A Ukraine Link to North Korea’s Missiles?

Exclusive: By orchestrating the 2014 “regime change” in Ukraine, U.S. neocons may have indirectly contributed to a desperate Ukrainian factory selling advanced rocket engines to North Korea and endangering America, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

U.S. intelligence analysts reportedly have traced North Korea’s leap forward in creating an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking U.S. territory to a decaying Ukrainian rocket-engine factory whose alleged role could lift the cover off other suppressed mysteries related to the U.S.-backed coup in Kiev.

Because the 2014 coup – overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych – was partly orchestrated by the U.S. government’s influential neoconservatives and warmly embraced by the West’s mainstream media, many of the ugly features of the Kiev regime have been downplayed or ignored, including the fact that corrupt oligarch Igor Kolomoisky was put in charge of the area where the implicated factory was located.

As the region’s governor, the thuggish Kolomoisky founded armed militias of Ukrainian extremists, including neo-Nazis, who spearheaded the violence against ethnic Russians in eastern provinces, which had voted heavily for Yanukovych and tried to resist his violent overthrow.

Kolomoisky, who has triple citizenship from Ukraine, Cyprus and Israel, was eventually ousted as governor of Dnipropetrovsk (now called Dnipro) on March 25, 2015, after a showdown with Ukraine’s current President Petro Poroshenko over control of the state-owned energy company, but by then Kolomoisky’s team had put its corrupt mark on the region.

At the time of the Kolomoisky-Poroshenko showdown, Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, chief of the State Security Service, accused Dnipropetrovsk officials of financing armed gangs and threatening investigators, Bloomberg News reported, while noting that Ukraine had sunk to 142nd place out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruptions Perception Index, the worst in Europe.

Even earlier in Kolomoisky’s brutal reign, Dnipropetrovsk had become the center for the violent intrigue that has plagued Ukraine for the past several years, including the dispatch of neo-Nazi militias to kill ethnic Russians who then turned to Russia for support.

Tolerating Nazis

Yet, protected by the waves of anti-Russian propaganda sweeping across the West, Kolomoisky’s crowd saw few reasons for restraint. So, among the Kolomoisky-backed militias was the Azov battalion whose members marched with Swastikas and other Nazi insignias.

Ironically, the same Western media which heartily has condemned neo-Nazi and white-nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, adopted a much more tolerant attitude toward Ukraine’s neo-Nazism even as those militants murdered scores of ethnic Russians in Odessa in May 2014 and attacked ethnic Russian communities in the east where thousands more died.

When it came to Ukraine, The New York Times and other mainstream outlets were so dedicated to their anti-Russian propaganda that they veered between minimizing the significance of the neo-Nazi militias and treating them as bulwarks of Western civilization.

For instance, on Feb. 11, 2015, the Times published a long article by Rick Lyman that presented the situation in the port city of Mariupol as if the advance by ethnic Russian rebels amounted to the arrival of barbarians at the gate while the inhabitants were being bravely defended by the forces of civilization. But then the article cited the key role in that defense played by the Azov battalion.

Though the article provided much color and detail and quoted an Azov leader prominently, it left out the fact that the Azov battalion was composed of neo-Nazis.

This inconvenient truth that neo-Nazis were central to Ukraine’s “self-defense forces” would have disrupted the desired propaganda message about “Russian aggression.” After all, wouldn’t many Americans and Europeans understand why Russia, which suffered some 27 million dead in World War II, might be sensitive to neo-Nazis killing ethnic Russians on Russia’s border?

So, in Lyman’s article, the Times ignored Azov’s well-known neo-Nazism and referred to it simply as a “volunteer unit.”

In other cases, the Times casually brushed past the key role of fascist militants. In July 2015, the Times published a curiously upbeat story about the good news that Islamic militants had joined with far-right and neo-Nazi battalions to kill ethnic Russian rebels.

The article by Andrew E. Kramer reported that there were three Islamic battalions “deployed to the hottest zones,” such as around Mariupol. One of the battalions was headed by a former Chechen warlord who went by the name “Muslim,” Kramer wrote, adding:

“The Chechen commands the Sheikh Mansur group, named for an 18th-century Chechen resistance figure. It is subordinate to the nationalist Right Sector, a Ukrainian militia. Right Sector formed during last year’s street protests in Kiev from a half-dozen fringe Ukrainian nationalist groups like White Hammer and the Trident of Stepan Bandera.

“Another, the Azov group, is openly neo-Nazi, using the ‘Wolf’s Hook’ symbol associated with the [Nazi] SS. Without addressing the issue of the Nazi symbol, the Chechen said he got along well with the nationalists because, like him, they loved their homeland and hated the Russians.”

Rockets for North Korea

The Times encountered another discomforting reality on Monday when correspondents William J. Broad and David E. Sanger described U.S. intelligence assessments pointing to North Korea’s likely source of its new and more powerful rocket engines as a Ukrainian factory in Dnipro.

Of course, the Times bent over backward to suggest that the blame might still fall on Russia even though Dnipro is a stronghold of some of Ukraine’s most militantly anti-Russian politicians and although U.S. intelligence analysts have centered their suspicions on a Ukrainian-government-owned factory there, known as Yuzhmash.

So, it would seem clear that corrupt Ukrainian officials, possibly in cahoots with financially pressed executives or employees of Yuzhmash, are the likeliest suspects in the smuggling of these rocket engines to North Korea.

Even the Times couldn’t dodge that reality, saying: “Government investigators and experts have focused their inquiries on a missile factory in Dnipro, Ukraine.” But the Times added that Dnipro is “on the edge of the territory where Russia is fighting a low-level war to break off part of Ukraine” – to suggest that the Russians somehow might have snuck into the factory, stolen the engines and smuggled them to North Korea.

But the Times also cited the view of missile expert Michael Elleman, who addressed North Korea’s sudden access to more powerful engines in a study issued this week by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“It’s likely that these engines came from Ukraine — probably illicitly,” Elleman said in an interview with the Times. “The big question is how many they have and whether the Ukrainians are helping them now. I’m very worried.”

Yet, always looking for a chance to shift the blame to Russia, the Times quickly inserted that “Mr. Elleman was unable to rule out the possibility that a large Russian missile enterprise, Energomash, which has strong ties to the Ukrainian complex, had a role in the transfer of the RD-250 engine technology to North Korea.”

Of course by that standard – “unable to rule out the possibility” – almost anyone could be put under suspicion. One source familiar with the U.S. intelligence assessments said there is even suspicion that some operatives in Israel played a role in transferring the rocket engines to North Korea. The source cited Israel’s historic arms-trade with North Korea dating back to Israel’s covert arms pipeline to Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

Israel, a rogue nuclear-weapons state itself, also has a history of collaborating with other “pariah” states on nuclear proliferation, including apartheid South Africa which joined Israel in nuclear tests before the democratic election of Nelson Mandela.

Kolomoisky cultivated close ties between Israel and Dnipro by helping to construct one of the largest Jewish centers in the world in the Ukrainian city, which has fallen on hard times since the 2014 coup shattered economic ties with Russia and left the Yuzhmash factory with little work.

Yet, while the Ukraine crisis may have reduced living standards for average Ukrainians, it was an important catalyst in the creation of the New Cold War between Washington and Moscow, which offers lucrative opportunities for U.S. military contractors and their many think-tank apologists despite increasing the risk of nuclear war for the rest of us.

In particular, U.S. neoconservatives have viewed heightened tensions between the West and Russia as valuable both in driving up military spending and laying the groundwork for a possible “regime change” in Moscow. The neocons have wanted to retaliate against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in frustrating neocon (and Israeli-Saudi) desires to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to bomb Iran, which Israel and Saudi Arabia now view as their principal regional adversary.

The neocon/Israeli-Saudi interests have produced many strange bedfellows with weapons flowing to Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and – because of Putin’s assistance to Syria and Iran – the tolerance of neo-Nazis and Islamic militants in Ukraine.

The MH-17 Case

Kolomoisky’s operation in Dnipro also has come under suspicion for a possible role in the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014. According to a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts, Dnipro was the center of a plot to use a powerful anti-aircraft missile to shoot down Putin’s official plane on a return flight from South America, but instead – after Putin’s plane took a more northerly route – the missile brought down MH-17, killing all 298 people aboard.

For reasons that have still not been explained, the Obama administration suppressed U.S. intelligence reports on the MH-17 tragedy and instead joined in pinning the shoot-down on ethnic Russian rebels and, by implication, Putin and his government.

In the West, the MH-17 shoot-down became a cause celebre, generating a powerful propaganda campaign to demonize Putin and Russia – and push Europe into joining sanctions against Moscow. Few people dared question Russia alleged guilt even though the Russia-did-it arguments were full of holes. [See here and here.]

Now this North Korean case forces the issue of Ukraine’s reckless behavior to the fore again: Did an inept or corrupt Ukrainian bureaucracy participate in or tolerate a scheme to sell powerful rocket engines to North Korea and enable a nuclear threat to U.S. territory?

In response to the reports of possible Ukrainian collusion in North Korea’s missile program, Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of the Ukrainian national security and defense council, issued a bizarre denial suggesting that The New York Times and U.S. intelligence agencies were pawns of Russia.

“This information [about North Korea possibly obtaining rocket engines from Ukraine] is not based on any grounds, provocative by its content, and most likely provoked by Russian secret services to cover their own crimes,” Turchynov said.

Press reports about Turchynov’s statement left out two salient facts: that as the interim President following the February 2014 coup, Turchynov ordered Right Sektor militants to begin the bloody siege of rebel-held Sloviansk, a key escalation in the conflict, and that Turchynov was the one who appointed Kolomoisky to be the ruler of Dnipropetrovsk.

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 Fatally Flawed Logic

Exclusive: By pushing the Russia-gate “scandal” and neutering President Trump’s ability to conduct diplomacy, Democrats and Congress have encouraged his war-making side on North Korea, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

There was always a logical flaw in pushing Russia-gate as an excuse for Hillary Clinton’s defeat – besides the fact that it was based on a dubious “assessment” by a small team of “hand-picked” U.S. intelligence analysts. The flaw was that it poked the thin-skinned Donald Trump over one of his few inclinations toward diplomacy.

We’re now seeing the results play out in a very dangerous way in Trump’s bluster about North Korea, which was included in an aggressive economic sanctions bill – along with Russia and Iran – that Congress passed nearly unanimously, without a single Democratic no vote.

Democrats and Official Washington’s dominant neocons celebrated the bill as a vote of no-confidence in Trump’s presidency but it only constrained him in possible peacemaking, not war-making.

The legislation, which Trump signed under protest, escalated tensions with those three countries while limiting Trump’s power over lifting sanctions. After signing the bill into law, Trump denounced the bill as “seriously flawed – particularly because it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate.”

As his “signing statements” made clear, Trump felt belittled by the congressional action. His response has been to ratchet up bellicose rhetoric about North Korea, bluster appearing to be his natural default position when under pressure.

Remember, in April, as the Russia-gate hysteria mounted, Trump changed the subject, briefly, by rushing to judgment on an alleged chemical-weapons incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, and firing off 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military base.

He immediately won acclaim from Official Washington, although Hillary Clinton and other hawks argued that he should have gone further with a much larger U.S. invasion of Syria, i.e., establishing a “no-fly zone” even if that risked nuclear war with Russia.

What Trump learned from that experience is that even when he is going off half-cocked, he is rewarded for taking the military option. (More careful analysis of the Khan Sheikhoun evidence later raised serious doubts that the Syrian military was responsible.)

Schoolyard Taunts

So, we now have President Trump in a bizarre exchange of schoolyard taunts with the leadership of North Korea, with Trump’s “fire and fury like the world has never seen” rhetoric possibly plunging the United States into a confrontation that could have devastating consequences for the Korean peninsula, Japan and indeed the whole world.

Given the fact that the world has already seen the U.S. nuclear destruction of two Japanese cities at the end of World War II, Trump’s loose phrasing seems to suggest that the United States is prepared to use nuclear weapons against North Korea (although he may be referring to “just” carpet-bombing with conventional ordnance).

If nuclear weapons are brought into play, it is hard to fathom what the long-term consequences might be. It’s unlikely that Trump – not known for his deep thinking – has even contemplated that future.

