MH-17 Probe Relies on Ukraine for Evidence

Exclusive: The oft-delayed probe into the 2014 shoot-down of MH-17 over eastern Ukraine has been tainted by its dependence on Ukraine’s intelligence service for much of its evidence, as a new interim report makes clear, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Dutch-led investigation into the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 relies heavily on information provided by the Ukrainian security service and operates primarily from a field office in Kiev, despite the fact that Ukraine should be a principal suspect in the mystery of who was responsible for killing 298 people.

The cozy relationship between the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and the Ukrainian government’s secret service emerges from a JIT report presented to Dutch families of MH-17 victims in the last few days, a portion of which was made available to me.

What was perhaps most startling in the breezy travelogue-style “e-zine” report was how dependent the investigation has become on data supplied by Ukraine’s security and intelligence service, the SBU, which also is an active participant in the war against ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and is responsible for protecting state secrets.

Yet, according to the report, the SBU has helped shape the MH-17 investigation by supplying a selection of phone intercepts and other material that would presumably not include sensitive secrets that would implicate the SBU’s political masters in Ukraine. But the JIT report seems oblivious to this obvious conflict of interest, saying:

“Since the first week of September 2014, investigating officers from The Netherlands and Australia have worked here [in Kiev]. They work in close cooperation here with the Security and Investigation Service of the Ukraine (SBU). Immediately after the crash, the SBU provided access to large numbers of tapped telephone conversations and other data. …

“At first rather formal, cooperation with the SBU became more and more flexible. ‘In particular because of the data analysis, we were able to prove our added value’, says [Dutch police official Gert] Van Doorn. ‘Since then, we notice in all kinds of ways that they deal with us in an open way. They share their questions with us and think along as much as they can.’”

The JIT report continued: “With the tapped telephone conversations from SBU, there are millions of printed lines with metadata, for example, about the cell tower used, the duration of the call and the corresponding telephone numbers. The investigating officers sort out this data and connect it to validate the reliability of the material.

“When, for example, person A calls person B, it must be possible to also find this conversation on the line from person B to person A. When somebody mentions a location, that should also correlate with the cell tower location that picked up the signal. If these cross-checks do not tally, then further research is necessary.

“By now, the investigators are certain about the reliability of the material. ‘After intensive investigation, the material seems to be very sound’, says Van Doorn, ‘that also contributed to the mutual trust.’”

So, despite the fact that some “cross-checks do not tally” and require “further research,” the JIT has decided that the SBU’s material is “very sound” and underpins a “mutual trust.”

Personnel Concern

Another personnel concern is that the long assignments of investigators in Kiev over a period of almost two years could create compromising situations, especially considering Kiev’s reputation as a European hotbed for prostitution and sex tourism as well as the possibility of less transactional human interaction.

According to the JIT report, four investigating officers from Australia are stationed in Kiev on three-month rotations while Dutch police rotate in two teams of about five people each for a period of a “fortnight,” or two weeks.

The relative isolation of the Australian investigators further adds to their dependence on their Ukrainian hosts. According to the report, “The Australian investigators find themselves a 26 hour flight away from their home country and have to deal with a large time difference. ‘For us Australians, it is more difficult to get into contact with our home base, which is why our operation is quite isolated in Kiev’, says [Andrew] Donoghoe,” a senior investigating officer from the Australian Federal Police.

Despite the collegial dependence on the SBU’s information, it has not led to a quick resolution of the mystery of MH-17. Last week, the JIT informed Dutch family members  that its investigative report on the case has been postponed again, now not expected until after the summer, more than two years after the disaster, and even then the report will not be open for public examination.

The long delays in the investigation and the curious failure of the U.S. government to share usable data from its own intelligence services have caused concerns among some family members that the inquiry into who was responsible for shooting down the plane has been compromised by geopolitical pressures.

Immediately after the shoot-down of the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the U.S. government sought to pin the blame on ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and their Russian government backers, but – as more evidence emerged – the possible role of a Ukrainian military unit became more plausible.

For instance, according to the Dutch intelligence service in a report released last October, the only anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, capable of hitting a plane flying at 33,000 feet belonged to the Ukrainian military.

Nevertheless, Ukraine was invited to join the JIT and play a key role in the investigation along with the investigators from Australia and the Netherlands. Under the JIT agreement, participating governments, which also include Belgium and Malaysia, have the right to block the release of information to the public.

Meanwhile, after CIA analysts had time to evaluate U.S. satellite, electronic and other intelligence data, the U.S. government went curiously silent about what it had discovered, including the possible identity of the people who were responsible. The U.S. reticence, after the initial rush to judgment blaming Russia, suggested that the more detailed findings undercut those original claims.

A source who was briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the CIA’s conclusion pointed toward a rogue Ukrainian operation involving a hard-line oligarch with the possible motive of shooting down Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official plane returning from South America that day, with similar markings as MH-17. But I have been unable to determine if that assessment represented a dissident or consensus view inside the U.S. intelligence community.

Ignoring Substance

The new JIT report doesn’t address much of substance, such as the findings of Dutch (i.e., NATO) intelligence that the Ukrainian military had several powerful anti-aircraft missile batteries in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and that the Russian-backed rebels had none, nor does it reference the dog-not-barking silence of U.S. intelligence.

Still, the JIT “e-zine” report bubbles enthusiastically about the investigators’ comradeship with their Ukrainian hosts, despite some early difficulties.

“An incredible amount of research material; differing legal systems and initial unfamiliarity with each other. Despite this, both Australian and Dutch members working in the Field Office in Kiev have managed to build good relations with each other and with the Ukraine to effectively conduct the investigation into the MH17 crash,” the report said.

“In an office building in Kiev, Australian and Dutch investigating officers are working in cramped conditions in a small room. The working conditions are far from perfect, but the small room has a great advantage: the investigating officers cannot possibly get round each other.

“They are professionals who recognize each other’s love for the police work. They understand each other’s circumstances. And they are, regardless of their country of origin, motivated to do their utmost to uncover the truth. …

“Beyond the investigation area of the MH17 investigators office is a long narrow room filled with desks, after which there is another small room. Not exactly a room like you may imagine on the basis of the name ‘Field Office’, but still, it is the name used for this accommodation. …

“‘The thing is to see how you can keep it workable”, says Van Doorn, ‘we like practical solutions. That means ‘poldering’ [the Dutch practice of policy-making by consensus].”

It’s clear that the JIT investigators from Australia and the Netherlands have fallen into routines from their long stints in Kiev, as the “e-zine” report describes in its golly-gee-whiz style:

“Every morning, a minibus brings investigating officers from the hotel to the Field Office and back again in the evening after their long days. In the meantime, the investigating officers make various interesting discoveries. Every time persons or locations are identified, they experience a eureka moment, especially if after several checks all data prove to be correct.

“‘This is the most complex and difficult investigation I have ever been involved with in my police career’, says Donoghoe, ‘but we are all extremely motivated to do the best investigation possible. We won’t stop before the perpetrators of this tragedy can be brought to court.’”

But the question is whether the investigation has been so tainted by its reliance on the SBU, an intelligence service which is controlled by a chief suspect (the Ukrainian government) and whose responsibilities include shielding the state secrets of that suspect. The SBU is also directly engaged in warfare against the other chief suspect (the ethnic Russian rebels).

That obvious conflict of interest should have prompted the JIT to establish clear parameters that guaranteed the independence of the investigation. But the new report makes clear that no such lines were drawn or observed.

[For more background on this controversy, see Consortiumnews.com’s “More Game-Playing on MH-17.”]

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).




Did Clinton’s Emails Expose CIA Agents?

Even as Hillary Clinton closes in on the Democratic nomination, facts continue to emerge indicating that her sloppy email practices may have endangered secrets, including the identities of covert operatives, writes Peter Van Buren.

By Peter Van Buren

These are facts. You can look at the source documents yourself. This is not opinion, conjecture, or rumor. Hillary Clinton transmitted the names of American intelligence officials via her unclassified email.

From a series of Clinton emails, numerous names were redacted in the State Department releases with the classification code “B3 CIA PERS/ORG,” a highly specialized classification that means the information, if released, would violate the Central Intelligence Act of 1949 by exposing the names of CIA officials.

The Freedom of information Act (FOIA) requires the government to release all, or all parts of a document, that do not fall under a specific set of allowed exemptions. If information cannot be excluded, it must be released. If some part of a document can be redacted to allow the rest of the document to be released, then that is what must be done. Each redaction must be justified by citing a specific reason for exclusion.

But don’t believe me. Instead, look at page two of this State Department document which lists the exemptions.

Note specifically the different types of “(b)(3)” redactions, including “CIA PERS/ORG.” As common sense would dictate, the government will not release the names of CIA employees via the FOIA process. It would — literally — be against the law. What law? Depending on the nature of the individual’s job at CIA, National Security Act of 1947, the CIA Act of 1949, various laws that govern undercover/clandestine CIA officers and, potentially, the Espionage Act of 1917.

Yet Hillary’s emails contain at least three separate, specific instances where she mentioned in an unclassified email transmitted across the open Internet and wirelessly to her Blackberry the names of CIA personnel. Here they are. Look for the term “(b)(3) CIA PERS/ORG” Click on the links and see for yourself: CIA One; CIA Two; CIA Three

There are also numerous instances of exposure of the names and/or email addresses of NSA employees (“B3 NSA”); see page 23 inside this longer PDF document.

Why It Matters

— These redactions point directly to violations of specific laws. It is not a “mistake” or minor rule-breaking.

— These redactions strongly suggest that the Espionage Act’s standard of mishandling national defense information through “gross negligence” may have been met by Clinton.

— There is no ambiguity in this information, no possible claims to faux-retroactive classification, not knowing, information not being labeled, etc. Clinton and her staff know that one cannot mention CIA names in open communications. It is one of the most basic tenets taught and exercised inside the government. One protects one’s colleagues.

— Exposing these names can directly endanger the lives of the officials. It can endanger the lives of the foreigners they interacted with after a foreign government learns one of their citizens was talking with the CIA. It can blow covers and ruin sensitive clandestine operations. It can reveal to anyone listening in on this unclassified communication sources and methods. Here is a specific example of how Clinton likely compromised security.

— These redactions show complete contempt on Clinton’s part for the security process.

BONUS: There is clear precedent for others going to jail for exposing CIA names. Read the story of John Kiriakou. A Personal Aside: I just remain incredulous about these revelations seeming to mean nothing to the world. They’re treated in the media as almost gossip.

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His second book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. Next up is a novel about WWII Japan, Hooper’s War. He writes about current events at www.wemeantwell.comand on Twitter @wemeantwell. [This article previously appeared at http://latest.com/2016/06/hillary-clinton-emailed-names-of-u-s-intelligence-officials-unclassified/]




More Game-Playing on MH-17?

Exclusive: The West keeps piling the blame for the 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Russian President Putin although there are many holes in the case and the U.S. government still withholds its evidence, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A newly posted video showing a glimpse of a Buk missile battery rolling down a highway in eastern Ukraine has sparked a flurry of renewed accusations blaming Russia for the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 killing 298 people. But the “dash-cam video” actually adds little to the MH-17 whodunit mystery because it could also support a narrative blaming the Ukrainian military for the disaster.

The fleeting image of the missile battery and its accompanying vehicles, presumably containing an armed escort, seems to have been taken by a car heading west on H-21 highway in the town of Makiivka, as the convoy passed by heading east, according to the private intelligence firm Stratfor and the “citizen journalism” Web site, Bellingcat.

However, even assuming that this Buk battery was the one that fired the missile that destroyed MH-17, its location in the video is to the west of both the site where Almaz-Antey, the Russian Buk manufacturer, calculated the missile was fired, around the village of Zaroshchenskoye (then under Ukrainian government control), and the 320-square-kilometer zone where the Dutch Safety Board speculated the fateful rocket originated (covering an area of mixed government and rebel control).

In other words, the question would be where the battery stopped before firing one of its missiles, assuming that this Buk system was the one that fired the missile. (The map below shows the location of Makiivka in red, Almaz-Antey’s suspected launch site in yellow, and the general vicinity of the Dutch Safety Board’s 320-square-kilometer launch zone in green.)

Another curious aspect of this and the other eight or so Internet images of Buk missiles collected by Bellingcat and supposedly showing a Buk battery rumbling around Ukraine on or about July 17, 2014, is that they are all headed east toward Russia, yet there have been no images of Buks heading west from Russia into Ukraine, a logical necessity if the Russians gave a Buk system to ethnic Russian rebels or dispatched one of their own Buk military units directly into Ukraine, suspicions that Russia and the rebels have denied.

The absence of a westward-traveling Buk battery fits with the assessment from Western intelligence agencies that the several operational Buk systems in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, were under the control of the Ukrainian military, a disclosure contained in a Dutch intelligence report released last October and implicitly confirmed by an earlier U.S. “Government Assessment” that listed weapons systems that Russia had given the rebels but didn’t mention a Buk battery.

The Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet on July 17 belonged to the Ukrainian government. MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014.

MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” capable of downing a plane at that altitude and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country,” whereas the MIVD said the ethnic Russian rebels had only MANPADS that could not reach the higher altitudes.

Ukrainian Offensive

On July 17, the Ukrainian military also was mounting a strong offensive against rebel positions to the north and thus the front lines were shifting rapidly, making it hard to know exactly where the borders of government and rebel control were. To the south, where the Buk missile was believed fired, the battle lines were lightly manned and hazy – because of the concentration of forces to the north – meaning that an armed Buk convoy could probably move somewhat freely.

