Trump Escalates Anti-Leak Campaign

President Trump has made clear his anger about “leaks,” but he is far from alone among recent U.S. presidents waging war against whistleblowing, write Jesselyn Radack and Kathleen McClellan for ExposeFacts.

By Jesselyn Radack and Kathleen McClellan

The Trump administration has declared a war on media leaks and called for the U.S. federal workforce and contractors to receive “anti-leak” training. The centerpiece of Trump’s anti-leak campaign, aside from early morning tweet-storms railing against leakers and media, is the National Insider Threat Taskforce.

The Insider Threat Program is not a Trump-era creation. In then-secret testimony to Congress in 2012, Directorate of National Intelligence official Robert Litt touted the original Insider Threat Program as a highlight in administrative efforts to “sanction and deter” leaks. In the past, Insider Threat Program training has improperly included “WANTED”-style images of whistleblowers pictured alongside actual spies and mass murderers.

As recently as last month, the Department of Defense has developed training courses, toolkits, templates, posters, and videos, all aimed toward silencing and deterring anyone who would disclose to the press or the public information that the government wants kept secret for no legitimate reason and that the public has an interest in knowing. It is not only federal employees who receive these trainings, but tens of thousands of government contractors as well. Companies with any classified access are required to implement an “Insider Threat Program,” an insidious presumption that employees cannot be trusted.

Part of the “Unauthorized Disclosure” training includes watching a Fox News clip on the crackdown on leaks and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s statement announcing an increase in criminal leak investigations. A student guide from the Insider Threat Awareness training includes the McCarthyesque request that employees report on each other for “general suspicious behaviors,” including “Questionable national loyalty” such as “Displaying questionable loyalty to U.S. government or company” or “Making anti-U.S. comments.” Never mind that the only oath government employees take is to the U.S. Constitution, not to any government official or the U.S. government itself and certainly not to a private company.

Anti-Leak Posters

The many secrecy trainings come with promotional posters with unsophisticated rhyming slogans cringe-worthy to First Amendment advocates and marketing professionals alike, such as “There no delete when you tweet” or “Tweets sink fleets.” The poster with the slogan “Every Leak makes us weak” is accompanied by a melting American flag info-graphic. Then there’s the most anti-press poster, a mock newspaper website with the slogan “Think before you click,” complete with a red, Trumpian-style, all caps “IT’S A CRIME” at the bottom. The messaging is so heavy-handed it would be funny if the consequences weren’t the freedoms of speech and the press.

Finally, there’s the laughably inaccurate and awkward slogan “Free speech doesn’t mean careless talk.” Actually, it does. Free speech does not mean screaming “FIRE” in a crowded theater, but there is no Supreme Court ruling holding that “careless speech” is somehow exempt from First Amendment protections, lest our President’s Twitter feed be censorable.

There is an “unauthorized disclosures” video training from September 2017 billed as “compliant with White House and Secretary of Defense Memoranda” that condemns leaks, points out punishment for leakers, and warns apocalyptically that when there are unauthorized leaks, “we all risk losing our way of life.”

Another informational video includes a fictionalized news story about Americans dying in a terrorist attack because of a release of classified information. Such a story has never appeared in the actual news media because it has never happened. In Chelsea Manning’s criminal case – worth mentioning since her leaks are consistently singled out in the videos – the government was unable to provide a finalized damage assessment, even though the leaks occurred years prior. (Curiously, Edward Snowden’s even more-well known leaks are not mentioned by name in the videos.)

The trainings include little or no mention of whistleblowing, except to say that leaking to the media is not whistleblowing, and the First Amendment offers no protection to whistleblowers. This is chilling, but not accurate. The Supreme Court has recognized that the media is a legitimate outlet for whistleblowers. And, information that has been classified to cover up government wrongdoing or prevent embarrassment is not properly classified. In fact, whistleblowers leaking to the media is a time-honored tradition dating back, at least, to Daniel Ellsberg’s leaking of the Pentagon Papers.

The Insider Threat Program trainings do not send a simple message against leaking properly classified information, such as nuclear launch codes or covert identities. Rather, the trainings send much more destructive messages against all leaks and speech the government does not like: do not criticize the government or you will be reported as an insider threat and keep all government secrets, even when the government breaks the law. These are messages contrary to a free and open democratic society, especially one where the First Amendment protects freedoms of speech, association, and the press.

The training videos go beyond simply urging employees to keep quiet. Employees are instructed not to access or share information already in the public sphere. Considering that every major newspaper includes almost daily leaks of classified information, such an instruction is impossible to comply with, and will almost certainly be used, as it has in the past, to retaliate against whistleblowers. After all, the biggest leaker of classified information is the U.S. government itself.

Jesselyn Radack was a whistleblower at the Department of Justice under the Bush administration and now heads the Whistleblower and Source Protection Program (WHISPeR) at ExposeFacts, where she has provided legal representation for clients including Edward Snowden, Thomas Drake, and William Binney. Kathleen McClellan is the Deputy Director at WHISPeR. [This article originally ran at ExposeFacts at https://exposefacts.org/insider-threat-program-training-and-trumps-war-on-leaks-a-chilling-combination-for-whistleblowers/ ]




Understanding the ‘Fake News’ Hysteria

The mainstream media’s hysteria over “fake news” is aimed less at the few instances of intentionally fabricated stories than at well-reported articles that challenge the U.S. government’s dubious official narratives, says David P. Hamilton.

By David P. Hamilton

For the most part, “fake news” is a fake concept designed by the corporate news media to discredit those who challenge the official U.S. hegemonic narrative. The typical MSM fake news accusation starts with some egregious fictionalization and then morphs over to the real targets: the subversives, those who would dispute foundational elements of the official history or its recent approved updates.

These subversive elements are likely to question important myths, such as the necessity of the nuclear incineration of Hiroshima or – before the Iraq War – Saddam Hussein possessing WMD, and hence must be silenced.

There are people in this world who write what they know to be fiction and try to pass it off as fact. Many of them work for the CIA and related institutions. Then, there are satirists like The Onion who write fictionalized truth. These professional prevaricators are not what draws the ire of the corporate “news.”

The approved rendition of U.S. history is a composite of lies, euphemisms and dubious rationales taught in schools, public and private, since the nation’s founding. It is continuously updated by the corporate news media. There is an army of PR types and psy-op warriors working constantly on this project; some private sector, some public, who often switch roles and sectors, but work hand-in-glove regardless.

The real fake news is the fake narrative that flows perpetually forth from these functionaries of the MSM to dominate the discourse which the billionaire owners allow voiced via their facilities. In this manner, we are all being played, all the time, and have been since birth.

For the record, the official narrative follows certain principles.  Among them are:

  1. The U.S. is never wrong in any conflict with other nations.
  2. If the U.S. ever happens to be wrong, it was a reasonable mistake.
  3. U.S. intentions are always benign and honorable.
  4. U.S. judgment is always objective and fair.
  5. The U.S. is a democracy and always supports democracy.
  6. Americans are a peaceful people.
  7. Americans are a superior people, so American lives matter more.
  8. Americans are always on the high moral ground because God is on our side.
  9. The word of our leaders is sufficient proof of any assertion.
  10. The U.S. is the greatest nation in history.
  11. Private is always better than public.
  12. Individualism is always better than collectivism.

One-Sided ‘News’

In application of these principles, NPR’s “All Things Considered” never considers the Maduro government’s position in Venezuela, nor is Noam Chomsky, often voted the world’s foremost public intellectual, to be heard on this “public” radio. Nor will North Korea’s negotiating position relative to their nuclear weapons program be explained. It requires the U.S. military to refrain from conducting war games on North Korea’s border in exchange for freezing their weapons program; unmentionable because the U.S. militaristic leadership is unwilling to consider the proposal and because it sounds too rational.

You will hear from the world’s greatest exporter of terrorism that Iran, which hasn’t invaded a neighbor since Darius I in 500 BCE, is the world’s greatest exporter of terrorism. And that apartheid Israel is a democracy. And that the Saudis are jolly guys in silk robes you want to hold hands and dance with.

Are the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, et al, lying knowingly? Not exactly. The news media doesn’t have to invent the lies, only repeat them. They are mainly the stenographers of governmental agencies that provide the raw material to be quoted, invariably substantiating the validity of the official position. The owners of those news outlets likely believe that narrative, but mainly they want you to believe it.

The pundits and talking heads of those news media, the on-camera personalities, must think within the parameters the official narrative or they wouldn’t have been hired to the position of highly paid spokesperson for it. Wolf Blitzer is a Zionist true believer who used to do P.R. for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  Anderson Cooper is a Vanderbilt heir worth $100 million.

How objective can you be about issues of income inequality when you’ve been the top .0001% for six or seven generations? And if one dare to go off the reservation, the next thing you know you’ll be working for RT for a lot less money like Ed Schultz.

This process of narrative creation is principally a matter of focus, parameters and interpretation. On major U.S. cable news channels, the great bulk of coverage involves domestic politics, mass murders and “natural” disasters. In Europe, the focus is far more on international relationships.

The spectrum of opinion allowed in the U.S. is limited to the point that Hillary Clinton is considered “the left” and the anti-capitalist left might as well not exist. The range of permissible opinion typically stretches from pro-capitalist social liberals to pro-capitalist social conservatives. This is hardly surprising if one considers that billionaire investors own the controlling interest in all major U.S. news media. One outcome is that the U.S. is the only major industrial nation without a significant socialist political party.

The private interests that own the news media don’t have to get together and compare notes because they all have a high level of ruling-class consciousness that includes shared economic fundamentals, e.g., socialize debts and privatize profits. Their message control is described far more clearly by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in Manufacturing Consent, chapter 1 on “the propaganda model”.

Dubious Conformity

It is generally accurate to assume that there is an entirely reasonable interpretation of news events that contradicts what you are being told to believe by the corporate news media. Cases of official duplicity are notorious and legion: the Gulf of Tonkin, WMD in Iraq, the black kid killed by the police had a gun, etc.

Central among the American myths is that the myth surrounding the origins of the Cold War. This myth would have you believe that the Soviet Union in 1945, despite having lost over 30 million of its citizens during two German invasions in less than 30 years and with a devastated infrastructure, would suddenly decide to invade Western Europe, into the teeth of the world’s sole nuclear armed military power, the USA, and its various formidable allies.

Furthermore, that the Soviets would do this despite having achieved their major war aims, a divided and demilitarized Germany and a “sphere of influence” between themselves and Germany, an arrangement agreed upon by Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt at Yalta. This Cold War creation myth of Soviet aggressive intent is essentially a U.S. cover story to mask U.S. aggression disguised as defensive.

Like Germans in 1939 believing the Polish horse cavalry was about to attack their tanks, Americans bought this spurious interpretation. These steady U.S. “defensive” efforts have now brought NATO, essentially an agency of U.S. foreign policy, to Russia’s very doorstep in the Baltic states, with Ukraine up next for NATO membership. Who is the aggressor?

Every other late Twentieth Century storyline of official U.S. history had to conform to the basic foundational concept of the U.S. defending freedom against an expansionist Soviet Union/Russia bent on destroying us. And so, today, we have thousands of NATO troops, innumerable missile batteries and nuclear-armed aircraft carrier-led naval battle groups patrolling Russia’s borders and shorelines, including the Black Sea, because “THEY are the aggressor.”

Try to imagine the U.S. reaction to a Russian fleet cruising the Gulf of Mexico, although that might be difficult given that 11 of the world’s 17 aircraft carriers, a uniquely aggressive weapon, belong to the U.S., all with unlimited range, and Russia’s only puny little single carrier rarely leaves Russian territorial waters and doesn’t have enough range to get to the U.S. and back.

The U.S. has an estimated 800 foreign military bases in well over 100 countries while Russia has three in two countries. U.S. military budget is at least ten times that of Russia’s and was just increased by 10 percent while the Russians just reduced theirs by 7 percent. Who is the aggressor?

David P. Hamilton is a long-time Austin activist and writer. An archive of his other articles can be found at http://www.theragblog.com/tag/david-p-hamilton/. His Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/david.hamilton.71066700.




How Netanyahu Pulls Trump’s Strings

Special Report: It turns out that Hillary Clinton was partly correct: President Trump is a “puppet,” but his puppet master isn’t Russian President Putin but Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In the final presidential debate of 2016, Hillary Clinton famously called Donald Trump the “puppet” of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But what’s increasingly clear is that Trump has a more typical puppet master for a U.S. politician – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Since Sept. 18, when the two men met in New York around the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu has been pulling Trump’s strings on almost every foreign policy issue. Arguably, the puppet/puppeteer relationship began much earlier, but I’ve been told that Trump bridled early on at Netanyahu’s control and even showed a few signs of rebellion.

For instance, Trump initially resisted Netanyahu’s demand for a deeper U.S. commitment in Syria by ordering the shutdown of the CIA operation supporting anti-government rebels, along with the Trump administration’s statement that U.S. policy no longer sought “regime change” in Damascus.

Immediately after that announcement, Netanyahu had some success in getting Trump to reverse direction and fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base on April 6. The attack followed what one intelligence source told me was a staged chemical weapons incident by Al Qaeda operatives in the rebel-controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, possibly using sarin delivered via drone from a Saudi/Israeli special operations base in Jordan. Yet, although apparently duped by the subterfuge into the missile strike, Trump still balked at a complete reversal of his Syrian policy.

