The Earlier 9/11 Acts of Terror

From the Archive: Americans feel a special sadness about the terrible loss of life on Sept. 11, 2001, but the 9/11 date has other meanings in other countries, reflecting a U.S. hypocrisy on terrorism, wrote Jonathan Marshall in 2014.

By Jonathan Marshall (Originally published on Sept. 10, 2014)

Americans collectively woke up to the threat of domestic terrorism on the morning of Sept.11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people died in the fiery destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City, the attack on the Pentagon and related airplane hijackings.

Twenty-eight years earlier, Chileans had their own deadly wake-up call on Sept. 11, 1973, when coup plotters overthrew the democratic government of Salvador Allende after blasting the presidential palace with bombs and heavy artillery. The military junta went on to kill more than 3,000 people, imprison and torture tens of thousands of political victims, and send tens of thousands more into exile.

Though largely forgotten today, blowback from the U.S.-backed Chilean coup came to haunt North Americans in the form of deadly terrorist attacks, including a number falling in September and even on the forbidding date of Sept. 11 in years predating the al-Qaeda atrocity. In those cases, the perpetrators were not Islamic militants, nor were they angry Marxists intent on avenging Washington’s complicity in the Chilean military’s crimes. Instead, the killers were right-wing extremists bent on carrying their cause to U.S. soil.

The most shocking such case of blowback terrorism was the car bombing of former Chilean government minister Orlando Letelier and a young colleague on the streets of Washington D.C. on Sept. 26, 1976, just past the third anniversary of the coup.

Until 2001, it was the worst act of international terrorism committed in the United States. FBI investigators eventually determined that the remote-controlled bomb had been set off by members of the fascist Cuban Nationalist Movement (CNM), directed by an American-born agent of the Chilean secret police.

Attacks at the UN

Few Americans remember the Letelier murder, but how many ever knew of the related creation of one of America’s longest-running terrorist organizations on Sept. 11, 1974? How many know of that group’s brazen murder of a Cuban diplomat, the first case of terrorist violence against a United Nations diplomat, on the streets of New York on Sept. 11, 1980? Or of the same group’s coordinated attacks against the Mexican consulates in New York City and Miami, and the Miami office of a noted magazine, all on Sept. 11, 1981?

The terror group’s name was Omega 7. Its founder was a fanatical anti-Castro Cuban exile named Eduardo Arocena, who used the nom-de-guerre “Omar” to take credit for the group’s two assassinations and more than 30 bombings over a span of almost nine years as the group eluded police and FBI investigators.

One Justice Department official called Arocena “probably the most dedicated patriot in the Cuban field that the law enforcement community has ever experienced in seven years of bombings and murders.” (Imagine a U.S. official calling Osama Bin Laden “the most dedicated patriot in the Islamist field that the law enforcement community has ever experienced.”)

As the FBI reported in 1993, “The main areas of operation for the Omega 7 were the New York, New Jersey, and Miami, Florida, areas. Its primary targets were representatives of the Cuban Government or any individual, organization, facility, or business that dealt with or supported in any way, the communist government of Fidel Castro.

“The majority of Omega 7 attacks were bombings, shootings, and assassinations. Its terrorist attacks were usually well-planned and flawlessly executed. Many of the Omega 7 members were veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion who were trained in demolition, intelligence, and commando techniques. Their expertise, combined with the financial resources available to them through the exiled Cuban community, gave the Omega 7 an almost unlimited potential for terrorist activity.”

Not a Stereotype

Short and pudgy, with a fondness for three-piece suits and classical music, Arocena did not fit any usual stereotype of a terrorist mastermind, but he committed his adult life to violence. “I am obsessed by Communism, which has held my country prisoner,” he explained years later.

Arocena was born in Cuba in 1943. He left school when Fidel Castro took power in 1959. After a stint loading sugar at his hometown port of Caibarien, followed by national success as a welter-weight wrestler, Arocena secretly began fighting Communism. As he would testify years later, he joined a clandestine group to “burn cane fields, burn down industrial development places, to keep our eyes on the regime. . . . We carried out intelligence work, which [was] then passed on to foreign agencies.”

Fearing capture, he stowed away on a ship bound for Morocco in 1965 and made his way to New Jersey the next year. Safe on American soil, he quickly found that his passion for fighting Castro was shared by tens of thousands of fellow exiles and at least some Washington officials. In early 1969, with hundreds of compatriots, he received training by unnamed “American agents” in demolitions techniques at camp in the Florida Everglades. To his bitter regret, the group was disbanded after the promised invasion of Cuba came to nothing.

Eager for action, he grew close to members of the radical CNM, founded by the fascist ideologue Felipe Rivero in 1960. After joining the CIA’s ill-fated landing at the Bay of Pigs in 1961, Rivero went his own way. In 1964 he called for a worldwide campaign of terrorism against Cuban targets, which the group initiated with a bazooka attack against the United Nations building, where Ernesto “Che” Guevara was giving a speech. Years later, the CNM was among the first and most ardent anti-Castro Cuban groups to ally with the Chilean military regime and its secret police after the Sept. 11, 1973 coup.

Founding a Terror Cell

Celebration of the Chilean coup likely explains Arocena’s decision to found his own terrorist group, Omega 7, on its one-year anniversary. Omega 7 drew support from the CNM to the point where authorities for many years believed, incorrectly, that the two organizations were identical.

Omega 7 committed its first act of terrorism on Feb. 1, 1975, setting off a bomb at the Venezuelan consulate on 51st Street in New York City to protest that government’s recent resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba. In June 1976, it set off a bomb at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations.

Then, on Sept. 16, 1976, the group bombed a Soviet cargo ship docked in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, where Arocena worked as a longshoreman. Arocena himself swam out to plant the bomb on the ship’s hull with magnets. He built the device with help from the CNM’s Chilean-trained demolition expert Virgilio Paz. Only days later, Paz would travel from Union City to Washington to help carry out the Chilean regime’s plot to assassinate Orlando Letelier. The Omega 7 job explains why the Chilean agent in charge of the Letelier mission would report that his assignment had to wait several days because “the CNM was engaged in some other operation which required their immediate attention.”

Many other acts of terror would follow. One day after Christmas in 1977, Omega 7 bombed the Venezuelan Mission to the United Nations, to protest Venezuela’s imprisonment of Cuban exile Orlando Bosch on charges of blowing up 73 passengers aboard a Cubana Airlines jet the previous year. The next year, Omega 7 bombed the Cuban Mission to the U.N. for the third and fourth times, the Mexican Consulate in New York, and Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, to protest a performance by a Cuban orchestra.

In 1979, among other attacks, it bombed the Cuban Mission a fifth and sixth time (injuring two policemen), set off high explosives at the Soviet Mission to the U.N. (injuring four policemen and two mission employees), tried to assassinate Fidel Castro during his visit to the U.N. General Assembly in October, and murdered moderate exile Eulalio Jose Negrin in front of his son with a silenced MAC-10 machine gun to punish his “traitorous” parlays with Havana that led to the release of 3,000 political prisoners. The group also tried to plant a suitcase bomb on a TWA flight from New York to Los Angeles, but it exploded prematurely before being loaded.

Hard to Crack

With the attack on the Soviet mission, the FBI finally moved Omega 7 to its highest priority target list. The tight-knit organization proved impossible to crack, however. In March 1980, only a fluke accident saved Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations from being incinerated when his car bumped another and a powerful remote-controlled bomb fell off its gas tank to the ground. Arocena had built the bomb using military-grade explosives supplied to the CNM by the Chilean secret police.

An attache with the Cuban Mission, Felix Garci­a, was not so lucky. On Sept. 11, 1980, the seventh anniversary of the Chilean coup and the sixth anniversary of Omega 7’s founding, the group murdered him while he was driving to work from his apartment in Queens. Arocena’s partner Pedro Remon cut Garci­a down with a burst from a MAC-10. Arocena drove the hit car.

As the Cuban newspaper Granma described the reaction, “UN diplomats were in uproar. For the first time ever, terrorists had used violence against the legitimate representative of a UN member country. . . . Three times on the following day, UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim expressed his horror at the crime. He communicated with the U.S. representative at the United Nations, demanding that full measures be taken to guarantee the safety of all the Cuban personnel in New York, and insisted that the tragic event be thoroughly investigated. . . .

“Secretary of State Ed Muskie called it a reprehensible act and asked for all the relevant federal agencies as well as the New York police department to cooperate in the investigation. . . . Donald McHenry, Washington’s ambassador to the UN called the crime a blot on the United States. Nevertheless, both Muskie and McHenry refrained from specifically condemning the anti-Cuban terrorism . . .

“At the UN, Cuban ambassador Raul Roa Kouri­ affirmed with total clarity: ‘these groups of professional killers have various locations in the country that hosts our international organization. Their members and leaders make public statements to New York’s Spanish-language press and hold public meetings on the streets, crudely boasting of their criminal intentions.’”

The Unraveling

The Sept. 11, 1980 murder of Cuba’s diplomat began the undoing of Omega 7. A joint FBI-New York Police Department terrorism task force eventually tracked a rental car ticketed across from the Cuban Mission that day to Arocena. Toll records also connected Arocena in the period of the murder to his key compatriots in Omega 7, giving investigators their first clear glimpse of the organization’s membership.

Omega 7 was far from spent, however. One year after its assassination of Garci­a, the organization unleashed a wave of new attacks. On Sept. 11, 1981, it fire-bombed the Miami offices of Replica magazine, which had called for normalizing relations between Havana and Washington. It also bombed the Mexican consulates in Miami and New York that day to protest that government’s warm relations with Cuba, causing more than $2 million in damage to the Miami building alone.

Where did Omega 7 get the resources to pull off so many meticulous operations? An FBI report in 1993 noted: “Although current information is incomplete, it appears that some Cuban exile businessmen in the Union City, New Jersey, area clandestinely funded Omega 7 and other Cuban anti-Castro groups. The businessmen established a network which would collect money in the form of ‘taxes’ from all segments of the Cuban community who were able to contribute and then divide the money between the various groups they supported. . . . Current reporting, although fragmented, suggests that the businessmen, who may still be active in funding anti-Castro groups, were involved in the flow of over $100,000 to the various groups.”

Additionally, the FBI learned that Arocena and Omega 7 received about $150,000 from a major marijuana trafficker who asked the organization to collect money owed him by other Cuban exiles and business associates in the drug trade. (Arocena agreed to murder one such associate who had stolen 40,000 pounds of marijuana, but dropped the assignment when he learned that his target was in jail.) Omega 7 members also received legal defense funds from at least two drug-connected Cuban exiles.

A grand jury investigation of Omega 7 from 1979 to 1982 went nowhere, but an ideological split in Omega 7’s ranks finally gave the FBI a huge break. Fearing for his life at the hands of Pedro Remón and other disaffected associates, Arocena began talking with surprising candor to Special Agent Larry Wack about the history and operations of the organization. Arocena then went underground in Miami but continued their dialog through calls from pay phones. Their talks,all recorded,built an impeccable case against the man who called himself “Omar” and his terrorist associates.

Belated Roundup

On Oct. 2, 1982, federal agents finally arrested three key members of Omega 7 in New Jersey and Arocena’s chief triggerman turned nemesis, Remón, in Miami. They were charged with transporting explosives used in the attempted assassination of the Cuban ambassador in March 1980.

Not until July 22, 1983, was Arocena finally arrested in Miami, with an arsenal of machine guns, pistols, rifles, knives, disguises, and a remote-control transmitter. A jury would find him guilty the following year on 25 charges of murder, conspiracy to murder, transporting explosives, possession of bombs and perjury. He received a sentence of life plus 35 additional years. A year later, a Miami judge added another 20 years to his sentence after a separate conviction for bombing seven businesses and consulates in that city from 1979 to 1983.

Arocena’s sentence was a rare exception to the mild fate of most Cuban exile terrorists. The Miami Herald’s Juan Tamayo noted in 1998, “Amid reports that Cuban exile leaders financed bombings in Havana, conspirators, cops and prosecutors agree that anti-Castro plotting in South Florida is not only common but almost tolerated.”

“Other than an occasional federal gun charge,” two reporters for Salon observed in 2008, “Nothing much seems to happen to most of these would-be revolutionaries. They are allowed to train nearly unimpeded despite making explicit plans to violate the 70-year-old U.S. Neutrality Act and overthrow a sovereign country’s government. Though separate anti-terror laws passed in 1994 and 1996 would seem to apply directly to their activities, no one has ever been charged for anti-Cuban terrorism under those laws. And 9/11 [2001] seems to have changed nothing. . . .

“The federal government has even failed to extradite to other countries militants who are credibly accused of acts of murder. Among the most notorious is Luis Posada Carriles, wanted for bombing a Cuban jet in 1976 and Havana hotels in 1997. It is, perhaps, a testament to the power of South Florida’s crucial Cuban-American voting bloc — and the political allegiances of the current president [George W. Bush].”