Also, because of the offensive, the Ukrainian government feared a full-scale Russian invasion to prevent the annihilation of the rebels, explaining why Kiev was dispatching its Buk systems toward the Russian border, to defend against potential Russian air strikes.

Just a day earlier, a Ukrainian fighter flying along the border was shot down by an air-to-air missile (presumably fired by a Russian warplane), according to last October’s Dutch Safety Board report. So, tensions were high on July 17, 2014, when MH-17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, broke apart over eastern Ukraine, believed downed by a surface-to-air missile although there have been other suggestions that the plane might  have been hit by an air-to-air missile.

At the time, Ukraine also was the epicenter of an “information war” that had followed a U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, which ousted democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and replaced the Russian-friendly leader with a fiercely nationalistic and anti-Russian regime in Kiev. The violent coup, in turn, prompted Crimea to vote 96 percent in a hasty referendum to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Eastern Ukraine and its large ethnic Russian population also revolted against the new authorities.

The U.S. government and much of the Western media, however, denied there had been a coup in Kiev, hailed the new regime as “legitimate,” and deemed Crimea’s secession a “Russian invasion.” The West also denounced the eastern Ukrainian resistance as “Russian aggression.” So, the propaganda war was almost as hot as the military fighting, a factor that has further distorted the pursuit of truth about the MH-17 tragedy.

Immediately after the MH-17 crash, the U.S. government sought to pin the blame on Russia as part of a propaganda drive to convince the European Union to join in imposing economic sanctions on Russia for its “annexation” of Crimea and its support of eastern Ukrainians resisting the Kiev regime.

However, a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the analysts could find no evidence that the Russians had supplied the rebels with a sophisticated Buk system or that the Russians had introduced a Buk battery under their own command. The source said the initial intelligence suggested that an undisciplined Ukrainian military team was responsible.

Yet, on July 20, 2014, just three days after the tragedy, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on all Sunday morning talk shows and blamed the Russian-backed rebels and implicitly Moscow. He cited some “social media” comments and – on NBC’s “Meet the Press” – added: “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

Two days later, on July 22, the Obama administration released a “Government Assessment” that tried to bolster Kerry’s accusations, in part, by listing the various weapons systems that U.S. intelligence believed Russia had provided the rebels, but a Buk battery was not among them. At background briefings for selected mainstream media reporters, U.S. intelligence analysts struggled to back up the administration’s case against Russia.

For instance, the analysts suggested to a Los Angeles Times reporter that Ukrainian government soldiers manning the suspected Buk battery may have switched to the rebel side before firing the missile. The Times wrote: “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [Buk anti-aircraft missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.”

However, after that July 22 briefing — as U.S. intelligence analysts continued to pore over satellite imagery, telephonic intercepts and other data to refine their understanding of the tragedy — the U.S. government went curiously silent, refusing to make any updates or adjustments to its initial rush to judgment, a silence that has continued ever since.

Staying Silent

Meanwhile, the source who continued receiving briefings from the U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the reason for going quiet was that the more detailed evidence pointed toward a rogue element of the Ukrainian military connected to a hardline Ukrainian oligarch, with the possible motive the shooting down of President Vladimir Putin’s plane returning from a state visit to South America.

In that scenario, a Ukrainian fighter jet in the vicinity (as reported by several eyewitnesses on the ground) was there primarily as a spotter, seeking to identify the target. But Putin’s plane, with similar markings to MH-17, took a more northerly route and landed safely in Moscow.

Though I was unable to determine whether the source’s analysts represented a dissenting or consensus opinion inside the U.S. intelligence community, some of the now public evidence could fit with that narrative, including why the suspected Buk system was pushing eastward as close to or even into “rebel” territory on July 17.

If Putin was the target, the attackers would need to spread immediate confusion about who was responsible to avoid massive retaliation by Moscow. A perfect cover story would be that Putin’s plane was shot down accidentally by his ethnic Russian allies or even his own troops, the ultimate case of being hoisted on his own petard.

Such a risky operation also would prepare disinformation for release after the attack to create more of a smokescreen and to gain control of the narrative, including planting material on the Internet to be disseminated by friendly or credulous media outlets.

The Ukrainian government has denied having a fighter jet in the air at the time of the MH-17 shoot-down and has denied that any of its Buk or other anti-aircraft systems were involved.

Yet, whatever the truth, U.S. intelligence clearly knows a great deal more than it has been willing to share with the public or even with the Dutch-led investigations. Last October, more than a year after the shoot-down, the Dutch Safety Board was unable to say who was responsible and could only approximate the location of the missile firing inside a 320-square-kilometer area, whereas Kerry had claimed three days after the crash that the U.S. government knew the launch point.

Earlier this year, Fred Westerbeke, the chief prosecutor of the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team [JIT], provided a partial update to the Dutch family members of MH-17 victims, explaining that he hoped to have a more precise fix on the firing site by the second half of 2016, i.e., possibly more than two years after the tragedy.

Westerbeke’s letter acknowledged that the investigators lacked “primary raw radar images” which could have revealed a missile or a military aircraft in the vicinity of MH-17. That apparently was because Ukrainian authorities had shut down their primary radar facilities supposedly for maintenance, leaving only secondary radar which would show commercial aircraft but not military planes or rockets.

Russian officials have said their radar data suggest that a Ukrainian warplane might have fired on MH-17 with an air-to-air missile, a possibility that is difficult to rule out without examining primary radar which has so far not been available. Primary radar data also might have picked up a ground-fired missile, Westerbeke wrote.

“Raw primary radar data could provide information on the rocket trajectory,” Westerbeke wrote. “The JIT does not have that information yet. JIT has questioned a member of the Ukrainian air traffic control and a Ukrainian radar specialist. They explained why no primary radar images were saved in Ukraine.” Westerbeke said investigators are also asking Russia about its data.

Westerbeke added that the JIT had “no video or film of the launch or the trajectory of the rocket.” Nor, he said, do the investigators have satellite photos of the rocket launch.

“The clouds on the part of the day of the downing of MH17 prevented usable pictures of the launch site from being available,” he wrote. “There are pictures from just before and just after July 17th and they are an asset in the investigation.”

Though Westerbeke provided no details, the Russian military released a number of satellite images purporting to show Ukrainian government Buk missile systems north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk before the attack, including two batteries that purportedly were shifted 50 kilometers south of Donetsk on July 17, the day of the crash, and then removed by July 18.

Russian Lt. Gen. Andrey Kartopolov called on the Ukrainian government to explain the movements of its Buk systems and why Kiev’s Kupol-M19S18 radars, which coordinate the flight of Buk missiles, showed increased activity leading up to the July 17 shoot-down.

Necessary Secrets?

Part of the reason that the MH-17 mystery has remained unsolved is that the U.S. government  insists that its satellite surveillance, which includes infrared detection of heat sources as well as highly precise photographic imagery, remains a “state secret” that cannot be made public.

However, in similar past incidents, the U.S. government has declassified sensitive information. For instance, after a Soviet pilot accidentally shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 over Russian territory in 1983, the Reagan administration revealed the U.S. capability to intercept Soviet ground-to-air military communications in order to make the Soviets look even worse by selectively editing the intercepts to present the destruction of the civilian aircraft as willful.

In that case, too, the U.S. government let its propaganda needs overwhelm any commitment to the truth, as Alvin A. Snyder, who in 1983 was director of the U.S. Information Agency’s television and film division, wrote in his 1995 book, Warriors of Disinformation.

After KAL-007 was shot down, “the Reagan administration’s spin machine began cranking up,” Snyder wrote. “The objective, quite simply, was to heap as much abuse on the Soviet Union as possible. … The American media swallowed the U.S. government line without reservation.”

On Sept. 6, 1983, the Reagan administration went so far as to present a doctored transcript of the intercepts to the United Nations Security Council. “The perception we wanted to convey was that the Soviet Union had cold-bloodedly carried out a barbaric act,” Snyder wrote.

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

Snyder concluded, “The moral of the story is that all governments, including our own, lie when it suits their purposes. The key is to lie first.” [For more details on the KAL-007 deception and the history of U.S. trickery, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Dodgy Dossier on Syrian War.”]

In the MH-17 case, the Obama administration let Kerry present the rush to judgment fingering the Russians and the rebels but then kept all the evidence secret even though the U.S. government’s satellite capabilities are well-known. By refusing to declassify any information for the MH-17 investigation, Washington has succeeded in maintaining the widespread impression that Moscow was responsible for the tragedy without having to prove it.

The source who was briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts told me that the Obama administration considered “coming clean” about the MH-17 case in March, when Thomas Schansman, the Dutch father of the only American victim, was pleading for the U.S. government’s cooperation, but administration officials ultimately decided to keep quiet because to do otherwise would have “reversed the narrative.”

In the meantime, outfits such as Bellingcat have been free to reinforce the impression of Russian guilt, even as some of those claims have proved false. For instance, Bellingcat directed a news crew from Australia’s “60 Minutes” to a location outside Luhansk (near the Russian border) that the group had identified as the site for the “getaway video” showing a Buk battery with one missile missing.

The “60 Minutes” crew went to the spot and pretended to be at the place shown in the video, but none of the landmarks matched up, which became obvious when screen grabs of the video were placed next to the scene of the Australian crew’s stand-upper. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Fake Evidence Blaming Russia for MH-17.”]

Yet, reflecting the deep-seated mainstream media bias on the MH-17 case, the Australian program reacted angrily to my pointing out the obvious discrepancies. In a follow-up, the show denounced me but could only cite a utility pole in its footage that looked similar to a utility pole in the video.

While it’s true that utility poles tend to look alike, in this case none of the surroundings did, including the placement of the foliage and a house shown in the video that isn’t present in the Australian program’s shot. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “A Reckless Stand-upper on MH-17.”]

But the impact of the nearly two years of one-sided coverage of the MH-17 case in the mainstream Western media has been considerable. In the last few days, a lawyer for the families of Australian victims announced the filing of a lawsuit against Russia and Putin in the European court for human rights seeking compensation of $10 million per passenger. Many of the West’s news articles on the lawsuit assume Russia’s guilt.

In other words, whatever the truth about the MH-17 shoot-down, the tragedy has proven to be worth its weight in propaganda gold against Russia and Putin, even as the U.S. government hides the actual proof that might show exactly who was responsible.

(Research by Assistant Editor Chelsea Gilmour.)

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).




Intel Vets Urge Fast Report on Clinton’s Emails

A group of U.S. intelligence veterans is calling on President Obama to expedite the FBI review of former Secretary of State Clinton’s alleged email security violations so the public can assess this issue in a timely fashion.

MEMORANDUM FOR: The President

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: Those “Damn Emails” – “Really a Concern”

Introduction

Last Wednesday Robert Gates, CIA Director under President Bush-41 and Defense Secretary under President Bush-43, publicly commented that Secretary Hillary Clinton’s “whole email thing … is really a concern in terms of her judgment,” adding, “I don’t know what originally prompted her to think that was a good idea.”

What originally prompted her does not matter. As your Secretary of State and your subordinate, she willfully violated laws designed to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure. It may be somewhat difficult for those not as immersed in national security matters as we have been to appreciate the seriousness of the offense, including the harm done in compromising some of the most sensitive U.S. programs and activities. This is why we write.

Pundits and others are playing down the harm. A charitable interpretation is that they have no way to gauge what it means to expose so much to so many. We do know, and our overriding concern is to protect the national security of our country from further harm. It would be a huge help toward this end, if you would order Attorney General Loretta Lynch to instruct the FBI to stop slow-walking the email investigation and release its findings promptly.

If you choose, instead, to give precedence to politics over national security, the American people will be deprived of timely appreciation of the gravity of the harm done; national security officials who do follow the rules will be scandalized; FBI investigators will conclude that that their job is more political than professional; and the noxious impression will grow that powerful people cannot be held accountable when they break the law. Worse: if the results of the FBI investigation remain under lock and key, dangerous pressures are likely to be exerted on the most senior U.S. officials by those who have the key – as we explain below.

* * *

We the undersigned Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have spent 400 years working with classified information – up to and including TOP SECRET, Codeword, and Special Access Programs (SAP). Given that experience, we believe that much of the commentary on the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton email controversy has been misplaced, focusing on extraneous issues having little or nothing to do with the overriding imperative to protect classified information.

As intelligence, military, and foreign service professionals, we are highly aware not only of that compelling need, but also of the accompanying necessity to hold accountable those whose actions compromise – whether for reasons of convenience or espionage – sensitive operations, programs and persons. In addition, we know that successful mutual cooperation with foreign intelligence services depends largely on what they see as our ability to keep secrets secret.

Background

Last August, Secretary Clinton handed over her private email server to the FBI, five months after she acknowledged she had used it for work-related emails as Secretary of State. She admitted to having deleted about 31,000 emails she described as personal. Media reports last fall, however, indicated that the FBI was able to recover the personal emails, and was reviewing them, as well as the 30,000 others she had described as work-related.

In January, the Department of State announced that, of the 30,000 work-related emails, at least 1,340 contained classified material. The Department retroactively classified 22 of those TOP SECRET and prevented their release. Among the 22 were some that, according to media reports, included information on highly sensitive Special Access Programs (SAP).

The White House has said it will do nothing to impede the FBI investigation and possible filing of charges against Clinton, if the facts should warrant that kind of action. Inasmuch as the outcome of the investigation is bound to have major political consequences, such White House assurances stretch credulity.