Then, in May, Trump picked Saudi Arabia and Israel as his first overseas trip as president – essentially following the advice of his son-in-law Jared Kushner – but I’m told he came away feeling somewhat humiliated by the over-the-top treatment that involved him getting pulled into a ceremonial sword dance in Saudi Arabia and facing condescension from Netanyahu.

So, over the summer, Trump listened to advice about a possible major overhaul of U.S. foreign policy that would have checked Israeli/Saudi regional ambitions, opened diplomatic doors to Iran, and addressed the Korean crisis by brokering negotiations between the North and the South over some form of loose confederation.

There was even the possibility of a Nixon-goes-to-China moment with tough-guy Trump meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the two countries restoring diplomatic ties, a process that could have given U.S. companies a better chance to compete in the Iranian market.

Those proposed moves had the advantage of reducing international tensions, saving the U.S. government money on future military adventures, and freeing U.S. corporations from the tangle of economic sanctions – exactly the “America First” strategy that Trump had promised his working-class base.

However, instead Netanyahu succeeded in pulling Trump’s strings during their conversations on Sept. 18 in New York, although exactly how is still a mystery to some people close to these developments. One source said the Kushner family real-estate company has exposure to substantial Israeli financing that could be yanked, although Jared Kushner’s financial disclosure form only lists a $5 million unsecured line of credit, held jointly with his father, from the Israel Discount Bank.

Trump also has major pro-Netanyahu donors to his political war chest and his legal defense fund who are strong advocates for war with Iran, including casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who has plowed $35 million into the pro-Trump Super PAC Future 45 and has publicly called for dropping a nuclear bomb on Iran as a negotiating tactic. So, Netanyahu had a number of potential strings to pull.

Going on Rants

Whatever the precise reasons, on Sept. 19, Trump turned his maiden speech to the U.N. General Assembly into a war-like rant, personally insulting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” threatening to “totally destroy” his nation of 25 million people, and parroting Netanyahu’s calls for another regime change project aimed at Iran.

Most diplomats in the audience sat in stunned silence as Trump threatened aggressive war from the podium of an organization created to prevent the scourge of war. The one notable exception was Netanyahu who enthusiastically applauded his  success in jerking Trump into the neocon camp.

So, rather than shift U.S. policy away from confrontation, Trump jettisoned the diplomatic strategy although it already had dispatched intermediaries to make contacts with the Iranians and North Koreans. Instead, Trump opted for the classic neocon approach favored by Netanyahu, albeit with Trump dressing up his neocon surrender in some “America First” rhetoric.

The U.N. speech left some of the U.S. intermediaries scrambling to explain to their contacts in Iran and North Korea why Trump had repudiated the messages that they had been carrying. Privately, Trump explained to one that he just liked to “zigzag” and that the intended end point hadn’t change.

Some of these tensions surfaced in late September when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the extraordinary step of announcing the behind-the-scenes contacts with North Korea during a state visit to China.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Tillerson said. “We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout.” Tillerson added, “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang … We do talk to them. ,,, Directly. We have our own channels.”

In reaction to Tillerson’s efforts to salvage the backchannel initiatives, Trump showed that his obeisance to Netanyahu and the neocons outweighed loyalty to either his Secretary of State or the intermediaries who had ventured into dicey situations on Trump’s behalf.

In Twitter messages, Trump belittled the idea of a dialogue with North Korea, tweeting: “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

“Save your energy Rex,” Trump added, before slipping in another thinly veiled threat of a military strike: “we’ll do what has to be done!”

While on the surface, Trump’s repudiation of Tillerson might have been viewed as another “zigzag,” it is now clear that Trump’s “zigzag” explanation was just another lie. Rather than zigzagging, he is instead following a straight line marked out by Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Netanyahu seems to have won more concessions from Trump. The U.S. military appears to be helping the remnants of Islamist forces still fighting the government, according to Russian officials. Their accusation is that the U.S. is secretly aiding the Islamist terror groups with weapons, tactical advice and aerial reconnaissance.

In other words, Trump appears to be continuing U.S. military intervention in Syria – just as Netanyahu desires.

Falling in Line

Trump further showed that he is following Netanyahu’s marching orders with the extremist speech about Iran on Friday, essentially repeating all the Israeli propaganda lines against Iran and burning whatever bridges remained toward a meaningful diplomatic approach.

Trump’s Iran speech was so ludicrous it almost defies serious analysis. It ranks with the reckless rhetoric of President George W. Bush when he pronounced an “axis of evil,” with the incongruous linking of Iraq and Iran (two bitter enemies) and North Korea accompanied by Bush’s bogus claims about Iraq’s WMD and Iraq’s alleged collaboration with Al Qaeda.

In Friday’s speech, which looked like the handiwork of John Bolton, one of Bush’s neocon advisers who was seen entering the White House last week, Trump repeated all the nonsense tying Iran to Al Qaeda, presumably thinking that the American people still don’t understand that Al Qaeda is a fanatical Sunni terror group that targets both the West and Shiites, the dominant Muslim faith in Iran, as heretics deserving death.

The inconvenient truth is that Al Qaeda has long been connected to Saudi Arabia, which has supported these fanatics since the 1980s when Saudi citizen Osama bin Laden was supported in his jihad against Soviet troops in Afghanistan, who were there trying to protect a secular regime.

Though officially the Saudi monarchy insists that it is opposed to Al Qaeda, Saudi intelligence has used Al Qaeda as essentially an unconventional fighting force deployed to destabilize and terrorize adversaries in the region and around the world. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Need to Hold Saudi Arabia Accountable.”]

As the Israelis have developed a de facto alliance with Saudi Arabia in recent years, they also have expressed a preference for an Al Qaeda victory in Syria if necessary to destroy what Michael Oren, former Ambassador to the U.S. and now a deputy minister under Netanyahu, has described as the Shiite “strategic arc” running from Tehran through Damascus to Beirut.

One of the frequent Israeli complaints about Iran is that it has assisted the sovereign government of Syria in defeating Al Qaeda and its militant allies (as well as Al Qaeda’s spinoff Islamic State), which should tell you a lot about where Netanyahu’s loyalties lie.

A Compromised Media

Yet, as dishonest as Trump’s Iran speech was, the U.S. mainstream media won’t criticize it as harshly as it deserves because virtually all the important journalists and talking heads have swallowed Israel’s anti-Iran propaganda whole. They have frequently repeated the canard about Iran as “the world’s chief sponsor of terrorism” when that title clearly should go to the Saudis and the Qataris if not others.

The West’s major news outlets also have ingested all the sophisticated propaganda against the Assad government in Syria, particularly the claims about chemical weapons attacks while ignoring evidence that Al Qaeda’s operatives and their “civil defense” collaborators have staged attacks with the goal of provoking a direct U.S. military intervention. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “A New Hole in Syria-Sarin Certainty.”]

In his Friday speech, Trump also touted one of the earliest canards about Iranian “terrorism,” the attack by Lebanese Shiite militants on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 killing 241 Americans.

When that attack happened, I was working at The Associated Press as an investigative reporter specializing in national security issues. While the precise Iranian role was not clear, what should have been obvious was that the attack was not “terrorism,” which is classically defined as violence toward civilians to achieve a political goal.

Not only were the Marines not civilians but the Reagan administration had made them belligerents in the Lebanese war by the decision to order the USS New Jersey to shell Muslim villages. Reagan’s National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, who often represented Israel’s interests inside the administration, was the spark plug for this mission creep, which killed Lebanese civilians and convinced Shiite militants that the United States had joined the war against them.

Shiite militants struck back, sending a suicide truck bomber through U.S. security positions, demolishing the high-rise Marine barracks in Beirut. Reagan soon repositioned the surviving U.S. forces offshore. At the AP, I unsuccessfully argued against calling the Beirut attack “terrorism,” a word that other news organizations also sloppily applied. But even senior Reagan officials recognized the truth.

“When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides,” Gen. Colin Powell wrote in his memoir, My American Journey. In other words, Powell, who was then military adviser to Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, recognized that the actions of the U.S. military had altered the status of the Marines in the eyes of the Shiites.

(Although this “terrorism” is always blamed on Hezbollah, the group did not officially come into existence until 1985 as a resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon which did not end until 2000.)

Opposed to Putin

So, Trump is now on the path to wars with both North Korea and Iran, neither of which Russian President Putin favors. Putin, who played a key role in helping President Obama achieve the Iran-nuclear agreement, now sides with the Europeans in opposition to Trump’s decertification.

Putin also favors a prompt end to the Syrian conflict with the defeat of Al Qaeda and its allies, and he wants peaceful negotiations with North Korea over its desire for security against threatened American aggression. Trump is on the opposite side of all these Putin priorities.

In other words, not only does the Russia-gate hysteria have core evidentiary problems – both on the issues of “hacking” Democratic emails and claims about suspected “Russia-linked” entities paying for an infinitesimal number of ads on social media (including some about puppies and another promoting a critical documentary about Donald Trump’s golf course in Scotland) – but Trump is behaving in ways that are directly contrary to Putin’s desires and interests.

If indeed Clinton were right that Trump was Putin’s “puppet,” then he would have agreed to negotiations to address the North Korean crisis; would have accepted constructive diplomacy toward Iran; and would have ended all U.S. support for the Syrian militants and encouraged a quick end to the bloodletting.

Instead, Trump is moving in opposite directions, lining up with Netanyahu and the neocons, whom some European allies refer to as “America’s Israeli agents.” Although dressing up his capitulation to Netanyahu in tough-guy phrasing, Trump is doing what most U.S. politicians do – they grovel before Bibi Netanyahu.

And, if you have any doubts about that reality, you can watch how often both Republicans and Democrats jump to their feet when Netanyahu addresses a joint session of Congress, an honor that he has received three times, tying him with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Those moments of American humiliation – as almost all 535 members of Congress act like puppets on invisible strings – represent the actual subservience of the U.S. government to a foreign power. And that power is not Russia.

President Trump is just the latest American politician to have his strings yanked by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

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).




The Legacy of Reagan’s Civilian ‘Psyops’

Special Report: When the Reagan administration launched peacetime “psyops” in the mid-1980s, it pulled in civilian agencies to help spread these still-ongoing techniques of deception and manipulation, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Declassified records from the Reagan presidential library show how the U.S. government enlisted civilian agencies in psychological operations designed to exploit information as a way to manipulate the behavior of targeted foreign audiences and, at least indirectly, American citizens.

A just-declassified sign-in sheet for a meeting of an inter-agency “psyops” committee on Oct. 24, 1986, shows representatives from the Agency for International Development (USAID), the State Department, and the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) joining officials from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department.

Some of the names of officials from the CIA and Pentagon remain classified more than three decades later. But the significance of the document is that it reveals how agencies that were traditionally assigned to global development (USAID) or international information (USIA) were incorporated into the U.S. government’s strategies for peacetime psyops, a military technique for breaking the will of a wartime enemy by spreading lies, confusion and terror.

Essentially, psyops play on the cultural weaknesses of a target population so they could be more easily controlled or defeated, but the Reagan administration was taking the concept outside the traditional bounds of warfare and applying psyops to any time when the U.S. government could claim some threat to America.

This disclosure – bolstered by other documents released earlier this year by archivists at the Reagan library in Simi Valley, California – is relevant to today’s frenzy over alleged “fake news” and accusations of “Russian disinformation” by reminding everyone that the U.S. government was active in those same areas.

The U.S. government’s use of disinformation and propaganda is, of course, nothing new. For instance, during the 1950s and 1960s, the USIA regularly published articles in friendly newspapers and magazines that appeared under fake names such as Guy Sims Fitch.

However, in the 1970s, the bloody Vietnam War and the Pentagon Papers’ revelations about U.S. government deceptions to justify that war created a crisis for American propagandists, their loss of credibility with the American people. Some of the traditional sources of U.S. disinformation, such as the CIA, also fell into profound disrepute.

This so-called “Vietnam Syndrome” – a skeptical citizenry dubious toward U.S. government claims about foreign conflicts – undermined President Reagan’s efforts to sell his plans for intervention in the civil wars then underway in Central America, Africa and elsewhere.

Reagan depicted Central America as a “Soviet beachhead,” but many Americans saw haughty Central American oligarchs and their brutal security forces slaughtering priests, nuns, labor activists, students, peasants and indigenous populations.

Reagan and his advisers realized that they had to turn those perceptions around if they hoped to get sustained funding for the militaries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as well as for the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, the CIA-organized paramilitary force marauding around leftist-ruled Nicaragua.

Perception Management

So, it became a high priority to reshape public perceptions inside those targeted countries but even more importantly among the American people. That challenge led the Reagan administration to revitalize and reorganize methods for distributing propaganda and funding friendly foreign operatives, such as creation of the National Endowment for Democracy under neoconservative president Carl Gershman in 1983.

Another entity in this process was the Psychological Operations Committee formed in 1986 under Reagan’s National Security Council. In the years since, the U.S. administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have applied many of these same psyops principles, cherry-picking or manufacturing evidence to undermine adversaries and to solidify U.S. public support for Washington’s policies.

This reality – about the U.S. government creating its own faux reality to manipulate the American people and international audiences – should compel journalists in the West to treat all claims from Washington with a large grain of salt.

However, instead, we have seen a pattern of leading news outlets simply amplifying whatever U.S. agencies assert about foreign adversaries while denouncing skeptics as purveyors of “fake news” or enemy “propaganda.” In effect, the success of the U.S. psyops strategy can be measured by how Western mainstream media has stepped forward as the enforcement mechanism to ensure conformity to the U.S. government’s various information themes and narratives.

