Kerry Balks at Supplying MH-17 Data

Exclusive: The father of a young American killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014 says Secretary of State Kerry balks at turning over U.S. data that Kerry cited three days after the tragedy in eastern Ukraine, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Secretary of State John Kerry has rebuffed a request from the father of the only American citizen killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 for Kerry to disclose the radar and other data that he cited in 2014 in claiming to know the precise location of the missile launch that allegedly downed the airliner over eastern Ukraine killing 298 people.

In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas Schansman, the father of American-Dutch citizen Quinn Schansman, asked Kerry to turn over that data to aid the investigation seeking to identify who was responsible for shooting down the plane on July 17, 2014. In a letter dated March 7, 2016, but just delivered to Thomas Schansman on Thursday, Kerry expressed his condolences and repeated his claim to know where the missile launch originated, but did not provide new details.

Kerry wrote, “The assessment I provided to the media three days following the shoot down remains unchanged, and is corroborated by the findings of the Dutch Safety Board [DSB]. Flight 17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.”

But Kerry’s assertion is not entirely correct. Despite Kerry’s claim on July 20, 2014 – three days after the shoot-down – to know the location of the missile launch, the Dutch Safety Board reported last October that it could only place the likely launch site within a 320-square-kilometer area that included territory under both government and rebel control. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile.)

Why the U.S. government has dragged its heels about supplying the evidence that Kerry claimed to possess just days after the tragedy has become a secondary mystery to the allegations and counter-allegations about whodunit. That Kerry would not even elaborate on that information in response to the father of the lone American victim is even more striking.

In an email to me with Kerry’s letter attached, Thomas Schansman wrote, “the message is clear: no answer on my request to hand over satellite and/or radar data to DSB or public.”

Plus, Kerry’s credibility has come under a darkening cloud because of recent disclosures undermining his repeated claims on Aug. 30, 2013, that “we know” that Syrian government forces were responsible for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus. Despite Kerry’s assertions of certainty in that case, he presented no verifiable evidence and it has since been confirmed that the U.S. intelligence community lacked “slam dunk” proof.

Nearly a year after his “we know” performance regarding the Syria-sarin case, Kerry staged a reprise expressing similar certainty about the MH-17 case – again dumping the blame on the target of an intensive U.S. propaganda campaign, this time Russia, which was backing the rebels in eastern Ukraine. Kerry again failed to supply supporting evidence (beyond some dubious references to “social media”).

Cracks in the Story

Also, some of Kerry’s MH-17 assertions have shown cracks as more information has become available. For instance, despite Kerry’s putting the blame on the ethnic Russian rebels and their supporters in Moscow, Western intelligence now says the only functioning Buk anti-aircraft missiles in the area were under the control of the Ukrainian military.

According to Dutch intelligence – and implicitly corroborated by U.S. intelligence – Ukraine’s Buk batteries were the only anti-aircraft missiles in the area capable of hitting a commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet. That information was contained in a little-noticed Dutch intelligence report last October citing information from the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD).

MIVD made its 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” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”

MIVD added that the rebels lacked that capacity, having only short-range anti-aircraft missiles and a few inoperable Buk missiles that had been captured from a Ukrainian military base. “During the course of July, several reliable sources indicated that the systems that were at the military base were not operational,” MIVD said. “Therefore, they could not be used by the Separatists.”

U.S. intelligence, which had eastern Ukraine under intensive overhead surveillance in summer 2014, implicitly corroborated MIVD’s conclusion in a U.S. “Government Assessment” released by the Director of National Intelligence on July 22, 2014. It listed weapons systems that Russia had provided the rebels but made no mention of a Buk missile battery.

In other words, based on satellite imagery and other intelligence reviewed both before and after the shoot-down, U.S. and other Western intelligence services could find no proof that Russia had ever given a Buk system to the rebels or introduced one into the area. If Russia had provided a Buk battery – four 16-foot-long missiles hauled around by trucks – it would have been hard to miss.

There was also logic to support the notion that a Ukrainian team may have been responsible for the MH-17 shoot-down. At the time, the Ukrainian military was mounting an offensive against the rebels, who had resisted a U.S.-backed coup on Feb. 22, 2014, which ousted elected President Viktor Yanukovych, who had strong support among Ukraine’s ethnic Russian minority in the east.

As the Ukrainian offensive claimed territory that the rebels had held, the Ukrainian military moved several Buk anti-aircraft missile batteries toward the front, presumably out of concern that Russia might directly intervene to save the rebels from annihilation.

Plus, on July 16, 2014, a Ukrainian warplane was shot down apparently by an air-to-air missile believed fired by a Russian jet, giving reason for the Ukrainian anti-aircraft batteries to be on edge the next day, looking for Russian aircraft intruding into Ukraine’s airspace.

(Another possible scenario, reportedly examined by U.S. intelligence analysts, was that a rogue Ukrainian team working with a hardline oligarch hoped to shoot down Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plane returning from a South American trip at about the same time and with similar markings as MH-17.)

But the evidence – that the only operational Buk batteries were under control of the Ukrainian military – did not fit the U.S. propaganda needs of blaming Russia and the rebels. Any indication that the post-coup Ukrainian government was responsible would instead put the U.S.-backed Kiev regime in a negative light.

So, it makes sense in a “strategic communications” kind of way for Kerry and other U.S. officials to leave the conventional wisdom – blaming Putin and Russia for the 298 deaths – in place for as long as possible. Kerry told Thomas Schansman that he and the other families of victims should expect a long wait before the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Expressing Condolences

In the letter to Thomas Schansman, Secretary Kerry wrote, “As a father myself, I can only begin to imagine the pain and loss you have endured with your son’s tragic passing. My heart goes out to you and your family.”

Kerry then added, “This investigative work is not easy, and bringing those responsible to justice will not be a quick process. However, Quinn, your family, and the families of all the others who died that day deserve such justice, and we will continue to do everything possible to achieve it.”

But the “everything” doesn’t apparently include releasing the data that Kerry claimed to have just days after the crash.

On July 20, 2014, Kerry appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and declared, “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.”

In the letter asking Kerry to release that data, Thomas Schansman noted Kerry’s similar comments to a news conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”

Yet where the missile launch occurred has remained a point of mystery to the Dutch-led investigation. Last October, the Dutch Safety Board put the missile launch in a 320-square-kilometer area. Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the DSB’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.

Earlier this month, Fred Westerbeke, the head of the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team, told the families of the victims that the inquiry had yet to pin down the missile launch site, saying “In the second half of the year we expect exact results.” In other words, on the second anniversary of the shoot-down, the investigators looking into the MH-17 tragedy still might not know what Kerry claimed to know three days afterwards.

[For more on this topic, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts”; “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case”; and “The Ever-Curiouser MH-17 Case.”]

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




Obama’s Foreign-Policy Self-Enslavement

Exclusive: President Obama may have seen his refusal to bomb Syria in 2013 as his “liberation day” from Official Washington’s expectations, but he promptly put himself back into captivity, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

In late August 2013, with Barack Obama on the verge of launching retaliatory airstrikes against the Syrian military for its alleged role in a lethal sarin gas attack, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper informed the President that U.S. intelligence doubted that Bashar al-Assad’s government was actually responsible, causing Obama to pull back from the attack.

That new detail was disclosed in Jeffrey Goldberg’s opus for The Atlantic on Obama’s foreign policy, but Goldberg – in an extraordinary display of cognitive dissonance – then wrote the rest of his lengthy article as if he had forgotten his own reporting. He made his story conform to the powerful Washington “group think” that Assad had carried out the attack and thus had crossed Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons.

But the disclosure of Clapper’s warning that U.S. intelligence lacked “slam dunk” evidence implicating Assad’s forces confirmed reporting at Consortiumnews and a few other independent news outlets in 2013 – and also underscored how President Obama then joined in lying to maintain the anti-Assad propaganda themes.

Not only did the White House issue a “Government Assessment” on Aug. 30, 2013, trying to pin the blame for the attack on Assad’s regime – and not only did Obama dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to make the dubious anti-Assad case to the country – but Obama himself asserted Assad’s guilt in his Sept. 24, 2013 address to the United Nations General Assembly.

“It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack,” Obama said. Yet, the President knew that many of his own intelligence analysts doubted that the Assad regime carried out the attack.

In other words, if Obama’s statement is taken literally, he was asserting that much of the U.S. intelligence community was either dishonest or crazy. But, more likely, Obama was just reading the words of a speech prepared by State Department propagandists who understood the need to knock down the growing suspicion that the attack was a provocation committed by Islamist extremists trying to trick the United States to join the war on their side.

Obama must have recognized that his words were deceptive but he didn’t have the integrity or the courage to strike them from the speech. He just went along like a willing puppet of the foreign-policy establishment mouthing falsehoods prepared for him rather than acting decisively as America’s Commander in Chief to protect his own and his nation’s credibility.

Obama’s U.N. speech puts into a different context the narrative that Goldberg presented in The Atlantic article. There, Obama seems to relish his refusal to go along with what he “calls, derisively, ‘the Washington playbook,’” which dictates a military response to foreign challenges like the Syria sarin case.

Goldberg wrote that Aug. 31, 2013, when Obama backed away from the widely anticipated Syrian bombing campaign, “was his liberation day.” But several weeks later, Obama went before the United Nations and denounced as irrational anyone who raised exactly the doubts that had been central to his decision not to bomb.

So, what is one to make of Obama’s passive-aggressive resistance to the military imperative mandated by the “Washington playbook” while succumbing to its propagandistic tactics to justify war? Even as he resisted the demands to bomb, he could not challenge the Washington establishment enough to explain to the American people that U.S. intelligence analysts were uncertain about Assad’s guilt.

Instead, Obama allowed his subordinates to pile on the calumnies against Assad – with Secretary of State John Kerry doing so in belligerent speeches and the White House releasing a “Government Assessment” fingering Assad’s forces – while Obama let those distortions go unchallenged and, indeed, reinforced them in his U.N. speech.

Telling the American People

By contrast, Obama could have taken his case to the American people. He could have given a speech saying that war is too serious and solemn an act for a president to go off half-cocked. He could have said he would not launch military strikes if the U.S. intelligence community wasn’t sure who was guilty.

The American people would have surely understood that point of view – and they would have been empowered by being brought in on what the U.S. government knew and didn’t know. Yes, it would have undermined the propaganda campaign then underway to demonize Assad, but if you believe in democracy and the concept of an informed electorate, wouldn’t that have been a good thing?

What I was told at the time — and what the Clapper disclosure in The Atlantic confirms — is that in the days after the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack, Obama knew quite well that there were serious questions about who had fired the one home-made, sarin-laden rocket that U.N. inspectors recovered in the Zamalka neighborhood outside Damascus.

However, in the weeks and months after the sarin attack, those of us who criticized the flimsiness of the U.S. “Government Assessment” – I called it a “dodgy dossier” on the day it was released – were derided as “Assad apologists.” Meanwhile, the mainstream media and leading “human rights” groups sought to enforce a “group think” justifying the launching of an American-led “humanitarian” war in Syria.

In that behavior, the mainstream American news media revealed that it had learned nothing from the Iraq War disaster when virtually all the leading publications and nearly all the esteemed commentators agreed en masse that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD stockpiles and that a U.S. invasion was justified. A decade later, these “journalists” showed no more skepticism when the neocons were pushing another “regime change” in Syria.

Yet, there were plenty of reasons to have doubts. There was the Obama administration’s refusal to release any of its supposed proof to support its conclusions and the curious absence of Director of National Intelligence Clapper from the public presentation of the administration’s casus belli.

I reported at the time that the reason for keeping the DNI on the sidelines was that he otherwise might have been asked if there was a consensus in the intelligence community supporting the administration’s certitude that Assad’s regime was responsible. At that point, Clapper would have had to acknowledge the disagreement from rank-and-file analysts (or face the likelihood that they would speak out).

All of that should have been obvious to any professional journalist if he or she had asked a few probing questions or noted how odd it was that Clapper would not play the role that CIA Director George Tenet did in 2003 when Tenet sat behind Secretary of State Colin Powell to lend credibility to Powell’s mendacious U.N. speech regarding Iraq’s WMD.

It also made no sense for Assad’s forces to use sarin outside Damascus just as U.N. inspectors were arriving to investigate cases of chemical weapons that Assad was blaming on the rebels. Obviously, the attention of the inspectors would be diverted to this sarin attack and American hardliners would use the incident to press Obama to launch a military strike on Assad.