By all indications, the FBI is slow-walking the investigation and mainstream media are soft-pedaling the issue. As things now stand, most Americans remain unaware of the import of this industrial-scale compromise of very sensitive national security information in Secretary Clinton’s emails.

Our concern mounted in January when the Inspector General of the intelligence community wrote to the chairs of the congressional intelligence committees that he had received from one of the intelligence agencies two “sworn declarations” asserting that Secretary Clinton’s emails contained not only CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET information, but also information at the TOP SECRET/SAP level.

In 2009, you signed an Executive Order regarding SAP (Special Access Programs), so we assume you were briefed on their extremely high sensitivity and the consequent need to sharply limit the number of people allowed to be “read-in” on them. The mishandling of SAP information can neutralize intelligence programs costing billions of dollars, wreck liaison relationships assiduously cultivated for decades, and get a lot of people killed.

‘It Wasn’t That Bad’

All those directly or peripherally involved in the investigation of the Clinton email issue know very well that it could have a direct impact on who is likely to become the next President of the United States, and they will be making decisions with that reality in mind. They know that it is with you that “the buck stops,” and they are sensitive to signs of your preferences. Those were not difficult to discern in your commencement address at Howard University on May 7, in which you strongly advocated the same basic policy approaches as those espoused by one Democratic presidential candidate – Hillary Clinton.

Your White House has also made excuses for deliberate security violations by Secretary Clinton that would have gotten senior officials like us fired and probably indicted. We look with suspicion at what we see as contrasting and totally inappropriate attempts by the administration and media to play down the importance of Secretary Clinton’s deliberate disregard of basic security instructions and procedures.

It appears that the option chosen by the White House is using the declared need for “thoroughness” to soft-pedal and delay completion of the investigation for several more months, while the corporate media sleeps on. Four months have already gone by since the smoking-gun-type revelations in the intelligence community Inspector General’s letter to Congress, and it has been well over a year since Secretary Clinton first acknowledged using an insecure email server for official business.

Another claim emanating from your White House is that Clinton was careless in managing her emails and has admitted as much, but that she has not damaged American national security. She has called it a “mistake,” but security officials of the National Security Agency explicitly forewarned her against violating basic laws and regulations designed to prevent the compromise of classified information.

NSA, FBI Have Enough Evidence

Surely, enough time has passed, and enough material has been reviewed, to permit a preliminary damage assessment. The NSA has the necessary information and should, by now, have shared that information with the FBI. Secretary Clinton’s server in her house in Chappaqua, New York, was not a secured device. Her email address incorporated her initials, “hdr” (apparently for her maiden name, Hillary Diane Rodham). It also included the “clinton” server identity, so it was easy for a hacker to spot.

Anyone with the proper equipment, knowledge and motivation might have been able to obtain access. That is what hackers are able to do, with considerable success, against government servers that are far better protected than the private email server located in her New York State home.

In fact, there have been reports that Secretary Clinton’s emails were, indeed, hacked successfully by foreigners. The Romanian hacker who goes by the name Guccifer claimed earlier this month that he had repeatedly hacked her email server. He described the server as “like an open orchid on the Internet” and that “it was easy … easy for me, for everybody.” Guccifer has been extradited from Romania and is now in jail in Alexandria, Virginia, where the FBI is said to be questioning him on the emails. There have also been credible claims that Russian intelligence and other foreign services were able to hack the Secretary’s server.

Another argument being surfaced, in a transparent attempt to defend Secretary Clinton, has to do with intent. It is said that she did not intend to have classified information on her computer in New York and had no intention of handling secret material in a way that would be accessible to foreign intelligence or others lacking the proper security clearances and the need-to-know.

But while intent might be relevant in terms of punishment, it does not change the fact that as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, then Senator Clinton had clearances for classified information for years before becoming Secretary of State. She knew the rules and yet as Secretary she handled classified information carelessly after a deliberate decision to circumvent normal procedures for its safeguarding, thus making it vulnerable to foreign intelligence, as well as to criminal hackers.

Anyone who has ever handled classified material knows that there are a number of things that you do not do. You do not take it home with you, you do not copy it and share it with anyone who does not have a clearance and a need-to-know, you do not strip off the classification marks and treat it as unclassified, and you do not transfer it to another email account that is not protected by a government server.

If you have a secured government computer operating off of a secure server that means that what is on the computer stays on the computer. This is not a matter of debate or subject to interpretation. It is how one safeguards classified information, even if one believes that the material should not be classified, which is another argument that has been made in Clinton’s defense. Whether or not the classification is unnecessary is not your decision to make.

Apart from the guidelines for proper handling of classified information, outlined in Executive Order 13526 and 18 U.S.C Sec. 793(f) of the federal code, there is some evidence of a cover-up regarding what was compromised. This itself would be a violation of the 2009 Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

Numerous messages both in New York and in Washington have reportedly been erased or simply cannot be found. In addition, the law cited above explicitly makes it a felony to cut and paste classified information removing its classification designation. Retaining such information on a private email system is also a felony. In one of Secretary Clinton’s emails, she instructed her staff simply to remove a classification and send the information to her on her server.

So the question is not whether Secretary Clinton broke the law. She did. If the laws are to be equally applied, she should face the same kind of consequences as others who have been found, often on the basis of much less convincing evidence, guilty of similar behavior.

Some More Equal Than Others

Secretary Clinton’ case invites comparison with what happened to former CIA case officer Jeffrey Sterling, now serving a three-and-a-half-year prison term for allegedly leaking information to New York Times journalist James Risen. Sterling first came to the media’s attention when in 2003 he blew the whistle on a botched CIA operation called Operation Merlin, telling the Senate Intelligence Committee staff that the operation had ended up revealing nuclear secrets to Iran. When in 2006 James Risen published a book that discussed, inter alia, this amateurish cowboy operation, the Department of Justice focused on Sterling as the suspected source.

In court, the federal prosecutors relied almost entirely on Risen’s phone and email logs, which reportedly demonstrated that the two men had been in contact up until 2005. But the prosecutors did not provide the content of those communications even though the FBI was listening in on some of them. Risen has claimed that he had multiple sources on Operation Merlin, and Sterling has always denied being involved.

Jeffrey Sterling was not permitted to testify in the trial on his own behalf because he would have had to discuss Operation Merlin, which was and is still classified. He could not mention any details about it even if they were already publicly known through the Risen book. No evidence was ever produced in court demonstrating that any classified information ever passed between the two men, but Sterling, an African American, was nevertheless convicted by an all-white jury in Virginia based on “suspicion” and the presumption that “it had to be him.”

The contrast between the copious evidence – some of it self-admitted – of Secretary Clinton’s demonstrable infractions, on the one hand, and the very sketchy, circumstantial evidence used to convict and imprison Jeffrey Sterling, on the other, lend weight to the suspicion that there is one law for the rich and powerful in the United States and another for the rest of us.

Failing to take steps against a politically powerful presidential candidate and letting her off unscathed for crimes of her own making, while an institutionally unprotected Jeffrey Sterling sits in prison would be a travesty of justice not dissimilar to the gentle wrist-slap given Gen. David Petraeus for giving his mistress extremely sensitive information and then lying to the FBI about it.

Your order to then-Attorney General Eric Holder to let Gen. David Petraeus off easy created a noxious – and demoralizing – precedent in the national security community indicating that, whatever the pains taken at lower levels to prevent compromise of duly classified information, top officials are almost never held accountable for disregarding well-established rules. These are some of the reasons we are so concerned that this is precisely the direction in which you seem to be leaning on the Clinton email issue.

In our view, the sole legitimate reason for disclosing classified information springs from the only “oath” we all took – “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” When, for example, Edward Snowden saw the U.S. government grossly violating our Fourth Amendment right to be “secure” against warrantless “searches and seizures,” he gave more weight to that oath (ethicists call it a supervening value) than to the promise he had made not to disclose information that could harm U.S. national security.

Possibly Still Worse Ahead

You might give some thought, Mr. President, to a potentially messy side of this. What is already known about NSA’s collect-it-all electronic practices over the past several years strongly suggests that NSA, and perhaps the FBI, already know chapter and verse. It is virtually certain they know what was in Secretary Clinton’s emails – including the ones she thought she had deleted. It is likely that they have also been able to determine which foreign intelligence agencies and other hackers were able to access the emails.

One ignores this at one’s peril. Secretary Clinton’s security violations can have impact not only on whether she becomes your successor, but also on whether she would, in that case, be beholden to those who know what lies hidden from the rest of us – perhaps even from you.

Intelligence professionals (in contrast to the occasional political functionary) take the compromise of classified information with utmost seriousness. More important: this is for us a quintessentially nonpartisan issue. It has to do, first and foremost, with the national security of the United States.

We are all too familiar with what harm can come from blithe disregard of basic procedures designed to protect sensitive intelligence and other national security information. Yes, the lamentable unevenness in how such infractions are handled is also an important issue – but that is not our main focus in the present context.

The Truth Will Out

Not all workers at the NSA or the FBI are likely to keep their heads in the sand, as they watch very senior officials and politicians with their own agendas disregard laws to safeguard the nation’s security. We know what it is like to do the difficult, disciplined work of protecting information from being compromised by strictly abiding by what often seem to be cumbersome rules and regulations. We’ve been there; done that.

If you encourage the Department of Justice and the FBI to continue slow-walking the investigation, there is a good chance the truth will come out anyway. As you are aware, the Justice Department, the FBI, and NSA have all yielded recent patriots who, in such circumstances, decided that whistleblowing – rather than silence – was the only way to honor the oath we all swore – to support and defend the Constitution.

To sum up our concern regarding how all this plays out, if you order the Justice Department and FBI to pursue the investigation with “all deliberate speed,” so to speak, and Secretary Clinton becomes president, the juicy email secrets in the hidden hands of the NSA and FBI are likely to give those already powerful institutions a capacity for blackmail that would make J. Edgar Hoover’s mouth water. In addition, information hacked by foreign intelligence services or Guccifer-like hackers can also provide useful grist for leverage or blackmail.

Taking Care the Laws Are Faithfully Executed

We strongly urge you to order Attorney General Loretta Lynch to instruct FBI Director James Comey to wind up a preliminary investigation and tell the country now what they have learned. By now they – and U.S. intelligence agencies – have had enough time to do an early assessment of what classified data, programs and people have been compromised. Realistically speaking, a lengthier, comprehensive post-mortem-type evaluation – however interesting it might be, might never see the light of day under a new president.

We believe the American people are entitled to prompt and full disclosure, and respectfully suggest that you ensure that enforcement of laws protecting our national security does not play stepchild to political considerations on this key issue.

On April 10, you assured Chris Wallace, “I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI – not just in this [Clinton email] case, but in any case. Full stop. Period.”

We urge you to abide by that promise, and let the chips fall where they may. Full stop. Period.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Thomas Drake, Senior Executive, NSA (former)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Former Sen. Mike Gravel, D, Alaska; earlier, Adjutant, top secret control officer, Communications Intelligence Service, special agent the Counter Intelligence Corps.

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

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

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF Intelligence Agency (ret.), ex-Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

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

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

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

Scott Ritter, former MAJ, USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Diane Roark, DOE, DOD, NSC, & professional staff, House Intelligence Committee (ret.)

Robert David Steele, former CIA Operations Officer

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

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

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

 




Pushing Russia Toward War

NATO’s military pressure on Russia and the West’s economic sanctions have empowered Moscow’s hardliners, setting the stage for an escalation of the new Cold War into possibly a hot one, ex-British intelligence officer Alastair Crooke warns.

By Alastair Crooke

Something significant happened in the last few days of April, but it seems the only person who noticed was Stephen Cohen, a professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton University.

In a recorded interview, Cohen notes that a section of the Russian leadership is showing signs of restlessness, focused on President Vladimir Putin’s leadership. We are not talking of street protesters. We are not talking coups against Putin — his popularity remains above 80 percent and he is not about to be displaced. But we are talking about serious pressure being applied to the president to come down from the high wire along which he has warily trod until now.

Putin carries, at one end of his balancing pole, the various elites more oriented toward the West and the “Washington Consensus“ and, at the pole’s other end, those concerned that Russia faces both a real military threat from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a hybrid geo-financial war as well. He is being pressed to come down on the side of the latter, and to pry the grip of the former from the levers of economic power that they still tightly hold.

In short, the issue coming to a head in the Kremlin is whether Russia is sufficiently prepared for further Western efforts to ensure it does not impede or rival American hegemony. Can Russia sustain a geo-financial assault, if one were to be launched? And is such a threat real or mere Western posturing for other ends?

What is so important is that if these events are misread in the West, which is already primed to see any Russian defensive act as offensive and aggressive, the ground will already have been laid for escalation. We already had the first war to push back against NATO in Georgia. The second pushback war is ongoing in Ukraine. What might be the consequences to a third?

In mid-April, General Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee (a sort of super attorney general, as Cohen describes it), wrote that Russia — its role in Syria notwithstanding — is militarily ill prepared to face a new war either at home or abroad, and that the economy is in a bad way, too.

Russia, furthermore, is equally ill-prepared to withstand a geo-financial war. He goes on to say that the West is preparing for war against Russia and that Russia’s leadership does not appear to be aware of or alert to the danger the country faces.

Bastrykin does not say that Putin is to blame, though the context makes it clear that this is what he means. But a few days later, Cohen explains, the article sparked further discussion from those who both endorse Bastrykin and do precisely mention Putin by name.

