The Mueller Indictments: The Day the Music Died

Exclusive: The FBI’s Russia indictments last week have whipped Democrats and the mainstream media into a frenzy but the “scandal” may be collapsing under its own weight, writes Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

Fads and scandals often follow a set trajectory.  They grow big, bigger, and then, finally, too big, at which point they topple over and collapse under the weight of their own internal contradictions.  This was the fate of the “Me too” campaign, which started out as an exposé of serial abuser Harvey Weinstein but then went too far when Babe.net published a story about one woman’s bad date with comedian Aziz Ansari.  Suddenly, it became clear that different types of behavior were being lumped together in a dangerous way, and a once-explosive movement began to fizzle.

So, too, with Russiagate.  After dominating the news for more than a year, the scandal may have at last reached a tipping point with last week’s indictment of thirteen Russian individuals and three Russian corporations on charges of illegal interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.  But the indictment landed with a decided thud for three reasons:

—  It failed to connect the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the alleged St. Petersburg troll factory accused of political meddling, with Vladimir Putin, the all-purpose evil-doer who the corporate media say is out to destroy American democracy.

—  It similarly failed to establish a connection with the Trump campaign and indeed went out of its way to describe contacts with the Russians as “unwitting.”

—  It described the meddling itself as even more inept and amateurish than many had suspected.

After nine months of labor, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller thus brought forth a mouse.  Even if all the charges are true – something we’ll probably never know since it’s unlikely that any of the accused will be brought to trial – the indictment tells us virtually nothing that’s new.

Yes, IRA staffers purchased $100,000 worth of Facebook ads, 56 percent of which ran after Election Day.  Yes, they persuaded someone in Florida to dress up as Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform and stand inside a cage mounted on a flatbed truck.  And, yes, they also got another “real U.S. person,” as the indictment terms it, to stand in front of the White House with a sign saying, “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss,” a tribute, apparently, to IRA founder Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the convicted robber turned caterer whose birthday was three days away.  Instead of a super-sophisticated spying operation, the indictment depicts a bumbling freelance operation that is still giving Putin heartburn months after the fact.

Not that this has stopped the media from whipping itself into a frenzy.  “Russia is at war with our democracy,” screamed a headline in the Washington Post.  “Trump is ignoring the worst attack on America since 9/11,” blared another.  “…Russia is engaged in a virtual war against the United States through 21st-century tools of disinformation and propaganda,” declared the New York Times, while Daily Beast columnist Jonathan Alter tweeted that the IRA’s activities amounted to nothing less than a “tech Pearl Harbor.”

All of which merely demonstrates, in proper backhanded fashion, how grievously Mueller has fallen short.  Proof that the scandal had at last overstayed its welcome came five days later when the Guardian, a website that had previously flogged Russiagate even more vigorously than the Post, the Times, or CNN, published a news analysis by Cas Mudde, an associate professor at the University of Georgia, admitting that it was all a farce – and a particularly self-defeating one at that.

Mudde’s article made short work of hollow pieties about a neutral and objective investigation. Rather than an effort to get at the truth, Russiagate was a thinly-veiled effort at regime change.  “[I]n the end,” he wrote, “the only question everyone really seems to care about is whether Donald Trump was involved – and can therefore be impeached for treason.

With last week’s indictment, the article went on, “Democratic party leaders once again reassured their followers that this was the next logical step in the inevitable downfall of Trump.”  The more Democrats play the Russiagate card, in other words, the nearer they will come to their goal of riding the Orange-Haired One out of town on a rail.

This makes the Dems seem crass, unscrupulous, and none too democratic.  But then Mudde gave the knife a twist.  The real trouble with the strategy, he said, is that it isn’t working:

“While there is no doubt that the Trump camp was, and still is, filled with amoral and fraudulent people, and was very happy to take the Russians help during the elections, even encouraging it on the campaign, I do not think Mueller will be able to find conclusive evidence that Donald Trump himself colluded with Putin’s Russia to win the elections.  And that is the only thing that will lead to his impeachment as the Republican party is not risking political suicide for anything less.”

Other Objectives of “Russiagate”

No collusion means no impeachment and hence no anti-Trump “color revolution” of the sort that was so effective in Georgia or the Ukraine.  Moreover, while 53 percent of Americans believe that investigating Russiagate should be a top or at least an important priority according to a recent poll, figures for a half-dozen other issues ranging from Medicare and Social Security reform to tax policy, healthcare, infrastructure, and immigration are actually a good deal higher – 67 percent, 72 percent, or even more.

Summed up Mudde: “…the Russia-Trump collusion story might be the talk of the town in Washington, but this is not the case in much of the rest of the country.”  Out in flyover country, rather, Americans can’t figure out why the political elite is more concerned with a nonexistent scandal than with things that really count, i.e. de-industrialization, infrastructure decay, the opioid epidemic, and school shootings.  As society disintegrates, the only thing Democrats have accomplished with all their blathering about Russkis under the bed is to demonstrate just how cut off from the real world they are.

But Russiagate is not just about regime change, but other things as well.  One is repression.  Where once Democrats would have laughed off Russian trolls and the like, they’re now obsessed with making a mountain out of a molehill in order to enforce mainstream opinion and marginalize ideas and opinions suspected of being un-American and hence pro-Russian.  If the RT (Russia Today) news network is now suspect – the Times described it not long ago as  “the slickly produced heart of a broad, often covert disinformation campaign designed to sow doubt about democratic institutions and destabilize the West” – then why not the BBC or Agence France-Presse?  How long until foreign books are banned or foreign musicians?

“I’m actually surprised I haven’t been indicted,” tweets Bloomberg columnist Leonid Bershidsky.  “I’m Russian, I was in the U.S. in 2016 and I published columns critical of both Clinton and Trump w/o registering as a foreign agent.”  When the Times complains that Facebook “still sees itself as the bank that got robbed, rather than the architect who designed a bank with no safes, and no alarms or locks on the doors, and then acted surprised when burglars struck,” then it’s clear that the goal is to force Facebook to rein in its activities or stand by and watch as others do so instead.

Add to this the classic moral panic promoted by #MeToo – to believe charges of sexual harassment and assault without first demanding evidence “is to disbelieve, and deny due process to, the accused,” notes Judith Levine in the Boston Review – and it’s clear that a powerful wave of cultural conservatism is crashing down on the United States, much of it originating in a classic neoliberal-Hillaryite milieu.  Formerly the liberal alternative, the Democratic Party is now passing the Republicans on the right.

But Russiagate is about something else as well: war.  As National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster warns that the “time is now” to act against Iran, the New York Times slams Trump for not imposing sanctions on Moscow, and a spooky “Nuclear Posture Review” suggests that the US might someday respond to a cyber attack with atomic weapons, it’s plain that Washington is itching for a showdown that will somehow undo the mistakes of the previous administration.  The more Trump drags his feet, the more Democrats conclude that a war drive is the best way to bring him to his knees.

Thus, low-grade political interference is elevated into a casus belli while Vladimir Putin is portrayed as a supernatural villain straight out of Harry Potter.  But where does it stop?  Libya has been set back decades, Syria, the subject of yet another US regime-change effort, has been all but destroyed, while Yemen – which America helps Saudi Arabia bomb virtually around the clock – is now a disaster area with some 9,000 people killed, 50,000 injured, a million-plus cholera cases, and more than half of all hospitals and clinics destroyed.