Fitting this mold was the fate of Arocena’s chief partner in crime, Remon, who pleaded guilty and received a sentence of only 10 years (less than many Guantanamo inmates have served without a conviction). After his release, he teamed up with Posada, who had been trained in demolition by the CIA and carried on its payroll for many years.

Despite evidence of his role in the 1976 Cubana Airlines bombing and his admitted campaign to bomb hotels and restaurants in Cuba in 1997, Posada told a New York Times reporter in 1998 that American authorities never attempted to question him. “As you can see,” he said, “the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. don’t bother me, and I am neutral with them.”

Tolerating Foreign Attacks

Why did Posada fare so much better than Arocena? His close connection to the CIA undoubtedly helped. Just as important, he played by the rules, terrorizing Cuba from abroad, not at home. The FBI’s Larry Wack explained to Arocena that his only crime was committing terrorism inside the United States:

“Whatever you people have going outside the United States in Communist countries, we decided amongst us a long time ago that you were not going to tell us about it. And we were not gonna push the issue because it did not concern any, anything inside the United States. . . . Because that is out of our jurisdiction, we told you we were not going to try to interfere with anything that you guys were doing out of the country, and we have stuck to that.”

Wack’s view of official U.S. policy was confirmed just a few years after Panamanian police arrested Posada, along with Omega 7’s Pedro Remon and the CNM’s Guillermo Novo, in 2000 for plotting to assassinate Fidel Castro during a visit to that country. Pardoned in 2004, Remon and Novo returned as free men to the United States, with less hassle than some hapless traveler who ticks off an airport security officer. Posada also returned, and after a battle over his immigration status, not terrorism, he, too, retired to Miami. (Orlando Bosch, now dead, had a street named after him in Miami, where he was treated as a hero.)

As we pause on this 9/11 to remind ourselves of the horrible killing of innocents committed by a gang of extremists 13 years ago, we should reserve some anger for policymakers and law enforcement officers who discredit the cause of justice by ignoring or even protecting other terrorists in our midst depending on their politics. These more obscure bombers and assassins may have called themselves freedom fighters, but their crimes were as evil, and deserve the same punishment, as the mass murders of Sept. 11, 2001.

Jonathan Marshall is author or co-author of five books on international affairs, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012). Some of his previous articles for Consortiumnews were “Risky Blowback from Russian Sanctions”; “Neocons Want Regime Change in Iran”; “Saudi Cash Wins France’s Favor”; “The Saudis’ Hurt Feelings”; “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Bluster”; “The US Hand in the Syrian Mess”; and Hidden Origins of Syria’s Civil War.” ]

 




UN Team Heard Claims of ‘Staged’ Chemical Attacks

Exclusive: A widely touted U.N. report accusing the Syrian government of two chlorine-gas attacks relied on shaky evidence and brushed aside witness testimony that claimed some incidents were staged, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

United Nations investigators encountered evidence that alleged chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian military were staged by jihadist rebels and their supporters, but still decided to blame the government for two incidents in which chlorine was allegedly dispersed via improvised explosives dropped by helicopters.

In both cases, the Syrian government denied that it had any aircraft in the areas at the times of the purported attacks, but the U.N. team rejected that explanation with the curious argument that Syria failed to provide flight records to corroborate the absence of any flights. Yet, if there had been no flights, there would be no flight records.

The U.N. team also dismissed out of hand the possibility that jihadist rebels who had overrun some air bases and thus had operational helicopters at their disposal might have used them as part of a staged event designed to incriminate the Damascus regime and thus justify U.S. or other outside military intervention.

Another problem with the U.N. team’s findings is that the home-made chlorine bombs had minimal military value, inflicting relatively few casualties and only a handful of deaths.

Why the Syrian government, which was under intense international pressure regarding alleged chemical weapons use and was in the process of surrendering its stockpile of such weapons, would have jerry-rigged a handful of homemade bombs and dropped them for no discernible military effect makes little sense.

However, since Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been thoroughly demonized over his harsh reaction to an uprising that began in 2011, pretty much any accusation against him – no matter how unlikely or implausible – is widely accepted in the mainstream Western media and political circles. In other words, the U.N. team was under pressure to reach a guilty verdict.

Accusations of Staging

Yet, the evidence from at least one of the incidents examined by the U.N. team suggests that an attack on Al-Tamanah on the night of April 29-30, 2014, might well have been staged by rebels and then played up by activists through social media.

“Seven witnesses stated that frequent alerts [about an imminent chlorine weapons attack by the government] had been issued, but in fact no incidents with chemicals took place,” the U.N. report stated. “While people sought safety after the warnings, their homes were looted and rumours spread that the events were being staged. … [T]hey [these witnesses] had come forward to contest the wide-spread false media reports.”

Accounts from other people, who did allege that there had been a government chemical attack on Al-Tamanah, provided suspect evidence, including data from questionable sources, according to the U.N. report.

The report said, “Three witnesses, who did not give any description of the incident on 29-30 April 2014, provided material of unknown source. One witness had second-hand knowledge of two of the five incidents in Al-Tamanah, but did not remember the exact dates. Later that witness provided a USB-stick with information of unknown origin, which was saved in separate folders according to the dates of all the five incidents mentioned by the FFM (the U.N.’s Fact-Finding Mission).

“Another witness provided the dates of all five incidents reading it from a piece of paper, but did not provide any testimony on the incident on 29-30 April 2014. The latter also provided a video titled ‘site where second barrel containing toxic chlorine gas was dropped tamanaa 30 April 14’”

Some other witnesses alleging a Syrian government attack offered curious claims about detecting the chlorine-infused “barrel bombs” based on how the device sounded in its descent.

The U.N. report said, “The eyewitness, who stated to have been on the roof, said to have heard a helicopter and the ‘very loud’ sound of a falling barrel. Some interviewees had referred to a distinct whistling sound of barrels that contain chlorine as they fall. The witness statement could not be corroborated with any further information.”

As in other cases that were investigated, the U.N. team demanded that the Syrian government provide flight records to support its denial that any of its aircraft were in the air in that vicinity at the time of the attack.

“The Government of the Syrian Arab Republic stated that no military activities were conducted from land or air in Al-Tamanah on the dates of the incidents, but did not provide any records of flight operations to support this statement,” the U.N. report said.

In the Al-Tamanah case, the U.N. team judged the evidence insufficient to reach a firm judgment regarding who was responsible. However, in two other cases, in Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015, the U.N. team accused the Syrian military of dropping chlorine-infused “barrel bombs.”

Investigative Limitations

Yet, regarding all eight cases that were examined, the U.N. team acknowledged significant limitations on its ability to investigate.

The report said, “As was the case with the Fact-Finding missions, the lack of access to the locations under investigation due to the dire security situation on the ground affected the manner in which the Mechanism [a committee from the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] was able to conduct its investigation.

“Visits to certain locations would have facilitated the ability of the Mechanism to (a) confirm and access specific locations of interest; (b) collect comparative environmental samples; (c) identify new witnesses; and (d) physically evaluate the material of interest to the Mechanism (e.g., remnants).

“Other challenges and constraints include the following factors: (a) the time period that had elapsed since the incident (i.e. in some cases, more than two years since the incident); (b) the lack of chain of custody for some of the material received; (c) the source of information and material was of secondary or tertiary nature; (d) some of the information material, including those depicting the size and nature of the incident, were misleading; (e) finding independent sources of information that could provide access to individuals and information material proved difficult; and (f) the impact locations were not preserved and were compromised by the time they were recorded (e.g., the videos and photographs of the impact locations were taken days after the incident and in many cases after the remnants had been removed from the impact location).”

In other words, the U.N./OPCW investigation was compromised by its inability to conduct an effective on-the-ground assessment and was forced to rely on witnesses who were often allied with the rebel forces or sympathetic to the political opposition to President Assad.

This problem is reminiscent of what happened inside the U.S. Intelligence Community in the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq when some 18 witnesses – supposedly “defectors” from Saddam Hussein’s regime – became “walk-ins” who presented claims about the Iraqi government’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.

CIA analysts debunked some of these bogus claims and traced some of the deceit to the machinations of the pro-invasion Iraqi National Congress (INC), but – given the political-and-media hatred of Saddam Hussein – the CIA analysts were under intense pressure to accept some of the dubious accounts that were then incorporated into U.S. intelligence products and used to justify a war under false pretenses.

As with Iraq – where the U.S. government had helped fund anti-regime groups such as the INC – a similar situation exists inside Syria where U.S. officials have assisted the “opposition” in organizing politically and mastering propaganda skills. So, the means and opportunity for depicting regime “atrocities” through social media are there, along with the motive.

These activists – as well as the radical jihadists and other armed rebels – have become increasingly desperate to induce the United States to intervene militarily against the Syrian army and thus make their desired “regime change” possible.

Obama’s Red Line

The emphasis on creating a chemical weapons casus belli increased when President Barack Obama set the Syrian government’s possible use of such weapons as a “red line” that might cause him to intervene directly with U.S. forces.

That comment and the political pressure for instituting another Mideast “regime change” were the backdrop for the sarin gas attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013, which anti-Assad activists, the mainstream U.S. press, and the U.S. State Department immediately blamed on government forces.

In the ensuing days, Obama came to the edge of authorizing a retaliatory military strike before hearing from U.S. and other Western intelligence services that they had doubts about who had actually pulled off the attack.

Since then, the sarin case against Assad has largely collapsed (although to defuse the crisis he agreed to a Russian plan for Syria to surrender all its chemical weapons). The evidence now appears to indicate that radical jihadists released the sarin with the goal of goading Obama into joining the war on their side, i.e., a false-flag operation.

As the sarin case fell apart in 2014, the U.S. government shifted its emphasis toward chlorine-gas allegations. I first encountered this bait-and-switch tactic when I pressed a senior State Department official to back up or back off the increasingly discredited sarin gas claims.

While sidestepping the sarin case, the official asserted that the Syrian government almost surely was responsible for the more recent chlorine-gas incidents, citing the bombs’ delivery by helicopter and arguing that only the Syrian government possessed such aircraft.

According to the U.N. report, however, that belief regarding the government’s monopoly of helicopters may not be true, since rebel forces had captured air bases where operational helicopters were present. That means, at least theoretically, the jihadists could have staged the night-time attacks – complete with prior alarms spread by activist first-responders, known as “white helmets,” about the imminent arrival of “government” helicopters with chlorine bombs.

But the more nettlesome question, which the U.N. report does not address, is why would the Syrian government launch these strange attacks while realizing that any chemical weapons incident could prompt U.S. military intervention that could tip the war in favor of the jihadists and other rebels, especially since the chlorine attacks had virtually no military value.

Few Fatalities

While the makeshift chlorine bombs may have sent scores of civilians to get medical attention, very few of the casualties were fatal, according to the U.N. report. By contrast, the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin attack killed hundreds, with the U.S. government putting out an even higher (and almost surely exaggerated) number of 1,429 dead.

In both these cases – the sarin and chlorine investigations – U.N. officials were under enormous pressure from the U.S. State Department and Western governments to come up with something that could be used to justify “regime change” in Damascus.

The U.S. State Department and various anti-Assad non-governmental organizations also had a strong motive to play up any accusations of Syrian chemical weapons use. Obama’s critics still hope to push him into an increased military intervention to remove Assad from power.

Significantly, the recent U.N. report was initially leaked to The New York Times, which has been at the forefront of agitating for another “regime change” operation in Syria. Not unexpectedly, the Times produced an article on Aug. 24 that applied no skepticism to the accusations and simply blamed the Assad government for two of the chlorine attacks.

The U.N. report wasn’t officially available until the end of August, but even then it was extremely difficult to access at the U.N.’s Web site. This week, I finally reached a U.N. press representative who walked me through the maze of links required to get to the right page, but it turned out that the page had been off-line since last Friday, the press aide said. Finally, on Tuesday, I was sent a link that worked.

Though these technical glitches may well have been coincidental, the effect was to delay any critical review of the U.N.’s report. By the time its evidentiary and logical gaps could be examined by the public, the conventional wisdom had already solidified regarding the Syrian government’s guilt.

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




New York Times and the New McCarthyism

Special Report: The New Cold War and its fellow-traveler, the New McCarthyism, are arriving on the hawkish wings of The New York Times and other mainstream U.S. media outlets, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Traditional U.S. journalism and the American people are facing a crisis as the preeminent American newspaper, The New York Times, has fully lost its professional bearings, transforming itself into a neoconservative propaganda sheet eager for a New Cold War with Russia and imposing a New McCarthyism on public debate.

The crisis is particularly acute because another top national newspaper, The Washington Post, is also deeply inside the neocon camp.

The Times’ abandonment of journalistic principles has become most noticeable with its recurring tirades about Russia, as the Times offers up story after story that would have embarrassed Sen. Joe McCarthy and his 1950s Red-baiters.

