The Politics Behind ‘Russia-gate’

Exclusive: The hysteria over “Russia-gate” continues to grow – as President Trump’s enemies circle – but at its core there may be no there there while it risks pushing the world toward nuclear annihilation, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

There may be a turn-about-is-fair-play element to Democrats parsing the words of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other Trump administration officials to hang them on possible “perjury” charges. After all, the Republicans made “lock her up” a popular chant citing Hillary Clinton’s arguably illegal use of a private email server as Secretary of State and her allegedly false claim under oath that her lawyers had hand-checked each of her 30,000 or so emails that were deleted as personal.

But there is a grave danger in playing partisan “gotcha” over U.S. relations with the world’s other major nuclear superpower. If, for instance, President Trump finds himself having to demonstrate how tough he can be on Russia — to save his political skin — he could easily make a miscalculation that could push the two countries into a war that could truly be the war to end all wars – along with ending human civilization. But Democrats, liberals and the mainstream news media seem to hate Trump so much they will take that risk.

Official Washington’s Russia hysteria has reached such proportions that New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman has even compared the alleged Russian hacking of Democratic emails to Pearl Harbor and 9/11, two incidents that led the United States into violent warfare. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” show, Friedman demanded that the hacking allegations be taken with the utmost seriousness: “That was a 9/11 scale event. They attacked the core of our democracy. That was a Pearl Harbor scale event. … This goes to the very core of our democracy.”

But what really goes to “the very core of our democracy” is the failure to deal with this issue – or pretty much any recent issue – with the sobriety and the seriousness that should accompany a question of war or peace. Just as Friedman and other “star” journalists failed to ask the necessary questions about Iraq’s WMD or to show professional skepticism in the face of U.S. propaganda campaigns around the conflicts in Libya, Syria or Ukraine, they have not demanded any actual evidence from the Obama administration for its lurid claims about Russian “hacking.”

Before this madness goes any further, doesn’t anyone think that the U.S. intelligence community should lay its cards on the table regarding exactly what the evidence is that Russian intelligence purloined Democratic emails and then slipped them to WikiLeaks for publication? President Obama’s intelligence officials apparently went to great lengths to spread these allegations around – even passing the secrets around overseas – but they never told the American people what the evidence is. The two official reports dealing with the issue were laughably short on anything approaching evidence. They amounted to “trust us.”

Further, WikiLeaks representatives have indicated that the two batches of emails – one from the Democratic National Committee and the other from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta – did not come from the Russians but rather from two different American insiders. That could be wrong – it is possible that Russian intelligence laundered the material through some American cutouts or used some other method to conceal Moscow’s hand – but Obama’s intelligence officials apparently don’t know how WikiLeaks obtained the emails. So, the entire “scandal” may rest upon a foundation of sand.

No ‘Fake News’

It’s also important to note that nothing that WikiLeaks published was false. There was no “fake news.” Indeed, a key reason why the emails were newsworthy at all was that they exposed misconduct and deception on the part of the Democrats and the Clinton campaign. The main point that the DNC emails revealed was that the leadership had violated its duty to approach the primary campaign even-handedly when instead they tilted the playing field against Sen. Bernie Sanders. Later, the Podesta emails revealed the contents of Clinton’s speeches to Wall Street bankers, which she was trying to hide from the voters, and the emails exposed some of the pay-to-play tactics of the Clinton Foundation.

In other words, even if the Russians did reveal this information to the American people, how does knowing relevant facts regarding a presidential campaign translate into an attack on “the core of our democracy”? Usually, journalists believe that getting the truth out, even if it embarrasses some politician or some political party, is healthy for a democracy. As an American journalist, I prefer getting information from people who have America’s best interests at heart, but I’m not naïve enough to think that people who “leak” don’t often do so for self-interested reasons. What’s most important is that the information is genuine and newsworthy.

Frankly, I found the WikiLeaks material far more appropriate for an American political debate than the scurrilous rumors that the Clinton campaign was circulating about Trump supposedly getting urinated on by Russian prostitutes in a five-star Moscow hotel, claims for which no evidence has been presented.

Also, remember that no one thought that the DNC/Podesta emails were significant in deciding the 2016 election. Clinton herself blamed FBI Director James Comey for briefly reopening the FBI investigation into her private email server near the end of the campaign as the reason her poll numbers cratered. It’s relevant, too, that Clinton ran a horrific campaign, which included breathtaking gaffes like referring to many Trump supporters as “deplorables,” relying way too heavily on negative ads, failing to articulate a compelling vision for the future, and ignoring signs that her leads in Rust Belt states were disappearing. In other words, the current effort to portray the disclosure of Democratic emails as somehow decisive in the campaign is revisionist history.

Yet, here we are with The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN and almost the entire mainstream media (along with leading liberals and Democrats) panting every time they discover that someone from Trump’s circle met with a Russian. We are supposed to forget that the Russian government for many years was collaborating closely with the U.S. government – and particularly with U.S. national security agencies – on vital issues. Russia assisted in supplying the U.S. military in Afghanistan; President Putin played a crucial role in getting Iran to curtail its nuclear program; and he also arranged for the Syrian government to surrender its stockpiles of chemical weapons. The last two accomplishments were among President Obama’s most important foreign policy successes.

But those last two areas of cooperation – Iran and Syria – contributed to making Putin a target for Washington’s powerful neoconservatives who were lusting for direct U.S. military strikes against those two countries. The neocons, along with the Israeli and Saudi governments, wanted “regime change” in Tehran and Damascus, not diplomatic agreements that left the governments in place.

Neocons inside the U.S. government – including Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, Sen. John McCain and National Endowment for Democracy president Carl Gershman – then took aim at “regime change” in Ukraine, realizing its sensitivity to Russia. Gershman, whose NED is funded by the U.S. government, called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and a key step toward ousting Putin inside Russia; McCain cheered on Ukraine’s ultranationalists who were firebombing police in Kiev’s Maidan square; and Nuland was conspiring with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt on how to “glue” or “midwife” a change in government.

This neocon strategy worked by overthrowing Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and causing Putin to intervene on behalf of threatened ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. That, in turn, was transformed by the Western media into a “Russian invasion.”

Partisan Interests

Instead of standing up to this neocon troublemaking, Obama fell in line. Later, the Democrats saw political advantage in becoming the super-hawks standing up to Russia, essentially maneuvering to the right of the Republicans, especially when Donald Trump unexpectedly won the nomination, in part, by calling for better relations with Russia.

As the 2016 presidential campaign sank into infamy as one of the ugliest in U.S. history, Clinton hammered Trump over Russia, calling him a Putin “puppet.” But the Russia-bashing didn’t seem to help Clinton very much. Although it was calculated to pull in some “moderate” Republicans, it also alienated many peace-oriented Democrats.

Still, despite the shaky foundation and the haphazard construction, Official Washington is now adding more and more floors to this Russia “scandal.” Obama holdovers slapped together a shoddy pretext for going after Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – citing the never-prosecuted Logan Act of 1799 and then trapping Flynn because he didn’t have total recall of a phone conversation with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on Dec. 29 while Flynn was vacationing in the Dominican Republic.

Similarly, the mainstream media and Democrats are framing in a “perjury” case against Attorney General Sessions because of a sloppily worded response during his confirmation hearing about contacts with Russians. He had met twice with Kislyak (as many others in Washington have done). The heavy-breathing suspicion is that perhaps Sessions and Kislyak were plotting how the Kremlin could help the Trump campaign, but there is zero evidence to support that conspiracy theory.

What’s actually happening here should be obvious. The Obama administration, the Democrats and the mainstream media were horrified at Trump’s election. They understandably were offended by Trump’s personal behavior and his obvious unfitness for the presidency. Many Clinton supporters, especially women, were bitterly disappointed at the failure of the first female major-party presidential nominee who lost to a lout who boasted about how he could exploit his fame and power by grabbing the genitals of vulnerable women whom he assumed couldn’t do anything to stop him.

There was also alarm about Trump’s policies on the environment, immigration, education and the courts. Among the neocons and their liberal-interventionist sidekicks, there was concern, too, that Trump would not continue their “regime change” strategies in the Middle East and their hostility toward Russia.

So, these anti-Trump forces grabbed at the most potent weapon available, the suspicions that Trump had somehow colluded with Russia. It didn’t matter that the evidence was weak to non-existent. It would be enough to spread the allegations around under the cloak of U.S. intelligence “assessments.”

Nobody important would demand to review the evidence and, surely, with the availability of National Security Agency intercepts, people’s memories could be tested against the transcripts of conversations and be found wanting. Verbal missteps could become perjury traps. There could be a witch hunt against anyone who talked to a Russian. Any pushing back from the Trump people could be construed as a “cover-up.”

Having worked in Washington for nearly four decades, I have seen political investigations before, both in steering away from real crimes of state (such as Nicaraguan Contra cocaine trafficking and Republican collaboration with foreign governments to undercut Democrats in 1968 and 1980) and in fabricating scandals that weren’t there (such as the fictional offenses of Whitewater, Travelgate, Filegate, Chinagate, etc. under Bill Clinton who was finally cornered for the heinous crime of lying about sex). So far at least, “Russia-gate” fits much more with the latter group than the former.

What I also have learned over these years is that in Official Washington, power – much more than truth – determines which scandals are taken seriously and which ones are not. “Russia-gate” is revealing that the established power centers of Washington arrayed against Trump – the major news media, the neoconservatives and the Democratic Party – have more power than the disorganized Trump administration.

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).




Another Hatchet Job on Snowden

Exclusive: The hatchet jobs against NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden keep on coming with a new book whose author says he applied James Angleton’s counterintelligence techniques to Snowden, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

In depicting National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden as a Russian spy, author Edward Jay Epstein acknowledges his debt to the CIA’s famously paranoid counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, who specialized in counterintuitive thinking that surely smeared more honest CIA officers than it snared actual spies.

At a recent book signing at the Hoover Institute in Washington, D.C., for How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft, Epstein proudly announced that he learned the tricks of the counterintelligence trade from the now-deceased Angleton.

But Angleton, like other counterintelligence sleuths, assumed the carte-blanche right to smother a slender fact with weighty assumptions and then weave upon them a hefty garment of allegations, speculation and imagination fitting with the occupational predisposition to detect a spy.

Over the decades, it’s conceivable that this “methodology” may have caught a spy or two (although Angleton is perhaps best known for missing the notorious Soviet spy Kim Philby). But creating a counterfactual, evidence-free scenario seems an irresponsible way to write about Edward Snowden, a whistleblower responsible for the most consequential intelligence leak in U.S. history.

In his new book, Epstein spins his intricate web to prove Snowden’s supposed treachery around the fact that after leaking secrets to Western journalists in Hong Kong, Snowden wound up in Russia. The well-known reality is that Snowden never intended to get stuck in Russia but was stranded there when the U.S. government blocked his path to South America. Yet, however clear the record regarding how and why Snowden found asylum there, Epstein sees a more sinister logic.

As a veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency and a private citizen who has befriended many government whistleblowers, I happen to have known Angleton and currently know Snowden (whom I count among my friends).

I recall in 1974, when CIA Director William Colby finally fired Angleton, audible sighs of relief rippled through spydom. Angleton had ruined the careers – and sometimes the lives – of many conscientious CIA officers. When, finally, Angleton was not in position to do any more damage, many of my contemporaries recounted personal examples of how misguided and harmful Angleton’s periodic witch hunts had been.

Like Angleton, Epstein also has a tendency to see spies where they aren’t, including asserting that Lee Harvey Oswald was a Soviet spy, a claim that finds zero support in the KGB records now available. That proclivity is also evident in Epstein’s new book.

Before the book signing at the Hoover Institute, a New York Times review and Pulitzer Prize winner Barton Gellman had thoroughly panned Epstein’s book, and more recently New York Times journalist Charlie Savage picked it apart. Their indictments suffice; I feel no need to again recite Epstein’s errors of fact and analysis.

Squeezing in a Question

But I did squeeze a question in at the Hoover book event. Epstein’s interviewer, Ben Witte of Brookings, had served up a few innings-worth of softball pitches but allowed no questions from the audience. However, when Epstein claimed that his best source on Snowden’s perfidy was Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Epstein proceeded to quote – incorrectly – to the effect that Snowden had met with Russian officials in Hong Kong. I spoke out, saying, “Putin did not say that.”

Shock hit the audience at my impertinence, and Witte’s eyes scoured the back of the room apparently looking for Security. But the ever-genteel Epstein saved the day by admitting that I was right and that he had misspoken.

After the Witte-Epstein dialogue, the audience was allowed to approach Epstein for conversation. I introduced myself and noted that I had joined other former intelligence officers in visiting Snowden in Moscow.

“Oh, yes, I remember your name,” Epstein said, prompting me to ask why he did not seek to interview me for the book. “Yes, I should have contacted you,” he said with a smile.

At the time I was unaware of the curious limits Epstein had put on his outreach. Besides those of us who had met with Snowden in Moscow, Epstein “should have contacted” Sarah Harrison, who stayed by Snowden’s side during his five weeks at Moscow’s Sheremetevo Airport and then for a few additional months; Julian Assange, who pulled out all the stops to facilitate Snowden’s sudden and safe departure from Hong Kong; NSA whistleblowers William Binney, Kirk Wiebe and Ed Loomis; and Diane Roark, House Intelligence Committee senior aide who had the NSA account for several years.

Epstein’s book shows that – while ignoring people who know Snowden or have had painful experiences trying to expose NSA wrongdoing by going through the “proper channels” – he conducted many interviews with people who consider Snowden, as well as Putin, the devil incarnate.

There is also the issue of how much actual “damage” Snowden’s disclosures caused. According to former NSA Technical Director William Binney, it is fair to say that the extent of the NSA’s vacuuming up of bulk data on Americans and people around the world was a surprise, first and foremost, to Americans whose eyes were opened (as Snowden intended); that U.S. adversaries were generally aware of NSA’s capabilities; and that damage to sources and methods typically has been exaggerated by those interested in overstating it.

Alarmist Complaints

Here there are shades of the alarmist complaints about the supposed damage caused by the disclosures about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from Pvt. Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning.

After Defense Secretary Robert Gates had joined other senior officials in lamenting the “grave damage” from Manning’s revelations, Gates was asked by Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin to put it in writing. Gates came back with an honest report: Early claims of damage had been, in Gates’s words, “significantly overwrought.”

Bill Binney and his colleagues tell me the same is probably true of the hyperbole used to portray the damage from the Snowden disclosures.

Yet, balancing whatever that “damage” was is the significance of Snowden’s argument that the warrantless bulk surveillance of Americans was illegal under the Constitution and created the risk of a future leader imposing a “turnkey tyranny” on the United States because of all the embarrassing and incriminating information that would be collected on American citizens.