The more Democrats pound the war drums, the more death and destruction will ensue.  The process is well underway in Syria, the victim of Israeli bombings and a US-Turkish invasion, and it will undoubtedly spread as Dems turn up the heat. If the pathetic pseudo-scandal known as Russiagate really is collapsing under its own weight, then it’s not a moment too soon.

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




In Case You Missed…

Some of our special stories in January highlighted misrepresented historic events, analyzed shortcomings of the Democratic Party, and remembered Robert Parry’s legacy.

Giving War Too Many Chances” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 3, 2018

Missing the Trump Team’s Misconduct” by J.P. Sottile., Jan. 9, 2018

Pesticide Use Threatens Health in California” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 10, 2018

Trump Lashes Pakistan over Afghan War” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 11, 2018

The FBI Hand Behind Russia-gate” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 11, 2018

Haiti and America’s Historic Debt” by Robert Parry, Jan. 12, 2018

Why Senator Cardin Is a Fitting Opponent for Chelsea Manning” by Norman Solomon, Jan. 16, 2018

Trump Ends Protections for El Salvador” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 18, 2018

An Update to Our Readers on Editor Robert Parry” by Nat Parry, Jan. 19, 2018

Regime Change and Globalization Fuel Europe’s Refugee and Migrant Crisis” by Andrew Spannaus, Jan. 20, 2018

‘The Post’ and the Pentagon Papers” by James DiEugenio, Jan. 22, 2018

Foxes in Charge of Intelligence Hen House” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 22, 2018

A National Defense Strategy of Sowing Global Chaos” by Nicolas J.S. Davies, Jan. 23, 2018

George W. Bush: Dupe or Deceiver?” by Robert Parry, Jan. 23, 2018

Tom Perez, the Democratic Party’s Grim Metaphor” by  Norman Solomon, Jan. 25, 2018

The Struggle Against Honduras’ Stolen Election” by Dennis J. Bernstein, Jan. 26, 2018

Unpacking the Shadowy Outfit Behind 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story” by George Eliason, Jan. 28, 2018

Robert Parry’s Legacy and the Future of Consortiumnews” by Nat Parry, Jan. 28, 2018

Assault on the Embassy: The Tet Offensive Fifty Years Later” by Don North, Jan. 30, 2018

Will Congress Face Down the Deep State?” by Ray McGovern, Jan. 30, 2018

Treasury’s ‘Kremlin Report’ Seen as Targeting Russian Economy” by Gilbert Doctorow, Jan. 31, 2018

Mass Surveillance and the Memory Hole” by Ted Snider, Jan. 31, 2018

How Trump and the GOP Exploit Israel” by Jonathan Marshall, Jan. 31, 2018

To produce and publish these stories – and many more – costs money. And except for some book sales, we depend on the generous support of our readers.

So, please consider a tax-deductible donation either by credit card online or by mailing a check. (For readers wanting to use PayPal, you can address contributions to our PayPal Giving Fund account, which is named “The Consortium for Independent Journalism”).




How the Washington Post Missed the Biggest Watergate Story of All

The Watergate scandal may have been rooted in Richard Nixon’s alleged efforts to sabotage the 1968 Paris peace talks, but this story has never fully been told – partly because the Washington Post remained silent on it, explains Garrick Alder.

By Garrick Alder

Stephen Spielberg’s film The Post is still running in theaters, lauding the Washington Post, Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee as fearless exposers of official secrets about government wrongdoing. But previously overlooked evidence now reveals for the first time how the Washington Post missed the most serious leak in newspaper history, and as a result history itself took a serious wrong turn. Consequently, this is a story that was also missed by Spielberg, and missed by Alan Pakula in his 1976 film about The Washington Post’s role in Watergate, All The President’s Men.

Spielberg’s 2018 film tells the story of the “Pentagon Papers” affair of 1971, in which a huge number of Defense Department documents were leaked by RAND Corporation employee Daniel Ellsberg, whose conscience would not allow him to stay silent about the carnage in Vietnam. The Washington Post took on Richard Nixon and won – a victory for press freedom that has been enshrined in the mythos of the mass media. But in fact, the Washington Post had inadvertently let Nixon off the hook.

The newspaper had been told by an unbeatable source – one might almost say, an “unimpeachable” source – that the president had committed treason against America in time of war and had then conspired to destroy the damning evidence of his own crime. It is no exaggeration to say that if the Washington Post had printed what it had been told, simmering domestic discontent over the Vietnam War would have become an incendiary mix with national disgust over Nixon’s conduct in office.

At the height of the Watergate scandal, in summer 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tried to tell the world about Nixon’s sabotage of the 1968 Paris peace talks, talks which – had they succeeded – could have spared the nation six more years of futile slaughter. Nixon would have gone down with the blame for Vietnam squarely on his shoulders – ultimately, perhaps, providing America with much-needed catharsis. Kissinger leaked his knowledge of Nixon’s treason to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Woodward fumbled the pass and no story ever appeared.

The first trace of desperation is recorded on the White House tape of June 17, 1971, just four days after the first newspaper story about the Pentagon Papers (in the New York Times). Nixon is heard telling White House chief of staff HR Haldeman: “God damn it, get in and get those files. Blow the safe and get them.” Nixon’s aides were used to occasionally turning a deaf ear to their boss’s more outrageous orders.

Indeed a fortnight later (June 30, 1971) Nixon had to hammer home his demands once more: “I want Brookings … just break in, break in, and take it out. Do you understand? You’re to break into the place, rifle the files, and bring them in.” Twenty-four hours later, Nixon issued the same demand even more emphatically: “Did they get the Brookings Institute raided last night? No? Get it done. I want it done. I want the Brookings Institute safe cleaned out.” What was in the safe at the Brookings Institute?

In a July 24, 1974 memorandum, Woodward set out what he could recall of an interview with Nixon aide John Ehrlichman, in which the Brookings break-in was discussed:

At president’s direction E[hrlichman] said he talked to Brookings and about secrecy there; did it several times; right after Pentagon Papers. Also about Brookings a meeting in San Clemente about 12 July 71 ‘undoubtedly discussed it’ (w/ Dean) the discussions were an effort to get the so-called “bombing halt” papers back.

The “bombing halt papers” were what Nixon told his cronies he wanted to retrieve – evidence that his predecessor Lyndon Johnson had stopped bombing in Vietnam in a last-minute attempt to swing the 1968 election to the Democratic Party. But this was just another Nixon lie to conceal his true motivations, and Ehrlichman essentially admitted as much to Bob Woodward during the same interview, when describing his attempts to access the Brookings Institute’s Vietnam records via official bureaucratic channels: “Buzhardt decided what we not get to see [sic] So it was admittedly a hit and miss process. … in terms of ? what he got to see; not the whole story; but the Brookings matter was not necessarily what he was looking for. Wouldn’t elaborate on that.” (emphasis added)

Filed in the Woodward-Bernstein collection at the University of Texas, among the July 24, 1974 Ehrlichman interview notes, is a second typed memorandum from Woodward, addressed to his colleague Carl Bernstein. Its significance has been overlooked for nearly 45 years. The memo is undated,  but, from part of its contents, its creation can be pinned down to a period of approximately 35 days at the height of the Watergate scandal, immediately prior to July 24, 1974 when the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to hand over the White House tapes.