For instance, any questioning of the U.S. government’s narratives on, say, the current Syrian conflict, or the Ukraine coup of 2014, or Russian “hacking” of the 2016 U.S. election, or Iran’s status as “the leading sponsor of terrorism” is treated by the major Western news outlets as evidence that you are a “useful fool” at best, if not a willful enemy “propagandist” with loyalty to a foreign power, i.e., a traitor.

Leading mainstream media outlets and establishment-approved Web sites are now teaming up with Google, Facebook and other technology companies to develop algorithms to bury or remove content from the Internet that doesn’t march in lockstep with what is deemed to be true, which often simply follows what U.S. government agencies say is true.

Yet, the documentary evidence is now clear that the U.S. government undertook a well-defined strategy of waging psyops around the world with regular blowback of this propaganda and disinformation onto the American people via Western news agencies covering events in the affected countries.

During more recent administrations, euphemisms have been used to cloak the more pejorative phrase, “psychological operations” – such as “public diplomacy,” “strategic communications,” “perception management,” and “smart power.” But the serious push to expand this propaganda capability of the U.S. government can be traced back to the Reagan presidency.

The Puppet Master

Over the years, I’ve obtained scores of documents related to the psyops and related programs via “mandatory declassification reviews” of files belonging to Walter Raymond Jr., a senior CIA covert operations specialist who was transferred to Reagan’s National Security Council staff in 1982 to rebuild capacities for psyops, propaganda and disinformation.

Raymond, who has been compared to a character from a John LeCarré novel slipping easily into the woodwork, spent his years inside Reagan’s White House as a shadowy puppet master who tried his best to avoid public attention or – it seems – even having his picture taken.

From the tens of thousands of photographs from meetings at Reagan’s White House, I found only a couple showing Raymond – and he is seated in groups, partially concealed by other officials.

But Raymond appears to have grasped his true importance. In his NSC files, I found a doodle of an organizational chart that had Raymond at the top holding what looks like the crossed handles used by puppeteers to control the puppets below them. The drawing fits the reality of Raymond as the behind-the-curtains operative who was controlling the various inter-agency task forces that were responsible for implementing psyops and other propaganda strategies.

In Raymond’s files, I found an influential November 1983 paper, written by Col. Alfred R. Paddock Jr. and entitled “Military Psychological Operations and US Strategy,” which stated: “the planned use of communications to influence attitudes or behavior should, if properly used, precede, accompany, and follow all applications of force. Put another way, psychological operations is the one weapons system which has an important role to play in peacetime, throughout the spectrum of conflict, and during the aftermath of conflict.”

Paddock continued, “Military psychological operations are an important part of the ‘PSYOP Totality,’ both in peace and war. … We need a program of psychological operations as an integral part of our national security policies and programs. … The continuity of a standing interagency board or committee to provide the necessary coordinating mechanism for development of a coherent, worldwide psychological operations strategy is badly needed.”

One declassified “top secret” document in Raymond’s file – dated Feb. 4, 1985, from Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger – urged the fuller implementation of President Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 130, which was signed on March 6, 1984, and which authorized peacetime psyops by expanding psyops beyond its traditional boundaries of active military operations into peacetime situations in which the U.S. government could claim some threat to national interests.

“This approval can provide the impetus to the rebuilding of a necessary strategic capability, focus attention on psychological operations as a national – not solely military – instrument, and ensure that psychological operations are fully coordinated with public diplomacy and other international information activities,” Weinberger’s document said.

An Inter-Agency Committee

This broader commitment to psyops led to the creation of a Psychological Operations Committee (POC) that was to be chaired by a representative of Reagan’s National Security Council with a vice chairman from the Pentagon and with representatives from CIA, the State Department and USIA.

“This group will be responsible for planning, coordinating and implementing psychological operations activities in support of United States policies and interests relative to national security,” according to a “secret” addendum to a memo, dated March 25, 1986, from Col. Paddock, the psyops advocate who had become the U.S. Army’s Director for Psychological Operations.

“The committee will provide the focal point for interagency coordination of detailed contingency planning for the management of national information assets during war, and for the transition from peace to war,” the addendum added. “The POC shall seek to ensure that in wartime or during crises (which may be defined as periods of acute tension involving a threat to the lives of American citizens or the imminence of war between the U.S. and other nations), U.S. international information elements are ready to initiate special procedures to ensure policy consistency, timely response and rapid feedback from the intended audience.”

In other words, the U.S. government could engage in psyops virtually anytime because there are always “periods of acute tension involving a threat to the lives of American citizens.”

The Psychological Operations Committee took formal shape with a “secret” memo from Reagan’s National Security Advisor John Poindexter on July 31, 1986. Its first meeting was called on Sept. 2, 1986, with an agenda that focused on Central America and “How can other POC agencies support and complement DOD programs in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama.” The POC was also tasked with “Developing National PSYOPS Guidelines” for “formulating and implementing a national PSYOPS program.” (Underlining in original)

Raymond was named a co-chair of the POC along with CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who was then Deputy Director for Intelligence Programs on the NSC staff, according to a “secret” memo from Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Craig Alderman Jr.

The memo also noted that future POC meetings would be briefed on psyops projects for the Philippines and Nicaragua, with the latter project codenamed “Niagara Falls.” The memo also references a “Project Touchstone,” but it is unclear where that psyops program was targeted.

Another “secret” memo dated Oct. 1, 1986, co-authored by Raymond, reported on the POC’s first meeting on Sept. 10, 1986, and noted that “The POC will, at each meeting, focus on an area of operations (e.g., Central America, Afghanistan, Philippines).”

The POC’s second meeting on Oct. 24, 1986 – for which the sign-in sheet was just released – concentrated on the Philippines, according to a Nov. 4, 1986 memo also co-authored by Raymond.

But the Reagan administration’s primary attention continued to go back to Central America, including “Project Niagara Falls,” the psyops program aimed at Nicaragua. A “secret” Pentagon memo from Deputy Under Secretary Alderman on Nov. 20, 1986, outlined the work of the 4th Psychological Operations Group on this psyops plan “to help bring about democratization of Nicaragua,” by which the Reagan administration meant a “regime change.” The precise details of “Project Niagara Falls” were not disclosed in the declassified documents but the choice of codename suggested a cascade of psyops.

Key Operatives

Other documents from Raymond’s NSC file shed light on who other key operatives in the psyops and propaganda programs were. For instance, in undated notes on efforts to influence the Socialist International, including securing support for U.S. foreign policies from Socialist and Social Democratic parties in Europe, Raymond cited the efforts of “Ledeen, Gershman,” a reference to neoconservative operative Michael Ledeen and Carl Gershman, another neocon who has served as president of the U.S.-government-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), from 1983 to the present. (Underlining in original.)

Although NED is technically independent of the U.S. government, it receives the bulk of its funding (now about $100 million a year) from Congress. Documents from the Reagan archives also make clear that NED was organized as a way to replace some of the CIA’s political and propaganda covert operations, which had fallen into disrepute in the 1970s. Earlier released documents from Raymond’s file show CIA Director William Casey pushing for NED’s creation and Raymond, Casey’s handpicked man on the NSC, giving frequent advice and direction to Gershman. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “CIA’s Hidden Hand in ‘Democracy’ Groups.”]

While the initials USAID conjure up images of well-meaning Americans helping to drill wells, teach school and set up health clinics in impoverished nations, USAID also has kept its hand in financing friendly journalists around the globe.

In 2015, USAID issued a fact sheet summarizing its work financing “journalism education, media business development, capacity building for supportive institutions, and strengthening legal-regulatory environments for free media.” USAID estimated its budget for “media strengthening programs in over 30 countries” at $40 million annually, including aiding “independent media organizations and bloggers in over a dozen countries,”

In Ukraine before the 2014 coup, USAID offered training in “mobile phone and website security,” which sounds a bit like an operation to thwart the local government’s intelligence gathering, an ironic position for the U.S. with its surveillance obsession, including prosecuting whistleblowers based on evidence that they talked to journalists.

USAID, working with billionaire George Soros’s Open Society, also funded the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which engages in “investigative journalism” that usually goes after governments that have fallen into disfavor with the United States and then are singled out for accusations of corruption.

The USAID-funded OCCRP also collaborates with Bellingcat, an online investigative website founded by blogger Eliot Higgins, who is now a senior non-resident fellow of the Atlantic Council, a pro-NATO think tank that receives funding from the U.S. and allied governments.

Higgins has spread misinformation on the Internet, including discredited claims implicating the Syrian government in the sarin attack in 2013 and directing an Australian TV news crew to what looked to be the wrong location for a video of a BUK anti-aircraft battery as it supposedly made its getaway to Russia after the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014.

Despite his dubious record of accuracy, Higgins has gained mainstream acclaim, in part, because his “findings” always match up with the propaganda theme that the U.S. government and its Western allies are peddling. Though most genuinely independent bloggers are ignored by the mainstream media, Higgins has found his work touted by both The New York Times and The Washington Post, and Google has included Bellingcat on its First Draft coalition, which will determine which news will be deemed real and which fake.

In other words, the U.S. government has a robust strategy for deploying direct and indirect agents of influence who are now influencing how the titans of the Internet will structure their algorithms to play up favored information and disappear disfavored information.

A Heritage of Lies

During the first Cold War, the CIA and the U.S. Information Agency refined the art of “information warfare,” including pioneering some of its current features like having ostensibly “independent” entities and cut-outs present U.S. propaganda to a cynical public that would reject much of what it hears from government but may trust “citizen journalists” and “bloggers.”

USIA, which was founded in 1953 and gained new life in the 1980s under its Reagan-appointed director Charles Wick, was abolished in 1999, but its propaganda functions were largely folded into the new office of Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, which became a new fount of disinformation.

For instance, in 2014, President Obama’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel engaged in a series of falsehoods and misrepresentations regarding Russia’s RT network. In one instance, he claimed that the RT had made the “ludicrous assertion” that the U.S. had invested $5 billion in the regime change project in Ukraine. But that was an obvious reference to a public speech by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland on Dec. 13, 2013, in which she said “we have invested more than $5 billion” to help Ukraine to achieve its “European aspirations.”

Nuland also was a leading proponent of the Ukraine coup, personally cheering on the anti-government rioters. In an intercepted phone call with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland discussed how “to glue” or “midwife this thing” and who the new leaders would be. She picked Arseniy Yatsenyuk – “Yats is the guy” – who ended up as Prime Minister after elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown.

Despite all the evidence of a U.S.-backed coup, The New York Times simply ignored the evidence, including the Nuland-Pyatt phone call, to announce that there never was a coup. The Times’ obeisance to the State Department’s false narrative is a good example of how the legacy of Walter Raymond, who died in 2003, extends to the present.

Over several decades, even as the White House changed hands from Republicans to Democrats, the momentum created by Raymond continued to push the peacetime psyops strategy forward.

In more recent years, the wording of the program may have changed to more pleasing euphemisms. But the idea is the same: how you can use psyops, propaganda and disinformation to sell U.S. government policies abroad and at home.

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).




Why North Korea Wants Nuke Deterrence

Exclusive: The revelation that North Korea hacked into South Korea’s military secrets and found U.S. plans for a preemptive “decapitation” of Pyongyang’s leadership explains its rush to build a nuclear deterrent, says Nicolas J S Davies.

By Nicolas J S Davies

The Western media has been awash in speculation as to why, about a year ago, North Korea’s “crazy” leadership suddenly launched a crash program to vastly improve its ballistic missile capabilities. That question has now been answered.

In September 2016, North Korean cyber-defense forces hacked into South Korean military computers and downloaded 235 gigabytes of documents. The BBC has revealed that the documents included detailed U.S. plans to assassinate North Korea’s president, Kim Jong Un, and launch an all-out war on North Korea. The BBC’s main source for this story is Rhee Cheol-Hee, a member of the Defense Committee of the South Korean National Assembly.

These plans for aggressive war have actually been long in the making. In 2003, the U.S. scrapped an agreement signed in 1994 under which North Korea suspended its nuclear program and the U.S. agreed to build two light water reactors in North Korea. The two countries also agreed to a step-by-step normalization of relations. Even after the U.S. scrapped the 1994 Agreed Framework in 2003, North Korea did not restart work on the two reactors frozen under that agreement, which could by now be producing enough plutonium to make several nuclear weapons every year.

However, since 2002-03, when President George W. Bush included North Korea in his “axis of evil,” withdrew from the Agreed Framework, and launched an invasion of Iraq over bogus WMD claims, North Korea once again began enriching uranium and making steady progress toward developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them.

By 2016, the North Koreans also were keenly aware of the horrific fate of Iraq and Libya and their leaders after the countries did surrender their unconventional weapons. Not only did the U.S. lead bloody “regime change” invasions but the nations’ leaders were brutally murdered, Saddam Hussein by hanging and Muammar Gaddafi sodomized with a knife and then summarily shot in the head.

So, the discovery of the U.S. war plan in 2016 sounded alarm bells in Pyongyang and triggered an unprecedented crash program to quickly expand North Korea’s ballistic missile program. Its nuclear weapons tests established that it can produce a small number of first-generation nuclear weapons, but it needed a viable delivery system before it could be sure that its nuclear deterrent would be credible enough to deter a U.S. attack.