However, even a “limited” war with conventional weapons and confined to the Korean peninsula could kill hundreds of thousands of people and severely shake the world’s economy. If North Korea manages to deliver retaliatory damage on Japan, a human catastrophe and a financial panic could follow.

Many thoughtful people are now expressing alarm at Trump’s erratic behavior, but many of those same people cheered the promotion of Russia-gate as a way to corner Trump politically. They didn’t seem to care that the “scandal” was built on a foundation of flimsy or phony evidence and that a key argument – that “all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies” concurred in the Russian-hacking conclusion – was false.

Once that fake “consensus” claim disappeared – after President Obama’s intelligence chiefs acknowledged that the Jan. 6 “assessment” was the work of “hand-picked” analysts from only three agencies – there should have been a stepping back from the Russia-gate groupthink. There should have been demands for a reassessment of the underlying assumptions.

However, by then, too many Important People, including editors and executives at major news organizations, had accepted Russia’s guilt as flat fact, meaning that their reputations were at risk. To protect their estimable careers, all doubts about Russia’s guilt had to be crushed and the conventional wisdom enforced.

That self-serving defensiveness became the backdrop to the Russia-Iran-North Korean sanctions bill. Not only could no rethinking be allowed on Russia-gate but Trump’s resistance to the groupthink had to be broken by neutering him along with his presidential powers to conduct diplomacy.

Still eager to please the Democratic #Resistance which sees Russia-gate as the pathway to Trump’s impeachment, Democrats – from neocons like Sen. Ben Cardin to anti-interventionists such as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard – joined in the stampede for the sanctions bill.

In their rush, the Democrats even endangered Obama’s signature diplomatic accomplishment, the international agreement blocking an Iranian nuclear weapon. Obama had promised Iran sanctions relief, not more sanctions. Now, the prospects for the accord’s collapse are increased and the neocon dream to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran revived.

And, by tossing North Korea into the mix, the Democrats left Trump few options other than to unleash his warmongering side and plunge the world toward a potential cataclysm.

So, this is what the Russia-gate opportunism has wrought. The logical flaw in Russia-gate may turn out to be a fatal one.

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).




New Cracks in Russia-gate Foundation

The Russia-gate groupthink always rested on a fragile foundation of dubious analysis and biased guesswork, but now has been shaken by new forensic studies of the purported “hack,” as Patrick Lawrence reported at The Nation.

By Patrick Lawrence

It is now a year since the Democratic National Committee’s mail system was compromised — a year since events in the spring and early summer of 2016 were identified as remote hacks and, in short order, attributed to Russians acting in behalf of Donald Trump.

A great edifice has been erected during this time. President Trump, members of his family, and numerous people around him stand accused of various corruptions and extensive collusion with Russians. Half a dozen simultaneous investigations proceed into these matters. Last week news broke that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had convened a grand jury, which issued its first subpoenas on August 3. Allegations of treason are common; prominent political figures and many media cultivate a case for impeachment.

The President’s ability to conduct foreign policy, notably but not only with regard to Russia, is now crippled. Forced into a corner and having no choice, Trump just signed legislation imposing severe new sanctions on Russia and European companies working with it on pipeline projects vital to Russia’s energy sector. Striking this close to the core of another nation’s economy is customarily considered an act of war, we must not forget.

In retaliation, Moscow has announced that the United States must cut its embassy staff by roughly two-thirds. All sides agree that relations between the United States and Russia are now as fragile as they were during some of the Cold War’s worst moments. To suggest that military conflict between two nuclear powers inches ever closer can no longer be dismissed as hyperbole.

All this was set in motion when the DNC’s mail server was first violated in the spring of 2016 and by subsequent assertions that Russians were behind that “hack” and another such operation, also described as a Russian hack, on July 5. These are the foundation stones of the edifice just outlined.

The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.

Lost in a year that often appeared to veer into our peculiarly American kind of hysteria is the absence of any credible evidence of what happened last year and who was responsible for it. It is tiresome to note, but none has been made available. Instead, we are urged to accept the word of institutions and senior officials with long records of deception. These officials profess “high confidence” in their “assessment” as to what happened in the spring and summer of last year — this standing as their authoritative judgment.

Few have noticed since these evasive terms first appeared that an assessment is an opinion, nothing more, and to express high confidence is an upside-down way of admitting the absence of certain knowledge. This is how officials avoid putting their names on the assertions we are so strongly urged to accept — as the record shows many of them have done.

We come now to a moment of great gravity.

There has been a long effort to counter the official narrative we now call “Russiagate.” This effort has so far focused on the key events noted above, leaving numerous others still to be addressed. Until recently, researchers undertaking this work faced critical shortcomings, and these are to be explained. But they have achieved significant new momentum in the past several weeks, and what they have done now yields very consequential fruit.

Forensic investigators, intelligence analysts, system designers, program architects, and computer scientists of long experience and strongly credentialed are now producing evidence disproving the official version of key events last year. Their work is intricate and continues at a kinetic pace as we speak. But its certain results so far are two, simply stated, and freighted with implications:

  • There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year — not by the Russians, not by anyone else. Hard science now demonstrates it was a leak — a download executed locally with a memory key or a similarly portable data-storage device. In short, it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system. This casts serious doubt on the initial “hack,” as alleged, that led to the very consequential publication of a large store of documents on WikiLeaks last summer.
  • Forensic investigations of documents made public two weeks prior to the July 5 leak by the person or entity known as Guccifer 2.0 show that they were fraudulent: Before Guccifer posted them they were adulterated by cutting and pasting them into a blank template that had Russian as its default language. Guccifer took responsibility on June 15 for an intrusion the DNC reported on June 14 and professed to be a WikiLeaks source — claims essential to the official narrative implicating Russia in what was soon cast as an extensive hacking operation. To put the point simply, forensic science now devastates this narrative.

New Analyses

This article is based on an examination of the documents these forensic experts and intelligence analysts have produced, notably the key papers written over the past several weeks, as well as detailed interviews with many of those conducting investigations and now drawing conclusions from them. Before proceeding into this material, several points bear noting.

One, there are many other allegations implicating Russians in the 2016 political process. The work I will now report upon does not purport to prove or disprove any of them. Who delivered documents to WikiLeaks? Who was responsible for the “phishing” operation penetrating John Podesta’s e-mail in March 2016?

We do not know the answers to such questions. It is entirely possible, indeed, that the answers we deserve and must demand could turn out to be multiple: One thing happened in one case, another thing in another. The new work done on the mid-June and July 5 events bears upon all else in only one respect. We are now on notice: Given that we now stand face to face with very considerable cases of duplicity, it is imperative that all official accounts of these many events be subject to rigorously skeptical questioning. Do we even know that John Podesta’s e-mail was in fact “phished”? What evidence of this has been produced? Such rock-bottom questions as these must now be posed in all other cases.

Two, houses built on sand and made of cards are bound to collapse, and there can be no surprise that the one resting atop the “hack theory,” as we can call the prevailing wisdom on the DNC events, appears to be in the process of doing so.

Neither is there anything far-fetched in a reversal of the truth of this magnitude. American history is replete with similar cases. The Spanish sank the Maine in Havana harbor in February 1898. Iran’s Mossadegh was a Communist. Guatemala’s Árbenz represented a Communist threat to the United States. Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh was a Soviet puppet. The Sandinistas were Communists. The truth of the Maine, a war and a revolution in between, took a century to find the light of day, whereupon the official story disintegrated. We can do better now. It is an odd sensation to live through one of these episodes, especially one as big as Russiagate. But its place atop a long line of precedents can no longer be disputed.

Three, regardless of what one may think about the investigations and conclusions I will now outline — and, as noted, these investigations continue — there is a bottom line attaching to them. We can even call it a red line. Under no circumstance can it be acceptable that the relevant authorities — the National Security Agency, the Justice Department (via the Federal Bureau of Investigation), and the Central Intelligence Agency — leave these new findings without reply. Not credibly, in any case. Forensic investigators, prominent among them people with decades’ experience at high levels in these very institutions, have put a body of evidence on a table previously left empty. Silence now, should it ensue, cannot be written down as an admission of duplicity, but it will come very close to one.

It requires no elaboration to apply the above point to the corporate media, which have been flaccidly satisfied with official explanations of the DNC matter from the start.

Qualified experts working independently of one another began to examine the DNC case immediately after the July 2016 events. Prominent among these is a group comprising former intelligence officers, almost all of whom previously occupied senior positions. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), founded in 2003, now has 30 members, including a few associates with backgrounds in national-security fields other than intelligence. The chief researchers active on the DNC case are four: William Binney, formerly the NSA’s technical director for world geopolitical and military analysis and designer of many agency programs now in use; Kirk Wiebe, formerly a senior analyst at the NSA’s SIGINT Automation Research Center; Edward Loomis, formerly technical director in the NSA’s Office of Signal Processing; and Ray McGovern, an intelligence analyst for nearly three decades and formerly chief of the CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch. Most of these men have decades of experience in matters concerning Russian intelligence and the related technologies. This article reflects numerous interviews with all of them conducted in person, via Skype, or by telephone.

The customary VIPS format is an open letter, typically addressed to the President. The group has written three such letters on the DNC incident, all of which were first published by Robert Parry at www.consortiumnews.com. Here is the latest, dated July 24; it blueprints the forensic work this article explores in detail. They have all argued that the hack theory is wrong and that a locally executed leak is the far more likely explanation.

In a letter to Barack Obama dated January 17, three days before he left office, the group explained that the NSA’s known programs are fully capable of capturing all electronic transfers of data. “We strongly suggest that you ask NSA for any evidence it may have indicating that the results of Russian hacking were given to WikiLeaks,” the letter said. “If NSA cannot produce such evidence — and quickly — this would probably mean it does not have any.”

The day after Parry published this letter, Obama gave his last press conference as President, at which he delivered one of the great gems among the official statements on the DNC e-mail question. “The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking,” the legacy-minded Obama said, “were not conclusive.” There is little to suggest the VIPS letter prompted this remark, but it is typical of the linguistic tap-dancing many officials connected to the case have indulged so as to avoid putting their names on the hack theory and all that derives from it.

Cyber-Evidence

Until recently there was a serious hindrance to the VIPS’s work, and I have just suggested it. The group lacked access to positive data. It had no lump of cyber-material to place on its lab table and analyze, because no official agency had provided any.

Donald Rumsfeld famously argued with regard to the WMD question in Iraq, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” In essence, Binney and others at VIPS say this logic turns upside down in the DNC case: Based on the knowledge of former officials such as Binney, the group knew that (1) if there was a hack and (2) if Russia was responsible for it, the NSA would have to have evidence of both. Binney and others surmised that the agency and associated institutions were hiding the absence of evidence behind the claim that they had to maintain secrecy to protect NSA programs.

“Everything that they say must remain classified is already well-known,” Binney said in an interview. “They’re playing the Wizard of Oz game.”

New findings indicate this is perfectly true, but until recently the VIPS experts could produce only “negative evidence,” as they put it: The absence of evidence supporting the hack theory demonstrates that it cannot be so. That is all VIPS had. They could allege and assert, but they could not conclude: They were stuck demanding evidence they did not have — if only to prove there was none.

Research into the DNC case took a fateful turn in early July, when forensic investigators who had been working independently began to share findings and form loose collaborations wherein each could build on the work of others. In this a small, new website called www.disobedientmedia.com proved an important catalyst. Two independent researchers selected it, Snowden-like, as the medium through which to disclose their findings.

One of these is known as Forensicator and the other as Adam Carter. On July 9, Adam Carter sent Elizabeth Vos, a co-founder of Disobedient Media, a paper by the Forensicator that split the DNC case open like a coconut.

By this time Binney and the other technical-side people at VIPS had begun working with a man named Skip Folden. Folden was an IT executive at IBM for 33 years, serving 25 years as the IT program manager in the United States. He has also consulted for Pentagon officials, the FBI, and the Justice Department. Folden is effectively the VIPS group’s liaison to Forensicator, Adam Carter, and other investigators, but neither Folden nor anyone else knows the identity of either Forensicator or Adam Carter. This bears brief explanation.