Operating without any actual evidence, a recent Times article by Neil MacFarquhar sought to trace public challenges to official U.S. government narratives on world events to a massive “disinformation” campaign by Russian intelligence. Apparently, it is inconceivable to the Times that independent-minded people might simply question some of the dubious claims made by Official Washington.

Perhaps most stunningly, the Times sought to prove its point by citing the slogan of Russia’s English-language television network, saying: “RT trumpets the slogan ‘Question More.’”

So, now, presumably if someone suggests questioning a claim from the U.S. government or from the NATO alliance, that person is automatically a “Russian agent of influence.” For a major newspaper to adopt such a position is antithetical to the tenets of journalism which call on us journalists to question everything.

The Times’ position is particularly outrageous because many key claims by the U.S. government, including some used to justify aggressive wars against other countries, have turned out to be false. Indeed, the Times has been caught peddling some of these bogus claims, often fed to the “newspaper of record” by U.S. government officials or from think tanks funded by American military contractors.

Disinformation Conduit

Most memorably, in 2002, the Times pushed disinformation about the Iraqi government reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, a lie that was then cited by Vice President Dick Cheney and other senior officials to help stampede the American people behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Lesser known moments of the Times serving as a disinformation conduit include a discredited assertion about the 2013 sarin attack in Syria, in which the Times purported to show how the flight paths of two missiles traced back to a Syrian military base, only later to grudgingly acknowledge that aeronautical experts judged that the one missile found to be carrying sarin had a maximum range of about one-fourth the required distance.

During the 2014 Ukraine crisis, the Times accepted photographs from the U.S. State Department which purported to show Russian military personnel in Russia and then later inside Ukraine, except that it turned out that the photograph supposedly taken in Russia was actually taken in Ukraine, destroying the premise of the Times article.

Yet, the Times holds itself out as some paragon of objectivity. This delusion further underscores how out of control and indeed dangerous the Times has become as a source of U.S. government disinformation, while accusing others of spreading Russian disinformation which often isn’t disinformation at all.

In its recent article, the Times cites reasonable questions raised by Swedish citizens about a proposal for the country entering into a military association with NATO and dismisses these concerns as proof of Russian government propaganda and lies:

“The claims were alarming: If Sweden, a non-NATO member, signed the deal, the alliance would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil; NATO could attack Russia from Sweden without government approval; NATO soldiers, immune from prosecution, could rape Swedish women without fear of criminal charges.”

Yet, all these worries raised by Swedish citizens – and cited by MacFarquhar in the Times – are not unreasonable concerns since nuclear weapons often are stored in NATO countries, NATO members are obliged to go to war to protect allies, and there have been problems with rape cases in countries with NATO or other foreign bases.

How those realities might affect a country agreeing to a NATO military association are reasonable concerns for Swedes to raise, but instead these worries are dismissed as Russian disinformation without any evidence to support the charge.

No Evidence

MacFarquhar even concedes the point that his lead allegation lacks evidentiary support, writing: “As often happens in such cases, Swedish officials were never able to pin down the source of the false reports.”

MacFarquhar then adds: “But they, numerous analysts and experts in American and European intelligence point to Russia as the prime suspect, noting that preventing NATO expansion is a centerpiece of the foreign policy of President Vladimir V. Putin, who invaded Georgia in 2008 largely to forestall that possibility.”

Though MacFarquhar cites the Russian “invasion” of Georgia supposedly to thwart its entrance into NATO as a flat fact to support his thesis, that historical reference is a far more complicated issue since it was Georgia that launched an attack on South Ossetia, a breakaway province, and killed Russian peacekeepers stationed there.

An investigation by the European Union laid most of the blame on Georgia for initiating the conflict, with the Russians then reacting to the Georgian assault. A 2009 report on the E.U. mission led by Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini rejected Georgian claims about self-defense, finding that Georgia, not Russia, started the conflict.

“None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation,” Tagliavini said.

The E.U. report stated: “There was no ongoing armed attack by Russia before the start of the Georgian operation. Georgian claims of a large-scale presence of Russian armed forces in South Ossetia prior to the Georgian offensive could not be substantiated by the mission. It could also not be verified that Russia was on the verge of such a major attack.”

In other words, Putin’s military did not “invade” Georgia in 2008 “largely to forestall” Georgia’s entrance into NATO, but as a reaction – arguably an over-reaction – to Georgia’s violent offensive into South Ossetia.

Yet, MacFarquhar cites this dubious point as some sort of indirect “evidence” that Putin is responsible for questions posed by Swedish citizens about what a NATO association would mean for them.

After acknowledging no real evidence and citing a historical “fact” that really isn’t a fact, MacFarquhar expands his conspiracy theory into more recent events claiming that Putin “has invested heavily in a program of ‘weaponized’ information, using a variety of means to sow doubt and division. …

“The fundamental purpose of dezinformatsiya, or Russian disinformation, experts said, is to undermine the official version of events — even the very idea that there is a true version of events — and foster a kind of policy paralysis.”

The MH-17 Case

As an example, MacFarquhar cites the case of the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, claiming “Russia pumped out a dizzying array of theories.” The Times correspondent then asserts as flat fact that “The cloud of stories helped veil the simple truth that poorly trained insurgents had accidentally downed the plane with a missile supplied by Russia.”

But, according to official investigations that have been underway for more than two years, MacFarquhar’s claim is not “the simple truth,” as he put it. Last year’s report by the Dutch Safety Board reached no conclusion about who was responsible for shooting down the plane, killing 298 people.

Indeed, the DSB’s report included a statement by Dutch intelligence (reflecting NATO’s intelligence data) that the only powerful anti-aircraft-missile systems in eastern Ukraine on that day – capable of hitting MH-17 at 33,000 feet – were under the control of the Ukrainian military. (Though an official document, this Dutch intelligence report has never been mentioned by The New York Times, presumably because it conflicts with the favored Russia-did-it narrative.)

The U.S. government, which in the five days after the crash did rush to a judgment blaming ethnic Russian rebels supposedly using a Russian-supplied Buk missile, then went silent on the issue after CIA analysts had a chance to examine the evidence in more detail.

Despite appeals from the families of Dutch victims, including the father of the one young American citizen who died in the crash, the U.S. government has refused to release its radar, satellite images and other intelligence information that presumably could establish exactly who was responsible.

Why the U.S. government would obstruct the investigation into this tragedy if indeed the evidence proved Putin’s responsibility doesn’t make any sense. Indeed, it is the kind of question that a responsible journalist would press the U.S. government to answer, but MacFarquhar and the Times take the pressure off by simply reaffirming the impression that the U.S. government wants the public to have: the Russkies did it.

In the weeks after the crash, I was told by a source briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts that the secret U.S. data points the finger of guilt at a rogue Ukrainian military operation, which would fit with the statement by Dutch intelligence. But whatever the ultimate finding, it is simply bad journalism to state as flat fact something that remains seriously in doubt, a professional failure reminiscent of how the Times and Post treated Iraq’s WMD as a certainty in 2002-2003.

More Insidious

But there is something even more insidious about what The New York Times and The Washington Post have been up to. They are essentially saying that any questioning of the official U.S. government narrative on any international topic puts you in league with Moscow in its purported attempt to “weaponize” information, whatever that is supposed to mean.

The two newspapers are engaging in a breathtaking form of McCarthyism, apparently in some twisted effort to force a neoconservative ideological conformity on the American people in support of the New Cold War.

There is also a stunning lack of self-awareness. While MacFarquhar sees a Russian desire to portray U.S. life as “hellish,” including RT’s decision to show protest demonstrations – rather than some speeches – during the Republican and Democratic conventions, he and other writers who have picked up this theme consistently present the situation in Russia in the darkest possible terms.

Relatively innocent actions, such as the Kremlin seeking to make its case to the world, are transformed into evil deeds, using buzzwords like “weaponized” information and “hybrid war.” Yet, there is no reference to the billions upon billions of dollars that the U.S. government has invested in disseminating propaganda and funding political activists around the world.

NATO has even established what it calls a “Strategic Communications Command,” or Stratcom, in Riga, Latvia, which – as veteran war correspondent Don North has written – views “the control and manipulation of information as a ‘soft power’ weapon, merging psychological operations, propaganda and public affairs under the catch phrase ‘strategic communications.’

“This attitude has led to treating psy-ops manipulative techniques for influencing a target population’s state of mind and surreptitiously shaping people’s perceptions as just a normal part of U.S. and NATO’s information policy. …

“And, as part of this Brave New World of ‘strategic communications,’ the U.S. military and NATO have now gone on the offensive against news organizations that present journalism which is deemed to undermine the perceptions that the U.S. government seeks to convey to the world.”

In other words, the U.S. government and NATO are engaged in what psychologists call “projection,” accusing someone else of one’s own behavior. Yet The New York Times has never investigated Washington’s and NATO’s involvement in “strategic communications.” Only the Russians do such dirty deeds.

A Darker Side

But there is even a darker side to the Times’ recent propaganda barrage about Russian propaganda. On the heels of MacFarquhar’s indictment of Russia for questioning Washington’s official narratives, the Times published a vicious attack on WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, entitled “How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets.”

The article portrays Assange as a participant, wittingly or otherwise, in Russia’s allegedly nefarious scheme to release truthful information, such as the Democratic National Committee’s emails confirming what many had long suspected, that some party officials were favoring Hillary Clinton over her rival, Bernie Sanders. No one has suggested that the emails aren’t real.

However, without presenting any real evidence proving that Russian intelligence was responsible for the hack, the Times and the rest of the mainstream U.S. news media have made that assumption conventional wisdom based on the opinions of some unnamed U.S. officials.

Or as the Times’ takedown of Assange wrote, “United States officials say they believe with a high degree of confidence that the Democratic Party material was hacked by the Russian government. …That raises a question: Has WikiLeaks become a laundering machine for compromising material gathered by Russian spies? And more broadly, what precisely is the relationship between Mr. Assange and Mr. Putin’s Kremlin? …

“Among United States officials, the emerging consensus is that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks probably have no direct ties to Russian intelligence services. But they say that, at least in the case of the Democrats’ emails, Moscow knew it had a sympathetic outlet in WikiLeaks, where intermediaries could drop pilfered documents in the group’s anonymized digital inbox.”

Though it’s nice that some U.S. officials acknowledge a lack of evidence proving an operational relationship between Assange and Russian intelligence, the fact that a high-profile journalistic institution, such as WikiLeaks, has been under that sort of U.S. government investigation should be troubling to the Times and other news organizations.

However, instead the newspaper appears disappointed that it cannot declare outright that Assange is a “Moscow stooge.” (Also note that in the last passage, the Times treats the suspicion that Russian intelligence hacked the Democratic emails as flat fact when U.S. intelligence officials say they don’t know for sure.)

Verify, Don’t Moralize

The usual rule of thumb for journalists is to accept and verify information regardless of where it comes from. While occasionally you get a selfless leaker, it’s more common to get leaks from interested parties seeking to undermine their rivals. We see that in legal proceedings when lawyers supply documents helpful to their cases and in political contests when campaigns dig up dirt on their opponents.

Yet, journalists don’t throw away newsworthy information because it may be self-serving. We check it out and – if it checks out – we use it. The only real problem would be if you run the material as flat fact, without caveats, and it turns out to be false, as has happened repeatedly with material that the U.S. government has leaked to the Times and the Post.

What is particularly unprofessional about how the Times is treating Assange is that no one is saying that the Democratic Party emails are disinformation; they appear to be quite real and reflect a newsworthy concern, which is: Did the Democratic National Committee seek to throw the presidential nomination to Hillary Clinton?

But the Times’ unprofessional treatment of truthful information from WikiLeaks as well as the Times’ disdain for legitimate debate about the New Cold War with Russia has contributed to another dangerous development – a McCarthyistic launching of official U.S. government investigations into people who question the official Washington narratives.

An Official Investigation

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that “U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions. …

“The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia’s ability to spread disinformation. … A Russian influence operation in the United States ‘is something we’re looking very closely at,’ said one senior intelligence official,” while admitting that there is no “definitive proof” of such a Russian scheme.

The danger of this investigation – and what a normal news media would focus on – is the U.S. government taking an unfocused look at how Russia supposedly influences the U.S. public debate, a probe that could easily cross the line into questioning the loyalty of Americans who simply dispute what the U.S. government is claiming about current events.

The Post reported, “U.S. intelligence officials described the [Russian] covert influence campaign here as ‘ambitious’ and said it is also designed to counter U.S. leadership and influence in international affairs. …

“Russia has been in the vanguard of a growing global movement to use propaganda on the Internet to influence people and political events, especially since the political revolt in Ukraine, the subsequent annexation of Crimea by Russia, and the imposition of sanctions on Russia by the United States and the European Union. …

“‘Our studies show that it is very likely that [the influence] operations are centrally run,’ said Janis Sarts, director of the NATO Strategic Communications Center of Excellence, a research organization based in Riga, Latvia.”