In other words, North Korea’s main goal has been to close the gap between its existing delivery systems and the missile technology it would need to actually launch a retaliatory nuclear strike against the United States. North Korea’s leaders see this as their only chance to escape the same kind of mass destruction visited on North Korea in the first Korean War, when U.S.-led air forces destroyed every city, town and industrial area and General Curtis LeMay boasted that the attacks had killed 20 percent of the population.

Through 2015 and early 2016, North Korea only tested one new missile, the Pukkuksong-1 submarine-launched missile. The missile launched from a submerged submarine and flew 300 miles on its final, successful test, which coincided with the annual U.S.-South Korean military exercises in August 2016.

North Korea also launched its largest satellite to date in February 2016, but the launch vehicle seemed to be the same type as the Unha-3 used to launch a smaller satellite in 2012.

However, since the discovery of the U.S.-South Korean war plans a year ago, North Korea has vastly accelerated its missile development program, conducting at least 27 more tests of a wide range of new missiles and bringing it much closer to a credible nuclear deterrent. Here is a timeline of the tests:

–Two failed tests of Hwasong-10 medium-range ballistic missiles in October 2016.

–Two successful tests of Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missiles, in February and May 2017. The missiles followed identical trajectories, rising to a height of 340 miles and landing in the sea 300 miles away. South Korean analysts believe this missile’s full range is at least 2,000 miles, and North Korea said the tests confirmed it is ready for mass production.

–Four medium-range ballistic missiles that flew an average of 620 miles from the Tongchang-ri space center in March 2017.

–Two apparently failed missile tests from Sinpo submarine base in April 2017.

–Six tests of Hwasong-12 medium-range ballistic missiles (range: 2,300 to 3,700 miles) since April 2017.

–A failed test of a missile believed to be a “KN-17” from Pukchang airbase in April 2017.

–Test of a Scud-type anti-ship missile that flew 300 miles and landed in the Sea of Japan, and two other tests in May 2017.

–Several cruise missiles fired from the East coast in June 2017.

–A test of a powerful new rocket engine, maybe for an ICBM, in June 2017.

–North Korea tested two Hwasong-14 “near-ICBMs” in July 2017. Based on these tests, the Hwasong-14 may be capable of hitting city-sized targets in Alaska or Hawaii with a single nuclear warhead, but cannot yet reach the U.S. West Coast.

–Four more missiles tested in August 2017, including a Hwasong-12 that flew over Japan and travelled 1,700 miles before breaking up, maybe as a result of a failure in a “Post Boost Vehicle” added to improve range and accuracy.

–Another ballistic missile flew 2,300 miles over the Pacific on September 15, 2017.

An analysis of the two tests of the Hwasong-14 in July by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) concluded that these missiles are not yet capable of carrying a 500 kg payload as far as Seattle or other U.S. West Coast cities. BAS notes that a first generation nuclear weapon based on the Pakistani model that North Korea is believed to be following could not weigh less than 500 kg, once the weight of the warhead casing and a heat shield to survive reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere are taken into account.

Global Reaction

Awareness of the role of the U.S. war plan in spurring the dramatic escalation of North Korea’s missile program should be a game changer in the world’s response to the crisis over Korea, since it demonstrates that the current acceleration of the North Korean missile program is a defensive response to a serious and potentially existential threat from the United States.

If the United Nations Security Council was not diplomatically and militarily intimidated by the United States, this knowledge should trigger urgent action in the Security Council to require all sides to make a firm commitment to peaceful and binding diplomacy to formally end the Korean War and remove the threat of war from all the people of Korea. And the whole world would unite politically and diplomatically to prevent the U.S. from using its veto to avoid accountability for its leading role in this crisis. Only a unified global response to potential U.S. aggression could possibly convince North Korea that it would have some protection if it eventually halted its nuclear weapons program.

But such unity in the face of a threat of U.S. aggression would be unprecedented. Most U.N. delegates quietly sat and listened on Sept. 19 when President Donald Trump delivered explicit threats of war and aggression against North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, while boasting about his missile strike against Syria on April 6 over dubious and disputed claims about a chemical weapons incident.

For the past 20 years or more, the United States has swaggered about as the “last remaining superpower” and the “indispensable nation,” a global law unto itself, using the dangers of terrorism and weapons proliferation and highly selective outrage over “dictators” as propaganda narratives to justify illegal wars, CIA-backed terrorism, its own weapons proliferation, and support for its favored dictators like the brutal rulers of Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies.

For even longer, the United States has been two-faced about international law, citing it when some adversary can be accused of a violation but ignoring it when the U.S. or its allies are trampling on the rights of some disfavored country. When the International Court of Justice convicted the United States of aggression (including acts of terrorism) against Nicaragua in 1986, the U.S. withdrew from the ICJ’s binding jurisdiction.

Since then, the U.S. has thumbed its nose at the entire structure of international law, confident in the political power of its propaganda or “information warfare” to cast itself as the guardian of law and order in the world, even as it systematically violates the most basic rules spelled out in the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Conventions.

U.S. propaganda treats the U.N. Charter and the Geneva Conventions, the world’s “Never again” to war, torture and the killing of millions of civilians in the Second World War, as relics of another time that it would be naive to take seriously.

But the results of the U.S. alternative — its lawless “might makes right” war policy — are now plain for all to see. In the past 16 years, America’s post-9/11 wars have already killed at least two million people, maybe many more, with no end in sight to the slaughter as the U.S.’s policy of illegal war keeps plunging country after country into intractable violence and chaos.

An Ally’s Fears

Just as North Korea’s missile programs are a rational defense strategy in the face of the threat Pyongyang faces from the U.S., the exposure of the U.S.’s war plan by American allies in South Korea is also a rational act of self-preservation, since they too are threatened by the possibility of war on the Korean peninsula.

Now maybe other U.S. allies, the wealthy countries that have provided political and diplomatic cover for the U.S.’s 20-year campaign of illegal war, will finally reassert their humanity, their sovereignty and their own obligations under international law, and start to rethink their roles as junior partners in U.S. aggression.

Countries like the U.K., France and Australia will sooner or later have to choose between forward-looking roles in a sustainable, peaceful multi-polar world and a slavish loyalty to the ever-more desperate death throes of U.S. hegemony. Now might be a good moment to make that choice, before they are dragged into new U.S. wars in Korea, Iran or Venezuela.

Even Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is afraid that Donald Trump will lead humanity into World War III. But it might come as a surprise to people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and parts of a dozen other countries already engulfed by U.S.-driven wars to learn that they are not already in the midst of World War III.

Perhaps what really worries the Senator is that he and his colleagues may no longer be able to sweep these endless atrocities under the plush carpets of the halls of Congress without a genteel Barack Obama in the White House to sweet-talk U.S. allies around the world and keep the millions being killed in U.S. wars off U.S. TVs and computer screens, out of sight and out of mind.

If politicians in the U.S. and around the world need the ugliness of Donald Trump as a mirror for their own greed, ignorance and temerity, to shame them into changing their ways, so be it – whatever it takes. But it should not escape anyone anywhere that the signature on this diabolical war plan that now threatens to kill millions of Koreans was not Donald Trump’s but Barack Obama’s.

George Orwell might well have been describing the partisan blindness of the West’s self-satisfied, so easily deluded, neoliberal society when he wrote this in 1945,

“Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage – torture, the use of hostages, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians – which does not change its color when it is committed by our side… The Nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

Here’s the bottom line: The United States has been planning to assassinate Kim Jong Un and to launch an all-out war on North Korea. There. You’ve heard it. Now, can you still be manipulated into believing that Kim Jong Un is simply “crazy” and North Korea is the gravest threat to world peace?

Or do you now understand that the United States is the real threat to peace in Korea, just as it was in Iraq, Libya and many other countries where the leaders were deemed “crazy” and U.S. officials (and the Western mainstream media) promoted war as the only “rational” alternative?

Nicolas J S Davies is the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.  He also wrote the chapters on “Obama at War” in Grading the 44th President: a Report Card on Barack Obama’s First Term as a Progressive Leader.




Russia-gate Jumps the Shark

Exclusive: Russia-gate has jumped the shark with laughable new claims about a tiny number of “Russia-linked” social media ads, but the U.S. mainstream media is determined to keep a straight face, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A key distinction between propaganda and journalism is that manipulative propaganda relies on exaggeration and deceit while honest journalism provides context and perspective. But what happens when the major news outlets of the world’s superpower become simply conveyor belts for warmongering propaganda?

That is a question that the American people now face as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and virtually the entire mainstream media hype ridiculously minor allegations about Russia’s “meddling” in American politics into front-page hysteria.

For instance, on Tuesday, the major news outlets were filled with the latest lurid chapter of Russia-gate, how Google, the Internet’s dominant search engine, had detected suspected “Russia-linked” accounts that bought several thousand dollars worth of ads.

The Washington Post ran this item as front-page news entitled “Google finds links to Russian disinformation in its services,” with the excited lede paragraph declaring: “Russian operatives bought ads across several of Google’s services without the company’s knowledge, the latest evidence that their campaign to influence U.S. voters was as sprawling as it was sophisticated in deploying the technology industry’s most powerful tools.”

Wow! That sounds serious. However, if you read deeply enough into the story, you discover that the facts are a wee bit less dramatic. The Post tells us:

“Google’s internal investigation found $4,700 of search ads and display ads that the company believes are Russian-connected, and found $53,000 of ads with political content that were purchased from Russian Internet providers, building addresses or with Russian currency, people familiar with the investigation said. …

“One Russian-linked account spent $7,000 on ads to promote a documentary called ‘You’ve Been Trumped,’ a film about Donald Trump’s efforts to build a golf course in Scotland along an environmentally sensitive coastline, these people said. Another spent $30,000 on ads questioning whether President Obama needed to resign. Another bought ads to promote political merchandise for Obama.”

A journalist – rather than a propagandist – would immediately follow these figures with some context, i.e., that Google’s net digital ad sales revenue is about $70 billion annually. In other words, these tiny ad buys – with some alleged connection to Russia, a nation of 144 million people and not all Vladimir Putin’s “operatives” – are infinitesimal when put into any rational perspective.

A Dangerous Hysteria

But rationality is not what the Post and other U.S. mainstream news outlets are engaged in here. They are acting as propagandists determined to whip up a dangerous hysteria about being at “war” with nuclear-armed Russia and to delegitimize Trump’s election last year.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the facts don’t fit the desired narrative. First of all, none of this content, detected by Google, is “disinformation” as the Post claims, unless you consider a critical documentary about Trump’s Scottish golf course to be “disinformation,” or for that matter criticism and/or support for President Obama.

And, by the way, how does any of this material reveal a Russian plot to put Trump in the White House and to ensure Hillary Clinton’s defeat, which was the original Russia-gate narrative? Now, we’re being told that any Internet ads bought by Russians or maybe even by Americans living in Russia are part of some nefarious Kremlin plot even if the content is an anti-Trump documentary or some ads for or against President Obama, but nothing attacking Hillary Clinton.

This surely does not seem like evidence of a “sophisticated” campaign to influence U.S. politics, as the Post tells us; it is either an indication of a totally incoherent campaign or no campaign at all, just some random ads taken out by people in Russia possibly to increase clicks on a Web site or to sell some merchandise or to express their own opinions.

And, if you think that this latest Post story is an anomaly – that maybe some editor was having a bad day and just forgot to include the requisite perspective and balance – you’d be wrong.

The same journalistic failures have appeared in similar articles about Facebook and Twitter, which like Google didn’t detect any Russian  operation until put under intense pressure by influential members of Congress and then “found” a tiny number of “Russia-linked” accounts.

At Facebook, after two searches found nothing – and after a personal visit from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a key legislator on the high-tech industry – the social media company turned up $100,000 in “Russia-linked” ads spread out over three years (compared to its annual revenue of $27 billion). Facebook also reported that only 44 percent of the ads appeared before the 2016 election.

Facing similar pressures from key members of Congress, Twitter identified 201 “Russia-linked” accounts (out of Twitter’s 328 million monthly users).

Tiny Pebbles

However, rather than include the comparative numbers which would show how nutty Russia-gate has become, the U.S. mainstream media systematically avoids any reference to how tiny the “Russia-linked” pebbles are when compared to the size of the very large lake into which they were allegedly tossed.

The mainstream Russia-gate narrative also keeps running up against other inconveniently contrary facts that then have to be explained away by the “responsible media.” For instance, The New York Times discovered that one of the “Russia-linked” Facebook groups was devoted to photos of “adorable puppies.” That left the “newspaper of record” musing about how nefarious the Russians must be to cloak their sinister operations behind puppies. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Mystery of the Russia-gate Puppies.”]

The alternative explanation, of course, is unthinkable at least within the confines of “acceptable thought”; the alternative being that there might be no sinister Kremlin campaign to poison American politics or to install Trump in the White House, that what we are witnessing is a mainstream stampede similar to what preceded the Iraq War in 2003.

In the run-up to that disastrous invasion, every tidbit of suspicion about Saddam Hussein hiding WMD was trumpeted loudly across the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other major U.S. news outlets. The handful of dissenters who questioned the groupthink were ignored or dismissed as “Saddam apologists”; most were essentially banned from the public square.

Another similarity is that in both cases the U.S. government was injecting large sums of money that helped finance the pro-war propaganda. In the Iraq case, Congress funded the Iraqi National Congress, which helped generate false WMD claims that were then accepted credulously by the U.S. mainstream media.

In the Russia-gate case, Congress has authorized tens of millions of dollars to combat alleged Russian “propaganda and disinformation,” a sum that is creating a feeding frenzy among “scholars” and other “experts” to produce reports that support the anti-Russia narrative. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Slimy Business of Russia-gate.”]