Woodward’s memo begins: “First and most important, my source said that the President personally ordered the break-in at Brookings.” This was correct, although the tapes of Nixon’s orders were at this stage still in the sole possession of the White House.

Woodward’s source knew what he was talking about. After some discussion about how Charles Colson had reacted to the President’s order to burgle the Brookings Institute, when other aides had just ignored what they regarded as another of Nixon’s impetuous outbursts, Woodward got to the point of his source’s information:

“I quizzed him for a while, and while I don’t remember exactly what he answered in each instance, the impression left was that these papers related to secret U.S. negotiations with Hanoi, Russia and China. The ‘Other stuff,’ my source said, really provided the impetus for the administration’s panic reaction to the Pentagon Papers, not the Pentagon Papers themselves.” (emphases added)

As can be seen, the exact information passed on by Woodward’s source was already a fading memory by the time this memo was typed up. Even so, the import is clear. Woodward’s source knew exactly why Nixon wanted a break-in at the Brookings Institute, and which documents Nixon wanted to seize.

Woodward’s notes state that his source told him “several times that the picture the public had of [Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel] Ellsberg was still distorted … all he would hint at was that Ellsberg’s activities were very questionable.”

He also mentioned to Woodward the supposed existence of “material that the [Nixon] administration had gathered about Ellsberg’s behavior while in Vietnam.” This corresponds closely with claims that had been made in the White House soon after Daniel Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers had been published.

In his 2000 tell-all biography, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, Anthony Summers wrote: “Kissinger, who knew Ellsberg, fed the president’s spleen with a torrent of allegations. Ellsberg may have been ‘the brightest student I ever had,’ he told Nixon, but he was ‘a little unbalanced.’ He supposedly ‘had weird sexual habits, used drugs,’ and, in Vietnam, had ‘enjoyed helicopter flights in which he would take potshots at the Vietnamese below.’ Ellsberg had married a millionaire’s daughter and – Kissinger threw in for good measure – had sex with her in front of their children.”

Other information known to Woodward’s source included the existence of “a document – he gave the number as NSSCM 113 on declassification. We did not get further than that.” It is somewhat surprising that Woodward was able to recall the number of this document so exactly, when his recollection of the nature of the papers Nixon wanted from Brookings was so hazy. The document Woodward’s source was directing him toward was NSSM 113 (just one letter different; NSSM standing for “National Security Study Memorandum”). Dated January 15, 1971, NSSM 113 was titled “Procedures for Declassification and Release of Official Documents” and was written by Henry Kissinger.

Finally, Woodward mentions that “My source also confirmed that Kissinger was for a unit to plug security leaks” (i.e., that Kissinger had supported the formation of Nixon’s “plumbers” team).

Assessing the reliability of Woodward’s information concerning the Brookings break-in plan, the following factors are known. Woodward’s source repeated rumours about Ellsberg that Kissinger was circulating in the White House; like Kissinger, Woodward’s source claimed to have knowledge about Ellsberg’s private life; Woodward’s source knew the document number and nature of a (then undisclosed) memorandum concerning national security that had been written by Kissinger; and the source was able to give solid information about Kissinger’s private attitude toward Nixon’s creation of the plumbers.

There could only be a very small number of White House figures privy to this precise set of information in mid-1974, and perhaps only one. Woodward’s source was Nixon’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Still alive in 2018, Kissinger has maintained public silence about his knowledge of Nixon’s Vietnam treason for half a century.

It is incomprehensible that neither Woodward nor Bernstein appeared to understand the information they were being told by Kissinger: the allegations against Nixon had swirled ever since he won the Presidency. On January 12, 1969, the Washington Post itself had carried a profile of Nixon’s go-between, Anna Chennault, which stated: “She reportedly encouraged Saigon to ‘delay’ in joining the Paris peace talks in hopes of getting a better deal if the Republicans won the White House.” Chennault was reported as making no comment on the allegations, which were entirely accurate.

Woodward and Bernstein had been handed the skeleton key that would have unlocked the entire Watergate affair. The reporters had been told – by no less a figure than Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger – about the real motive behind Nixon’s plan to burgle the Brookings Institute. It was to destroy the evidence that Nixon had conspired to prolong a war with an official enemy of the United States in order to win the presidency in 1968; after which he deliberately prolonged – even escalated – the Vietnam War. And – for reasons that might never be known – Woodward and Bernstein stayed silent.

Bob Woodward and Henry Kissinger were contacted for comment on the specific disclosures made in this article. Neither of them replied.

This is an abridgement of an article first published by Lobster Magazine (www.lobster-magazine.co.uk). Republished with permission. All rights reserved by the author.




Ignorance and Prejudice in Laura Ingraham’s Tiff With LeBron James

Laura Ingraham’s complaints over LeBron James’ political commentary – focusing on the grammar of his statements rather than their substance – reflects a general elitism in the pundit class, Andrew Spannaus observes.

By Andrew Spannaus

Is LeBron James ignorant? Laura Ingraham seems to think so. In response to a video of the NBA superstar offering harsh criticism of President Donald Trump on Feb. 16, the Fox News host had this to say on her show:

“LeBron James is talking politics again, and this time it’s R-rated. Here’s his unintelligible, not to mention ungrammatical take on President Trump…”

Next came a clip with James saying: “The number one job in America, the appointed person, is someone who doesn’t understand the people. And really don’t give a f*** about the people.” James then continued his criticism of Trump in a discussion that aired on The Uninterrupted (a media platform founded by James).

Ingraham clearly didn’t like James’ comments. First, she said: “Must they run their mouths like that? Unfortunately a lot of kids, and some adults, take these ignorant comments seriously.”

She then went on to say that getting paid millions to play basketball doesn’t mean you can talk politics, and closed with a zinger inviting James and fellow NBA star Kevin Durant, also present in the video, to stick to what they do best – basketball – rather than attempt to provide political commentary: “As someone once said: shut up and dribble.”

What’s striking about Ingraham’s reaction is that she went well beyond simply drawing a political contrast. She suggested that James’ poor grammar disqualifies him; he may be good at basketball, but given that he can barely speak in an intelligible manner – according to Ingraham – he shouldn’t be addressing a subject outside of his own area of competence.

Whether you like what LeBron says or not, there’s no doubt his sentences contain grammatical errors. Ingraham uses this to attempt to discredit James entirely. Ignore for a moment the fact that the President himself isn’t exactly a paragon of grammar, to focus on the bigger issue raised by the Fox News host: can we take someone seriously who doesn’t have a certain minimum level of academic skills as we understand them in our society today? Should LeBron James, or any other professional athlete or celebrity who isn’t “well-spoken” recognize his cultural inferiority and just shut his trap?

Education is essential to our society, and correct grammar contributes to effective communication. Yet automatically considering someone ignorant because his grammar is imperfect is more than a little bit arrogant; it’s essentially class prejudice.

Laura Ingraham is claiming that only “educated” people should talk politics. She insists that race has nothing to do with it, which is buttressed by the fact that she has used the same criticism towards others in the past. Yet this doesn’t hide the reality that her reaction is stunningly anti-democratic, especially coming from someone who has championed the “regular” people against the establishment.