Then, Cohen notes, a retired Russian general entered the fray to confirm that the West is indeed preparing for war — he pointed to NATO deployments in the Baltics, the Black Sea and Poland, among other places — and underlines again the unpreparedness of the Russian military to face this threat.

“This is a heavy indictment of Putin,” Cohen says of the revelations from this analysis. “It is now out in the open.”

‘Mother Russia’

What is this all about? For some time there have been indications that a key faction within the Kremlin, one that very loosely might be termed “nationalist,” has become deeply disenchanted with Putin’s toleration of the Washington Consensus and its adherents at the Russian central bank and in other pivotal economic posts.

The nationalists want them purged, along with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s perceived Western-friendly government. Putin may be highly popular, but Medvedev’s government is not. The government’s economic policy is being criticized. The opposing faction wants to see an immediate mobilization of the military and the economy for war, conventional or hybrid. This is not about wanting Putin ousted; it is about pushing him to wield the knife — and to cut deeply.

What does this faction want apart from Russia preparing for war? They want a harder line in Ukraine and for Putin to reject U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s snares in Syria. In short, Kerry is still trying to force Assad’s removal and continues to push for further U.S. support for the opposition.

The American government is reluctant as well to disentangle “moderates” from jihadis. The view is that America is insincere in trying to cooperate with Russia on a settlement and more intent on entrapping Putin in Syria. Perhaps this is right, as Gareth Porter and Elijah Magnier have outlined.

What this means at a more fundamental level is that Putin is being asked to side with the nationalists against the internationalists aligned with the Washington Consensus, and to purge them from power. Recall, however, that Putin came to power precisely to temper this polarity within Russian society by rising above it — to heal and rebuild a diverse society recovering from deep divisions and crises. He is being asked to renounce that for which he stands because, he is being told, Russia is being threatened by a West that is preparing for war.

The prospect of the seeming inevitability of future conflict is hardly new to Putin, who has spoken often on this theme. He has, however, chosen to react by placing the emphasis on gaining time for Russia to strengthen itself and trying to corner the West into some sort of cooperation or partnership on a political settlement in Syria, for example, which might have deflected the war dynamic into a more positive course. Putin has, at the same time, skillfully steered Europeans away from NATO escalation.

But in both of these objectives the Obama administration is acting to weaken Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s hand, and therefore strengthening the hand of those in Russia calling for a full mobilization for war. It is not coincidental that Bastrykin’s alarm-raising article came now, as the Syria ceasefire is being deliberately infringed and broken.

American Strategy

Is this properly understood in the White House? If so, must we conclude that escalation against Russia is desired? As Cohen notes, “the Washington Post [in its editorial pages] tells us regularly that never, never, never … under any circumstances, can the criminal Putin be a strategic partner of the United States.”

Is the die then cast? Is Putin bound to fail? Is conflict inevitable? Ostensibly, it may seem so. The stage is certainly being set.

I have written before on, “the pivot already under way from within the U.S. defense and intelligence arms of Obama’s own administration” toward what is often referred to as the “Wolfowitz doctrine,” a set of policies developed by the U.S. in the 1990s and early 2000s. The author of one of those policies, the 1992 U.S. Defense Planning Guidance, wrote that the DPG in essence sought to:

“preclude the emergence of bipolarity, another global rivalry like the Cold War, or multipolarity, a world of many great powers, as existed before the two world wars. To do so, the key was to prevent a hostile power from dominating a ‘critical region,’ defined as having the resources, industrial capabilities and population that, if controlled by a hostile power, would pose a global challenge.”

In an interview with Vox, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was clear that this was broadly the bearing by which the Pentagon was being directed to sail. Then again, there is the rather obvious fact that, instead of the much-touted U.S. military pivot ostensibly being to Asia, the actual NATO pivot is being directed to Central Europe — to Russia’s borders. And NATO is plainly pushing the envelope as hard as it dares, up and against Russia’s borders.

Then there is the rhetoric: Russian aggression. Russian ambitions to recover the former Soviet Empire. Russian attempts to divide and destroy Europe. And so on.

Why? It may be that NATO simply presumes these envelope-pushing exercises will never actually come to war, that Russia somehow will back off. And that continuously poking the bear will serve America’s interest in keeping Europe together and NATO cohesive, its sanctions in place, divided from Russia.

NATO is due to meet in Warsaw in early July. Perhaps, then, the Western language about Russia’s “aggression” is little more than America heading off any European revolt on sanctions by stirring up a pseudo-threat from Russia and that the Russians are misreading American true intentions, which do not go beyond this. Or do they?

The extraordinary bitterness and emotional outrage with which the American establishment has reacted to Donald Trump’s probable nomination as a presidential candidate suggests that the U.S. establishment is far from having given up on the Wolfowitz doctrine.

So has Putin’s strategy of co-opting America in the Middle East been the failure that the Bastrykin faction implies? In other words, is it the case that the policy of gaining cooperation has failed and that Putin must now move beyond it, because America is not about to cooperate and is, instead, continuing the process of cornering Russia?

GOP Establishment Revolts

As the Texas Tribune reported on May 4, “For the first time since his own presidency, George H.W. Bush is planning to stay silent in the race for the Oval Office — and the younger former president Bush plans to stay silent as well.”

To get a sense of the war within the Republican Party (and the Democrats are no less conflicted), read this reaction to that story by the two-time Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. Here’s a small selection:

“Trump’s triumph is a sweeping repudiation of Bush Republicanism by the same party that nominated them [the Bush’s] four times for the presidency. Not only was son and brother, Jeb, humiliated and chased out of the race early, but Trump won his nomination by denouncing as rotten to the core the primary fruits of signature Bush policies … That is a savage indictment of the Bush legacy. And a Republican electorate, in the largest turnout in primary history, nodded, ‘Amen to that, brother!’”

Buchanan continues in another piece: “The hubris here astonishes. A Republican establishment that has been beaten as badly as Carthage in the Third Punic War is now making demands on Scipio Africanus and the victorious Romans” — a reference to Paul Ryan’s attempts to make Trump adhere to Bush Republicanism. “This is difficult to absorb.”

But here, in this crisis, is an opportunity. America could be heading into recession, corporate profits are falling, huge swaths of debt are looking suspect, global trade is sinking and U.S. policy tools for controlling the global financial system have lost their credibility. And there are no easy solutions to the global overhang of increasingly putrid debt.

But a President Trump — were that to happen — can lay blame for any perfect economic storm on the Establishment. America is all knotted up at present, as the presidential nomination melee made clear. Some knots will take time to undo, but some could be undone relatively easily, and it seems that Trump has some sense of this. It could start with a dramatic diplomatic initiative.

Historically, most radical projects of reform have started in this way: overturn a piece of conventional wisdom and unlock the entire policy gridlock — the momentum gained will allow a reformer to steamroll even the hardest resistance — in this case, Wall Street and the financial oligarchy — into making reforms.

Trump can simply say that American — and European — national security interests pass directly through Russia — which they clearly do — that Russia does not threaten America — which it clearly does not — and that NATO is, in any case, “obsolete,” as he has said. It makes perfect sense to join with Russia and its allies to surround and destroy the so-called Islamic State.

If one listens carefully, Trump seems halfway there. It would cut a lot of knots, maybe even untie the policy gridlock. Perhaps that is what he intends?

Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat who was a senior figure in British intelligence and in European Union diplomacy. He is the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum, which advocates for engagement between political Islam and the West. [This article originally appeared at Huffington Post.]




US Downplays a New Syrian Massacre

Exclusive: The Obama administration claims Syrian rebels in Ahrar al-Sham deserve protection from government attack although they have close ties to Al Qaeda and joined its official Syrian affiliate in a slaughter of Alawites, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

On May 12, at dawn, members of Al Nusra and an allied Syrian rebel group known as Ahrar al-Sham stormed the Alawite village of Al-Zahraa, reportedly killing 19 people and abducting 120 others. In typical Salafist fashion, Ahrar al-Sham then posted a grisly YouTube video showing jihadis chanting Allahu akbar – “God is great” – and pointing in triumph to a bloody female body sprawled across the floor.

The incident, which occurred about 10 miles north of Aleppo, couldn’t have been more embarrassing for the United States since, just a day earlier, it had blocked a Russian proposal to formally designate Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group.

Under intense questioning, State Department spokesman John Kirby grew visibly flustered as he struggled to defend US policy.

“I’m not going to get into internal deliberations one way or the other,” he said of the discussions among the 17 members of the International Syria Support Group, the United Nations body in charge of Syrian peace talks in Vienna. When a reporter from the “Russia Today” TV network demanded to know why, he sputtered:

“I’m telling you – look, you’re putting – I love how you do this, try to put everything on the United States.  The International Syria Support Group is an international – it represents the international community. Iran is a member. Russia is a member. Saudi Arabia – I could go on and on and on. All of them collectively made this decision.”

This was nonsense since it was the U.S. that led the charge against the resolution to classify Ahrar al-Sham as terrorist and Russia that was forced to back down. Kirby was simply dodging the issue. But if his inability to take responsibility shows anything, it is how uncomfortable at least some Washington officials have become with the Obama administration’s Syrian policy.

Obama’s Quagmire

And it’s no wonder. Syria is Obama’s Vietnam, a quagmire that grows messier and messier the harder he tries to escape – and Ahrar al-Sham shows why. One of the largest rebel factions in Syria, the so-called “Free Men of Syria,” began in 2011 as more or less an Al Qaeda spin-off with Mohamed Baheya, a long-time aide to Osama bin Laden and his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, occupying one of the group’s top spots. But for tactical reasons, it chose to adopt a more moderate tone.

Last July, for instance, it published op-eds in the Washington Post and the London Telegraph declaring that Syria should not be controlled “by a single party or group” and that any future government should aim at “striking balance that respects the legitimate aspirations of the majority as well as protects minority communities and enables them to play a real and positive role in Syria’s future.”

It sounded reasonable enough, especially once Robert S. Ford, Obama’s former ambassador to Syria, followed up a few days later with an article for Washington’s Middle East Institute arguing that Ahrar is worth dealing with because it believes that religious minorities should be allowed to hold low-level political positions provided “they possess the right qualifications.”

Did the White House take its ex-ambassador’s advice? The answer, all too typically, was yes and no. Aware that the group opposes democratic self-rule and believes in imposing shari‘a at gunpoint, Obama kept it at an arm’s length. But at the same time he resisted pressure to classify it as terrorist and made no objection when it joined forces with Al Nusra, Al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, to form a new coalition calling itself Jaish al-Fatah, or Army of Conquest.

When Turkey and Saudi Arabia supplied the new alliance with U.S.-made TOW missiles so it could launch a major offensive in Syria’s northern Idlib province in March 2015, the administration held its tongue as well. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Climbing into Bed with Al-Qaeda.”]

It was a policy of neither-nor that allowed the administration to maintain “plausible deniability” while doing nothing to ruffle the feathers of Ankara or Riyadh as they cheered Ahrar al-Sham and Al Nusra on.

Besides, Turkey and Saudi Arabia had a point. However bigoted and reactionary, Ahrar al-Sham was a large and effective force at a time when secular rebels were increasingly rare. As long as the White House continued to back “regime change,” it couldn’t help collaborating with distasteful groups that were nonetheless effective on the battlefield.

The result, as Kirby’s dismal performance shows, has been to play down atrocities, plead ignorance, and then, when that doesn’t work, change the subject to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad alleged misdeeds instead.

When asked about reports that Ahrar al-Sham militants were “comingling” with Al Nusra – which is to say fighting side by side with Al Qaeda – State Department spokesman Elizabeth Trudeau replied on May 11 that “it’s very difficult to tease that out” because information is incomplete.

When asked who was to blame for the atrocities in Al-Zahraa, her colleague Kirby refused to say two days later because “we don’t have a whole lot of specific information about these attacks right now.” Three days after that, he was still reluctant to assign blame because, he said, the facts remained up in the air: “The only other thing I would say is regardless of who was responsible for this attack, there’s no excuse for killing innocent civilians, none whatsoever.”

Knowing Nothing

If the State Department was in no hurry to find out, it was because it didn’t want to know. “We are working with all members of the ISSG,” Kirby went on, “to use the appropriate amount of influence that they have … over groups in Syria to get everybody to abide by the cessation.”

If Ahrar al-Sham was guilty of mass murder and abduction, then the U.S. would use its influence to see to it that its behavior was less … extreme. What’s going on here? Is Ahrar al-Sham playing the U.S. for a fool? Or is the Obama administration using such groups to advance its strategic goals?

The answer is a bit of both. The best way to understand bizarre behavior like this is to see it in the context of a vast imperial breakdown that is now unrolling across much of the Middle East.

America’s two main partners in the great Syrian misadventure are both in a state of deepening crisis. Not only is Turkey lurching toward dictatorship under an increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but its economy is crashing as well. The Istanbul stock market fell eight percent after Erdogan forced Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu out of office on May 5 while the Turkish lire fell nearly six percent in a single day. Corporate bankruptcies are up, growth is down, and tourist income is falling amid bombings and civil war in the Kurdish southeast.

