pledges about nuclear weapons policy, but she told supporters at the private fundraiser that “This is going to be a big issue. It’s not just the nuclear-tipped cruise missile. There’s a lot of other money we’re talking about to go into refurbishing and modernization.”

That event was not the first or only place she has raised questions about the current direction of America’s nuclear policy. At a town hall meeting in September 2015, Clinton expressed admiration for President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous warning about the military-industrial complex and ridiculed the idea of spending a trillion dollars on new nuclear programs.

This January, in Iowa, Clinton told an activist that the Obama administration’s current plan for nuclear modernization “doesn’t make sense to me.”

Clinton also takes great pride in her role in negotiating a 2011 nuclear agreement with Russia, which limited the number of strategic nuclear warheads that each side can deploy.

To be sure, history gives little reason for optimism that Clinton would follow through as president on her concerns.

President Obama’s transformation from an eloquent advocate of a nuclear-free world to a supporter of unprecedented nuclear spending suggests that the military-industrial complex remains a powerful force.

Still, it’s encouraging to know that Clinton isn’t a hard-wired hawk, and that at least a few generals and defense lobbyists may be losing sleep over the uncertain future of their prized weapons systems.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Obama Flinches at Renouncing Nuke First Strike,” “Dangerous Denial of Global Warming,” “How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy,”  “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.




The Russian View of Trump-Clinton Debate

Russian media is much more nuanced than the U.S. public is led to believe, even showing a perceptive approach to describing the Trump-Clinton presidential debate, as Gilbert Doctorow observed first-hand.

By Gilbert Doctorow

On Sept. 25, I received a phone call at my Brussels home inviting me to Moscow to participate in a political talk show on a state-run station to analyze the first Trump-Clinton debate, which was clearly the flavor of the day for Russian television programming.

I was not surprised when shortly thereafter I got an email invitation to participate in another talk show on a competing state channel also devoted to this subject. As a Russian-speaking “talking head” carrying a U.S. passport and willing to go to Moscow, I am part of a thin group. Out of consideration of professional ethics, I declined this second invitation but took a rain check to join them on Nov. 9 for a U.S. election postmortem.

The political talk show that was the first to invite me, called “Sixty Minutes,” is entirely new, launched at the start of the fall television season and runs daily Monday through Friday. Its name self-consciously recalls a similarly named long-running American television news program, though the format here is not pure news but more talk show.

Yet, the program borrows much from its American namesake. It’s slick, show-biz in visual impact with well-researched scripts that the presenters, a husband and wife team of widely known young and bold journalists, Yevgeny Popov and Olga Skabeyeva, deliver with panache.

The show on Tuesday evening – a day after the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump – was not ideal, but I was grateful to my hosts for being brought to Moscow for the event. The invitation forced me to get up in the middle of the night, European time, to watch the Clinton-Trump debate from beginning to end and to direct my full attention to it, which I would not otherwise have done.

It also forced me to read the Russian press fairly thoroughly on my way to Moscow in order to anticipate the angle of interest there. And most importantly, once I was on the panel, it gave me an insider’s look into how Russia’s elites view the contest between Trump and Clinton, not only from what was said during the show but also from our exchanges in the breaks and immediately after the broadcast in the relaxation room with snacks before we headed our various ways.

The premise of the show’s producers was that the debates would hold great interest for a good many Russians because their country has figured large in the U.S. campaigns of both parties.

The Clinton camp has repeatedly and publicly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of interfering in the U.S. political process. Russian hackers were blamed for the very embarrassing publication of internal emails from the Democratic National Committee showing a bias against the candidacy of Bernie Sanders during the primaries. Moreover, Clinton and her assistants have portrayed Trump as a kind of modern-day “Manchurian candidate” who would betray American interests to Putin, his supposed friend.

For his part, Donald Trump publicly criticized the Establishment position of escalating conflict with Russia and China to which Hillary Clinton has long contributed. He has said that he saw nothing wrong in redirecting relations to cooperation and has praised the Russian military action against the Islamic State jihadists in Syria.

Trump also has made clear his accommodative stance on Russia’s reunification with Crimea. Plus, Trump challenged directly the relevance today of NATO with its focus on countering Russia’s recovery of its great power status, coming at the expense of distracting from the threat of Islamic terrorism. Trump broadly hinted at a possible reduced U.S. presence if not withdrawal altogether from the alliance for failing to carry its own weight in the common defense.

All of these aspects of the American campaign have been brought to the attention of the broad Russian public by its mass media over recent months.

Assessing the Russian Role

The proposed message of the talk show’s producers last Tuesday night was Russia as an important factor in the U.S. debates, which they measured by the number of times each of the candidates made reference to Russia. There is some merit to this argument, given that only a few separate countries were mentioned by either candidate during their 90 minutes: Russia, China and Iran in descending order of frequency.

However, the two contexts for mention of Russia – the alleged hacking of the DNC server and the renewal of a nuclear arms race – were both old news. The far more striking feature of the debates was the failure of either candidate to raise and discuss the alarming escalation in verbal confrontation between the two countries in and on the sidelines of the United Nations Security Council over the preceding two weeks.

During that time you had U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power calling Russian action in and around Aleppo “barbarism.”  And you had Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov stating in an interview that it seemed the Pentagon was no longer under the control of the White House. This type of rhetoric from both sides marks a 30-year low point in relations and could be described as what you hear just before countries engage in hostilities.

The escalating confrontation with Russia had two book-ends. It began one day into the cease-fire when a U.S.-led air attack on an isolated Syrian Army position at Deir Ezzor resulted in the death of more than 60 Syrian soldiers. At the other end, a week later, was the combined Syrian and Russian heavy bombing of East Aleppo, which Power denounced.

The show’s hosts must be congratulated for trying hard to convey the essence of American political culture to their audience, and they did some effective research to this end. Whereas French and other Western media devoted coverage on the day after the debates to the physical appearances of the candidates, Russia’s “Sixty Minutes” tweaked this aspect of the debates to find politically relevant commentary.

To make their point, presenter Yevgeny Popov came on stage in a blue suit and blue tie very similar in coloring to Trump’s, while co-presenter Olga Skabeyeva was wearing a garment in the same red hue as Hillary. They proceeded to note that these color choices of the candidates represented an inversion of the traditional colors of the Democratic and Republican parties in American political tradition.

And they took this a step further by declaring it to be in line with the inversion of policies in the electoral platforms of the candidates: Hillary Clinton has taken over the hawkish foreign policy positions of the Republicans and their neoconservative wing; and Donald Trump has taken over the dovish foreign policy positions normally associated with Democrats.

Moreover, Trump also has gone against the free-trade policies that were engrained in Republican ideology until now, while often rejected by Democrats with their traditional backers from labor unions. All of these observations are essentially correct and astute. It was curious to hear them coming from Russian journalists, when they are largely missed by West European and American commentators.

Of course, a talk show is only partly formed by its producers and presenters. The greater part of the program is the opinions put forward by the invited panelists.

As is typical of such shows, the panel changed slightly during the course of the three 20-minute segments, with some panelists replaced by others who were waiting on the benches for their turn. And of the seven or eight on stage at any one time, two or three were foreigners. I was one of two Americans, and the third foreigner was a Brit, the long-time Moscow correspondent of Newsweek magazine.