Overseas Skepticism

To get any such skepticism from mainstream publications, you had to look abroad. For instance, Robert Fisk, a veteran reporter for London’s Independent newspaper, found a lack of consensus about whodunit among U.N. officials and other international observers in Damascus despite the career risks that they faced by deviating from the conventional wisdom regarding Assad’s guilt.

“In a country indeed a world where propaganda is more influential than truth, discovering the origin of the chemicals that suffocated so many Syrians a month ago is an investigation fraught with journalistic perils,” Fisk wrote. “Nevertheless, it also has to be said that grave doubts are being expressed by the UN and other international organisations in Damascus that the sarin gas missiles were fired by Assad’s army.

“While these international employees cannot be identified, some of them were in Damascus on 21 August and asked a series of questions to which no one has yet supplied an answer. Why, for example, would Syria wait until the UN inspectors were ensconced in Damascus on 18 August before using sarin gas little more than two days later and only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in?

“Having thus presented the UN with evidence of the use of sarin which the inspectors quickly acquired at the scene, the Assad regime, if guilty, would surely have realised that a military attack would be staged by Western nations. … As one Western NGO put it ‘if Assad really wanted to use sarin gas, why for God’s sake, did he wait for two years and then when the UN was actually on the ground to investigate?’”

Later, American aeronautical experts calculated that the one U.N.-recovered sarin-laden rocket could only travel about two kilometers, not the nine kilometers that the Assad-did-it crowd was claiming would trace the flight path back to a Syrian military base.

And, then, in 2014, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh cited intelligence sources blaming the attack on jihadist rebels possibly collaborating with Turkish intelligence. But Hersh published his article in the London Review of Books because American mainstream publications wouldn’t deviate from the Assad-did-it “group think.”

We also now know that if Obama had been baited into another war, the U.S. onslaught might have collapsed Assad’s military and led to a victory by the Islamic State and/or Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, creating an even worse humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and across the region.

Yet, despite knowing what he knew and understanding many of the risks, Obama went before the United Nations on Sept. 24, 2013, and declared that no reasonable person could doubt Assad’s guilt – a lie that has now been confirmed by The Atlantic article’s recounting of Clapper’s doubt.

Obama’s falsehood – expressed to the world community on such a weighty issue of war or peace – fits with the pattern of deceptions of President George W. Bush’s administration on Iraq and his own administration’s obsessive use of propaganda (or “strategic communications”) on a wide range of topics, including Libya, Ukraine and Russia.

However, in this pathetic narrative, Obama comes across less as a willful liar than a weak executive who won’t assert control over his own foreign policy or even cross out words in a prepared speech that he knows are false. Instead of taking command, he drags his heels on going to war in Syria, gets badgered by his own subordinates and by the neocon-dominated foreign-policy establishment, before finally saying no. Then, Obama doesn’t even dare let the American people in on why he made the decision that he did.

The Sullen Teen

I sometimes picture Obama’s conduct of foreign policy by envisioning the President as a sullen teen-ager on a family vacation, sitting in the back seat of the car complaining that he’d rather be hanging out with his friends. This unhappy teen lets others do the driving but occasionally throws enough of a temper tantrum to make continuation of the trip impossible.

But Obama’s passive-aggressive behavior didn’t even change after his “liberation day” on Aug. 31, 2013. He continued to let his subordinates set the direction of his foreign policy. For instance, he agreed to covert weapons deliveries to Syrian rebels, who were operating in tandem with Islamist extremists, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front, to appease the neocons and the liberal hawks, though that strategy worsened the Syrian bloodshed and drove millions of refugees into Turkey and Europe.

When neocon Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland helped orchestrate the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected president in February 2014 and sparked a new and costly Cold War with Russia, Obama again went along.

Obama even joined in demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin though Putin played key roles in two of Obama’s most important foreign policy successes, getting Assad to surrender his chemical weapons arsenal (as a way to defuse that crisis) and persuading Iran to accept tight limits on its nuclear program (arguably Obama’s signature diplomatic accomplishment).

Yet, rather than hold back Nuland and her cohorts as they pulled off a “regime change” on Russia’s border, Obama let this dangerous policy go forward, amid propagandistic charges of “Russian aggression” and personal insults directed at Putin. A White House spokesman even mocked Putin’s tendency to sit with his legs spread.

Last year, when Islamic State terrorists blew up a Russian charter plane over the Sinai killing 224 people, mostly Russian citizens, Obama couldn’t resist citing the deaths to chide Putin for having intervened militarily in Syria in support of the government.

At a Dec. 1, 2015 news conference in Paris, Obama expressed his lack of sympathy as part of a bizarre comment in which he faulted Putin for somehow not turning around the Syrian conflict during the previous month while Obama and his allies have been floundering in their “war” against the Islamic State and its parent, Al Qaeda, for years, if not decades.

“The Russians now have been there for several weeks, over a month, and I think fair-minded reporters who looked at the situation would say that the situation hasn’t changed significantly,” Obama said. “In the interim, Russia has lost a commercial passenger jet.  You’ve seen another jet shot down. There have been losses in terms of Russian personnel.  And I think Mr. Putin understands that, with Afghanistan fresh in the memory, for him to simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict is not the outcome that he’s looking for.”

It is hard to imagine any other time when a Western leader behaved so callously in the face of a terrorist atrocity. But mocking Putin is always good politics in Official Washington, no matter what the circumstances.

However, Obama’s prognosticating skills about a costly Russian failure left a lot to be desired. In early 2016, with Russian air support, the Syrian army notched victory after victory against the Syrian rebels, including Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and the Islamic State. The successes led to a fragile cease-fire and a delicate reopening of peace talks as well as to Putin’s surprise announcement that he was withdrawing the bulk of the Russian military force.

Rather than the pointless “quagmire” that Obama smugly foresaw, Putin seemed to have achieved a successful strategic maneuver at relatively modest cost, a marked contrast to Obama’s meandering approach to the Syrian crisis in which he has fed the violence by having the CIA deliver weapons while also blocking his advisers’ more extreme war plans.

Yet, by failing to level with the American people about the relevant facts and his strategic reasoning, Obama continues to come across as a confused and conflicted chief executive. Though he may have seen his refusal to bomb Syria on Aug. 31, 2013, as his “liberation day,” Obama put himself back into captivity over the past two-plus years, shackled at the feet of the neocons and liberal hawks who still dominate Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.

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




Obama’s Curious Interview

Exclusive: President Obama’s out-of-school interview with The Atlantic has provided more questions than answers, including why Obama publicly unloaded on erstwhile U.S. allies – and why to a clueless neocon, asks Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Jeffrey Goldberg’s 20,000-word interview-cum-profile of Barack Obama in The Atlantic has been out for more than a week, yet the controversy continues to build and build. With half of Official Washington wondering how Obama could be so frank, the big questions now seem to be:

–Why did he choose to unload now about America’s nearest and dearest allies instead of saving it for his memoirs?

–Why did he choose Goldberg to unload it to?

With regard to the first, there’s always the possibility that it’s all a big mistake, that the President forgot what he had said to Goldberg over the course of numerous interviews, and that he therefore failed to anticipate the impact his statements would have. But that’s hard to believe in the case of someone so savvy.

More likely is that he knew exactly what the impact would be and, with less than ten months to go in office, figured that now was the time to let it rip. His aim was not only to defend himself against right-wing charges that he choked at a crucial moment by failing to bomb Syria following the August 2013 Ghouta poison gas attack, but to hit back at any number of people who have gotten under his skin over the years.

Here he is, for example, on Washington’s legions of foreign-policy experts:

“There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”

The foreign-policy establishment, in other words, is like a stopped clock – occasionally right but mostly dead wrong.

Obama regards Pakistan as “disastrously dysfunctional” – Goldberg’s paraphrase rather the President’s actual words – and wonders why it “should be considered an ally of the U.S. at all.” He views Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as “a failure and an authoritarian” and regards Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu as both “condescending” and “too fearful and politically paralyzed” to move toward a two-state solution.

His comments about Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf oil autocracies are no less cutting. Goldberg recounts a conversation that Obama had with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at an Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in which the President expressed dismay at seeing Indonesia, where he had spent part of his childhood, “gradually move from a relaxed, syncretistic Islam to a more fundamentalist, unforgiving interpretation.”

The reason, he went on, is the Gulf States, which have used their oil wealth to flood the country with imams, teachers, and madrasas promoting the harsh Wahhabist line favored by the Saudi elite.

“Aren’t the Saudis your friends?” Turnbull asked. To which Obama replied sarcastically: “It’s complicated.”

Goldberg says that Obama “rails against Saudi Arabia’s state-sanctioned misogyny, arguing in private that ‘a country cannot function in the modern world when it is repressing half of its population.’”

But Goldberg adds that the President is now engaged in a delicate balancing act between Iran, which Obama says “has been an enemy of the United States, and has engaged in state-sponsored terrorism, is a genuine threat to Israel and many of our allies, and engages in all kinds of destructive behavior,” and the Saudis who have a penchant for entering into sectarian conflicts that they cannot “decisively win on their own.”

So while not wishing to “throw our traditional allies overboard in favor of Iran,” his goal is to persuade them “to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace.”

Incendiary Comments

What makes these comments so incendiary is the suggestion that, rather than America’s oldest ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia has been demoted to a regional power on par with its arch-enemy across the gulf. In response, Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s longtime chief of intelligence and former ambassador to the U.S., fired off an open letter in the Saudi daily Arab News that was so fiery one could all but smell the smoke. Why, he wondered, has Obama changed his tune?

“Is it because you have pivoted to Iran so much that you equate the kingdom’s eighty years of constant friendship with America to an Iranian leadership that continues to describe America as the biggest enemy, that continues to arm, fund and support sectarian militias in the Arab and Muslim world, that continues to harbor and host Al-Qaeda leaders, that continues to prevent the election of a Lebanese president through Hezbollah, which is identified by your government as a terrorist organization, that continues to kill the Syrian Arab people in league with Bashar Assad?”

Al-Faisal’s letter was a farrago of misstatements and falsehoods. The complaint that Iran funds sectarian militias, for instance, is ridiculous since the sectarian militias that the Saudis fund are far more powerful and vicious. Ditto the charge that Iran is in cahoots with Al Qaeda since Saudi Arabia’s own relations with the group are the subject of a massive cover-up in both Washington and Riyadh. As for Hezbollah killing Syrian Arabs, all one can say is that the Sunni fundamentalist hordes benefitting from billions of dollars in Saudi aid have killed far more.

Not that that makes Al-Faisal’s feelings of betrayal any less genuine. Obama may not think he’s throwing old allies overboard, but the Saudis see it differently.

Nonetheless, after seven-plus years in office, it looks like Obama has had enough. After putting up with the likes of Netanyahu, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Al Saud, not to mention Nicolas Sarkozy (who Obama says bragged about France’s role in the air war against Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya without mentioning that “we had wiped out all the air defenses and essentially set up the entire infrastructure”) or David Cameron (who he says lost interest in Libya because he was “distracted by a range of other things”), Obama has decided to push back.

Apparently, he thinks it’s time for the empire to strike a better bargain with its clients and that a good tongue-lashing is the best way to begin. But Obama is also out to burnish his reputation as he heads into the home stretch, which brings us to the second question: why Goldberg?

The answer is simple. Goldberg is a dunderhead even by neocon standards. As a New Yorker staff writer during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, his reporting was so over the top that it made Judith Miller seem like a model of restraint.

After laboring to establish a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, Goldberg then accused Hezbollah of attempting to set up a terror cell in Paraguay of all strange places. In an article in Slate in October 2002, he wrote off opponents of the impending invasion as innocent souls whose “limited experience in the Middle East … causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected.”

Goldberg concluded with a resounding prediction: “In five years … I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality.”

Those words should be tattooed on Goldberg’s forehead like the mark of Cain. Since then, he has “failed steadily upward,” to quote the journalist Ken Silverstein, moving from The New Yorker to The Atlantic where he has used his skills to interview Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and others of that ilk.

This is undoubtedly what drew the President’s notice. Obama, who is very smart, knows that Goldberg is not and that he therefore can be trusted to overlook the glaring contradictions in whatever he has to say. As a result, any number of self-serving statements fly by unchallenged.