But America’s other partner – Saudi Arabia – is even worse as it lurches from one disaster to the next. The war in Yemen is costing the kingdom and its Sunni Arab allies an estimated $200 million day, with the lion’s share borne by Riyadh. This is money that the Saudis can ill afford given a budget deficit projected to reach 13.5 percent of GDP this year due to an 18-month slump in oil prices.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s “Vision 2030,” his grandiose economic plan for weaning the kingdom off oil, is meeting with widespread skepticism while the kingdom is so short of cash that it is considering paying contractors with IOU’s. When the Binladin Group, the kingdom’s largest construction company, laid off 50,000 foreign employees late last month, workers responded by rioting and setting fire to seven company buses. (Yes, Osama bin Laden was a member of the family that owns Binladin Group.)

Politically, the news is nothing short of ghastly. Under the late King Abdullah, the kingdom rapidly descended into fear and paranoia as it sent troops into neighboring Bahrain to crush democratic protests by the country’s 70-percent Shi‘ite majority and funneled billions of dollars to anti-Assad rebels in hopes of toppling Syria’s pro-Shi‘ite government.

Saudi Extremism

But where Abdullah was actually a mild reformer, believe it or not, his brother, Salman, who took over in January 2015, is a hardliner whose answer to criticism by Western human rights groups was to step up the number of public executions immediately after taking office and then doubling them again in 2016.  Salman’s March 2015 agreement with Erdogan to supply Al Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other jihadist groups with TOW missiles was in keeping with this increasingly xenophobic mindset.

It was the response of a beleaguered monarch convinced that Shi‘ite militants are pressing in on the kingdom from all sides and that the only way to hold them off is by stepping up aid to Al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists.

But such efforts have only added to the kingdom’s woes. While Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham were able to eke out a short-term victory in Syria’s northern Idlib province, the only effect was to bring Russia into the war and tip the scales back in favor of Assad.

As a result, the Saudi kingdom now finds itself back on the defensive in Syria as well as in Yemen where the war against Shi‘ite Houthi rebels is hopelessly stalled. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran is rebuilding its ties to the world community after the April 2015 nuclear accord with the U.S. The more the kingdom struggles to assert itself, the more vulnerable its position grows.

“Were the Saudi monarchy to fall, it might be replaced not by a group of liberals and democrats but rather by Islamists and reactionaries,” warned Fareed Zakaria last month in the Washington Post. This is the nightmare that causes policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to wake up in a cold sweat.

With oil prices off more than 50 percent from their peak in mid-2014, Saudi Arabia’s vast oil fields are worth less and less. But the prospect of a quarter of the world’s proven fossil-fuel reserves coming under the control of Al Qaeda or ISIS (as Islamic State is also known) is still too much to bear. So something – anything – must be done to maintain the status quo.

Buying Time

Thus, the administration dithers and stalls in the hope that a magic solution will somehow appear. Obviously, Obama made a big mistake in August 2011 in calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. With Arab Spring demonstrations erupting across the country and the Baathist regime seemingly nearing a breaking point, it seemed like an easy call. But it wasn’t.

Five years later, Assad is still in power while Obama finds himself on the hook to the Saudis, who want to see their bête noire toppled at all costs and are therefore determined to hold the U.S. to its word. Obama can’t afford another war in the Middle East or a military showdown with Russia.

He also knows that the Free Syrian Army, America’s favorite rebel faction, is a hollow shell no matter how much money and materiel the CIA sends its way. So he finds himself cooperating in one way or another with dangerous Sunni jihadists who, ideologically speaking, are no different from the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The upshot is a policy that makes no sense other than as a delaying tactic. Obama bombs Al Nusra to show he’s still serious about beating back Al Qaeda but includes its inseparable ally, Ahrar al-Sham, among the “non-terrorist” groups exempt from Syrian government attack under the terms of the May 5 Aleppo ceasefire agreement. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Secret Behind the Yemen War.”]

Obama condemns terrorism but maintains back-channel communications with Ahrar al-Sham even though it’s nothing more than Al Qaeda-lite. He bombs Islamic State to show that he’s serious about combating ISIS but gives it a free pass whenever it goes up against Assad. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How US-Backed War on Syria Helped ISIS.”]

Obama calls for peace but refuses to condemn those responsible for atrocities like those in Al-Zahraa. Finally, Obama calls for a negotiated settlement but threatens to impose something called “Plan B”  if Assad doesn’t step down. That mysterious escalation could mean dividing the country along ethnic or religious lines, arming the rebels with portable anti-aircraft weapons known as Manpads, or something else entirely.

In truth, Obama is just trying to keep the lid on until Jan. 20 when the Syria mess becomes somebody else’s problem. At that point, he may well wind up on the Saudi payroll like Bill and Hillary Clinton or Tony Blair – assuming, that is, that the entity known as Saudi Arabia still exists.

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




How Israel Out-Foxed US Presidents

From the Archive: A century ago, the British-French Sykes-Picot deal carved up the Mideast, setting in motion conflicts made more complicated when Israel emerged and mastered American politics, as Morgan Strong described in 2010.

By Morgan Strong (Originally published May 31, 2010)

At the end of a news conference on April 13, 2010, President Barack Obama made the seemingly obvious point that the continuing Middle East conflict pitting Israel against its Arab neighbors will end up “costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.”

Obama’s remark followed a similar statement in congressional testimony by Gen. David Petraeus on March 16, linking the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the challenges that U.S. troops face in the region.

“The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel,” Petraeus said in prepared testimony. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support.”

[Petraeus later tried to back away from this implicit criticism of Israel, fearing that it would hurt his political standing with his neoconservative allies. He began insisting that the analysis was only part of his written testimony, not his oral remarks.]

Yet, the truth behind the assessments from Obama and Petraeus is self-evident to anyone who has spent time observing the Middle East for the past six decades. Even the staunchly pro-Israeli Bush administration made similar observations.

In 2007 in Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice termed the Israeli/Palestinian peace process of “strategic interest” to the United States and expressed empathy for the beleaguered Palestinian people. “The prolonged experience of deprivation and humiliation can radicalize even normal people,” Rice said, referring to acts of Palestinian violence.

But the statements by Obama and Petraeus aroused alarm among some Israeli supporters who reject any suggestion that Israel’s harsh treatment of Palestinians might be a factor in the anti-Americanism surging through the Islamic world.

After Petraeus’s comment, the pro-Israeli Anti-Defamation League said linking the Palestinian plight and Muslim anger was “dangerous and counterproductive.”

“Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel,” ADL national director Abraham Foxman said.

However, the U.S. government’s widespread (though often unstated) recognition of the truth behind the assessment in Petraeus’s testimony has colored how the Obama administration has reacted to the intransigence of Israel’s Likud government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The U.S. government realizes how much it has done on Israel’s behalf, even to the extent of making Americans the targets of Islamic terrorism such as the 9/11 attacks (as the 9/11 Commission discovered but played down) and sacrificing the lives of thousands of U.S. troops fighting in Middle East conflicts.

That was the backdrop in March 2009 for President Obama’s outrage over the decision of the Netanyahu government to continue building Jewish housing in Arab East Jerusalem despite the fact that the move complicated U.S. peace initiatives and was announced as Vice President Joe Biden arrived to reaffirm American support for Israel.

However, another little-acknowledged truth about the U.S.-Israeli relationship is that Israeli leaders have frequently manipulated and misled American presidents out of a confidence that U.S. politicians deeply fear the political fallout from any public battle with Israel.

Given that history, few analysts who have followed the arc of U.S.-Israeli relations since Israel’s founding in 1948 believe that the Israeli government is likely to retreat very much in its confrontation with President Obama. [Now, nearly seven years into Obama’s presidency after Netanyahu’s persistent obstruction of Palestinian peace talks and his steady expansion of Jewish settlements that assessment has proved out.]

Manipulating Eisenhower

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower was a strong supporter of the fledgling Jewish state and had supplied Israel with advanced U.S. weaponry. Yet, despite Eisenhower’s generosity and good intentions, Israel sided with the British and French in 1956 in a conspiracy against him. Israeli leaders joined a secret arrangement that involved Israel invading Egypt’s Sinai, which then allowed France and Great Britain to introduce their own forces and reclaim control of the Suez Canal.

In reaction to the invasion, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene on the side of Egypt by sending ground troops. With Cold War tensions already stretched thin by the crises in Hungary and elsewhere, Eisenhower faced the possibility of a showdown between nuclear-armed adversaries. Eisenhower demanded that the Israeli-spearheaded invasion of the Sinai be stopped, and he brought financial and political pressures to bear on Great Britain and France.

A ceasefire soon was declared, and the British and French departed, but the Israelis dragged their heels. Eisenhower finally presented Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion with an ultimatum, a threat to cut off all U.S. aid. Finally, in March 1957, the Israelis withdrew. [For details, see Eisenhower and Israel by Isaac Alteras.]

Even as it backed down in the Sinai, Israel was involved in another monumental deception, a plan for building its own nuclear arsenal. In 1956, Israel had concluded an agreement with France to build a nuclear reactor in the Negev desert. Israel also signed a secret agreement with France to build an adjacent plutonium reprocessing plant.

Israel began constructing its nuclear plant in 1958. However, French President Charles de Gaulle was worried about nuclear weapons destabilizing the Middle East and insisted that Israel not develop a nuclear bomb from the plutonium processing plant. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion assured de Gaulle that the processing plant was for peaceful purposes only.

After John F. Kennedy became President, he also wrote to Ben-Gurion explicitly calling on Israel not to join the nuclear-weapons club, drawing another pledge from Ben-Gurion that Israel had no such intention. Nevertheless, Kennedy continued to press, forcing the Israelis to let U.S. scientists inspect the nuclear reactor at Dimona. But the Israelis first built a fake control room while bricking up and otherwise disguising parts of the building that housed the plutonium processing plant.

In return for allowing inspectors into Dimona, Ben-Gurion also demanded that the United States sell Hawk surface-to-air missiles to the Israeli military. Kennedy agreed to the sale as a show of good faith. Subsequently, however, the CIA got wind of the Dimona deception and leaked to the press that Israel was secretly building a nuclear bomb.

After Kennedy’s assassination, President Lyndon Johnson also grew concerned over Israel’s acquiring nuclear weapons. He asked then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Eshkol assured Johnson that Israel was studying the matter and would sign the treaty in due course. However, Israel has never signed the treaty and never has admitted that it developed nuclear weapons. [For details, see Israel and The Bomb by Avner Cohen.]

Trapping Johnson

As Israel grew more sophisticated and more confident in its dealings with U.S. presidents, it also sought to secure U.S. military assistance by exaggerating its vulnerability to Arab attacks. One such case occurred after the Egyptians closed off the Gulf of Aqaba to Israel in May 1967, denying the country its only access to the Red Sea. Israel threatened military action against Egypt if it did not re-open the Gulf.

Israel then asked President Johnson for military assistance in the event war broke out against the Egyptians. Johnson directed Richard Helms, the newly appointed head of the CIA to evaluate Israel’s military capability in the event of war against the surrounding Arab states.

On May 26, 1967, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban met with Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and Helms. Eban presented a Mossad estimate of the capability of the Arab armies, claiming that Israel was seriously outgunned by the Arab armies which had been supplied with advanced Soviet weaponry. Israel believed that, owing to its special relationship with the United States, the Mossad intelligence assessment would be taken at face value.

However, Helms was asked to present the CIA estimate of the Arabs’ military capabilities versus the Israeli army. The CIA’s analysts concluded that Israel could “defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting a successful major offensive on the fourth.” [See “C.I.A. Analysis of the 1967 Arab Israeli War,” Center for the Study of Intelligence.]

“We do not believe that the Israeli appreciation was a serious estimate of the sort they would submit to their own high officials,” the CIA report said. “It is probably a gambit intended to influence the U.S. to provide military supplies, make more public commitments to Israel, to approve Israeli military initiatives, and put more pressure on Egyptian President Nasser.” [See A Look Over My Shoulder by Richard Helms.]

The CIA report stated further that the Soviet Union would probably not interfere militarily on behalf of the Arab states and that Israel would defeat the combined Arab armies in a matter of days. As a consequence, Johnson refused to airlift special military supplies to Israel, or to promise public support for Israel if Israel went to war.

The Six-Day Success

Despite Johnson’s resistance, Israel launched an attack on its Arab neighbors on June 5, 1967, claiming that the conflict was provoked when Egyptian forces opened fire. (The CIA later concluded that it was Israel that had first fired upon Egyptian forces.)

On June 8, at the height of the conflict, which would become known as the Six-Day War, Israeli fighter/bombers attacked the USS Liberty, a lightly armed communications vessel sent on a mission to relay information on the course of the war to U.S. naval intelligence.

The attack killed 34 Americans sailors, and wounded 171 others. Israeli leaders have always claimed that they had mistaken the U.S. vessel for an enemy ship, but a number of U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Dean Rusk, believed the attack was deliberate, possibly to prevent the United States from learning about Israel’s war plans. [See As I Saw It by Dean Rusk.]

However, in deference to Israel, the U.S. government did not aggressively pursue the matter of the Liberty attack and even issued misleading accounts in medal citations to crew members, leaving out the identity of the attackers.

Meanwhile, on land and in the air, Israel’s powerful military advanced, shredding the Arab defenses. Soon, the conflict escalated into another potential showdown between nuclear-armed superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. On June 10, President Johnson received a “Hot Line” message from Soviet Premier Alexi Kosygin. The Kremlin warned of grave consequences if Israel continued its military campaign against Syria by entering and/or occupying that country.

Johnson dispatched the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean, in a move to convince the Soviets of American resolve. But a ceasefire was declared later the same day, with Israel ending up in control of Syria’s Golan Heights, Egypt’s Sinai, and Palestinian lands including Gaza and East Jerusalem.