Russians Debating Russians

Sometimes foreigners are important to the Russian talk shows to add pepper and salt. In this case, we were largely decorative. The lion’s share of the program was shared between the Russian politicians and journalists on the panel who very ably demonstrated that Russian elites are split down the middle on whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is their preferred next occupant of the Oval Office.

The reasons given are not what you hear within the U.S.: that Trump is vulgar, that Trump is a bigot and misogynist. Instead the Russian Trump-skeptics were saying that he is impulsive and cannot be trusted to act with prudence if there is some mishap, some accidental event occurring between U.S. and Russian forces in the field, for example.

They also expressed the cynical view that Trump’s positions in the pre-election period are purely tactical, to differentiate himself from all competitors first in his own party during the primaries and now from Clinton. In that view, Trump could turn out to be no friend of Russia if elected.

A direct answer to these changes came from the pro-Trump members of the panel, best enunciated by the senior politician in the room, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Duma member from Putin’s United Russia party, the chair of the Education Committee in the Sixth Duma. He is also chair of a government-sponsored organization of Russian civil society, Russian World, which looks after the interests of Russians and Russian culture in the diaspora abroad.

Nikonov pointed to Trump’s courage and determination which scarcely suggest merely tactical considerations driving his campaign. According to Nikonov, Trump has gone up against the entire U.S. political establishment, against the whole of corporate mainstream media and has been winning. Nikonov pointed to the surge in Trump poll statistics in the couple of weeks preceding the debate. And he ticked off the four swing states which Trump needs to win and where his fortunes had been rising fast. Clearly, this presentation was carefully prepared, not something casual and off-the-cuff.

During this exchange between doubters and backers of Trump, one doubter spoke of Trump as a “non-systemic” politician, which may be loosely interpreted as meaning he is anti-establishment. But in the Russian context it has an odious connotation, for instance, applied to Alexei Navalny and certain members of the American- and European Union-backed Parnas political movement, including its head Mikhail Kasyanov. The word suggests seditious intent.

In this connection, Nikonov put an entirely different spin on who Trump is and what he represents as an anti-establishment figure. But maybe such partiality runs in the family. Nikonov is the grandson of Molotov, one of the leading figures who staged the Russian Revolution and governed the young Soviet state.

Who won the first Trump-Clinton debate?  Here the producers of “Sixty Minutes” gave the final verdict to a Vesti  news analyst from a remote location whose image was projected on a wall-sized screen. We were told that the debate was a draw: Trump had to demonstrate that he is presidential, which he did. Clinton had to demonstrate she had the stamina to resist the onslaught of a 90-minute showdown with Trump and she also succeeded.

In summation, the talk show analysis of the first U.S. presidential debate that I saw up close in Moscow may have been more glitzy and had less gravitas than Charlie Rose’s postmortem session at Bloomberg TV, but it was, in its own way, a value to its audience, which probably numbered in the tens of millions.

Gilbert Doctorow is the European Coordinator of The American Committee for East West Accord. His most recent book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




How Arms Sales Distort US Foreign Policy

Exclusive: Money may not be the root of all evil but it surely contributes to horrible war crimes when lucrative arms sales distort U.S. foreign policy and cause selective outrage over human rights atrocities, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

Forget oil. In the Middle East, the profits and jobs reaped from tens of billions of dollars in arms sales are becoming the key drivers of U.S. and British policy. Oil still matters, of course. So do geopolitical interests, including military bases, and powerful political lobbies funded by Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf states.

But you can’t explain Washington’s deference to Saudi Arabia, despite its criminal war in Yemen and its admitted support for Islamist extremism, without acknowledging the political pull generated by more than $115 billion in U.S. military deals with Saudi Arabia authorized since President Obama took office.

As arms sales expert William Hartung observed earlier this year, “U.S. arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia have increased by 96% compared to the Bush years. . . In 2014 alone more than 2,500 Saudi military personnel received training in the United States.”

These deals have generated huge new business opportunities for politically powerful U.S. contractors such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, and Raytheon. Neither the White House nor Congress will let mere war crimes stand in the way of continued sales that fund thousands of jobs.

The Pentagon approved its latest $1.2 billion deal, including more than 130 Abrams tanks (produced by General Dynamics), in early August, just as Saudi Arabia resumed  airstrikes on the ancient Yemeni capital of Sanaa, killing nine civilians at a potato chip factory.

A spokesperson for Human Rights Watch said at the time, “The Saudi-led coalition’s campaign in Yemen has been devastating for civilians (and) the U.S. should be suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia, not approving more.”

On Sept. 22, 71 members of the U.S. Senate rejected that advice and approved the deal, even as another Saudi-led air strike killed at least 26 civilians and wounded 60 more in a residential neighborhood of the port city of Hodeidah. A few days later the coalition killed another 10 civilians in the provincial capital city of Ibb.

The Guardian reports that “more than one-third of all Saudi-led air raids on Yemen have hit civilian sites” — a figure that strongly suggests such targeting is a matter of policy, not mere bad luck. These attacks are fomenting rising support for Al Qaeda and other extremists in Yemen, subverting Western security interests.

Yet U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who rips Moscow and Damascus for “barbarism” and “laying waste to what is left of an iconic Middle Eastern city,” is strangely silent when the target is Sanaa rather than Aleppo, and the perpetrator is Riyadh rather than Assad.

Great Britain Fuels the Fires

The same is true of the U.K. ambassador to the UN, who accused the Syrian government of a “sick bloodlust against its people,” while his own government blocked a European Union investigation of war crimes in Yemen.

One reason may be that Great Britain has sold almost $3 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since it intervened in Yemen’s civil war a year and a half ago. Those sales provide plenty of reason to duck accountability.

A hard-hitting British parliamentary report this month concluded that British weapons — including notoriously indiscriminate cluster munitions — have almost certainly contributed to attacks by the Saudi coalition on targets such as “camps for internally displaced persons and refugees; civilian gatherings, including weddings; civilian vehicles, including buses; civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques; markets, factories and food storage warehouses.”

The report called on the British government to stop ignoring blatant evidence of Saudi war crimes and suspend arms sales pending “an independent, United-Nations-led inquiry” into violations of international law.

“[Her Majesty’s] Government has obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty, as well as European and domestic law, to ensure there is no risk that arms it has licensed might be used in contravention of international humanitarian law,” the report declared.

“Saudi Arabia is one of our closest allies. However, the weight of evidence of violations of IHL (international humanitarian law) by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen is now so great that it is very difficult to continue to support Saudi Arabia while maintaining the credibility of our arms licensing regime.”

The BAE Bribery Scandal

The link between British foreign policy and arms sales was conclusively established during a multi-year investigation of suspected bribes and kickbacks by arms giant BAE Systems, related primarily to its $80 billion Al Yamamah (“Dove”) arms deal, initially signed in 1985 by the Thatcher government, to sell fighter planes to Saudi Arabia. In 2010, BAE pleaded guilty to two criminal charges and agreed to pay nearly $450 million in penalties.

In 2006, British Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered a halt to his government’s investigation of BAE’s alleged corrupt practices, including payments to Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former ambassador to the United States and a close confidant of the Bush family.