The Forensicator’s July 9 document indicates he lives in the Pacific Time Zone, which puts him on the West Coast. His notes describing his investigative procedures support this. But little else is known of him. Adam Carter, in turn, is located in England, but the name is a coy pseudonym: It derives from a character in a BBC espionage series called Spooks. It is protocol in this community, Elizabeth Vos told me in a telephone conversation this week, to respect this degree of anonymity.

Kirk Wiebe, the former SIGINT analyst at the NSA, thinks Forensicator could be “someone very good with the FBI,” but there is no certainty. Unanimously, however, all the analysts and forensics investigators interviewed for this column say Forensicator’s advanced expertise, evident in the work he has done, is unassailable. They hold a similarly high opinion of Adam Carter’s work.

Forensicator is working with the documents published by Guccifer 2.0, focusing for now on the July 5 intrusion into the DNC server. The contents of Guccifer’s files are known — they were published last September — and are not Forensicator’s concern. His work is with the metadata on those files. These data did not come to him via any clandestine means. Forensicator simply has access to them that others did not have. It is this access that prompts Kirk Wiebe and others to suggest that Forensicator may be someone with exceptional talent and training inside an agency such as the FBI.

“Forensicator unlocked and then analyzed what had been the locked files Guccifer supposedly took from the DNC server,” Skip Folden explained in an interview. “To do this he would have to have ‘access privilege,’ meaning a key.”

What has Forensicator proven since he turned his key? How? What has work done atop Forensicator’s findings proven? How?

The Transfer Rate

Forensicator’s first decisive findings, made public in the paper dated July 9, concerned the volume of the supposedly hacked material and what is called the transfer rate — the time a remote hack would require. The metadata established several facts in this regard with granular precision: On the evening of July 5, 2016, 1,976 megabytes of data were downloaded from the DNC’s server. The operation took 87 seconds. This yields a transfer rate of 22.7 megabytes per second.

These statistics are matters of record and essential to disproving the hack theory. No Internet service provider, such as a hacker would have had to use in mid-2016, was capable of downloading data at this speed. Compounding this contradiction, Guccifer claimed to have run his hack from Romania, which, for numerous reasons technically called delivery overheads, would slow down the speed of a hack even further from maximum achievable speeds.

What is the maximum achievable speed? Forensicator recently ran a test download of a comparable data volume (and using a server speed not available in 2016) 40 miles from his computer via a server 20 miles away and came up with a speed of 11.8 megabytes per second — half what the DNC operation would need were it a hack. Other investigators have built on this finding. Folden and Edward Loomis say a survey published August 3, 2016, by www.speedtest.net/reports is highly reliable and use it as their thumbnail index. It indicated that the highest average ISP speeds of first-half 2016 were achieved by Xfinity and Cox Communications. These speeds averaged 15.6 megabytes per second and 14.7 megabytes per second, respectively. Peak speeds at higher rates were recorded intermittently but still did not reach the required 22.7 megabytes per second.

“A speed of 22.7 megabytes is simply unobtainable, especially if we are talking about a transoceanic data transfer,” Folden said. “Based on the data we now have, what we’ve been calling a hack is impossible.” Last week Forensicator reported on a speed test he conducted more recently. It tightens the case considerably. “Transfer rates of 23 MB/s (Mega Bytes per second) are not just highly unlikely, but effectively impossible to accomplish when communicating over the Internet at any significant distance,” he wrote. “Further, local copy speeds are measured, demonstrating that 23 MB/s is a typical transfer rate when using a USB–2 flash device (thumb drive).”

Time stamps in the metadata provide further evidence of what happened on July 5. The stamps recording the download indicate that it occurred in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone at approximately 6:45 pm. This confirms that the person entering the DNC system was working somewhere on the East Coast of the United States.

In theory the operation could have been conducted from Bangor or Miami or anywhere in between — but not Russia, Romania, or anywhere else outside the EDT zone. Combined with Forensicator’s findings on the transfer rate, the time stamps constitute more evidence that the download was conducted locally, since delivery overheads — conversion of data into packets, addressing, sequencing times, error checks, and the like — degrade all data transfers conducted via the Internet, more or less according to the distance involved.

Russian ‘Fingerprints’

In addition, there is the adulteration of the documents Guccifer 2.0 posted on June 15, when he made his first appearance. This came to light when researchers penetrated what Folden calls Guccifer’s top layer of metadata and analyzed what was in the layers beneath. They found that the first five files Guccifer made public had each been run, via ordinary cut-and-paste, through a single template that effectively immersed them in what could plausibly be cast as Russian fingerprints. They were not: The Russian markings were artificially inserted prior to posting. “It’s clear,” another forensics investigator self-identified as HET, wrote in a report on this question, “that metadata was deliberately altered and documents were deliberately pasted into a Russianified [W]ord document with Russian language settings and style headings.”

To be noted in this connection: The list of the CIA’s cyber-tools WikiLeaks began to release in March and labeled Vault 7 includes one called Marble that is capable of obfuscating the origin of documents in false-flag operations and leaving markings that point to whatever the CIA wants to point to. (The tool can also “de-obfuscate” what it has obfuscated.) It is not known whether this tool was deployed in the Guccifer case, but it is there for such a use.

It is not yet clear whether documents now shown to have been leaked locally on July 5 were tainted to suggest Russian hacking in the same way the June 15 Guccifer release was. This is among several outstanding questions awaiting answers, and the forensic scientists active on the DNC case are now investigating it.

In a note Adam Carter sent to Folden and McGovern last week and copied to me, he reconfirmed the corruption of the June 15 documents, while indicating that his initial work on the July 5 documents — of which much more is to be done — had not yet turned up evidence of doctoring.

In the meantime, VIPS has assembled a chronology that imposes a persuasive logic on the complex succession of events just reviewed. It is this:

  • On June 12 last year, Julian Assange announced that WikiLeaks had and would publish documents pertinent to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
  • On June 14, CrowdStrike, a cyber-security firm hired by the DNC, announced, without providing evidence, that it had found malware on DNC servers and had evidence that Russians were responsible for planting it.
  • On June 15, Guccifer 2.0 first appeared, took responsibility for the “hack” reported on June 14 and claimed to be a WikiLeaks source. It then posted the adulterated documents just described.
  • On July 5, Guccifer again claimed he had remotely hacked DNC servers, and the operation was instantly described as another intrusion attributable to Russia. Virtually no media questioned this account.

It does not require too much thought to read into this sequence. With his June 12 announcement, Assange effectively put the DNC on notice that it had a little time, probably not much, to act preemptively against the imminent publication of damaging documents. Did the DNC quickly conjure Guccifer from thin air to create a cyber-saboteur whose fingers point to Russia? There is no evidence of this one way or the other, but emphatically it is legitimate to pose the question in the context of the VIPS chronology. WikiLeaks began publishing on July 22. By that time, the case alleging Russian interference in the 2016 elections process was taking firm root. In short order Assange would be written down as a “Russian agent.”

By any balanced reckoning, the official case purporting to assign a systematic hacking effort to Russia, the events of mid-June and July 5 last year being the foundation of this case, is shabby to the point taxpayers should ask for their money back. The Intelligence Community Assessment, the supposedly definitive report featuring the “high confidence” dodge, was greeted as farcically flimsy when issued January 6.

Ray McGovern calls it a disgrace to the intelligence profession. It is spotlessly free of evidence, front to back, pertaining to any events in which Russia is implicated.

‘Hand-Picked’ Analysts

James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, admitted in May that “hand-picked” analysts from three agencies (not the 17 previously reported) drafted the ICA.

There is a way to understand “hand-picked” that is less obvious than meets the eye: The report was sequestered from rigorous agency-wide reviews. This is the way these people have spoken to us for the past year.

Behind the ICA lie other indefensible realities. The FBI has never examined the DNC’s computer servers — an omission that is beyond preposterous. It has instead relied on the reports produced by Crowdstrike, a firm that drips with conflicting interests well beyond the fact that it is in the DNC’s employ. Dmitri Alperovitch, its co-founder and chief technology officer, is on the record as vigorously anti-Russian. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, which suffers the same prejudice. Problems such as this are many.

“We continue to stand by our report,” CrowdStrike said, upon seeing the VIPS blueprint of the investigation. CrowdStrike argues that by July 5 all malware had been removed from the DNC’s computers. But the presence or absence of malware by that time is entirely immaterial, because the event of July 5 is proven to have been a leak and not a hack. Given that malware has nothing to do with leaks, CrowdStrike’s logic appears to be circular.

In effect, the new forensic evidence considered here lands in a vacuum. We now enter a period when an official reply should be forthcoming. What the forensic people are now producing constitutes evidence, however one may view it, and it is the first scientifically derived evidence we have into any of the events in which Russia has been implicated. The investigators deserve a response, the betrayed professionals who formed VIPS as the WMD scandal unfolded in 2003 deserve it, and so do the rest of us. The cost of duplicity has rarely been so high.

I concluded each of the interviews conducted for this column by asking for a degree of confidence in the new findings. These are careful, exacting people as a matter of professional training and standards, and I got careful, exacting replies.

All those interviewed came in between 90 percent and 100 percent certain that the forensics prove out. I have already quoted Skip Folden’s answer: impossible based on the data.

“The laws of physics don’t lie,” Ray McGovern volunteered at one point.

“It’s QED, theorem demonstrated,” William Binney said in response to my question. “There’s no evidence out there to get me to change my mind.” When I asked Edward Loomis, a 90 percent man, about the 10 percent he held out, he replied, “I’ve looked at the work and it shows there was no Russian hack. But I didn’t do the work. That’s the 10 percent. I’m a scientist.”

Editor’s note: In its chronology, VIPS mistakenly gave the wrong date for CrowdStrike’s announcement of its claim to have found malware on DNC servers. It said June 15, when it should have said June 14. VIPS has acknowledged the error, and we have made the correction.

Patrick Lawrence is a longtime columnist, essayist, critic, and lecturer, whose most recent books are Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World and Time No Longer: America After the American Century. His website is patricklawrence.us. [This article was originally published at The Nation at https://www.thenation.com/article/a-new-report-raises-big-questions-about-last-years-dnc-hack/ ]




The Russia-Did-It Certitude Challenged

Many mainstream news outlets confessed to their gullibility over the Iraq-WMD claims, but have fallen into another groupthink over Russia-gate, as Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein heard from ex-U.K. Ambassador Craig Murray.

By Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein

Despite the certitude of the U.S. Congress and the corporate press, not everyone believes that the Russians “hacked” the Clinton campaign and handed Donald Trump his stunning victory. Among those saying that the Russians did not do it is the former whistleblowing British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who collaborates with WikiLeaks, which published the Democratic emails last year.

“‘I know who leaked them,” Murray said recently. “I’ve met the person who leaked them, and they are certainly not Russian and it’s an insider. It’s a leak, not a hack; the two are different things.”

Ambassador Murray, a friend and close associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, was also an early opponent of the the U.S.-British-led war against Iraq, and an early whistleblower on the wide-ranging program of torture and rendition promoted by U.S. President George W. Bush and condoned by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was recently absolved by a British court — on a technicality — of being criminally liable for the US torture program.

These days, Ambassador Murray is an author, broadcaster and human rights activist. He served as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan from August 2002 to October 2004 and Rector of the University of Dundee from 2007 to 2010.

Dennis Bernstein: My first question, Mr. Ambassador, is whether you are concerned with this Russia-gate frenzy and how it might end up leading us into a direct confrontation with Russia, and thus open the door to World War III?

Craig Murray: Well, there is always that danger when a confrontation exists between nuclear armed powers. The whole anti-Russia propaganda campaign that is going on at the moment is quite extraordinary because there is no factual basis behind it. But it is certainly a continuation of the anti-Russia propaganda that has dominated political discourse in the United States for several years now.

Of course, this is very much in the interests of the armaments industry. We have to remember that there are those who benefit enormously from extra spending on armaments and the armed forces. These people are the ones pushing the agenda.

DB: We’ve been doing sort of a poll of our guests, asking them whether they consider what happened in the United States as a leak or a hack.

CM: Well, through my association with WikiLeaks, I know for sure that it was a leak and not a hack. As Bill Binney, former technical director of the NSA, has pointed out, were it actually a hack the NSA would be able to pinpoint it. In fact, there is no such evidence. This is not something WikiLeaks got from a foreign state or from hackers. No, there is no doubt at all that this was an internal leak. Besides which, we are talking about two separate things in the DNC emails and the Podesta emails, so it would be wrong to presume that there is only one leaker.