There is now no doubt that Snowden’s constitutional concerns were well-founded and it is not hard to imagine how an unscrupulous politician might make effective use of people’s personal secrets or their unguarded comments.

But it is easier to discredit Snowden by simply portraying him as a Russian spy. After all, we are now deep in a New McCarthyism that accompanies the New Cold War. Any contact with Russians – no matter how unintentional in Snowden’s case – is regarded as somehow disqualifying.

So, that is the tack that Epstein took. However, the evidence isn’t there.

Chris Inglis, who was NSA’s Deputy Director when Snowden made the disclosures and who headed the initial NSA investigation, said about Snowden a year ago: “I don’t think he was in the employ of the Chinese or the Russians. I don’t see any evidence that would indicate that.”

Epstein – like so many others – also shows a basic lack of understanding of the important, graduated scale of values that Ed Snowden and other whistleblowers take with utmost seriousness. At one point, Epstein glibly says of Snowden, “In signing this [nondisclosure] document, he swore an oath not to divulge any of this information.”

But that’s not correct. The only oath that we, as military or other government officials swear is: “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” 

Ethicists describe such an oath as a “supervening value,” far more serious than a promise like that embedded in the contract one signs in agreeing not to disclose classified information that could be harmful to U.S. national security. In other words, what do you do when your oath conflicts with the contract language, which one has the priority?

Snowden’s Choice

Are promises important? Of course they are. But in the moral sphere, oaths supersede promises. NSA was playing fast and loose with the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment (and arguably with the First and the Fifth as well) with warrantless surveillance. Snowden chose not to break his oath to the Constitution. Nor would he remain silent when others broke theirs.

Watching what happened to fellow whistleblowers – like Thomas Drake – who tried to “go through channels,” Snowden knew that he had to “get out of Dodge” to have any hope of remaining at liberty long enough to complete his mission. He decided to run the huge risk involved in defending the Constitution against incipient “turnkey tyranny.”

That may be difficult for Epstein and many cynical observers to believe, but without any evidence to the contrary, Snowden hardly deserves to be treated like the CIA officers who faced character assassination from Epstein’s paranoid mentor, Angleton.

I first met Snowden in early October 2013 when I was a member of the first delegation of Americans to visit him as a political exile in Russia. Four of us, all members of Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, officially presented him with our annual award for integrity.

My three colleagues, each of them an earlier awardee, were whistleblowers Coleen Rowley, Thomas Drake, and Jesselyn Raddack (ex-FBI, -NSA, -Department of Justice, respectively). After the award ceremony we spent seven hours relaxing and comparing notes with Snowden. And a year later, I had a long lunch with him in Moscow.

For my colleagues and me, this unassuming, courageous young man, known to us only by what he had said and done over the previous three months, proved to be the precisely the patriotic whistleblower we thought he was. His courage and motivation were altogether believable to Rowley, Drake and Raddack, for each of them had taken similar risks in blowing the whistle on U.S. government misconduct.

This is simply to say that all four of us seasoned professionals had a unique opportunity to take the measure of Snowden up close and personal. It is a truly a pity that author Epstein did not do the same.

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years; he briefed the president’s daily brief one-on-one to President Reagan’s most senior national security officials from 1981-85.




An Oscar for a Propaganda Flick

Hollywood activists prefer their human rights causes blessed by the U.S. government, which contributed to the dubious Oscar for “The White Helmets” propaganda flick, writes Patrick Hennigsen at 21st Century Wire.

By Patrick Hennigsen

In your average lifetime, everyone will get to see his or her share of war propaganda films. In America, it’s a kind of sacred tradition, where Hollywood does the job of revisionism, paving over an otherwise uncomfortable history with a new coat of stain. It’s necessary – not just to make us feel better about ourselves, but also to cover-up any inconvenient truths and high crimes of the state.

To be honest, when I first heard about “The White Helmets” film being promoted by Netflix, I wasn’t surprised at all because ever since the Syria conflict began in 2011, the establishment media has gone out of its way to falsely promote it as a “civil war” and have used the NGO known as the White Helmets, which calls itself the “Syria Civil Defense,” as its primary media protagonist in furthering that narrative.

The fact that a documentary about The White Helmets received an Oscar simply confirms what a glorious bubble the entertainment industry resides in, and how easy it is these days for a documentary film to be used for the purposes of propaganda and made to reinforce a mainly U.S.-U.K. foreign policy project.

To Hollywood, it’s a feel-good documentary, designed to make us feel good about a dirty war in Syria. But this is a level of distortion that would make even Joseph Goebbels’s head spin.

In his essay published at Global Research, Dr. T.P. Wilkinson explains the liberal obsession with cosmetic revisionism: “The ‘wrong war’ thesis is elemental to what Carroll Quigley called ‘liberal imperialism’ in his history of the Anglo-American establishment. Liberal imperialists, to which the faux gauche (the descendants of Fabianism) also belong, do not oppose empire. They simply want it to be more aesthetically appealing, and lost wars are most un-aesthetic. So what is the liberal imperialist’s answer to unappetizing military defeats? It is cosmetic surgery.”

Expensive war propaganda in Hollywood is nothing new. High-profile films like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “American Sniper” and “Argo” were all released to much fanfare. Each of them fulfilled a role in forming a more perfect American narrative, and in some cases completely rewrote history altogether. But these were meant to be theatrical releases so naturally there’s a generous dose of artistic license taken by the director. Nothing unusual there. It’s what Hollywood does. These films also had some distance between the present day and wars which had already lapsed.

A veneer of integrity is always important. Hollywood still purports to put a lot of currency in the truth. During this year’s Oscars, The New York Times ran a TV ad for the first time since 2010 entitled, “The truth is. . .” This campaign is meant to decry fake news and its ugly cousin “alternative facts’ to show what high standards the mainstream media has – which demonstrates the delusional world the in which the establishment exists.

Earlier this month, I wrote an exposé showing exactly how the New York Times has been America’s perennial leader in running fake news for the purposes of advancing a war agenda. It’s ironic that this Times advertisement would run on a night when an Oscar would be given to one of the most egregious propaganda films of all time.

Happy Hollywood

Last Sunday night, “The White Helmets,” directed by Orlando von Einsiedel and Joanna Natasegara, took home an Academy Award for best documentary short. But this was not a conventional documentary film. The footage was provided by a terrorist-affiliated NGO based in Turkey, operating in Syria, and which is primarily funded by the U.S. State Department, the British Foreign Office, the Netherlands, and other NATO members and Gulf states to the tune of over $150 million and whose chief remit is producing U.S.-led “coalition” propaganda images for mass media consumption. The film, funded and distributed by Netflix, seems to be an extension of that remit. [Watch the film’s trailer here.]

Normally we think of documentaries as films that are supposed to speak truth to power, but this film does the opposite. It reinforces an Anglo-American establishment power structure responsible for one of the most violent, dirty wars in modern history. It reinforces a collection of lies placed on heavy rotation by the political and media establishments since the conflict began.

In every way, Syria is the wrong war. However, for the U.S. and the U.K., there’s much at stake – the legacies of two paradigmatic political figures, Barack Obama and David Cameron, along with the reputations of other architects of the West’s dirty war on Syria, like former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and British Foreign Minister William Hague.

Back when the war was getting started, both Clinton and Hague were busy front-running their “Friends of Syria” whistle-stop tour around the Middle East and Europe, securing Gulf cash commitments while grooming their hand-picked “opposition” government-in-exile, holding court in various five-star hotels in Paris, London and Istanbul.

The U.S. had tried this only a year earlier with Libya, and at the time in 2011-2012, they had every reason to believe that the Libyan formula could be repeated in Syria. Those hopes were dashed by early 2013, when it became apparent that Libya was officially a failed state.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of extremist foreign fighters and jihadi soldiers of fortune began pouring into Syria. It was an invasion. This was the West’s proxy army, ready to decapitate the government, dismember the state and destabilize the region – with the full blessing of Washington D.C. and its partners.

The Troika of Washington-London-Paris then doubled down by pouring billions of dollars in lethal weapons to various fighting groups laying in wait in Turkey and Jordan, as well as those already active in Syria. There were a number of well-documented arrangements, but one of the most successful working models was for the CIA and its European NATO partners illegally supplying the weapons funneled through Jordan and Turkey – and all paid for by Saudi, Qatari cash.

All the while, the public was told by the U.S.-led “Coalition” all of this was for the “moderate rebels” in Syria. These were meant to be the “freedom fighters” that Ronald Reagan referred to back in the 1980s. As it turned out, these “freedom fighters” in Syria were a chip off the old block from the violent, psychopathic U.S.-backed and CIA-trained paramilitary death squads, which would wreak havoc and terrorize El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras.

In Syria, they are much worse in fact, as they employed a potent brand of warped, radical Salafi and Wahabist religious fervor as the central axis of their self-styled, Medieval nihilistic raison d’etre. Yes, these are the moderates, backed by the U.S., U.K., France, Turkey, Germany, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAEevery other NATO member state, and of course, Israel, which has skillfully stayed out of the media firing line. It’s a collective project. The mission: “regime change” in Syria – to overthrow by force – the government in Damascus.

As dirty wars go, none is filthier than this one. As the U.S. and the U.K. ran point on public relations for this criminal enterprise, their big challenge was selling it to their electorates. In order to justify the dirty war, a narrative had to be constructed and maintained. This required a relentless negative public relations campaign demonizing the Syrian government and all of its agencies. The following original talking points were therefore reinforced:

–Syria’s peaceful “Arab Spring” uprising happened in 2011, and was violently squashed by the government.

–Assad is a brutal dictator, and is illegitimate.

–The Syrian government and its armed forces are deliberately killing their own people.

–The U.S.-NATO and Gulf-backed armed “rebel” opposition is legitimate.

–Syrian and Russian Airforce are only killing civilians, and not militant and terrorists.

–Terrorists do not exist in Syria or are only a tiny element opposed by the “moderate rebels” and other Syrians “fighting for freedom.”

–Therefore, Assad must be removed from power and replaced with a U.S.-approved government.

Add to this, the entrance of Russia in the fall of 2015 at the lawful invitation of Damascus, and Russia was added to the demonization campaign.

These talking points were then repeated and recycled, over and over, and held up as justification for U.S.-led, crippling economic and diplomatic sanction against the Syrian state and the destructive policy of flooding the region with arms.

In the summer of 2014, an added bonus for the U.S. was inserted into the mix – the emergence of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Sham). The appearance of ISIS allowed the U.S. to fly air sorties over Syria, allegedly to fight ISIS, although after two years the U.S. had produced little if any verifiable progress in “defeating” ISIS. In truth, the U.S. had hoped that ISIS, along with the other Al Qaeda affiliates, would somehow do the job of destabilizing Syria and overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Meanwhile, on-script Western media operatives and politicians alike still referred to the jihadists as “rebels” and “armed opposition” – violent radical terrorist groups like Jabbat al Nusra (Nusra Front), Ahrar al Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Jaish al-Fatah (The Army of Conquest), along with some radical remnants of Sen. John McCain’s beloved “Free Syrian Army.” This was all part of the public relations con.

The ‘White Helmets’ 

But that wasn’t enough. Washington and London needed a face for the evening news. They needed to personalize the conflict in order to help maintain the illusion of a “civil war” in Syria. This is where the White Helmets come in. A merry band of men, comprised of “ordinary citizens, from bakers to teachers to painters,” all donning the White Helmets to save humanity in this moment of turmoil.

Raed Saleh, the group’s spokesman, says his organization is guided by a verse in the Qu’ran: “To save one life is to save all of humanity.” No doubt a beautiful line, but like so many aspects of the White Helmets – it’s been applied cosmetically.

Who would dare be so insensitive as to challenge such a perfect story? For war planners in Washington and London, the White Helmets provided the P.R. cushion they needed to help sell a filthy proxy war to Western audiences. By creating and managing their own “first responder” NGO, the U.S., U.K. and its other stakeholder partners have been able to leverage public sympathies – enough to keep the project going, until the war was either won or lost, or until someone caught on to the scam.

In 2014, a number of independent researchers in the West began to detect the White Helmets’ unmistakable stench of dupery. Cory Morningstar’s article, “SYRIA: AVAAZ, PURPOSE & THE ART OF SELLING HATE FOR EMPIRE” (April 2014). In an article in Counterpunch in April 2015, Rick Sterling summarized the White Helmet roll-out and basic agenda: “In reality the White Helmets is a project created by the UK and USA. Training of civilians in Turkey has been overseen by former British military officer and current contractor, James Le Mesurier. Promotion of the program is done by ‘The Syria Campaign” supported by the foundation of billionaire Ayman Asfari. The White Helmets is clearly a public relations project which has received glowing publicity from HuffPo to Nicholas Kristof at the NYT. White Helmets have been heavily promoted by the U.S. Institute of Peace (U.S.I.P.) whose leader began the press conference by declaring ‘U.S.I.P. has been working for the Syrian Revolution from the beginning.'”

There was also the work of researcher Petri Krohn’s notable wiki site “A Closer Look at Syria,” which cracked the facade. They were followed by extensive investigations by Vanessa Beeley who has since produced a formidable volume of research and analysis on the White Helmets and other similar NGO projects, all of which are readily available on 21st Century Wire.

Any researcher working on a White Helmets documentary would have had access to all of this information, through a simple key word search.

Interestingly, mainstream media defenders of the White Helmets such as Michael Weiss, a senior fellow at NATO’s own propaganda think tank the Atlantic Council, as well as editor at the dubious Daily Beast, claim that criticism of the White Helmets is a Russian plot organized by Putin himself. Weiss’s conspiracy theory is expected considering his employer’s affiliation, but such typical hyperbolic accusations belie the fact that the first individuals to expose this pseudo NGO are not Russian, but rather independent writers and researchers from the U.S., Canada and Great Britain and why not – because it’s their tax dollars that are funding the White Helmets.

It’s also worth noting that in December 2016 when the Nusra terrorist hold over East Aleppo was collapsing, it was Michael Weiss who was responsible for circulating bogus reports, including that women in East Aleppo were committing “mass suicide” to avoid “mass rape” by Assad’s soldiers.

“Seventy-nine of them were executed at the barricades. The rest — everyone under 40 — were taken to warehouses that look more like internment camps. They face an unknown fate,” Weiss said. “This morning 20 women committed suicide in order not to be raped.”

Weiss’s source for these sensational reports: terrorists in East Aleppo. This was just one of many fake news stories disseminated in the mainstream media. Weiss then went on to repeat the fabricated story to a global mainstream audience on CNN’s Don Lemon Show.