Bandar was not charged in the BAE case, and denied doing anything improper, but his suspicious receipt of $17 million in an account at Riggs Bank in Washington D.C. — ostensibly for “home improvement” — triggered the start of a bribery investigation of BAE.

(Riggs Bank had previously been identified as the source of funds sent from Bandar’s wife to two of the 9/11 hijackers. The recently declassified pages of the 9/11 commission report revealed indirect ties between Bandar and a senior Al Qaeda operative — a finding that former Sen. Bob Graham called “one of the most stunning parts of the investigation.”)

In 2008, a federal judge froze Bandar’s U.S. assets after a small Michigan pension fund with holdings in BAE sued its directors for allegedly letting the company pay $2 billion in bribes to Bandar.

According to the London Sunday Times, Bandar was instrumental in stopping an investigation by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office of BAE’s dealings with Saudi Arabia. The prince reportedly went to Prime Minister Blair in 2006 to say, “Get it stopped.” He allegedly warned the fighter plane contract would be terminated and “intelligence and diplomatic relations would be pulled.”

Following a spate of media revelations, Blair defended his decision to shut down the investigation of BAE on national security grounds.

“This investigation, if it had it gone ahead, would have involved the most serious allegations in investigations being made into the Saudi royal family,” he said. “Quite apart from the fact that we would have lost thousands, thousands of British jobs.” (A U.S. investigation continued, leading to the company’s eventual guilty plea.)

Blair has continued his cozy relations with Riyadh over the years. In 2008, as Special Envoy to the Middle East, he “lavished praise” on Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, touting his many “reforms.” Just two years later, the former prime minister signed a lucrative contract with a company owned by the son of King Abdullah to promote Saudi oil sales in China. (In 2015, The Telegraph estimated Blair’s fortune at £60 million, noting that “his financial affairs can appear as complex and opaque as his global influence is remarkable.”)

Meanwhile, the Conservative government of David Cameron signed a $3 billion electronic warfare equipment sale to Saudi Arabia in 2010 — with provisions to siphon off tens of millions of dollars to the Cayman Islands for the benefit of Saudi officials. The Ministry of Defense insisted that any investigation of whistleblower complaints would “compromise” relations between the two countries.

Plus ça change . . .

Today’s wildly lucrative military market in the Middle East is reminiscent of the arms bazaar of the 1970s, when Saudi Arabia, Iran and other OPEC countries recycled billions of “petrodollars” by purchasing entire armories from the United States and Great Britain (thus setting the stage for the eventual emergence of radical Islamist critics like Osama bin Laden).

The parallels between then and now are sometimes eerie. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter invoked his executive authority to approve the sale of nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of arms to North Yemen without congressional review, following that country’s clashes with South Yemen. That sale turned that small and poor country into the third largest recipient of U.S. arms after Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The administration claimed the sale was essential to restoring Saudi confidence in U.S. foreign policy after the fall of the shah of Iran — just as President Obama today keeps reassuring Riyadh of U.S. support following the nuclear deal with Iran.

A few prescient observers questioned whether shoveling more arms into such Middle East conflicts was really in America’s best interests. Said Rep. Les Aspin, a Wisconsin Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee,

“Yemen is an unwise spot on which to stake our prestige. It is yet another case where the United States … will be unable to exert much control over events with sophisticated military gear. And yet the sale of such equipment sucks us into the whirlpool and puts American prestige on the line. Selling such vast quantities of advanced weapons is almost certainly not the best way of dealing with the sort of tribal conflicts that have beset Yemen for years.”

Those words ring as true today as they did 37 years ago. But the name of the game in Washington is money, not taming tribal conflicts. One of the most compelling challenges of our time will be to find a way to take the money out of war so we can refocus our national priorities on peace.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]




A Process That Makes Democracy Look Bad

The circus-like U.S. political process, with a media that treasures trivia over substance, is giving democracy a bad name in the world and making alternative structures look good by comparison, says ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller 

The “Great Debates” between candidates Clinton and Trump encapsulate what is wrong with the U.S. political process. There’s been little substance; it’s all about personalities and sound-bytes and gotcha. Never mind the grand issues of our time and how they should be addressed seriously and comprehensively — income inequality, corporate control of media, corporate-dominated electoral funding, global warming, long-term global refugee issues, jobs going overseas in perfect conformity with capitalist principles, Wall Street corruption, race relations, health care, etc.

None of these have easy — or palatable — answers and so the system reverts to entertainment over substance. The Romans got it right way back — it’s all about bread and circuses. We have only the trappings of democracy to pretend that the people are actually deciding anything.

And it’s not new. Just read historical accounts of the savage political campaigns going back to our Founding Fathers down to the vituperative language of today. Sadly, this all may just reflect the human condition, locked in eternal struggles for power since cave men. Might generally makes right; but might today no longer flows from the cave-man’s club. Today it is control of the media, the banks, the political establishment. There will always be a political establishment defending its own.

Let’s not forget Winston Churchill’s famous quote that “democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Corruption and incompetence may still be preferable to assassination or revolution that produce leaders nobody ever voted for. 

When I was doing research among Islamists in the Middle East in years past, I was struck by one comment about why many Islamists have been coming around to appreciation of some aspects of democracy. Islam has always placed great weight on the religious obligation of the ruler to rule justly, to provide good governance. But what if the ruler doesn’t? Many Islamists have observed that democracy at least enables you to get rid of a ruler whom you don’t want, by due process. That is no small advantage, even if the political wheels of democracy grind slowly.

So what’s different about today, if anything? Two things jump out: money and media.

“Money makes the world go round,” as the song from Cabaret reminds us, and it certainly makes politics spin out of control. Is it not stunning to observe how, without the least trace of irony, the U.S. campaign system treats solicitation of bribes (“fund-raising”) as a legitimate and newsworthy part of electoral competition? It’s basically about who can fetch the highest price in the influence market. 

Mark Twain, who got a lot of things right, commented that the U.S. “had the best Congress money can buy.” 

Not New, But Worse

Now, only the naive would believe that influence-peddling is something new in the world. But to publicly champion the competition in which a candidate sells him/herself is really rather incredible. Recipients of contributions may claim they can remain independent-minded, but only a fool believes that when we receive a significant sum of money from a donor we are not influenced by that “gift.”

As for the media, of course it is not a public service. It is a line of business, whose owners also seek to mold public perceptions. (How many people are trying to kill off PBS?) Even the “paper of record,” The New York Times, routinely demonstrates striking bias: suppression of political candidates or voices who dare stray from mainstream establishment analysis. (How often do you ever see the name of Noam Chomsky in The New York Times on any topic? Or find balance in its reporting on Russia, Israel or China? Can we ignore the fact that mainstream media is bought and owned by an alarmingly small circle of wealthy who set general guidelines?

But what is really different these days is the pervasive reach of the media. One-hundred-and-fifty years ago how many people ever heard the Lincoln-Douglas debates? How many people ever read newspapers? What other sources of information existed apart from the town-crier? Or a campaigner coming through town once-in-a-lifetime on the back of a train in a whistle-stop campaign?

The transformation of politics into our modern infotainment is an invention of U.S. political culture. And that invention is in the process of bringing the U.S. down. Why? Because the issues that really matter are not discussed — because they are complex, can’t be reduced to sound-bytes, and nobody dares answer them honestly. Because image matters more than content. 