Ingraham is a defender of populism, what she defines as returning power to the people. The clear contrast is to elitism, i.e. a society where experts and insiders make all the decisions. One of the most important takeaways from the 2016 election is that the judgments of “serious people” in the institutions, academia and the media, don’t hold much sway with the population if they are perceived as detached from people’s everyday problems.

How often have we heard that Donald Trump was elected due to uneducated sectors of the population, who are swayed more by prejudice than information? This self-serving narrative ignores the key failure of both Hillary Clinton and establishment Republicans, that of not recognizing the widespread opposition to the economic policies that have weakened the middle class and left power in the hands of the financial elites. In this case it took the vote of the “dumb” people to bring the problem to the fore, since the mainstream media and political institutions refused to effectively address it.

Ingraham’s denigration of LeBron James is even more ironic if you consider who he is. Apart from generally being recognized as the best basketball player in the world, what he has done beyond the court, in terms of the relationship between players and franchises, is unequaled.

James can arguably be considered “the most powerful man in the history of professional basketball.” He has completely changed the dynamic between the players and the teams that “own” them, by using free agency as a tool of power.

In 2010 James left the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he hadn’t succeeded in winning a championship, to team up with two other all-star players, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and create a super-team in Miami. Rather than allowing owners and general managers to decide the fate of players, he exploited the rules to give athletes more power over where they go.

After winning two championships with the Heat, he shocked everyone again when in 2014 he decided to return to Cleveland. Despite the fact that fans had burned his jersey and the team owner had called him a coward, he knew the franchise would jump at the chance to get him back. In 2016 he ended up bringing a championship to a city that hadn’t seen one for over 50 years.

James continues to implement his strategy of ‘power to the players’ in the way he signs his contracts as well. Each year he inks a one-year deal with a player option for a second year. That way the team has to pay him the maximum amount available under league rules, but with no guarantee he’ll be staying put for more than one season. Thus management is forced to do everything it can to put good players around their star to guarantee a winner, while other teams jockey for position just to have a chance to sign the biggest names.

James’ stature is reinforced by his business acumen as well, as his non-basketball ventures have proved quite lucrative – an outcome not guaranteed just by having lots of money.

Are these the actions of a stupid man?

LeBron James makes grammatical mistakes, but when Laura Ingraham suggests he doesn’t have the capacity to go beyond bouncing a ball, she is obviously mistaken.

LeBron certainly isn’t a political pundit, yet he has clearly decided that he has an obligation and a desire to speak out on cultural and political issues.

He expressed this just a few days ago in responding to Ingraham, telling the press: “We will definitely not shut up and dribble. I mean too much to society, I mean too much to the youth, I mean too much to so many kids who feel like they don’t have a way out and they need someone to help lead them out of the situation they’re in.”

And it’s worth noting that these aren’t just words. James expends a great deal of energy on helping disadvantaged kids, for example through a program that will make college free for children from his home town of Akron who maintain good grades in school.

People can decide for themselves whether to listen to LeBron James’ views or not; but every American has the right to express his or her opinion. This is essential in a democracy, as there’s no guarantee that the experts will get it right, or look out for the interests of the entire population.

Andrew Spannaus is a journalist and strategic analyst based in Milan, Italy. He is the founder of Transatlantico.info, that provides news and analysis to Italian institutions and businesses. He has published the books “Perché vince Trump” (Why Trump is Winning – June 2016) and “La rivolta degli elettori” (The Revolt of the Voters – July 2017).




A Crisis in Intelligence: Unthinkable Consequences of Outsourcing U.S. Intel (Part 3)

Privatized intelligence operations have become a favored practice of the U.S. and other Western governments, but the tactics of so-called spies for hire are often unethical and possibly illegal, explains George Eliason. (Read part one here. Part two here.)

By George Eliason

Decades ago, philosopher Marshall McLuhan predicted a future world war fought using information. While World War I and World War II were waged using armies and mobilized economies, “World War III [will be] a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation,” McLuhan said, a prophecy included in his 1970 book of reflections, Culture Is Our Business.

We are now seeing this information war play out in real time. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment on Friday of 13 Russian nationals who allegedly attempted to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election” can be seen as the culmination of the intelligence community’s efforts to ferret out trolls engaging in “Information Operations” against the United States. But in some cases, this may be the product of the West’s own Information Operations – often utilizing private “intelligence” companies, or “spies for hire.”

In parts one and two of this series, we looked at the private companies serving the deep state. We have seen how the top levels of the deep state interact with smaller companies and individual actors.

Now let’s look at the unimaginable.

This is the world the predators that the government helped create and sustains through contract work thrive in.

Unlawful Combatants in the Hybrid War

Unmasking the shadowy PropOrNot outfit was a small part of showing how immoral people are using gray areas in the law to harass law-abiding citizens and strip them of their rights, income, and right to a free press through McCarthyite smear tactics. Because they haven’t been challenged, they have no problem crossing the line into criminality.

What alternative media outlets that have been attacked by criminal groups like PropOrNot don’t know is there are laws and policies in place that protect civilians, journalists, and publications.

What is needed to stop the criminal actions of the Russian troll hunters is to demand current laws are enforced and that Congress closes up the remaining gray areas of law and policy spies for hire are exploiting to destroy lives.

As you read this, understand there are no caveats. What’s needed is for people who are willing to stand up for themselves and each other to do so. Legal action is what’s needed. If Congress won’t provide more protections or the laws that are in place won’t be upheld, lawsuits are the first line of defense against this onslaught. Violence will only insulate the criminals from responsibility for their crimes.

When spies for hire attack civilians or suppress their free speech rights by mounting Information Operations against civilians, they are crossing the line into illegality.

In part two, inherently governmental actions were defined as governing, policing, policy, military activity, and intelligence work. This was further defined as activities requiring government personnel to be legitimate. When any of these activities are done extra-legally, the protections given civilians and government authorities under the law are stripped too.

According to the Federal Register, “[i]t is the responsibility of the combatant commander to ensure that the private security contract mission statements do not authorize the performance of any inherently Governmental military functions, such as preemptive attacks, or any other types of attacks. Otherwise, civilians who accompany the U.S. Armed Forces lose their law of war protections from direct attack if and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities.”

In terms of international law, guidelines in this area are set out by the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, which was prepared by an international group of experts on behalf of NATO. This document spells out:

  • Cyber and online operations responsibility
  • Cyber and online authority
  • Cyber and online restrictions
  • Legalities, legal limits, and defines terrorist operations by laying the groundwork for legal action

According to Rule 26.9 of the Tallinn Manual, “Virtual Online communities and people expressing opinions do not qualify as combatants.”

It is important to note that cyber and online operations are both parts of this in the definitions of legal and illegal target choices. The manual defines lawful and unlawful combatants by what they are doing or attempting to do as well as their official authority to do so.

Tallinn Manual rules that are applicable to the spies for hire attacking civilians were designed to set rules for official military actions. The reason for their applicability in this situation is simple. When unlawful combatants attack civilians, civilians have the right to defend themselves and their properties. Civilians also have a right to restitution for damages.

Rule 30 of the Tallinn Manual defines a cyber attack as a non-kinetic attack reasonably expected to cause damage or death to persons resulting from the attack. If the attacker mistakenly calls civilians lawful targets, the attack on civilians still occurred. It is a crime. This is an important consideration considering how interconnected the internet has made people.