Yes, that is the same NATO Stratcom complex that, as Don North reported, blends psychological operations with traditional public relations. Yet, you wouldn’t know that from reading The Washington Post’s article, which cites Stratcom as a source for accusing Russia of running influence operations.

A Vast Conspiracy

According to the Post, Sarts “also said there is ‘a coordinated effort involving [groups using] Twitter and Facebook and networks of bots to amplify their message. The main themes seem to be orchestrated rather high up in the hierarchy of the Russian state, and then there are individual endeavors by people to exploit specific themes.’

“Sarts said the Russian propaganda effort has been ‘successful in exploiting the vulnerabilities within societies.’ In Western Europe, for instance, such Russian information operations have focused on the politically divisive refugee crisis.”

In other words, any reporting or commenting on significant foreign policy issues could open a journalist or a citizen to a U.S. government investigation into whether you are part of some nefarious Russian propaganda/disinformation scheme.

This McCarthyistic investigative style has already begun to have a chilling effect on public debate in the United States where dissident views on Russia, Syria or other hot topics are quickly disparaged as enemy propaganda. Almost anyone who questions whether a new, costly and dangerous Cold War is necessary is immediately tagged as a “Russian agent of influence,” a “Putin apologist,” or a “Moscow stooge.”

In this case, the Democrats have been particularly aggressive in playing the Joe McCarthy role by denouncing Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in such overheated terms, even suggesting his disloyalty for suggesting that he could, as President, get along with Putin.

During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, defense of freedom of thought required courageous journalists, most notably Edward R. Murrow, to stand up to the often unfounded smears against the patriotism of Americans. In 2016, however, it is the prestige news media, particularly The New York Times and The Washington Post, that have been leading the rush into the New Cold War and into the New McCarthyism.

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).

 




US Denies Entry to Ex-UK Ambassador

As the New Cold War heats up, the U.S. government is sliding back into old Cold War practices, like blocking entry of people critical of U.S. policies, a fate befalling ex-British ambassador Craig Murray, as Peter Van Buren explains.

By Peter Van Buren

The United States over the weekend denied travel to a former British ambassador, Craig Murray, who was also a British diplomat for some 30 years, is the author of several books, and has stood twice for election to the House of Commons.

Murray was “honored” by being thrown out of Uzbekistan by its repressive government after risking his life to expose appalling human rights abuses there. He is not a terrorist and is not a social media jihadi. He has no criminal record, no connection to drug smuggling, and does have a return ticket, a hotel reservation and ample funds to cover his expenses. He is however seen as a threat to the United States.

Ambassador Murray was headed to the U.S. this week to be Master of Ceremonies at an award ceremony honoring John Kiriakou, the CIA torture whistleblower. Kiriakou was the only U.S. government official to go to jail in connection with the torture program, and all he did was help expose it to the media. The event is sponsored by Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (of which I am a member.)

Murray has also spoken in support of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. Hmm. Might have something to do with this visa problem.

No one has told Murray why he cannot travel to the U.S., though he has been here numerous times over the past 38 years. Murray learned of his travel bar when applying for the online clearance the U.S. requires of all “visa free” travelers. Murray was electronically informed to contact the State Department to see if he might qualify otherwise.

Ambassador Murray was stopped by what the State Department and Homeland Security calls “a hit.” What happens is dozens of American intelligence agencies pour names into a vast database, which includes everyone from Osama bin Laden (his name has allegedly never been removed in some sort of reverse tribute) to the latest ISIS thug to all sorts of others who have little or no actual reason to be there, such as Murray.

The likely salient part of the database in Murray’s case is called CLASS, part of the Consular Consolidated Database. It is the largest known data warehouse in the world. As of December 2009, the last time information was available, it contained over 100 million cases and 75 million photographs, and has a current growth rate of approximately 35,000 records per day.

When one of those persons labeled a “bad guy” applies for entry or a visa to the U.S., the computer generates a hit. A hit is enough to deny anyone a visa-free trip to the U.S. with no further questions asked and no information given. Technically, the traveler never even officially knows he was “a hit.” Bang, you’re dead.

If Murray chooses to follow the process through and formally applies for a visa to the United States, the State Department in London will only then examine the hit. In 99.9999 percent of the cases, all the State Department official will see in their computer is a code that says “Contact Washington,” officially a Security Advisory Opinion, or SAO.

Lost in Secret Bureaucracy

The State people abroad will most often have no idea why they are refusing to issue a visa, just that they can’t. They sign their name to a blank check of a refusal. They make a potentially life-altering decision about someone with no idea what the evidence against him or her, if any, is. The traveler, of course, has no chance to rebut or clarify because they too have no idea what is being held against them. There is no substantive appeal process and, of course, everything in the files is likely classified.

The “contact Washington” message triggers a name-check process in D.C. that rumbles around the intelligence community looking for someone who knows why the U.S. government wants to keep Murray out of the United States next week. That process can take anywhere from weeks to forever, and taking forever is one strategy the U.S. uses when it just wants some troublesome person to go away. For politically motivated cases such as Murray’s, that is what is most likely to happen: not much. Murray may thus never learn why he cannot travel to the United States.

That is what free speech (and free speech covers not only what people say, but what people, Americans in this case, in America may choose to listen to) is about in 2016. America is now afraid of people like Ambassador Craig Murray. BONUS: Murray has only been denied travel to one other country, Uzbekistan. Such is the company America now keeps. Those who think this is the first time the U.S. has used a visa denial to stop free speech, please see the case of scholar Tariq Ramadan, denied the opportunity to teach at Notre Dame. There have been many more such cases, albeit less mediagenic. This is now policy for America, not an exception.

[For more on Craig Murray, see Consortiumnews.com’s “How a Torture Protest Killed a Career” and “The Invasion of Bahrain.“]

Peter Van Buren, a retired U.S. diplomat, blew the whistle on State Department waste during Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. His second book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent. Next up is a novel about WWII Japan, Hooper’s War. He writes about current events at www.wemeantwell.comand on Twitter @wemeantwell. [This article first appeared at http://wemeantwell.com/blog/2016/09/05/u-s-blocks-former-british-ambassador-from-entering-america-to-honor-cia-whistleblower/]




When Putin Bailed Out Obama

Exclusive: As pressure again builds on President Obama to attack Syria and press a new Cold War with Russia, the extraordinary events of three years ago after a sarin attack near Damascus are worth revisiting, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Three years ago, when a reluctant President Barack Obama was about to launch an attack on Syria, supposedly in retaliation for President Bashar al-Assad crossing a “red line” against using chemical weapons, Obama smelled a rat – or rather he sensed a mousetrap.

Advised by some of his intelligence advisers that the evidence blaming the Syrian government for the lethal sarin attack was weak, Obama disappointed many of Washington’s neocons and liberal war hawks, including those in his own administration, by deferring action. He tossed the issue to Congress, thus guaranteeing a delay.

Precisely at that key juncture, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the pressure off Obama by persuading the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons, which Assad did – while still denying any role in the attack at Ghouta, just outside Damascus, on Aug. 21, 2013.

Washington’s hardliners were left aching for their lost opportunity to attack Syria by citing the Ghouta attack as a casus belli. But the evidence suggested, instead, a well-orchestrated Syrian rebel false-flag operation aimed at fabricating a pretext for direct U.S. intervention in the war on Syria.

With Putin’s assistance in getting Assad to surrender the chemical weapons, Obama was able to extricate himself from the corner that he had rather clumsily painted himself into with his earlier bravado talk about a “red line.”

But Washington’s irate neocons and many of their liberal-interventionist chums felt cheated out of their almost-war. After all, Syria had been on the neocon “regime change” list as long as Iraq and was supposed to follow the 2003 Iraq invasion if that neocon-driven adventure had not turned out so disastrously.

Still, the neocons would make Putin pay for his interference six months later by promoting an anti-Russian putsch in Ukraine, followed by U.S. and European Union sanctions to punish Russia for its “aggression.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “What Neocons Want from Ukraine Crisis.“]

According to Jeffrey Goldberg who conducted a series of interviews with Obama for a lengthy article in The Atlantic, the President boasted about his decision on Aug. 30, 2013, to resist pressure for military action from many of his advisers and instead step outside what he called “the Washington playbook.”

Goldberg described the day as Obama’s “liberation day.” For Secretary of State John Kerry, however, Aug. 30 ended in disappointment after earlier that day he had shaken the rafters at the State Department bellowing for a U.S. attack on Syria.

Goldberg explained that having already caved in under hardline pressure to double down on sending more troops to Afghanistan for a feckless “counterinsurgency” operation in 2009, Obama was not in the mood for “seeking new dragons to slay” merely to preserve his “credibility.”

According to Goldberg, within the White House, Obama would argue that “dropping bombs on someone to prove that you’re willing to drop bombs on someone is just about the worst reason to use force.”

Nevertheless, Washington’s neocons and liberal hawks – along with the Saudis, Israelis and French – argued strenuously that Obama was obliged to “retaliate” for Syria’s alleged violation of the “red line” he had set a year earlier against Syria’s using – or merely moving – chemical weapons.

Goldberg wrote that Kerry told Obama that he was expecting the President to give the final order for a military strike on Syria on Aug. 31 – the day after Kerry’s afternoon cri de guerre and Obama’s evening volte-face. 

Obama: Sensing a Trap

It took uncharacteristic grit for Obama to face down his advisers and virtually Washington’s entire foreign policy establishment by calling off the planned attack on Syria at the last minute.

Goldberg wrote that Obama had “come to believe that he was walking into a trap — one laid both by allies and by adversaries, and by conventional expectations of what an American president is supposed to do.”

Shortly after Kerry delivered his Aug. 30 philippic at the State Department, in which he blamed the Syrian government no fewer than 35 times for the chemical attack at Ghouta, Obama chose to spend an hour with his Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, on the South Lawn of the White House.

Goldberg noted: “Obama did not choose McDonough randomly: He is the Obama aide most averse to U.S. military intervention, and someone who, in the words of one of his colleagues, ‘thinks in terms of traps.’”

It was an important conversation. In my view, Obama’s willingness to listen and then assert himself can be seen as a dress rehearsal for the kind of leadership that was required to hammer out a deal on the nuclear issue with Iran. The President ended up putting a tighter rein on Kerry and ordered him to avail himself of Moscow’s help in negotiating last year’s landmark deal restraining Iran’s ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.

In that venue also, Putin and Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proved helpful, and both Obama and Kerry have expressed appreciation for Russia’s assistance in closing that major deal.

Still, in late September 2013, after the dust had settled regarding the Syrian mousetrap – with the Putin-brokered agreement on track to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons on a U.S. ship specially configured for that purpose – it must have become crystal clear to Obama that he had come within inches of letting himself be tricked into starting yet another unnecessary war.

The first step into that trap had come a year earlier, when he was persuaded to set down a red line against Syria’s using or even moving its chemical weapons.

At the end of an impromptu press conference on Aug. 20, 2012, NBC’s Chuck Todd primed the mousetrap with some cheese by asking what seemed like an expected question that Obama appeared ready to answer. Todd asked a two-part question (one part was about Mitt Romney’s taxes and the other about Syria’s chemical weapons). Obama eventually wound around to the Syrian part of Todd’s question:

“I have, at this point, not ordered military engagement … But the point that you made about chemical and biological weapons is critical. That’s an issue that doesn’t just concern Syria; it concerns our close allies in the region, including Israel. It concerns us. … We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”

Clinton’s Hand

It is a safe bet that this answer was pushed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her neocon advisers who had made no secret of their determination to topple Bashar al-Assad, one way or another. The Washington Post account of the press conference suggests that White House staffers had been blindsided and were trying to put the best face on it.

Then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Jeffrey Goldberg, “I didn’t know it [the red line] was coming.” Goldberg added that Vice President Joe Biden had repeatedly warned Obama against drawing a red line on chemical weapons, fearing that it would one day have to be enforced.

Ten days before Obama’s impromptu press conference, Clinton met with her Turkish counterpart in Istanbul and emphasized the need to jointly plan ways to assist the rebels fighting to topple Assad – including possibly implementing a no-fly zone. Clinton announced the establishment of a working group in Turkey to respond to the Syrian crisis, according to The Associated Press. The group would increase the Syrian involvement of the intelligence services and militaries of both the U.S. and Turkey.

“We have been closely coordinating over the course of this conflict, but now we need to get into the real details of such operational planning. It needs to be across both of our governments,” Clinton said.

The urgent tone reflected the reality that in early 2012, Syrian government forces were beginning to prevail in key parts of the country. Middle Eastern history and politics Professor Jeremy Salt of Bilkent University, Ankara, noted that the Syrian opposition had little hope of being effective without help from the West.

Professor Salt pointed out that Damascus had mostly been cleared of rebels and Aleppo was on its way to being cleared, with the rebels very much “on the back foot.  … that’s why Hillary Clinton is in Istanbul. To ask the basic question, ‘What’s next?’”