In reality, and according to countless first-hand on-the-ground eyewitness testimonies collected by 21WIRE and other media outlets, as the Syrian Army began liberating East Aleppo, the so-called “moderate rebels” promoted by Weiss and other Western media operatives were using residents as human shields, and in some cases shooting residents who attempted to flee terrorist enclaves prior to government forces liberating the eastern half of the city.

Dramatic Video

With direct funding to the White Helmets from U.S.-led Coalition countries already well in excess $150 million – international stakeholders expect a return on their investment. That return comes in the form of dramatic “search and rescue” videos, some of which may have even been produced in Turkey and which were then sent in a highly coordinated fashion to the editorial desks of CNN, NBC, BBC, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian and others. At no time have any of these Western or GCC-based “journalists” ever queried the authenticity of the staged video and photographic productions supplied by the White Helmets.

Mainly, their videos have been produced to promote a “No Fly Zone” or “Safe Zones” in Syria by creating the false impression that somehow Syrian and Russian air forces are targeting civilians in a Blitzkrieg fashion, using crude “barrel bombs.” Outside of the White Helmets propaganda, there is scant evidence of these “barrel bombs” – supposedly homemade explosive devices – allegedly dropped by the “Assad Regime” every day, according to the White Helmets. (No mainstream journalist ever seems to wonder why – with a source of modern munitions supplied by Russia – the Syrian military would have to resort to building homemade improvised bombs.)

In the run-up to the White Helmets’ failed Nobel Peace Prize bid in October, CNN even went so far as to plant a fake story about a “barrel bomb” hitting a “White Helmets Center” in Damascus.

But the media hype has had a downside. Increasing attention has also meant that some people are beginning to question the group’s incredible claim that it had somehow saved 60,000 lives since it started in late 2013. In one letter first published at Canadian Dimension, retired academic John Ryan, PhD, a retired professor of geography and senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg, challenged this narrative, saying:

“It is the White Helmets themselves who have claimed that they have rescued 60,000 civilians; this has not been verified by any other source. Despite such a classic conflict of interest, searching for independent evidence and disqualifying self-serving claims from belligerent parties in Syria has been ignored in much of the western media. As such, this claim by the White Helmets without any verification is next to meaningless.”

Despite the questions, the group continued to raise this figure by about 10,000 every two months. They now claim to have “Saved over 82,000 lives” since they were formed in 2013. Where are the list of names, dates, times, locations and medical reports – so as to corroborate and cross-reference the casualties with the alleged Syrian and Russian airstrikes? What’s the problem – can’t $150 million buy a little bit of administration for the White Helmets?

At no point have they ever been able to produce any data to back up their outlandish numbers claims – so we can only conclude that this claim, like so many other claims by the group, are fraudulent. But when has Hollywood ever let facts and data get in the way of a good war propaganda story?

In addition, the White Helmets claim that they have trained some 3,000 “volunteers” throughout Syria, and yet their training facility is actually located in neighboring NATO member state Turkey, on the outskirts of the city of Gaziantep. This is the same Gaziantep that’s been described in reports as “the home to ISIS killers, sex traders…”

‘Civil Defense’ Fraud

Vanessa Beeley’s investigation eventually took her to Syria, where she was able to track down the REAL Syria Civil Defense organization. The U.S. and U.K. creation of the “White Helmets” required that they steal the name “Syria Civil Defense” from a real existing civil defense group based in Syria. Unlike the fraudulent Western construct, the real Syria Civil Defense was founded 63 years ago and is a registered member of the International Civil Defense Organization (ICDO) based in Geneva.

For the real Syria Civil Defense you dial “113” inside Syria. The White Helmets have no such number because they are not a real “search and rescue” organization. Their whole existence is a fraudulent construct.

Beeley spoke at length to the real Syria Civil Defense and what the crew told her was shocking. During the “rebel” (terrorist) invasion in 2012 of East Aleppo, future members of the White Helmets arrived accompanied by armed terrorists to attack the real Syria Civil Defense headquarters. They stole equipment, killed and kidnapped real civil defense volunteers as part of their operation to loot and destroy the existing institution.

Real civil defense workers also detailed how terrorist “Hell Cannon” attacks had besieged the Old City of Aleppo, which lies right on the border with the Al Nusra front lines and was a regular target for the rebels’ continuous indiscriminate attacks against residents. Resident testimonies have echoed the same story: while Hell Cannons terrorized the civilians of Aleppo, the White Helmets did nothing – probably because they were with the terrorists who were launching these attacks.

Terrorist Hell Cannons use an assortment of containers – gas canisters, water heater tanks packed full of explosives, glass, metal and any other limb-shredding materials – these were fired indiscriminately into civilian neighborhoods throughout Aleppo. These crude artillery guns also just happen to have the exact destructive footprint as the alleged barrel bombs” which the White Helmets and Western media are repeatedly saying are being fired by the “The Regime” (Assad) against civilians.

If the White Helmets are to be believed, Assad’s “barrel bombs” have an impact the equivalent of 7.6 on the Richter scale. This outrageous claim was actually made by White Helmets founder James Le Mesurier on CNN. In fact, 7.6 on the Richter scale is the equivalent of a hydrogen bomb, we begin to get a picture of the scale of the lies which the Western narrative has been spinning to justify this dirty war.

Preserving this and other key pieces of fiction is central to the U.S., U.K. and George Soros-funded public relations management of the White Helmets and essential to their entire Syria narrative which has been described by American writer Rick Sterling as something akin to a “Feel Good Hoax.”

Forget about actual “search and rescue.” That’s not the primary function of this “NGO.” If you need to know one priority for the White Helmets, it’s this: marketing. A central part of the marketing campaign is images of men with beards looking up at the sky – presumably waiting for the next “barrel bomb,” or the media’s favorite term, the “double tap” (apparently, this is when a sinister Assad or Putin pilot returns immediately after an airstrike just to have another crack at the White Helmets).

In most of their videos, you will also see a large number of bearded men in jeans and T-shirts just standing around on the sidelines, always watching the camera, or looking busy – as if they are cognizant that filming is taking place. When we showed some of these videos to real first responders we were normally met with shoulder shrugs and cynical laughs.

People who actually work in this trade will tell you that filming on a first responder call is a luxury no worker really has – aside from maybe a GoPro helmet cam. It’s just not something anyone in their right mind would think about very much if there were really people in need of assistance – and yet, this is all the White Helmets seem to do, all day, every day. They film and produce well-edited emotive videos.

Another aspect real first responders will point out to us is that most of the time, the White Helmets often look like they don’t know what they are doing – indicating either a lack of training or experience – which seems to at least contradict their lofty claims of rescuing 82,000 people in 3½ years – certainly that would provide more experience for 2,900 “volunteers” than any other search and rescue worker on the planet.

The White Helmets claim they were only operational in early 2014, so that’s an average of 75 persons per day, everyday. Considering the amount of people they claim to have trained, spread out over Syria, and where actual air sorties have been flown – it seems like a near mathematical impossibility.

As the White Helmets provide no incident data for the alleged 82,000 persons saved, there is no way to validate there sensational narrative. In other words, the White Helmets mythology and pantomime is not very credible to any serious observer. But it seems to be good enough for a Netflix audience, and sadly, good enough for the Academy, too.

The other mandatory feature in the White Helmets marketing imagery where men with beards are running to or from a scene, they’re always carrying children over their shoulder. Again, when we showed many of these images to actual rescue workers, we were met with puzzled looks.

Firstly, why does 99 percent of the White Helmets marketing imagery only feature small children? Are there not any adults out of the “82,000 saved” to be rescued from the rubble?

Also, you will rarely, if ever see the $150 million British-trained rescue crew ever use a spinal injury backboard – opting instead to just yank the children by the arm and throw them over the shoulder. When we showed these images to real first-responder workers, they were deemed not credible.

So it’s safe to conclude that the White Helmets only care about one thing: pictures and videos – wired via satellite to CNN, the New York Times, or the BBC’s news desk.

‘Smart Power’ and the NGO Complex

Still, despite the group’s obvious links to the U.S. and U.K. governments, and to known extremists and terrorists – the Western media continues to accept this NGO as if it were a legitimate ‘Civil Defense’ organization. The pseudo NGO strategy is part of an over-arching Western strategy which is related to the term Smart Power (following on from Soft Power) where Western governments create shadow state organizations designed to co-opt and ultimately usurp actual state agencies – in effect weakening the real civil body by replacing it with a fake version of the original.

In the calculus of war planners in the U.S., U.K. and France, even if they were unsuccessful in toppling the Assad government in Damascus, these fake NGOs would still be operational in “rebel” areas in the hopes that they might be viewed as legitimate civil organizations and would then replace the real ones.

After five years, the U.S. or European authorities could then cite these organizations as legitimate deliverers of public service, thus giving Western governments a much-needed foothold in governance inside the target nation, in this case, Syria.

Similar projects have been undertaken to replace municipal police forces with the “Free Syrian Police,“ as well as Western and GCC-sponsored projects in terrorist-held Idlib to create uniformed civil cleaning staff, and so on. Why doesn’t Netflix make a documentary exposing that? If they did, that would be real filmmaking; instead what we get is more public relations promotion for a failed Western foreign policy.

By now, it should be obvious how this propaganda cycle has been functioning, although apparently, not obvious enough for Netflix’s award-winning filmmakers Joanna Natasegara and Orlando Von Einsiedel. The fact that their beloved White Helmets stole their “Syria Civil Defense” name from an existing, legitimate and internationally recognized first-responder agency should be cause for alarm.

For any journalist researching the White Helmets, you would think the first port of call would be to speak to the official certified civil defense body. This is what 21WIRE and Beeley did. Why didn’t Natasegara and Von Einsiedel bother to check this obvious line of inquiry? The fact they didn’t might be proof that the intention on their film was not to make a legitimate documentary, but rather to glorify to U.S.-led narrative of the “moderate opposition.”

By definition, Natasegara and Von Einsiedel’s work cannot rightly be called journalistic but propagandistic. By promoting a pseudo “NGO” funded by Western governments and by giving succor to extremists, their film is directed against the Syrian people – which exactly characterizes the U.S. and U.K. foreign policy in Syria since 2011.

If Natasegara and Von Einsiedel deserve any reward today it should really be the Leni Riefenstahl Award for Best Propaganda Film.

But even Nazi war propaganda filmmaker Riefenstahl could hardly imagine propaganda on this scale – a third-sector NGO and integrated media arm attached to dozens of governments, paramilitary military units, intelligence agencies, hundreds of corporate media outlets, and with a multi-million dollar crowd-funding facility.

If nothing else, the White Helmets operation is impressive in its scope. It’s the West’s template for building a Shadow State in target nations. If it’s successful in Syria, this formula will be recreated in other marginal hot zones around the globe. That’s why the White Helmets are being guarded so closely by the Western establishment.

Doubts over Authenticity

Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kizner was one of a number of serious  journalists who expressed disappointment over the Academy’s selection, writing on Twitter: “Congratulations to al-Qaeda and Syrian jihadists for the #Oscar given to a film about their PR outfit, the White Helmets.

There is also the problem of the obvious staging in many of the White Helmets’ supposed video rescues accompanied by highly misleading editing. In the so-called “Rag Doll” clip, we first see two separate views of the three men working on the rescue site – and then the edit suddenly cuts to the miraculous rescue of charming little 4-year-old girl – supposedly emerging from under tons of concrete and rubble from a collapsed building. Miraculously, she is not crying and looks immaculate, while holding an equally clean rag doll.

Then the edit cut jumps, and a little 3-year-old boy suddenly appears from the exact same spot. Both children appear to have sustained no injuries, nor any visible cuts or bruises, and no dust. Not bad for being buried under tons of concrete, gravel and dust. Incredible, but par for the course in the completely improbable “first-responder” reality show that is the White Helmets.

After reviewing this video, it’s difficult to deny that it has all the hallmarks of a staged production piece, designed to tug at the hearts of a Western public – conditioned to accept this “first responder” narrative as sacrosanct, for fear of appearing callous in the face of this media-driven, multi-million dollar No Fly Zone” public relations campaign. This is not the only fraudulent video released by the White Helmets, but even the existence of one fraudulent rescue video should be grounds to question all the group’s material.

Again, the whole purpose of these video and photos is to influence public opinion against the Syrian and Russian governments. Therefore, the core mission of the White Helmets media campaign is influence Western and Gulf audiences.

Syrian Curveballs

Back in 2003, one man became emblematic of the campaign of WMD lies that helped fabricate the U.S. and U.K. case for invading Iraq. He became known as “Curveball.”

In Syria, the West has been developing a new generation of “curveballs” – on call and ready to deliver whatever the U.S. State Department or the British Foreign Office need in order to grandstand in front of the U.N. Security Council or on the floor of Parliament.

The New York Times reported that during March and April of 2015, the White Helmets claimed that at least 20 “barrel bombs” containing chlorine were dropped in six towns in northwestern Syria. It almost sounded as if the U.S. and U.K. were so desperate to establish Assad as crossing the “red line” against chemical weapons use that they would go so far as to fabricate a case that chlorine bombs were used by “the regime.”

As the Times reported: “Frustrated with the Security Council’s impasse over the issue, rescue workers and doctors are now working to bring evidence of chlorine gas attacks directly to the French, British and American governments for testing. The aim is to give states a solid basis for action against the attacks, in the Security Council or through quieter diplomatic pressure, said James Le Mesurier, the British director of a nonprofit group, Mayday Rescue, that trains and equips the White Helmets, Syrian volunteers supported by the British, Danish and Dutch governments.”

At the time, White Helmet founder Le Mesurier was heavily involved in trying to fashion together a chemical weapons case against the Syrian government.

In 2015, the Times wrote: Going directly to governments that have pushed for Mr. Assad’s ouster creates its own challenges. His allies may dismiss their evidence as politically tainted and can point to recent chlorine attacks in Iraq for which the government there blamed insurgents, not to mention the discredited American claims of an Iraqi chemical weapons program that were used to justify invading Iraq. To deter allegations of tampering or falsification, Mr. Le Mesurier and three Syrian doctors involved said they systematically documented the chain of custody from collection to handover. They have plenty of cases to work with. Since March 16, in Idlib alone, the White Helmets have documented 14 attacks with 26 suspected chlorine barrels that sickened scores of people.”

(Although U.N. investigators spoke to several eyewitnesses who denounced one of the “chlorine attack” stories as “staged,” the White Helmets’ campaign of overwhelming U.N. investigators with “evidence” that was hard to verify – and with Western powers pushing for U.N. confirmation – succeeded in getting the U.N. to blame the Syrian government for at least a couple of these cases, which enabled the Western mainstream media to resume its “war crimes” drumbeat against the Assad government.)