Obama, for instance, told Goldberg that America should avoid entering into sectarian conflicts on the side of “our gulf partners, our traditional friends.” But Goldberg apparently didn’t think to ask about Yemen, where the administration is now backing the Saudis and other Sunni states in a year-long air war against Shi‘ite Houthis for precisely the same sectarian reasons.

Ignoring US Interference

Neither did Goldberg think to mention Syria where the U.S. is a full partner in a Sunni fundamentalist campaign aimed at toppling Bashar al-Assad – not because he is a dictator, as the White House likes to claim, but because he also falls on the wrong side of the Sunni-Shi‘ite divide.

Goldberg remained mum when Obama blamed “a tiny faction” for steering Islam in a “violent, radical, fanatical, nihilistic” direction while lambasting Saudi Arabia for spreading Wahhabist bigotry. How the average reader might wonder can Obama blame a small faction and an entire country at the same time, Goldberg is oblivious – which suits Obama just fine.

So Goldberg’s general obtuseness makes him a good choice. But his hawkishness makes him even better. He’s agog that Obama dares defend his decision not to bomb Syrian military forces in August 2013, which makes the President look all the nobler as he sounds off against the foreign-policy experts.

At one point, Goldberg confesses: “The president’s unwillingness to counter the baiting by American adversaries can feel emotionally unsatisfying, I said, and I told him that every so often, I’d like to see him give Vladimir Putin the finger. It’s atavistic, I said, understanding my audience. ’It is,’ the president responded coolly.’”

This makes Obama look civilized as well, which, as far as he is concerned, is undoubtedly another point in favor of choosing Goldberg.

But if Obama had chosen a different journalist, one who is not beholden to the Washington consensus, he might have had to deal with questions that were more difficult. In Syria, Goldberg says, Obama “resisted demands to act in part because he assumed, based on the analysis of U.S. intelligence, that Assad would fall without his help.”

But “as Assad clung to power,” Goldberg adds, “Obama’s resistance to direct intervention only grew.” But what does this mean other than that Obama thought Assad would go easily but then dithered when he put up a fight?

“After several months of deliberation,” Goldberg continues, “he authorized the CIA to train and fund Syrian rebels, but he also shared the outlook of his former defense secretary, Robert Gates, who had routinely asked in meetings, ‘Shouldn’t we finish up the two wars we have before we look for another?’”

But what does this mean other than the fact that, instead of putting American lives on the line, Obama preferred the usual imperialist gambit of hiring one set of semi-colonial subjects to slit the throats of another? As pressure grew for a military assault, Obama may indeed have “come to believe that he was walking into a trap,” as Goldberg puts it, “one laid both by allies and by adversaries, and by conventional expectations of what an American president is supposed to do.”

Obama, in fact, is proud of himself for escaping before the trap was sprung. But that still begs the question why he has surrounded himself with hawks from the earliest, people like Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power, and John Kerry, all of whom pushed for direct military intervention. Could it be that he feels he needs such people to give him credibility with the same foreign-policy establishment he pretends to criticize?

Goldberg portrays Obama as a skeptic determined to avoid the slippery slope in Syria. “The notion that we could have – in a clean way that didn’t commit U.S. military forces – changed the equation on the ground there was never true,” he quotes Obama as saying. But if that’s the case, why send the CIA to train Syrian rebels at all?

Finally, he lets Obama get away with a misleading account of how the Russian leadership was able to step in during the Ghouta crisis and avert the threat of military intervention. According to Goldberg:

“Amid the confusion [of whether the U.S. government should bomb or not], a deus ex machina appeared in the form of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, which was held the week after the Syria reversal, Obama pulled Putin aside, he recalled to me, and told the Russian president ‘that if he forced Assad to get rid of the chemical weapons, that that would eliminate the need for us taking a military strike.’ Within weeks, Kerry, working with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, would engineer the removal of most of Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal – a program whose existence Assad until then had refused to even acknowledge.”

Not Making Sense

This is not the first time Obama has said something along these lines. But it doesn’t make sense. When, shortly after the G20 meeting, a reporter asked Kerry if there was anything the Assad government could do to avert an attack, he seemed taken aback.

“Sure,” he said, “he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week – turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting [of it]. But he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done.”

This doesn’t sound like someone whose boss thought up just such a scheme three or four days earlier. It’s possible, of course, that Obama mentioned the idea to Putin but forgot to tell his Secretary of State (an indication that Obama doesn’t trust his hawkish underlings). But if that’s the case, it suggests a remarkable breakdown in high-level communications.

In fact, Kerry gave every appearance of being caught flat-footed when Lavrov seized on his words to propose a deal to remove Syria’s chemical-weapons arsenal in toto. The administration, consequently, had no choice but to go along. Indeed, this is what infuriated the foreign-policy establishment most of all, i.e. the fact that the administration had allowed an opportunity for another round of “shock and awe” to slip from its grasp, all because of interference by those perfidious Russians.

None of this intrigue and confusion shows up in The Atlantic’s account. Instead, what we get is a version designed to make Obama look good and, in the process, make Goldberg seem like a serious and weighty journalist.

Obama may think of himself as a critic of the foreign-policy establishment. But his role has really been to shore it up.

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




US Intel Vets Warn Against Torture

Exclusive: Experienced intelligence professionals reaffirm that torture – while popular with “tough” politicians – doesn’t work in getting accurate and actionable information, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

To those living “outside the Beltway” it may seem counterintuitive that those of us whose analysis has been correct on key issues that the U.S. government got criminally wrong – like the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – would be blacklisted from “mainstream” media and ostracized by the Smart People of the Establishment. But, alas, that’s the way it is.

Forget the continuing carnage in which hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions made refugees. Within the mainstream U.S. media and around Washington’s major policy circles, there is little serious dialogue, much less debate about what went so hideously wrong; and Americans still innocently wonder – regarding the people on the receiving end of the blunderbuss violence – “why they hate us.”

After more than 13 years of presenting thoughtful critiques to senior officials – and having little discernible impact – we Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity are strongly tempted to take some solace in having made a good-faith effort to spread some truth around – and, now, go play golf. But the stakes are too high. We can’t in good conscience approach the first tee without having tried one more time.

Accordingly, we repeat the offer we extended on Feb. 26 – this time to the winnowed candidate roster of Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – to make our deep experience and proven expertise available to those of you interested in the tell-it-like-it-is analysis that has been our niche for so many years.

Given our 13-year record for accuracy and insight, we had hoped that at least one or two of you would take us up on the offer, especially since a few of you have faced criticism for a paucity of foreign policy and national security experts.

Of more immediate importance to the nation and the world, statements by some of you in reaction to the Monday bombings in Brussels, seem to betray:

A) Gross naiveté about how to counter terrorism;

B) Demagogic disregard for the civil liberty protections embodied in the U.S. Constitution; or

C) Both of the above.

We can help round out your understanding of terrorism, its causes and its possible cures – but with respect to “A” above, you may wish to begin by reading VIPS memorandum #15 (of June 18, 2007), How Not to Counter Terrorism, drafted by our VIPS colleague, former Special Agent Coleen Rowley, who was FBI Division Counsel, Minneapolis, during 9/11. (Rowley later blew the whistle about the ineptitude at FBI headquarters that thwarted the simple steps that would have prevented those terrorist attacks.)

On Torture, Pols & Polls

Based on our lengthy experience in intelligence, we know that torture doesn’t “work.” So we confess to a certain disgust with the “new normal,” fostered not only by some presidential candidates but also by the media, that torture techniques like waterboarding yield useful intelligence. They don’t.

This issue has come to the fore again in the immediate aftermath of the Brussels bombings. We continue to be concerned that presidential candidates may be unaware, not only that harsh interrogation techniques don’t “work,” but also that they are a great fillip to the recruitment of more terrorists.

There are, of course, polls purporting to show that a majority of Americans still think that torturing “bad guys” can be justified. That simply means that many citizens have been seduced by artificially stoked fear into believing what all independent investigations – including the detailed Senate study relying on original CIA documents – have proven: that despite all the TV and Hollywood propaganda “showing” that torture “works,” it doesn’t.

The sole exception is if your purpose is to obtain unreliable or false “intelligence.” For instance, if you wish to coerce an Al Qaeda operative into “confessing” that there were close ties between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, well, then torture can work like a charm. A detainee will happily confirm a lie to stop the pain.

As for those responsible for implementing torture – like former CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden – is it not clear that they have strong incentive to “justify” their criminal behavior? Some other complicit CIA officials and operatives, eager to protect themselves from the opprobrium that comes from torturing, also continue to pretend that torture helps “keep us safe.”

The opposite is the case, but these torture practitioners and their accomplices continue to promote the lie that useful intelligence can be gotten via abusive interrogation techniques (never mind that most such “enhanced” techniques are clearly illegal, not to mention immoral and ineffective).

VIPS has spoken out strongly – most recently in a Sept. 14, 2015 memo – against these crass attempts by former intelligence officials to exculpate themselves and other perpetrators.

What the commanding general of U.S. Army intelligence has said about torture bears repeating: On Sept. 6, 2006, the very day President George W. Bush announced and applauded the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Gen. John Kimmons told a Pentagon press conference: “I am absolutely convinced [that] no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.”

Wise Advisers Needed

Some of today’s presidential candidates are brimming with what we’re told are sage foreign policy advisers, even though many have been implicated in the disastrous policies of recent decades; other candidates have relatively few advisers – some of them unknown entities about whom little can be found even via Goggle. As a collective, VIPS stands ready to help any and all candidates who might be interested. It may now be time to insert some names into our offer.

The listing below contains only those members of VIPS who signed onto our Memorandum of Sept. 14, 2015, addressing our former bosses’ transparent attempts to cover up their role in torture:

VIPS Steering Group, Sept. 14, 2015

Fulton Armstrong, National Intelligence Officer for Latin America (ret.)

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

Tony Camerino, former Air Force and Air Force Reserves, senior interrogator in Iraq and author of How to Break a Terrorist under pseudonym Matthew Alexander

Glenn L. Carle, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, CIA (ret.)

Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA

Daniel Ellsberg, former State Department and Defense Department Official (VIPS Associate)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

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 (Retired), ex Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.)

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

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

James Marcinkowski, Attorney, former CIA Operations 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, former professional staff, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

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

Ali Soufan, former FBI Special Agent

Robert David Steele, former CIA Operations Officer

Greg Thielmann, U.S. Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and former Senate Intelligence Committee

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

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary

Valerie Plame Wilson, CIA Operations Officer (ret.)

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

Ray McGovern served for 30 years as an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




Misunderstanding the Terror Threat

By jumping into wars wherever some group calls itself “Islamic State,” the U.S. government misunderstands the threat and feeds the danger of endless warfare, explains ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

A couple of unfortunate ways of thinking about terrorism continue to plague discourse about the subject and create a political environment that encourages destructive policy responses. One is to conceive terrorism not as what it really is — a tactic — but instead as an identifiable group of bad actors: “the terrorists.”

These bad guys are thought of as, if not having a permanently fixed number, then at least having identifiable limits that separate them from everyone else. Wipe out the bad guys, goes the thinking, and you’ve wiped out the terrorism problem.

The other common habit of thinking is to identify international terrorism with whatever named group has most captured our attention and elicited our fears. This used to be Al Qaeda; now Al Qaeda has been eclipsed to a large degree by the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. Once we become familiar with a scary name, invocation of the name anywhere triggers an impulse on our part to use force to wipe out more bad guys. This pattern of thought tends to confuse a name with an organization, and it reifies more of an octopus-like transnational organization than really exists.

We are seeing some of the impact on policy of such thinking in the American political sphere with an expansion of U.S. military operations, or planning for such expanded operations, against self-declared ISIS elements in Afghanistan and Libya. This is in addition to continuing U.S. military operations directed against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Where does such expansion stop? As long as the erroneous patterns of thinking prevail, there is no stopping point. If it’s Afghanistan and Libya today, then tomorrow it’s Cote d’Ivoire or Somalia or someplace else. If the impulse is to go after ISIS wherever we hear that name invoked, then there are no limits to the expansion of military operations.

And what does such expansion accomplish? A few more bad guys get whacked, but this does not constitute stopping some feared expansion of ISIS. The organizational connections, such as they are, do not work that way. Most of the energy and anger that drive violent radicals who invoke the ISIS name in far-flung places revolve around contests for power in those places.