Foreign affairs analyst Richard Heydarian put it this way: “What the Clinton administration [sic] is trying to do right now is try to coordinate some sort of military approach with Turkey and possibly also with the help of Israel and Arab countries because they feel the opposition has a chance to retain its stronghold in Aleppo.”

These were signs of the times. Washington’s hawks felt something needed to be done to stanch rebel losses, and Turkey was eager to help – so much so that it appears likely that Turkey played a key role in enabling and coordinating the sarin false-flag attack in Ghouta a year later. [Also, see “A Call for Proof on Syria Sarin Attack.”]

Evidence reported by Seymour Hersh in April 2014 in the London Review of Books implicates Turkish intelligence and extremist Syrian rebels, NOT the “Syrian regime.” Hersh does his customarily thorough job of picking apart the story approved by the Establishment.

A Convenient Sarin Attack

So, sure enough, a sarin gas attack took place in Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013, a year and a day after Obama set his red line. The Washington establishment and its surrogate media stenographers immediately blamed the attack on Bashar al-Assad – a pantomime villain whom Western media shoehorn into the same category as its other favorite bête noire, Vladimir Putin.

Of course, you would not have learned this history from reading the “mainstream media,” which operated with the same sort of “group think” that is demonstrated before the disastrous invasion of Iraq, but evidence was available at the time and accumulating evidence since then has put the finger on jihadist rebels as the most likely sarin culprits. Intelligence reporting showed that they were getting sarin precursors from Europe via Turkey and making “homemade sarin.”

Though the behind-the-scenes story was ignored by the major U.S. news media, Hersh reported that British intelligence officials promptly acquired a sarin sample from the debris of the Aug. 21 attack, ran it through their laboratory, and determined it NOT to be the kind of sarin in Syrian army stocks.

(Hersh holds the uncommon twin-distinction of being the quintessential investigative, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter during an earlier era of more independent American journalism and now being blacklisted from today’s U.S. “mainstream media” which shuns such independence in favor of government “access” and lucrative careers. This is why he must go to the London Review of Books to get published.)

In late 2013, Hersh reported that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with Al Qaeda had mastered the mechanics of making sarin and should have been an obvious suspect. But U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. (and a top proponent of “humanitarian” wars) Samantha Power told the media the opposite. After all, blaming the sarin attack on Assad was just what Power and the other hawks needed to push Obama into a major retaliatory strike on Syria.

Hersh noted that intelligence analysts became so upset with “the administration cherry-picking intelligence” to “justify” a strike on Assad that the analysts were “throwing their hands in the air and saying, ‘How can we help this guy [Obama] when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?’”

Writing in December 2013, Hersh asked if “we have the whole story of Obama’s willingness to walk away from his ‘red line’ threat to bomb Syria. … It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans.”

We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to warn Obama shortly after the sarin attack. But we have little reason to believe that our Memoranda to the President are high on his reading list.

More likely, Obama was brought up short when, a few days before Aug. 30, 2013, he was paid a visit by James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence. According to Goldberg’s account, Clapper interrupted the President’s morning intelligence briefing “to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a ‘slam dunk.’

“He chose the term carefully. Clapper, the chief of an intelligence community traumatized by its failures in the run-up to the Iraq War, was not going to overpromise, in the manner of the onetime CIA director George Tenet, who famously guaranteed George W. Bush a ‘slam dunk’” regarding all those non-existent WMD in Iraq.

Or, who knows? We should allow for the chance that the President was told the truth by someone else in his entourage.

Pay-Back for Putin

For his part, Russian President Putin had the gall to think that Moscow’s help on Syria might bring a more cooperative spirit in Washington and a chance to cultivate healthy bilateral relations based on mutual interest and respect. He even suggested that Washington might consider abandoning the notion that the U.S. is more equal, so to speak, than other nations.

Perhaps a bit deluded in the immediate afterglow of having helped Obama steer away from an unnecessary war in Syria, Putin published a highly unusual op-ed in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2013. Putin reportedly drafted the final paragraph himself. It is worth citing in full:

“My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

So, if you are still wondering why the neocons and their complicit mainstream media have made Putin into the devil incarnate, think about his sin of pulling Obama’s chestnuts out of the fire in September 2013 when war with Syria was so tantalizingly close. The neocons would make Putin pay for that by moving into high gear plans for a coup d’etat in Ukraine six months later (Feb. 22, 2014), as Putin’s attention was focused on the Winter Olympics in Sochi and the fear that it would be disrupted by a terrorist attack.

In more than a half century watching U.S. presidential administrations develop foreign policy, I have not seen a more bizarre sequence of events.

[I provide more detail on the play-by-play during the fall 2013 imbroglio on Syria in a 30-minute video.]

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He was a CIA analyst for 27 years and is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).




Abu Zubaydah: Torture’s ‘Poster Child’

Exclusive: The ugly legacy of George W. Bush’s torture program continues to haunt U.S. foreign policy as the “poster child” for waterboarding, Abu Zubaydah, makes an appeal for his release from Guantanamo, writes Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn

Last week, Abu Zubaydah, who has been imprisoned at Guantanamo for 14 years without being charged with a crime, appeared for the first time before the U.S. military Periodic Review Board, which determines whether Guantanamo detainees will continue to be held as “enemy combatants.”

Zubaydah argued he should be released because he has “no desire or intent to harm the United States or any other country.” During his hearing, Zubaydah also said he had been tortured by the CIA, an allegation confirmed by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s torture report. The U.S. government maintains he is an enemy combatant.

When Zubaydah was apprehended in Pakistan in 2002, the Bush administration characterized him as “chief of operations” for Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden’s “number three” man. This was untrue, according to John Kiriakou, who led the joint CIA-FBI team that caught Zubaydah. Kiriakou confirmed that Zubaydah did not help plan the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Dan Coleman, a leading FBI expert on Al Qaeda, said Zubaydah “knew very little about real operations, or strategy.” Coleman’s observations were communicated to President George W. Bush. Nevertheless, the President scolded CIA Director George Tenet, saying, “I said [Zubaydah] was important, You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?”

Zubaydah was tortured repeatedly at the “black sites,” where the CIA subjected him to waterboarding 83 times. On one occasion, Zubaydah had to be resuscitated. An observer at the scene was quoted in the Senate torture report as saying Zubaydah was “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

In 2005, after the Abu Ghraib torture photos came to light, the CIA destroyed several hundred hours of videotapes of the interrogations of Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The tapes likely depicted waterboarding.

Waterboarding is designed, according to Bush lawyer (now federal judge) Jay Bybee, to induce the perception of “suffocation and incipient panic,” i.e. the perception of drowning.

The Bush administration claimed it only used waterboarding on three individuals (the third being alleged 9/11 organizer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed). But a footnote in one of Bush lawyer Stephen Bradbury’s memos says waterboarding was utilized “with far greater frequency than initially indicated” with “large volumes of water” rather than small quantities as required by the CIA’s rules.

The CIA also withheld Zubaydah’s medication (as he recovered from severe injuries), slammed him into a wall, threatened him with impending death, shackled him in uncomfortable positions, and bombarded him with continuous deafening noise and harsh lights.

In one of his memos, Bybee wrote that the CIA told him, “Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from [the CIA’s] proposed interrogation methods.”

Coffin-like Box

Bybee granted the CIA’s request to confine Zubaydah in a cramped box with a harmless insect and tell him it will sting him but it won’t kill him. Even though the CIA knew that Zubaydah had an irrational fear of insects, Bybee decided there would be no threat of severe physical pain or suffering if it followed this procedure.

“[Zubaydah] spent a total of 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in the large (coffin size) confinement box and 29 hours in a small confinement box, which had the width of 21 inches, a depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet,” according to the Senate torture report.

The torture of Zubaydah did not yield useful information. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated him, wrote in the New York Times that any useful information Zubaydah provided was given before the “enhanced interrogation techniques” — Bush-speak for torture — were used.

In response to the torture, Zubaydah told his interrogators that Al Qaeda was planning terrorist attacks against the Brooklyn Bridge, Statute of Liberty, shopping malls, banks, water systems, supermarkets, nuclear plants and apartment buildings. He said Al Qaeda was close to building a crude nuclear bomb. None of this was ever corroborated.

The Torture Statute punishes conduct, or conspiracy to engage in conduct, specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. “Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from either the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering, or from the threat of imminent death.

It is undisputed that waterboarding constitutes torture, which is considered a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. Cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is also outlawed by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the United States has ratified.

Despite his constitutional duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” President Barack Obama refuses to bring the Bush officials who tortured Zubaydah and others to justice.

Donald Trump has pledged to keep Guantanamo open and advocates a resumption of waterboarding. Indeed, he promised a Trump administration would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

Hillary Clinton opposes waterboarding. She said torture is an “open recruitment poster for more terrorists,” and “over the years, Guantanamo has inspired more terrorists than it has imprisoned.”

Meanwhile, Zubaydah languishes at Guantanamo, with no hope of release.

Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaydah’s lawyers, said his client is “the poster child for the torture program, and that’s why they never want him to be heard from again.”

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse. Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/marjoriecohn




The High Cost of American Hubris

Americans have paid a very high price for the Establishment’s imperial ambitions, a price passing a breaking point in blood and money, a problem that must be addressed with realism and humility, explains Natylie Baldwin.

By Natylie Baldwin

Although renowned political scientist John Mearsheimer does not consider himself to be an isolationist – a term which has acquired a negative connotation since WWII – his definition is illuminating as much for clarifying what the term does not mean as for what it does.

In America Unhinged, Mearsheimer writes: “Isolationism rests on the assumption that no region of the world outside of the Western Hemisphere is of vital strategic importance to the United States. Isolationists do not argue that America has no interests in the wider world, just that they are not important enough to justify deploying military force to defend them. They are fully in favor of engaging with the rest of the world economically as well as diplomatically, but they view all foreign wars as unnecessary.”

As Mearsheimer makes plain, isolationism does not constitute a lack of constructive engagement with the outside world, but a judicious engagement that eschews military action outside of defending the homeland.

At a time when Washington is experiencing the hubris of imperial overreach and the prospect of the eventual collapse that history shows is the inevitable endgame of all empires, it is time for concerned Americans across the political spectrum to begin to seriously consider what a new paradigm and policy platform representing sanity might look like.

It is in the U.S.’s long-term interests (as well as the rest of the world’s) to have stability. The bare minimum for stability is a lack of war.

As science writer John Horgan concluded in his book The End of War in which he undertook a scientific analysis of war via the study of history, anthropology, psychology and sociology, the old adage about justice being a prerequisite for peace is wrong. It is peace that is necessary for justice to take root. The violent, chaotic and wasteful conditions of modern war are not conducive to the pursuit of justice or human development.

Most Americans do not share the Neoliberal, Neoconservative, or Responsibility to Protect club’s messianic vision of an America that needs to recreate the world to fit some bastardized idea of imperial “democracy” that requires a Year Zero program to destroy the social, cultural and political foundations of target countries (see Iraq, Libya, and Syria).

The restoration of our democratic republic and the revitalization of our economy and society are intimately connected to pulling out of the militarist/imperialist projects that are killing our country, along with the casualties it is responsible for around the world. It was estimated last year by physicians’ groups that deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan from the U.S. “war on terror” (USWOT) are 1.3 million at the conservative end.

The predictable blowback from friends and family members of those decapitated and blown apart by drone strikes and indiscriminate bombings, as well as shootings by soldiers whose psyches have been warped by immersion in the hellhole of counter-insurgency wars that are unwinnable, should give all Americans serious pause in terms of rational problem-solving toward the goal of increasing the conditions for peace and stability.

The casualties from the physicians’ groups does not even count the thousands dead in the Libyan civil war, precipitated by the US/NATO toppling of the Gaddafi government – a stable, secular government that had attained the highest standard of living in all of Africa – or our attempts to similarly support nihilistic jihadists who want to topple the Assad regime in Syria and the killing frenzy that has resulted in that country.

Other historians and political scientists, going further back in the American Empire’s reign, have estimated 20 million to 30 million people have perished as a result of Washington’s covert operations and overt military interventions that have occurred almost continuously since 1945.

Take a moment to let that really sink in. Each of those 20 million to 30 million was a living, breathing person who – like you and me – had hopes, dreams, fears and other people who loved them. With this track record, is it any wonder that the world views the U.S. as the biggest threat to world peace by a wide margin?

The Morally and Intellectually Bankrupt

The U.S. needs to take the lead on de-militarizing and using the freed-up focus and resources to begin engineering a soft landing for the inevitable imperial/economic decline that we are already experiencing. By any rational measure, our interventions have been disasters, creating more problems than they solve. There is a reason why we are known in other parts of the world as “The Empire of Chaos.”

We use our military to relentlessly kill and destroy because our political leaders no longer have the will or imagination to build something constructive. Militarism is the refuge of the morally and intellectually bankrupt.