And today this circus now occupies roughly half of any presidential term. U.S. politics are now almost in perpetual election mode.

The circus atmosphere bids up extremist postures by candidates. Okay, candidates might not really quite mean what they say on the campaign trail; they might not really do what they claim they will (or will not) do. But the fact remains that the level of discussion is coarsened and dumbed-down.

Incendiary sound-bytes linger in the political air long after they have been uttered, infusing greater demagogy to the political process, especially in Congress, for the rest of the political cycle. And the Establishment’s game play on foreign policy — what even President Obama recently referred to as “the Washington playbook” — is perpetuated.

Canadians complained when their last national election campaign was extended by loser Prime Minister Stephen Harper to run for 11 weeks. And Canadian politics are boring. Politics are not part of the entertainment scene. Maybe boring is good. It suggests things are more or less working.

The U.S., with the most advanced mass culture and mass info-technology in the world, has created this baleful system that is in the process of making the U.S. ungovernable, its policies increasingly ineffective, its citizens angry, its foreign policies incoherent. 

But, as with many American firsts, has the U.S. now created a democratic model that may come to be emulated in the rest of the world? Hints of it can now be seen in Canada and the U.K., maybe on the Continent. 

Looking at Alternatives

So what is the way out? Reform of the U.S. order would seem extremely difficult given its entrenched nature backed by so many powerful special interests. 

Yet as the U.S. democratic order becomes increasingly dysfunctional, we already see revolts taking place. But revolts the world over historically often lead to greater autocracy, dictatorship or even revolution from the left or right. We know well the resulting horrors that can emerge from that. But people will always demand stability, protection, fixes for problems that are ever more complex to answer. 

Wise men have, of course, grappled with this problem for centuries. The U.S. Founding Fathers tended to believe that day-to-day democracy should be insulated from the volatile passions of the people through more indirect government; the “wiser heads” of the Senate were supposed to balance the popular impulses as represented in the House. Presidents were elected “indirectly” through ostensibly “wiser” electoral colleges. All those arrangements, for what they were worth, broke down; such indirect elections are probably unachievable today. 

Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. It’s interesting that China today is actually quietly touting to the rest of the world its own evolving system. Of course, we recoil from the terrible catastrophes of Chinese regimes over most of the past century. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that China has been concerned with principles of good governance going back some 3,000 years, including Confucian principles of the responsibility of “cultivated” or educated people to govern wisely; that was probably as good as it got in that era.

More important, the Chinese state bureaucracy was selected through massive nation-wide examination systems to choose the most qualified. The system had its good periods and bad, almost on a 300-year cyclical basis — breakdown and restoration.

Facing Challenges

Today China is creeping back again, this time from the disasters of Chairman Mao towards a semblance of order and rationality in governance. It has implemented a series of often unusually effective policies that are slowly bringing an ever rising percent of the rural and urban poor into the middle class and a slightly freer life. 

Now, I don’t want to live in China particularly. But consider the daunting challenges of running this country: one that was left behind in the last century or so, invaded by English and Japanese imperialists, massively misruled under fanatic communists (not all were fanatic) for 50 years, and now presides over a population approaching 1.4 billion people. 

China’s leaders operate on the razor’s edge: meeting pent-up demand after decades of deprivation, managing the transition of millions of peasants who want to come to the cities, feeding and housing everyone, maintaining industrial production while trying to reverse the terrible environmental damage wrought in earlier decades, to maintain stability, law and order while managing discontent that could turn violent, and to maintain the present ruling party in power to which there is no reasonable alternative as yet. That’s quite a high-wire act.

So if you were running China today, what would you advocate as the best policies and system to adopt?  Chances are few of us would simply urge huge new infusions of democracy and rampant capitalism. The delicate balance of this frail recovering system needs to be guided with care. But it is basically working — as opposed to looming alternatives of chaos and poverty. 

China today suggests to developing countries that China’s own model of controlled cautious light authoritarian leadership — where leaders are groomed over decades up through the ranks of the party —  may be a more reliable system than, say, the bread and circuses of the U.S. That’s their view.

No one system has all the answers. But it’s worth observing that by now the U.S. probably lies at one extreme of a political spectrum of bread-and-circus “democracy.” Can the system be reformed? Ever more serious questions arise about the present system’s ability to meet the challenge of this century — along multiple lines of measurements.

And, as the world gets more complex, there is less room for radical individualism, whistle-blowing, and dissent. Vital and complex infrastructural networks grow ever more vulnerable that can bring a state down. The state moves to protect itself. The strengthening of the state against the individual has already shifted heavily since the Global War on Terror and even more so under President Obama.

I’m not suggesting that China is the model to be emulated. But we better note how it represents one rational vision of functioning governance of the future — under difficult circumstances — at one end of the spectrum. The U.S. lies at the other.

Is there anything that might lie somewhere between these two highly diverse systems of governance? Just sayin’. 

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle) grahamefuller.com




Russia-Baiting and Risks of Nuclear War

Exclusive: The propaganda war on Russia is spinning out of control with a biased investigation blaming Moscow for the MH-17 tragedy and angry exchanges over Syria, raising the risks of nuclear war, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

As U.S. and Russian officials trade barbed threats and as diplomacy on Syria is “on the verge” of extinction, it is tempting to view the ongoing propaganda exchange over who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014 as a side-show. That would be a huge mistake – easily made by President Obama’s wet-behind-the-ears sophomoric advisers who seem to know very little of the history of U.S.-Russia relations and appear smug in their ignorance.

Adult input is sorely needed. There are advantages to having some hands-on experience, and having watched how propaganda wars can easily escalate to military confrontation. In a Sept. 28 interview with Sputnik Radio, I addressed some serious implications of the decision by the U.S. and two of its European vassal states (the Netherlands and Ukraine) to stoke tensions with Russia still higher by blaming it for the downing of MH-17.

In short, there is considerable risk that the Russians may see this particular propaganda offensive (which “justified” the European Union’s economic sanctions in 2014), together with NATO’s saber rattling in central Europe, as steps toward war. In fact, there is troubling precedent for precisely that.

A very similar set of circumstances existed 33 years ago after the Soviets did shoot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 on Sept. 1, 1983, when it strayed over sensitive military targets inside the Soviet Union and the KAL-007 pilots failed to respond to repeated warnings. After the tragic reality became obvious, the Soviets acknowledged that they had downed the plane but said they did not know it was a passenger plane.

However, 1983 was another time of high tensions between the two superpowers and President Ronald Reagan wanted to paint the Soviets in the darkest of hues. So, his administration set out to sell the storyline that the Soviets had willfully murdered the 269 passengers and crew.

U.S. government propagandists and their media stenographers laid on all the Sturm und Drang they could summon to promote the lie that the Soviets knew KAL-007 was a civilian passenger plane before they shot it down. As Newsweek’s headline declared, “Murder in the Sky.”

Exploitation of the tragedy yielded a steep rise in tensions, and almost led to a nuclear exchange just two months later. There is an important lesson, now three decades later, as Western governments and the mainstream media manufacture more endless fear and hatred of Russia.