Of course, the big difference between Iraq in 2003 and Russia in 2017 is that as catastrophic as the Iraq invasion was, it pales against the potential for thermo-nuclear war that could lie at the end of this latest hysteria.

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).




A Deaf Ear to Dire Russian Warnings

Official Washington is so obsessed with the hyped Russia-gate allegations that it isn’t picking up on dire warnings from Russia that continued U.S. military interference in Syria won’t be tolerated, as Gilbert Doctorow notes.

By Gilbert Doctorow

From time to time, the Kremlin uses the Sunday evening weekly news wrap-up program of Dmitry Kiselyov on state television, channel Rossiya-1, to send blunt and public warnings to Washington without diplomatic niceties. Last night was one such case and we must hope that the intended audience within the Beltway can put aside all its distractions about Russia-gate long enough to read a real message from Moscow.

The last such message came in the week following President Trump’s April 6 decision to launch 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base to punish the Syrian government for an alleged but disputed chemical attack on a village in Idlib province. TV host Kiselyov used his airtime to spell out Russia’s disdainful response, which he characterized as unprecedented in scope and seriousness.

It was essential to put all the elements of the warning together in one place, as he did, because the Pentagon sought to downplay the elements in isolation, such as Russia’s installation of the Iskander nuclear potential missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian city on the Baltic Sea surrounded by Poland and Lithuania; or the abrogation of the deconfliction agreement relating to air space over Syria; or the dispatch of still more Russian vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean equipped to sink U.S. Navy ships.

While U.S. generals were saying that the Russians didn’t really mean it, Kiselyov put the whole picture on the screen: an ultimatum to Washington to back off or be prepared for war.

A still earlier message of this kind to Washington aired on the Kiselyov news show in the week following the supposedly accidental Sept. 17, 2016 bombing by U.S. and allied warplanes against Syrian army positions inside the encircled eastern town of Deir Ezzor, which killed more than 80 Syrian soldiers and prepared the way for a renewed offensive by the Islamic State. That bombing scuttled the agreement on a Syrian cease-fire concluded with the approval of President Obama less than a week earlier by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a 14-hour negotiating session.

Lavrov was shown on the Kiselyov program openly accusing U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter of directing “friendly fire” against Kerry and of dangerous insubordination to his boss, the U.S. President, which put in question any possibility of reaching agreements with the Americans on anything.

Who’s in Charge Here?

That last question about who’s in charge in Washington has now re-emerged in the program that Kiselyov presented on Sunday evening. The Americans were identified as the “main obstacle” to the mopping up operation in Syria, at a time when Kiselyov indicated that people could finally see “the light at the end of the tunnel” for the horrific six-year conflict with more than 90 percent Syrian territory now back under government control.

The core of the accusation is that the United States is secretly aiding the Islamist terror groups at the center of the remaining resistance to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime: supplying the terror groups with weapons, helping them to move around, removing them from hostile fire, and giving them the findings of aerial reconnaissance, maps of where Syrian government forces are operating and even the locations of Russian military detachments.

Things have gotten to the point where the Russians feel that it is not the military capability of the Islamic State that stands in the way of routing the remaining terrorists from Syrian territory but this American assistance to the terrorists. This analysis, said Kiselyov, is not his own idea: it is the official position of the Russian Ministry of Defense as issued through its spokesman this week, Igor Konashenkov.

Kiselyov added: “The Americans deny everything. But the RF Ministry of Defense does not believe their words, relying instead on facts. We recall in the past week how part of the main road connecting Palmyra and Deir Ezzor was taken over by the fanatics. This is the main artery supplying the Syrian forces leading the offensive from Deir Ezzor against the remaining forces of the terrorists in Syria. De facto this was an attack in the rear. This was planned and facilitated by the Americans. In parallel, on 28 September a large group of terrorists numbering about 300 men left the area of the American base in al-Tanf at the Jordanian border. In this area there is a refugee camp numbering tens of thousands.”

According to Kiselyov, the Americans have cut off the refugee camp, not allowing in United Nations or other humanitarian relief convoys, so as to use the camp as cover, a human shield, for the Islamic State fighters whom the U.S. military is supporting.

Striking at ‘Random Events’

According to the warning from Russian defense spokesman Konashenkov, if the U.S. forces see these attacks by mobile units of terrorists whom the Americans are assisting as “unforeseen random events,” then Russian armed forces in Syria are prepared to totally destroy all such “random events” directed against the zone under their control.

Kiselyov asked why is this American behavior happening and whether President Trump made this decision. But the question is rhetorical. Though it may seem “amazing,” Kiselyov suggested that it appears Trump was not a party to this behavior, that it more likely resulted from what the TV host called sloppy management when the military gets out from under political control.

On the territory of Syria, Kiselyov said, “they start wandering around quite on their own” and “flirting” with the terrorist groups.

Throughout the six-year war, the United States and its allies – including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Jordan and Israel – have provided support for Islamist militants and other rebels who have fought in close coordination with and often shared sophisticated U.S. weapons with Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Nusra Front, and at times Al Qaeda’s spinoff, the Islamic State.

However, whatever the U.S. intentions may be, said Kiselyov, the result is extremely unpleasant both for Russia and for the American leadership as its generals are being pushed toward adventurism.

Konashenkov characterized the area in Syria under American control near the Jordanian border as a “black hole” that is 100 kilometers long. From this “black hole,” the terrorists come out to stage their attacks on Syrian troops and against the peaceful civilian population.

The Sunday program’s feature segment then shifted to a calmer note with the insistence that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains confident in the victory over the terrorists regardless of who is aiding them. To demonstrate this confidence, the show presented footage of Putin’s response to questions put to him at the Energy Forum in Moscow at mid-week. Putin said, “in the end, we all [presumably including the Americans] have common interests in securing Syria and the region against terrorists and that will bring us together for cooperative action.”

In the meantime, however, videos showed the results of Russian air activity in Syria this past week, including more than 400 sorties of Russian planes based in Syria, plus SU-134 and SU-135 bombers arriving from Russian territory that killed a dozen or more terrorist leaders together with 50 security personnel and seriously injured a top official who lost an arm and sank into a coma.

Russian air attacks destroyed the terrorists’ main underground weapons caches amounting to 1,000 tons, according to the report, and an attack by Kalibr cruise missiles launched from submarines in the Mediterranean destroyed Islamic State command installations and vehicles as well as weapons supplies. This attack cleared the way for Syrian troops to begin the liberation of the town of Meyadin.

The program left the dots unconnected, but the Russian threat is clear: Moscow will use its air power to eliminate all forces standing in the way of complete victory including U.S. forces on the ground near the Jordanian border.

The Saudi Visit

The same news round-up had another segment that relates in less direct fashion to the Russian success in Syria: a state visit to Russia by the king of Saudi Arabia, the first in the two countries’ 90-plus years of diplomatic relations. And it was not a simple affair.

Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud brought with him a contingent of 1,000 people, including business leaders, ministry officials and senior military officers. They came with a reported 100 tons of baggage, including favorite carpets and other accouterments of the royal lifestyle.

All aspects of this visit were impressive, including the signing of contracts and letters of intent for multi-billion-dollar joint investments in industrial projects in both countries, possible Saudi purchases of Russian Liquefied Natural Gas from yet another mega-project seeking financing and multi-billion dollar military procurement, said to include the latest S-400 air defense system that Russia agreed to supply to Turkey a few weeks ago in exchange for a $2.5 billion down-payment and which Turkey accepted gratefully over NATO objections.

Putin quipped to the moderator of the Moscow Energy Forum, also held during the past week, that nothing is forever, not even the U.S. hold on the Saudis.

Kiselyov placed the visit in the context of Russian foreign policy in the region generally. Putin, he said, is pursuing a policy of seeking peaceful harmony in the Near East that takes into account the balance of interests of all countries in the region, a policy which is paying off: Russia is now the only country in the world to have good relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Turkey, Iraq and, of course, Syria.

From both segments it would appear that U.S. longstanding domination of the region is unraveling.

Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His next book, Does the United States have a Future? will be published during October 2017.




Kurdish Referendum Roils the Mideast

The Kurdish referendum seeking independence from Iraq has created more uncertainty in the turbulent Mideast with Israel appearing to see value in the new chaos, reports ex-British diplomat Alastair Crooke.

By Alastair Crooke

One week after Kurdish leader Masud Barzani held his referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq (with both the referendum and independence being contrary to the Iraqi constitution), the blowback has been fierce, angry and almost universal.

What may have been conceived as a clever ploy by Masud’s eldest son, Masrour, to bolster the Barzani family’s flagging popularity by posing as a nationalist leader looks increasingly like a misstep. (Michel Rubin of AEI, has noted that “some [U.S.] Congressional staff and leaders with whom [Masrour] has met, came away from their meeting convinced that Masrour sought independence more to be heir apparent, in what will become hereditary [Kurdish] leadership, than out of sincere nationalistic concerns.”)

And now, presidential and parliamentary elections — hastily called in the wake of the Oct. 3 death of former Iraqi President and Kurdish political leader Jalal Talibani — have descended into a mess. Rather than settle “the succession” upon his eldest son, Masud Barzani may instead have opened a wider struggle over leadership of the Kurdish people.

Yes, the KRG is reported as being a democracy, but in practice it is run, explains, Michael Rubin, as a (corrupt) family enterprise in which “both the Barzanis (and Talabanis) confuse personal, party, and public funds.” Rubin explains: “Masud Barzani is president and lives in a palace complex in a resort inherited from Saddam Hussein. His nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, is prime minister. His uncle, Hoshyar Zebari, was Iraq’s foreign minister and is now finance minister. Masud’s eldest son, Masrour Barzani, leads the intelligence service; and his second son, Mansour is a general, as is Masud’s brother Wajy. Barzani’s nephew Sirwan owns the regional cell phone company which, while purchased with public money, remains a private holding. Barzani’s sons are frequently in Washington D.C … [where] Masrour Barzani has acquired an $11 million mansion in McLean, Virginia”.

The referendum showed that Kurdish nationalism is an easy play among Kurds (but no one doubted that). Though perhaps, by rejecting the universal advice to cancel or postpone the provocative referendum, Masud Barzani in advertently has provided his opponents with just the rope they needed by which to hang the U.S.-Israeli “Kurdish project.”

While some in the West may see the Kurdish issue as one of justified national self-determination, that is not how it is perceived by neighboring states: It is seen, rather, as a deliberate “political” IED inserted into the most sensitive radial node of the Middle East, intended to explode the statehood of four major nations: Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

A Combustible Region 

This is an area so combustible to explosion precisely because ethnicities there are so diverse and because territorial claims on land — seized several times over in successive waves of ethnic cleansing — are almost impossible to resolve yet regaining those stolen lands remains a passionate objective for those who have been dispossessed.

And it is not the case that the Kurds have been more sinned against (in respect to ethnic cleansing) than they are sinners themselves, as a “Seeking Alpha” business report explains: “the area [northern Iraq] used to be part of major ancient trade route … [which] over the centuries was settled by diverse populations. The last to settle were Turkic peoples during the Ottoman Empire … Kirkuk, in particular, is problematic as it’s claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen with the latter being the most likely to have a legitimate claim.

“The discovery of oil in Kirkuk in 1927 and the following boom, diluted the Turkmen population with migration of Kurds from the north and Arabs from the south. The [last] census of 1957 … showed at the governorate level that the ethnic makeup was 48.2% Kurds, 28.2% Arabs and 21.4% Turkmens, but that the city of Kirkuk was 37.6% Turkmens, 33.3% Kurds and 22.5% Arabs. These percentages changed significantly under [Saddam Hussein’s] regime which enforced Arabisation at the expense of Kurds and other minorities, but saw a process of reversal after 2003 with the return of some Kurds but not so much the Turkmen.”

Cui bono by stirring the pot of rival ethnic claims to territory (and 40 percent of Iraq’s oil resources), plus the potential fracturing of these four states?  Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Wednesday said plainly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that, in his view, the United States is seeking to create a new “Israel” in the Middle East through the Kurdish secession bid.  (And Israel has made it pretty clear in ministerial comments that it welcomes and supports a Kurdish state and sees such to be in the Israeli interest).

Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq have been watching events closely, ever since the U.S. (and some European allies) started to set up the 11 semi-permanent U.S. military bases in northern Syria – in areas in which the Kurds are prominent but not necessarily a majority. However, with the conflict in Syria edging toward conclusion and with Syria resisting plans for a buffer zone along the Golan armistice line and exclusion zones along the Syrian Iraq border, these four states plainly would not be happy about another, even bigger, pro-Western “buffer,” inserted right in their midst.

Barzani, however, is not alone in wanting to reassert his leadership credentials, by playing the “nationalist” card: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi faces crucial Iraqi parliamentary elections next year with former PM Nouri al-Maliki close behind and breathing down his neck. Abadi’s tough response to the Kurdish referendum has proved popular with his electoral base and has succeeded in putting some distance between the incumbent and Maliki. Remaining tough on the sovereignty of the state will be crucial to Abadi retaining the premiership.

Iraqi Retaliation

Reuters reports on measures already taken: “Baghdad retaliated against the referendum with an international flight ban on Kurdish airports, while Iran and Turkey launched joint military exercises with Iraqi troops at their borders with Iraqi Kurdistan. [The] Iraqi government has rejected a KRG offer to discuss independence. It demanded Kurdish leaders cancel the result of the referendum or face continued sanctions, international isolation and possible military intervention.