The only part that requires further definition is the word damage. People’s ability to make income can be damaged. Reputations can be irrevocably damaged.

Tallinn Manual Rule 33 states: “If there is doubt to the status of a person, that person is to be considered a civilian and not targetable.”

This is very important going forward. It shifts the burden of responsibility to the attacker for any damages done to people. If the attacker cannot meet the legal definition of status and show governmental authorization, then it is unlawful.

According to Rule 35.5, “Gathering information for the military makes you a combatant. Journalists are prohibited targets. Once an attack is made, the retribution is legal and does not necessarily need to be in kind. A cyber attack can be met with conventional weapons.”

Rule 35.5 means that all the corporations, companies, and “one man intel operations” working outside the direct oversight of Blue Badge ODNI agency supervisors against civilians are acting as terrorists.

Rule 41 describes cyber weapons broadly as the means to carry out cyber war by use, or intended use of cyber “munitions” designed to cause damage, destruction, or death to its targets. The breadth of the rule is required because of the wide array of possible attacks through cyber means.

Spies for hire can use the software legally on U.S. citizens that may have to be labeled munitions when they export it to client states that also use it on U.S. citizens labeled “Russian trolls.” Pentagon contractors are developing lethal cyber weapons. Do you think only the military will have access to it under the current laws?

Thinking the Unthinkable

First, let’s establish that it’s common for spies for hire to assume they can take on inherently government authority and powers. Andrew Weisburd started working with the Ukrainian government publicly in January 2015, just as they announced their IO army and Myrotvorets (PeaceKeeper) which bore his signature Russian troll hunter methodology early on. Myrotvorets will become important later in the article.

According to Weisburd‘s February 26, 2015 definition of what he is doing: “I‘m just trying to do my part to help make bad things happen to bad people who are in the service of the Kremlin. And for the record, I’m not an army of one. I’m more like a one-man intelligence service.”

Weisburd’s statement and his actions over the last two decades put him squarely in the realm of unlawful combatant. But does he know what he is doing is illegal?

How about Bellingcat’s principal, Eliot Higgins, or Joel Harding?

Joel Harding developed Ukraine’s official Information Policy in 2015. He developed a cyber containment strategy for Russian media that has to be the most effective ever mounted. Crowd the Russian media out of the world’s mainstream and keep them talking amongst themselves while social media, internet, and TV news barriers were being erected to control the news and information Ukrainians see and think about.

Because of this Russians have been kept from influencing Ukrainian media, news, or people through social media this entire time.

What do people like Joel Harding, Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, or Eliot Higgins think about your rights? Your worth?

As Harding once wrote in regards to a question about the world’s billion-plus Muslims who do not condone violence, “The vast majority of peaceful people are irrelevant because they did not influence or stop those who committed those acts of atrocity.”

It is this type of absolutist, black-and-white thinking, which dismisses the “the vast majority of peaceful people” as “irrelevant,” that we are dealing with in the spies-for-hire community.

Spies for hire assume authority that falls under inherently government responsibilities. They consider most of the population to be insignificant, which is why they have no problems turning Americans into “Russian agents” and line items on their invoice.

Once you’ve made it on to their radar, you might find yourself receiving threatening messages such as this one that I received from Joel Harding:

“It’s been fun following you!” he wrote. “I hope you’re having fun in Donbas. So sorry NovoRossiya is being dissolved. http://toinformistoinfluence.com/2014/10/12/novorossiya-fail/
I’ve been looking forward to you publishing some more articles. But I’m curious, two months and nothing? Did you change names?”

He continued: “I know your bandwidth there is limited, this is probably costing you many Russian rubles. Oh yeah, I hear they don’t take Ukrainian Hryvnia. The good news is that Luhansk and Donetsk will both remain with Ukraine, Russia can’t afford it.”

“By the time you return to the West, I should be in Kyiv, waiting for you,” he concluded. “You have a date with the SBU.”

The SBU is the Security Service of Ukraine, the main law-enforcement agency in the area of counterintelligence activity, which has been implicated in torture.

Harding, like every other person working for the Ukrainian government that is attacking U.S. and Western journalists, websites, and readers who leave comments on social media are not the volunteers or “concerned citizens” they claim to be.

This is important to establish because according to the Tallinn Manual, being volunteers excludes you from responsibility for some aspects of an illegal combatant activity.

If Harding never received a penny from the Ukrainian government directly (he was hired), he was still paid through the company he advertises on his website. He used to have a contact form that bragged about how they would destroy your corporate competition using these means and that they were state to state capable.

Harding helped NATO STRATCOM Centres of Excellence (COE) Latvia off the ground at the same time he was helping set up the Ukrainian Information Ministry. He wrote Ukraine’s Information Policy in 2015-2016. Harding’s IOTA Global, which offers services in “PsyOps, Media Operations, Key Leader Engagement and CIMIC as well as Operational Planning, Target Audience Analysis and Measurement of Effect” according to its LinkedIn profile, announced they were working with both STRATCOM COE and the Ukrainian government. If you look at the comments, the COE leadership appear to be gushing with emotion.

“We are delighted to have been working with the NATO Centre of Excellence for Strategic Communication, Latvia, (2015) in delivering capacity building training, in Kiev, to representatives from the Ukrainian government. Ukraine is faced with a number of challenging issues, not least the ongoing territorial dispute with Russia,” according to one comment. “IOTA Global and its partner company, SCL Ltd, were contracted by the Canadian Government earlier this year to assist the NATO COE in its vital work. This included the delivery of a 9-week intensive Target Audience Analysis course, using the Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDi) advanced TAA methodology (TAA), to train 20 students from 11 NATO nations.”

This is important because, for the last three years, Harding has been working to destroy news and websites that disturb his narrative building and information operations. GlobalResearch.ca has been an ongoing focus for him and the other unlawful combatants named here the entire time.

Joel Harding harnessed practitioners, companies, countries, and NATO in his fight to take down GlobalResearch.ca

“GlobalResearch.ca,” Harding wrote on his blog. “Remember that name, put it on your ‘bad’ list and spread the word. They are despicable, vile, the opposite of journalists.”

According to the Globe and Mail, NATO Center of Excellence for Strategic Communication, Latvia is going after GlobalResearch.ca and their reasoning parrots Joel Harding’s.

“At its headquarters in Riga, StratCom researchers consider globalresearch.ca to be a link in a network that reposts such stories,” according to the Globe and Mail article. Donara Barojan, who does digital forensic research for the NATO COE claimed that Global Research uses techniques to boost stories’ Google ranking “and create the illusion of multisource verification.” She admitted though that they do not have proof that Global Research is connected to any government.

This focus and constant barrage have taken its toll on www.globalresearch.ca because the same people who are attacking them are trusted fact check sources for Google, which affects the site’s ranking.

This is a clear-cut case of unlawful combatants steering the ship at NATO to settle imagined grievances. Spies for hire committing illegal actions are also teaching NATO, DOD, ODNI agencies, and foreign counterparts how to go about their business. They are giving them the criteria to find enemies and engage them.

On its own, or with other websites, Global Research has the ability to counter this with a lawsuit. The apparent attack by NATO COE, Latvia is at the instigation of Joel Harding. A lawsuit could include him, Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, Hamilton 68 Dashboard, Bellingcat, the Canadian government, as well as others involved including NATO and every country with a part in the NATO Center of Excellence.