The name is invoked because it currently is the most prominent brand name in the radical Sunni world, invocation makes it appear the local elements are acting on behalf of some larger cause, and this sort of linkage might help bring some sort of external assistance to their fight.

Meanwhile, the expansion of U.S. military operations inevitably involves an increased drain on U.S. resources and attention. The expansion can be counterproductive in causing more of the collateral damage that stimulates more anti-U.S. anger that feeds anti-U.S. violence. The expansion also can upset efforts to bring some stability to conflict-ridden places where radicals have exploited the chaos.

This is probably the case in Libya, where international mediation efforts are just starting to make some delicate progress in reconciling two competing factions that each have claimed to be the government.

ISIS unquestionably is a loathsome group, and those who would affiliate with it or adopt its name are not desirable types either. But as President Obama has correctly observed, ISIS does not pose any existential threat to the United States. Far from it.

And neither is such a threat posed by those who adopt the name or move toward affiliation. Self-identified ISIS types in Afghanistan, for example, are basically hardliners who have split from main strands of the Taliban, and like the Taliban are focused on how power is to be distributed within Afghanistan.

But this and any other U.S. administration operates in a political environment in which not going after ISIS anywhere it appears to pop up is seen as a political liability. This risks endless warfare that expands without limit. And that would be a big mistake.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Will We Miss President Obama?

Exclusive: President Obama doesn’t take on Official Washington’s powerful neocons head-on, but he does drag his heels on some of their crazy schemes, which is better than America can expect from Hillary Clinton, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

From a “realist” perspective, there are plenty of reasons to criticize President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, particularly his timidity in facing down Official Washington’s dominant neoconservatives and liberal interventionists on Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and even Syria – but he also has done more to steer the country away from additional military disasters than other establishment politicians would have.

That is especially true as the Democratic Party prepares to nominate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as its choice to replace Obama. Throughout her public life, Clinton has demonstrated a pedestrian understanding of foreign policy and has consistently bowed to neocon/liberal-hawk orthodoxy, seeming to learn nothing from the Iraq War and other failures of military interventions.

In a recent interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Clinton scolded him for “conflating” her support for the catastrophic “regime change” war in Iraq with her insistence on the disastrous “regime change” war in Libya. In effect, she was saying that just because both decisions led to significant loss of life, failed states and terrorist control of large swaths of territory, the wars shouldn’t be viewed as her failure to apply the lessons of Iraq to a similar situation in Libya. No “conflating” allowed.

By contrast, at several key moments, Obama has risen to the occasion, challenging some of the most dangerous “group thinks” of the foreign policy establishment, such as when he resisted the rush to judgment blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack outside Damascus. Obama rejected neocon/liberal-hawk demands for a punitive military assault on Assad’s troops for supposedly crossing Obama’s “red line.”

Nearly all the Smart People of Washington wanted that bombing campaign even though the U.S. intelligence community did not have the evidence of Assad’s guilt. The “group think” was that even if it wasn’t clear that Assad and his military were responsible – even if the attack was a provocation by jihadist rebels trying to trick the United States into joining the war on their side – Obama should have hit Assad’s forces anyway to maintain U.S. “credibility.”

Bashing Obama

This know-nothingism of the Smart People – this disdain for empiricism and realism – was expressed on Friday by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen who castigated Obama for failing to launch U.S. airstrikes against the Syrian military in August 2013. Citing a series of interviews that Obama gave The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Cohen suggested that nearly every bad thing since then can be blamed on Obama’s inaction in Syria:

“Above all, did his decision in August 2013 not to uphold with force his ‘red line’ on the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons sound the death knell of American credibility, consolidate President Bashar al-Assad and empower [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin? ‘I’m very proud of this moment,’ Obama insists. Proud?

“It is possible to believe that the situation in Syria would be worse if Obama had followed through with punitive strikes. It is possible to believe that ISIS would have emerged, seized vast territory, beheaded Americans, rattled Paris and struck through sympathizers in San Bernardino anyway. It is possible to believe that Putin would have annexed Crimea anyway. It is possible to believe that Putin would have started a war in eastern Ukraine anyway. It is possible to believe that Assad would be stronger as a result of Russia’s military intervention anyway. It is possible to believe that Saudi ‘Obama-is-a-Shiite-in-the-pocket-of-Iran’ derangement syndrome and Saudi war in Yemen would have occurred anyway. It is possible to believe that more than a million Syrian refugees would have shaken Europe anyway.

“It is possible to believe the moon is a balloon.”

Ha-ha! “The moon is a balloon!” How clever! In other words, Cohen, someone so esteemed that he is awarded regular space on The New York Times op-ed page, someone who has suffered not one iota for supporting the Iraq War which arguably contributed much more to the world’s disorders than anything Obama has or hasn’t done, is pretending that all would have been set right if only Obama had ordered airstrikes on the Syrian military despite the lack of U.S. evidence that Assad and his forces were actually guilty.

Cohen must have missed – or ignored – the section of Goldberg’s article citing how Obama was told by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that the U.S. intelligence community lacked “slam dunk” evidence confirming Assad’s guilt, with Clapper choosing the phrase “slam dunk” to remind Obama of CIA Director George Tenet’s “slam dunk” assurance to President George W. Bush that the intelligence community could back up his claims about Iraq’s WMD, which, of course, turned out not to exist.

In other words, Clapper told Obama that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t know who had carried out the sarin attack – and subsequent evidence has pointed to a “false-flag” operation by rebel jihadists – but the Smart People of Washington all wanted to launch a military strike anyway. It doesn’t even matter to them that we now know that Obama’s destruction of Assad’s military could have opened the gates of Damascus to the forces of Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front and/or the Islamic State.

And now that Obama says he is “proud” of his decision not to bomb first and get the facts later – or as the President put it, to break with the “Washington playbook” of always relying on military force – Cohen and other members of the foreign policy elite berate and ridicule him.

An Insane Asylum?

Based on their cavalier view that facts don’t matter even on life-and-death issues like war or peace, one might argue that people like Cohen should be dispatched to the International Criminal Court or committed to an insane asylum instead of being treated as “Wise Men” and “Wise Women” whose pearls of wisdom fill the pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and other establishment publications – and are thus read by millions of Americans.

Has it reached the point that mainstream journalists and policymakers in Washington care not one hoot for the truth? Do they simply push propaganda to enforce public support for their ideological fantasies, the bloodier the better? Or do they actually believe their own propaganda and have crossed over into complete madness?

This disdain for empirical evidence has become a hallmark of the American political-media establishment, most notoriously displayed in the overwhelming support for the WMD lies that justified the invasion of Iraq but now present in almost every major international crisis, such as the unsupported charges that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi planned genocide in 2011 and the wildly one-sided coverage of Ukraine, which ignores the U.S. hand in the 2014 coup that ousted an elected president.

Regarding Syria, Cohen is far from alone in reporting as flat fact that Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” against using chemical weapons and that the “feckless” Obama blinked – just as in 2002-03, many of the same Smart People reported as flat fact that Iraq was hiding stockpiles of WMD. In neither case are these brilliant know-nothings punished for getting the facts wrong, even if lots of people die.

In “the old days,” when I was working at The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1970s and 1980s, there was much more professional pride among journalists about getting the facts right, even if that meant challenging the spin coming from the White House and State Department.

Sure, back then, there were already signs of the profession’s decline but it was nothing like it is today when the most “esteemed” journalists and columnists are contemptuous of anyone who shows skepticism toward the official line or the conventional wisdom. Today’s goal for the Smart People is to establish your “credibility” by writing what Everyone Knows to Be True.

Goldberg’s Contradiction

Goldberg’s opus is schizophrenic in its own right because it makes no effort to reconcile Clapper’s warning to Obama about the lack of evidence against Assad and Goldberg’s matter-of-fact acceptance of Assad’s guilt. Goldberg, a neocon himself who supported the Iraq War, simply can’t break from the “group think” even when it conflicts with his own reporting.

Shouldn’t Goldberg, Cohen and others first try to determine what the reality actually was or at least acknowledge the evidence raising doubts about the conventional wisdom?  Since August 2013, there has been substantial investigative work showing that the sarin attack was most likely carried out by radical jihadists possibly with the support of Turkish intelligence, including reporting by legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. [See Consortiumnews.com’s  “Was Turkey Behind Syrian Sarin Attack.”]

In addition, the only rocket that United Nations inspectors recovered, which was found to carry sarin, was a home-made contraption that aeronautical experts calculated could travel only about two kilometers, not the nine kilometers that the “bomb-bomb-bomb Assad” advocates were citing as the Syrian military’s launch point for the attack.

It also had made no sense for Assad to have launched the sarin attack outside Damascus just as U.N. inspectors were unpacking their bags at a Damascus hotel to begin investigating chemical attacks that Assad was blaming on the rebels. Assad would have known that a chemical attack would have diverted the inspectors (as it did) and would force President Obama to declare that his “red line” had been crossed, possibly prompting a massive U.S. retaliatory strike (as it almost did). [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.”]

But facts and logic no longer matter to Official Washington’s foreign-policy elite. What matters is what the latest “group think” is and – since Assad has been so thoroughly demonized – virtually no one dares contradict the “group think” because to do so you would risk being deemed an “Assad apologist.”

However, to Obama’s credit, he pulled back at the last minute after hearing from the U.S. intelligence community that the case against Assad was dubious at best. Inside the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, Obama was almost alone in resisting demands for “action.”

Chickening Out

As for Goldberg, he conveniently forgot what he had just reported about Clapper’s “no slam dunk” warning to Obama. Instead, Goldberg simply reverted to the “group think,” which holds that Assad did it and that Obama chickened out.

Goldberg wrote, “The moment Obama decided not to enforce his red line and bomb Syria, he broke with what he calls, derisively, ‘the Washington playbook.’ This was his liberation day.”

Goldberg’s cognitive dissonance can’t seem to reconcile that there was no reason “to enforce his red line and bomb Syria” if Assad’s forces didn’t cross the red line in the first place. You might think that a political leader who demands facts before going to war and killing lots of possibly innocent people would be praised, not treated like a coward and a pariah.

But that is the core contradiction within today’s Official Washington where truth has become fully subordinated to ideological goals of the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” sidekicks. “Facts” are only valued if they can be twisted into generating public support for the neocons’ “regime change” agendas.

To the neocons and liberal hawks, it really didn’t matter that Iraq didn’t possess WMD, nor that Iraq wasn’t sharing its non-existent WMD with Al Qaeda. What mattered was that all the Smart People of Washington had decided that these fantasies were true or at least were needed to scare the American people into line.

If you cared about your career, you ran with the stampeding herd, knowing that there really is safety in numbers. Since all the Smart People were wrong, that meant that almost no one would be punished. The ultimate price for the cowardly journalism about Iraq’s WMD would be paid by the people of Iraq and the U.S. soldiers dispatched to kill and be killed.

In Jeffrey Goldberg’s case, he even got rewarded with extraordinary access to President Obama and his inner circle. Roger Cohen, Thomas Friedman, David Ignatius, Fred Hiatt, Charles Krauthammer and a long list of other Iraq War cheerleaders got to pontificate on and on in elite publications as if nothing untoward had happened.

Although Obama deserves credit for resisting “the Washington playbook” on bombing Syria, he can fairly be criticized for ceding to other neocon/liberal-hawk schemes, such as escalating the Afghan War in 2009, recklessly supporting “regime change” in Libya in 2011, and turning another “regime change” in Ukraine in 2014 into the start of a new Cold War with Russia.

Accepting Disinformation

Obama also has allowed neocon/liberal-hawk disinformation to continue cycling and recycling through the American political belief system without challenge. For instance, even though he was told by U.S. intelligence analysts that the Syria-sarin case was weak or bogus, he didn’t share that information with the American people.

If he had, Obama could have underscored the dangerous delusions of the neocons and liberal hawks. Obama could have enlisted the American people on his side by arming them with facts. But there is something in Obama’s personality that prevents him from engaging in that kind of democratic populism.

As either an elitist himself or a guy who wants approval of the elites, Obama acts as if he must protect the secrets even when his own interests – as well as the public interest – would be served by sharing the facts with the people.

Similarly, Obama knows how distorted much of the case against Russia is regarding Ukraine. He knows the reality about the U.S.-backed coup overthrowing Ukraine’s elected government; he knows that the infamous sniper attacks on Feb. 20, 2014, leading to the putsch two days later were probably a provocation by extremist anti-government operatives; he knows that the Crimean referendum on leaving Ukraine and rejoining Russia was a legitimate expression of popular will, not the “sham” that his foreign policy officials still assert; he received intelligence briefings on who was really at fault for the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014; and he knows about the pervasive corruption and the neo-Nazi taint inside the U.S.-backed post-coup regime.