“On Tuesday, Iraq’s central bank told the KRG that it would no longer sell dollars to four leading Kurdish banks and would stop all foreign currency transfers to the region, banking and government sources told Reuters … Earlier, the federal parliament in Baghdad raised the threat of excluding Kurdish members who took part in the referendum, on the basis that it was unconstitutional. The parliament decided to collect the names of those who voted in the referendum as a step towards their impeachment by the Higher Federal Court, Speaker Salim al-Jabouri told a news conference after the session.”

It is likely that the four states – now closely coordinating – will pursue a process of constitutional attrition against the KRG. Baghdad will seek to regain control of the international airports in the KRG (it already controls the airspace); the regional borders; the oil supply – and Kirkuk, overrun by the Kurds in the wake of ISIS’s seizure of Mosul. The four states will squeeze the KRG economically, until the pips squeak, should Barzani try to use the Peshmerga to retain control of Kirkuk and its oil fields.

The strategic shift here, from the past, is three-fold: All the KRG neighboring states are – for the first time – united in a common hostility to Barzani’s initiative (the KRG is landlocked, so this factor is significant).  Secondly, that whereas the Kurdish Peshmerga forces used to have a free run in northern Iraq, in the wake of the 2003 war and the subsequent U.S. occupation, now there has been a major mobilization and arming of the Iraqi Hashd al-Sha’abi (PMU) forces. These forces are ready, willing and able, to take on the Peshmerga (the Kurdish militia) militarily in northern Iraq; and thirdly, Russia – though keeping a low profile on the Iraqi Kurdish issue – does, by contrast, take a strong position on Syrian sovereignty.

Russia, since its arrival in Syria, has been in close touch with the Syrian Kurdish forces (that is to say, the external relationship to the Syrian Kurdish forces has never been a U.S. monopoly). Indeed, Russia has at times used its own forces to protect the Kurds from the Turkish army (i.e. at Manbij). And although Russia does not say publicly what passes between the Russian armed forces and the Kurds, it is a fair bet that the Russians are telling the Kurds to come to terms with Damascus or be militarily suppressed – should they try to interfere with the Syrian Army’s ongoing recovery of Syrian land (and its oil resources).

Bullied by Israel

So, the key question is how far will the U.S., bullied by Israel, go with this project? It seems that the U.S. government is divided on Kurdish independence – and as Michael Rubin suggests in his article, “Will Masrour Barzani be the CIA’s Latest Embarrassment” – and also is somewhat ambivalent about empowering a hereditary Barzani dictatorship.

Rubin writes: “What does this mean for the United States? Privately, both diplomats and intelligence circles seem to understand the dynamics of the Masrour-Nechirvan split and, if it is not too strong a term, the psychopathic trends within Masrour’s behavior.”

This refers to reports from international human rights organization of torture committed by Masrour’s security forces and of prisoners tortured and jailed when they refused to offer Masrour a percentage of their companies among other issues.

On the one hand, therefore, the Barzani “dictatorship” is problematic for the U.S.’s reputation, and Kurdish independence could threaten the break-up of Iraq (which the U.S. is hoping to use to “roll back” Iran). But, on the other hand, Centcom (the U.S. military command for the region) has fallen in love with the Kurdish recruits Centcom is training in Syria, while the State Department worries more about the big-picture alienation of NATO-member, Turkey. In short, there is no clear U.S. interest (beyond that of Israel).

And yet, events seem to fall into another, forming a pattern. Israel is concerned that it finds itself alone in the Middle East (its only sure ally, for now, being Saudi Arabia). Israel misplayed in Syria. It fears the consequential Iranian and Hezbollah presence in Syria, and doubts that either the U.S. or Russia will do – or can do – much to mitigate those fears. And so, the Israeli leadership is reacting by escalating its bellicosity (threatening to attack factories in Syria and Lebanon, which it says are manufacturing sophisticated missiles, or permanent Iranian military bases, or both).

Iran’s Supreme Leader’s identification of a putative Kurdish state as “another Israel”; Hezbollah’s warning that Zionists should now consider leaving the region; President Bashar al-Assad’s expressed intent to regain all of Syria, and Ayatollah Sistani’s influential ruling against Kurdish independence, all seem a part of this same pattern: one of escalated warning and of new rules of deterrence.

Essentially then, the Barzani “initiative” has become the peg around which a new deterrence paradigm is being set, and that his referendum ploy has already been quietly subsumed into this emerging regional stand-off.

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum.




The Mystery of the Russia-gate Puppies

Exclusive: The U.S. mainstream media is determined to prove Russia-gate despite the scandal’s cracking foundation and its inexplicable anomalies, such as why Russia would set up a Facebook “puppies” page, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry (Updated Oct. 5 with dropping of two Russia-gate claims)

What is perhaps most unprofessional, unethical and even immoral about the U.S. mainstream media’s coverage of Russia-gate is how all the stories start with the conclusion – “Russia bad” – and then make whatever shards of information exist fit the preordained narrative.

For instance, we’re told that Facebook executives, who were sent back three times by Democratic lawmakers to find something to pin on Russia, finally detected $100,000 worth of ads spread out over three years from accounts “suspected of links to Russia” or similar hazy wording.

These Facebook ads and 201 related Twitter accounts, we’re told, represent the long-missing proof about Russian “meddling” in the U.S. presidential election after earlier claims faltered or fell apart under even minimal scrutiny.

For example, not only have major questions been raised about whether Russian intelligence operatives were behind the “hacking” of Democratic emails, but the Senate Intelligence Committee announced on Wednesday that two early elements of the Russia-gate hysteria — minor changes that were made to the Republican platform and a brief meeting between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then-Sen. (now Attorney General) Jeff Sessions at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel — have been dropped as innocent or inconsequential.

But like all good conspiracy theories, once one allegation is dismissed as meaningless, it is replaced by another and another.

In the old days, journalists might have expressed some concern that Facebook “found” the “Russia-linked” ads only under extraordinary pressure from powerful politicians, such as Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a leading legislator on the tech industry. But today’s mainstream reporters took Warner’s side and made it look like Facebook had been dragging its heels and that there must be much more out there.

However, it doesn’t really seem to matter how little evidence there is. Anything will do.

Even the paltry $100,000 is not put in any perspective (Facebook has annual revenue of $27 billion), nor the 201 Twitter accounts (compared to Twitter’s 328 million monthly users). Nor are the hazy allegations of “suspected … links to Russia” subjected to serious inspection. Although Russia is a nation of 144 million people and many divergent interests, it’s assumed that everything must be personally ordered by President Vladimir Putin.

Yet, if you look at some of the details about these $100,000 in ads, you learn the case is even flimsier than you might have thought. The sum was spread out over 2015, 2016 and 2017 – and thus represented a very tiny pebble in a very large lake of Facebook activity.

But more recently we learned that only 44 percent of the ads appeared before Americans went to the polls last November, according to Facebook; that would mean that 56 percent appeared afterwards.

Facebook added that “roughly 25% of the ads were never shown to anyone. … For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.”

So, as minuscule as the $100,000 in ad buys over three years may have seemed, the tiny pebble turns out really to be only a fraction of a tiny pebble if the Russians indeed did toss it into the 2016 campaign.

What About the Puppies?

We further have learned that most ads weren’t for or against a specific candidate, but rather addressed supposedly controversial issues that the mainstream media insists were meant to divide the United States and thus somehow undermine American democracy.

Except, it turns out that one of the issues was puppies.

As Mike Isaac and Scott Shane of The New York Times reported in Tuesday’s editions, “The Russians who posed as Americans on Facebook last year tried on quite an array of disguises. … There was even a Facebook group for animal lovers with memes of adorable puppies that spread across the site with the help of paid ads.”

Now, there are a lot of controversial issues in America, but I don’t think any of us would put puppies near the top of the list. Isaac and Shane reported that there were also supposedly Russia-linked groups advocating gay rights, gun rights and black civil rights, although precisely how these divergent groups were “linked” to Russia or the Kremlin was never fully explained. (Facebook declined to offer details.)

At this point, a professional journalist might begin to pose some very hard questions to the sources, who presumably include many partisan Democrats and their political allies hyping the evil-Russia narrative. It would be time for some lectures to the sources about the consequences for taking reporters on a wild ride in conspiracy land.

Yet, instead of starting to question the overall premise of this “scandal,” journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, etc. keep making excuses for the nuttiness. The explanation for the puppy ads was that the nefarious Russians might be probing to discover Americans who might later be susceptible to propaganda.

“The goal of the dog lovers’ page was more obscure,” Isaac and Shane acknowledged. “But some analysts suggested a possible motive: to build a large following before gradually introducing political content. Without viewing the entire feed from the page, now closed by Facebook, it is impossible to say whether the Russian operators tried such tactics.”

The Joe McCarthy of Russia-gate

The Times then turned to Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and a top promoter of the New McCarthyism that has swept Official Washington. Watts has testified before Congress that almost anything that appears on social media these days criticizing a politician may well be traceable to the Russians.

For instance, last March, Watts testified in conspiratorial terms before the Senate Intelligence Committee about “social media accounts discrediting U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.” At the time, Ryan was under criticism for his ham-handed handling of a plan to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but Watts saw possible Russian fingerprints.

Watts also claimed that Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid “anecdotally suffered” from an online Russian campaign against him, though many of you may have thought Rubio flamed out because he was a wet-behind-the-ears candidate who performed robotically in the debates and received the devastating nickname “Little Marco” from Donald Trump.

Watts explained that these nefarious Russian schemes left no discernible earmarks or detectable predictability. Russians attack “people on both sides of the aisle … solely based on what they [the Russians] want to achieve in their own landscape, whatever the Russian foreign policy objectives are,” Watts complained.

Watts’s vague allegations appear to have been the impetus behind Sen. Warner’s repeated demands that Facebook find some evidence to support the suspicions. After Facebook came up empty twice, Warner flew to Silicon Valley to personally confront Facebook executives who then found what Warner wanted them to find, the $100,000 in suspected Russia-linked ad buys.

So, it perhaps made sense that the Times would turn to Watts to explain the rather inexplicable Russian exploitation of puppies. According to Isaac and Shane, Watts “said Russia had been entrepreneurial in trying to develop diverse channels of influence. Some, like the dogs page, may have been created without a specific goal and held in reserve for future use. ‘They were creating many audiences on social media to try to influence around,’ said Mr. Watts, who has traced suspected Russian accounts since 2015.”

In other words, if you start with the need to prove Russian guilt, there are no alternative explanations besides Russian guilt. If some fact, like the puppies page, doesn’t seem to fit the sinister conspiracy theory, you simply pound it into place until it does.

Yes, of course, Russian intelligence operatives must be so sneaky that they are spending money (but not much) on Facebook puppy ads so they might sometime in the future slip in a few other ideological messages. It can’t be that perhaps the ads were not part of some Russian government intelligence operation.

The Russ-kie Plot

But even if we want to believe that these ads are a Russ-kie plot and were somehow intended to sow dissension in the U.S., the totals are insignificant, a subset of a subset of a subset of $100,000 in ad buys over three years that, as far as anyone can tell, had no real no impact on the 2016 election – and surely much, much, much less than the political influence from, say, Israel.

If we apply Facebook’s 44 percent figure, that would suggest the total spending in the two years before the election was around $44,000 and much of that focused on a diverse set of issues, not specific candidates. So, if some Russians did spend money to promote gay rights and to push  gun rights, any negligible impact on the 2016 election would more or less have been canceled out between Clinton and Trump.

Yet, over these still unproven and speculative allegations of Russian “links” to these Facebook ads, the national Democrats and their mainstream media allies are stoking a dangerous and expensive New Cold War with nuclear-armed Russia.

I realize that lots of Democrats were upset about Hillary Clinton’s humiliating defeat and don’t want to believe that she could have lost fairly to a buffoon like Donald Trump. So, they are looking for any excuses rather than looking in the mirror.

The major U.S. news outlets also have joined the anti-Trump Resistance, rather than upholding the journalistic principles of objectivity and fairness. The Post even came up with a new melodramatic slogan for the moment: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

But yellow journalism is not the way to shed light into darkness; it only blinds Democrats from seeing the real reasons behind Trump’s appeal to many working-class whites who feel disaffected from a Democratic Party that seems disinterested in their suffering.

Yes, I know that some Democrats are still hoping against hope that they can ride Russia-gate all the way to Trump’s impeachment and get him ridden out of Washington D.C. on a rail, but the political risk to Democrats is that they will harden the animosity that many in the white working class already feel toward the party.

That could do more to strengthen Trump’s appeal to these voters than to weaken him, while hollowing out Democratic support among millions of peace voters who may simply declare a plague on both parties.

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).




Russia-gate’s Shaky Foundation

Special Report: The Russia-gate hysteria now routinely includes rhetoric about the U.S. being at “war” with nuclear-armed Russia, but the shaky factual foundation continues to show more cracks, as historian Daniel Herman describes.

By Daniel Herman

Anyone who watches the news knows that Russian hackers gave Democratic National Committee documents to WikiLeaks and hacked voter databases in 21 states. Prominent Democrats call these shenanigans “a political Pearl Harbor.”

On the blog Daily Kos, one contributor cries “we were robbed!” (arguing that somehow Russian meddling gave Trump a victory in North Carolina, where his margin was 180,000, and where no evidence whatsoever indicates a successful hack of voter databases).