Similarly, in September 2016, the White Helmets were instrumental in trying to assign blame for an incident where a U.N. aid convoy was attacked outside of the town of Urm al-Kubra, west of Aleppo. As if by magic, the White Helmets were the first on the scene recording among the flames. 21WIRE later reported that the White Helmets had helped to stage the said ‘Russian bombing’ scene.

The Western mainstream media, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and others cited the case as “proof” of Russian and Syrian guilt. (The U.N. also accepted the video “evidence” presented by the White Helmets in blaming the Syrian government for the attack.)

Hollywood ‘Change Agents’

One of the White Helmets documentary’s biggest advocates was Hollywood actor George Clooney. In the run-up to the Oscars, Clooney, along with his wife – celebrity human rights lawyer, Amal Clooney – personally campaigned on behalf of the film. Clooney’s interest was more than just that of a liberal activist. AP reported that Clooney is in the process of producing a feature-film version of the “White Helmets.”

He said: “The White Helmets are the heroes. So if I can help them out at all, and people can know about it, in any way possible, that’s a good use of celebrity, I think.”

As a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, Clooney seems to relish his role of celebrity humanitarian. Unfortunately, fellow members of the Council include an impressive line-up of war criminals and other dignitaries, like former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, as well as a chief architect of the collapse of Libya and the dirty war in Syria, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

However, judging by Clooney’s devotion to the White Helmets, it’s pretty clear that he is either ignorant of what he is supporting or worse – he is using his public profile to push a Deep State agenda.

In September 2016, Clooney managed to get an audience with John Kerry and the U.S. State Department to promote his new “anti-corruption” NGO called, The Sentry. Not surprisingly, the establishment’s globalist information outlet the Daily Beast was on hand (along with a prime segment which aired on CNN) to get the word out.

Daily Beast editor John Avlon wroteGetting Americans to care about human-rights atrocities half-a-world away is hard. Getting them fired up about confronting the corruption that fuels those slaughters is an order of magnitude harder. But that’s what actor George Clooney and human-rights activist John Prendergast are aiming to do with their new project, The Sentry.”

The Sentry, is supposed to help the poor people of South Sudan by “taking aim at government corruption.” Clooney goes on to demonize the South Sudanese government as utterly corrupt and deserving of prosecution before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

What Clooney will not tell his fawning public is the CIA’s role in fomenting unrest in Sudan prior to its rather convenient partition in 2010. We say convenient because splitting the country effectively cut-off port access and therefore oil pipeline access for South Sudan of which China has been a major partner on the exploration of energy. This was followed by a dirty war in South Sudan with much of the evidence pointing to the CIA.

TeleSur English reports: “The CIA is using a mercenary warlord named Riek Machar, who has a long history of ethnic massacres and mass murder to his credit, to try and overthrow the internationally recognized government of President Salva Kiir for the crime of doing business with rivals of Pax Americana, the Chinese.”

Again, we hear the familiar tropes about “child soldiers” and “mass rape,” and how, “we must act now” – all part and parcel of the neocolonial “helpless Africa” narrative.

Clooney’s partner John Prendergast delivers the emotive plea: “The war erupted, it was a fire that just raged across the land…They’ll use attack helicopters. They’ll use rape as a tool of war. They’ll recruit child soldiers and go in and send them as cannon fodder into villages to kill people. The worst human-rights abuses being committed in the world. And this is what South Sudan has dealt with because of this fallout between these thieves over the last 2½ years.”

(Clooney also played a key role in splitting Sudan into two parts through his earlier demonization of Sudan’s government over the conflict in Darfur. Well-organized Western protests against alleged “genocide” in Darfur set the stage for the U.S.-led effort to carve oil-rich South Sudan away from Sudan although by doing so the U.S. made it impossible for South Sudan to get its oil to market, thus creating the hardship that then contributed to the new conflict in South Sudan, a good example of how human-rights “do-gooders” can cause more harm than good.)

Interestingly, Clooney’s Sentry Project is nested under the globalist think tank, the Center for Advanced Defense Studies and bankrolled by John Podesta’s Center for American Progress, a Washington D.C.-based think tank with ties to the military-industrial complex. (The Podesta Group lobbying firm was famous for its pay-to-play tactics, getting governments to pony up millions of dollars in exchange for access to the Clintons, an example of the kind of corruption common in Washington.)

Peace activist and author David Swanson outlined Sentry’s precarious connections to America’s defense industry here. We also can point out that the policy of “evicting Chinese influence” from Africa was included in the military directives outlined in US AFRICOM immediately after its official launch in 2007-2008. Similarly, billions of dollars in direct Chinese investment in Libya was thwarted by NATO’s illegal abuse of U.N. Resolution 1973 which led to the complete collapse of the Libyan state.

We can see that Clooney’s celebrated “crusade against corruption” is very likely part of a public relations smokescreen to conceal U.S. clandestine efforts to isolate Chinese interests in the now divided territory of Sudan, while nudging forward U.S. and transnational corporate policy in South Sudan, with the ultimate goal of “regime change” in that country, too.

You can’t help but be reminded here of another similar Deep State public relations ploy centered around the exact same location back in 2012. There’s no better example of how Hollywood’s do-gooder wars are waged than “Kony 2012,” described in Atlantic Magazine as a viral video campaign, which “reinforces a dangerous, centuries-old idea that Africans are helpless and that idealistic Westerners must save them.”

Like with Clooney’s Sentry Project, “Kony 2012” leveraged the power of media and celebrity to manufacture public consent through an emotive public appeal and collected millions in public donations in the process. In this case, the antagonist was the illusive warlord Joseph Kony, leader of the Lords Resistance Army. The only problem was, at the time in 2012, no one had actually seen Kony in six years.

Still, the campaign lobbied President Obama to deploy U.S. forces to Uganda to “find Kony” under the justification of “saving the children.” Despite the collapse of the project following a very public meltdown by the charity’s founder, Jason Russell, the U.S. still went and deployed U.S. military assets to Uganda under an expansion of US AFRICOM operations in Africa. Mission accomplished.

The genius of this was that it concealed the genocide and crimes against humanity carried out by President Obama’s good friend and Uganda’s “President for Life” Yoweri Museveni, whose crimes have since been well-documented in powerful independent non-CIA film production called a “Brilliant Genocide.” It turns out that Museveni is guilty of all the things and more – which the West had laid on the ghost of Kony.

Of course, the irony of this is mostly lost on Hollywood’s humanitarian jet-set, all of whom thought “Kony 2012” was such a great idea when it was first launched. What “Kony 2012” achieved on an “activist” and public relations level is exactly what “The White Helmets” documentary is doing now – an expensive smokescreen to hide the real horrors of a conflict, namely, the destructive policies of Western governments and their local “partners” fomenting trouble and strife.

In the case of Syria, it’s the U.S., U.K., Turkey, France and GCC support of violent, armed extremists – who the White Helmets are exclusively embedded with.

The cynical use of the classic American gospel hymn, “When the Saints Go Marching In” as the documentary’s theme song by filmmakers Natasegara and Von Einsiedel speaks to level of manipulation of the narrative.

Regarding the White Helmets project, Clooney revealed something else in his rhetoric when he remarked that as a celebrity, “I can’t change policy … but I can make things louder.” This is an example of the power-activist political set in Hollywood.

We find similar language in an interview with White Helmets director Joanna Natasegara in 2016, at the International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) in Malaysia while promoting her Oscar nominated film “Virunga” and its new foundation. Natasegara refers to herself as an “Impact Producer” (aka “Change Agent”) using documentaries to make a big impact by reinforcing or pushing a narrative.

In many ways, this is antithetical to the whole process of filmmaking, especially in the research and discovery stages, and in the investigative aspects of historical documentary filmmaking – which is about documenting events but also about looking below popular political narratives to gain deeper insights, and not pushing political or policy outcomes.

Power-activism is personified by numerous online marketing campaigns calling for a No Fly Zone in Syria. At the Oscar ceremony, both Natasegara and Von Einsiedel called for “an end to the war in Syria” – a sentiment that everyone can agree on – but it rings hollow given their P.R. support for a direct Western military intervention under the guise of a “No Fly Zone.”

Compare that to the words of U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Tima Kurdi, the aunt of three-year-old Alan Kurdi who washed-up on a beach to become the face of the tragic face of the migrant crisis. Both Gabbard and Kurdi appeared on global media calling for the U.S. and its Coalition allies to STOP sending arms, cash and support to extremists and terrorist “rebels” in Syria. Only this can bring an end to the war and allow refugees to return to Syria, said both Gabbard and Kurdi.

This plea is real and reflects the facts on the ground, as opposed to the fake narrative constructed by Natasegara and Von Einsiedel, which carefully whitewashes all clandestine involvement by U.S., U.K. and its partners which have aided in the systematic destruction of Syria over the last six years, not to mention the needless deaths of hundreds of thousands.

It is no coincidence that many members of the White Helmets have extremist ties and that this fact is being covered-up by Natasegara and Von Einsiedel who are literally portraying the group as “saints” – revealing the level of deception involved in this story.

More Propaganda

We can see Natasegara’s modus operandi with making the White Helmets film; it’s not so much about documenting history in the conventional sense, so much as it is about “making an impact” politically – on behalf of the governments who created the White Helmets, which veers into the area of propaganda again.

On the surface, Natasegara appears to be waging the classic international liberal crusade by fighting against mining, oil and poaching in the poor, permanently “developing” countries like the Congo. No one will argue that the level of corruption in African countries can be extreme in some cases, but what are the real causes of institutional corruption in those lands?

Little attention is paid to stopping corrupt officials at the corporate level in London, Belgium, New York or Washington. In fact, many of the biggest corporate donors to these “good causes” projects are connected to the very same corporate behemoth that activists purport to be fighting against.

This cycle of power-activism feeds into the cycle of neocolonialism – in what researcher Cory Morningstar so rightly refers to as “the wrong kind of green.”

As it turns out, the International Anti-Corruption Conference is funded by Transparency International (T.I.), one of the main players in the globalist “anti-corruption” syndicate, which is very much linked to the work of Hollywood activists like Clooney. In the past, T.I. has been accused of cooking its own books in its anti-corruption investigations, including an incident in 2008 where the organization used falsified data to try and frame the Chavez government in Venezuela during one of T.I.’s anti-corruption investigations. This is a good example of NGO smart power being used to undermine a target nation. Clooney and Natasegara are just two of the many public faces who represent this network.

Back in 2016, when the “Panama Papers” story broke, based on purloined documents from a law firm, the mainstream media utterly failed in analyzing what they were really looking at. Yes, there’s plenty of corruption and shady shell companies in Panama (but no word of the giant offshore corporate maze located in Delaware), but was the endgame of that supposedly independent “investigation”?

Amid all the mainstream media hype and “anti-corruption” grandstanding, researcher James Corbett was one of the few people who asked the right question: “So why does this new mega-leak seemingly only expose those in the State Department crosshairs or expendable others and not a single prominent American politician or businessman?” (LISTEN to my full interview last year with James Corbett here)

‘Citizen Journalists’

Natasegara also goes on about using “activists” and “citizen journalists” to achieve the desired “impact.” Here she is alluding to the scores of Syrian “activists” and the White Helmets who have supplied Western media outlets with the images our governments want in order to reinforce the official narrative. Natasegara is promoting the exact tool she utilized in the deceptive Netflix project in which all of the alleged stock “rescue” footage was supplied by the White Helmets themselves.

Natasegara claims to have trained 21-year-old White Helmet “activist” Khaled Khatib in Turkey before sending him into Syria to shoot much of the footage. NPR claims that he “risked his life” to shoot the film for Netflix. Khatib was later blocked from entering the U.S. to attend the Oscar ceremony in Los Angeles. So the Netflix producers had no way of independently verifying what they’ve been given – effectively relying on Al Qaeda-affiliated individuals to supply them with made-to-order “rescue” footage. How can they call this a documentary?

In this case, it didn’t seem to matter to Joanna Natasegara and her co-producer Orlando Von Einsiedel whether it’s real or staged, so long as the White Helmets narrative was achieved.

Despite the claims by Netflix producers, Natasegara and Von Einsiedel, the purpose was to reinforce the U.S.-led Coalition’s fake Syrian narrative, which has never resembled the facts on the ground. The U.S.-U.K. establishment could not have hand-picked better tools for this job than Natasegara and Von Einsiedel.

If they were real filmmakers interested in the truth, they would have paused to question why this group was founded by a senior British Military intelligence officer, James Le Mesurier; why it is based in Turkey and not Syria; and why the group only operated exclusively in Al Nusra (Al Qaeda in Syria), Ahrar al Sham (another Al Qaeda affiliate) and ISIS-held areas in Syria; why are White Helmets members routinely pictured with weapons and with terrorists. The answer is simple to anyone with half a brain and who is being honest: the White Helmets are composed mainly of partisan extremists.

Still, all of this is noticeably missing from Natasegara and Von Einsiedel’s storybook version of the White Helmets, which is inexcusable considering how there’s no shortage of readily available evidence pointing directly to White Helmets’ ties to terrorists.

One has to assume that the filmmakers knew about the extremist links and the U.S.-NATO funding of the group but chose to ignore this in favor of producing their expensive piece of propaganda. And as we saw this week, both were all too happy to lap up their Academy Award – even though the fiction they created has aided further legitimizing U.S.-led Coalition-backed terrorism in Syria.

One of the saddest parts of this whole story is that the power of marketing and propaganda means that tens of thousands of unwitting members of the public have been duped into donating their hard-earned money for this dubious NGO. If the wider public knew what Aleppo residents already know – that the White Helmets function as a support group alongside known terrorists groups like Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zinki,  ISIS and others (all known extremist groups operating inside of Syria), the White Helmets would not be celebrated as humanitarian but rather condemned as a multimillion-dollar fraud, customized by the West to give cover to the illicit practice of arming and supporting “rebel” terrorists by the US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others.

By all accounts, White Helmets video-and-photo propaganda has been instrumental in aiding in the recruitment of new terrorists – new fighters from the West, Middle East and Asia – who see the contrived news reports and believe the false narrative being portrayed by mainstream media news agencies.

In this way, you could say that because the mainstream Western media is not vetting any of this material and has defaulted into a Western foreign policy bias, these major media outlets are complicit in helping recruit more terrorists internationally. In other words, they are providing material support and comfort to known violent, religious extremists terrorists.