But Obama won’t share those facts with the American people, either. Despite his early promises of running a transparent administration, he has instead operated one of the most opaque and propagandistic in modern times. What is particularly strange is that he does so often to his own disadvantage. By hiding the reality, he plays into the hands of neocons and liberal hawks who rely on propaganda to manipulate the public – as they make him appear “feckless.”

If the Smart People had had their way in Syria – and if Obama had ordered a severe bombing campaign against Assad’s military – it would have possibly and perhaps probably cleared the path for an Al Qaeda and/or Islamic State victory, since they represented the most effective elements of the Syrian rebel movement.

Similarly, if Obama had followed Official Washington’s “group think” about establishing the sweet-sounding “no-fly zones” or “safe zones” inside Syria, the U.S. military would have had to destroy Syria’s air force and air defenses, again creating a security vacuum that Al Qaeda and/or the Islamic State could have filled.

It should be noted that Hillary Clinton has been a top advocate for these neocon/liberal-hawk “regime change” schemes, as she was in pushing Obama into the military intervention in Libya in 2011, overthrowing Muammar Gaddafi’s regime and leaving behind a failed state where the Islamic State now operates, including its mass beheading of Coptic Christians.

But none of this ugly reality impacts the Smart People of Washington. Instead, the likes of Roger Cohen blame everything on Obama’s failure to bomb Assad.

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




How Propaganda Feeds War on Syria

Western propaganda against countries targeted for “regime change” can be especially insidious because mainstream journalists abandon skepticism and go with the flow, such as the case of Syrian “torture” photos, writes Rick Sterling.

There has been a pattern of sensational but untrue reports that lead to public acceptance of U.S. and Western military intervention in countries around the world.

For instance, in Gulf War 1 (1990-91), there were reports of Iraqi troops stealing incubators from Kuwait, leaving babies to die on the cold floor. Relying on the testimony of a Red Crescent doctor, Amnesty Interenational ‘verified’ the false claims.

Ten years later, there were reports of yellow cake uranium going to Iraq for development of weapons of mass destruction.

One decade later, there were reports of Libyan soldiers drugged on viagra and raping women as they advanced.

In 2012, NBC broadcaster Richard Engel was supposedly kidnapped by a pro-Assad Syrian militia but luckily freed by Syrian opposition fighters, the “Free Syrian Army.”

All these reports were later confirmed to be fabrications and lies. They all had the goal of manipulating public opinion and they all succeeded in one way or another. Despite the consequences, which were often disastrous, none of the perpetrators were punished or paid any price.

It has been famously said, “Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” This report is a critical review of the so-called “Caesar Torture Photos” story. As will be shown, there is strong evidence the accusations are entirely or substantially false.

Overview of ‘Caesar Torture Photos’

On Jan. 20, 2014, two days before negotiations about the Syrian conflict were scheduled to begin in Switzerland, a sensational report burst onto television and front pages around the world. The story was that a former Syrian army photographer had 55,000 photographs documenting the torture and killing of 11,000 detainees by the Syrian security establishment.

The Syrian photographer was given the code-name “Caesar.” The story became known as the “Caesar Torture Photos.” A team of lawyers plus digital and forensic experts were hired by the Carter-Ruck law firm, on contract to Qatar, to go to the Middle East and check the veracity of “Caesar” and his story. They concluded that “Caesar” was truthful and the photographs indicated “industrial scale killing.”

CNN, London’s Guardian and LeMonde broke the story which was subsequently broadcast in news reports around the world. The Caesar photo accusations were announced as negotiations began in Switzerland. With the opposition demanding the resignation of the Syrian government, negotiations quickly broke down.

For the past two years the story has been preserved with occasional bursts of publicity and supposedly corroborating reports. Most recently, in December 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report titled “If the Dead Could Speak” with significant focus on the Caesar accusations.

Following are 12 significant problems with the “Caesar torture photos” story:

  1. Almost half the photos show the opposite of the allegations.

The Carter Ruck Inquiry Team claimed there were about 55,000 photos total with about half of them taken by “Caesar” and the other half by other photographers. The Carter Ruck team claimed the photos were all “similar.” Together they are all known as “Caesar’s Torture Photos.”

The photographs are in the custody of an opposition organization called the Syrian Association for Missing and Conscience Detainees (SAFMCD). In 2015, they allowed Human Rights Watch (HRW) to study all the photographs which have otherwise been secret. In December 2015, HRW released their report titled “If the Dead Could Speak.”

The biggest revelation is that over 46 percent of the photographs (24,568) do not show people “tortured to death” by the Syrian government. On the contrary, they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of car bombs and other violence (HRW pp 2-3). Thus, nearly half the photos show the opposite of what was alleged. These photos, never revealed to the public, confirm that the opposition is violent and has killed large numbers of Syrian security forces and civilians.

  1. The claim that other photos only show “tortured detainees” is exaggerated or false.

The Carter Ruck report says “Caesar” only photographed bodies brought from Syrian government detention centers. In its December 2015 report, HRW said, “ The largest category of photographs, 28,707 images, are photographs Human Rights Watch understands to have died in government custody, either in one of several detention facilities or after being transferred to a military hospital.” They estimate 6,786 dead individuals in the set.

The photos and the deceased are real, but how they died and the circumstances are unclear. There is strong evidence some died in conflict. Others died in the hospital. Others died and their bodies were decomposing before they were picked up. These photographs seem to document a war-time situation where many combatants and civilians are killed.

It seems the military hospital was doing what it had always done: maintaining a photographic and documentary record of the deceased. Bodies were picked up by different military or intelligence branches. While some may have died in detention; the big majority probably died in the conflict zones. The accusations by “Caesar.” the Carter Ruck report and HRW that these are all victims of “death in detention” or “death by torture” or death in “government custody” are almost certainly false.

  1. The true identity of “Caesar” is probably not as claimed.

The Carter Ruck Report says “This witness who defected from Syria and who had been working for the Syrian government was given the code-name ‘Caesar’ by the inquiry team to protect the witness and members of his family.” (CRR p12)

However if his story is true, it would be easy for the Syrian government to determine who he really is. After all, how many military photographers took photos at Tishreen and Military 601 Hospitals during those years and then disappeared? According to the Carter Ruck report, Caesar’s family left Syria around the same time. Considering this, why is “Caesar” keeping his identity secret from the Western audience? Why does “Caesar” refuse to meet even with highly sympathetic journalists or researchers?

The fact that 46 percent of the total photographic set is substantially the opposite of what was claimed indicates two possibilities: Caesar and his promoters knew the contents but lied about them expecting nobody to look. Or, Caesar and his promoters did not know the contents and falsely assumed they were like the others. The latter seems more likely which supports the theory that Caesar is not who he claims to be.

  1. The Carter Ruck Inquiry was faulty, rushed and politically biased.

The credibility of the “Caesar” story has been substantially based on the Carter-Ruck Inquiry Team which “verified” the defecting photographer and his photographs. The following facts suggest the team was biased with a political motive:

–The investigation was financed by the government of Qatar which is a major supporter of the armed opposition.

–The contracted law firm, Carter Ruck and Co, has previously represented Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also known for his avid support of the armed opposition.

–The American on the legal inquiry team, Professor David M. Crane, has a long history working for the U.S. Defense Department and Defense Intelligence Agency. The U.S. government has been deeply involved in the attempt at “regime change” with demands that President Bashar “Assad must go” beginning in summer 2011 and continuing until recently.

–Crane is personally partisan in the conflict. He has campaigned for a Syrian War Crimes Tribunal and testified before Congress in October 2013, three months before the Caesar revelations.

–By their own admission, the inquiry team was under “time constraints” (CRR, p11).

–By their own admission, the inquiry team did not even survey most of the photographs

–The inquiry team was either ignorant of the content or intentionally lied about the 46 percent showing dead Syrian soldiers and attack victims.

–The inquiry team did its last interview with “Caesar” on Jan. 18, 2014, quickly finalized a report and rushed it into the media on Jan. 20, two days prior to the start of United Nations-sponsored negotiations.

The self-proclaimed “rigor” of the Carter Ruck investigation is without foundation. The claims to a “scientific” investigation are similarly without substance and verging on the ludicrous.

  1. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is involved.

In an interview on France24, David Crane of the inquiry team describes how “Caesar” was brought to meet them by “his handler, his case officer.” The expression “case officer” usually refers to the CIA. This would be a common expression for Professor Crane who previously worked in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The involvement of the CIA additionally makes sense since there was a CIA budget of $1 billion for Syria operations in 2013. Crane’s “Syria Accountability Project” is based at Syracuse University where the CIA actively recruits new officers despite student resistance.

Why does it matter if the CIA is connected to the “Caesar” story? Because the CIA has a long history of disinformation campaigns. In 2011, false reports of viagra fueled rape by Libyan soldiers were widely broadcast in Western media as the U.S. pushed for a military mandate. Decades earlier, the world was shocked to hear about Cuban troops fighting in Angola raping Angolan women. The CIA chief of station for Angola, John Stockwell, later described how they invented the false report and spread it around the world.  The CIA was very proud of that disinformation achievement. Stockwell’s book, In Search of Enemies, is still relevant.

  1. The accusers portray simple administrative procedures as mysterious and sinister.

The Carter Ruck inquiry team falsely claimed there were about 11,000 tortured and killed detainees. They then posed the question: Why would the Syrian government photograph and document the people they just killed?  The Carter Ruck Report speculates that the military hospital photographed the dead to prove that the “orders to kill” had been followed. The “orders to kill” are assumed.

A more logical explanation is that dead bodies were photographed as part of normal hospital / morgue procedure to maintain a file of the deceased who were received or treated at the hospital. The same applies to the body labeling / numbering system. The Carter Ruck report suggests there is something mysterious and possibly sinister in the coded tagging system.  But all morgues need to have a tagging and identification system.

  1. The photos have been manipulated.

Many of the photos at the SAFMCD website have been manipulated. The information card and tape identity are covered over and sections of documents are obscured. It must have been very time-consuming to do this for thousands of photos. The explanation that they are doing this to “protect identity” is not credible since the faces of victims are visible. What are they hiding?

  1. The Photo Catalog has duplicates and other errors.

There are numerous errors and anomalies in the photo catalog as presented at the SAFMCD website. For example, some deceased persons are shown twice with different case numbers and dates. There are other errors where different individuals are given the same identity number.

Researcher Adam Larson at A Closer Look at Syria website has done detailed investigation which reveals more errors and curious error patterns in the SAFMCD photo catalog.

9. With few exceptions, Western media uncritically accepted and promoted the story.

The Carter Ruck report was labeled “Confidential” but distributed to CNN, the Guardian and LeMonde. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour gushed over the story as she interviewed three of the inquiry team under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: Gruesome Syria photos may prove torture by Assad regime.” Critical journalism was replaced by leading questions and affirmation. David Crane said “This is a smoking gun.” Desmond de Silva “likened the images to those of holocaust survivors.”

The Guardian report was titled “Syrian regime document trove shows evidence of ‘industrial scale’ killing of detainees” with the subtitle, “Senior war crimes prosecutors say photographs and documents provide ‘clear evidence’ of systematic killing of 11,000 detainees”

One of the very few skeptical reports was by Dan Murphy in the Christian Science Monitor. Murphy echoed standard accusations about Syria but went on to say incisively, “the report itself is nowhere near as credible as it makes out and should be viewed for what it is: A well-timed propaganda exercise funded by Qatar, a regime opponent who has funded rebels fighting Assad who have committed war crimes of their own.”

Unfortunately that was one of very few critical reports in the mainstream media. In 2012, foreign affairs journalist Jonathan Steele wrote an article describing the overall media bias on Syria. His article was titled “Most Syrians back Assad but you’d never know from western media.” The media campaign and propaganda has continued without stop. It was in this context that the Carter Ruck Report was delivered and widely accepted without question.

  1. Politicians have used the Caesar story to push for more US/NATO aggression. 

Politicians seeking direct U.S. intervention for “regime change” in Syria were quick to accept and broadcast the “Caesar” story. They used it to demonize the Assad government and argue that the U.S. must act so as to prevent “another holocaust,” “another Rwanda,” “another Cambodia.”