In a new video propamentary, er, docuganda, or something like that, Morgan Freeman declares “we have been attacked. We are at war. This is no movie script.”

Before we hop on the Morgan Freeman train, we might want to consider some history. In 1898, the American press — taking the word of naval investigators — reported that a Spanish mine had destroyed the battleship, U.S.S. Maine. Leading newspapers promptly called for war, and the U.S. government obliged.

Finally, the U.S. became an imperial power with the acquisition of Cuba and the Philippines and a few other odds and ends, at the bargain cost of 2,500 American soldiers dead, plus another 4,000 lost in the Filipino rebellion that followed, not to mention the lives of tens of thousands of Filipino opposition fighters. Only later did it come to light that the Maine was destroyed by a boiler explosion.

In 1915, leading newspapers again whipped up the American public by announcing that a German submarine had sunk the unarmed passenger ship, Lusitania. Two years later — and in part due to lingering outrage over the Lusitania — the U.S. went to war, this time costing 116,000 American lives and over 200,000 wounded, not to mention creating a patriotic frenzy at home that led to beatings, lynchings, and attacks on civil liberties. Decades later, divers proved that the Lusitania was carrying arms to Britain — contrary to government assurances — thus violating international law. German naval intelligence had proved correct.

In 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed he had a list of men in the State Department who were communists. A credulous press played up his accusations, despite the fact that the numbers on his supposed list kept shifting. McCarthy and his allies in Congress recklessly charged Americans in Hollywood and in government with being either communists or “fellow travelers,” often ruining their careers.

Congress meanwhile passed the McCarran Internal Security Act, which required suspected “subversives” to register with the government. It also permitted the government to round up and hold those same suspected “subversives” on the order of the President.  McCarthy, of course, had no real list, and finally ruined his own reputation by accusing Army brass of communist sympathies. McCarthy’s many allies, however, paid no penalty for overreach.

Fake Intelligence

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson announced that the North Vietnamese had attempted a second torpedo attack on an American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin, then used the incident to get Congress to give him the power to make war.

Thanks to the press endorsing the war effort and cheerleading on the nightly news (at least until the Tet Offensive four years later), the Vietnam War led to 58,000 American deaths and over a million war deaths altogether. Covert U.S. forces, meanwhile, kick-started a civil war in Cambodia that ended in genocide after the Khmer Rouge took power. Cambodia lost over half of its population of 7 million between 1970 and 1980.

It later became clear that there had been no second attack on the destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin; its crew had misread radar signals.

In 2002, U.S. intelligence, via George W. Bush’s administration, told the American public that Iraq had a hand in planning the 9/11 attacks and, moreover, that Iraq secretly maintained an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that might be shared with Al Qaeda. Both claims were utterly false, yet the American press — particularly the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN — led Americans to believe they were true. Far from questioning authority, the press became its servant. The result: 4,500 American war deaths; at least 110,000 Iraqi deaths (some estimates put the figure at over a million); and a destabilized Middle East, wherein both Iran and ISIS (who are bitter enemies) were empowered. In all likelihood, moreover, there would have been no Syrian war had there been no Iraq War.

When the American press and American political leaders loudly accuse another country of “an act of war,” in short, the American public needs to be on the alert. Rather than marginalizing and belittling skeptics, the press and public should give them a fair hearing. Far better to have a spirited debate now than to come to the realization in the future that groupthink created catastrophe.

Hack or Leak? It’s Worth Asking

With all that history in mind, we should be grateful that William Binney, the National Security Agency’s former technical director, is shouting with everything he can muster that the U.S. intelligence community has no solid evidence that Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee. The NSA, he says, would have a record of any overseas exfiltration and could release that data without danger to national security; yet the NSA hasn’t. Though Binney left the NSA 16 years ago, he should know: he created the powerful cyber-vacuum that the NSA still uses.

Binney’s organization, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), has produced a report in which they argue that forensic evidence from documents produced by Guccifer 2.0 (G2) suggests — strongly — that G2 was a hoaxer. Skip Folden, a VIPS associate and a former elite tech executive with IBM, has issued his own report that buttresses the VIPS report. Adam Carter (a pseudonymous investigator) and Forensicator (another pseudonymous investigator) have also buttressed the VIPS Report, as have cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr and former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter (Ritter disagrees with VIPS in part but not on the basic charge of insufficient evidence).

To the extent they mention the skeptics, American journalists dismiss them as fringe. Yet the skeptics deserve a hearing. Among the important points they make is that U.S. intelligence has only identified the Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups (APT 28 and 29 to be precise) associated with the hacking, and not the hackers themselves. An APT is a set of common parameters — tools, modes of operation, target patterns — used by hackers. But how certain are our intelligence agencies that Russians stand behind APT 28/29?

It happens that Dimitri Alperovitch of CrowdStrike — the cybersecurity entity that analyzed DNC servers — was asked that question in June 2016. His answer: “medium-level of confidence that FancyBear is [Russian intelligence agency] GRU… low-level of confidence that CozyBear is [Russian intelligence agency] FSB.”

Skip Folden suggests that Alperovitch’s estimates equal a 37-38 percent probability that Russian intelligence stands behind APT 28/29. It’s not clear how Folden came up with that figure. We should note here that Alperovitch subsequently raised his confidence levels to “high,” but then had to reduce them again in March 2017 after realizing that his new assessment was based on phony data published by a Russian blogger. Meanwhile, in January, Director of National of Intelligence James Clapper’s hand-picked team had used Alperovitch’s “high confidence” assessment of Russian hacking of the DNC, which every major network reported dutifully without so much as a blink.

It’s hard to say what additional evidence the NSA/CIA team might have had — or whether there was any — though there are rumors that a Kremlin mole working for Latvia confirmed that Putin ordered his cyber-warriors into action. The NSA, however, didn’t consider the source fully trustworthy (remember Curveball, the wonderful gift of German intelligence?), hence it committed itself to only “moderate confidence” even as the CIA stated “high confidence.” At any rate, the January report lacked both solid technical evidence and more traditional evidence confirming Russian hacking.

Not Making Sense

Several other oddities stand out: first, why would G2 announce himself two days after the DNC reported being hacked, brag he was the hacker, and add that he had given his material to WikiLeaks? WikiLeaks exists for one reason: to give whistleblowers deniability. Normally, people don’t give material to WikiLeaks and then brag about it publicly.

Least of all would Russian intelligence do such a thing, assuming — as some allege — that they routinely use WikiLeaks to disseminate hacked data. Why would Russia implicate its proxy? Why, indeed, would Russia not only cast aspersions on Julian Assange’s honesty, but also cast doubt on the authenticity of the DNC data, given that intelligence services are known to doctor hacked documents? Why, moreover, would G2 give information to WikiLeaks in the first place, given that he had the ability to curate it and disseminate it on his own, as he showed by distributing “choice” (but actually innocuous) data to journalists?

Then there’s the forensic evidence, which shows that (1) G2 put DNC documents into a Russian template; and (2) G2 made those changes on the computer in an East Coast U.S. time zone. Plus, linguistic evidence suggests that G2 showed none of the typical speech idiosyncrasies of a native Russian speaker.

Metadata can be fudged, so it’s possible that (1) and (2) don’t matter. If that is the case, however, one must explain why G2 would drop deliberate clues indicating that he’s Russian — including leaving the name of the founder of the Soviet secret police in one document, along with Cyrillic error messages in another — while also dropping deliberate clues indicating he’s an American leaker. Tricky indeed.

Then there’s another important piece of forensic evidence: the transfer speed, which corresponds to the speed of a download to a local thumb drive rather than to an overseas exfiltration. Critics — including a few VIPS dissenters — promptly insisted that the VIPS report was wrong to assume that such speeds could not be attained in an overseas exfiltration in 2016. Signers of the original VIPS report, however, subsequently conducted multiple experiments to prove or disprove that hypothesis; not once did they achieve a transfer speed anywhere close to that indicated in the DNC metadata.

Critics have also argued that the DNC documents transfer speed may refer to a download to a thumb drive after the initial hack, yet the download would nevertheless have had to have been done on the East Coast of the U.S., since transfer speed metadata correlate to time stamp data. Why would a hacker exfiltrate data to Romania or Russia, then return to the U.S. to download the material to a thumb drive?

Inconsistencies and Uncertainties

The above inconsistencies, I should add, apply to the DNC data, not the Podesta emails. No one, so far as I know, has cast doubt on the theory that the Podesta emails were phished via APT 28. Still, the same rules of caution apply. As Alperovitch himself testified in June 2016, APT 28 does not necessarily prove Russia involvement, and even if it did, no one has proven that Russians gave the Podesta emails to WikiLeaks. There are many other possibilities.

The Wall Street Journal, for instance, reported that Republican operatives were desperately reaching out to the hacking community to locate Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails. They made contact with several hacking groups including some that claimed to have the emails and even sent samples. The Republicans told the hackers to turn over the emails to WikiLeaks, but — supposedly — offered no payment. It’s not inconceivable, however, that the same Republican dirt-diggers — or others — indeed did pay hackers to turn over materials to WikiLeaks. Even if that occurred, however, the hackers might well have been non-state actors who occasionally work with Russian intelligence, but who otherwise work independently (more on that later), and who were not under orders from Putin. Or, they may have been hackers who have no connection to Russia whatsoever.

Regarding Roger Stone’s infamous remark that “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel,” which has been cited as proof that Stone had foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ publication of Podesta’s emails, Stone explained on Tuesday that he was referring to his own research on Podesta’s consulting work for foreign governments in the context of similar complaints being lodged against Stone’s friend and Trump’s erstwhile campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Questioning the Investigation

There are worrisome implications here. First, if we are “at war with Russia”; if the hacking was “the crime of the century”; if it’s “bigger than Watergate”; why didn’t the FBI examine the DNC server, given that James Comey admitted that was “best practice”? Why did he rely on CrowdStrike’s analysis, especially given CrowdStrike’s strong ties to the Atlantic Council (created solely to support NATO and heavily funded by foreign entities) and CrowdStrike’s grossly mistaken charges of Russian hacking in other contexts?

Second, why has there been no comprehensive or coordinated Intelligence Community Assessment or a full-scale National Intelligence Estimate — weighing evidence of Russian culpability against contrary theories — by the U.S. intelligence community, given that it has known about alleged Russian election hacking of both the DNC and state voter databases for well over a year?

What we got in January was a hurried intelligence assessment put together by a “hand-picked” team from three agencies, not a consensus of “17 agencies,” as the U.S. press wrongly blared for months. If Russia had committed an “act of war,” then surely President Obama would have ordered the fullest assessment of intelligence that the U.S. is capable of producing; yet he didn’t.

Third, why would Putin order an enormous campaign against Hillary Clinton, knowing that she would very likely win anyway (and did win the popular vote). Would Putin risk the likelihood of President Hillary Clinton finding out about his shenanigans? What implications would that have for the repeal of the Magnitsky Act, for additional sanctions, for Syria, for Ukraine, for NATO funding, for the possibility of renewed Cold War? Perhaps — as James Comey contends — Putin hated Clinton so much that he was willing to play “Russian roulette.” Yet one wonders.

Has the Press Fed Hysteria?

Why, moreover, has the U.S. press barely mentioned the fact that U.S. intelligence services — and the press itself — wrongly accused Russia of the Macron hack? France’s head of cyber intelligence, after finding no evidence of Russian hacking, said this: “Why did [NSA Director Michael] Rogers say that, like that, at that time? It really surprised me. It really surprised my European allies. And to be totally frank, when I spoke about it to my NSA counterparts and asked why did he say that, they didn’t really know how to reply either.”

Think about those words for a moment; they were not meant to be diplomatic. They were unabashedly chastening.

Why, too, has the U.S. press barely mentioned the fact that German intelligence, after a months-long investigation, found no Russian meddling in its recent election (and moreover, found that the supposed Russian hack of the Bundestag in 2015 was likely a leak after all), despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ insistence that Germany was Russia’s next target?

Why do we not hear that Britain found no evidence of Russian efforts to influence Brexit, despite allegations to that effect? Why has the U.S. press wrongly reported a Russian hack of a Vermont utility; a Russian hack of an Illinois water pump; a Russian hack of north Texas voter rolls; a Russian hack of Qatari news media? Add to those examples the latest round of debunkings: there was no Russian attempt to hack Wisconsin voter rolls, nor any Russian attempt to hack California’s. Despite all the debunked stories, the U.S. press eagerly reports new Russia-done-it stories every time some anonymous source breathes a leak.

Here’s a test you can do at home:  Type “Germany Russia hacking” into your search engine and see what comes up. Then type “Brexit Russia hacking.” Then try “France Russia hacking.” You’ll get an absolute barrage of stories — hundreds of links — that melodramatically attest to Russian hacking and/or meddling in all three situations, but you’ll struggle mightily to find stories refuting those charges.

One can readily see why some curious soul sitting at home who takes it upon himself to do a little internet research would come away utterly convinced of Russian perfidy. Google here becomes an instrument not of truth-finding, but of algorithmic fake news.

Why, too, did former Assistant Secretary of Department of Homeland Security for Cybersecurity, Andy Ozment, insist in September 2016 that hacking attempts on voter rolls were not of Russian origin, but rather were criminal attempts to steal identification data for sale on the dark net? Why did DHS say as late as October that they lacked evidence to blame Russians? Were they simply protecting the nation against mass hysteria that could cast doubt on the presidential vote?