Lastly, to see the White Helmets’ fundamental terrorist connection, one need look no further than to its ‘President’ Raed Saleh. Last month, 21WIRE investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley reported on White Helmet leader Raed Saleh’s close partner, Mustafa al-Haj Yussef, leader of the White Helmets center in the Al Nusra-occupied city of Khan Shaykhun, Idlib. The photographic evidence  clearly demonstrates the close relationship that Saleh shares with his friend and colleague Yussef, and apparently with the armed militant seen standing behind the two White Helmet leaders.

On June 1, 2014, White Helmet deputy Yussef called for the shelling of civilians during elections in Damascus. He declares that this murderous act would be the “greatest declaration of revolution.” Are these the words of a “neutral, impartial, humanitarian”? Here we can see the White Helmets calling for direct violence against civilians who are doing nothing more than exercising their right to vote – in their own country. [See the full story here.]

So to even suggest that the White Helmets are “unarmed and neutral civilian volunteers” is tantamount to fraud. The fact that filmmakers Natasegara, Von Einsiedel and Netflix are using this false statement in their film and public relations material demonstrates outright deception on their part.

If Netflix were to take this issue seriously, after reviewing readily available evidence they would remove this film from their distribution chain, and Natasegara and Von Einsiedel should return their award to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

[For more on this topic and photos showing White Helmet connections to terror groups, go to http://21stcenturywire.com/2017/03/02/forget-oscar-give-the-white-helmets-the-leni-riefenstahl-award-for-best-war-propaganda-film/]

Patrick Henningsen is the founder and managing editor of the independent news and media analysis website 21st Century Wire.com and host of the weekly SUNDAY WIRE radio show which broadcasts live weekly on the Alternate Current Radio Network (ACR). [A version of this article originally appeared at 21st Century Wire.com]




Keeping the Commander-in-Chief in Check

President Trump has surrounded himself with military generals who ironically may be the strongest bulwark against Trump’s own tough-guy tendencies, writes JP Sottile.

By JP Sottile

America’s generals are talking turkey. But we’re not talking about the well-known idiom for “speaking frankly” about a subject … although over 120 retired generals did just send a frank letter in response to a new State Department-slashing budget proposal by President Trump.

In that unusual military missive, a group of “former three- and four-star generals” led by “Retired Gen. David Petraeus, a former CIA director, and retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former NATO supreme allied commander,” pled with lawmakers and yet another general, new National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, to preserve State Department funding.

Why do these men of war want to make sure Trump doesn’t gut diplomacy? Because they think it is “critical to keeping America safe,” according to a report by CNN on the much-discussed letter.

Silly generals. Don’t they know that Trump’s $54 billion military budget increase — which all by itself equals 80 percent of Russia’s total military budget — is all the diplomacy Uncle Sam’s going to need in his blustery new world of nuclear domination? In fact, don’t they know that their never-serving commander-in-chief actually knows more than they do? As ever, it appears that the generals are woefully behind Trump’s tremendous curve.

Or are they?

Because the real turkey some generals are talking is Turkey … as in the strategically located Muslim-majority nation where America stores some of those tantalizing nukes Trump wants to stockpile. It’s also where one of the world’s many strongmen du jour is cracking down on his enemies in the press … along with many, many others. And it’s where the military has traditionally been the guarantor of the secular nation’s often tenuous democracy. It’s the type of role the military in the United States has (mostly) avoided over the course of American history. At least, that was until Donald Trump became commander-in-chief.

Babysitting the President

Now, in a mostly overlooked story, Politico has detailed the extent to which Trump’s cabinet of generals has quietly formed a phalanx against the possible excesses of a man who has described himself as the “most militaristic person who will ever meet.”

According to Politico, the elevation of Sith Lord-wannabe Steve Bannon set off alarms among Trump’s generals. That order also marginalized Joint Chiefs Of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. It left “the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, without a permanent seat on the NSC’s most senior body” and put Bannon in the all-important role of being the last person to have Trump’s ear when Mr. Militaristic makes life and death decisions to use kinetic force.

As Politico’s Patrick Granfield wrote (with thanks to additional reporting by the Associated Press), “it was on account of concern with these sorts of half-baked executive orders coming out of the White House that Mattis and Kelly arranged to have one of them in the country at all times during Trump’s initial weeks in office.”

Yes, you read that correctly. Former Generals Mattis and Kelly were alarmed enough by this turn of events to institute a fail-safe plan that made sure one of them was “in the country at all times” … just in case things went off the rails.

As Granfield states all too clearly, “it shows that it is military leaders, albeit retired, who feel the need to guard against the overreach of a civilian executive. It’s a phenomenon familiar to countries like Turkey or Egypt, but not the United States. Until now.” Yup, until now.

Frankly speaking, this notable insight into the generals’ startling machinations fits a fairly clear pattern. Despite the understandable unease many expressed at Trump’s obsession with collecting top brass, they’ve thus far been bulwarks against the excesses of the blaring bugle boy they’ve signed up to serve.

The key moment may have been the National Security state showing the door to the widely disliked Lt. General Michael Flynn. The Strangelovian Flynn was unceremoniously dumped because insiders didn’t like his rosy “Russian to judgment” on Putin. Perhaps just as important, though, may have been his dangerous histrionics about Islam that were tantamount to declaring war on a religion. Coincidentally, it wasn’t too shortly after Flynn “put Iran on notice” that the final leaks washed out his tenure.

Knowing Vietnam

The appointment of the widely respected warrior-scholar Gen. H.R. McMaster to fill that vacancy signaled a big win for the people who know what it means to send people into combat. In fact, while the draft-avoiding Trump was enduring his own “personal Vietnam” by avoiding the lurid landmines of sexually transmitted diseases as he charged into the battlefield of Manhattan’s nightlife, his new National Security Advisor was literally writing the book on Vietnam. And that’s not the only way the two men are not on the same page.

Unlike Trump, McMaster pointedly said that the magic words “Radical Islamic Terrorism” not only lack supernatural implications but are counterproductive to the fight against terrorism. Even better, the head of Trump’s Department of Homeland Security not only contradicted his boss when said he “regretted” the bungled rollout of the “It’s Not A Muslim Ban” Muslim ban, but General John Kelly’s DHS also sent a report to the White House contradicting the claim that the famous “seven countries” pose a risk to the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But Trump knows more than the generals, right? At least, that’s what a senior administration official believes. That’s why the unnamed official unabashedly told the Journal, “The president asked for an intelligence assessment. This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for.” Perhaps this was yet more evidence to Kelly and Mattis that during those frenetic first few weeks one of them needed to be “in country” just in case the fight to protect the republic went hot.

The Yemen Fiasco

So far, the only real heat is coming from the commander-in-chief’s self-serving willingness to deflect the responsibility for the disastrous raid on Yemen. Although the White House still claims it was a tremendous success, the raid yielded no usable intelligence, failed to nab the targeted terrorist, saw a Navy Seal killed and a $75 million plane go up in flames and, perhaps worst of all, a number of women and children killed in the hackneyed operation. But now the Democrats see a sequel to Benghazi, and the father of the fallen SEAL not only refused to meet with Trump but also called for an investigation into the debacle.

So, true to form, the commander-in-chief has blamed the generals for muffing what would otherwise have been a highly-rated episode of his ongoing divorced-from-reality show. And what better place for him to pass the buck than on another divorced from reality show — the feckless fawners of FOX & Friends.

As Trump said to the media’s most mendacious ménage a trios:

“This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do. They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ? the generals ? who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”

They lost Ryan. Or, to coin a phrase, they didn’t save Chief Petty Officer Ryan Owens. Steve Bannon couldn’t have scripted it any better. Seriously, he literally couldn’t have scripted it better. The movies he made totally sucked. But Trump, who watched a lot of generals on TV in preparation for his candidacy, has obviously been locked and loaded ever since he watched Spielberg’s movie. Like the cynically stage-crafted ovation he produced for CPO Ryan’s heartbroken widow on Tuesday night, Trump delivered his blame-shifting lines like a real pro. Unfortunately, the actual pros in the military are now at the whim of a commander-in-chief whose only real allegiance is to himself and his beloved brand identity.

And that’s the real danger the generals now have to guard against — the inherent paranoia that seems to come with the strongman style of governance. Ultimately, when the leader begins to confuse himself with the state — and when culpability for mishaps and malfeasance are opportunities to force underlings to fall on their swords — the generals in tenuous democracies often have to do what the electoral system cannot.

But because America is not Turkey, all Trump can do right now is propose a draconian, government-gutting budget, sign often-ceremonial executive orders, and prioritize brash displays of phallic power over the softer power of diplomacy. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s that soft power the generals want to preserve.

As the missive from the retired generals pointed out, “The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.” They also noted that when he was Commander of U.S. Central Command, Trump’s current Secretary of Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis said, “If you don’t fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Unfortunately for us all, that’s exactly what Trump intends to do.

JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, radio co-host, documentary filmmaker and former broadcast news producer in Washington, D.C. He blogs at Newsvandal.com or you can follow him on Twitter, http://twitter/newsvandal. [This story originally appeared at AntiMedia at http://theantimedia.org/generals-admirals-trump-warning-diplomacy/]




Trump Retreats on Detente with Russia

President Trump toned down his combative rhetoric in speaking to Congress but, more significantly, ditched his campaign promises about détente with Russia and a reduced military presence abroad, says Gilbert Doctorow.

By Gilbert Doctorow

Donald Trump’s speech on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress was a reasonably well-crafted and well-delivered exercise in communicating his case to the nation. The President opened with a description of the flurry of executive orders in his first 30 days in office, implementing promises made during the electoral campaign.

He then went on to describe the contours of legislation that his administration will send to Congress, starting with the budget and its scrapping of the cap on military spending, which is to enjoy a 10 percent rise in appropriations while domestic and other government spending is slashed. Then there was a review of his plans to repeal and replace Obamacare and a preview of his proposals for cutting taxes and regulations with the goal of creating more well-paying jobs.

In an emotional highpoint, Trump drew attention to the widow of a Special Forces soldier killed in a raid inside Yemen. He also presented a more compassionate – less combative – tone, calling on Democrats and Republicans to put aside their differences and work together. His 60-minute address was interrupted 93 times by applause, often standing ovations from Republicans but also some applause from the Democratic side, too.

Trump seemed to bask in the enthusiastic show of support, although such State of the Union speeches typically draw the same sort of surface adulation, with the members from the party in power cheering robustly and those from the other side offering sparser shows of support. Still, the televised images contrasted with the portrayal from the mainstream U.S. news media of an embattled leader caught in a Watergate-like scandal over supposedly illicit contacts with Russia, a narrative Trump mistakenly fed with the hasty firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Feb. 13 during a media frenzy about Flynn talking with the Russian ambassador during the transition.

Flynn became the target of elements inside the U.S. government and the press who opposed Trump’s plans for détente with Russia. Those anti-détente forces are now flexing their muscles, with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley sounding much like her hawkish predecessor Samantha Power, insisting that the United States will not recognize Russia’s takeover of Crimea and then, this week, co-sponsoring a resolution in the U.N. Security Council condemning the Assad regime in Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons, a move that provoked angry protests and a veto from Russia’s envoy.

Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis carried messages to Europe reaffirming the U.S. commitment to NATO allies and blaming Russia for the failure of the Minsk Accords to resolve the crisis in Ukraine (although a major obstacle was created by the Ukrainian government when it insisted that ethnic Russian rebels in the Donbass region effectively surrender before other steps would be taken). The U.S. statements could have been delivered by neoconservative and liberal-interventionist diplomats from the past several U.S. administrations.

Only the last five minutes of Trump’s address to Congress dealt with foreign relations. And his own words were consonant with what his cabinet officers had been saying. Trump’s campaign opinions about NATO’s obsolescence had disappeared. Russia was not mentioned by name once in the speech, while America’s allies in NATO and in the Pacific were reassured that “America is ready to lead.” That statement was a rare instance when the entire congressional audience rose to its feet in applause.

Back on His Words

Those who had feared that Trump’s populism and “America First” rhetoric spelled isolationism were reassured that “Our foreign policy calls for a direct, robust and meaningful engagement with the world.”

In fact, in the entire speech, there were only a few lines toward the end that might give heart to those who hoped that Trump might pursue a dramatically new foreign policy that drew back from America’s vast network of military bases and the tendency to intervene in other countries’ affairs.

Though sounding not unlike boiler-plate language that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama might have used, those words did contain the possible seeds of a less warlike strategy. Trump said: “America is willing to find new friends and to forge new partnerships where shared interests align. We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict. America is friends today with former enemies. We want peace, wherever peace can be found. America is friends today with former enemies. Some of our closest allies decades ago fought on the opposite side of these terrible, terrible wars.”

Depending on the strength of one’s powers of self-delusion, those last words might be construed as a hint: just wait, allow me to get my footing and establish my popularity in Congress and in the broad public and I will come back and deliver on my détente aspirations.

But it is an inescapable reality that the firing of Flynn and Trump’s retreat from his foreign policy intentions were precipitated by the powerful collusion between the intelligence services, particularly the CIA, and the mainstream media with a clear intent to either neuter Trump by forcing a policy reversal on Russia détente or remove him through some form of impeachment. The phoniness of the McCarthyite charges of Russian connections used to smear Trump and his entourage has been well explained in recent articles by Professor Stephen Cohen in The Nation and by Gareth Porter at Consortiumnews.com.

Those with a more conspiratorial turn of mind have long spoken of the Deep State, which ensures continuity of policy whatever the results of U.S. elections with this subterranean power residing largely in the intelligence services, especially the CIA and FBI, in the Pentagon, and in the State Department.

State is said to have been purged in its policy-making “seventh floor” during the week of Secretary Tillerson’s European travels. But the text that was placed before the inexperienced Ambassador Haley for delivery in the Security Council shows that not all the old actors have been sent packing. Any purge of the CIA and Pentagon has not even begun.

The ability of neocons and hardliners at the Pentagon to sabotage presidential policy was demonstrated last September when a promising collaboration between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov over a cease-fire in Syria was torn to shreds by an “accidental” attack by U.S. and Allied fighter jets on a Syrian government outpost at Deir ez-Zor that killed nearly 100 Syrian soldiers.

If these recalcitrant Cold Warriors in America’s “power ministries” remain untouched, they will be in a position to create provocations at any time of their choosing to override Trump’s planned détente policies. To do so would be child’s play, given the close proximity of U.S. and Russian forces in Ukraine, in Syria, in the Baltic States, on the Baltic Sea and on the Black Sea.

Given the poor state of relations and the minimal trust between Russia and the U.S.-led West, any accident in these areas could quickly escalate. And then we might see the side of Donald Trump’s personality that his Democratic opponents warned us about, his short temper and alpha-male nature which could bring us into an armed clash the outcome of which is unforeseeable but surely not good.