When Caesar’s photos were displayed at the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress, Chairman Ed Royce said “It is far past time that the world act…. It is far past time for the United States to say there is going to be a safe zone across this area in northern Syria.”

The top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is Eliot Engel. In November 2015 he said, “We’re reminded of the photographer, known as Caesar, who sat in this room a year ago, showing us in searing, graphic detail what Assad has done to his own people.” Engel went on to advocate for a new authorization for the use of military force.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger is another advocate for aggression against Syria. At an event at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in July 2015, he said, “If we want to destroy ISIS we have to destroy the incubator of ISIS, Bashar al-Assad.”

The irony and hypocrisy is doubly profound since Rep. Kinzinger has met and coordinated with opposition leader Okaidi who is a confirmed ally of ISIS. In contrast with Kinzinger’s false claims, it is widely known that ISIS ideology and initial funding came from Saudi Arabia and much of its recent wealth from oil sales via Turkey. The Syrian Army has fought huge battles against ISIS, winning some but losing others with horrific scenes of mass beheading carried out by ISIS.

  1. The Human Rights Watch assessment is biased.

HRW has been very active around Syria. After the chemical attacks in greater Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, HRW rushed a report which concluded that, based on a vector analysis of incoming projectiles, the source of the sarin carrying rockets must have been Syrian government territory. This analysis was later debunked as a “junk heap of bad evidence” by highly respected investigative journalist Robert Parry.

HRW’s assumption about the chemical weapon rocket flight distance was faulty. Additionally it was unrealistic to think you could determine rocket trajectory with 1 percent accuracy from a canister on the ground, especially from a canister on the ground that had deflected off a building wall.

In spite of this, HRW stuck by its analysis which blamed the Assad government. HRW Director Ken Roth publicly indicated dissatisfaction when an agreement to remove Syrian chemical weapons was reached. Roth wanted more than a “symbolic” attack on Syrian government forces.

Regarding the claims of “Caesar,” HRW seems to be the only non-governmental organization to receive the full set of photo files from the custodian. To its credit, HRW acknowledged that nearly half the photos do not show what has been claimed for two years: they show dead Syrian soldiers and militia along with scenes from crime scenes, car bombings, etc.

But HRW’s bias is clearly shown in how it handles this huge contradiction. Amazingly, HRW suggests the incorrectly identified photographs support the overall claim. They say, “This report focuses on deaths in detention. However other types of photographs are also important. From an evidentiary perspective, they reinforce the credibility of the claims of Caesar about his role as a forensic photographer of the Syrian security forces or at least with someone who has access to their photographs.” (HRW, p31) This seems like saying if someone lies to you half the time that proves they are truthful.

The files disprove the assertion that the files all show people who were tortured and killed. The photographs show a wide range of deceased persons, from Syrian soldiers to Syrian militia members to opposition fighters to civilians trapped in conflict zones to regular deaths in the military hospital. There may be some photos of detainees who died in custody after being tortured, or who were simply executed. We know that this happened in Iraqi detention centers under U.S. occupation. Ugly and brutal things happen in war times. But the facts strongly suggest that the “Caesar” account is basically untrue or a gross exaggeration.

It is striking that the HRW report has no acknowledgment of the war conditions and circumstances in Syria. There is no acknowledgment that the government and Syrian Arab Army have been under attack by tens of thousands of weaponized fighters openly funded and supported by many of the wealthiest countries in the world.

There is no hint at the huge loss of life suffered by the Syrian army and supporters defending their country. The current estimates indicate from 80,000 to 120,000 Syrian soldiers, militia and allies having died in the conflict. During the three years 2011-2013, including the period covered by the “Caesar” photos, it is estimated that over 52,000 Syrian soldiers and civilian militia died versus 29,000 anti-government forces.

HRW had access to the full set of photographs including the Syrian army and civilian militia members killed in the conflict. Why did they not list the number of Syrian soldiers and security forces they identified? Why did they not show a single image of those victims?

HRW goes beyond endorsing the falsehoods in the “Caesar story”; HRW suggests the cataloguing is only a partial listing. On page 5, the report says, “Therefore, the number of bodies from detention facilities that appear in the Caesar photographs represent only a part of those who died in detention in Damascus.”

On the contrary, the Caesar photographs seem to mostly show victims who died in a variety of ways in the armed conflict. The HRW assertions seem to be biased and inaccurate.

  1. The legal accusations are biased and ignore the supreme crime of aggression.

The Christian Science Monitor journalist Dan Murphy gave an apt warning in his article on the Carter Ruck report about “Caesar.” While many journalists treated the prosecutors with uncritical deference, he said, Association with war crime prosecutions is no guarantor of credibility – far from it. Just consider Luis Moreno Ocampo’s absurd claims about Viagra and mass rape in Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya in 2011. War crimes prosecutors have, unsurprisingly, a bias towards wanting to bolster cases against people they consider war criminals (like Assad or Qaddafi) and so should be treated with caution. They also frequently favor, as a class, humanitarian interventions.”

The Carter Ruck legal team demonstrated how accurate Murphy’s cautions could be. The legal team was eager to accuse the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity” but the evidence of “industrial killing,” “mass killing,” “torturing to kill” is dubious and much of the hard evidence shows something else.

In contrast, there is clear and solid evidence that a “Crime against Peace” is being committed against Syria. It is public knowledge that the “armed opposition” in Syria has been funded, supplied and supported in myriad ways by various outside governments. Most of the fighters, both Syrian and foreign, receive salaries from one or another outside power. Their supplies, weapons and necessary equipment are all supplied to them. Like the “Contras” in Nicaragua in the 1980’s, the use of such proxy armies is a violation of customary international law.

It is also a violation of the UN Charter which says “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other matter inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.

The government of Qatar has been a major supporter of the mercenaries and fanatics attacking the sovereign state of Syria. Given that fact, isn’t it hugely ironic to hear the legal contractors for Qatar accusing the Syrian government of “crimes against humanity”?

Isn’t it time for the United Nations to make reforms so that it can start living up to its purposes? That will require demanding and enforcing compliance with the UN Charter and International Law.

Rick Sterling is an independent research/writer and member of Syria Solidarity Movement.  He can be contacted at rsterling1@gmail.com .  

 




What’s the Matter with John Kerry?

From the Archive: As a young warrior and senator, John Kerry stood up to politicians who spread propaganda that got people killed. But, as a Secretary of State in his 70s, Kerry has become what he once challenged, Robert Parry reported in 2014.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on April 14, 2014)

On Feb. 1, 2013, when John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, there might have been some reason to hope that the former Vietnam veteran against the war and the man who conducted serious investigations of U.S. national security crimes in the 1980s would bring some integrity and maturity to U.S. foreign policy, especially the need to avoid exaggerations and deceptions in pursuit of American interests.

After all, Kerry personally experienced the horrors of a war fought on false pretenses as a young Navy officer patrolling the rivers of South Vietnam. After winning the Silver Star, he returned home from the war and spoke eloquently against it, making his first significant mark as a public figure.

I got to know Kerry when I was an Associated Press reporter covering President Ronald Reagan’s secret operations in Central America and found Kerry to be one of the few members of Congress with the courage to follow the facts into some very dark corners of U.S. government actions, including complicity with death squads, terrorists and drug traffickers.

But Kerry soon learned there was a political price to pay for courage and honesty. For his efforts to get at hard truths, such as Reagan’s tolerance for cocaine smugglers in his beloved Nicaraguan Contra operation, Kerry was targeted by the right-wing press, especially The Washington Times, but also by smug mainstream outlets. For his investigative efforts, Newsweek’s Conventional Wisdom Watch dubbed Kerry a “randy conspiracy buff.” [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

So, when Kerry was eying a run for the White House in 2002, his political handlers persuaded him to vote to give President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq. And, after Kerry won the Democratic nomination in 2004, he chose to airbrush out of his résumé all his honorable actions against the Vietnam War and in standing up to Reagan’s crimes. When he accepted the nomination, he snapped off a corny salute and declared, “reporting for duty.”

After losing to Bush partly because Kerry shied away from confronting the ugly smears against his war record, including Republicans passing out “Purple Heart Band-Aids” to mock his war wounds Kerry retreated back to the Senate where he repackaged himself as a bipartisan figure who cultivated Republican friends, such as neocon Sen. John McCain, a fellow Vietnam vet and — after 2008 — another failed nominee for President.

Which Kerry?

So, it wasn’t’ clear which John Kerry would be “reporting for duty” when he got his “dream job” as Secretary of State. Would we see a return of the brave and honest John Kerry of the 1970s and 1980s, or would it be the political weather vane that swung to the prevailing winds as we saw since the 1990s?

When Kerry took over at Foggy Bottom, there was a desperate need for adult supervision of U.S. diplomacy globally. President Barack Obama’s disastrous decision to staff much of his national security team with “a team of rivals” including Bush holdover Robert Gates at Defense, Hillary Clinton (a neocon-lite) at State and military officers like neocon-favorite Gen. David Petraeus meant that U.S. foreign policy deviated little from the broad outlines of Bush’s neocon interventionism.

Though some of the big-name neocons had left government to work at influential think tanks or write op-ed articles for the Washington Post, there was a substantial stay-behind force, especially at State where Hillary Clinton shielded them and even promoted some, like Victoria Nuland who became department spokesperson.

The rhetoric changed a bit. The phrase “war on terror” was “out,” but much of its substance remained “in,” including drone killings. There was also a subtle change in how to justify “regime change” wars. It would be “democracy promotion” and “responsibility to protect,” not “preemptive wars” and claims about WMD.

Indeed, perhaps the most significant evolution in U.S. foreign policy in Obama’s first term was the merger between the neocons and the liberal “humanitarian” interventionists. In effect, the ever-skillful neocons forged an alliance with these liberal hawks, the likes of Samantha Power and Susan Rice who were key advisers to Obama.

The chief tactical change was to rely on U.S.-funded “non-governmental organizations” to stir up disruptive protests against a target government. Then, when security forces struck back often clumsily and even brutally the “regime changers” could assert a “responsibility to protect” or “R2P.”

The new battlefield of this global propaganda warfare would be the release of YouTube videos showing (or purporting to show) atrocities committed by some embattled government against “innocent civilians.” The competition was to make these videos “go viral” and stir up emotional reactions that would prompt demands from average people to “do something.”

Hawkish Clinton

Clinton’s State Department had been unapologetically hawkish. In 2009, Clinton joined with Gates and Petraeus to mousetrap Obama into a “surge” of 30,000 troops for Afghanistan, what turned out to be a pointless “counterinsurgency” campaign that got about 1,000 more U.S. troops killed without changing the conflict’s strategic arc toward failure.

In 2009-2010, Clinton also joined in ratcheting up the confrontation with Iran in line with the interests of Israel and the neocons. Clinton’s aggressiveness was encouraged, in part, by her State Department secretly engineering the elevation of Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano to head the International Atomic Energy Agency. The malleable Amano was in the U.S. government’s back pocket, ready to be pulled out as necessary to “prove” Iran’s bad faith regarding its nuclear program.

With Amano securely in place, Clinton spiked a solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute that had been arranged by the leaders of Brazil and Turkey at Obama’s urging. Instead of that deal which called for Iran surrendering most of its nuclear material in exchange for processed nuclear plates for medical research, Clinton opted for more sanctions against — and more tensions with — Iran, just as the neocons wanted.

But the clearest example of this new strategy was Libya where the forces of Muammar Gaddafi responded to violent protests, spearheaded by Islamic extremists based in the east around Benghazi, by launching a counteroffensive aimed at eliminating the “terrorist” threat.

However, guided by Secretary of State Clinton and foreign policy advisers Power and Rice, Obama was persuaded to commit U.S. and European forces supposedly to protect the civilian population in eastern Libya. But this “R2P” became just another excuse to undertake “regime change” against Gaddafi.

The West’s widespread bombing campaign, combined with covert military support for the rebels, devastated Gaddafi’s military and paved the way for a rebel victory. After being captured, Gaddafi was tortured and murdered, while Secretary Clinton was caught on video happily receiving the news of Gaddafi’s demise.

The Libyan “victory” was short-lived, however, as the country fell into chaos and under the sway of extremists. On Sept. 11, 2012, Islamic terrorists overran the U.S. consulate in Benghazi (housing a large CIA station) and killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Clinton called the incident her worst moment as Secretary of State.