And yet the basic evidence pattern for attributing the attempted hacks to Russia (or anyone else) hasn’t changed; it’s not as if some new damning piece of evidence emerged after September. Even Reality Winner’s leaked NSA document from June 2017 notes uncertainty about the identity of the hackers. If one looks at the leaked chart showing details of the flow of hacked information, one notes that the final arrow on the left pointing to Russian intelligence (GRU) is marked “probably.” Click here and scroll down to see the blown-up chart.

Incidentally, if you think the case of Reality Winner is a bit suspect — i.e., a cleverish ruse to undermine The Intercept (publisher of the “Winner leak”) and puff up the Russia hysteria — you might want to check out this story. I withhold judgment, personally.

What I Am Arguing

Am I implicating Obama in a conspiracy? No way. Am I suggesting that G2 was a DNC actor seeking to blame Russia for a damaging insider leak to Assange? Not necessarily, but not “not necessarily,” either. There is reason for suspicion at least.

Am I suggesting that U.S. intelligence agencies are lying in order to protect massive U.S. funding for NATO and to force Russia to loosen its ties to Iran and Syria, not to mention lay off Ukraine? No, I am not suggesting any deliberate lie, though yes, wishes can father thoughts. Certainly Trump’s campaign talk of defunding NATO, friendship with Russia, and leaving Syria to Assad ruffled feathers in the intelligence community.

I am far from being a cyber-security expert, let alone knowledgeable about IT, so I write all this in modesty. And yet I find myself agreeing with experts who say that APT associations are not grounds for “high confidence” intelligence assessments, and that the American public deserves to see strong evidence not just of hacking — but of actual Russian hacking — given the magnitude of the issue.

I also find myself agreeing with cyber-security experts who tell us that U.S. intelligence agencies — as well as private cyber-security firms like CrowdStrike — tend to build the evidence around hypotheses, rather than letting the evidence lead to its own conclusions.

I don’t think there’s a conspiracy; I think there’s bias, groupthink, and boss-pleasing — in both the press and the intelligence agencies — just as there was in the Iraq WMD fiasco.

As Folden points out, there are numerous international crime organizations (an $800 billion industry last year) that might well stand behind APT 28/29. Given the sloppiness of the DNC and Podesta hacks (assuming they were hacks), what’s probable is that Russia isn’t doing the work directly, but might be paying a third party that sells its wares to bidders. Or, perhaps Russia isn’t involved.

As Folden notes, numerous states and international crime organizations have strong economic and/or strategic interests in both internal U.S. campaign information and in U.S. elections outcomes. The same observation goes for allegations of hacked voter databases. Any number of entities have both the wherewithal to employ APT 28/29 and an economic interest in harvesting voter identification data.

We should pause to note here that almost all the state database attacks were just that — attacks — not breaches. Unsuccessful attacks cannot be traced to APT groups, only to IP addresses, which are highly unreliable evidence. What few confirmed breaches there were (e.g., Illinois), moreover, did not change election results, and — as with the alleged DNC hack — can only be traced to APTs, not to actual hackers.

Here’s an aside just for fun: why would Russian hackers imagine for a second they could turn Illinois into a Trump state? Clinton won that state by a million votes. Sure, one can understand why Russians might want to meddle with voter roles in a swing state, but Illinois? More likely the hackers were criminals seeking voter identification info, which is precisely why they downloaded 90,000 registration records. The FBI absurdly claimed that Russians needed all those records to figure out precisely how Illinois voter registration works, thus to improve their dirty work. Really? They needed 90,000 records for that?

Pressuring Facebook

Of course, if the voter database attacks turn out to be no-big-deal, the press still will find some new way to exploit the Russia hysteria. The Washington Post and the New York Times — along with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees — are now investigating Russian attempts to use Facebook ads and posts to help Trump win the election. Facebook — thanks to subpoenas from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and pressure from congressional Democrats — has turned up $100,000 of suspicious ad buys from phony accounts.

Think of that for a moment: Russians (supposedly) mustered fully $100,000 for ads in a presidential campaign that cost $2.4 billion. Talk about bang for your buck! The current allegation is that over the past three years, a few hundred Russian trolls armed with $100,000 and 470 Facebook accounts (compared to Facebook’s $27 billion in annual revenue and 2 billion monthly users) deployed issues ads (not primarily attack ads against specific candidates) to out-brigade millions of ordinary Americans who posted campaign pieces on Facebook every day, not to mention Clinton’s public relations army.

Poor David Brock paid a million dollars for his own pro-Clinton troll brigade, but they were children compared to these nefarious Russians. It’s a feat right up there with Xenophon’s Anabasis … a tiny force of foreigners, slashing their way through the Persian hordes! Someone get an epic poet!

Of course Sen. Mark Warner, a hawkish vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, informs us that the $100,000 is just the “tip of the iceberg.” Who knows, maybe the Russians spent $200,000.

Even if these propaganda charges turn out to be 100 percent true — and even if the Russians were clever enough to target voters in the Upper Midwest — it is highly unlikely that they had more influence on the election than a host of other factors, ranging from Clinton’s bad campaign decisions to emailgate to anti-establishment fervor to Trump’s 4-Chan volunteers (did he really need several hundred Russians? Surely he had plenty of home-grown trolls).

Silencing Dissent

So, maybe the Russians did play some small role on Facebook — though I suspect this suspicion, too, will be challenged — but should we therefore conclude that we’re at war, as Morgan Freeman declares? Should we demand that Facebook and Google continue to rework algorithms to shut down posts or ads deemed pro-Russian? Doesn’t that remind anyone of the anti-German hysteria — and censorship — during World War I?

Should we demand, moreover, that the tiny Russian-owned media outlet RT register as a foreign agent — as the Atlantic Council has insisted, and as the Justice Department is now demanding — but not require the same of the BBC and CBC, which are financed by the British and Canadian governments respectively?

What about the Atlantic Council itself, which, receives much of its funding from foreign nations that seek to strengthen NATO? Should the Atlantic Council be required to register as a foreign agent? Does anyone seriously think the Atlantic Council doesn’t propagandize for NATO and for hawkish policies more generally? Or what about the hawkish Brookings Institution, or a host of other think tanks that welcome money from foreign powers?

The unspoken assumption here is that only Russia propagandizes; no other nation is so shifty. Surely Saudi Arabia wouldn’t do such a thing, nor Israel, nor Ukraine, nor countless other nations that seek to influence American policy. After all, they have their paid lobbyists and press buddies working for them every day; they don’t need several hundred trolls.

Let’s be honest, we live in a world in which foreign powers seek to influence American public opinion, just as we seek to influence public opinion in other nations. Which brings to mind a bill that President Obama signed in December, at the outset of the Russia hysteria: “The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act,” which created the State Department’s “Global Engagement Center,” which seeks to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests.”

The act also offers grants to organizations (think news agencies and research groups) that promise to “counter efforts by foreign entities to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability” of the U.S. and allied nations. (Shout out to Rob Reiner; did you apply for one of those grants? Might be a good opportunity for you.)

Does no one see a problem with this?  What exactly is foreign propaganda? Is it RT’s occasional charges that the U.S. press treats Trump unfairly? Is it RT’s penchant for left-wing, anti-establishment commentary, e.g., Chris Hedges, Thom Hartmann, and Lee Camp? Our intelligence elites certainly think so, judging from the seven pages they dedicated to RT’s supposed rascally programming in the January intelligence assessment.

And what exactly will it mean to “counter … foreign … disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda”? Will it mean countering any news or commentary deemed anti-NATO or pro-Russian? Any news or commentary deemed pro-Iranian? How exactly will our government define “foreign propaganda”? How, moreover, will it define “national security”? What lengths will it take to deny the American public — not to mention foreigners — access to legitimate opinions?

Alien and Sedition Acts

Perhaps the real analogue here isn’t World War I after all, but the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. Of course it wasn’t Russians that President John Adams worried about; it was hot-blooded Irish radicals and French émigrés with their revolutionary idealism, which was ostensibly corrupting the nation. Ordinary Americans were suddenly refusing to vote for their Federalist political betters, and those betters determined to make them pay. Far better to jail Jeffersonian editors and drive out foreigners than to let them endanger America’s “national security.”

We are forsooth reliving the age of Hamilton, I fear, when political elites dance to Wall Street theatricals about anti-democrats while feeling virtuous about opposing “deplorables.” Just don’t expect them to care about free speech. Thanks to our government’s push against so-called fake news, both Google and Facebook have already altered algorithms to such an extent that they have pushed down readership for one old and revered progressive venue, AlterNet, by fully 40 percent (other progressive venues have seen similar declines), thus starving them for ad revenue. Meanwhile neoconservative researchers are trumpeting inch-deep investigations into supposed Russian propagandizing that — thanks to vast funding — may get churned out for years to come.

Let’s not kid ourselves; this project isn’t about shutting down “fake news.” From the moment the Washington Post ran its infamous PropOrNot story in November 2016, the message has been clear: the real threat isn’t Russians, it’s any media outlet that fuels anti-establishment politics.

The Universality of Hacking 

All that said, it is still very possible that CrowdStrike and the intelligence community are correct to attribute at least some DNC exfiltration of data to Russians or to loose-leashed teams working as subcontractors, or, alternatively, criminal organizations that sometimes answer to Russia. The one thing that the skeptics (of whom I am obviously one) have not answered is why the CrowdStrike investigation found uniquely modified X-TUNNEL source code in DNC servers, which would seem to have been created for this particular hack.

Since I don’t have years to become a cyber-security expert, I’ll leave the technical experts to further argue that question. However, I am left to wonder whether X-TUNNEL indeed betrays a Russian hack of at least some DNC emails, but that another party altogether — a leaker — was nevertheless responsible for handing the full complement of DNC documents to Wikileaks.

None of the skeptics are claiming that the Russians for certain didn’t hack the DNC (which wouldn’t be that surprising, really; we probably hack their political entities, too). The skeptics are only claiming that G2 was an insider who downloaded documents onto a thumb drive. Both claims can be true.

I’ll add — just to be clear — that I am quite certain that the U.S. intelligence community is correct that the Russian government is engaged in broad hacking attempts aimed at targets all over the world, many of them associated with APT 28/29. But that doesn’t mean they carried out the particular hacks at issue here (or, at least, it doesn’t mean that Russian state actors were behind the WikiLeaks releases, or the attacks on state databases).

And it certainly doesn’t mean — contrary to what over-wrought bloggers claim — that Russians changed 2016 vote tallies. The answer isn’t to shout “war” and create hysteria; the answer is to secure U.S. infrastructure.

I’ll also add that even “high confidence” that Russia hacked the DNC, Podesta, and/or state databases is insufficient grounds for aggressive policy — e.g., harsh sanctions and diplomatic ejections, not to mention military action — let alone grounds for announcing “we are at war.” Suppose for the sake of argument that “high confidence” is 75 percent probability. Would we convict an accused murderer on 75 percent probability?

If we did that — and if the accused were then put to death — we would be knowingly killing 25 innocents out of every 100 we adjudge. The same logic should apply to foreign policy. We should not be taking punitive measures unless we can assess culpability with greater certitude, else we risk harming millions of people who had no role in the original crime.

Where We Stand

It seems to me that we are in uncharted waters. Not everyone can be a cyber-security expert; we must trust those who are. And yet in doing so, we put enormous powers into the hands of unelected technocrats with their own biases and agendas. As others have noted, moreover, the cyber-war community is at odds with the cyber-security community.

On the one hand, intelligence operatives are constantly developing new tools to exploit cyber vulnerabilities of other nations and criminal actors. On the other hand, cyber-security people (e.g., DHS) seek to patch those same vulnerabilities to protect U.S. infrastructure. The problem is that the people who know how to exploit the vulnerabilities don’t want to report those vulnerabilities because it means years of work down the drain. Why make your tools obsolete?

We need to resolve these contradictions in favor of security, not cyberwar.

I cannot say this loudly enough. This whole episode isn’t just about Hillary Clinton losing the election, or Russian hacking of the DNC, or Deep State bias and boss-pleasing. The upshot is that we are entering a cyber-arms race that is going to become ever more byzantine, hidden, and dangerous to democracy, not just because elections can be stolen, but because in guarding against that, we are handing over power to unelected technocrats and shutting down dissenting speech. We are entering a new era; this won’t be the last time that hacking enters political discourse.

We might already be in the midst of a cyber Cold War, though the American public has no idea — flat zero — what sort of offensive gamesmanship our own cyber-warriors are engaging in. (One interesting theory: The Russians deliberately implicated themselves in the DNC hack in order to send a warning to U.S. cyber-warriors: we can play dirty, too).

Presumably not even our cyber-security experts at the DHS and FBI know what the CIA and NSA’s cyber-warriors are up to. Thus Russian hacking becomes “Pearl Harbor” rather than an unsurprising reciprocal response. Both the State Department and the CIA, after all, have been in the foreign propaganda business for decades; the American public, however, has not the vaguest idea of what they do.

We might also be on the brink of something else nightmarish: an international cyber-war with multiple parties participating — attacking one another while no-one-knows-who-did-what.

The intelligence community’s whispered “trust us, we’re the experts” simply isn’t good enough. If we don’t demand hard evidence, then we’re following the same path we took in 1898, 1915, 1950, 1964, and 2003. Let’s not go there.

Daniel Herman is Professor of History at Central Washington University. He specializes in American cultural history and the American West.