Randy Credico: Is this just an artifice to cover up the real motivation with regards to Russia, which is to break the country into small states and to prevent them from getting involved in the world oil supply?

CM: I am not sure they actually want to break up Russia. They rather like having a reasonably strong Russia because it gives them an excuse to invest large amounts of money in armaments, which are very profitable. The militarist forces on both sides like to play up the strength of the other and portray the other as evil. That is primarily what we have going on here.

Recently, Putin seems to be the master of the diplomatic game. And we should not forget that all of these people are part of the global one percent. The way they invest their money and where they live and how they socialize makes them all very much part of the same club in an interconnected world. So we should not be too distracted by the smoke and mirrors that the global elite put up. While these are very dangerous games to be playing, the people playing them have some very cozy relationships behind the scenes.

RC: Tell us about your relationship with Julian Assange and the conditions he is now living under.

CM: Well, I have known Julian Assange for several years now. Like Julian, I was myself a whistleblower. I left the British foreign service in order to expose torture and extraordinary rendition related to the war in Iraq. We have a club of whistleblowers, if you like, of which Daniel Ellsberg is a kind of patron. And obviously WikiLeaks, which is the best publisher for whistleblowers, is very important to us.

I have been appalled by the treatment of Julian and the evidently nonsensical allegations made against him in Sweden. And I am saddened by the continued persecution of WikiLeaks by the United States. Of course, a lot of people are very sore that the dreadful American war crimes were exposed by the leaks believed to be perpetrated by Chelsea Manning. A lot of people don’t like the light that WikiLeaks shines on the dark places of government. But in the land which purportedly upholds freedom of speech as a great virtue, it is a dreadful shame to see the persecution of a publisher in this way.

Then, of course, we see the completely ridiculous nature of this whole Russia-gate affair. Really it was just a kind of propaganda excuse for Hillary Clinton’s appalling election campaign. All this makes unlikely allies who have ganged up on Julian Assange from the establishment side of both major parties in the United States.

RC: In the wake of the recent UK elections what, if anything, has changed for Julian Assange?

CM: Nothing good at the moment. We still have the conservative party in power and now they are in alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party, who are the most retrograde, religiously motivated party here and who tilt the government even more to the right than it was before. In the medium to longer term, based on the performance by Jeremy Corbin’s Labor Party, which comes as a breath of fresh air in British politics, we may well see a reversal of the current situation.

DB: One of the issues that WikiLeaks confronts head on is the endless wars that the United States has been waging, in Iraq in particular. Tony Blair was being investigated for lying us into the Iraq War but [on July 31] he was absolved of all charges.

CM: Interestingly, what the UK high court said in the recent judgment was that there is no crime of aggression under British domestic law. They claimed that this international crime has never entered into British domestic law by an act of parliament and can therefore not be enforced in the UK.

So it was a very technical acquittal. They are not saying that Blair is innocent, they are saying that legislation has never been enacted making that international war crime a domestic crime in Britain. This is quite extraordinary in many ways. The United Kingdom was one of the three countries that constituted the Nuremberg Tribunal, where the crime of aggression was the main charge.

So for the high court to rule that the United Kingdom accepts the existence of the crime of aggression and can prosecute it internationally but does not accept that it applies domestically is illogical and a case of special pleading. The high court judges are just ganging together to protect Tony Blair and making asses of themselves with this very strange ruling.

DB: Tony Blair has played a role in deciding who will control the massive oil resources in the Middle East and in other places you are familiar with. Do you want to talk about what he has been up to?

CM: Since leaving office, he has been primarily concerned with making money for himself, on a very large scale. He is now worth hundreds of millions. It is fairly obvious that the actions he took while in office with regards to Iraq, with regards to Libya, were all undertaken to promote the interests of British and other Western oil companies and mercenary companies.

He famously worked to block the prosecution of British Aerospace for paying billions of dollars in bribes to Saudi princes to gain arms contracts, on the grounds that that would be against national security because it would damage our alliance with Saudi Arabia. That was one instance where Blair, while prime minister, intervened directly to aid the armaments industry and prevent an anti-corruption prosecution.

Since he left office, he has been cashing in on all of this. He is completely shameless. He is a consultant to the president of Kazakhstan, for example, a very nasty dictatorship. One thing that has become public through a leak is that he was advising the government of Kazakhstan on how to handle public relations after Kazakh soldiers massacred coal miners for going on strike. Here’s Blair, who used to represent a coal mining district, advising on how to do a good PR cover-up of the massacre of coal miners.

The man is completely unprincipled. He is just out to get whatever money he can. I wouldn’t say he has much power nowadays. He rather prostitutes himself to the wealthy, particularly those from countries with dubious human rights records who view it as helpful to cash in on his global image.

RC: We know about the War Logs and what they exposed in Afghanistan. Can you talk about what happened in Uzbekistan?

CM: It is very different to know about it intellectually and to come face-to-face with it. Within a month of first arriving in Uzbekistan, we got detailed photos of a guy who had been literally boiled alive at one of the big prison camps. He had been alive when placed in the boiling liquid. That sort of thing makes you realize what it really means when people talk of torture.

There is no doubt that the CIA were actually colluding in such torture and to a large extent financing it. Hundreds of millions of American taxpayer dollars were put into the Uzbek security services and the CIA was getting their so-called intelligence from those torture sessions.

We also discovered that the CIA was flying people into Uzbekistan under the extraordinary rendition program. In pretty much every case, they were never seen again. At that time, I assumed that all the people being flown in to be tortured were Uzbeks who had been captured abroad and flown back to their own country. I didn’t realize that the Americans were flying in other nationals to be tortured by the Uzbek security services.

RC: What were they trying to elicit from these people who were being tortured?

CM: In virtually every case, they were making them confess to membership in Al Qaeda and to the existence of widespread terror plots to attack Western countries. I am ninety-nine percent certain that every one of these stories was untrue. Often I could show the information was wrong.

But the object was to exaggerate the threat posed by Al Qaeda because that was the justification for our foreign policy, for all our invasions, and for all the restrictions on civil liberties at home. The security services required a strong terrorist threat in order to justify their actions. By sending people to be tortured, they were manufacturing the false existence of a terrorist threat.

RC: What happened when you went public with this?

CM: I arrived in August and I think by December I was sending back top-secret internal telegrams protesting this, which were bound to get me sacked. In some ways, I consider myself something of a fraud as a whistleblower. I protested internally, I did everything I could within the system to stop it. I was making the case that these actions were illegal and that we were colluding in these actions by receiving this intelligence.

I thought that if we got this before government lawyers, they would advise the government to put an end to it. What happened to me then was similar to what happened to Julian Assange. After a twenty-year unblemished career, I suddenly found that I was up on charges of trying to extort sex from visa applicants, of being an habitual alcoholic, and so on.

DB: Ambassador Murray, what would be your understanding of how high in the US government people knew about this rendition program?

CM: In the UK I am certain that it did go all the way up the chain as far as Tony Blair. I made sure my protests went that high. When I was told to shut up, I was told that this had all been authorized from the very top. In the States, I know it went as high as Donald Rumsfeld because he had signed off on torture techniques personally. The lawyers who drafted documents on what was permissible in terms of torture certainly passed those by George W. Bush.

DB: Was what happened in the Ukraine a case of Russian aggression or a US soft coup?

CM: I am actually quite critical of both parties. There is no doubt that the United States was interfering very strongly in Ukrainian politics. On the other hand, I also think that the Russians supported levels of violence that were unnecessary. I get very criticized by the left. The left has become very pro-Putin, as a reaction I suppose to the lies of the right. But it is overcompensation to paint Putin as a saint. So the US was undoubtedly engaged in attempts at a coup, something it has been doing for decades.

RC: Ambassador, you were involved in peace negotiations in Sierra Leone back in 1998. At the time you ran across someone named Spicer who was an arms merchant and ran mercenary companies and who later went to Iraq. Could you just encapsulate that period in a few minutes?

CM: Spicer, together with a guy called Tony Buckingham, was initially in charge of a company which was called Executive Outcomes, made up of former British special forces personnel who sold themselves to oil companies in Angola and other oil-rich African states in order to physically take control of oil resources during times of civil war. They perpetrated an awful lot of atrocities, including machine gunning villagers from helicopters.

After Executive Outcomes, they moved on to a company called Sandline which was involved in a very crooked deal to take control of the diamond resources of Sierra Leone. To me, involved in the peace negotiations there, it was sickening to witness the desire of Western companies and Western governments to get out of it access to Sierra Leone’s diamond and titanium resources.

Then of course the people at Executive Outcomes and Sandline went on to really strike the jackpot in Iraq, where they ran a private mercenary company called Aegis, which worked for both the British and United States governments and employed tens of thousands of mercenaries. The people responsible for it made billions of dollars from the privatization of killing. All of this is quite startling and far too little known.

DB: Getting back to where we started, what do you see as the importance of Julian Assange in the context of what is called mainstream journalism?

CM: Julian Assange has been a central figure in breaking the monopoly on what we are allowed to know. People now increasingly distrust the mainstream media and get their information from places where you have direct access to source documentation rather than read the opinion of some journalist on it. I think that is very important. I think other whistleblowers have made a mistake by going through the mainstream media, who have then acted as gatekeepers on what we find out through those leaks. The Panama Papers were a great example of that kind of lost opportunity.

Julian is really the figurehead for freedom of information and a figurehead for governments to trounce. He is an enormously intelligent and articulate individual who has a tremendous contribution to make to international debate, aside from the material that he publishes. Obviously, he would be able to fulfill that role to a much greater degree if he were free.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




A New Twist in Seth Rich Murder Case

Exclusive: The U.S. mainstream media dismisses any link between the murder of DNC official Seth Rich and leaked DNC emails as a “conspiracy theory” – while blaming Russia instead – but a new possibility has arisen, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

With U.S.-Russia tensions as dangerously high as they’ve been since the worst days of the Cold War, there is potential new evidence that Russia was not behind a hack of the Democratic National Committee, although Congress and the U.S. mainstream media accept the unproven allegation of Russia’s guilt as indisputable fact.

The possible new evidence comes in the form of a leaked audiotape of veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in which Hersh is heard to say that not Russia, but a DNC insider, was the source of the Democratic emails published by WikiLeaks just before the start of the Democratic National Convention in late July 2016.

Hersh said on the tape that the source of the leak was former DNC employee Seth Rich, who was murdered on a darkened street in a rough neighborhood of Northwest Washington D.C. two weeks before the Convention, on July 10, 2016. But Hersh threw cold water on a theory that the murder was an assassination in retaliation for the leak. Instead, Hersh concurs with the D.C. police who say the murder was a botched robbery.

Mainstream news outlets have mocked any linkage between Rich’s murder and the disclosure of the DNC emails as a “conspiracy theory,” but Hersh’s comments suggest another possibility – that the murder and the leak were unrelated while Rich may still have been the leaker.

In dismissing the possibility that Rich was the leaker, mainstream media outlets often ignore one of the key reason why some people believe that he was: Shortly after his murder, WikiLeaks, which has denied receiving the emails from the Russian government, posted a Tweet offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the solution of the mystery of who killed Rich.

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder and publisher, brought up Rich’s murder out of context in an interview with Dutch TV last August. “Whistle-blowers go to significant efforts to get us material and often very significant risks,” Assange said. “As a 27-year-old, works for the DNC, was shot in the back, murdered just a few weeks ago for unknown reasons as he was walking down the street in Washington.”

Pressed by the interviewer to say whether Rich was the source of the DNC emails, Assange said WikiLeaks never reveals its sources. Yet, it appeared to be an indirect way of naming Rich, while formally maintaining WikiLeak’s policy. An alternative view would be to believe that Assange is cynically using Rich’s death to divert the trail from the real source.

But Assange is likely one of the few people who actually knows who the source is, so his professed interest in Rich’s murder presents a clue regarding the source of the leak that any responsible news organization would at least acknowledge although that has not been the case in many recent mainstream articles about the supposed Seth Rich “conspiracy theory.”