Spies for Hire Attack Teenagers

Are terrorists allowed to put American kids on their kill lists? If they are, watch out! Are your kids are next?

Joel Harding wrote the information policy for Ukraine. Myrotvorets is what it led to right away. This is the first product of the information policy, Ukraine’s infamous kill site. Ukraine maintains the right to kill anyone on listed on it, anywhere in the world, any time they choose to. And the Ukrainians use this to find and murder people who talk, post article links in social media, or write articles they don’t like.

Andrew Weisburd started his kremlintrolls.com website at the same time Myrotvorets came online. He taught the Ukrainians how to catch entire networks so they could be put on the list.

Eliot Higgins and Aric Toler of Bellingcat taught the Ukrainians to find the people in the networks that are on the kill list at Myrotvorets.

Ronnie Miller was 17 years old when he was put on this list. He’s never been to Ukraine before. Three out of four of these unlawful combatants are Americans working for a foreign country that is attacking Americans in United States!

Miller was interviewed by a couple websites about this. Curiously, it never reached mainstream news. One question out of Ronnie Miller’s interview with Donbass News Agency particularly stands out:

DONi: Do you feel safe in your own nation expressing your views about Donbass?

Ronnie Miller: This nation of mine preaches for freedom of the press, information, and the ability to formulate an opinion. What I support isn’t a threat to National Security. What Islamic extremists preach, is. I don’t feel safe, nor threatened. It is most definite that I am being watched or on a list of some sort. However, I am in no threat of being taken away or bribed to stay quiet.

It sounds like Ronnie Miller didn’t skip civics class and is expecting his government to honor Constitutional protections.

Instead of protecting its citizens, the U.S. government is sending weapons and instructors to the government that is putting American citizens on kill lists.

Ron Miller should consider a lawsuit against the illegal spies for hire who put him – whether directly or indirectly – on a kill list with a foreign government.

Here’s a fun fact. If you are out driving a car without insurance in a state that requires it and you get hit- it is still your fault. You weren’t supposed to be there. The spies for hire are not supposed to be able to call American kids “terrorists.” Since the UWC and UCCA both fund Myrotvorets through donations and supplied the nationalist ideology that wants to kill 17-year-old Americans, they could be sued too.

Previously, we discussed the method of operation that is used, which is staying within the developed narrative of “Russia will attack! Russia is attacking! Russia has attacked!”

What happens when spies for hire fall out of the narrative or need to get rid of each other? There is only so much of the pie to go around.

The images above and below are proof that the methodology behind the Hamilton 68 Dashboard – which purports to track Kremlin propaganda online – is severely flawed. The decidedly anti-Kremlin Bellingcat was flagged by Hamilton 68 as pro-Kremlin, indicating amusing levels of information fratricide among Bellingcat principals and Andrew Weisburd, Clint Watts, J.M. Berger, and Michael Chertoff.

Weisburd knows he needs to clear it up, try to get the egg off his face now that he’s been exposed publicly, and get the story back on point.

Eliot Higgins’ claim to fame was pronouncing Syria’s president Assad guilty of gassing his own people. The U.S. government that wants to oust Assad can’t use his story, however, because it has no facts to back it up. The U.S. government’s official position is that there is no proof.

The screenshot above is mindblowing to me. Andrew Weisburd once again admitting that his Russians aren’t Russian at all. He’s trying to cover up for his Hamilton 68 Dashboard only set on catching tweets from a few accounts that aren’t even trolls.

Both Weisburd and Higgins (British national) agree that award-winning journalist Vannessa Beeley, who reports from Syria for 21st Century Wire must be stopped before:

  • She destroys their narrative. They cannot prove Assad used gas on the Syrian people. But if she is allowed to continue, the proofs from Syria that she is providing might go mainstream soon. Beeley has been at the forefront of the story showing the ties between the White Hats and ISIS.
  • She might influence policy people around American president Donald Trump and change Syria policy.

What is clear is Andrew Weisburd will try to bring this up to congressional representatives who listen to him and further destroy civil rights and the First Amendment. Eliot Higgins cannot survive being wrong about the on the ground realities in regions he is supposed to be an expert on for too much longer.

The spies for hire are purposing an Information Operation to rope in U.S. policy at the executive level and rescue Donald Trump and the State Department from any facts that might get in the way of their narrative. Left to their own, they may succeed.

Vannessa Beeley’s reputation as a journalist and ability to gain access to do her work and disseminate the reports she does depends on her credibility. People who are trying to usurp the authority of government are declaring her to be an Information Operations agent. This is beyond slander.

The U.S. federal government could not get away with doing this – literally working to get a journalist censored.

However, spies for hire like Clint Watts, Andrew Weisburd, Jonathon Morgan, JM Berger, the Hamilton 68 Dashboard, the German Marshall Fund of the USA, The Alliance for Securing Democracy, Michael Chertoff, Eliot Higgins, Aric Toler, Bellingcat, The DFR Lab, Atlantic Council, UWC, and the UCCA can be enlisted to brand Vanessa Beeley as a traitor to the United Kingdom and a foreign agent.

Yet, these are all in violation of Tallinn Rule 33 and 35A which prohibit targeting people you can’t identify clearly and attacking journalists. Targeting Beeley is a criminal act on their part.

Once again the spies for hire have usurped government powers illegally.

Unconventional Warfare

If you look at Weisburd’s @webradius Russian Influence Spy Ring, it is populated by tens of thousands of people living in the United States who voted against Hillary Clinton.

This is what spies for hire do for partisan politics, money, or the company they work for. For some, nothing more than their own warped sense of satisfaction watching another human beings life twist in the wind. Many are ultra-nationalist and if you don’t agree with them, you will be made an enemy of the state.  Malignant parts of the deep state getting out of hand.

I’ve given people that play in the private sector, government, and policy a lot of exposure because they attack innocent people, journalists, and news and opinion websites.

From 2015, “Peppy Escobar and Steven Lendman are both “active measures” agents for writing about John Kerry, the State Department, RT bashing, and of course Ukraine. Blog Talk Radio host Dr. Rick Staggenborg both a veteran an d peace activist is labeled a Russian propagandist.

Professor Michel Chossudovsky and every journalist and activist who publishes at GlobalResearch.ca is on the the list including Paul Craig Roberts and Robert Parry, who are considered Russian active measures agents in the Ukraine war and every “agendized news event” they write on. Tyler Durden, connected writers and journalists are Russian propagandists. Deena Stryker, an editor at OpEdNews is noted because of her PressTV interview for saying the US is engaged in a propaganda war.

All conspiracies aside it wouldn’t feel right without adding Alex Jones and Michael Rivero. Harding developed what seems to be a fixation about Jones and company a few years back. It’s not that he hates Jones’ news sites any more than the others, but it is personal. Joel Harding’s favorite nephew rates Jones take on international events as more credible than what Harding has to say.

After writing my 5th or 6th article about what Weisburd, Watts, and Harding were doing, Harding and his growing work group were considering what to do about me. The friend he mentions is Andrew Weisburd who I had just exposed planning to attack a major opinion site.