But a wider war was averted. Johnson’s suspicions about Israel’s expansionist intent had kept the United States from making an even bigger commitment that might have led to the Soviets countering with an escalation of their own.

Nixon and Yom Kippur

Israeli occupation of those additional Arab lands set the stage for a resumption of hostilities six years later, on Oct. 6, 1973, with the Yom Kippur War, which began with a surprise attack by Egypt against Israeli forces in the Sinai.

The offensive caught Israel off guard and Arab forces were close to overrunning Israel’s outer defenses and entering the country. According to later accounts based primarily on Israeli leaks, Prime Minister Golda Meir and her “kitchen cabinet” ordered the arming of 13 nuclear weapons, which were aimed at Egyptian and Syrian targets.

Israeli Ambassador to the United States Simha Dintz warned President Richard Nixon that very serious repercussions would occur if the United States did not immediately begin an airlift of military equipment and personnel to Israel. Fearing that the Soviet Union might intervene and that nuclear war was possible, the U.S. military raised its alert level to DEFCON-3. U.S. Airborne units in Italy were put on full alert, and military aid was rushed to Israel.

Faced with a well-supplied Israeli counteroffensive and possible nuclear annihilation, the Arab forces fell back. The war ended on Oct. 26, 1973, but the United States had again been pushed to the brink of a possible superpower confrontation due to the unresolved Israeli-Arab conflict.

Nuclear ‘Ambiguity’

On Sept. 22, 1979, after some clouds unexpectedly broke over the South Indian Ocean, a U.S. intelligence satellite detected two bright flashes of light that were quickly interpreted as evidence of a nuclear test. The explosion was apparently one of several nuclear tests that Israel had undertaken in collaboration with the white-supremacist government of South Africa. But President Jimmy Carter at the start of his reelection bid didn’t want a showdown with Israel, especially on a point as sensitive as its secret nuclear work with the pariah government in Pretoria.

So, after news of the nuclear test leaked a month later, the Carter administration followed Israel’s longstanding policy of “ambiguity” about the existence of its nuclear arsenal, a charade dating back to Richard Nixon’s presidency with the United States pretending not to know for sure that Israel possessed nuclear bombs.

The Carter administration quickly claimed that there was “no confirmation” of a nuclear test, and a panel was set up to conclude that the flashes were “probably not from a nuclear explosion.” However, as investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and various nuclear experts later concluded, the flashes were most certainly an explosion of a low-yield nuclear weapon. [For details, see Hersh’s Samson Option.]

Getting Carter

Despite Carter’s helpful cover-up of the Israeli-South African nuclear test, he was still viewed with disdain by Israel’s hard-line Likud leadership. Indeed, he arguably was the target of Israel’s most audacious intervention in U.S. politics.

Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious at Carter over the 1978 Camp David accords in which the U.S. President pushed the Israelis into returning the Sinai to the Egyptians in exchange for a peace agreement. The next year, Carter failed to protect the Shah of Iran, an important Israeli regional ally who was forced from power by Islamic militants. Then, when Carter acceded to demands from the Shah’s supporters to admit him to New York for cancer treatment, Iranian radicals seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage.

In 1980, as Carter focused on his reelection campaign, Begin saw both dangers and opportunities. High-ranking Israeli diplomat/spy David Kimche described Begin’s thinking in the 1991 book, The Last Option, recounting how Begin feared that Carter might force Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and accept a Palestinian state if he won a second term.

“Begin was being set up for diplomatic slaughter by the master butchers in Washington,” Kimche wrote. “They had, moreover, the apparent blessing of the two presidents, Carter and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat, for this bizarre and clumsy attempt at collusion designed to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Begin’s alarm was driven by the prospect of Carter being freed from the pressure of having to face another election, according to Kimche.

“Unbeknownst to the Israeli negotiators, the Egyptians held an ace up their sleeves, and they were waiting to play it,” Kimche wrote. “The card was President Carter’s tacit agreement that after the American presidential elections in November 1980, when Carter expected to be re-elected for a second term, he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby.”

So, by spring 1980, Begin had privately sided with Carter’s Republican rival, Ronald Reagan, a reality that Carter soon realized. Questioned by congressional investigators in 1992 regarding allegations about Israel conspiring with Republicans in 1980 to help unseat him, Carter said he knew by April 1980 that “Israel cast their lot with Reagan,” according to notes found among the unpublished documents in the files of a House task force that looked into the so-called October Surprise case.

Carter traced the Israeli opposition to his reelection to a “lingering concern [among] Jewish leaders that I was too friendly with Arabs.” [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Doing What Was Necessary

Begin was an Israeli leader committed to do whatever he felt necessary to advance Israeli security interests and the dream of a Greater Israel with Jews controlling the ancient Biblical lands. Before Israel’s independence in 1948, he had led a Zionist terrorist group, and he founded the right-wing Likud Party in 1973 with the goal of “changing the facts on the ground” by placing Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

Begin’s anger over the Sinai deal and his fear of Carter’s reelection set the stage for secret collaboration between Begin and the Republicans, according to another former Israeli intelligence official, Ari Ben-Menashe.

“Begin loathed Carter for the peace agreement forced upon him at Camp David,” Ben-Menashe wrote in his 1992 memoir, Profits of War. “As Begin saw it, the agreement took away Sinai from Israel, did not create a comprehensive peace, and left the Palestinian issue hanging on Israel’s back.”

Ben-Menashe, an Iranian-born Jew who had immigrated to Israel as a teen-ager, became part of a secret Israeli program to reestablish its Iranian intelligence network that had been decimated by the Islamic revolution. Ben-Menashe wrote that Begin authorized shipments to Iran of small arms and some military spare parts, via South Africa, as early as September 1979 and continued them despite Iran’s seizure of the U.S. hostages in November 1979.

Extensive evidence also exists that Begin’s preference for Reagan led the Israelis to join in a covert operation with Republicans to contact Iranian leaders behind Carter’s back, interfering with the President’s efforts to free the 52 American hostages before the November 1980 elections.

That evidence includes statements from senior Iranian officials, international arms dealers, intelligence operatives (including Ben-Menashe), and Middle East political figures (including a cryptic confirmation from Begin’s successor Yitzhak Shamir). But the truth about the October Surprise case remains in dispute to this day. [For the latest details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

It is clear that after Reagan defeated Carter, and the U.S. hostages were released immediately upon Reagan being sworn in on Jan. 20, 1981, Israeli-brokered weapons shipments flowed to Iran with the secret blessing of the new Republican administration.

Dealing with Reagan

The Israel Lobby had grown exponentially since its start in the Eisenhower years. Israel’s influential supporters were now positioned to use every political device imaginable to lobby Congress and to get the White House to acquiesce to whatever Israel felt it needed.

President Reagan also credentialed into the Executive Branch a new group of pro-Israeli American officials the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen and Jeane Kirkpatrick who became known as the neocons.

Yet, despite Reagan’s pro-Israel policies, the new U.S. President wasn’t immune from more Israeli deceptions and additional pressures. Indeed, whether because of the alleged collusion with Reagan during the 1980 campaign or because Israel sensed its greater clout within his administration, Begin demonstrated a new level of audacity.

In 1981, Israel recruited Jonathan Pollard, an American Navy intelligence analyst, as a spy to acquire American intelligence satellite photos. Eventually, Pollard purloined massive amounts of intelligence information, some of which was reportedly turned over to Soviet intelligence by Israel to win favors from Moscow.

Prime Minister Begin sensed, too, that the time was ripe to gain the upper hand on other Arab enemies. He turned his attention to Lebanon, where the Palestine Liberation Organization was based. When U.S. intelligence warned Reagan that Israel was massing troops along the border with Lebanon, Reagan sent a cable to Begin urging him not to invade. But Begin ignored Reagan’s plea and invaded Lebanon the following day, on June 6, 1982. [See Time, Aug. 16, 1982.]

As the offensive progressed, Reagan sought a cessation of hostilities between Israel and the PLO, but Israel was intent on killing as many PLO fighters as possible. Periodic U.S.-brokered ceasefires failed as Israel used the slightest provocation to resume fighting, supposedly in self-defense.

“When PLO sniper fire is followed by fourteen hours of Israeli bombardment that is stretching the definition of defensive action too far,” complained Reagan, who kept the picture of a horribly burned Lebanese child on his desk in the Oval Office as a reminder of the tragedy of Lebanon.

The American public nightly witnessed the Israeli bombardment of Beirut on television news broadcasts. The pictures of dead, mutilated children caught in the Israeli artillery barrages, were particularly wrenching. Repulsed by the carnage, the U.S. public decidedly favored forcing Israel to stop.

When Reagan warned Israel of possible sanctions if its forces continued to indiscriminately attack Beirut, Israel launched a major offensive against West Beirut the next day. In the United States, Israeli supporters demanded a meeting with Reagan to press Israel’s case. Though Reagan declined the meeting, one was set up for 40 leaders of various Jewish organizations with Vice President George H.W. Bush, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Secretary of State George Shultz.

Reagan wrote once again to Begin, reminding him that Israel was allowed to use American weapons only for defensive purposes. He appealed to Begin’s humanitarianism to stop the bombardment.

The next day, in a meeting with Israeli supporters from the United States, Begin fumed that he would not be instructed by an American president or any other U.S. official. “Nobody is going to bring Israel to her knees. You must have forgotten that Jews do not kneel but to God,” Begin said. “Nobody is going to preach to us humanitarianism.”

More Tragedy

Begin’s government also used the tragedy in Lebanon as an opportunity to provide special favors for its American backers.

In From Beirut to Jerusalem, New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Freidman wrote that the Israeli Army conducted tours of the battlefront for influential U.S. donors. On one occasion, women from Hadassah were taken to the hills surrounding Beirut and were invited to look down on the city as Israeli artillery put on a display for them. The artillery began an enormous barrage, with shells landing throughout the densely populated city. The shells struck and destroyed apartments, shops, homes and shacks in the squalid refugee camps of the Palestinians.

A ceasefire was finally agreed upon by Israel and the PLO, requiring Yasser Arafat and all PLO fighters to leave Lebanon. The Palestinians were assured, as part of the agreement brokered by the United States, that their wives and children living in Lebanese refugee camps would be safe from harm. The PLO then left Lebanon by ship in August 1982, moving the PLO headquarters to Tunisia.

On Sept. 16, Israel’s Christian militia allies, with Israeli military support, entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and conducted a three-day campaign of rape and murder. Most of the dead with estimates varying from Israel’s count of 400 to a Palestinian estimate of nearly 1,000 were women and children.

American Marines, who had been dispatched to Lebanon as peacekeepers to oversee the PLO evacuation but then had departed, hastily returned after the Sabra and Shatila massacres. They were housed in a large warehouse complex near Beirut’s airport.

Over the next year, American forces found themselves drawn into the worsening Lebanese civil war. A key moment occurred on Sept. 18, 1983, when Reagan’s national security adviser Robert McFarlane, who was considered a staunch supporter of Israel, ordered U.S. warships to bombard Muslim targets inside Lebanon.

As Gen. Colin Powell, then a top aide to Defense Secretary Weinberger, wrote in his memoir, “When the shells started falling on the Shiites, they assumed the American ‘referee’ had taken sides.” [See Powell’s My American Journey.]

Muslim attacks on the Marines in Beirut soon escalated. On Oct. 23, 1983, two Shiite Muslims drove explosives-laden trucks into two buildings in Beirut, one housing French forces and the other the Marines. The blasts killed 241 Americans and 58 French.

Over the ensuing weeks, American forces continued to suffer losses in skirmishes with Muslim militiamen near the Beirut airport and American civilians also became targets for execution and hostage-taking. On Feb. 7, 1984, Reagan announced that the Marines would be redeployed from Lebanon. Within a couple of weeks, the last of the Marines had departed Lebanon, having suffered a total of 268 killed.

However, the hostage-taking of Americans continued, ironically creating an opportunity for Israel to intercede again through its contacts in Iran to seek the help of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s regime in getting the Lebanese Shiite militants to release captured Americans.

Israeli arms dealers and neocon Americans, such as Michael Ledeen, were used as middlemen for the secret arms-for-hostages deals, which Reagan approved and McFarlane oversaw. However, the arms deliveries via Israel failed to reduce the overall number of Americans held hostage in Lebanon and were eventually exposed in November 1986, becoming Reagan’s worst scandal, the Iran-Contra Affair.

Noriega and Harari

Though Israel’s government had created some headaches for Reagan, it also provided some help, allowing its arms dealers and intelligence operatives to assist some of Reagan’s favorite covert operations, particularly in Central America where the U.S. Congress had objected to military assistance going to human rights violators, like the Guatemalan military, and to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

As Vice President, George H.W. Bush met with Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga and considered him a compliant partner. Noriega subsequently funneled financial and other help to Reagan’s beloved Contras and once even volunteered to arrange the assassinations of leaders of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

One of Noriega’s top operatives was Michael Harari, who had led Israeli assassination teams and who had served as the Israeli Mossad station chief in Mexico. In Panama, Harari became a key intermediary for Israeli contributions to the Contras, supplying them with arms and training, while Noriega handed over cash.

But Noriega and Harari were conducting other business in the region, allegedly working as middlemen and money launderers for the lucrative smuggling of cocaine into the United States. When that information surfaced in the U.S. news media and Noriega became notorious as an unstable thug George H.W. Bush as President found himself under enormous political pressure in 1989 to remove Noriega from power.