There is another troubling issue for those who hoped Trump would rein in military spending to finance his promised domestic infrastructure investments. Instead, Trump has focused on expanding military spending even more, financed by cuts in domestic spending. There has not been a word to suggest he is considering restructuring the $600 billion military appropriations, for example by cutting the military bases abroad, which are configured to support precisely the global hegemony and American imperialism that he has denounced.

What is at issue is not only the tens of billions of dollars in savings that would come from slashing this overseas base structure but also removing an American presence from countries where it only serves to foster anti-Americanism and to embroil us either in defending hated regimes or intervening in regional conflicts where we have no vital interests.

Without restructuring and reducing the gargantuan network of foreign military bases, the U.S. will be condemned to a never-ending succession of wars abroad and the entire plan of investment in America is doomed to failure. These are not issues that allow for tactical retreats but rather must be addressed head-on. But who will explain this to a headstrong President with the fawning applause of Congress ringing in his ears?

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book, Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015.

 




How the Press Serves the Deep State

Exclusive: Mainstream U.S. media is proud to be the Deep State’s tip of the spear pinning President Trump to the wall over unproven allegations about Russia and his calls for detente, a rare point where he makes sense, notes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

The New York Times has made it official. In a Sunday front-page article entitled “Trump Ruled the Tabloid Media. Washington Is a Different Story,” the paper gloats that Donald Trump has proved powerless to stop a flood of leaks threatening to capsize his administration.

As reporters Glenn Thrush and Michael M. Grynbaum put it: “This New York-iest of politicians, now an idiosyncratic, write-your-own-rules president, has stumbled into the most conventional of Washington traps: believing he can master an entrenched political press corps with far deeper connections to the permanent government of federal law enforcement and executive department officials than he has.”

Thrush and Grynbaum add a few paragraphs later that Trump “is being force-fed lessons all presidents eventually learn – that the iron triangle of the Washington press corps, West Wing staff and federal bureaucracy is simply too powerful to bully.”

Iron triangle? Permanent government? In its tale of how Trump went from being a favorite of the New York Post and Daily News to fodder for the big-time Washington news media, the Times seems to be going out of its way to confirm dark paranoid fears of a “deep state” lurking behind the scenes and dictating what political leaders can and cannot do. “Too powerful to bully” by a “write-your-own-rules president” is another way of saying that the permanent government wants to do things its way and will not put up with a president telling it to take a different approach.

Entrenched interests are nothing new, of course. But a major news outlet bragging about collaborating with such elements in order to cripple a legally established government is. The Times was beside itself with outrage when top White House adviser Steve Bannon described the media as “the opposition party.” But one can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about since an alliance aimed at hamstringing a presidency is nothing if not oppositional.

If so, a few things are worth keeping in mind. One is that Trump was elected, even if only by an Eighteenth-Century relic known as the Electoral College, whereas the deep state, permanent government, or whatever else you want to call it was not. Where Trump gave speeches, kissed babies, and otherwise sought out the vote, the deep state did nothing. To the degree this country is still a democracy, that must count for something. So if the conflict between president and the deep state ever comes down to a question of legitimacy, there is no doubt who will come out ahead: The Donald.

A second thing worth keeping in mind is that if ever there was a case of the unspeakable versus the inedible (to quote Oscar Wilde), the contest between a billionaire president and billionaire-owned press is it.

Both sides are more or less correct in what they say about the other. Trump really is a strongman at war with basic democratic norms just as innumerable Times op-ed articles say he is. And giant press organization like the Times and the Washington Post are every bit as biased and one-sided as Trump maintains – and no less willfully gullible, one might add, than in 2002 or 2003 when they happily swallowed every lie put out by the George W. Bush administration regarding Iraqi WMDs or Saddam Hussein’s support for Al Qaeda.

Riveting TV

Trump’s Feb. 16 press conference – surely the most riveting TV since Jerry Springer was in his prime – is a case in point. The President bobbed, weaved, and hurled abuse like a Catskills insult comic. He threw out pseudo-facts, describing his victory, for instance, as “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan” when in fact George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama all got more votes. But commentators who panned the display as a “freak show” or simply “batshit crazy” didn’t get it. It wasn’t Trump who bombed that afternoon, but the press.

Why? Because reporters behaved with all the intelligence of a pack of Jack Russell terriers barking at a cat up a tree. Basically, they’ve been seized by the idée fixe that Russia is a predator state that hacks elections, threatens U.S. national security, and has now accomplished the neat trick of planting a Kremlin puppet in the Oval Office. It doesn’t matter that evidence is lacking or that the thesis defies common sense. It’s what they believe, what their editors believe, and what the deep state believes too (or at least pretends to). So the purpose of the Feb. 16 press conference was to pin Trump down as to whether he also believes the Russia-did-it thesis and pillory him for deviating from the party line.

More than half the questions that reporters threw out were thus about Russia, about Mike Flynn, the ex-national security adviser who got into trouble for talking to the Russian ambassador before the new administration formally took office, or about reputed contacts between the Trump campaign staff and Moscow. One reporter thus demanded to know if anyone from Trump’s campaign staff had ever spoken with the Russian government or Russian intelligence. Another asked if Trump had requested FBI telephone intercepts before determining that Flynn had not broken the law.

“I just want to get you to clarify this very important point,” said a third. “Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign?” A fourth wanted to get the President’s reaction to such “provocations” as a Russian communications vessel floating 30 miles off the coast of Connecticut (in international waters). “Is Putin testing you, do you believe, sir?” the reporter asked as if he had just uncovered a Russian agent in the Lincoln Bedroom. “…But do they damage the relationship?  Do they undermine this country’s ability to work with Russia?”

When yet another journalist asked yet again “whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election,” Trump cried out in frustration: “How many times do I have to answer this question?” It was the most intelligent query of the day.

The press played straight into Trump’s hands, all but providing him with his best lines. “Well, I guess one of the reasons I’m here today is to tell you the whole Russian thing, that’s a ruse,” he responded at one point. “That’s a ruse. And by the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia, just so you understand that. Now tomorrow, you’ll say, ‘Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.’ It’s not terrible. It’s good.”

The prose may not be very polished, but the sentiments are unassailable. Ditto Trump’s statement a few minutes later that “false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. … And that’s a shame because if we could get along with Russia – and by the way, China and Japan and everyone – if we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.”

If the Washington Post and the Times do not agree that bogus assertions about unauthorized contacts with Russia are not poisoning the atmosphere, they should explain very clearly why not. They should also explain what they hope to accomplish with a showdown with Russia and why it will not be a step toward World War III.

But they won’t, of course. The media (with encouragement from parts of the U.S. government) are working themselves into a fit of outrage against Vladimir Putin just as, in past years, they did against Daniel Ortega, Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Saddam Hussein (again), Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar al-Assad, and Viktor Yanukovych. In each instance, the outcome has been war, and so far the present episode shows all signs of heading in the same direction as well.

Reporters may be clueless, but working-class Americans aren’t. They don’t want a war because they’re the ones who would have to fight it. So they’re not unsympathetic to Trump and all the more inclined to give the yapping media short shrift.

This is a classic pattern in which strongmen advance on the basis of a liberal opposition that proves to be weak and feckless. Today’s liberal media are obliging Trump by behaving in a way that is even sillier than usual and well ahead of schedule to boot.

A Fragile Meme

The anti-Russia meme, meanwhile, rests on the thinnest of foundations. The argument that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and thereby tipped the election to Trump is based on a single report by CrowdStrike, the California-based cyber-security firm hired by the DNC to look into the mass email leak. The document is festooned with head-spinning techno-jargon.

It says of Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear, the hackers who allegedly penetrated the DNC in behalf of Russian intelligence: “Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none, and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter. In particular, we identified advanced methods consistent with nation-state level capabilities including deliberate targeting and ‘access management’ tradecraft – both groups were constantly going back into the environment to change out their implants, modify persistent methods, move to new Command & Control channels, and perform other tasks to try to stay ahead of being detected. Both adversaries engage in extensive political and economic espionage for the benefit of the government of the Russian Federation and are believed to be closely linked to the Russian government’s powerful and highly capable intelligence services.”

Impressive? Not to independent tech experts who have already begun taking potshots. Sam Biddle, The Intercept’s extremely smart tech writer, notes that CrowdStrike claims to have proved that Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear are Russian because they left behind Cyrillic comments in their “metadata” along with the name “Felix Edmundovich,” also in Cyrillic, an obvious reference to Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka, as the Soviet political police were originally known.

But, Biddle observes, there’s an obvious contradiction: “Would a group whose ‘tradecraft is superb’ with ‘operational security second to none’ really leave behind the name of a Soviet spy chief imprinted on a document it sent to American journalists? Would these groups really be dumb enough to leave Cyrillic comments on these documents? …  It’s very hard to buy the argument that the Democrats were hacked by one of the most sophisticated, diabolical foreign intelligence services in history, and that we know this because they screwed up over and over again.”

Indeed, John McAfee, founder of McAfee Associates and developer of the first commercial anti-virus software, casts doubt on the entire enterprise, wondering whether it is possible to identify a hacker at all. “If I were the Chinese,” he told TV interviewer Larry King in late December, “and I wanted to make it look like the Russians did it, I would use Russian language within the code, I would use Russian techniques of breaking into organizations. … If it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you: it was not the Russians.” (Quote starts at 4:30.)

This may be too sweeping. Nonetheless, if the press really wanted to get to the bottom of what the Russians are doing, they would not begin with the question of what Trump knew and when he knew it. They would begin, rather, with the question of what we know and how we can be sure. It’s the question that the press should have asked during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but failed to. But it’s the question that reporters should be asking now before the conflict with Russia spins out of control, with consequences that are potentially even more horrendous.

It’s not easy making Donald Trump seem like a peacenik, but that’s what the billionaire’s press has done.

Daniel Lazare is the author of several books including The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy (Harcourt Brace).




Mainstream Media’s ‘Victimhood’

Exclusive: Just weeks ago, mainstream U.S. media decried “fake news” and backed a blacklist of independent news sites over “Russian propaganda.” Now, under fire from President Trump, the MSM loves a free press, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

It’s heartwarming that The New York Times and The Washington Post are troubled that President Trump is loosely throwing around accusations of “fake news.” It’s nice that they now realize that truth does not reliably come from the mouth of every senior government official or from every official report.

The Times is even taking out full-page ads in its own pages to offer truisms about truth: “The truth is hard. The truth is hidden. The truth must be pursued. The truth is hard to hear. The truth is rarely simple. The truth isn’t so obvious. …”  On Sunday, those truth truisms ran opposite an alarmist column by Jim Rutenberg entitled, “Will the Real Democracy Lovers Please Stand Up?” Meanwhile, The Washington Post launched its own melodramatic slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

Yet, it was only weeks ago when the Post and Times were eagerly promoting plans for silencing or blacklisting independent news sites that didn’t toe the line on what the U.S. government and its allies were claiming was true.

On Nov. 20, the Times published a lead editorial calling on Facebook and other technology giants to devise algorithms that could eliminate stories that the Times deemed to be “fake.” The Times and other mainstream news outlets – along with a few favored Internet sites – joined a special Google-sponsored task force, called the First Draft Coalition, to decide what is true and what is not. If the Times’ editorial recommendations were followed, the disfavored stories and the sites publishing them would no longer be accessible through popular search engines and platforms, essentially blocking the public’s access to them. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What to Do About ‘Fake News.’”]

On Thanksgiving Day, the Post ran a front-page story citing an anonymous group, called PropOrNot, blacklisting 200 Web sites, including Consortiumnews.com and other important sources of independent journalism, because we supposedly promoted “Russian propaganda.”

Although PropOrNot and the Post didn’t bother to cite any actual examples or to ask the accused for comment, the point was clear: If you didn’t march in lockstep behind the Official Narrative on, say, the Ukraine crisis or the war in Syria, you were to be isolated, demonized and effectively silenced. In the article, the Post blurred the lines between “fake news” – stories that are simply made up – and what was deemed “propaganda,” in effect, information that didn’t jibe with what the U.S. State Department was saying.

Back then, in November, the big newspapers believed that the truth was easy, simple, obvious, requiring only access to some well-placed government official or a quick reading of the executive summary from some official report. Over the last quarter century or so, the Times, in particular, has made a fetish out of embracing pretty much whatever Officialdom declared to be true. After all, such well-

dressed folks with those important-sounding titles couldn’t possibly be lying.

That gullibility went from the serious, such as rejecting overwhelming evidence that Ronald Reagan’s Nicaraguan Contra rebels were deeply involved in drug trafficking, to the silly, trusting the NFL’s absurd Deflategate allegations against Tom Brady. In those “old” days, which apparently ended a few weeks ago, the Times could have run full-page ads, saying “Truth is whatever those in authority say it is.”

In 2002, when the George W. Bush administration was vouching for a motley crew of Iraqi “defectors” describing Saddam Hussein’s hidden WMDs, Iraq’s purchase of some “aluminum tubes” must have been for building nuclear bombs. In 2003, when Secretary of State Colin Powell showed some artist drawings of “mobile chemical weapons labs,” they must really exist – and anyone who doubted Powell’s “slam-dunk” testimony deserved only contempt and ridicule.

When the Obama administration issued a “government assessment” blaming the Syrian military for the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, there was no need to scrutinize its dubious assertions or ask for actual proof. To do so made you an “Assad apologist.”

When a bunch of U.S. allies under the effective control of Ukraine’s unsavory SBU intelligence service presented some videos with computer-generated graphics showing Russians supplying the Buk missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, there was no need to examine the holes in the evidence or note that the realistic-looking graphics were fictional and based on dubious assumptions. To do so made you a “Moscow stooge.”

In other words, when the U.S. government was gluing black hats on an “enemy” and white hats on a U.S. “ally,” the Times never seemed to object. Nor did pretty much anyone else in the mainstream media. No one seemed to note that both sides usually deserved gray hats. With very few exceptions – when the State Department or other U.S. agencies were making the charges – the Times and its cohorts simply stopped applying responsible journalistic skepticism.

Of course, there is a problem with “fake news,” i.e., stories that are consciously made up for the purpose of making money from lots of clicks. There are also fact-free conspiracy theories that operate without evidence or in defiance of it. No one hates such bogus stories more than I do — and they have long been a bane of serious journalism, dating back centuries, not just to the last election.