The Dutch/Ukrainian Follies

On Wednesday, new “evidence” blaming Russia for the downing of MH-17 over eastern Ukraine was made public – brought out of the oven, as it were, at a Dutch Maid bakery employing Ukrainian confectioners. A bite into the evidence and it immediately dissolves like refined sugar – and leaves an unpleasant artificial taste in the mouth.

The Dutch-Ukrainian charade played by the “Joint Investigation Team,” on which Belgium, Australia and Malaysia also have members, is an insult to the relatives and friends of the 298 human beings killed in the shoot-down. Understandably, those relatives and friends long for truth and accountability, and they deserve it.

Yet, as happened in 1983 with the credulous acceptance of the Reagan administration’s version of the KAL-007 case, the mainstream Western media has embraced the JIT’s findings as “conclusive” and the evidence as “overwhelming.” But it is in reality extraordinarily thin, essentially a case of deciding immediately after the event that the Russians were to be blamed and spending more than two years assembling snippets of intercepted conversations (from 150,000 provided by the Ukrainian intelligence service) that could be stitched together to create an impression of guilt.

In the slick video, which serves as the JIT’s investigative “report,” the intercepted voices don’t say anything about Russian Buk missiles actually being deployed inside Ukraine or shooting down a plane or the need to get the Buk missiles out of Ukraine afterwards. One voice early on says he’d like to have some Buks but – after that – Buks aren’t mentioned and everything in the video is supposition. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Troubling Gaps in MH-17 Report.”]

There’s also no explanation as to why the Russians would have taken a bizarrely circuitous route when a much more direct and discreet course was available. The JIT’s embrace of that strange itinerary was made necessary by the fact that the only “social media” images of a Buk system traveling on July 17, 2014, before the MH-17 shoot-down, show the Buks heading east toward Russia, not west from Russia. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Official and Implausible MH-17 Scenario.”]

In other words, to make the storyline fit with the available images, the JIT had to take the alleged Russian-Buk convoy on a ridiculous trip far out of the way so it could be photographed in Donetsk before doubling back toward the alleged firing site near Snizhne, which could have been reached easily from the Russian border without the extensive detour through heavily populated areas.

Ignoring Inconvenient Evidence

The JIT also had to ignore its own evidence that on the night of July 16-17, 2014, Ukrainian military convoys were pressing deep inside what has been called “rebel-controlled territory.” The obvious implication is that if a Ukrainian convoy could move to within a few miles of Luhansk, as one of the intercepts described, a Ukrainian Buk convoy could have traveled to the east as well.

And, the JIT’s presumed motive for the Russians taking the extraordinary decision of supplying a Buk battery to the rebels – that it was needed to shoot down Ukrainian warplanes attacking rebels on the front lines – doesn’t fit with the placement of a Buk system on farmland south of Snizhne, far from the frontlines. Indeed, very little about the JIT’s case makes sense.

It also appears that the JIT devoted no effort to examining other plausible scenarios regarding who might have shot down MH-17. The JIT video report makes no reference to the several Ukrainian Buk systems that were operating in eastern Ukraine on the day that MH-17 was shot down.

The Dutch intelligence service MIVD, relying on NATO’s intelligence capabilities, reported earlier that the only anti-aircraft-missile systems in the area on July 17, 2014, capable of shooting down MH-17 were under the control of the Ukrainian military.

But the JIT’s report offered no explanation of where those Ukrainian Buk systems were located or whether Ukraine had accounted for all the Buk missiles in those batteries. The JIT’s blinders can be explained by the fact that it was coordinating with (and relying on) Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency, which has among its responsibilities the protection of Ukrainian government secrets.

The shocking reality about the JIT is that one of the major suspects for having shot down MH-17, Ukraine, was pretty much running the inquiry.

Yet, since the JIT’s accusations on Wednesday, the West’s mainstream media has put on its own blinders so as not to notice the gaps and inconsistencies in the case. But what should be apparent to anyone without blinders is that the JIT set its sights on blaming the Russians for the MH-17 shoot-down in 2014 and nothing was going to get in the way of that conclusion.

That predetermined conclusion began with Secretary of State John Kerry’s rush to judgment, just three days after the shoot-down, putting the blame on the Russians. It then took the JIT more than two years to scrape together enough “evidence” to “confirm” Kerry’s findings.

The Near-Nuclear Clash

As a longtime CIA analyst covering the Soviet Union, the MH-17 case immediately brought to my mind the exploitation of the KAL-007 tragedy for propaganda purposes in 1983. After KAL-007 went down, the U.S. propaganda machinery, led by the U.S. Information Agency, went into high gear, even doctoring evidence for a U.N. Security Council meeting to “prove” the Soviets knew KAL-007 was a civilian aircraft and still shot it down deliberately.

“Barbaric” was the word used then – and in recent days U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power has applied that epithet again to the leaders in the Kremlin.

The same sort of anti-Russian hysteria is in play today as it was in 1983. And we now know based on declassified records that the extreme vilification of Moscow back then led Soviet leaders to believe that President Reagan was preparing for a nuclear war, a conflict that almost got started because of the harsh propaganda, combined with unprecedented military exercises and other provocations.

Last year, a former CIA colleague and senior manager of Soviet analysis, Mel Goodman, wrote about the “war scare” in the Kremlin in the fall of 1983, and asked if history may be repeating itself. Goodman personally helped persuade Reagan to ratchet down the tension, but it’s less clear if any adult remains who could tell President Obama to do the same now.

Goodman wrote: “1983 was the most dangerous year in the Soviet-American Cold War confrontation since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.  President Reagan declared a political and military campaign against the ‘evil empire’ …  Soviet leaders believed that the ‘correlation of world forces,’ Soviet terminology for the international balance, was unfavorable to Moscow and that the U.S. government was in the hands of a dangerous anti-Soviet crowd.

“In response to Reagan’s references to the Soviet Union as the ‘focus of evil in the world’ …  the new Soviet general secretary, Yuri Andropov, a former KGB chief, suggested that Reagan was insane and a liar …  Andropov would take no chances. Soviet leaders believed the Reagan administration was using a mobilization exercise called ‘Able Archer’ in November 1983 to prepare a nuclear surprise attack. The KGB instituted a sensitive collection effort to determine if the United States was planning such an attack. …

“In addition to the Able Archer mobilization exercise that alarmed the Kremlin, the Reagan administration authorized unusually aggressive military exercises near the Soviet border that, in some cases, violated Soviet territorial sovereignty. The Pentagon’s risky measures included … naval exercises in wartime approaches to the USSR where U.S. warships had previously not entered. Additional secret operations simulated surprise naval attacks on Soviet targets.”

Reining in Reagan

Goodman continued: “One of the great similarities between Russia and the United States was that both sides feared surprise attack. The United States suffered psychologically from the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor; it has still not recovered from 9/11. Yet, the United States has never appreciated that Moscow has similar fears due to Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion in the same year as Pearl Harbor, a far greater nightmare.

“Russia’s fear of surprise attack was accentuated in 1983, when the United States deployed the Army’s Pershing-II missile and land-based cruise missiles in West Europe as a counter to the Soviet Union’s SS-20 missiles. The SS-20 was not a ‘strategic’ weapon because of a limited range (3,000 miles) well short of the United States. The P-II, however, could not only reach the Soviet Union, but it could destroy Moscow’s command and control systems with incredible accuracy. Since the Soviets would have limited warning time – less than five minutes – the P-II was viewed as a first-strike weapon that could destroy the Soviet early warning system.