Hersh’s Unwitting Tapes

Hersh’s taped comments add another element to the mystery, given his long record of shedding light into the dark corners of the U.S. government’s crimes, lies and cover-ups. He exposed the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War; revealed illegal CIA spying in the 1970s spurring wide-ranging Congressional investigations and reform; and uncovered U.S. torture in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In the audiotape – which Hersh told me was made without his permission – he quoted an unnamed government source who told him that Rich offered the DNC emails to WikiLeaks in exchange for money.

“What I know comes off an FBI report. Don’t ask me how. You can figure it out, I’ve been around a long time,” Hersh says on the tape. “I have somebody on the inside who will go and read a file for me. This person is unbelievably accurate and careful, he’s a very high-level guy and he’ll do a favor. You’re just going to have to trust me.”

The FBI cyber unit got involved after the D.C. police were unable to access protected files on Rich’s computer, Hersh said. So the FBI “found what he’d done. He had submitted a series of documents, of emails. Some juicy emails from the DNC,” to Wikileaks, Hersh said.

“He offered a sample, an extensive sample, you know I’m sure dozens of emails and said ‘I want money.’ Then later Wikileaks did get the password, he had a Dropbox, a protected Dropbox,” Hersh said.

“Wikileaks got access, and before he was killed … he also, and this is also in the FBI report, he also let people know, with whom he was dealing. … I don’t know how he dealt with the Wikileaks and the mechanism but … the word was passed according to the NSA report, ‘I’ve also shared this box with a couple of friends so if anything happens to me it’s not going to solve your problem.’” Hersh said he didn’t know what this “problem” was.

Either Hersh misspoke when he mentioned an “NSA report,” instead meaning the FBI report, or the National Security Agency may have provided a record of Rich’s communication to the FBI. Both the FBI and the D.C. police have denied that the FBI got involved in the case.

The Tape Is Leaked

The Hersh audiotape was posted on a website called Big League Politics, which displays links to Project Veritas, a right-wing group run by James O’Keefe, though there is no evidence that Veritas was involved in the Hersh tape. Veritas does undercover audio and video recordings of unsuspecting subjects and has been accused of doctoring its video and audiotapes. But a recent O’Keefe undercover video of a CNN medical producer saying the network’s coverage of the Russia-gate story was “bullshit” was confirmed by CNN, which took no action against the producer.

People who believe that Hersh’s apparent revelation could reduce Russia-U.S. tensions are clamoring for him to confirm what he said. Popular blogger Caitlin Johnstone wrote: “If Hersh has any information at all indicating that the WikiLeaks releases last year came not from Russian hackers but from a leaker on the inside, he is morally obligated to volunteer all the information that he has. Even the slightest possibility that his information could help halt America’s collision course with Russia by killing public support for new cold war escalations makes his remaining silent absolutely inexcusable.”

Only Hersh’s voice is heard on the taped interview, which was conducted by Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Republican donor and Trump supporter. Until now, Hersh’s only public comment about the tape was to National Public Radio. “I hear gossip,” Hersh said. “[Butowsky] took two and two and made 45 out of it.”

I contacted Hersh on Friday via email. He confirmed to me that it was his voice on the tape by angrily condemning those who he said secretly recorded him, without identifying them. He did not respond when I asked him whether he thought the tape may have been altered. Hersh refused to comment further.

On June 2, in an exchange of emails between Hersh and Butowsky, Hersh denied any knowledge of the FBI report. That was two months before Hersh discovered that he had been secretly recorded when the tape was made public on Aug. 1 by Big League Politics. A screenshot of the Hersh-Butowsky email exchange was published by Big League Politics last week.

“I am curious why you haven’t approached the house committee telling them what you were read by your FBI friend related to Seth Rich that you in turn read to me,” Butowsky wrote.

Hersh replied:  “ed –you have a lousy memory…i was not read anything by my fbi friend..i have no firsthand information and i really wish you would stop telling others information that you think i have…please stop relaying information that you do not have right…and that i  have no reason to believe is accurate…”

Without informing him that he had been recorded, Butowsky replies: “I know it isn’t first hand knowledge but you clearly said, my memory is perfect, that you had a friend at the FBI who read / told you what was in the file on Seth Rich and I wonder why you aren’t helping your country and sharing that information on who it was?”

Further suggesting that Rich may have been the source of the DNC emails, WikiLeaks posted a link to the audiotape on Twitter.

Hersh has given no indication he’s planning to write a piece based on his source who he said has seen the FBI report. Hersh has found it difficult to be published in recent years in the United States. He has been writing for the London Review of Books until that publication earlier this year rejected a piece challenging the purported U.S. evidence blaming a chemical weapons attack in Syria, which led to Trump’s bombing of a Syrian air field. Hersh’s story was published instead in a major German weekly, Die Welt.

MSM Contempt

Corporate media’s uniform reaction has been to treat the idea of Seth Rich being WikiLeak’s source as a “conspiracy theory” – while mostly ignoring Assange’s hints and now the Hersh tape. Major U.S. media outlets cover Russia-gate as if Russian interference in last November’s U.S. election is proven, rather than based on a shaky “assessment” by “hand-picked” analysts from three – not all 17 – U.S. intelligence agencies.

If Russia-gate special prosecutor Robert Mueller is serious about getting to the bottom of who WikiLeak’s source is there are several avenues he could pursue. He could check Rich’s bank accounts to see if there was a transfer of money from a representative of WikiLeaks. He could try to find Rich’s friends who may have been given his DropBox password. He could seek to interview Hersh.

“Someone ought to ask Mueller, if he had an ounce of integrity (which he doesn’t), why he’s not showing these FBI and/or NSA reports to his Grand Jury which could blow the lid off of ‘Russiagate’ that Mueller was appointed to investigate,” former FBI official and whistleblower Coleen Rowley told me in an email. “It’s sad the FBI could be keeping this secret. But I think the [Rich] family could sue to get the FBI Report that Hersh mentioned or now that FOX is sued, its attorneys could try to subpoena the FBI documents in discovery.” She added that the FBI would likely fight such a subpoena, however.

The lawsuit that Rowley mentioned was filed by Rod Wheeler, a D.C. private detective, against Butowsky and Fox News. Wheeler was hired by Butowsky on behalf of the Rich family to find the killer. In a Fox News item on May 16, Wheeler was quoted referring to a Fox source in the federal government who said that Rich was WikiLeak’s source.

Fox News retracted the story a week later citing unspecific breaches of its editorial policies. At the time Fox had suffered ad boycotts when its chairman, Roger Ailes, and then its top presenter, Bill O’Reilly, faced sexual harassment allegations. Both later resigned. Sean Hannity, another top presenter, continued to pursue the Rich story until he was threatened with an ad boycott, at which point Fox retracted the story.

Wheeler’s suit now alleges that he was misquoted and that the purpose of the Fox story was to distract attention from Russia’s connection with the DNC emails. Big League Politics has posted audio of Wheeler saying that Aaron Rich, the victim’s brother, blocked him from pursuing leads on Seth Rich’s computer.

It is not clear if Hersh’s source is the same as Fox’s (or if Fox was using Hersh in a second-hand way). Butowsky has a connection with Fox as an on-air commentator. The date of the Hersh audio recording has not been made known although it presumably predated his email exchange with Butowsky on June 2

If an FBI report exists indicating that Rich was the source of the DNC emails and the report is made public, it could reduce tensions with Russia that Congress ratcheted up further last week by escalating sanctions – a form of economic warfare – against Russia as punishment for its alleged role in exposing the DNC emails and others belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

The DNC emails revealed DNC officials improperly interfering in the Democratic primaries to undercut Clinton’s chief rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders. The Podesta emails included the contents of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street and other special interests as well as pay-to-play features of the Clinton Foundation.

On Jan. 6 – before leaving office – President Obama’s intelligence chiefs oversaw “hand-picked” analysts from the CIA, FBI and NSA creating an “assessment” blaming Russia for the hacked emails albeit without presenting any hard evidence. Russian officials have denied supplying the emails to WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks has denied receiving them from Russia.

Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and an associate of Assange, has said categorically that the WikiLeaks source was a leak from an insider, not a hack. In an email message last week to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, which McGovern shared with me, Murray wrote: “To my certain knowledge neither the DNC nor Podesta leaks to Wikileaks involved Russia. I met with someone while in Washington who, to the best of my knowledge, was an actual leaker.”

Nevertheless, the unproven allegations of Russian interference in the election have raised tensions between the two nuclear powers to levels not seen since the darkest days of the Cold War and possibly worse. Stephen Cohen, a leading U.S. expert on Russia, said the current showdown may be even more hazardous than the Cuban missile crisis.

“I think this is the most dangerous moment in American-Russian relations, at least since the Cuban missile crisis. And arguably, it’s more dangerous, because it’s more complex,” he told Democracy Now! in April. “Therefore, we … have in Washington these – and, in my judgment, fact-less – accusations that Trump has somehow been compromised by the Kremlin.”

In the missile crisis “there was no doubt what the Soviets had done, putting missile silos in Cuba,” Cohen said. “No evidence has been presented today of anything. Imagine if Kennedy had been accused of being a secret Soviet Kremlin agent. He would have been crippled. And the only way he could have proved he wasn’t was to have launched a war against the Soviet Union. And at that time, the option was nuclear war.”

As it still is today.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist. He has written for the Boston Globe, the Sunday Times of London and the Wall Street Journal among other newspapers. He is the author of How I Lost By Hillary Clinton published by OR Books in June 2017. He can be reached at joelauria@gmail.com and followed on Twitter at @unjoe.




Neocons Leverage Trump-Hate for More Wars

Exclusive: The enactment of new sanctions against Russia and Iran – with the support of nearly all Democrats and Republicans in Congress – shows how the warmongering neocons again have come out on top, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A savvy Washington observer once told me that the political reality about the neoconservatives is that they alone couldn’t win you a single precinct in the United States. But both Republicans and Democrats still line up to gain neocon support or at least neocon acceptance.

Part of the reason for this paradox is the degree of dominance that the neoconservatives have established in the national news media – as op-ed writers and TV commentators – and the neocon ties to the Israel Lobby that is famous for showering contributions on favored politicians and on the opponents of those not favored.

Since the neocons’ emergence as big-time foreign policy players in the Reagan administration, they also have demonstrated extraordinary resilience, receiving a steady flow of money often through U.S. government-funded grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy and through donations from military contractors to hawkish neocon think tanks.

But neocons’ most astonishing success over the past year may have been how they have pulled liberals and even some progressives into the neocon strategies for war and more war, largely by exploiting the Left’s disgust with President Trump.

People who would normally favor international cooperation toward peaceful resolution of conflicts have joined the neocons in ratcheting up global tensions and making progress toward peace far more difficult.

The provocative “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which imposes sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea while tying President Trump’s hands in removing those penalties, passed the Congress without a single Democrat voting no.

The only dissenting votes came from three Republican House members – Justin Amash of Michigan, Jimmy Duncan of Tennessee, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky – and from Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont in the Senate.

In other words, every Democrat present for the vote adopted the neocon position of escalating tensions with Russia and Iran. The new sanctions appear to close off hopes for a détente with Russia and may torpedo the nuclear agreement with Iran, which would put the bomb-bomb-bomb option back on the table just where the neocons want it.

The Putin Obstacle

As for Russia, the neocons have viewed President Vladimir Putin as a major obstacle to their plans at least since 2013 when he helped President Obama come up with a compromise with Syria that averted a U.S. military strike over dubious claims that the Syrian military was responsible for a sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.

Subsequent evidence indicated that the sarin attack most likely was a provocation by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate to trick the U.S. military into entering the war on Al Qaeda’s side.

While you might wonder why the U.S. government would even think about taking actions that would benefit Al Qaeda, which lured the U.S. into this Mideast quagmire in the first place by attacking on 9/11, the answer is that Israel and the neocons – along with Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-governed states – favored an Al Qaeda victory if that was what was needed to shatter the so-called “Shiite crescent,” anchored in Iran and reaching through Syria to Lebanon.

Many neocons are, in effect, America’s Israeli agents and – since Israel is now allied with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni Gulf states versus Iran – the neocons exercise their media/political influence to rationalize U.S. military strikes against Iran’s regional allies, i.e., Syria’s secular government of Bashar al-Assad.