So, Bush prepared to invade Panama in December 1989. However, the Israeli government was concerned about the possible capture of Harari, whom U.S. prosecutors regarded as Noriega’s top co-conspirator but who also was someone possessing sensitive information about Israeli clandestine activities.

Six hours before U.S. troops were to invade Panama, Harari was warned of the impending attack, an alert that enabled him to flee and may have compromised the safety of American paratroopers and Special Forces units preparing to begin the assault, units that took surprisingly heavy casualties.

Tipped off by Israeli intelligence agents, Harari was whisked away by an Israeli embassy car, flying a diplomatic flag, with diplomatic license plates to ensure he would not be stopped and held, according to an interview that I had in January 1990 with Col. Edward Herrera Hassen, commander of Panama Defense Forces.

Harari soon was on his way back to Israel, where the government has since rebuffed U.S. requests that Harari be extradited to the United States to stand trial in connection with the Noriega case. For his part, Noriega was captured and brought to the United States where he was convicted of eight drug and racketeering charges. [Hariri died on Sept. 21, 2014, in Tel Aviv at the age of 87.]

The Lobby

The one constant in Israel’s endless maneuverings both with and against the U.S. government has been the effectiveness of the Israel Lobby and its many allies to fend off sustained criticism of Israel, sometimes by smearing critics as anti-Semitic or by mounting aggressive cover-ups when investigations threatened to expose ugly secrets.

Given this long record of success, U.S. presidents and other politicians have demonstrated a declining capacity to press Israel into making concessions, the way Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter tried to do. For instance, when President Bill Clinton first met with Netanyahu in 1996, Clinton was surprised to find himself getting a lecture from Israel’s Likud prime minister. “Who the f**k does he think he is? Who’s the superpower here?” a peeved Clinton was quoted as saying. [See The Much Too Promised Land, by Aaron Miller, an aide to Clinton.]

Joe Lockhart, then White House spokesman, told Clayton Swisher, author of The Truth About Camp David, that Netanyahu was “one of the most obnoxious individuals you’re going to come into just a liar and a cheat. He could open his mouth and you could have no confidence that anything that came out of it was the truth.”

Faced with these difficulties and fending off Republican attempts to drive him from office Clinton put off any serious push for a Middle East peace accord until the last part of his presidency. Clinton negotiated the Wye River memorandum with Netanyahu and Arafat on Sept. 23, 1999, calling for reciprocal undertakings by both sides. The agreement called for the freezing of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, but Netanyahu failed to stop the settlement activity. Demolition of Palestinian homes, restrictions on movement by Palestinians, and settlement building continued.

Ultimately, Clinton failed to achieve any breakthrough as his final efforts collapsed amid finger-pointing and distrust between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Handling Bush

Israel’s hopes were buoyed further when George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001. Unlike his father who looked on the Israelis with suspicion and felt some kinship with the Arab oil states, the younger Bush was unabashedly pro-Israel.

Though Reagan had credentialed many young neocons in the 1980s, he had kept them mostly away from Middle East policy, which usually fell to less ideological operatives such as Philip Habib and James Baker. However, George W. Bush installed the neocons in key jobs for Mideast policy, with the likes of Elliott Abrams at the National Security Council, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, and Lewis Libby inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office.

The neocons arrived with a plan to transform the Middle East based on a scheme prepared by a group of American neocons, including Perle and Feith, for Netanyahu in 1996. Called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” the idea was to bring to heel all the antagonistic states confronting Israel.

The “clean break” was to abandon the idea of achieving peace in the region through mutual understanding and compromise. Instead, there would be “peace through strength,” including violent removal of leaders who were viewed as hostile to Israel’s interests.

The plan sought the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, which was called “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” After Hussein’s ouster, the plan envisioned destabilizing the Assad dynasty in Syria with hopes of replacing it with regime more favorable to Israel. That, in turn, would push Lebanon into Israel’s arms and contribute to the destruction of Hezbollah, Israel’s tenacious foe in South Lebanon.

The removal of Hezbollah in Lebanon would, in turn, weaken Iran’s influence, both in Lebanon and in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank, where Hamas and other Palestinian militants would find themselves cornered.

But what the “clean break” needed was the military might of the United States, since some of the targets like Iraq were too far away and too powerful to be overwhelmed even by Israel’s highly efficient military. The cost in Israeli lives and to Israel’s economy from such overreach would have been staggering.

The only way to implement the strategy was to enlist a U.S. president, his administration and the Congress to join Israel in this audacious undertaking. That opportunity presented itself when Bush ascended to the White House and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, created a receptive political climate in the United States.

Turning to Iraq

After a quick strike against al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan, the Bush administration turned its attention to conquering Iraq. However, even after the 9/11 attacks, the neocons and President Bush had to come up with rationales that were sellable to the American people, while playing down any suggestion that the coming conflicts were partially designed to advance Israel’s interests.

So, the Bush administration put together tales about Iraqi stockpiles of WMD, its “reconstituted” nuclear weapons program, and its alleged ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorists determined to strike at the United States. The PR operation worked like a charm. Bush rallied Congress and much of the American public behind an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, which began on March 19, 2003, and drove Saddam Hussein’s government from power three weeks later.

At the time, the joke circulating among neocons was where to go next, Syria or Iran, with the punch line: “Real men go to Tehran!”

Meanwhile, Israel continued collecting as much intelligence as possible from the United States about the next desired target, Iran. On Aug. 27, 2004, CBS News broke a story about an FBI investigation into a possible spy working for Israel as a policy analyst for Under Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz. The official was identified as Lawrence Franklin.

Franklin pled guilty to passing a classified Presidential Directive and other sensitive documents pertaining to U.S. foreign policy regarding Iran to the powerful Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which shared the information with Israel.

According to FBI surveillance tapes, Franklin relayed top secret information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s policy director, and Keith Weissman, a senior policy analyst with AIPAC.  On Aug. 30, 2004, Israeli officials admitted that Franklin had met repeatedly with Naor Gilon, head of the political department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and a specialist on Iran’s nuclear programs.

Franklin was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison for passing classified information to a pro-Israel lobby group and an Israeli diplomat. No charges were brought against the AIPAC executives or the Israeli diplomat.

Bloody Chaos

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, it turned out that occupying Iraq was more difficult than the Bush administration had anticipated. Ultimately, more than 4,400 American soldiers died in the conflict along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The bloody chaos in Iraq also meant that the neocon “real men” couldn’t go either to Syria or Iran, at least not right away. They were forced into a waiting game, counting on the short memories of the American people before revving up the fear machine again to justify moving to the next phase.

When the U.S. death toll finally began to decline in Iraq, the neocons stepped up their alarms about Iran becoming a danger to the world by developing nuclear weapons (although Iran has disavowed any desire to have nukes and U.S. intelligence expressed confidence in 2007 that Iran had stopped work on a warhead four years earlier).

Still, while trying to keep the focus away from its own nuclear arsenal, Israel has pushed the international community to bring pressure on Iran, in part by threatening to mount its own military attack on Iran if the U.S. government and other leading powers don’t act aggressively.

The neocon anti-Iran plans were complicated by the victory of Barack Obama, who promised to reach out in a more respectful way to the Muslim world. Inside Israel and in U.S. neocon circles, complaints quickly spread about Obama’s coziness with Muslims (even claims that he was a secret Muslim or anti-Semitic). Obama further antagonized the neocons and Israeli hardliners by suggesting a linkage between the festering Palestinian problem and dangers to U.S. national security, including violence against U.S. troops in the Middle East.

Netanyahu, who again had assumed the post of prime minister, and the neocons wanted U.S. policy refocused on Iran, with little attention on Israel as it continued its longstanding policy of building more and more Jewish settlements on what was once Palestinian land.

In reaction to Netanyahu’s unwillingness to curb those settlements and with the announcement of more housing units during Biden’s visit Obama retaliated by subjecting Netanyahu to several slights, including refusing to have photographs taken of the two of them meeting at the White House.

Obama walked out of one meeting with Netanyahu after failing to get his written promise for a concession on halting further settlement construction. Obama went to dinner alone, a very pointed insult to Netanyahu. As Obama left the meeting, he said, “Let me know if there is anything new,” according to a member of Congress who was present.

Secret Pacts

For his part, Netanyahu has claimed that secret agreements with the Bush administration allow for the continued building of settlements. However, Obama said on National Public Radio that he does not consider himself bound by secret oral agreements that may have been made by President Bush.

Instead, Obama claims Israel is bound by the 2003 “Road Map” agreement which prohibits building more settlements. “I’ve said clearly to the Israelis both privately and publicly that a freeze on settlements, including natural growth, is part of these obligations,” Obama said.

Still, Obama has shied away from publicly challenging Israel on some of its most sensitive issues, such as its undeclared nuclear-weapons arsenal. Like presidents back to Nixon, Obama has participated in the charade of “ambiguity.” Even as he demanded “transparency” from other countries, Obama continued to dance around questions regarding whether Israel has nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu and Israel surely have vulnerabilities. Without America’s military, diplomatic and economic support, Israel could not exist in its present form. One-quarter of Israeli wage incomes are derived from American aid money, German reparations and various charities. Without that outside assistance, Israel’s standard of living would sink dramatically.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Israel receives $2.4 billion a year in U.S. government grants, military assistance, loan guarantees, and sundry other sources. The United States also pays Egypt another $2 billion to keep the peace with Israel. The combined assistance to both countries comprises nearly one half of all U.S. foreign aid assistance worldwide.

In a sense, Israel can’t be blamed for standing up for itself, especially given the long history of brutality and oppression directed against Jews. However, Israeli leaders have used this tragic history to justify their own harsh treatment of others, especially the Palestinians, many of whom were uprooted from their ancestral homes.

Over the past six decades, Israeli leaders also have refined their strategies for taking advantage of their staunchest ally, the United States. Today, with many powerful friends inside the United States and with Obama facing intense political pressure over his domestic and national security policies the Israeli government has plenty of reasons to believe that it can out-fox and outlast the current U.S. president as it did many of his predecessors.

Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern history, and was an advisor to CBS News “60 Minutes” on the Middle East. He is author of ebook, The Israeli Lobby and Me, Bush Family History, and Hoodwinking American Presidents.




US Media as Conduits of Propaganda

Exclusive: The “group think” about the Syrian government crossing President Obama’s “red line” in a 2013 sarin attack has collapsed, but The New York Times still reports it as flat fact, an industry-wide problem, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Nothing disturbs me more about the modern mainstream U.S. news media than its failure to test what the U.S. government says against what can be determined through serious and impartial investigation to be true. And this is not just some question of my professional vanity; it can be a matter of life or death.

For instance, did Syrian President Bashar al-Assad cross President Barack Obama’s supposed “red line” against using chemical weapons, specifically in the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, or not?

Upon this question rests the possibility that a future President Hillary Clinton will invade Syria under the guise of establishing a “safe zone,” a project that would surely expand into another bloody “regime change,” as occurred in Iraq and Libya amid similar U.S. claims about protecting “human rights.”

Yet, there is substantial evidence that Assad was not responsible for the sarin attack – that is was perpetrated by jihadist rebels as a provocation to draw the U.S. military directly into the war on their side. But it remains conventional wisdom that Assad ignored Obama’s “red line” and that Obama then flinched from enforcing it.

The New York Times and other major U.S. publication cite this “group think” about the “red line” as flat fact, much as many of them reported without doubt that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD, reinforcing the pretext for the U.S. invasion of that country in 2003.

On Wednesday, Times correspondent David E. Sanger wrote an article about the need for a coercive “Plan B” to force Assad from power and added that “president [Obama] has repeatedly defended his decision not to authorize a military strike against Mr. Assad after he crossed what Mr. Obama had described as a ‘red line’ against using chemical weapons.”

Note that there is no attribution to that claim about Assad crossing the “red line,” no “allegedly” or “widely believed” or any modifier. Assad is simply judged guilty by The New York Times, which — in doing so — asserts this dubious narrative as flat fact.

Yet, the Times hasn’t conducted a serious investigation into whether Assad is, in fact, guilty. Their last stab at proving Assad’s guilt in late 2013 collapsed when it turned out that the one missile found to have carried sarin had a range of only two kilometers, less than a quarter of the distance from which the Times had alleged that Assad’s military had fired the rocket.

Faced with that evidence, the Times essentially retracted its findings in a little-noticed article buried deep inside the paper during the Christmas-New Year holidays. So, even as the case collapsed, the Times maintained its phony narrative, which it reprises regularly as happened in Sanger’s article on Wednesday.

Misleading Readers

But what does that do to the Times’ readers? They are essentially being propagandized by the “paper of record,” with a questionable assertion slipped past them as an incontrovertible “fact.” How are they supposed to evaluate whether the U.S. government should launch another war in the Middle East when they have been told that a dubious claim is now enshrined as a basic truth in the Times narrative?

We saw something similar earlier this year when Jeff Goldberg of The Atlantic wrote a lengthy article on Obama’s foreign policy focusing on his 2013 decision not to launch punitive airstrikes against the Syrian military for the sarin attack.

The opus contained the remarkable disclosure that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had told Obama that U.S. intelligence lacked “slam dunk” evidence that Assad was guilty. In other words, Obama pulled back in part because he was informed that Assad might well be innocent.

Later in the same article, however, Goldberg reverted to Official Washington’s “group think” that held as a matter of faith that Assad had crossed Obama’s “red line.” That false certainty has proved so powerful that it defies any contrary evidence and keeps popping up as it did in Sanger’s article.