With a Pentagon budget that comprises 54 percent of the discretionary budget – not counting the black budget expenditures of intelligence agencies estimated at an additional $52 billion annually — this is 4 percent more than 1990 levels – the time at which the late expert on the military industrial complex, Seymour Melman, made the following observation:

“The American ruling class, by 1990, has become a state/corporate managerial entity. Together they control the military-industrial complex. … The war economy, in the service of extending the decision power and wealth of America’s state and corporate managers, has been consuming the US civilian infrastructure. Roads, bridges, the water supply, waste disposal systems, housing, medical care facilities, schools are in disrepair from coast to coast.”

Currently, the number one spender on the military at approximately 50 percent of the world total, we are also set to spend $1 trillion on an updated nuclear arsenal, partly justified by a rivalry with the Russian Federation, a face-off that is recognized as largely contrived by those who have a true understanding of post-Soviet U.S.-Russia relations.

As a nuclear superpower that enjoys the protection of vast oceans on both its shores and relatively cordial relations with our neighbors to the north and south, the U.S. has not experienced a war on its soil for 150 years and the Civil War did not involve any foreign invasion.

Further, according to research last year by ex-CIA agent Philip Giraldi, only two Americans died overseas in terrorist attacks outside of war zones and only 26 deaths occurred domestically from jihadist terrorism since 9/11 – averaging less than two deaths per year. If we add to that the deaths from the attacks in San Bernadino and Orlando, the total is 91. This is fewer than the number of victims of domestic terrorists.

So how does a virtually non-existent threat of invasion or the issue of terrorism justify billions of dollars wasted on militarism, thousands of deaths and injuries of American military personnel and millions more non-Americans (mostly civilians), and loss of civil liberties? Where is the logic and conscience in this equation?

Given the fact that Russian leaders Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have reached out repeatedly since 2000 to cooperate toward the resolution of security issues that would include and respect everyone’s interests on the greater European continent, coupled with the fact that any terrorist threat from Middle East jihadists has been greatly magnified, if not initiated, by Washington’s militarist policies in that region, it is safe to say that our country’s policymakers have the capability to greatly minimize what little foreign threat there may be to the U.S. through a shift in policy.

It is incumbent upon the U.S. to make this shift as its policy actions over the past 25 years have created or exacerbated the worst problems of instability in the international arena. Moreover, these policies have done so by running up an astronomical debt to foreign countries that the policies are now working to antagonize.

U.S. policymakers have done all this at the expense of the well-being of the majority of Americans by wasting huge sums of money that could be used to improve our D+ level infrastructure, to raise our medical standards from the bottom of the industrialized world and to address the true unemployment rate of 23 percent.

Costs of US Imperialism and Militarism

Military Bases and Blowback 

The U.S. currently has hundreds of military bases on every continent except Antarctica, costing $250 billion annually to maintain. Ironically, these bases tend to create the need for still more bases. They promote resentment in areas where American GI’s live in pampered bubbles, located on prime real estate, and in culturally divergent ways relative to the natives.

At the time that Chalmers Johnson wrote The Sorrows of Empire in 2004, the Department of Defense (DOD) publicly acknowledged 725 bases around the world, although there were understood to be significantly more due to secrecy and various means of obscuring the presence of a military installation by using euphemisms in different documents (e.g. in connection with Israel).

Despite the official tally by the DOD having dropped somewhat in recent years, there are undoubtedly many more bases now with the accession of nine more countries to NATO, along with bombing campaigns extended to several more countries and covert military operations expanded into numerous others as well as the proliferation of smaller “lily pad” style bases.

As Chalmers Johnson wrote (p. 152): “There is something else at work, which I believe is the post-Cold War discovery of our immense power, rationalized by the self-glorifying conclusion that because we have it, we deserve to have it. The only truly common elements in the totality of America’s foreign bases are imperialism and militarism – an impulse on the part of our elites to dominate other peoples largely because we have the power to do so, followed by the strategic reasoning that, in order to defend these newly acquired outposts and control the regions they are in, we must expand the areas under our control with still more bases.

“To maintain its empire, the Pentagon must constantly invent new reasons for keeping in our hands as many bases as possible long after the wars and crises that led to their creation have evaporated. As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee observed as long ago as 1970: ‘Once an American overseas base is established it takes on a life of its own. Original missions may become outdated but new missions are developed, not only with the intention of keeping the facility going, but often to actually enlarge it.’”

Billions of dollars are spent annually on constructing and maintaining these bases just in the Middle East where estimates of the number of military bases in Afghanistan alone had ranged up to 411 at one point. Bases in this region are mostly on behalf of the goal of protecting Persian Gulf oil supplies. Indeed, $40 trillion is estimated to have been spent on this over the past 40 years.

This begs a couple of questions: (1) wouldn’t it be cheaper and more humane to simply invest in energy efficiency and renewables that would create American jobs? (2) or, how about just paying a fair market price for these fossil fuels?  Regardless of any particular regime’s rhetoric against the U.S. or the West, they’d still want to make money at the end of the day. Not to mention, we’d be supporting the concept of markets, which we claim to hold in such high esteem as to border on the religious.

Moreover, as Michael Scheuer, former CIA specialist on the Middle East for 22 years, argues persuasively, one of the primary reasons that young Muslim males in the region are motivated to blow themselves up in terrorist actions against the U.S. is due to the presence of American military bases on sovereign and Muslim lands. Virtually no Muslims – no matter how radical – are motivated to commit such acts because of the way we live within our own borders. 

American Victims of Empire

Over 7,000 American military personnel have lost their lives so far in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, 56 percent of veterans are receiving treatment with the VA, half have applied for permanent disability and a third are being treated for PTSD, anxiety, and/or depression. Some 250,000 have suffered a traumatic brain injury and close to 2,000 have had limbs amputated. Approximately 175,000 veterans are 70 – 100 percent disabled. It is estimated that care and compensation for veterans of these wars over the coming decades will reach $1 trillion.

The overall cost of these wars is projected to be $6 trillion, enough for every American household to receive $75,000. Although, military investment does produce some jobs, investment in other sectors of the economy, like healthcare, would produce far more.

According to geopolitical analyst, Conn Hallinan, “We spend more on our ‘official’ military budget than we do on Medicare, Medicaid, Health and Human Services, Education, and Housing and Urban Development combined.”

In fact, if that $6 trillion spent on wars in the Middle East was to be invested in projects that improved Americans’ lives, we could achieve the following and still have some left over:

  1. Completely upgrade our ailing infrastructure ($3.6 trillion);
  1. Invest the upfront costs to implement the Stanford University plan for 100 percent renewable energy in the U.S. by 2050, creating almost 6 million jobs over 40 years in the process ($350 billion*);
  1. Expand Medicare to cover all Americans ($394 billion);

4 Double the salary of all high school teachers ($80 billion)

Instead, we have the budgetary sinkhole that has become the security state; simultaneously, our politicians have implemented major tax cuts for the wealthy.  The result over the past 15 years is that we have witnessed the largest transfer of money upward to the wealthiest segment of our society.

Four hundred Americans now have more wealth, totaling $2 trillion, than 50 percent of all Americans combined. We have also officially become an oligarchy, where only corporations and the super wealthy are able to influence policy.

What are the implications of this chasm in socioeconomic equality in terms of America’s security?

Inequality and Domestic Security

In their seminal 2009 bookThe Spirit Level:  Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett explain their findings from years of research on social inequality and its relationship to the security of societies.

Based on studies of the wealthiest nations (market democracies), societies that have greater disparities of wealth – and, hence, social status – tend to experience lower levels of well-being and stability as indicated by the following criteria: 1) lower levels of trust among members of society, 2) higher rates of mental illness and addiction, 3) lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates, 4) more obesity, 5) lower children’s educational performance, 6) higher teenage births, 7) more homicides, 8) high incarceration rates, and 9) less social mobility.

These trends held regardless of the overall wealth of the societies involved.  More equality made between 3 and 10 times a difference in well-being and social security when comparing the market democracies of the world.

Let’s look at how the U.S. rates on these criteria:

1) Only 1/3 of Americans trust others, according to a 2013 AP-GfK poll

2) The U.S. has the highest rate of mental illness, including addiction, in the world (WHO)

3) Life expectancy for the U.S. is 26th out of the 36 OECD nations, while the U.S. also has the worst infant mortality rate in the West (CDC)

4) According to a study published by The Lancet in 2014, the US is the most obese nation on the planet

5) The U.S. ranks 36th in the world for educational performance

6) The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the developed world (CDC)

7) The U.S. ranks first in homicide rates in the western world and seventh for the entire world

8) The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any nation on earth, both in terms of the per capita rate and the overall number of people locked up

9) A child born into poverty in the U.S. today has a 33 percent chance of moving up the socioeconomic ladder, compared to a 50 percent chance in 1946

As it turns out, America is indeed exceptional, but not in the way President Obama would like everyone to believe.

Wilkinson and Pickett also found that, although the poorest of the population reaped the most benefits from equalization measures, the entire population benefited to some degree from more equality. Furthermore, it was recognized that past a certain level, increases in material gain did not produce more happiness or well-being among people. In other words, once a person’s basic needs were satisfied comfortably, there was a law of diminishing returns for acquiring more wealth or material goods.

Another point that was made by the authors was that societies did not need to follow only one model to achieve more equality. What mattered was that there were effective mechanisms of some kind in place to facilitate more equality in a society. At the time of the book’s publication, there were two models recognized among the market democracies: the Scandinavian model of social welfare programs provided by the state and the Japanese model that encouraged less disparity in incomes between different levels of society, obviating the need for many state welfare programs.

For example, as of 2013, American CEO’s made 354 times as much as the average worker, whereas Japanese CEO’s made only 67 times as much as the average worker.

Solutions to the Problems

Money Out of Politics

In 2014, Princeton Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page published a study in which they determined, through quantitative analysis of 1,779 policy issues, that average Americans and organizations representing the interests of average Americans have virtually no influence over public policy at the national level.

Policy is dictated by large corporations, the super wealthy and the organizations and lobbyists who represent them, mostly due to the huge sums of money they are able to contribute, directly or indirectly, to political campaigns.

To end this institutionalized bribery, money must be removed from politics. A constitutional amendment must be passed to clarify once and for all that corporations are not human beings and that money is not speech.

There are significant efforts underway for such an amendment. Move to Amend is working toward pressuring Congress to introduce and pass such an amendment; while, Wolf PAC is an organization working to get enough state legislatures to call a constitutional convention to introduce and pass an amendment.

Media outlets that rent out our public airwaves for profit must provide free air time to election candidates, eliminating the need for candidates to buy advertising.

Reign in the Military Industrial Complex

During WWII, Senator Harry Truman presided over the Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, which investigated waste, inefficiency, and war profiteering. When Truman received word that a company might be engaged in such behavior, he would drive out and pay surprise visits to the company. He would investigate aggressively and, according to The Nation, his work prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to support increasing “the excess profits tax to 90% and charg[ing] the Office of War Mobilization with the task of eliminating illegal profits.”

The Pentagon, which can’t pass an audit and can’t properly account for billions of dollars over the years, also routinely does business with defense contractors that have the most fraud and misconduct claims against them, such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing and KBR.

An independent commission should be impaneled to investigate war profiteering, waste, fraud and misconduct. The commission should have the authority and expectation to act on its findings rather than just issuing a report that will be ignored. An attitude that corporations that intentionally commit fraud and misconduct in relation to military contracts as well as lobbying to have American troops put in harm’s way for wars that have nothing to do with defending the homeland would be considered unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst. Political lobbying by military contractors should be outlawed and military personnel should go back to providing services for themselves such as cooking meals, cleanup and latrine duty.

A moratorium should be placed on any new military bases or expansion of existing ones. Gradual dismantling of military bases should follow based on the criteria of the necessity of defending the homeland. Simultaneously, there should be a halt to NATO expansion.

The U.S. should work with Europe and Russia toward a new, inclusive security architecture for Europe where the U.S. is a partner, not a dominator. This would eliminate the pretext of the U.S. needing to provide the majority of Europe’s security.

The operations portion of the CIA should be dissolved as well as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Both of these organizations have a documented history of being too vulnerable to abuse by the Executive Branch outside of its constitutional mandate.

The money and arms faucet to Israel needs to be turned off. Washington should make it clear to Tel Aviv that Israel will no longer be indulged like a spoiled child with no responsibilities. The baton needs to be passed to other institutions and nations to broker a peace plan between Israel and Palestine. Russia, China, the U.N. or a combination thereof would be in a better position to do so.

A Peace Dividend for the U.S.

The money saved from the above measures could fund a New Deal type program to invest in renewable energy, obviating the “need” for wars over access to oil and gas, shipping lanes and pipelines. It could also provide other basic social infrastructure that would raise the American standard of living equivalent to the rest of the Western world.

We could also incentivize the re-industrialization of our economy toward the self-sufficient production of essential goods. Funding and tax policies could facilitate local food production and manufacturing. This would encourage food security, jobs that cannot be outsourced, increased environmental accountability and fair trade focused on surplus and non-essential goods.