For his part, Putin compounded his offense to the neocons by facilitating Obama’s negotiations with Iran that imposed strict constraints on Iran’s actions toward development of a nuclear bomb and took U.S. war against Iran off the table. The neocons, Israel and Saudi Arabia wanted the U.S. military to lead a bombing campaign against Iran with the hope of crippling their regional adversary and possibly even achieving “regime change” in Tehran.

Punishing Russia

It was in that time frame that NED’s neocon President Carl Gershman identified Ukraine as the “biggest prize” and an important step toward the even bigger prize of removing Putin in Russia.

Other U.S. government neocons, including Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and Sen. John McCain, delivered the Ukraine “prize” by supporting the Feb. 22, 2014 coup that overthrew the elected government of Ukraine and unleashed anti-Russian nationalists (including neo-Nazis) who began killing ethnic Russians in the south and east near Russia’s border.

When Putin responded by allowing Crimeans to vote on secession from Ukraine and reunification with Russia, the West – and especially the neocon-dominated mainstream media – denounced the move as a “Russian invasion.” Covertly, the Russians also helped ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine who defied the coup regime in Kiev and faced annihilation from Ukrainian military forces, including the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which literally displayed Swastikas and SS symbols. Putin’s assistance to these embattled ethnic Russian Ukrainians became “Russian aggression.”

Many U.S. pundits and journalists – in the conservative, centrist and liberal media – were swept up by the various hysterias over Syria, Iran and Russia – much as they had been a decade earlier around the Iraq-WMD frenzy and the “responsibility to protect” (or R2P) argument for the violent “regime change” in Libya in 2011. In all these cases, the public debate was saturated with U.S. government and neocon propaganda, much of it false.

But it worked. For instance, the neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks achieved extraordinary success in seducing many American “peace activists” to support the “regime change” war in Syria by sending sympathetic victims of the Syrian government on speaking tours.

Meanwhile, the major U.S. media essentially flacked for “moderate” Syrian rebels who just happened to be fighting alongside Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and sharing their powerful U.S.-supplied weapons with the jihadists, all the better to kill Syrian soldiers trying to protect the secular government in Damascus.

Successful Propaganda

As part of this propaganda process, the jihadists’ P.R. adjunct, known as the White Helmets, phoned in anti-government atrocity stories to eager and credulous Western journalists who didn’t dare visit the Al Qaeda-controlled zones for fear of being beheaded.

Still, whenever the White Helmets or other “activists” accused the Syrian government of some unlikely chemical attack, the information was treated as gospel. When United Nations investigators, who were under enormous pressure to confirm the propaganda tales beloved in the West, uncovered evidence that one of the alleged chlorine attacks was staged by the jihadists, the mainstream U.S. media politely looked the other way and continued to treat the chemical-weapons stories as credible.

Historian and journalist Stephen Kinzer has said, “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.”

But all these successes in the neocons’ “perception management” operations pale when compared to what the neocons have accomplished since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton last November.

Fueled by the shock and disgust over the egotistical self-proclaimed pussy-grabber ascending to the highest office in the land, many Americans looked for both an excuse for explaining the outcome and a strategy for removing Trump as quickly as possible. The answer to both concerns became: blame Russia.

The evidence that Russia had “hacked our democracy” was very thin – some private outfit called Crowdstrike found Cyrillic lettering and a reference to the founder of the Soviet KGB in some of the metadata – but that “incriminating evidence” contradicted Crowdstrike’s own notion of a crack Russian hacking operation that was almost impossible to trace.

So, even though the FBI failed to secure the Democratic National Committee’s computers so the government could do its own forensic analysis, President Obama assigned his intelligence chiefs, CIA Director John Brennan and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to come up with an assessment that could be used to blame Trump’s victory on “Russian meddling.” Obama, of course, shared the revulsion over Trump’s victory, since the real-estate mogul/reality-TV star had famously launched his own political career by spreading the lie that Obama was born in Kenya.

‘Hand-Picked’ Analysts

According to Clapper’s later congressional testimony, the analysts for this job were “hand-picked” from the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency and assigned to produce an “assessment” before Obama left office. Their Jan. 6 report was remarkable in its lack of evidence and the analysts themselves admitted that it fell far short of establishing anything as fact. It amounted to a continuation of the “trust us” approach that had dominated the anti-Russia themes for years.

Much of the thin report focused on complaints about Russia’s RT network for covering the Occupy Wall Street protests and sponsoring a 2012 debate for third-party presidential candidates who had been excluded from the Democratic-Republican debates between President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney.

The absurdity of citing such examples in which RT contributed to the public debate in America as proof of Russia attacking American democracy should have been apparent to everyone, but the Russia-gate stampede had begun and so instead of ridiculing the Jan. 6 report as an insult to reason, its shaky Russia-did-it conclusions were embraced as unassailable Truth, buttressed by the false claim that the assessment represented the consensus view of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.

So, for instance, we get the internal contradictions of a Friday column by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius who starts off by making a legitimate point about Washington groupthink.

“When all right-thinking people in the nation’s capital seem to agree on something – as has been the case recently with legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia – that may be a warning that the debate has veered into an unthinking herd mentality,” Ignatius wrote as he questioned the wisdom of overusing sanctions and tying the President’s hands on when to remove sanctions.

Lost Logic

But Ignatius failed to follow his own logic when it came to the core groupthink about Russia “meddling” in the U.S. election. Despite the thinness of the evidence, the certainty about Russia’s guilt is now shared by “all right-thinking people” in Washington, who agree that this point is beyond dispute despite the denials from both WikiLeaks, which published the purloined Democratic emails, and the Russian government.

Ignatius seemed nervous that his mild deviation from the conventional wisdom about the sanctions bill might risk his standing with the Establishment, so he added:

“Don’t misunderstand me. In questioning congressional review of sanctions, I’m not excusing Trump’s behavior. His non-response to Russia’s well-documented meddling in the 2016 presidential election has been outrageous.”

However, as usual for the U.S. mainstream media, Ignatius doesn’t cite any of those documents. Presumably, he’s referring to the Jan. 6 assessment, which itself contained no real evidence to support its opinion that Russia hacked into Democratic emails and gave them to WikiLeaks for distribution.

Just because a lot of Important People keep repeating the same allegation doesn’t make the allegation true or “well-documented.” And skepticism should be raised even higher when there is a clear political motive for pushing a falsehood as truth, as we should have learned from President George W. Bush’s Iraq-WMD fallacies and from President Barack Obama’s wild exaggerations about the need to intervene in Libya to prevent a massacre of civilians.

But Washington neocons always start with a leg up because of their easy access to the editorial pages of The New York Times and Washington Post as well as their speed-dial relationships with producers at CNN and other cable outlets.

Yet, the neocons have achieved perhaps their greatest success by merging Cold War Russo-phobia with the Trump Derangement Syndrome to enlist liberals and even progressives into the neocon drive for more “regime change” wars.

There can be no doubt that the escalation of sanctions against Russia and Iran will have the effect of escalating geopolitical tensions with those two important countries and making war, even nuclear war, more likely.

In Iran, hardliners are already telling President Hassan Rouhani, “We told you so” that the U.S. government can’t be trusted in its promise to remove – not increase – sanctions in compliance with the nuclear agreement.

And, Putin, who is actually one of the more pro-Western leaders in Russia, faces attacks from his own hardliners who view him as naïve in thinking that Russia would ever be accepted by the West.

Even relative Kremlin moderates such as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, are citing Trump’s tail-between-his-legs signing of the sanctions bill as proof that the U.S. establishment has blocked any hope for a détente between Washington and Moscow.

In other words, the prospects for advancing the neocon agenda of more “regime change” wars and coups have grown – and the neocons can claim as their allies virtually the entire Democratic Party hierarchy which is so eager to appease its angry #Resistance base that even the heightened risk of nuclear war is being ignored.

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 War on WikiLeaks and Assange

Helping government authorities discredit Julian Assange and destroy WikiLeaks, mainstream media outlets twisted a recent interview to make Assange look like a Donald Trump backer, write Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein.

By Randy Credico and Dennis J Bernstein

Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi, who now reports for La Repubblica and has worked on WikiLeaks’ releases of secret documents, complains that her recent interview with Julian Assange was distorted by the Guardian, the Washington Post and others to assign Assange a pro-Trump agenda.

 

The Guardian recently “amended” its reporting on her interview with Assange, but for the feisty, seasoned reporter it wasn’t nearly enough. “I appreciate the Guardian amending the article, but at the same time the damage is done and I’m not convinced it was a solution,” she said.

Maurizi is going to court in September in Great Britain to fight for the release of key documents that related directly to the process of Assange’s treatment and his pursuit by various governments collaborating to shut his operations down.

“This is the first time that a reporter has tried to get access to these files,” she said in a rare interview on Aug. 1, “which tells you something about the state of journalism these days.”

Before joining la Repubblica, Maurizi spent ten years working for the Italian newsmagazine l’Espresso. Maurizi also partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Edward Snowden files as they pertain to Italy. She is author most recently of Dossier WikiLeaks.

Dennis Bernstein: Tell us about your multiple struggles to get key documents that will shed light on the entire Assange affair.

Stefania Maurizi: I have spent the past two years struggling to access the documents on the Julian Assange case. I was finally forced to go to court and sue the UK government to get them to hand over the documents. This is the first time that a reporter has tried to get access to these files, which tells you something about the state of journalism these days.

Dozens of newspapers have talked with Assange over the past ten years and yet no one has attempted to get full access to these documents about the case. Here we have a high-profile publisher who is being arbitrarily detained by two of the most respected Western democracies, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and no one is trying to get to these documents. It is incredible to me.

Randy Credico: Are any newspapers in London writing amicus briefs on your behalf?

SM: Honestly, I don’t know. I can imagine there is some embarrassment about the fact that no newspaper has yet asked for these documents.

DB: What kinds of information do you expect to be in these documents? What could be the case in terms of freeing Julian Assange?

SM: First of all, I want to access the full correspondence between the UK authorities and the Swedish prosecutors. In 2015 I filed a Freedom of Information Act request and I obtained some documents from the Swedish authorities which made very clear that the UK put pressure on the Swedish authorities not to question Mr. Assange in London, which he and his lawyers had requested, but rather to extradite him to Sweden. This is why we have been in this legal quagmire for five years now with Julian stuck in arbitrary detention at the Ecuadorian embassy.

Julian Assange has never refused questioning. He has fought against extradition because he knows that extradition to Sweden would result in extradition to the United States. So the UK authorities advised the Swedish prosecutor against questioning him in London, which would have avoided this arbitrary detention.

I know for certain that there are thousands of documents pertaining to this case. I want to be able to access any documents pertaining to the exchange between the US and UK authorities and I want to access any documents about the exchange between the UK and Ecuador. I believe that there is a strong public interest in shedding light on this important and high-profile case. Can you imagine a high-profile editor in Europe under arbitrary detention? And yet no one is asking for the documents in this case!

RC: Why did you write Dossier WikiLeaks?

SM: That book is based on my access from 2009 to 2011 to the WikiLeaks documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Guantanamo files and those pertaining to the diplomacy cables. I read something like 13,000 pages of the diplomacy cables. Basically, I attempted to share with my readers the most important revelations contained in these documents.

For example, I acquired some solid information about how the US tried to stop the Italian prosecutors investigating the extraordinary rendition of Abu Omar. Or how the US authorities tried to pressure the Italian government to buy the Lockheed Martin fighter. Or how they tried to block the International Criminal Court.

This is the kind of information that many reporters dream of getting access to and for the first time with WikiLeaks we were able to. I really appreciate WikiLeaks’ publication strategy of making these documents available exclusively to certain media partners like myself and then later to the general public, to activists, journalists, lawyers, etc.

I believe that information needs to be free and accessible to everyone without restrictions. Of course, there is information which should be kept secret, regarding the security of nuclear facilities, for example. But these documents are different. These secrets are used by countries like the United States to protect themselves from inquiry, from prosecution, from embarrassment. These secrets are less legitimate.

DB: For the last six months, WikiLeaks has been publishing a series of documents on the CIA which they entitle Vault 7. Could you talk about the significance of Vault 7?