“In addition to the huge strategic advantage from the deployment of P-II and numerous cruise missiles, the U.S. deployment of the MX missile and the D-5 Trident submarine placed the Soviets in an inferior position with regard to strategic modernization. Overall, the United States held a huge strategic advantage in political, economic, and military policy.

“The Pentagon’s psychological warfare program to intimidate the Kremlin, including dangerous probes of Soviet borders by the Navy and Air Force, was unknown to CIA analysts. Thus, the CIA was at a disadvantage in trying to analyze the war scare because the Pentagon refused to share information on military maneuvers and weapons deployments.

“In 1983, the CIA had no idea that the annual Able Archer exercise would be conducted in a provocative fashion with high-level participation.  The exercise was a test of U.S. command and communications procedures, including procedures for the release and use of nuclear weapons in case of war.”

Goodman continued: “I believed that Soviet fears were genuine and Reagan’s national security advisor, Robert McFarlane, was even known to remark, ‘We got their attention’ but ‘maybe we overdid it.’  …  [CIA Director William] Casey took our analysis to the White House, and Reagan made sure that the exercises were toned down.

“For the first time, the Able Archer exercise was going to include President Reagan, Vice President Bush, and Secretary of Defense Weinberger, but when the White House understood the extent of Soviet anxiety regarding U.S. intentions, the major principals bowed out.  …  Soviet military doctrine had long held that a possible U.S. modus operandi for launching an attack on the USSR would be to convert an exercise into the real thing.

“Three decades later, history seems to be repeating itself. Washington and Moscow are once again exchanging ugly broadsides over the confrontations in Ukraine and Syria. The Russian-American arms control and disarmament dialogue has been pushed to the background, and the possibilities of superpower conflict into the foreground. Pentagon briefers are using the language of the Cold War in their congressional briefings, referring to Putin’s Russia as an ‘existential threat.’”

(END of excerpts from Mel Goodman’s account of “Able Archer.”)

The KAL-007 Prequel

As I wrote after the MH-17 shoot-down in 2014:

The death of all 298 people onboard the Malaysia Airline flight, going from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, will surely provide plenty of fuel for the already roaring anti-Russian propaganda machine. Still, the U.S. press might pause to recall how it’s been manipulated by the U.S. government in the past, including three decades ago by the Reagan administration twisting the facts of the KAL-007 tragedy.

In that case, a Soviet fighter jet shot down a Korean Air Line plane on Sept. 1, 1983, after it strayed hundreds of miles off course and penetrated some of the Soviet Union’s most sensitive airspace over military facilities in Kamchatka and Sakhalin Island.

Over Sakhalin, KAL-007 was finally intercepted by a Soviet Sukhoi-15 fighter. The Soviet pilot tried to signal the plane to land, but the KAL pilots did not respond to the repeated warnings. Amid confusion about the plane’s identity — a U.S. spy plane had been in the vicinity hours earlier — Soviet ground control ordered the pilot to fire. He did, blasting the plane out of the sky and killing all 269 people on board.

The Soviets soon realized they had made a horrendous mistake. U.S. intelligence also knew from sensitive intercepts that the tragedy had resulted from a blunder, not from a willful act of murder (much as on July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes fired a missile that brought down an Iranian civilian airliner in the Persian Gulf, killing 290 people, an act which President Ronald Reagan explained as an “understandable accident”).

But a Soviet admission of a tragic blunder regarding KAL-007 wasn’t good enough for the Reagan administration, which saw the incident as a propaganda windfall. At the time, the felt imperative in Washington was to blacken the Soviet Union in the cause of Cold War propaganda and to escalate tensions with Moscow.

To make the blackest case against Moscow, the Reagan administration suppressed exculpatory evidence from the U.S. electronic intercepts. The U.S. mantra became “the deliberate downing of a civilian passenger plane.” Newsweek ran a cover emblazoned with the headline “Murder in the Sky.”

“The Reagan administration’s spin machine began cranking up,” wrote Alvin A. Snyder, then-director of the U.S. Information Agency’s television and film division, in his 1995 book, Warriors of Disinformation.

USIA Director Charles Z. Wick “ordered his top agency aides to form a special task force to devise ways of playing the story overseas. The objective, quite simply, was to heap as much abuse on the Soviet Union as possible,” Snyder recalled.

Snyder noted that “the American media swallowed the U.S. government line without reservation.” Said the venerable Ted Koppel on the ABC News ‘Nightline’ program: ‘This has been one of those occasions when there is very little difference between what is churned out by the U.S. government propaganda organs and by the commercial broadcasting networks.’”

On Sept. 6, 1983, the Reagan administration went so far as to present a doctored transcript of the intercepts to the United Nations Security Council. …

“The tape was supposed to run 50 minutes,” Snyder said about the recorded Soviet intercepts. “But the tape segment we [at USIA] had ran only eight minutes and 32 seconds. … ‘Do I detect the fine hand of [Richard Nixon’s secretary] Rosemary Woods here?’ I [Snyder] asked sarcastically.’”

But Snyder had a job to do: producing the video that his superiors wanted. “The perception we wanted to convey was that the Soviet Union had cold-bloodedly carried out a barbaric act,” Snyder wrote.

Seeing the Whole Story

Only a decade later, when Snyder saw the complete transcripts — including the portions that the Reagan administration had hidden — would he fully realize how many of the central elements of the U.S. presentation were false.

The Soviet fighter pilot apparently did believe he was pursuing a U.S. spy plane, according to the intercepts, and he was having trouble in the dark identifying the plane. At the instructions of Soviet ground controllers, the pilot had circled the KAL airliner and tilted his wings to force the aircraft down. The pilot said he fired warning shots, too. “This comment was also not on the tape we were provided,” Snyder wrote.

It was clear to Snyder that in the pursuit of its Cold War aims, the Reagan administration had presented false accusations to the United Nations, as well as to the people of the United States and the world. To Reagan’s people, the ends of smearing the Soviets had justified the means of falsifying the historical record.

In his book, Snyder acknowledged his role in the deception and drew an ironic lesson from the incident. The senior USIA official wrote, “The moral of the story is that all governments, including our own, lie when it suits their purposes. The key is to lie first.”

[End of my excerpt]

In 2016, as we deal with the West’s new hysteria regarding Russia – complete with rehashes of prior propaganda themes and military escalations – the pressing question is whether there are any adults left at senior levels of Official Washington who can rein in the madness before things spin entirely out of control.

Santayana famously noted, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But the real danger now is that history won’t stop at repeating itself but will continue beyond, plunging over the nuclear precipice.

Ray McGovern 27-year career as a CIA analyst included leading CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch.  He later conducted morning briefings of President Reagan’s most senior national security advisers with the President’s Daily Brief.  He now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.




A Victory in Mosul Could Help Clinton

If a U.S.-backed coalition drives the Islamic State from Mosul, Iraq, before the U.S. elections, the victory could boost Hillary Clinton’s campaign and undercut Donald Trump’s criticisms, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

The liberation of Mosul ahead of the Nov. 8 U.S. election would boost Hillary Clinton’s chances and enhance the legacy of her chief proponent, Barack Obama. As preparations continue to intensify for a major military operation to free Iraq’s second largest city from ISIS’s grip, talk here 55 miles away in Erbil is that the operation could be launched on Oct. 15.