Conclusion

These are all policies that traditional Burkean conservatives and green-minded progressives can agree on: anti-imperialism, more economic self-sufficiency, energy independence, restoration of civil liberties and an end to corporate crony capitalism and its buying of the political system.

We must accept the fact that we are one country among many – a country that can still be a great nation – but we are not exceptional and we are not God. Such a belief stems from a cultural narrative deeply rooted in the particular brand of Calvinist/Puritan Protestantism that shaped the U.S. from its pioneer days. It has expressed itself through Manifest Destiny in the 19th century, “Leader of the Free World” against the “Evil Empire” in the 20th century, and the Exceptionalist/Indispensable Nation of the 21st century.

Most Americans will accept stepping down off this messianic pedestal if they have gained the true confidence that an increase in their standard of living would provide and if they are not manipulated and fed a constant diet of propaganda by politicians and corporate media on behalf of the interests of a craven and militaristic oligarchy.

Instead, Americans and their leaders would be working together to implement practical and concrete policies to improve Americans’ lives and foster the cooperation and stability in the international arena that will translate into genuine long-term security for the US.

Space must be provided for other regions and multilateral institutions to figure out how to restore stability. The rest of the world can figure out how to solve their own regional problems and govern themselves if given the space to evolve toward this goal. The world will not fall apart if the U.S. pulls back, gets its own house in order and endeavors to lead by example.

  *$350 billion was figured by taking the high end annual estimate for National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s “80% renewable by 2050,” adding on an additional 20% and multiplying by 35 years.

Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig’s Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. In October of 2015, she traveled to 6 cities in the Russian Federation and has written several articles based on her conversations and interviews with a cross-section of Russians.  Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Consortium News, Russia Insider, OpEd News, The New York Journal of Books, The Common Line, Santa Fe Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, Energy Bulletin, Newtopia Magazine, and the Lakeshore. She blogs at natyliesbaldwin.com. [An earlier version of this article first appeared at OpEd News}




Target: Yugoslavia (A Look into the Future)

From the Archive: NATO’s 1999 war on Serbia showcased some of America’s then-cutting-edge strategies for waging electronic sabotage against an “enemy,” including hacking computers and controlling information, wrote Robert Parry in real time.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on May 4, 1999)

At center stage and behind the scenes, NATO’s war for Kosovo is pressing the edges of modern “information warfare.” Through the early phases of the conflict, NATO concentrated its attacks on command-and-control centers, power stations and even propaganda outlets. Those attacks included sophisticated electronic assaults on computers directing Serb air defenses and so-called “soft bombs” to short out electrical lines.

But there are new indications that President Bill Clinton might be opting for a far more expansive high-tech “info-war” assault to punish the Yugoslavian government, its leaders and the nation’s economy for atrocities in Kosovo.

In such an electronic offensive against Serbia, U.S. intelligence has the secret capability to go much further than sporadic battlefield computer hacking and causing black-outs. U.S. info-warriors have the capacity to plant viruses in civilian computer systems, alter bank records, and generally wreak havoc on Yugoslavia’s infrastructure, from disrupting electrical utilities to shutting down the phone system.

U.S. government hackers could target government bank accounts used for purchasing military supplies or the personal accounts of Yugoslav leaders. Funds could be deleted electronically to frustrate the prosecution of the war or to punish selected Yugoslav leaders for “ethnic cleansing” in Kosovo.

Intelligence sources say the U.S. forces in the Balkans were ill-prepared for this broader info-war when the NATO bombing started on March 24, 1999. One reason was the difficulty of gaining a NATO consensus for exotic tactics.

So initially, the info-war focused only on the battlefield. Time magazine caught a glimpse of the U.S. capability in its reporting on the Pentagon’s successes in “taking down the Serbian air defenses.” The Pentagon cited “attacks, jamming and corrupting data, which the allies have fed into Yugoslav computers through microwave transmissions.” [Time, April 26, 1999]

A Bag of Tricks

Later, expert teams were mobilized and tasked to the Yugoslav theater. Then, after NATO approved expanded operations, the U.S. military began pulling surprises out of its technological bag of tricks.

The first widely noted application of classified techno-warfare occurred on May 2, 1999. A “soft” bomb detonated over a Yugoslav electrical plant, spraying carbon filaments over the power lines and causing short-circuits that blacked out most of the country for seven hours.

“We have certain weapons we don’t talk about,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Wald. In line with info-war strategies, he noted that an electrical outage “confuses command and control, it disconnects and confuses computers.”

Government sources say that President Clinton now is poised to go further in using some of the Big Brother capabilities that are featured in Hollywood thrillers, such as “Enemy of the State,” though the techniques are rarely acknowledged officially.

The sources said Clinton has authorized secret intelligence operations against Yugoslavia, but those sources were unwilling to discuss any details about the high-tech strategies. Countries, such as Yugoslavia, with relatively primitive computers running their economy are considered especially vulnerable to info-war attacks, according to experts in these strategies.

Moral Issues

Some info-war advocates also argue that computer sabotage is a far more humane way to wage war than the current practice of dropping bombs and firing off missiles. These advocates note the obvious: that electronic attacks do not carry the immediate physical risk to civilians that explosives do.

But there are ethical concerns, too, about attacking a nation’s computer infrastructure and severely destabilizing its economy. Plus, there are fears that a computer virus or a similar tactic could backfire and infect computers far beyond Yugoslavia.

In a rare media report on the sensitive topic, The National Journal recently observed that “relatively modest questions [have been] raised here at home by the United States’ undoubted ability to wage offensive information warfare by hacking into foreign computers to pilfer secrets, move funds, corrupt data, and destroy software.

“When such activities are planned for a narrow, routine, peacetime spy operation, they are dubbed ‘special intelligence operations’ and must be approved by top officials, sometimes even by the president. But what if a more massive U.S. hacker attack was designed to wreck the computers that control an enemy’s banking system, electrical-power grid, or telephone network?” [National Journal, March 27, 1999]

While skirting clear confirmation of a U.S. offensive info-war capability, American officials occasionally do discuss info-war developments in the third person, as if the United States were not a participant in this new arms race.

On Feb. 2, 1999, for instance, CIA Director George Tenet stated that “several countries have or are developing the capability to attack an adversary’s computer systems.” He added that “developing a computer attack capability can be quite inexpensive and easily conceal-able: it requires little infrastructure, and the technology required is dual-use.”

Left unsaid in Tenet’s statement was that the U.S. government, with the world’s most powerful computers and the most sophisticated software designs, has led the way both in offensive info-war strategies and defensive countermeasures.

Other times, when info-war gets mentioned in the American news media, it is in the context of a real or potential threat from an “enemy” seeking to damage the United States and its allies.

On March 31, 1999, one week into NATO’s air war, NATO’s spokesman Jamie Shea prompted “info-war” alert headlines in U.S. newspapers when he complained that “some hackers in Belgrade” had caused “line saturation” at the official NATO Web site.

But NATO computer experts acknowledged that this low-grade harassment was more “spamming” than hacking and that no sensitive computer systems had been entered. [Washington Post, April 1, 1999]

Revolutionary Potential

The U.S. military demonstrated the revolutionary potential of information warfare during the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91. With air attacks and technical means, U.S. forces destroyed Saddam Hussein’s command-and-control structure even before concentrating on his tanks and troops.

Scattered journalistic reports at the time noted U.S. success in planting viruses in Iraqi military computer systems. Since the Gulf War, however, Washington apparently has applied info-war techniques sparingly.

Sources say covert info-war attacks have been limited to such national security concerns as disrupting the financial operations of some South American drug cartels.

In one case study of a CIA high-tech “dirty trick” from the mid-1990s, U.S. intelligence reportedly learned of a drug lord’s plans to bribe a South American government official. After the money was transferred, the spy agency accessed the bank records and remotely deleted the bribe.

Besides stopping the bribe, the money’s disappearance spread confusion within the cartel. The recriminations that followed — with the corrupt official and the drug lord complaining about the lost money — led eventually to the execution of a hapless bookkeeper, according to the story.

By the mid-1990s, the potential for info-war had become such a hot topic within the U.S. military that the Pentagon hired an outside consultant to summarize some of the important lessons in a chatty 13-page booklet called “Information Warfare for Dummies.”

The booklet was designed to clue in some of the Pentagon’s more unplugged officers “given our department’s unrelenting focus on the topic.” The booklet starts out by explaining the first objective for any lap-topped GI fighting a future Information War [IW]: “Destroy (or weaken) the bad guy’s system and protect your own.”

The manual separates the more traditional military methods from the new high-tech techniques. “Assault technologies for the Information Warrior can be divided into ‘hard kill,’ involving physical destruction, and ‘soft kill,’ where the goal is electronic or psychological disruption,” the primer states. “Their commonality lies in their emphatic focus on information — destroying it, corrupting it, and denying it.”

The primer notes that more traditional information warfare will target an enemy’s battlefield command-and-control structure to “decapitate” the fighters from their senior officers, thereby “causing panic and paralysis.” But the primer adds that “network penetrations” — or hacking — “represents a new and very high-tech form of warfighting.”

Indirectly, the booklet acknowledges secret U.S. capabilities in these areas. In an easy-to-read style, the manual describes these info-war tactics as “fairly ground-breaking stuff for our nation’s mud-sloggers. … Theft and the intentional manipulation of data are the product of devilish minds. … Pretty shady, those Army folks.”

Disruptive Strategies

The primer also gives some hints about the disruptive strategies in the U.S. arsenal. “Network penetrations” include “insertion of malicious code (viruses, worms, etc.), theft of information, manipulation of information, denial of service,” the primer says.

But the booklet also recognizes the taboo nature of the topic. “Due to the moral, ethical and legal questions raised by hacking, the military likes to keep a low profile on this issue,” the primer explains. “Specific DOD references to viral insertions are scarce” in public literature, the booklet observes.

The ethical questions include: “Is penetrating another nation’s computer system somehow ‘dirty’ and ‘wrong’ — something the U.S. military has no business doing? Are electronic attacks against a nation’s financial transaction computers too destabilizing and perhaps immoral?”

Despite the Pentagon’s nervousness about these tactics, the booklet notes that they do have advantages over other military operations. “The intrusions can be carried out remotely, transcending the boundaries of time and space,” the manual states. “They also offer the prospect of ‘plausible deniability’ or repudiation.”

The booklet indicates that U.S. intelligence has found it relatively easy to cover its tracks. “Due to the difficulty of tracing a network penetration to its source, it’s difficult for the adversary to prove that you are the one responsible for corrupting their system,” the primer says. “In fact, viral infections can be so subtle and insidious that the adversary may not even know that their systems have been attacked.”

The primer outlines other Buck-Rogers-type info-war weapons, such as electromagnetic pulse [EMP] bombs. “The high-energy pulse emitted by an EMP bomb can temporarily or permanently disable all electronics systems, including computers, for a radius of several kilometers,” the manual says.

“Put simply, EMP weaponry fries electronic circuitry. EMP weapons can be launched by airborne platforms or detonated inside information centers (banks, corporate headquarters, telephone exchanges, military command posts). The explosion needed to trigger the electromagnetic pulse apparently is minor compared to a conventional blast, theoretically resulting in fewer human casualties.”

The manual stresses, too, info-war’s potential for high-quality “psyops and deception” to confuse and demoralize a targeted population. “Future applications of psyops may include realistic computer simulations and ‘morphed’ imagery broadcasts of bogus news events,” the booklet explains.

Though deception has always been part of warfare, the booklet argues that “it is the sheer qualitative differences offered by today’s information technologies that makes IW potentially revolutionary.”

Some military theoreticians call the info-war capabilities “a Military-Techonogical Revolution,” a phrase reserved for major breakthroughs such as the discovery of gun powder or the development of strategic bombing.

But the manual observes some dangers. The info-war attacks, especially viral infections, could backfire and harm U.S. interests.

Recruiting Hackers

The manual wonders, too, whether the Army will have success in recruiting “hacker-types and ‘nerds’.” Then, there is “the $64 question: will the hackers ‘go bad’ and given the fighter-jock mentality of the U.S. military, will the ‘nerd track’ be a career killer?”

More recent internal papers indicate that in the past year, the Pentagon has begun concentrating on how to maintain its dominance in the info-war field.

Rand’s National Defense Research Institute drafted a report entitled “Strategic Information Warfare Rising” and suggested to the Pentagon several scenarios for managing and sharing “strategic information warfare” [SIW] capabilities with allies.

One scenario holds that the United States “overwhelmingly dominates the SIW warfare” with “the world’s best offensive SIW tools and techniques, capable of penetrating any other country’s SIW defenses.” The United States could then pick which allies would come under its defensive umbrella.

Another scenario foresees the United States leading five to 10 countries with advanced SIW capabilities, but with other nations lacking the technical skills to break into “the exclusivity of the club.”