“I still engage with Pro-Russian Trolls on a daily basis,” Harding wrote on his blog in November 2015.  “I’ve had reporters write bad stories about me on Russian Proxy ‘News’ sites. I currently have a vehemently rabid anti-Western, especially anti-American, troll trying to smear a group of Russian troll chasers I work with. He also published several stories blaming us for all his woes.”

He continued: “The difference is I have been professionally trained on how to mess up somebody’s life, permanently and forever.  Yeah, we were trained in Special Forces more on weapons, explosives, communications, intelligence, operations, tactics, and medicine, but being trained in Unconventional Warfare does give one an advantage when one desires to get nasty.”

Imagine being so brazen you could publish that threat on a public website. Andreas Umland, who is supposed to be a leading academic, didn’t think it was wrong to republish that threat on my life on his own blog.

The intelligence community cannot police itself anymore. It is out of control. If you don’t see a clear and present danger it’s because you are part of the problem that needs to be cleaned up.

My goal as a journalist is and has always been to ensure that the facts get out from Donbass. I think I’ve done that and will continue to do so. I am a firm believer that only the facts and realities of a situation can help. If you know the facts about what is going on in Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR) and Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) you won’t support the deviant and murderous Ukrainian Nationalist politic that Andreas Umland does. Unless of course you think it’s okay to murder 17 year old Americans, destroy freedom, justice, and the free press. And perhaps like Umland, you think it’s okay to murder me.

My goal is to do my part and help America reestablish her commitment to justice for all the people, law, and civility.  I hope I’m doing that. But don’t get up and react for me. If you don’t do it for you, there is no future left to worry about.

George Eliason is an American journalist who lives and works in the Donbass region of Ukraine.




NYT’s ‘Really Weird’ Russiagate Story

Exclusive: The Russiagate narrative has taken a turn toward the surreal with a report in the New York Times alleging that U.S. spies paid a “shadowy Russian” $100,000 for dirt on the president, explains Daniel Lazare.

By Daniel Lazare

A Russian national with ties to cybercrime and Russian intelligence snookered U.S. spooks out of $100,000 by promising them fresh dirt on Donald Trump.

That’s the takeaway from a strange front-page article that ran in last weekend’s New York Times, “U.S. Spies, Seeking to Retrieve Cyberweapons, Paid Russian Peddling Trump Secrets.” That’s not all the article said, but the rest was so convoluted and implausible that it can be safely discounted.

Even Matthew Rosenberg, the Times reporter who wrote the story, described it as “a really weird one” in an interview with Slate. More than merely weird, however, the piece offers valuable insight into the parallel universe that is Russiagate, one in which logic is absent, neo-McCarthyism is rampant, and evidence means whatever the corporate press wants it to mean.

The article says that the U.S. spies were seeking cyberweapons stolen from the National Security Agency by a group calling itself the Shadow Brokers in 2016, but that a “shadowy Russian” kept pushing instead evidence buttressing the “golden showers” episode in the Christopher Steele dossier. The spooks were not interested because they didn’t want to soil their hands with “the stuff of tabloid gossip pages” and because they feared that the Russian was trying to drive a wedge between the intelligence agencies and the White House.  As the article puts it:

“The United States intelligence officials … were wary of being entangled in a Russian operation to create discord inside the American government.  They were also fearful of political fallout in Washington if they were seen to be buying scurrilous information on the president.”

But Rosenberg’s account raises a number of questions. One is why the spooks were “desperately” trying to retrieve stolen NSA hacking tools in the first place when, as cyber-security experts have warned, stolen malware is essentially irretrievable for the simple reason that it can be copied endlessly in an instant.  Once a secret is out, the damage is done – there’s no getting it back.

Another concerns why U.S. agents would continue taking “multiple deliveries” of anti-Trump data beginning last October that “they made clear that they did not want.”  Was the Russian unusually insistent? Or were the Americans less adamant than Rosenberg would have us believe?

Indeed, the article says that “at least four Russians with espionage and underworld connections have appeared in Central and Eastern Europe, offering to sell kompromat [i.e. compromising material] to American political operatives, private investigators and spies that would corroborate the [Steele] dossier.”  So it seems that demand for kompromat is as strong as it was in October 2016 when former FBI Director James Comey used the same unsubstantiated gossip to obtain a secret warrant to eavesdrop on an ex-Trump campaign aide named Carter Page.

Since the story about buying back malware doesn’t make sense, could it be that kompromat is what the Americans were seeking all along? This is not the sort of thing that Trump would like to hear. The article says that Russia is out to spread material that will “cast doubt on the federal and congressional investigations into the Russian meddling” even though kompromat buttressing the Steele dossier would do the opposite. It says that the negotiations “ended this year with American spies chasing the Russian out of Western Europe, warning him not to return if he valued his freedom,” and that the anti-Trump material remains in the hands of an American go-between “who has secured it in Europe.”

Which raises more questions still.  Can U.S. spies really lock up anyone they wish?  And where, precisely, did the American stash the kompromat – and to what end? Rosenberg indicates that he also interviewed the purported Russian agent. But nowhere do we get his side of the story concerning what the Americans were really after.

The results are incoherent even by Times standards. One reason may be that Rosenberg dashed the story off at breakneck speed after long-time intelligence writer and former Times-man James Risen published a similar piece a few hours earlier in The Intercept.  But another is that the Russiagate narrative that the Times is pushing is itself incoherent and that Rosenberg is guilty of nothing more than toeing the company line.

He let the cat out of the bag in the Slate interview, which ran shortly after the story appeared on the Times website:

“Spy games happen all the time, but you need a confluence of circumstances [for this]: You need an election with Russian interference. You then need a president to win and deny interference ever happened and say there is no collusion. You need the Russians to say, ‘Oh, wow, let’s take advantage of this. This really worked out. Let’s make it worse and start selling this stuff off.’”

Rosenberg continued: “What the Russians were committed to – what we really know – is that they were committed to messing with American democracy. … If their goal here is messing with American democracy, then getting some of this stuff out on Donald Trump, if it’s real, that’s worse, weakens him further, intensifies the political mess we are in. So there are reasons to do that. Plus, if you can get this into American consciousness through American spy agencies or law enforcement, you will have set off the White House versus its own spies in a way that if you are a Russian spy, that’s great. Disorder and dissension in the ranks of your enemies.”

This is a reporter’s mind on drugs, specifically the drug of boundless anti-Russian paranoia. But no matter how often the Times assures its readers that the Russians are out to get us, that they’re messing with our democracy, that they sow “disorder and dissension” wherever they can because that’s what Russians do – actual evidence, the stuff that sober minds require before making a judgment, remains remarkably thin.

Take Russian manipulation of social media, the subject of last November’s bizarre Moscow-style “show trial” in which attorneys for Facebook, Twitter, and Google were hauled before a congressional panel to confess their sins in allowing the Kremlin to use their platforms to subvert the state.  But the subversive Facebook ads that the alleged Kremlin-linked St. Petersburg “troll factory” known as the Internet Research Agency purchased added up to just $46,000 worth by Election Day, a drop in the bucket compared to the $81 million spent by the Trump and Clinton campaigns.

Politically, moreover, the ads were all over the map, some leaning right, some leaning left, and in one case, a page featuring photos of cute puppies, leaning in no apparent direction at all. Last September, The Atlantic tried to figure out what the Internet Research Agency was up to.  But after some 1,200 words of huffing and puffing, the best the magazine could come up with was that the ad campaign “was too small to seriously influence the election, but too big to be an afterthought.”