Which gets me to one of my pet peeves about modern America: we almost never get to the bottom of anything, whether significant or trivial. Often there’s “a conventional wisdom” about some issue but almost never is there a careful assessment of the facts and an unbiased judgment of what happened.

On the trivial side, we have the NFL accusing New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady of participating in some scheme to deflate footballs, even though the scientific and testimonial evidence doesn’t support the claim. But lots of people, including The New York Times, assume the allegations to be true even though they come from one of the most disreputable and dishonest corporations in America, the National Football League, which has recently been exposed for covering up the dangers of concussions.

On more substantive matters, we never see serious investigations into U.S. government claims especially when they’re aimed at “enemies.” The failure to test President George W. Bush’s claims about Iraq’s WMD cost hundreds of thousands of lives, including those of nearly 4,500 American soldiers, and has spread chaos through much of the region and now into Europe.

A Pattern of Neglect

We’ve seen similar neglect regarding Syria’s sarin case and events in Ukraine, from the mysterious sniper attacks that touched off the coup in February 2014 to the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

Arguably, the fate of humankind rests on the events in Ukraine where U.S. propagandists are stirring up the West to engage in a military conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

So, shouldn’t The New York Times and other major publications take special care not to feed a war fever that could exterminate life on the planet? Can’t they find the time to undertake serious examinations of these issues and present the evidence without fear or favor?

But that apparently isn’t how the editors of the Times or The Washington Post or any number of other major U.S. news outlets view matters. Instead of questioning the stories coming from the U.S. government’s propaganda shops, the mainstream media simply amplifies them, all the better to look “patriotic.”

If instead these outlets joined some independent journalists and concerned citizens in demanding that the U.S. government provide verifiable evidence to support its claims, that might force many of these “artificial secrets” out into the open.

For instance, we don’t know what the current U.S. intelligence assessments are about the Syria-sarin attack or the MH-17 shoot-down. Regarding the MH-17 case, the U.S. government has refused to divulge its overhead surveillance, radar and other technical evidence about this tragedy in which 298 people were killed.

If there was some journalistic unity – refusing to simply blame the Russians and instead highlighting the lack of U.S. cooperation in the investigation – the U.S. government might feel enough heat to declassify its information and help bring whoever shot down the plane to justice.

As it stands now on these issues, why should the U.S. government reveal what it actually knows when all the major news outlets are accepting its dubious propaganda themes as flat fact?

The Times and other big media outlets could contribute to the cause of truth by simply refusing to serve as conduits for unsubstantiated claims just because they come from senior U.S. government officials. If the mainstream media did, the American people and the world public might be much better informed — and a lot safer.

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).




Michael Ratner, Champion for Human Rights

Michael Ratner, who died last week, was a champion on behalf of the world’s oppressed, giving the phrase “human rights” real meaning and defying its current propaganda application to justify endless war, as Marjorie Cohn explained at Truthdig.

By Marjorie Cohn

Legendary human rights lawyer Michael Ratner died last Wednesday. His path-breaking legal and political work on behalf of the poor and oppressed around the world is unmatched. His death is an incalculable loss for the cause of freedom, peace and justice.

The last time I saw Michael was shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer. We were in New York for the annual dinner of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG). Both of us had served as NLG presidents, he during the Reagan years, I during the George W. Bush administration.

When we met in New York, Michael had just returned from Cuba, where he had a wonderful visit with Gerardo Hernández, one of the Cuban Five. I was about to leave for Cuba, where I would meet with René González and Antonio Guerrero, two other members of the Cuban Five.

The Five had traveled to Miami to gather intelligence about terrorist plots against Cuba. When they turned over their data to the FBI, they were rewarded with arrests, convictions and incarceration. In Cuba, the Five (“Los Cinco”) are considered national heroes. One of the conditions for the historic détente between Barack Obama and Raul Castro in December 2014 was the United States’ release of the members of the Cuban Five who still remained in custody.

Michael raved about his Cuba trip. A longtime friend and ally of the Cuban Revolution, Michael had first traveled to Cuba in the 1970s. He later co-authored the book, “Who Killed Che?”, in which he and Michael Smith concluded, based on U.S. government documents, that the CIA was behind the assassination.

When Cuba opened its embassy in Washington, D.C., last July, Michael was there. He told “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman that “other than the birth of my children, this is perhaps one of the most exciting days of my life. … This is a major, major victory for the Cuban people, and that should be understood. We are standing at a moment that I never expected to see in our history.”

Indeed, Michael will probably be best remembered for his victory in gaining the right to habeas corpus for U.S. detainees held in Cuba at Guantanamo. Michael was lead counsel in the 2004 case of Rasul v. Bush, in which the Supreme Court upheld the right of those detained as “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo to have their petitions for habeas corpus heard by U.S. courts.

The Bush administration had argued that since the detainees were being held on Cuban soil, they had no right of access to U.S. federal courts to challenge their confinement. But the court held that the United States exercises complete jurisdiction and control over the Guantanamo Bay base.

As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority, “Aliens held at the base, no less than American citizens, are entitled to invoke the federal courts’ authority” under the federal habeas corpus statute.

“We went into court with a very straightforward proposition — that habeas corpus meant every single person detained has a right to go into court and say to the government: ‘Tell me why you are detaining me and give me the legal justification,’ ” Michael wrote in his chapter published in my book, “The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse.”

Michael also wrote that “[p]reventive detention is a line that should never be crossed. A central aspect of human liberty that has taken centuries to win is that no person shall be imprisoned unless he or she is charged and tried.” Michael added, “If you can take away those rights and simply grab someone by the scruff of the neck and throw them into some offshore penal colony because they are non-citizen Muslims, those deprivations of rights will be employed against all. … This is the power of a police state and not a democracy.”

In his chapter, Michael advocated “accountability by means of criminal prosecutions” of Bush, Dick Cheney, George Tenet and Donald Rumsfeld for their torture program. “Until this occurs,” Michael wrote, “a future president can, with the stroke of a pen, put the United States back in the torture business.”

Michael sued Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Rumsfeld, the FBI and the Pentagon for their violations of law. He challenged U.S. policy in Cuba, Iraq, Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Puerto Rico and Israel/Palestine. He was lead counsel for whistleblower Julian Assange.

As David Cole wrote in The Nation, Michael “knew that when you sue the powerful, you will often lose. But he also understood that such suits could prompt political action, and that advocacy inspired by a lawsuit was often more important in achieving justice than the litigation itself.”

Jules Lobel, who followed Michael as president of the Center for Constitutional Rights(CCR), said on “Democracy Now!” that Michael “never backed down from a fight against oppression, against injustice, no matter how difficult the odds, no matter how hopeless the case seemed to be.” Lobel added, “Michael was brilliant in combining legal advocacy and political advocacy. … He loved people all around the globe. He represented them, met with them, shared their misery, shared their suffering.”

As NLG president in the early 1980s, Michael initiated the guild’s challenges to Reaganism, including U.S. interventions in Central America and the Caribbean. When he was president of CCR, he choreographed litigation that essentially ended New York City’s draconian stop-and-frisk policing policy.

Fellow past NLG president Barbara Dudley noted, “Michael leavened his brilliant mind and his creative legal skills with love and humor and an abundant energy. His work, his laugh, his irony and his enduring belief in the revolutionary spirit will live on.”

Vince Warren, CCR’s executive director, called Michael “one of the great justice warriors of our time,” noting that family members said Michael was born with the “empathy gene.”

In 2002, Michael presciently told The New York Times, “A permanent war abroad means permanent anger against the United States by those countries and people that will be devastated by U.S. military actions. Hate will increase, not lessen; and the terrible consequences of that hate will be used, in turn, as justification for more restrictions on civil liberties in the United States.”

We will not see the likes of him again.

Marjorie Cohn [http://marjoriecohn.com/] is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” Follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn. This article first appeared on Truthdig [http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/michael_ratners_death_is_a_loss_for_freedom_peace_and_justice_20160516].




Army Chaplain Resigns over Drone Wars

The U.S. government’s reliance on drones to sustain perpetual war in the Mideast is meeting resistance from some assigned to carry out and justify these tactics, including a U.S. Army chaplain who resigned in protest, writes Ann Wright.

By Ann Wright

U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain Captain Christopher John Antal resigned from the U.S. Army Reserves on April 12 in opposition to U.S policies regarding militarized drones, nuclear weapons and preventive war. Antal stated he could not serve as a chaplain for an “empire” and could not “reconcile his duty to protect and defend America and its constitutional democracy and his commitment to the core principles of his religious faith including justice, equity and compassion and the inherent worth and dignity of every person” with policies of the United States.

His letter of resignation stated that he resigned because he could not support “unaccountable killing” through the U.S. armed drone policy and the Executive Branch claiming “the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any time, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.”

Antal also cites his opposition to the U.S. nuclear weapons policy calling it a policy of “terror and mutually assured destruction that threatens the existence of humanity and the earth.”

In his letter of resignation, Antal refuses to support the U.S. policy of “preventive war, permanent military supremacy and global power projection” in what he calls “imperial overreach through extra-constitutional authority and impunity from international law.”

From September 2012 through February 2013 Chris Antal was an Army chaplain to a signals battalion supporting the 3rd Infantry Division at Kandahar Airbase in southern Afghanistan. While his unit did not have operational responsibilities for drones, Chaplain Antal saw drones launch and land where he gave services for military personnel killed in Afghanistan and whose remains were being transported back to the United States.

Additionally, he was concerned about the use of drones after hearing about a drone attack in which a grandmother had been killed while picking okra in a field near her home in the region around the military base.

On Veterans’ Day 2012, identifying himself as an Army chaplain in Afghanistan, he posted “A Veterans’ Day Confession for America” on the Unitarian Universalist site, A Quest for Meaning, in the form of a poetic testimony.

Antal wrote, “We have sanitized killing and condoned extrajudicial assassinations … war made easy without due process, protecting ourselves from the human cost of war./We have deceived ourselves…denying the colossal misery our wars inflict on the innocent.”

He had delivered this sermon during a worship service of military personnel and contractors who had freely gathered for a service in the Unitarian Universalist tradition at Kandahar Air Base.

Antal’s commanding officer was informed about his article, told him “you make us look like the bad guys” and “the message does not support the mission.” The commander said he had lost confidence in Antal and had him investigated, grounded from travel and officially reprimanded by a letter from a general officer at Division level.

Antal was sent back to the U.S. with a “do not promote” evaluation and discharged from active duty. Antal challenged the punishment through New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and her congressional inquiry resulted in his re-activation and promotion to Captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.

The Rev. Antal spoke on March 30 at the Veterans for Peace symposium “Inside Drone Warfare: Perspectives of Whistleblowers, Families of Drone Victims and Their Lawyers,” held at the University of Nevada Las Vegas Law School with military and CIA drone whistleblowers. The symposium was held during the week of vigils called “Shut Down Creech 2016” at Creech Drone base, 60 miles outside of Las Vegas.

During his talk at the symposium, Rev. Antal said the U.S. Army had changed its policy on the duties of chaplains to silence dissent on military policies that concern speaking with a “prophetic voice” and on issues of “moral turpitude.”

The phrase speaking with a prophetic voice and issues of moral turpitude was eliminated from the 2015 version of the Chaplain regulations. While the 2015 regulation charges chaplains to speak “with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command,” what happened to him when he spoke with candor demonstrates that the Army does not want chaplains speaking truth to power.

The 2009 Regulations for Chaplains states: “3-2  Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with a prophetic voice and must confront the issues of religious accommodation, the obstruction of free exercise of religion, and moral turpitude in conflict with the Army values.”

The 2015 version states: “3-2  Chaplains, in performing their duties, are expected to speak with candor as an advocate to confront and support resolution to challenges and issues of the command.”

Currently, Rev. Antal is a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Rock Tavern, New York, is the convener of Veterans for Peace Hudson Valley Chapter 177, and chaplain at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center. He is married and has five children.

Following is Chaplain Antal’s letter of resignation:

April 12, 2016

MEMORANDUM FOR Commander-in-Chief, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20500

THRU U.S. Army Resources Command, ATTN; AHRC-OPL-P, 1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Ft. Knox, KY 40122

SUBJECT: Resignation in Protest

Dear Mr. President:

I hereby resign my commission as an Officer in the United States Army.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. armed drone policy.  The Executive Branch continues to claim the right to kill anyone, anywhere on earth, at any tie, for secret reasons, based on secret evidence, in a secret process, undertaken by unidentified officials.  I refuse  to support this policy of unaccountable killing.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. nuclear weapon policy. The Executive Branch continues to invest billions of dollars into nuclear weapons, which threaten the existence of humankind and the earth.  I refuse to support this policy of terror ad mutually assured destruction.

I resign because I refuse to support U.S. policy of preventive war, permanent military supremacy and global power projection.  The Executive branch continues to claim extra- constitutional authority and impunity from international law.  I refuse to support this policy of imperial overstretch.

I resign because I refuse to serve as an empire chaplain.  I cannot reconcile these policies with wither my sworn duty to protect and defend America and our constitutional democracy or my covenantal commitment to the core principles of my religion faith.  These principles include: justice, equity and compassion in human relations, a free and responsible search for truth; and the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Respectfully submitted,

Christopher John Antal

Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/ Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She served 16 years as a U.S. diplomat in U.S. Embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December, 2001. She resigned from the U.S. government in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.