A source who speaks regularly to residents of Mosul told me that ISIS militants have virtually disappeared from the streets of the city. Where before they were out in numbers enforcing their extreme version of Sharia law (you could be executed for smoking a cigarette), they are now hardly to be seen. The residents aren’t sure what’s going on. But it could mean ISIS fighters have begun evacuating ahead of the attack.

This is what happened in June when, after initial fighting, ISIS deserted Fallujah allowing the Iraqi army and Shia militias to take the city. Then last month, ISIS extremists abandoned the oil town of Qayyara, just 48 miles south of Mosul, ahead of advancing Iraqi army units. The militants released petroleum into the streets and set it on fire as they retreated.

Preparations are being made outside Erbil for an influx of refugees from Mosul that could number as many as 500,000, according to Stephen O’Brien, the U.N.’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. Another million people could flee elsewhere to the Kurdish region.

If the reports of vanished ISIS militants from the streets of Mosul are correct, occupying the city may come without the immense civilian casualties that would almost certainly result from U.S. aerial bombardments and house-to-house fighting.

Meetings among Iraqi Kurdish authorities, Baghdad officials and Americans have intensified here in the Kurdish capital and in Baghdad. The aim is to avoid a clash over who gets to control Mosul once it is taken. The city is a mix of Sunni Arabs and Kurds, as well as several other minority groups.

Relations between Baghdad and Erbil have been severely strained for several years over the control of oil and territory. The Kurds have been selling petroleum on their own through Turkey, cutting off revenue to the central government. In response Baghdad has cut off all government revenues to the region. The Kurds have long sought independence from Baghdad but have been prevented by the U.S. from going ahead with a referendum.

Kurdish peshmerga forces have been accused of seizing control of Arab majority towns that they have liberated from ISIS. Amnesty International reported that the Kurds have raised houses to prevent Arab Iraqis from returning.

Divided Allies

The fear is that the real battle will be between Kurdish and Iraqi Army units after ISIS leaves Mosul, the biggest prize in the war to rid Iraq of the Islamic State. Such a bloody fight, especially if Mosul is taken relatively peacefully, would undermine the narrative of the Obama administration’s triumph.

So the U.S. is sending 600 more troops to help coordinate logistics for the attack, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said on Wednesday. There are already 4,400 U.S. troops throughout Iraq.

ISIS has controlled Mosul since July 2014. Where they would flee to, if they are indeed leaving the city ahead of the operation, is another issue. It could further complicate the war in neighboring Syria, whose border is less than 180 miles from Mosul, if they retreat there. Raqqah, the so-called Syrian capital of the Islamic State, is only 290 miles away.

The U.S. effort against ISIS has been focused more on Iraq than Syria. Obama announced his air war against the group when it came within a few miles of capturing Erbil in the summer of 2014. U.S. air power and the peshmerga pushed them back towards Mosul.

U.S. operations in Syria, on the other hand, have been questionable. It has appeared that the U.S. has largely left ISIS alone as it advances there. For instance, Washington did nothing to stop ISIS’s capture of Palmyra, which was liberated by the Syrian government with Russian help earlier this year.

If in fact ISIS has been allowed to play a role in Washington’s goal of “regime change” in Damascus, the influx of ISIS fighters from Iraq would put additional pressure on the Syrian government. It could also help create the conditions for the quagmire that the U.S. seems so intent on getting the Russians into.

The liberation of Mosul, especially without a fight, would be trumpeted as a major victory for the legacy of Obama’s beleaguered foreign policy and indirectly a boost for Hillary Clinton. Though she hasn’t been Secretary of State for four years, Clinton is still closely associated with Obama White House.

The expulsion of ISIS from Mosul could undermine Donald Trump’s insistent criticism of the Obama administration’s failure to deliver a knockout punch to the extremists.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached atjoelauria@gmail.com  and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.




US Foreign Policy Elite vs. the Evil One

The crème de la U.S. foreign policy establishment gathered in Texas last week, reaffirming at a friendly conclave the need for their skillful stewardship of the national security state, as Michael Brenner witnessed.

By Michael Brenner

The combined security/intelligence communities held a high-powered public conference at the University of Texas in Austin last week, a now regular event blessed by Chancellor (Admiral) William McRaven who previously had led OPERATIONS COMMAND (SOCOM).

The line-up of heavy hitters was impressive:  Clapper, McLaughlin, Hadley, Breedlove, Zelikow, Negroponte, Eliot Cohen, General Norton Schwartz (former Chief of staff, Air Force), Joshua Bolten (Bush Chief of Staff), John Helgerson (CIA Inspector General), Kurt Campbell.  Its purpose, though, remains obscure.

Outreach to the American public is one standard explanation for this type of shindig. Communication in this instance, though, was one-way. The panels included only true believers in a hard-line, aggressive approach to a very long security agenda. The speakers’ roster was similarly stacked. Token participants from outside the “community” who had figured in previous meetings were nowhere in sight. So what the public gets is instruction rather than exchange or communication.

The choice of Texas is particularly odd since there are few locals who need conversion. At last year’s event, CIA Director John Brennan’s litany of grievances against all those who, like the Senate Intelligence Committee, were trying to rein in the CIA, NSA, et al elicited a standing ovation from the entire audience (minus one).

The level of enthusiasm was what one might expect had he announced the decimation of the last Comanche band or a State Supreme Court’s decision to void all land grants to Mexicans from the King of Spain. In 2015, Russia, Iran, Syria, the Islamic State and – not least- domestic enemies provided the amphetamine-like rush. Same this year. So what we had was the College of Cardinals trekking 1,200 miles to preach to the choir of a provincial town.

This effusive welcome is not surprising. After all, Texas is where the Governor (Greg Abbott) called out the State Guard to defend the citizenry from the threat of abuse by U.S. Army units engaged in a training exercise in one county north of Austin. He voiced sympathy for their claimed fears about possible rapine, robbery, wreckage, and – above all – confiscation of their firearms. So did almost all other elected officials.

In other words, the event had elements of an Evangelical rally – the crowd leaned toward the elderly, albeit with a considerable sprinkling of the college-aged and Generation “Xs.” Still, it was illuminating to hear the Word straight from the apostles. Understandably, in those congenial conditions restraint or ellipse are dispensed with in outbursts of self-satisfied candor.

Perhaps a better metaphor is a gathering of senior prelates at Rome’s Society of Jesus sometime in the early Seventeenth Century. For America’s foreign policy Establishment has a “near enemy” and a “far enemy.”  The former includes those forces who would curb the robust exertion of power at home and abroad – either through misguided legal constraints or a scaling back of its audacious goals.

The aroused opposition to draconian surveillance and associated illegalities had been a threat to the Establishment’s authority and legitimacy. Now, that abortive Reformation has been quelled and the status quo ante restored with trivial concessions to the heretics. The outgoing Pope had seen the necessity and virtue of aligning with the Society and the Pope-designate is a proven sister-in-Christ.

Prioritizing Enemies

The “near enemy” is the priority, of course. For it poses a manifest or latent threat to the essence of the Establishment: its bureaucratic control, its lavish financing, its political clout and – above all – its position as cynosure of the creed, defender of the Faith from heresy, and spiritual guide to the nation in pursuing its external relations.