Kerry: Old vs. New

So, when John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton on Feb. 1, 2013, the State Department was in need of a responsible adult who would rein in the department’s penchant for stirring up trouble and then looking on helplessly as the chaos spun out of control.

But which Kerry would show up? The young Kerry who recognized how belligerent talk and playing with facts could end up getting lots of innocent people killed or the older Kerry who had trimmed his sails and learned to go with the prevailing winds, regardless of the dangers to the world?

There are times at the end of a politician’s career when the person reverts back to an earlier, more idealistic self, though more often a deeply compromised politician just continues doing what’s been learned over the decades of political survival.

It’s now clear that John Kerry fell into the latter approach. He did undertake a quixotic pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, perhaps hoping that success in such an impossible undertaking would be the “crown jewel” of his career, compensating for his 2004 defeat.

But Kerry also let himself be turned into a hand puppet for the neocons and R2Pers who had gained bureaucratic control of State and were set on escalating confrontations with Syria and Iran by essentially following the “regime change” blueprint designed by Vice President Dick Cheney and the neocons in the Bush-43 administration.

Influential neocons and R2Pers took command of key positions in 2013, as Kerry moved from Capitol Hill to Foggy Bottom and Obama entered his second term. Neocon Victoria Nuland was promoted from State Department spokesperson to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. Susan Rice became National Security Adviser, and Samantha Power took over as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

The Sarin Attack

So, when a mysterious Sarin attack occurred outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, the State Department was eager to jump to the conclusion that the Syrian government was responsible. Despite doubts among U.S. intelligence analysts, Kerry chose not to ask too many questions or press for hard evidence.

Like a replay of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident that gave President Lyndon Johnson an excuse to escalate the war in Vietnam which a few years later put Kerry on a Swift Boat in rivers slicing through Vietnamese jungles Kerry hyped the case against Syria.

Kerry’s Aug. 30 speech bordered on the hysterical in its tone as he repeatedly insisted that “we know” the Syrian government was responsible for the Sarin attack, though he refused to release any evidence that could be independently evaluated.

His speech was accompanied by a four-page “Government Assessment” that also offered no verifiable proof and looked to be an attempt to evade a more formal National Intelligence Estimate, a consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community which would have had to reveal any dissents from analysts. The “Government Assessment” simply ignored any challenges to the emerging “group think.”

Kerry then took his belligerent message to Congress, where at one hearing his wife, heiress Teresa Heinz, sat behind him as he urged a military assault on Syria. Accompaniment by a spouse is usually reserved for confirmation hearings and is virtually unheard of when an official is seeking something as grave as launching a war.

Yet, while Kerry’s wife was there, no one from the U.S. intelligence community was sitting near Kerry, presumably because a senior intelligence representative might have drawn a question about whether all U.S. analysts were onboard in blaming the Syrian government for the attack. The inconvenient answer would have been no.

Such a presence also might have stirred memories of CIA Director George Tenet sitting behind Secretary of State Colin Powell on Feb. 5, 2003, as Powell delivered his deceptive speech on Iraq’s WMD.

While Kerry pounded the war drums, the two other witnesses at the table with him, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, were much more circumspect and somber. The tableau suggested that the Pentagon was less enthusiastic about war than Kerry and his diplomats.

Putin’s Interference

The U.S. bombing campaign against Syria was finally averted when President Obama accepted a deal proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that called for Syria surrendering its chemical weapons even as President Bashar al-Assad continued to deny any involvement in the Aug. 21 attack.

Obama’s decision not to bomb Syria was treated as a betrayal by the neocons and the R2Pers. The editorial pages of the Washington Post and other leading newspapers were filled with criticism of Obama’s lack of resolve.

But Obama seemed, briefly at least, to be working cooperatively with Putin to resolve some dangerous crises in the Middle East. Putin also helped arrange an interim agreement with Iran to impose constraints on its nuclear program but not eliminate its ability to use nuclear technological for peaceful purposes.

That move, too, infuriated the American neocons as well as Saudi Arabia and Israel which have long been trying to enlist the U.S. military in a massive bombing campaign against Iran, with hopes that the devastation could lead to more “regime change.”

In November 2013, Kerry again showed up as an abettor of more confrontation with Iran. Dispatched to Geneva to sign the interim accord, Kerry consulted with the French, who were carrying water for their wealthy patrons in Saudi Arabia, and inserted some last-minute language which derailed the signing agreement. I’m told Obama then instructed Kerry to return to Geneva and sign the deal, which Kerry finally did.

These twin defeats infuriated the neocons who escalated their op-ed campaign against Obama’s foreign policy of “appeasement.” Key neocons also took aim at Putin by putting in their sights a country of particular sensitivity to Russia, neighboring Ukraine.

Aiming at Ukraine

In late September, as the neocon drive for bombing Syria was petering out, neocon Carl Gershman, president of the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED), penned a Washington Post op-ed that called Ukraine “the biggest prize” and expressed hope that “Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.”

NED was founded in 1983 essentially to carry out the sorts of activities that traditionally were done by the CIA, i.e., supporting activists, “journalists” and other operatives who would be useful in destabilization campaigns against troublesome governments, all in the name of “democracy promotion.” NED’s annual report listed a staggering 65 projects in Ukraine.

By fall 2013, Kerry’s State Department was committed to prying Ukraine loose from Russia’s orbit, all the better to weaken Putin (and drive a wedge between him and Obama). At the forefront of this effort was Victoria Nuland, the wife of prominent neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century which famously pushed the case for invading Iraq.

The Kagans are not just neocons but neocon royalty who can place op-eds in major newspapers at the snap of a finger. I’ve known Robert Kagan since he headed the Reagan administration’s State Department propaganda office on Central America. He was the guy who told me that my skeptical reporting on the Reagan administration’s claims could lead to me being “controversialized.”

Robert’s brother, Frederick, was an architect of both the Iraq War “surge” and the Afghan War “surge.” Indeed, in his memoir, Duty, former Defense Secretary Gates says Frederick Kagan was the one who sold him on the Afghan “surge,” which was then essentially imposed on Obama by his willful “team of rivals” Gates, Clinton and Petraeus in 2009.

By late 2013, Nuland, aided and abetted by Kerry’s chum Sen. John McCain, was encouraging western Ukrainian protesters to challenge Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych over his refusal to sign a deal with Europe that would have included harsh austerity imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Yanukovych had opted for a more generous $15 billion aid package from Moscow.

Stirring Up Discontent

On Dec. 13 in a speech at the National Press Club, Nuland reminded Ukrainian business leaders that the United States had invested more than $5 billion in Ukraine’s “European aspirations” with the goal of taking “Ukraine into the future that it deserves,” i.e., out of the Russian orbit and into a Western one.

Why the United States should be spending such large sums of money to create political turmoil in Ukraine has never been fully explained, short of the emotional appeals based on YouTube videos of attractive young people who took part in mass and sometimes violent demonstrations in Kiev’s Maidan square against Yanukovych.

Clearly, it is true that all the Ukrainian governments that have held power since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 have been marred by corruption, but much of that was driven by the U.S.-prescribed “shock therapy” of “free market” extremism that allowed a handful of well-connected “oligarchs” to plunder the nation’s wealth.

Yet, the U.S. policy prescription is to apply IMF “austerity,” which further punishes the average citizen while leaving the “oligarchs” largely untouched.

As Nuland, McCain and other neocons stoked the fires of protest against Yanukovych, Ukrainian neo-Nazis moved to the front of the demonstrations, engaging in increasingly violent clashes with police. On Feb. 20, another murky incident occurred in which snipers opened fire and killed a number of protesters and police. The U.S. government and Western media immediately put the blame on Yanukovych although he denied giving such an order.

The Coup

On Feb. 21, Yanukovych sought to tamp down the violence by agreeing to an accord brokered by three European countries in which he agreed to reduce his powers, accept an early election so he could be voted out of office, and withdraw police forces. That last concession, however, prompted the neo-Nazi militias to overrun government buildings and force Yanukovych to flee for his life.

Then, without following constitutional procedures and with neo-Nazi storm troopers patrolling the buildings a rump parliament immediately “impeached” Yanukovych and elected Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who had been Nuland’s choice to run the country. Far-right parties also were given four ministries in recognition of their crucial role in providing the armed militias who carried out the coup.

Rather than provide any objective coverage of events, the U.S. news media, led by the New York Times and Washington Post, behaved more as state propaganda organs, pushing the U.S. government’s version and especially playing down the role of the neo-Nazis from Svoboda and the Right Sektor. Since the presence of swaggering neo-Nazis in the Maidan clashed with the preferred image of idealistic democratic youth, the brown shirts were essentially whited-out of the picture.

Only occasionally, in passing, do the major U.S. newspapers find themselves forced to mention the neo-Nazis: either while mocking “Russian propaganda” or when interviewing some of these rightists in other context. For instance, on April 6, the New York Times published a human-interest profile of a Ukrainian hero named Yuri Marchuk who was wounded in clashes around Kiev’s Maidan square in February.

If you read deep into the story, you learn that Marchuk was a Svoboda leader from Lviv, which if you did your own research you would discover is a neo-Nazi stronghold where Ukrainian nationalists hold torch-light parades in honor of World War II Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera. Without providing that context, the Times does mention that Lviv militants plundered a government arsenal and dispatched 600 militants a day to do battle in Kiev.

Marchuk also described how these well-organized militants, consisting of paramilitary brigades of 100 fighters each, launched the fateful attack against the police on Feb. 20, the battle where Marchuk was wounded and where the death toll suddenly spiked into scores of protesters and about a dozen police.

Marchuk later said he visited his comrades at the occupied City Hall. What the Times doesn’t mention is that City Hall was festooned with Nazi banners and even a Confederate battle flag as a tribute to white supremacy.

The Times touched on the inconvenient truth of the neo-Nazis again on April 12 in an article about the mysterious death of neo-Nazi leader Oleksandr Muzychko, who was killed during a shootout with police on March 24. The article quoted a local Right Sektor leader, Roman Koval, explaining the crucial role of his organization in carrying out the anti-Yanukovych coup.

“Ukraine’s February revolution, said Mr. Koval, would never have happened without Right Sector and other militant groups,” the Times wrote. Yet, whenever that reality is mentioned by independent journalists it is denounced as “Russian propaganda.”

New Cold War?

As tensions ratcheted up between the United States and Russia amid talk of a new Cold War there was a desperate need for a mature voice on the American side who would acknowledge some of the legitimate concerns of Moscow and the Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east and south who had just witnessed neo-Nazis spearhead a coup against a democratically elected president from their region.

Kerry — who witnessed first-hand in Vietnam the kind of bloodbath that can result when the United States locks itself in to a one-sided propagandistic view of another country’s complex reality — could have been that person. Instead, Kerry behaved like a neocon adolescent.

When the people of Crimea voted understandably and overwhelmingly to bail out of the failed Ukrainian state and rejoin Russia, Kerry insisted that it was a case of Russian aggression, declaring “you just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext.”

Kerry, of course, voted in 2002 to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in pursuit of hidden WMD stockpiles that didn’t exist, but the mainstream U.S. press corps politely left out that troubling fact while reporting Kerry’s denunciation of Russia.

President Obama joined in with a slap at the Crimean referendum, calling it “sloppily organized.” But he made no mention of the “sloppily organized” impeachment of Yanukovych, which is what precipitated the secession by the people of Crimea.

Also not surprisingly, with the coup regime in Kiev nearly bankrupt and unable to fund pensions and other social services, Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the Donetsk area have begun to mount their own resistance to the imposition of undemocratic authority from Kiev. Of course, in this case, the U.S. news media treats the protesters as either delusional clowns or puppets of Moscow.

Again, someone like the young Kerry might have spoken up about the danger from unintended consequences when arrogant U.S. officials interfere in the internal affairs of another country. The young Kerry might have pondered how the Nuland-Gershman strategy of destabilizing Ukraine actually helps either the Ukrainians or the American people.

So far, the scheme holds the possibility of civil war in Ukraine, disastrous economic trouble for Europe (with fallout for the U.S. economy, too) and another splurge of U.S. military spending as bellicose politicians cut back even more on domestic priorities.