SM: Basically, Vault 7 consists of documents concerning the cyber weapons the CIA uses to penetrate our computers, our mobile devices, and so on. For the first time we have solid evidence concerning the use of these kinds of weapons by the CIA. Of course, these documents are of a highly technical nature so we have tried to make them accessible to the general public. But it is very important to have an insight into these tools, so that we can understand what they can and cannot do.

As far as we have been able to determine, they have no magic wand, no wonder weapon. They have come up with some smart solutions, they have some impressive tools, but no magic wand. At the end of the day, we verified the documents as genuine and we made them accessible to the public.

In the case of technical documents, you go to a trusted expert to check whether a procedure makes sense, whether the software makes sense, classification marks, etc. I don’t want to go into too much detail on how we verify documents because that might compromise our work. But the tough part of this work is verifying the documents. I can tell you that in my eight years of work with WikiLeaks I have been to court several times and was able to verify that the documents were genuine and my coverage was correct. We have won libel cases in court.

RC: What has motivated you to cover the WikiLeaks case these past eight years?

SM: Before I went into journalism, I got a degree in mathematics. One of my sources in cryptography put WikiLeaks on my radar screen back in 2008, when very few journalists had even heard of WikiLeaks. In 2009 they contacted me and wanted me to verify the authenticity of some important documents concerning Italy. That was our first partnership together. Since then I have been involved in all of WikiLeaks’ releases.

The reason I am very interested in this work is that, first of all, it gives you access to documents which you would never have access to otherwise. In Italy there are families of people who were massacred who sixty years later are still unable to get access to information about their loved ones, they cannot get to the truth. I believe it is very important to be able to get access to unauthorized disclosures or secret documents like CIA and NSA documents. WikiLeaks provides us with unprecedented access to these documents. People at the CIA and the NSA have no accountability, there is no serious oversight. In this case there is a real need for unauthorized disclosures. They want to continue to operate in darkness.

DB: Do you feel that your recent interview with Julian Assange has been distorted by publications such as the Guardian and the Washington Post and across the internet to present Assange as a Trump supporter?

SM: Absolutely. They completely distorted that interview, putting into his mouth things he never said. No one paid any attention to my protests. They were focused on their own interpretations. Finally it took Glenn Greenwald to expose this. The Guardian was forced to amend their article.

DB: How does this throw a spotlight on the political realities faced by Assange in detention?

SM: I have been there from the beginning so I have seen all kinds of attacks on Julian, with high-profile reporters and the international media just parroting what the Pentagon was saying; That Wikileaks had blood on its hands because they exposed the names of Afghan informants. When the US government began complaining that WikiLeaks was putting diplomats at risk, once again the media adopted the government position. The latest is they are crucifying Julian because he has not published Russian documents, saying that he is a Russian spy, etc. But I can tell you that WikiLeaks is obsessed about publishing, they will publish whatever they can get.

There is no way they can kill Julian Assange, it is not possible. We are in Europe, they cannot get to him with drones. But they can certainly destroy his reputation. And when it comes to journalism, reputation is everything.

RC: With all of its power and influence, why are the US government and its allies so obsessed with this one individual?

SM: Julian was able to hit them very hard, to expose them, to expose their secrets. Here you have an organization exposing the truth behind two wars with facts, without resorting to any propaganda. Never before have they faced such revelations. I can well imagine they are furious.

DB: Why do you think it is so important that Julian Assange be freed and allowed to continue his work?

SM: Access to information is crucial for democracy. Take Afghanistan, we have been there since 2001 and what do we know about what has been going on there? It took Edward Snowden to expose the NSA. Before that we knew very little. This kind of information is crucial for our democracy. Unauthorized disclosures are crucial in the case of democracies and in the case of regimes. WikiLeaks is taking huge legal and extralegal risks to get this information out.

RC: The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has determined that Julian Assange is in fact being arbitrarily detained, that he is a political prisoner and must be released and compensated for all that he has been through. The British have yet to comply with this finding.

SM: This sends a terrible message to other countries which are holding people under arbitrary detention. What can the UK say to Iran or other rogue nations when they detain journalists or political and human rights activists? How can the UK say anything when they have a very high-profile editor under arbitrary detention in London?

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.




How US Policy Helps Al Qaeda in Yemen

Exclusive: President Trump – like President Obama – is working at cross purposes in supposedly fighting Al Qaeda in Yemen while helping Saudi Arabia kill Al Qaeda’s chief Yemeni enemies, as Jonathan Marshall explains.

By Jonathan Marshall

In a world of bad actors, one of the “baddest” of all is the Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which the CIA once branded “the most dangerous regional node in the global jihad.” It masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000; nearly blew up a U.S. passenger jet flying into Detroit on Christmas Day, 2009; brought down a UPS cargo plane in 2010; and sponsored the 2015 attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, killing 11 and wounding another 11.

All of which raises an embarrassing question: Why is the United States supporting AQAP’s main ally in Yemen, Saudi Arabia?

The respected news publication Middle East Eye reports that Abdulmajid al-Zindani, a Yemeni cleric, “veteran al-Qaeda supporter,” and “former spiritual adviser to Osama bin Laden,” has been operating freely in Saudi Arabia, even posting YouTube videos lauding the Saudi war in his home country.

Apparently no one in Riyadh cares that he’s been on the U.S. Treasury’s Specially Designated Global Terrorist List since 2004, identified as a recruiter for terrorist training camps and a key purchaser of weapons for al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. Indeed, Zindani “has been warmly received by senior clerics and officials,” including one adviser to the Royal Court, according to Middle East Eye.

The publication’s sources further allege that “at least five Yemenis designated as terrorists by the U.S. Treasury have advised and coordinated Saudi operations in Yemen with allied forces on the ground.” One senior al-Qaeda supporter in Yemen, Nayif al-Qaysi, has been repeatedly interviewed in Saudi Arabia by fawning television stations. He served as governor of the Yemeni city of Bayda until late July.

Most bizarre of all, one notorious al-Qaeda fundraiser, who has lived in Saudi Arabia for nearly three years, turned up on a list of terrorists whom Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of harboring. Saudi Arabia and four other Arab states broke diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in early June, in part over allegations that Doha supports extremists.

The Devastation of Yemen

Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and other Arab allies have been laying waste to Yemen with logistic support from the United States. They are fighting to wrest control of the country from Houthi militants and their ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Riyadh aims to reinstate Saleh’s rival, President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, whose legal mandate ended in January 2015.

Tens of thousands of Yemenis have died from the fighting, historic cities have been pulverized by criminal Saudi bombing raids, and more than 400,000 people have contracted deadly cholera. Almost two million children and millions more adults suffer from malnutrition owing to war-related disruptions of food supplies and a Saudi blockade of Yemen’s ports.

Suffering and chaos provide ideal breeding grounds for AQAP, which took control of a provincial capital and one of Yemen’s largest ports for many months. A special report last year by Reuters concluded that “the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, . . . backed by the United States, has helped Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to become stronger than at any time since it first emerged almost 20 years ago.”

Even the UAE newspaper The National conceded last month: “In the absence of a political resolution that addresses local grievances and builds and empowers a central state that can provide jobs and services, Al Qaeda has filled vacuums and its fighters have found a role, while a sectarian narrative that is promoted by the group has increasing traction.”

This matters not only because of AQAP’s potential threat to U.S. security, but because the only possible legal rationale for continued U.S. military involvement in Yemen is the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, which approves operations against al-Qaeda, not in support of its allies. Members of Congress are growing restive about such legal issues as U.S. tax dollars fund the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, with no end in sight.

Getting Stronger

AQAP has gained traction by taking advantage of growing local resentment toward U.S. and UAE counterterrorism operations that result in the murder or torture of suspects.

In a weird twist, typical of the war’s endlessly shifting alliances, AQAP has also joined pro-Saudi forces in bloody offensives to retake the southern city of Taiz from Houthi rebels.

“We fight along all Muslims in Yemen, together with different Islamic groups,” against the Houthis, said Qasim al-Rimi, the senior military commander of AQAP, this spring.

Although the United States put a $5 million price on al-Rimi’s head, Associated Press reported that his forces “regularly receive funds and weapons from the U.S.-backed Saudi led coalition.”

Ironically, just hours before U.S. commandos killed another prominent AQAP-linked tribal leader in late January (along with several children), that leader had arranged for the Saudi-backed coalition of President Hadi to pay his tribal fighters $60,000 to join in the fight against Houthi rebels.

No wonder the International Crisis Group recently reported that “The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda is stronger than it has ever been,” and that AQAP “is thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy.” AQAP, it added, has “emerged arguably as the biggest winners of the failed political transition and civil war that followed.”

Targeting Islamist tribal leaders with more bombs, drones, and military raids — as the Trump administration seems inclined to do — will simply aggravate civilian suffering and strengthen AQAP’s political base. There’s only one way to dry up its support: the international community must demand a cease-fire, send foreign armies packing, promote a political settlement among all Yemeni stakeholders, and send food and medical aid to alleviate the population’s extraordinary suffering.

Jonathan Marshall is a regular contributor to Consortiumnews.com.




Can Trump Find the ‘Great’ Path?

Exclusive: After a half year in office, President Trump is stumbling toward a “reality TV” irrelevance or worse, but a narrow path remains to make a historically important contribution to the nation, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

On June 29, when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign, how they had lost to Donald Trump, I expected the usual excuse – “Russia! Russia! Russia!” – but was surprised when Podesta spoke truthfully:

“Even though 20 percent of his voters believed he was unfit to be president, they wanted radical change, they wanted to blow the system up. And that’s what he’s given them, I guess.”

For those millions of Americans who had watched their jobs vanish and their communities decay, it was a bit like prisoners being loaded onto a truck for transport to a killing field. As dangerous and deadly as a desperate uprising might be, what did they have to lose?

In 2008, some of those same Americans had voted for an unlikely candidate, first-term Sen. Barack Obama, hoping for his promised “change you can believe in,” but then saw Obama sucked into Official Washington’s Establishment with its benign – if not malign – neglect for the average Joe and Jane.

In 2016, the Democratic Party brushed aside the left-wing populist Sen. Bernie Sanders, who might have retained the support of many blue-collar Americans. The party instead delivered the Democratic nomination to the quintessential insider candidate – former First Lady, former Senator and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Though coming from a modest background, Clinton had grabbed onto the privileges of power with both hands. She haughtily set up a private email server for her official State Department business; she joined with neocons and liberal interventionists in pushing for “regime change” wars fought primarily by young working-class men and women; and after leaving government, she greedily took millions of dollars in speaking fees from Wall Street and other special interests.

Clinton’s contempt for many American commoners spilled out when she labeled half of Trump’s supporters “deplorables,” though she later lowered her percentage estimate.

So, enough blue-collar voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania rebelled against the prospect of more of the same and took a risk on the disruptive real-estate mogul and reality-TV star Donald Trump, a guy who knew little about government and boasted of his crude sexual practices.

Hobbling Trump

However, after Trump’s shocking victory last November, two new problems emerged. First, Hillary Clinton and the national Democrats – unwilling to recognize their own culpability for Trump’s victory – blamed their fiasco on Russia, touching off a New Cold War hysteria and using that frenzy to hobble, if not destroy, Trump’s presidency.

Second, Trump lacked any coherent governing philosophy or a clear-eyed understanding of global conflicts. On foreign policy, most prospective Republican advisers came from a poisoned well contaminated by neocon groupthinks about war and “regime change.”

Looking for alternatives, Trump turned to some fellow neophytes, such as his son-in-law Jared Kushner and alt-right guru Steve Bannon, as well as to a few Washington outsiders, such as former Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn and Exxon-Mobil chief executive officer Rex Tillerson. But all had serious limitations.

For instance, Kushner fancied himself the genius who could achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace by applying the so-called “outside/in strategy,” i.e., getting the Saudis and Gulf States to put their boots on the necks of the Palestinians until they agreed to whatever land-grabbing terms Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dictated.

Flynn, who served briefly as Trump’s National Security Adviser, had led the DIA when it correctly warned President Obama about the jihadist risks posed by supporting the “regime change” project in Syria, even predicting the rise of the Islamic State.