But what the Times, the Post and the rest of the mainstream media have typically ignored is that there are many situations in which the facts are not clear or when there are alternative explanations that could reasonably explain a set of facts. There are even times when the evidence goes firmly against what the U.S. government is claiming. At those moments, skepticism and courage are necessary to challenge false or dubious Official Narratives. You might even say, “The truth is rarely simple. The truth isn’t so obvious…”

A Tough Transition

During the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump team, the Times, the Post and other mainstream media outlets got caught in their own transition from trusting whatever the outgoing officials said to distrusting whatever the incoming officials said. In those final days, big media accepted what President Obama’s intelligence agencies asserted about Russia supposedly interfering in the U.S. election despite the lack of publicly available evidence that could be scrutinized and tested.

Even something as squirrelly as the attack on Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – with Obama holdovers citing the never-prosecuted Logan Act from 1799 as the pretext for ginning up some kind of criminal-sounding case that scared Trump into firing Flynn – was treated as legitimate, without serious questions asked. Since Obama officials were doing the feeding, the no-skepticism rule applied to the eating. But whatever statements came from Trump, even his few lucid moments explaining why war with nuclear-armed Russia wasn’t such a great idea, were treated as dangerous nonsense.

When Trump scolded the mainstream press for engaging in “fake news” and then applied the phrase “enemy of the people,” the Times, the Post and the rest went into full victimization-mode. When a few news companies were excluded from a White House news briefing, they all rushed to the barricades to defend freedom of the press. Then, Trump went even further – he rejected his invitation to the White House Correspondents Dinner, the black-tie/evening-gown event where mainstream media stars compete to attract the hottest celebrity guests and hobnob with important government officials, a walking-talking conflict-of-interest-filled evening, an orgy of self-importance.

So, the Times, the Post and their mainstream-media friends now feel under attack. Whereas just weeks ago they were demanding that Google, Facebook and other powerful information platforms throttle those of us who showed professional skepticism toward dubious claims from the U.S. government, now the Times, the Post and the others are insisting that we all rally around them, to defend their journalistic freedom. In another full-page ad on Sunday, the Times wrote: “Truth. It’s more important now than ever.”

I would argue that truth is always important, but especially so when government officials are leading countries toward war, when lives are at stake, whether in Iraq or Syria or Ukraine or the many other global hotspots. At those moments in the recent past, the Times did not treat truth – in all its subtlety and nuance – as important at all.

I would argue, too, that the stakes are raised even higher when propagandists and ideologues are risking the prospect of nuclear war that could kill billions and effectively end human civilization. However, in that case, the American people have seen little truly professional journalism nor a real commitment to the truth. Instead, it’s been much more fun to demonize Russian President Vladimir Putin and paint black-and-white pictures of the evil Russians.

At such moments, those New York Times’ truisms about truth are forgotten: “The truth is rarely simple. The truth isn’t so obvious. …”

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 Risk of Baiting Trump on Russia

In the drive to damage President Trump, American liberals have seized on his desire for more cooperation with Russia, baiting him as “a Putin puppet,” a dangerous strategy, says Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

Four weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote that “nothing he has done since the inauguration allays fears that he is in effect a Putin puppet.” The liberal pundit concluded with a matter-of-fact reference to “the Trump-Putin axis.”

Such lines of attack have become routine, citing and stoking fears that the president of the United States is a Kremlin stooge. The meme is on the march — and where it will end, nobody knows. Actually, it could end with a global nuclear holocaust.

The incessant goading and denunciations of Trump as a Kremlin flunky are escalating massive pressure on him to prove otherwise. Exculpatory behavior would involve setting aside possibilities for detente and, instead, confronting Russia — rhetorically and militarily.

Hostile behavior toward Russia is what much of the U.S. media and political establishment have been fervently seeking. It’s also the kind of behavior that could drag us all over the brink into thermonuclear destruction. But c’mon, why worry about that?

For countless media commentators and partisan Democrats including many avowed progressives — as well as for some Republican hawks aligned with the likes of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — the benefits of tarring Trump as a Russian tool are just too alluring to resist.

To be clear: For a vast number of reasons, the Trump administration is repugnant. And the new president’s flagrant violations of the U.S. Constitution’s foreign and domestic emoluments clauses are solid grounds for impeaching him. I’m glad to be involved with a nationwide petition campaign — which already has 890,000 signers — urging Congress to begin impeachment proceedings. We should go after Trump for well-grounded reasons based on solid facts.

At the same time, we should refuse to be stampeded by the nonstop drumbeats from partisan talking points and mainline media outlets — as well as “the intelligence community.”

It wasn’t mere happenstance when the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, openly lied at a Senate committee hearing in early 2013, replying “No sir” to a pivotal question from Sen. Ron Wyden: “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” The lie was exposed three months later when Edward Snowden made possible the release of key NSA documents.

Yet now we’re supposed to assume straight-arrow authoritative honesty can be found in a flimsy 25-page report “assessing Russian activities and intentions,” issued in early January under the logo of Clapper’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That report has been critiqued and demolished by one astute analyst after another.

As investigative journalist Gareth Porter noted, “In fact, the intelligence community had not even obtained evidence that Russia was behind the publication by WikiLeaks of the e-mails [of the] Democratic National Committee, much less that it had done so with the intention of electing Trump. Clapper had testified before Congress in mid-November and again in December that the intelligence community did not know who had provided the e-mails to WikiLeaks and when they were provided.”

More broadly and profoundly, many cogent analyses have emerged to assess the proliferating anti-Russia meme and its poisonous effects. For instance: “Why We Must Oppose the Kremlin-Baiting Against Trump” by Stephen F. Cohen at The Nation; “The Increasingly Unhinged Russia Rhetoric Comes From a Long-Standing U.S. Playbook” by Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept; and “The Did-You-Talk-to-Russians Witch Hunt” by Robert Parry at ConsortiumNews.

The frenzy to vilify Russia and put the kibosh on the potential for detente is now undermining open democratic discourse about U.S. foreign policy — while defaming advocates of better U.S.-Russia relations in ways that would have made Joe McCarthy proud. So, President Trump’s expressions of interest in improving relations with Russia — among his few lucid and constructive statements about anything — are routinely spun and smeared as corroborations of the meme that he’s in cahoots with the Russian government.

Many organizations that call themselves progressive are culpable. One of the largest, MoveOn, blasted out an email alert on February 10 with a one-sentence petition calling for a congressional investigation of Trump — flatly declaring that he has “ties to the Russian government.”

Trump’s Views on Russia

Consider these words from President Trump at his February 16 news conference:

— “Look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal. Now, I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal. I don’t know. We might. We might not. But it would be much easier for me to be so tough — the tougher I am on Russia, the better. But you know what? I want to do the right thing for the American people. And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.”

— “They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.”

— “By the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia, just so you understand that. Now tomorrow, you’ll say ‘Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.’ It’s not terrible. It’s good.”

Rather than being applauded and supported, such talk from Trump is routinely depicted as further indication that — in Krugman’s words — Trump “is in effect a Putin puppet.”

And how could President Trump effectively allay fears and accusations that he’s a Kremlin flunky? How could he win cheers from mainstream newsrooms and big-megaphone pundits and CIA headquarters? He could get in a groove of decisively denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin. He could move U.S. military forces into more confrontational stances and menacing maneuvers toward Russia.

Such brinkmanship would occur while each country has upward of 4,000 nuclear warheads deployed or stockpiled for potential use. Some are attached to missiles on “hair-trigger alert” — which, the Union of Concerned Scientists explains, “is a U.S. military policy that enables the rapid launch of nuclear weapons. Missiles on hair-trigger alert are maintained in a ready-for-launch status, staffed by around-the-clock launch crews, and can be airborne in as few as 10 minutes.”

Those who keep goading and baiting President Trump as a puppet of Russia’s government are making nuclear war more likely. If tensions with the Kremlin keep escalating, what is the foreseeable endgame? Do we really want to push the U.S. government into potentially catastrophic brinkmanship with the world’s other nuclear superpower?

Norman Solomon is the coordinator of the online activist group RootsAction.org and the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He is the author of a dozen books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.




How ‘New Cold Warriors’ Cornered Trump

Exclusive: The U.S. intelligence community’s extraordinary campaign of leaks claiming improper ties between President Trump’s team and Russia seeks to ensure a lucrative New Cold War by blocking detente, reports Gareth Porter.

By Gareth Porter

Opponents of the Trump administration have generally accepted as fact the common theme across mainstream media that aides to Donald Trump were involved in some kind of illicit communications with the Russian government that has compromised the independence of the administration from Russian influence.

But close analysis of the entire series of leaks reveals something else that is equally sinister in its implications: an unprecedented campaign by Obama administration intelligence officials, relying on innuendo rather than evidence, to exert pressure on Trump to abandon any idea of ending the New Cold War and to boost the campaign to impeach Trump.

A brazen and unprecedented intervention in domestic U.S. politics by the intelligence community established the basic premise of the cascade of leaks about alleged Trump aides’ shady dealing with Russia. Led by CIA Director John Brennan, the CIA, FBI and NSA issued a 25-page assessment on Jan. 6 asserting for the first time that Russia had sought to help Trump win the election.

Brennan had circulated a CIA memo concluding that Russia had favored Trump and had told CIA staff that he had met separately with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director James Comey and that they had agreed on the “scope, nature and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election.”

In the end, however, Clapper refused to associate himself with the document and the NSA, which agreed to do so, was only willing to express “moderate confidence” in the judgment that the Kremlin had sought to help Trump in the election. In intelligence community parlance, that meant that the NSA considered the idea the Kremlin was working to elect Trump was merely plausible, not actually supported by reliable evidence.

In fact, the intelligence community had not even obtained evidence that Russia was behind the publication by Wikileaks of the e-mails Democratic National Committee, much less that it had done so with the intention of electing Trump. Clapper had testified before Congress in mid-November and again in December that the intelligence community did not know who had provided the e-mails to WikiLeaks and when they were provided.

The claim – by Brennan with the support of Comey – that Russia had “aspired” to help Trump’s election prospects was not a normal intelligence community assessment but an extraordinary exercise of power by Brennan, Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers.

Brennan and his allies were not merely providing a professional assessment of the election, as was revealed by their embrace of the the dubious dossier compiled by a private intelligence firm hired by one of Trump’s Republican opponents and later by the Clinton campaign for the specific purpose of finding evidence of illicit links between Trump and the Putin regime.

Salacious Gossip

When the three intelligence agencies gave the classified version of their report to senior administration officials in January they appended a two-page summary of the juiciest bits from that dossier – including claims that Russian intelligence had compromising information about Trump’s personal behavior while visiting Russia. The dossier was sent, along with the assessment that Russia was seeking to help Trump get elected, to senior administration officials as well as selected Congressional leaders.

Among the claims in the private intelligence dossier that was summarized for policymakers was the allegation of a deal between the Trump campaign and the Putin government involving full Trump knowledge of the Russian election help and a Trump pledge – months before the election – to sideline the Ukraine issue once in office. The allegation – devoid of any verifiable information – came entirely from an unidentified “Russian emigre” claiming to be a Trump insider, without any evidence provided of the source’s actual relationship to the Trump camp or of his credibility as a source.

After the story of the two-page summary leaked to the press, Clapper publicly expressed “profound dismay” about the leak and said the intelligence community “has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable,” nor did it rely on it any way for our conclusions.”

One would expect that acknowledgment to be followed by an admission that he should not have circulated it outside the intelligence community at all. But instead Clapper then justified having passed on the summary as providing policymakers with “the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”

By that time, U.S. intelligence agencies had been in possession of the material in the dossier for several months. It was their job to verify the information before bringing it to the attention of policymakers.

A former U.S. intelligence official with decades of experience dealing with the CIA as well other intelligence agencies, who insisted on anonymity because he still has dealings with U.S. government agencies, told this writer that he had never heard of the intelligence agencies making public unverified information on a U.S. citizen.

“The CIA has never played such a open political role,” he said.

The CIA has often tilted its intelligence assessment related to a potential adversary in the direction desired by the White House or the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but this is the first time that such a slanted report impinges not only on domestic politics but is directed at the President himself.

The egregious triple abuse of the power in publishing a highly partisan opinion on Russia and Trump’s election, appending raw and unverified private allegations impugning Trump’s loyalty and then leaking that fact to the media begs the question of motive. Brennan, who initiated the whole effort, was clearly determined to warn Trump not to reverse the policy toward Russia to which the CIA and other national security organizations were firmly committed.

A few days after the leak of the two-page summary, Brennan publicly warned Trump about his policy toward Russia. In an interview on Fox News, he said, “I think Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions that it’s taken in the past number of years is a road that he, I think, needs to be very, very careful about moving down.”

Graham Fuller, who was a CIA operations officer for 20 years and was also National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East for four years in the Reagan administration, observed in an e-mail, that Brennan, Clapper and Comey “might legitimately fear Trump as a loose cannon on the national scene,” but they are also “dismayed at any prospect that the official narrative against Russia could start falling apart under Trump, and want to maintain the image of constant and dangerous Russian intervention into affairs of state.”

Flynn in the Bull’s Eye

As Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn presented an easy target for a campaign to portray the Trump team as being in Putin’s pocket. He had already drawn heavy criticism not only by attending a Moscow event celebrating the Russian television RT in 2016 but sitting next to Putin and accepting a fee for speaking at the event. More importantly, however, Flynn had argued that the United States and Russia could and should cooperate in their common interest of defeating Islamic State militants.

That idea was anathema to the Pentagon and the CIA. Obama’s Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had attacked Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiating a Syrian ceasefire that included a provision for coordination of efforts against Islamic State. The official investigation of the U.S. attack on Syrian forces on Sept. 17 turned up evidence that CENTCOM had deliberately targeted the Syrian military sites with the intention of sabotaging the ceasefire agreement.

The campaign to bring down Flynn began with a leak from a “senior U.S. government official” to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius about the now-famous phone conversation between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on Dec. 29. In his column on the leak, Ignatius avoided making any explicit claim about the conversation. Instead, he asked “What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions?”

And referring to the Logan Act, the 1799 law forbidding a private citizen from communicating with a foreign government to influence a “dispute” with the United States, Ignatius asked, “Was its spirit violated?”

The implications of the coy revelation of the Flynn conversation with Kislyak were far-reaching. Any interception of a communication by the NSA or the FBI has always been considered one of the most highly classified secrets in the U.S. intelligence universe of secrets. And officers have long been under orders to protect the name of any American involved in any such intercepted communication at all costs.

But the senior official who leaked the story of Flynn-Kislyak conversation to Ignatius – obviously for a domestic political purpose – did not feel bound by any such rule. That leak was the first move in a concerted campaign of using such leaks to suggest that Flynn had discussed the Obama administration’s sanctions with Kislyak in an effort to undermine Obama administration policy.

The revelation brought a series of articles about denials by the Trump transition team, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, that Flynn had, in fact, discussed sanctions with Kislyak and continued suspicions that Trump’s aides were covering up the truth. But the day after Trump was inaugurated, the Post itself reported that the FBI had begun in late December go back over all communications between Flynn and Russian officials and “had not found evidence of wrongdoing or illicit ties to the Russian government….”