The younger Kerry might have been wise enough to cool the rhetoric and redirect the narrative into a realistic discussion that could resolve the crisis. For instance, it wouldn’t have been very hard to insist that the Feb. 21 agreement be enforced with Yanukovych possibly serving in a ceremonial capacity until new elections could select a new president, rather than the U.S. and the EU immediately embracing a neo-Nazi-led coup.

But the older Kerry is behaving much like the older generation of Cold Warriors did in the 1960s when they insisted that there was no choice other than a U.S. military intervention in Vietnam, that the lives of tens of thousands of young American men and millions of Vietnamese was a small price to pay to stop some imaginary dominoes from toppling. South Vietnam had to be kept in the “free world.”

Yet, rather than the dovish warrior of his youth, Kerry has become a hawkish diplomat in his old age, refusing to see the other side’s case and eager to take extreme positions that are sure to get more young people killed. John Kerry in his 20s was a much wiser man than John Kerry in his 70s.

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).




VIPS Offers Advice to Candidates

Former Secretary of State Clinton, whose campaign is brimming with establishment foreign policy advisers, has chided Democratic rival Sen. Sanders for lacking a roster of experts. But ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern says an untapped resource for any candidate is the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

By Ray McGovern

A Memo to: Dr. Ben Carson, Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Dr. Jill Stein, and Donald Trump

The media brouhaha over naming your campaign advisers on foreign policy prompts this reminder of a unique resource available, gratis, to all of you. That resource is our nonpartisan group Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). If we were into self-promotion, we would add to our (virtual) letterhead: “serving satisfied customers since 2003.”

We are about apolitical analysis; we are into spreading unvarnished truth around; we do not shape our analysis toward this or that debating point. Thus, we eschew the moniker “campaign adviser.” But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t provide apolitical and unvarnished advice to anyone who seeks it.

Unique? We are on the outer edge of atypical in the sense that we are a fiercely nonpartisan, tell-it-like-it-is group of professionals with long experience in intelligence and related fields and with no policy or personal axes to grind. We are Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Abundant proof that party preference plays no role in our analysis can be seen in our enviable record in the substantive work we have produced over the past 13 years both before and after the ill-advised attack on Iraq in March 2003.

Also distinguishing us from “campaign advisers,” none of us in VIPS lust for a high position in a new administration; none are heavily invested in arms industries; none of us ask for a retainer. In other words, there are no strings attached to the substantive analysis we provide to all our readers and listeners. If objective, disinterested analysis is your cup of tea, we suggest that you check out VIPS’s record, to include the multiple warnings we gave President George W. Bush in the months before the attack on Iraq.

In fact, VIPS was founded by a handful of former CIA analysts, including me, for the express purpose of warning President Bush that his small coterie of advisers, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, was adducing fraudulent not mistaken “intelligence” in promoting the war on Iraq.

Indeed, in recent years VIPS has been accused of naiveté in failing to understand that Bush, to whom we addressed most of our pre-war memos, was fully aware of how Cheney and his cunning co-conspirators and conmen were fabricating the false pretenses for war. We plead guilty to believing that U.S. presidents deserve unspun analysis and to trusting that honest assessments will help presidents act responsibly on behalf of the nation.

Call us old-fashioned, but we just found it hard to believe that any U.S. president would justify war on “evidence” made out of whole cloth. Equally difficult to believe was that our former colleagues would acquiesce in the deception.

So, despite the doubts that Bush really wanted the real story, we rose to the occasion, nonetheless, and issued three corporate VIPS memoranda before the attack on Iraq: (1) “Today’s Speech By Secretary Powell At the UN,” February 5, 2003; (2) “Cooking Intelligence for War in Iraq,” March 12, 2003; and (3) “Forgery, Hyperbole, Half-Truth: A Problem,” March 18, 2003.

Our commentary on Secretary of State Colin Powell’s UN speech went out on the AFP wire and was widely read abroad. Foreign media followed up with us; U.S. media not so much. (This is the primary reason you may be learning all this for the first time).

During that critical pre-war period we took pains to use whatever entrée we had to influential people. For example, I personally sought to reach then-Sen. Hillary Clinton via a key person on her staff, who assured me that the senator was being given our op-eds and our analyses to read.

In our memorandum of Feb. 5, 2003, we told President Bush we could give Powell “only a C-minus in providing context and perspective.” As for input from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, we told the President: “Your Pentagon advisers draw a connection between war and terrorism, but for the wrong reasons. The connection takes on much more reality in a post-U.S. invasion scenario. [Emphasis in the original]

“Indeed, it is our view that an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future. Far from eliminating the threat it would enhance it exponentially.”

Though it went unheeded 13 years ago, the final paragraph of VIPS’s first Memorandum for the President seems quite relevant to the current discussion regarding “campaign advisers” on foreign policy. In our same-day memo to the President on Powell’s UN speech we noted that he had described what he said as “irrefutable and undeniable.” Our final paragraph started with an allusion to those words:

“No one has a corner on the truth; nor do we harbor illusions that our analysis is irrefutable or undeniable. But after watching Secretary Powell today, we are convinced that you would be well served if you widened the discussion beyond …  those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

Our VIPS memorandum of Feb. 5, 2003, was sent to the President more than two years before the London Times published the minutes of a July 23, 2002 briefing at 10 Downing Street, during which Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, reported to British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Dearlove’s talks three days earlier with his U.S. counterpart, CIA Director George Tenet, at CIA headquarters. According to those undisputed minutes, Dearlove said the following:

“Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” [Emphasis added]

Our warnings to President Bush also came more than five years before the completion of a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee on pre-war intelligence, the results of which were approved by a bipartisan majority. On June 5, 2008, the date of its release, committee chair Jay Rockefeller commented on its findings:

“In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”

Just So You Know

One presidential candidate is said to have “an army of several hundred, perhaps even more than a thousand, foreign policy advisers;” another has been criticized for having no “talent pool” of “trusted experts.” Little is known about those advising other candidates or, for example, in which campaign headquarters erstwhile advisers to dropout candidates like Jeb Bush are now hanging their hats.

The purpose of this open letter is merely to ensure that you know that you are welcome to dip into a different and unique “talent pool” Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). This pool is now several hundred years deep in collective experience and brimming with the kind of knowledge that flows from senior-level work in intelligence and related fields. Our record of memoranda, averaging three per year, speaks for itself.

If nonpartisan, fact-based analysis is your cup of tea, have a look at those memoranda, which we believe are second to none in terms of candor and tell-it-like-it-is analysis. Our work reflects the ethos that earlier guided the work of intelligence community analysts at CIA and elsewhere, a commitment to both objectivity and scholarship.

That was before Director Tenet decided to welcome frequent visits by Vice President Dick Cheney to make sure CIA analysts were finding or fabricating enough “intelligence” to “justify” the launch of an unnecessary war. We take no pleasure in having been correct at the outset, in predicting “the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”

Ray McGovern served for 30 years as a U.S. Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then an analyst for CIA, where he prepared and conducted the early morning briefings of the President’s Daily Brief and also chaired National Intelligence Estimates.  He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

 




Making Gitmo Today’s Spandau Prison

Obstructionists in Congress continue to play to baseless public fears and harmful prejudices by blocking President Obama’s plan for finally closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, instead making it a modern-day version of Spandau Prison, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Spandau Prison in Berlin was a red brick structure, on the western side of the city, constructed in the 1870s with the capacity to hold several hundred inmates. The Nazis later used it to detain some of their political opponents; it became a site of torture administered by the Gestapo before the concentration camps were built.

After World War II the victorious allies took it over to house Nazi war criminals. Only seven such criminals ever were placed there, all of them ranking figures in the Nazi regime who avoided execution but were given prison sentences in the trials at Nuremberg. By 1957 just three of them were left, and as of 1966 only one: the mentally unbalanced former deputy führer Rudolf Hess. Hess lived in the prison another 21 years before committing suicide in 1987 at the age of 93.

The trouble and expense of maintaining the prison were way out of proportion to its small inmate population. The four allied occupying powers took monthly turns in running the place, with each having to furnish a full complement of military guards and civilian staff. It was generally recognized what a waste of resources this was, but political point-making and symbolism got in the way of substituting any different arrangement.

For the Western allies, the prison was an assertion of Western rights in a Berlin surrounded by Communist-controlled eastern Germany and a scarce instance of post-war four-party cooperation. For the Soviets, who tended to treat the prisoners more harshly than the other rotating prison-keepers did, it was an expression of revenge for the enormous damage that Nazi aggression had inflicted on the USSR.

Spandau was kept in operation not only despite the waste of resources but also despite the negative symbolism of a place that was associated with the Nazis and their inhumane rule. That this was realized by the allies was indicated by their prompt demolition of the prison after Hess’s death.

The debris was pulverized and either dumped at sea or buried at a British military base, to avoid any remnant of Spandau becoming a neo-Nazi shrine. A shopping center and parking garage were constructed on the site of the prison.

With the Republican-controlled Congress appearing determined to resist any change in laws that prevent closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo and prevent movement of any of its prisoners to facilities in the United States, the history of Spandau is in the process of being replayed in southeastern Cuba, although the reasons this is so are more ignoble than the reasons the Western allies had for keeping matters unchanged in Berlin.

The waste of resources alone is substantial: the annual cost of running the Guantanamo prison is $445 million, which on a per-inmate basis is orders of magnitude greater than the cost of housing inmates at the most maximum of maximum-security prisons in the United States.

The excuses for not closing the facility and moving remaining detainees are clearly without foundation. Any threat of escapes or other security problems with any of those detainees would be as close to zero as it is possible to get if they were housed at any of several stateside facilities. Any incremental threat over what is associated with housing them at Guantanamo is definitely zero.

As for legally disposing of the cases of those against whom such cases can be made, the civilian courts that operate under Article III of the Constitution, especially in highly experienced jurisdictions such as the Southern District of New York, have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to handle terrorism cases effectively, and much better than the less well tried and rather creaky Guantanamo-based military tribunal system.

The flimsy and self-referential nature of opposition to changes to the current system is demonstrated when even Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain, who had been one of the few prominent Congressional Republicans to express some flexibility about Guantanamo, complains that the Obama administration’s just-released paper on closing Guantanamo gives only “a vague menu of options.”

As administration officials pointed out, the reason greater specificity could not be offered is that among the hand-tying pieces of legislation that Congress has enacted on Guantanamo is a prohibition on the executive branch even doing any planning for closing the prison and moving inmates to a stateside facility. Congress expects a detailed plan from the administration while prohibiting it from preparing one.

The actual dominant motives for the opposition probably are threefold. One is to be associated with something that in a vague way symbolizes toughness on terrorism. A second is to score political points with a public that is encouraged to misbelieve that a detainee who is brought to a stateside prison is liable either to escape or to find a legal loophole for walking out the front door, and then to go kill someone in the neighborhood. And a third is the usual reflexive impulse to oppose any significant initiative by this president.

Meanwhile the symbolic stink of Guantanamo continues. For overseas observers, especially in Muslim majority countries, the negative symbolism involves association of the detention system centered on Guantanamo both with specific past abuses of prisoners and with the more general notion of the United States being at war with Muslims and, if not killing them, then incarcerating them indefinitely. The risk of radicalization stemming from such perceptions is impossible to calculate but may well be greater than whatever risk of anti-U.S. terrorism is embodied in most (though not all) of those still residing at Guantanamo.

For those of us in the United States, Guantanamo also symbolizes something else: an attempted circumvention of the rule of law. This particular location was selected in an effort (not altogether successful) to keep the people at the detention facility and what is done to them beyond the reach of anyone’s law, either America’s or any foreign country’s.

Any necessary functions performed at Guantanamo can be performed fully and explicitly under the rule of law, which is the right way to do it, in the United States. As noted in the administration’s paper, the fear about detainees who were bought stateside taking advantage of provisions in immigration law is groundless; the same new legislation that would be needed to permit such a relocation of detainees could also make explicit that such immigration provisions do not apply to them.

Until and unless a majority in Congress ends the obstruction on this issue, the current administration (and perhaps the next one) will continue to reduce slowly the Guantanamo inmate population on a case-by-case basis with transfers to willing foreign countries and other measures. Gradually the facility will look more and more like Spandau Prison.

Without Congressional action, this process could continue for a long time. Most of the remaining detainees entered Guantanamo at younger ages than the senior Nazis who were put in Spandau.

Let’s hope the facility, and with it an unattractive episode in American history, is closed before the Guantanamo version of Rudolf Hess, like the original version, hangs himself as a nonagenarian.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)