But Flynn, like many on the Right, bought into Official Washington’s false groupthink that Iran was the principal sponsor of terrorism and needed to be bomb-bomb-bombed, not dealt with diplomatically as Obama did in negotiating tight constraints on Iran’s nuclear program. The bomb-bomb-bomb approach fit with the desires of the Israeli and Saudi governments, which viewed Iran as a rival and wanted the American military to do the dirty work in shattering the so-called “Shiite crescent.”

So, because of Kushner’s views on Israel-Palestine and because of the Flynn/Right-Wing hostility toward Iran, Trump fell in line with much of the neocon consensus on the Middle East, demonstrated by Trump’s choice of Saudi Arabia and Israel for his first high-profile foreign trip.

But obeisance to Israel and Saudi Arabia – and inside Washington to the neocons – is what created the catastrophe that has devastated U.S. foreign policy and has wasted trillions of dollars that otherwise could have been invested in the decaying American infrastructure and in making the U.S. economy more competitive.

In other words, if Trump had any hope of “making America great again,” he needed to break with the Israeli/Saudi/neocon/liberal-hawk groupthinks, rather than bow to them. Yet, Trump now finds himself hemmed in by Official Washington’s Russia-gate obsession, including near-unanimous congressional demands for more sanctions against Moscow over the still-unproven charges that Russia interfered with the U.S. election to help Trump and hurt Clinton. (The White House has indicated that Trump will consent to his own handcuffing on Russia.)

A Daunting Task

Even if Trump had the knowledge and experience to understand what it would take to resist the powerful foreign-policy establishment, he would face a hard battle that could only be fought and won with savvy and skill.

A narrow path toward a transformational presidency still remains for Trump, but he would have to travel in some very different directions than he has chosen during his first six months.

For one, Trump would have to go against type and become an unlikely champion for truth by correcting much of the recent historical record about current global hot spots.

On Syria, for instance, Trump could open up the CIA’s books on key events, including the truth about Obama’s “regime change” scheme and the alleged sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. Though the Obama administration blamed the Assad government, other evidence pointed to a provocation by radical jihadists trying to trick the U.S. military into intervening on their side.

Similarly, on the Ukraine crisis, Trump could order the CIA to reveal the truth about the U.S. role in fomenting the violent coup that ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych and touched off a bloody civil war, which saw the U.S.-backed regime in Kiev dispatch neo-Nazi militias to kill ethnic Russians in the east.

In other words, facts could be deployed to counter the propaganda theme of a “Russian invasion” of Ukraine, another one of Official Washington’s beloved groupthinks that has become the foundation for a dangerous New Cold War.

As part of the truth-telling, Trump could disclose the CIA’s full knowledge about who shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, an atrocity killing 298 people that was pinned on the Russians although other evidence points to a rogue element of the Ukrainian military. [See here and here.]

Further going against type, Trump also might admit that he rushed to judgment following the April 4, 2017, chemical-weapons incident in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, by ordering a retaliatory missile strike against the Syrian military on April 6 when the whodunit evidence was unclear.

By sharing knowledge with the American people – rather than keeping them in the dark and feeding them a steady diet of propaganda – Trump could enlist popular support for pragmatic shifts in U.S. foreign policy.

Those changes could include a historic break from the Israeli-Saudi stranglehold on U.S. policy in the Middle East – and could make way for cooperation with Russia and Iran in stabilizing and rebuilding Syria so millions of displaced Syrians could return to their homes and reduce social pressures that the refugees have created in Europe.

A Populist Party

On the domestic front, if Trump really wants to replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act with something better, he could propose the one logical alternative that would both help his blue-collar supporters and make American companies more competitive – a single-payer system that uses higher taxes on the rich and some more broad-based taxes to finance health-care for all.

That way U.S. corporations would no longer be burdened with high costs for health insurance and could raise wages for workers and/or lower prices for American products on the global market. Trump could do something similar regarding universal college education, which would further boost American productivity.

By taking this unorthodox approach, Trump could reorient American politics for a generation, with Republicans emerging as a populist party focused on the needs of the country’s forgotten citizens, on rebuilding the nation’s physical and economic infrastructure, and on genuine U.S. security requirements abroad, not the desires of “allies” with powerful lobbies in Washington.

To follow such a course would, of course, put Trump at odds with much of the Republican Party’s establishment and its longstanding priorities of “tax cuts for the rich” and more militarism abroad.

A populist strategy also would leave the national Democrats with a stark choice, either continue sidling up to Official Washington’s neoconservatives on foreign policy and to Wall Street’s wheelers and dealers on the economy – or return to the party’s roots as the political voice for the common man and woman.

But do I think any of this will happen? Not really. Far more likely, the Trump presidency will remain mired in its “reality-TV” squabbles with the sort of coarse language that would normally be bleeped out of network TV; the Democrats will continue substituting the Russia-gate blame-game for any serious soul-searching; the Republicans will press on with more tax cuts for the rich; and the Great American Experiment with Democracy will continue to flounder into chaos.

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).




How Obama Fell into the Syrian Trap

President Trump reportedly has pulled the plug on the CIA’s ill-fated covert arming of Syrian rebels, causing consternation among the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Gareth Porter reported for The American Conservative.

By Gareth Porter

Last week, a Trump administration official decided to inform the news media that the CIA program to arm and train anti-Assad Syrian forces had been terminated. It was welcome news amid a deepening U.S. military commitment reflecting the intention to remain in the country for years to come.

As my recent article in The American Conservative documented, the net result of the program since late 2011 has been to provide arms to al Qaeda terrorists and their jihadist and other extremist allies, which had rapidly come to dominate the military effort against the Assad regime.

The Trump administration’s decision to acknowledge explicitly its decision to end the program invites a more systematic analysis of why and how such a program, which was so clearly undermining a fundamental U.S. national-security interest, could have gotten started and continue for so long. The preliminary version of the program that began in late 2011 is easier to explain than its more direct form two years later, which had continued (at least formally) until now.

One of the keys to understanding its origins is that the program was launched not because of a threat to U.S. security, but because of a perceived opportunity. That is always a danger sign, prompting powerful national-security bureaucrats to begin thinking about a “win” for the United States. (Think Vietnam and Iraq.)

The opportunity in this case was the rise of opposition protests against the Assad regime in spring 2011 and the belief among national security officials that Assad could not survive. The national-security team saw a shortcut to the goal.

Former Obama administration official Derek Chollet recalled in his book The Long Game that Obama’s advisers were all talking about a “managed transition” and urging President Obama to publicly demand that Assad step down, according to Chollet. What that meant to Obama’s advisers was bringing pressure from outside, including providing arms to the opposition.

That was wishful thinking not only in regard to the willingness of an Alawite-dominated regime to hand over power to its sectarian foes, but in regard to the assumed Iranian willingness to go along with toppling the regime. Not one of Obama’s advisers had sufficient understanding of regional dynamics to warn the President that Iran would not allow their Syrian ally to be overthrown by an opposition supported by Sunni states and the United States.

But the decisive factor in pushing the administration toward action was the pressure from U.S. Sunni allies in the region — Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — which began in autumn 2011 to press Obama to help build and equip an opposition army. Turkey was the leader in this regard, calling for Washington to agree to provide heavy weaponry — including anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles — to the rebel troops that didn’t even exist yet, and even offering to invade Syria to overthrow the regime if the U.S. would guarantee air cover.

Pressuring Obama

In the ideology of the national security elite — especially its Democratic wing — regional alliances are essential building blocks of what is styled as the U.S.-sponsored global “rules-based order.” In practice, however, they have served as instruments for the advancement of the power and prestige of the national security bureaucracies themselves.

The payoffs of U.S. alliances in the Middle East have centered on the military bases in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that allow the Pentagon and the military brass to plan and execute military operations that guarantee extraordinary levels of military spending. But enormous Saudi arms purchases and the financing of any covert operations the CIA doesn’t wish to acknowledge to Congress have long been prime benefits for those powerful organizations and their senior officials.

Then-CIA Director David Petraeus was particularly interested in ginning up a covert operation to arm and train the Syrian opposition. With the security bureaucracies supporting the allies’ desire to unseat Assad, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose sympathies and political strategy always lay with the war, eagerly took the lead in the administration on arming the rebels and calling for a “no fly zone,” which the Turks badly wanted.

Despite this set of interrelated factors pulling the administration toward a policy of regime change, Obama said no to heavy weapons, no to a no-fly zone, and no to an official U.S. role in arms supply. What he did agree to, however, was a covert CIA operation designed by Petraeus to load weapons from Libyan government stocks in Benghazi on ships and arrange for them to be shipped to the war zone. It was Obama’s way of placating all of the actors pushing for an aggressive policy of regime change in Syria without being publicly committed to regime change.

That program, which began in October 2011, was halted abruptly by the attack on the embassy annex in September 2012. But by that time the Obama administration already knew that the weapons were falling into the hands of al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front, as administration official revealed to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, the Saudis, Turks and Qataris were pushing arms to groups with military arrangements with al Qaeda’s al Nusra Front at a feverish pace, and the Saudis had begun making deals in Eastern Europe for the heavy weapons, clearly intending to equip a large conventional army.

The danger signals of a policy gone horribly wrong could hardly have been clearer. But at that moment in the summer and fall of 2012, Clinton and Petraeus began a new push for the CIA taking on the role of arming its own hand-picked “moderate” groups. Clinton argued in a White House meeting that the United States needed to have “skin in the game” in order to persuade its Sunni allies to steer weapons away from the terrorists. But Obama fended off that proposal, citing the blowback from the U.S. Afghanistan adventure (in the 1980s).

While the debate continued in late 2012 and early 2013, the CIA did a series of studies — evidently ordered by the White House — of past efforts to build up insurgent armies from scratch. The conclusions were not encouraging, as someone defending Obama’s position in the debate leaked to the Times.

Obama’s Deadly Mistake

But then in early December 2012, Obama made a fatal political error: He introduced a “red line” — the use of a chemical weapon in Syria. Sure enough, within weeks the first rebel allegation of a regime sarin attack was made in Homs. And although the Obama administration quickly investigated and found that it involved tear gas, it was soon followed by a series of new claims of regime chemical attacks in March and April 2013, in which the evidence was very murky at best.

Of course, Obama’s national security team, in concert with the Sunni allies, pounced on the opportunity to push even harder for a new U.S. program of direct military aid to the “moderates.” Obama sought to avoid being sucked deeper into the Syria conflict; the administration even got the intelligence community to issue an unusually inconclusive intelligence finding on the alleged chemical weapons attacks in late April.

But for a second time, Obama also agreed to a CIA program of helping to arm the anti-Assad forces; it was a way of placating his own national security apparatus and U.S. allies while avoiding an open commitment to the war. And when nothing happened in the secret program for weeks, Obama’s national security team used an alleged crisis in the war to tighten the pressure on him to move more decisively.

Secretary of State John Kerry and unhappy CIA officials arranged for a rebel commander to call into a White House meeting with the claim that Syrian and Hezbollah forces were threatening to bring about the collapse of the entire anti-Assad war.

Kerry warned that Obama would be blamed by U.S. allies for the outcome and proposed missile strikes on Assad’s forces. Within days, the White House ordered a new intelligence assessment that expressed “high confidence” that the Syrian regime had used sarin repeatedly and immediately made its conclusion public.

And simultaneously the White House announced publicly for the first time that the U.S. would provide direct assistance to the opposition and leaked it to the Times that it would involve military assistance.

So at the very moment when Washington should have been exerting pressure on its allies to stop pouring arms into an anti-Assad war that was systematically building up al Qaeda’s power and influence in the country, the Obama administration was caving in to those allies.

The reason was simple: Powerful national security bureaucracies were threatening to blame Obama for the failure of their heroic effort to save the anti-Assad war.

The lesson of the entire affair is clear: A malignant alliance between powerful national security bureaucracies and the Middle Eastern allies with whom they enjoy mutually profitable relations are pressuring the White House to approve actions that threaten the real interests of the American people — including strengthening terrorists.

The only way to reverse that situation is to direct public attention to that malignant alliance of interests, which has thus far gotten a free ride.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. [This article first appeared at The American Conservative at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-cia-and-allies-trapped-obama-in-syrian-arms-debacle/]