The “far enemy” is the world “out there.” That space can be divided into four categories: those places where conversion is complete and governments can be expected to bow to American suzerainty: Western Europe, Japan, etc.; other places where active proselytization is well underway: Eastern Europe, South Asia; places occupied by hostile forces which threaten directly or otherwise endanger the Establishment’s supremacy or general well-being; and, finally, those ambiguous zones where threats potentially could spawn.

Category III is where the “Evil One” resides – in his many manifestations: e.g. Russia, Iran, North Korea, Islamic terrorists. The “Evil One” is omnipresent – even when not visible as was the case in Austin.

Category IV embraces two concerns: a) nests where minor vipers may lurk – Latin American “reformers,” African gangster cabals, Mexican drug cartels – but not Afghan ones; and b) China. This last bulks large and ominously in the anxious imagination of the Establishment. It is the equivalent of nascent Islam to Christian Europe of the Dark Ages or – perhaps more closely – the Ottomans to Renaissance Europe.

What to do – confront, co-opt, co-exist, engage tactically? The Establishment’s movers-and-shakers instinctively lean toward confrontation. Their practical sense leans them toward vigilant accommodation. They fret but they don’t think creatively.

The blunt truth is that China scares the American foreign policy elite. It is too big, too successful, too self-confident, too ready to make claims of exceptionalism that supposedly are an American exclusive. That is why these Establishment apostles compulsively deploy the classic avoidance devices of disparaging it, of magnifying its problems, of persuading themselves that the United States’ position as king of the hill is impregnable. In other words, adolescent wishful thinking.

The “near enemy” front and the “far enemy” front intersect. They are mutually dependent. High-threat assessments on the latter are assets in campaigning for maximum support on the former. Expanded assets, material and political, in turn permit for more extensive engagement abroad. A veritable perpetual motion machine.

There does indeed exist a terrorism industry whose behavior largely conforms to that of other industries. It admittedly has a number of distinctive features. It is a public/private partnership; therefore it deals in two currencies – political rewards and money. Its activities have deep and pervasive support among the populace at large and elites. It is impervious to criticism since its functions are deemed critical to the nation’s basic security. Critics are either shrugged off or accused of not taking seriously grave threats.

The terrorism industry’s value to the country is impossible to measure since its success is defined in terms of negatives (things that haven’t happened) rather than positives (things that did happen). While tangible benefits are immeasurable, there are millions of people whose livelihood, status, self-esteem and political future depend on perpetuation of the terrorism industry as it currently is structured and operates.

In addition, the terrorism industry is both seller and buyer of its products – all of which are in the form of services. Its for-profit and non-profit components both depend on a high level of demand. Fear of terrorism generates the demand. Stoking fear generates higher returns for all those who work in the industry.

The same people in the non-profit sector who benefit also make the judgments, launch the policies and control the discourse as to how great the need is.   A critique of assertions about the magnitude, nature and change in the level of threat we face must be understood against this backdrop. So, too, must any assessment of how well present policies and practices are working.

Remarkable Conclave

The Austin conclave was remarkable in two respects: its calm self-confidence; and its unquestioning belief that the American Establishment has a Providential mission to oversee the affairs of the globe. Truth is immanent (or inherent) in U.S. foreign policy. America’s motives pure. Its means measured.

The paramount responsibility of those who lead is to scour the world to find and identify threats – and then to devise strategies for eliminating them. Periodically, they must also ensure that the American people fully understand why and what is being done on their behalf.

When it comes to policy advocacy, the two recurrent words are “should” and “must” – as in New York Times editorials. “We should strengthen our military presence in Syria to counter Russian influence.” “Putin must stop his aggression in the Baltics and Balkans” – Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to President George W. Bush. (Geography evidently is not this crowd’s strong suit).

Embedded in this rhetoric is a pair of core propositions. Like pillars of the Faith, they do not require explicit restatement. The overriding purpose of American foreign policy is to achieve absolute security for the United States. In the long run, that means Americanizing the world. In the shorter term, that means strenuous, unrelenting efforts to smite our enemies and to preempt potential threats.

There are four guiding principles:

It is legitimate, even imperative, for the threatened democratic world, led by Washington, to use its power to forestall assaults on them.

–Traditional concepts of state sovereignty do not constitute an acceptable legal or political barrier to efforts at imposing that solution.

–The United States, therefore, is not a “global Leviathan” that advances its selfish interests at the expense of others.  It is, rather, the benign producer of public goods.

–The privilege of partial exception from the international norms, including the right to act unilaterally, is earned by an historical record of selfless performance.

Don’t Look Back

The worthies on the Austin panel spent no time on a retrospective critique of the policies and action that have flowed from this world-view. The objective record may show that the country has invested enormously in serial failure relieved only by the modest success of dispersing Classic Al Qaeda and dislodging the Taliban – temporarily.

The global struggle goes on against enemies real and imagined without any appreciable change in strategic thinking. Its sole convincing victory has been mastery of the American public mind. Yet, there is no reappraisal of core premises. The tragic Iraq fiasco got one mention: “we need to better identify what factors in the equation we have inadequate Intelligence about, like WMDs” –Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The resilience of Faith in strategic doctrine as some sort of Holy Writ is evident in the Establishment’s approach to Syria. Speakers evinced an undifferentiated and unqualified consensus on America purposes there. American priorities emerged clearly. In this mess, we still can discern what they are – and that there exists a consensus on their importance and ordering. As noted in an earlier post:

  1. The paramount objective is to thwart Russia’s efforts to exercise influence and to establish its position in Syria.
  2. Get rid of Assad. We have committed ourselves to the Israelis, the Turks, and the Saudis on this. Their wish is our command.
  3. Marginalize and weaken Iran by breaking the Shi’ite Crescent
  4. Wear down and slowly fragment ISIS. Success on this score can cover failure on all others in domestic opinion.
  5. Ensure a permanent American physical presence in Iraq, i.e. achieve what we failed to achieve in 2008.
  6. Facilitate a de facto partition of Iraq with bits of Syria attached to the Iraqi bits. Hold this out as the lure for the Kurds to act as our infantry.
  7. Facilitate some kind of Sunni entity in Anbar and eastern Syria. How can we prevent it being destabilized by attacks from ISIS remnants? How can we prevent it falling under the sway of Al Qaeda? Good subjects for the Obama Foundation’s first major study project.
  8. Al-Nusra in Syria proper? Hope that the Turks can “domestic” al-Nusra. Incentive? Obscure. No one made mention of Washington’s tacit alliance with Al Qaeda in Syria. No one made mention of pressuring Turkey and the KSA to cease and desist supporting jihadi elements, no mention was made of Israel, no mention was made of post-Assad Syria.

The words “should” or “must” in regard to other parties were absent from all discussion of Syria. Indeed, Hadley and others urged that we redouble efforts to repair credibility in the eyes of Riyadh and Ankara. These Establishment figures have spent so much time in blind alleys that they seem unable to tell night from day.

Every Soul is captive

Of its own Deeds — Qur’an  74:38

The U.S. foreign policy Establishment is not big on introspection or self-reflection – it sparks fear of an acute agoraphobia attack.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. mbren@pitt.edu