Two weeks later, however, the Post reversed its coverage of the issue, publishing a story citing “nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls,” as saying that Flynn had “discussed sanctions” with Kislyak.

The story said Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak was “interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.”

The Post did not refer to its own previous reporting of the FBI’s unambiguous view contradicting that claim, which suggested strongly that the FBI was trying to head off a plan by Brennan and Clapper to target Flynn. But it did include a crucial caveat on the phrase “discussed sanctions” that few readers would have noticed. It revealed that the phrase was actually an “interpretation” of the language that Flynn had used. In other words, what Flynn actually said was not necessarily a literal reference to sanctions at all.

Only a few days later, the Post reported a new development: Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on Jan. 24 – four days after Trump’s inauguration – and had denied that he discussed sanctions in the conversation. But prosecutors were not planning to charge Flynn with lying, according to several officials, in part because they believed he would be able to “parse the definition of the word ‘sanctions’.” That implied that the exchange was actually focused not on sanctions per se but on the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.

Just hours before his resignation on Feb. 13, Flynn claimed in an interview with the Daily Caller that he had indeed referred only to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats.

“It wasn’t about sanctions. It was about the 35 guys who were thrown out,” Flynn said. “It was basically, ‘Look, I know this happened. We’ll review everything.’ I never said anything such as, ‘We’re going to review sanctions,’ or anything like that.”

The Russian Blackmail Ploy

Even as the story of the Flynn’s alleged transgression in the conversation with the Russian Ambassador was becoming a political crisis for Donald Trump, yet another leaked story surfaced that appeared to reveal a shocking new level of the Trump administration’s weakness toward Russia.

The Post reported on Feb. 13 that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, had decided in late January – after discussions with Brennan, Clapper and FBI Director James Comey in the last days of the Obama administration – to inform the White House Counsel Donald McGahn in late January that Flynn had lied to other Trump administration officials – including Vice President Mike Pence – in denying that he discussed sanctions with Kislyak. The Post cited “current and former officials” as the sources.

That story, repeated and amplified by many other news media, led to Flynn’s downfall later that same day. But like all of the other related leaks, the story revealed more about the aims of the leakers than about links between Trump’s team and Russia.

The centerpiece of the new leak was that the former Obama administration officials named in the story had feared that “Flynn put himself in a compromising position” in regard to his account of the conversation with Kislyak to Trump members of the Trump transition.

Yates had told the White House that Flynn might be vulnerable to Russian blackmail because of the discrepancies between his conversation with the Ambassador and his story to Pence, according to the Post story.

But once again the impression created by the leak was very different from the reality behind it. The idea that Flynn had exposed himself to a potential Russian blackmail threat by failing to tell Pence exactly what had transpired in the conversation was fanciful in the extreme.

Even assuming that Flynn had flatly lied to Pence about what he had said in the meeting – which was evidently not the case – it would not have given the Russians something to hold over Flynn, first because it was already revealed publicly and second, because the Russian interest was to cooperate with the new administration.

The ex-Obama administration leakers were obviously citing that clumsy (and preposterous) argument as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of the new administration. The Post’s sources also claimed that “Pence had a right to know that he had been misled….” True or not, it was, of course, none of their business.

Pity for Pence

The professed concern of the Intelligence Community and Justice Department officials that Pence deserved the full story from Flynn was obviously based on political considerations, not some legal principle. Pence was a known supporter of the New Cold War with Russia, so the tender concern for Pence not being treated nicely coincided with a strategy of dividing the new administration along the lines of policy toward Russia.

All indications are that Trump and other insiders knew from the beginning exactly what Flynn had actually said in the conversation, but that Flynn had given Pence a flat denial about discussing sanctions without further details.

On Feb. 13, when Trump was still trying to save Flynn, the National Security Adviser apologized to Pence for “inadvertently” having failed to give him a complete account, including his reference to the expulsion of the Russian diplomats. But that was not enough to save Flynn’s job.

The divide-and-conquer strategy, which led to Flynn’s ouster, was made effective because the leakers had already created a political atmosphere of great suspicion about Flynn and the Trump White House as having had illicit dealings with the Russians. The normally pugnacious Trump chose not to respond to the campaign of leaks with a detailed, concerted defense. Instead, he sacrificed Flynn before the end of the very day the Flynn “blackmail” story was published.

But Trump’s appears to have underestimated the ambitions of the leakers. The campaign against Flynn had been calculated in part to weaken the Trump administration and ensure that the new administration would not dare to reverse the hardline policy of constant pressure on Putin’s Russia.

Many in Washington’s political elite celebrated the fall of Flynn as a turning point in the struggle to maintain the existing policy orientation toward Russia. The day after Flynn was fired the Post’s national political correspondent, James Hohmann, wrote that the Flynn “imbroglio” would now make it “politically untenable for Trump to scale back sanctions to Moscow” because the “political blowback from hawkish Republicans in Congress would be too intense….”

But the ultimate target of the campaign was Trump himself. As neoconservative journalist Eli Lake put it, “Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.”

Susan Hennessey, a well-connected former lawyer in the National Security Agency’s Office of General Counsel who writes the “Lawfare” blog at the Brookings Institution, agreed. “Trump may think Flynn is the sacrificial lamb,” she told The Guardian, “but the reality is that he is the first domino. To the extent the administration believes Flynn’s resignation will make the Russia story go away, they are mistaken.”

The Phony “Constant Contacts” Story

No sooner had Flynn’s firing been announced than the next phase of the campaign of leaks over Trump and Russia began. On Feb. 14, CNN and the New York Times published slight variants of the same apparently scandalous story of numerous contacts between multiple members of the Trump camp with the Russian at the very time the Russians were allegedly acting to influence the election.

There was little subtlety in how mainstream media outlets made their point. CNN’s headline was, “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign.” The Times headline was even more sensational: “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.”

But the attentive reader would soon discover that the stories did not reflect those headlines. In the very first paragraph of the CNN story, those “senior Russian officials” became “Russians known to U.S. intelligence,” meaning that it included a wide range Russians who are not officials at all but known or suspected intelligence operatives in business and other sectors of society monitored by U.S. intelligence. A Trump associate dealing with such individuals would have no idea, of course, that they are working for Russian intelligence.

The Times story, on the other hand, referred to the Russians with whom Trump aides were said to be in contact last year as “senior Russian intelligence officials,” apparently glossing over a crucial distinction that sources had had made to CNN between intelligence officials and Russians being monitored by U.S. intelligence.

But the Times story acknowledged that the Russian contacts also included government officials who were not intelligence officials and that the contacts had been made not only by Trump campaign officials but also associates of Trump who had done business in Russia. It further acknowledged it was “not unusual” for American business to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly in Russia and Ukraine, where “spy services are deeply embedded in society.”

Even more important, however, the Times story made it clear that the intelligence community was seeking evidence that Trump’s aides or associates were colluding with the Russians on the alleged Russian effort to influence the election, but that it had found no evidence of any such collusion. CNN failed to report that crucial element of the story.

The headlines and lead paragraphs of both stories, therefore, should have conveyed the real story: that the intelligence community had sought evidence of collusion by Trump aides with Russia but had not found it several months after reviewing the intercepted conversations and other intelligence.

Unwitting Allies of the War Complex?

Former CIA Director Brennan and other former Obama administration intelligence officials have used their power to lead a large part of the public to believe that Trump had conducted suspicious contacts with Russian officials without having the slightest evidence to support the contention that such contacts represent a serious threat to the integrity of the U.S. political process.

Many people who oppose Trump for other valid reasons have seized on the shaky Russian accusations because they represent the best possibility for ousting Trump from power. But ignoring the motives and the dishonesty behind the campaign of leaks has far-reaching political implications. Not only does it help to establish a precedent for U.S. intelligence agencies to intervene in domestic politics, as happens in authoritarian regimes all over the world, it also strengthens the hand of the military and intelligence bureaucracies who are determined to maintain the New Cold War with Russia.

Those war bureaucracies view the conflict with Russia as key to the continuation of higher levels of military spending and the more aggressive NATO policy in Europe that has already generated a gusher of arms sales that benefits the Pentagon and its self-dealing officials.

Progressives in the anti-Trump movement are in danger of becoming an unwitting ally of those military and intelligence bureaucracies despite the fundamental conflict between their economic and political interests and the desires of people who care about peace, social justice and the environment.

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.




Syrian War Propaganda at the Oscars

The Western-backed war in Syria, like the invasion of Iraq, was so smothered by propaganda that truth was not only the first casualty but has been steadily suffocated for five years, now reaching the Oscars, says Rick Sterling.

By Rick Sterling

The Netflix movie “The White Helmets” may win an Oscar in the “short documentary” category at the Academy Awards on Sunday. It would not be a surprise despite the fact that the group is a fraud and the movie is a contrived infomercial.

Awarding “The White Helmets” an Oscar would fit with the desire of Hollywood to appear supportive of “human rights,” even if that means supporting a propaganda operation to justify another bloody “regime change” war in the Middle East.

Much of what people think they know about the White Helmets is untrue. The group is not primarily Syrian; it was initiated by British military contractor James LeMesurier and has been heavily funded (about $100 million) by the U.S., U.K. and other governments. The White Helmets are not volunteers; they are paid, which is confirmed in a Al Jazeera video that shows some White Helmet “volunteers” talking about going on strike if they don’t get paid soon.

Still, most of the group’s heavy funding goes to marketing, which is run by “The Syria Campaign” based in New York. The manager is an Irish-American, Anna Nolan, who has never been to Syria. As an example of its deception, “The Syria Campaign” website features video showing children dancing and playing soccer implying they are part of the opposition demand for a “free and peaceful” Syria. But the video images are taken from a 2010 BBC documentary about education in Syria under the Baath government.

There is also something almost dated about the Academy selecting this infomercial as an Oscar finalist, let alone the possibility of giving it the award. It’s as if the Syrian propaganda narrative of “good” rebels vs. “bad” government was still viable. In the case of the White Helmets, they were literally made into “white hats” bravely resisting the government’s “black hats.”

Yet, we now know that the propaganda around the “noble” rebels holding out in east Aleppo – with the help of the White Helmets – was largely a lie. The rebels mostly fought under the command structure of Al Qaeda’s Nusra affiliate and its fellow jihadists in Ahrar al-Sham. A video shows White Helmet workers picking up the corpse of a civilian after execution by Nusra/Al Qaeda and celebrating the extremists’ battle wins.

Western “human rights” groups touted not only the White Helmets but the “moderate rebels” who we now know were largely a P.R. cover for the terrorists and jihadists, as well as an excuse for the U.S. and its allies to funnel in weapons that were then turned over to the extremists.

When eastern Aleppo was finally freed from the armed militants, it was discovered that the White Helmets headquarters were alongside the headquarters of Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate. Civilians from east Aleppo reported that the White Helmets primarily rallied their “humanitarian” operations when the militants were attacked.

Soon after departing Aleppo in government-supplied buses, the White Helmets showed up in the mountains above Damascus where they allied with terrorist groups responsible for poisoning and then shutting off the water source for five million people in Damascus.

Neither Neutral Nor Independent

The White Helmets’s claim to be neutral and independent is another lie. They only work in areas controlled by the rebel groups, primarily Al Qaeda’s Nusra, and their leaders seek to bring in direct U.S. and NATO military intervention to assure a “regime change” in Syria although it likely would create a vacuum that the extremists would exploit to the further suffering of the Syrian people.

The film is as fraudulent as the group it tries to turn into heroes. The filmmakers never set foot in Syria. Their video footage takes place in southern Turkey where they show White Helmet trainees in a hotel and talking on cell phones. The footage from inside Syria is not from independent journalists but from the White Helmets themselves – and much of it looks contrived.

Khaled Khatib, the White Helmets’s photographer who says he filmed the footage inside Syria, reportedly received a U.S. visa and will attend the Oscars. Khatib tweeted the first video he took showing the White Helmets, with a girl who was totally buried being removed without injuries or wounds or even much dirt.

The original video has the logo of Aleppo Media Center (AMC), which was created by the Syrian Expatriates Organization. Their address on K Street in Washington DC suggests this is yet another Western-funded operation similar to the Iraqi National Congress that lobbied and lied on behalf of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In the past few days, with perfect timing for the upcoming Oscars, there was yet another “miracle” rescue, another girl buried but then removed and whisked away in record-breaking time – perfect for social media.

The momentum in support of the White Helmets infomercial raises a question about how this Oscar is awarded. Is it for journalistic authenticity or is it to conform with the political passions of the moment, which themselves are partly contrived by a well-funded propaganda campaign mounted by Western/Israeli/Gulf governments.

Investigative Reports

The true source and real purpose of the White Helmets were exposed almost two years ago by investigative journalists. Max Blumenthal has written a two-part detailed examination of the “shadowy PR firm” behind the White Helmets. And Jan Oberg has written an overview survey of the “pro” and “con” examinations in his work “Just How Gray are the White Helmets”.

More recently, Vanessa Beeley has documented the fact that the White Helmets pretends to be the Syrian Civil Defense when there is a real Syrian Civil Defense, which was begun in the 1950s and is a member of the International Civil Defense Organizations. The White Helmets group was launched as “Syria Civil Defense” in Turkey in 2013 before being re-branded as the “White Helmets” in 2014.

According to on-the-ground interviews in Aleppo, militants began supplying this operation by killing real Syrian rescue workers and stealing their equipment. Since then the White Helmets have been supplied by the West through Turkey with brand new ambulances and related rescue equipment.

Despite exposés about the group, the West’s mainstream media and some “alternative” outlets continue to uncritically promote the White Helmets myth and rely on the group as a source of news about Syria. In 2014-2015, the White Helmets became a rallying point for columnist Nicholas Krisof, the activist group Avaaz and others to campaign for all-out Western assault on the Syrian government and its military.

Perhaps ironically – given the Israeli government’s desire for a “regime change” in Syria – the Israeli mainstream TV program I24 presented both sides of the issue and titled the segment “White Helmets: Heroes or Hoax?” By contrast, the progressive program “DemocracyNow” in the United States has only broadcast a puff piece promoting the “White Helmet” disinformation.

Whether or not the White Helmets snag the Academy Award, they surely deserve recognition for their skillful marketing and advertising. In 2016, the group received the Rights Livelihood Award and was seriously considered for a Nobel Peace Prize. The Oscar nomination for “The White Helmets” movie is just the latest success in the ongoing campaign of distortion and deception around Syria.

Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He can be reached at rsterling1@gmail.com