Other scenarios stress defensive rather than offensive capacities. But an underlying theme of the report is the unquestioned dominance of the United States in these fields. [Intelligence Newsletter, Jan. 28, 1999]

Other insights into U.S. info-war capabilities can be found in papers of military intelligence specialists from other nations. In articles in China’s Liberation Army Daily, Cols. Wang Baocun and Li Fei expressed alarm about the West’s impressive lead in sophisticated information warfare.

In an apparent reference to the U.S. military and its allies, the authors wrote, “some countries are now considering the organization and establishment of computer virus warfare platoons.” [Liberation Army Daily, June 13 & 20, 1995]

It is not clear whether such “platoons” formally exist in the U.S. Army — though obviously the specialty does. It also is too early to tell whether such information warriors will play a significant role in the war for Kosovo.

But, depending how aggressive President Clinton chooses to be, the Balkan war could turn into an important testing ground for these new offensive tactics — the conflict could become what the president might call a warfare bridge to the 21st Century.

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).

 




US Hawks Advance a War Agenda in Syria

Exclusive: The U.S. government, having illegally sent American troops into Syria, is now threatening to attack the Syrian military if it endangers those troops, an Orwellian twist that marks a dangerous escalation, explains Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

War, like politics, is filled with surprises. While the focus in Syria has been on a U.S.-backed rebel offensive in Aleppo that has succeeded in turning tables on Bashar al-Assad’s government, a new and unexpected flashpoint has developed 200-plus miles to the east where U.S. jets are engaged in a dangerous showdown with Syrian warplanes near the city of Hasakah.

The trouble began on Wednesday when, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Kurdish forces advanced on the pro-government National Defense Forces that controls portions of the city. When the NDF responded with arrests, the fighting took off.

This is not the first time that Kurdish and government forces have clashed in Hasakah, which is divided among Kurds, Arabs, Aramaic-speaking Assyrians, and a small number of Armenians. But what makes the latest confrontation so serious is that the U.S. quickly upped ante by scrambling two F-22 fighters to intercept a pair of Syrian Su-24s bombing Kurdish positions.

NBC News reported that the jets came within a mile of one another on Thursday and were in visual contact before the Syrian aircraft left the scene. U.S. jets chased away two more Su-24s the next day as well.

Noting that the Kurdish units are part of a U.S.-backed coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces and that U.S. Special Operations forces were in the area at the time, Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis, a Navy captain, said that the U.S. was resolved to protect the safety of both.

“We view instances that place coalition personnel at risk with the utmost seriousness” he declared, “and we do have the inherent right of self-defense when U.S. forces are at risk.”

“As we’ve said in the past,” he added, “the Syrian regime would be well-advised not to interfere with coalition forces or our partners.”

Such statements are little less than Orwellian since the United States has essentially invaded Syria by inserting military forces without Syrian government permission in violation of international law. What Davis was saying, therefore, is that the U.S. will prevent Syria from protecting its own forces on its own soil, which was rather like the Wehrmacht condemning Poland for daring to defend its own territory in September 1939.

A Pro-War Establishment

The upshot is the latest example of how Washington’s vast pro-war foreign-policy establishment continues to get its way despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to limit military involvement in the Middle East. Establishment of a no-fly zone in northern Syria has long been a neocon priority. Indeed, Hillary Clinton, a neocon favorite at this point, reiterated her call for a no-fly zone as recently as April during a televised debate with Bernie Sanders.

Obama has opposed a no-fly zone because it would draw the U.S. into a direct conflict with the Assad government and likely its Russian and Iranian backers as well. But now with the U.S. promising to continue patrolling the skies over Hasakah, he finds himself backing into a no-fly zone regardless.

The confrontation begs the question of who is really calling the shots with regard to Syria, the President or well-placed hawks whose specialty is maneuvering the White House into doing their bidding.

It also raises the question of the role of the Clinton presidential campaign. The White House is obviously coordinating closely with Clinton’s campaign headquarters, and with prospects of a landslide victory that will give Democrats control of both houses of Congress plus the presidency, the stakes couldn’t be higher. But since a quick and easy victory over Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies would vindicate the neocon position, the issue is whether pro-Hillary forces are pulling strings to make events in Syria go her way as well.

This is not conspiracy mongering but simply the way policy in Washington is made. Hawks and doves are constantly jockeying for advantage with Obama standing haplessly in the middle. Moreover, the hawks seem to be winning since U.S. foreign policy has turned distinctly more robust since the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in late July.

Around the time that retired four-star Marine General John Allen was warning America’s enemies, “You will fear us,” and Gold Star parent Khizr Khan was telling Trump to go home and read the Constitution, Obama gave Ashton Carter, his interventionist Secretary of Defense the go-ahead to bomb ISIS positions in Libya.

On July 31 – three days after Clinton gave her acceptance speech – Syrian rebels led by Al Nusra, the local Al Qaeda affiliate, launched its powerful offensive in Aleppo.

Whether or not Washington OK’d the offensive – citing reports of massive arms shipments to the rebels, the well-informed Moon of Alabama website argues persuasively that it did – there is no doubt that it encouraged and helped coordinate a powerful propaganda campaign that has followed in its wake.

Omran Daqneesh, the dazed and dirt-encrusted five-year-old boy who has become “a symbol of Aleppo’s suffering,” according to The New York Times, is one example of how the campaign has borne fruit. Lina Sergie Attar’s powerful Aug. 13 Times opinion piece, “Watching My Beloved Aleppo Rip Itself Apart,” was another, while the rabidly anti-Assad Guardian has hardly let a day go by without running a heart-rending tale about this or that horror that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin have visited on Syria’s civilian population. (Examples here, here, and here.)

U.S. Media on the Bandwagon

Context, balance, and plain accuracy have fallen by the wayside as various media outlets hop on the pro-war bandwagon. Why, for example, focus on one the fate of one child in rebel-held eastern Aleppo when the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the mainstream media’s favor go-to source for Syrian casualty figures, reports that virtually the same number of civilians have died from random rebel shelling of government-held western Aleppo as from Syrian or Russian aerial bombardment in the east, i.e. 163 versus 162?

While trumpeting the fate of Omran Daqneesh, who was shaken but apparently not seriously hurt, why has The New York Times failed to report the plight of 12-year-old Abdullah Issa, whose throat was slit last month by members of a U.S.-backed rebel force known as Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki because he had allegedly fought on the government side?

“We are even worse than ISIS,” the fighters bragged before finishing the boy off. Yet even though the entire gruesome image was caught on video, the “paper of record” has refused to report a single word.

The same goes for Lina Sergie Attar’s stirring Times op-ed. Although it invokes the infamous 2013 Queiq River massacre to describe the suffering that Assad has heaped upon the people of Aleppo, it fails to mention that the slaughter was most likely the work of Al Nusra. Why spoil a good story with the facts?

Much the same can be said for Hasakah where The Wall Street Journal blandly reported that “Syrian government bombers had been striking Kurdish positions near the city of Hasakah, where the U.S. has been backing Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State,” also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh.

Since the U.S. is battling the Islamic State, the quintessence of evil, its role must be above reproach while the Syrian government is plainly up to no good.

Nonetheless, the questions continue to multiply. If U.S. military personnel are helping the Kurds battle ISIS, why are the Kurds fighting with pro-government forces instead? Since the Syrian Observatory says they started the fight, did the Americans do anything to restrain them or call them off? Or did they encourage them to attack in order to provoke a wider conflict? What, moreover, happens if the U.S. ends up downing a Syrian plane? Clinton will cheer. But what happens if Russia decides to join in the fray?

Making Clinton Happy

A happy romp in the skies over Hasakah would serve the Clinton campaign well. It would show that toughness pays, as Clinton has repeatedly argued. But the trouble with war is that it is rarely goes according to plan.

Indeed, the Syrian conflict grows more complicated by the day. Syria and Russia are battling ISIS, Al Nusra, and other Islamist groups while the U.S. is battling ISIS as well while indirectly aiding Al Nusra by channeling arms to allied Islamist groups with which it shares weaponry and coordinates battlefield tactics. The U.S. has so far steered clear of conflict with Assad, although Hasakah may signal a change of heart.

Turkey’s megalomaniacal President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, opposes ISIS but supports Al Nusra outright – “it should not be considered as a terrorist organization” since it opposes Islamic State, he declared in a recent interview – but reserves his real enmity for the America’s Kurdish allies.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are battling Assad in Hasakah but at the same time fighting alongside Assad’s forces against U.S.-backed rebels in Aleppo. China has declared its support for Assad and has even sent military advisers to help his regime in its fight with the rebels, thereby introducing yet another explosive element into the mix.

This is more intervention than one small country can handle, and tripwires are therefore multiplying. Obama’s aggressive actions in Hasakah may help Clinton against Trump but they could all too easily blow up in the administration’s face. War, indeed, packs just as many surprises as politics.

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




Trump Hypes a New ‘War on Terror’

Donald Trump has urged a new “war on terror” that brings back torture and seeks revenge on terrorists’ families, but another problem with the Republican nominee’s approach is his exaggeration of the danger, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Much of Donald Trump’s recent speech on terrorism left one to wonder how what he was proposing would differ from current practices he supposedly was criticizing.

Working on counterterrorism with other states including Russia, for example, sounds like what the Obama administration is doing now, including discussing with the Russians ways of combating terrorist groups in Syria. And it is hard to see how Trump’s “extreme vetting” would differ from the existing and already extensive review process for visa applications.

Other parts of what Trump was proposing were just too vague for us to get a good idea of how they would be supposed to work. This is true of his proposal to suspend immigration from unnamed regions that either — depending on which sentence in the speech one looks at — are “some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism” or “where adequate screening cannot take place.”

If any such list of regions were broad enough to stop a terrorist group trying to infiltrate operators into the United States, it would be so broad as to end immigration into the United States altogether.

If there was any one theme that tended to unify what was in the speech about terrorism and that distinguishes it clearly from current policy, it was in explicitly invoking comparisons with the hot and cold wars of the Twentieth Century. In likening current counterterrorism to the Cold War, Trump even added a dose of McCarthyism with his proposal for a “Commission on Radical Islam” that would “expose the networks in our society that support radicalization.”

Setting aside this McCarthyite twist, the overall theme is one that — as with several other aspects of Trump’s candidacy — unfortunately manifests destructive attitudes and habits that go well beyond Trump and his campaign, and that were having debilitating effects on policy debates before his campaign even began.

We have seen this with references to “World War IV” (the idea being that the Cold War was number III) and “Islamofascism”. The same pattern crops up in numerous other ways. The recent memoir of a former deputy director of the CIA (Michael Morell), for example, is grandiosely titled The Great War of Our Time.

Several things are fundamentally wrong with framing counterterrorism this way. One is that this badly misrepresents the nature of the threat from international terrorism in suggesting a foe with a degree of unity and organization comparable to the enemy powers in the Twentieth Century world wars or to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

If terrorism is what we are worried about, then we need to remember that terrorism is not a foe or an organization or an ideology but instead a tactic used by many different perpetrators with many different ideologies. Even focusing just on the radical Islamist variety of terrorism, there is neither this kind of organizational unity (as indicated by several of the very attacks Trump mentions in his speech, in which the perpetrators had no organizational ties to any larger group) or even ideological unity (as reflected in the Sunni-vs.-Shia conflicts that dominate much of the current strife in the Middle East).

The Great War Myth

The framing of current counterterrorism as some kind of great war also grossly overstates the overall seriousness of the threat. Nothing the United States is combating today is comparable to the challenges that were posed by — quoting from the comparison made in Trump’s speech — “Fascism, Nazism, and Communism.”

The Axis powers in World War II not only threatened to, but did, overrun major portions of the globe. The USSR of the Cold War was a superpower. All of this is way out of the league of anything that comes under the label of radical Islam today. Overstating of the threat does a major part of the terrorists’ job for them by making people more scared than they ought to be.

To the extent that there are organizational manifestations of radical Islam in the form of groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, the “great war” kind of framing does another part of the terrorists’ job for them. A grand, religiously defined struggle between a U.S.-led West and a Muslim adversary such as one of those groups is exactly the way such groups want to depict world politics. It elevates their stature beyond what it otherwise would be and enables them to appeal more effectively to a religiously defined constituency that otherwise would have little sympathy for their methods.

The heavy emphasis on a religious definition of the adversary in this postulated “war” makes many members of that constituency more receptive to such appeals and more inclined to see the United States as their enemy. Particularly stupid is the insistence on “naming” Islamic terrorism. Not only President Obama but also President George W. Bush understood that such “naming” has nothing to do with understanding threats and instead only alienates more Muslims.

The Cold War mindset that is involved here wasn’t even an entirely appropriate way of looking at the Cold War itself. It saw global communism as more monolithic than it really was, a misconception that led to such misdirections as the Vietnam War. But at least there really was a USSR, which was a nuclear power and had a global policy of expanding its influence. Applying the mindset to current policy challenges is even less appropriate than it was during the Cold War. And it’s not only Donald Trump we have to blame for corruption of public thinking about such challenges.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is author most recently of Why America Misunderstands the World. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)