In other words, no one knows.  In a rare moment of journalistic sanity, Washington Post reporter Philip Bump observed that the ad buys were “often modest, heavily dissociated from the campaign itself and minute in the context of election social media efforts.”

As for Twitter, Bump notes that the 2,700-plus accounts believed to be Russian-linked generated just 202,000 tweets between January 2011 and August 2017, a no-less-negligible sum next to the one billion election-related tweets sent out during the fourteen months prior to Election Day.

Even if all this shows the secret hand of the Kremlin at work, the effort pales in comparison to that of Israel (AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is among the most powerful lobbies in Washington); the Arab gulf states (which finance virtually every major think tank in DC); Ukraine (which has proved surprisingly effective in swinging official opinion), and so forth.

It barely merits a four-graph story on page A16.  Then there is the alleged Kremlin hack of the Democratic National Committee, the ur-crime that triggered the anti-Russian storm in the first place.

The January 2017 formal assessment by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper contained nothing by way of evidence that a break-in had occurred or that Russian intelligence was responsible. (WikiLeaks, the recipient of the purloined emails, continues to insist that it was an inside leak.)  Even the Times conceded that the report was “unlikely to convince skeptics.”

Since the FBI never inspected the DNC’s computers first-hand, the only evidence comes from an Irvine, California, cyber-security firm known as CrowdStrike whose chief technical officer, Dmitri Alperovitch, a well-known Putin-phobe, is a fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank that is also vehemently anti-Russian as well as a close Hillary Clinton ally.

Thus, Putin-basher Clinton hired Putin-basher Alperovitch to investigate an alleged electronic heist, and to absolutely no one’s surprise, his company concluded that guilty party was … Vladimir Putin. Amazing! Since then, a small army of internet critics has chipped away at CrowdStrike for praising the hackers as among the best in the business yet declaring in the same breath that they gave themselves away by uploading a document in the name of “Felix Edmundovich,” i.e. Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police.

As noted cyber-security expert Jeffrey Carr observed with regard to Russia’s two main intelligence agencies: “Raise your hand if you think that a GRU or FSB officer would add Iron Felix’s name to the metadata of a stolen document before he released it to the world while pretending to be a Romanian hacker.  Someone clearly had a wicked sense of humor.”

None of this proves that Russian intelligence didn’t hack the DNC, merely that a lot more evidence is needed before accepting the word of professional CIA disinformation experts. But the Times lives in an evidence-free world in which Russians are guilty regardless of what they do. Whether they’re pro-Trump or anti, out to discredit the Mueller investigation or bolster it, the only thing that matters is that they’re intent on sowing discord – and that U.S. intelligence agencies are blameless upholders of the rule of law.

The reduction ad absurdum occurred a few days later when CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and other heavyweights testified before Congress that Russian interference in the 2018 midterm elections is already underway.

“Throughout the entire [intelligence] community,” declared Coats, “we have not seen any evidence of any significant change from last year” – which, loosely translated, means that evidence that Russia is on the warpath is as sparse today as it was previously.  Since “President Trump continues to refuse to even acknowledge the malevolent Russian role,” a Times editorial concluded, the possibility that “he is giving Russia a green light to tamper with the 2018 elections … can no longer be dismissed out of hand.”

All that was needed was for Editorial Page Editor James Bennet to hold up a list of 205 known Communists toiling away in the State Department. Trump is a reactionary, a con man, a bully, and much else besides. But with remarkable accuracy, liberals are obsessively zeroing in on the one thing he’s not: a Russian agent.

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




How Establishment Propaganda Gaslights Us Into Submission

“Gaslighting” can be an effective tactic to instill confusion and anxiety in people, causing them to doubt their own logical abilities, but it can be countered by remaining confident in our judgments, argues Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone

The dynamics of the establishment Syria narrative are hilarious if you take a step back and think about them. I mean, the Western empire is now openly admitting to having funded actual, literal terrorist groups in that country, and yet they’re still cranking out propaganda pieces about what is happening there and sincerely expecting us to believe them. It’s adorable, really; like a little kid covered in chocolate telling his mom he doesn’t know what happened to all the cake frosting.

Or least it would be adorable if it weren’t directly facilitating the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people.

I recently had a pleasant and professional exchange with the Atlantic Council’s neoconservative propagandist Eliot Higgins, in which he referred to independent investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley as “bonkers” and myself as “crazy,” and I called him a despicable bloodsucking ghoul. I am not especially fond of Mr. Higgins.

You see this theme repeated again and again and again in Higgins’ work; the U.S.-centralized power establishment which facilitated terrorist factions in Syria is the infallible heroic Good Guy on the scene, and anyone who doesn’t agree is a mentally deranged lunatic.

This is also the model for the greater imperialist propaganda construct, not just with regard to Syria but with Russia, North Korea, Iran, and any other insolent government which refuses to bow to American supremacist agendas.

It works like this: first, the oligarch-owned establishment media, which itself is chock full of Council on Foreign Relations members, uses other warmongering think tanks and its own massive funding to force deep state psy-ops like Russiagate and Iraqi WMDs into becoming the mainstream narrative. Second, they use the mainstream, widely accepted status of this manufactured narrative to paint anyone who questions it as a mentally defective tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.

It’s a perfect scheme. The mass media has given a few elites the ability to effectively turn a false story that they themselves invented into an established fact so broadly accepted that anyone who doubts it can be painted in the exact same light as someone who doubts the roundness of the Earth. The illusion of unanimous agreement is so complete that blatant establishment psy-ops are placed on the same level as settled scientific fact, even though it’s made of little else but highly paid pundits making authoritative assertions in confident tones of voice day after day.

Yes, it is a perfect scheme. But there also happens to be a name for it.

In a lucid essay titled “Gaslighting: State Mind Control and Abusive Narcissism,” Vanessa Beeley writes the following:

“The psychological term ‘Gaslighting’ comes from a 1944 Hollywood classic movie called ‘Gaslight.’ Gaslighting describes the abuse employed by a narcissist to instill in their victim’s mind, an extreme anxiety and confusion to the extent where they no longer have faith in their own powers of logic, reason and judgement. These gaslighting techniques were adopted by central intelligence agencies in the U.S. and Europe as part of their psychological warfare methods, used primarily during torture or interrogation.”

Anyone who has been in an abusive relationship is likely to be familiar with this textbook abuse tactic to some extent, because it is such a useful tool for crippling the better judgment and alarm bells we all have which are meant to help us avoid situations that are harmful to us.

If someone with confidence in their own clear judgment feels certain that their significant other is cheating, for example, there is likely to be a confrontation and some clothes out on the front lawn. If your significant other can convince you that you are paranoid or crazy, however, you will doubt what you are seeing and accept the stories you’re being told by someone who appears to be a lot more grounded in reality than you are.

Any degree of abuse can be justified in this way. The documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” tells an anecdote of jazz legend Nina Simone once having been tied up, raped, beaten and held at gunpoint by her husband, who left and then returned telling her she’d imagined the entire thing. And it worked.

We see the same thing today with the establishment Syria narrative and the Russiagate psy-op, which are both riddled with plot holes and depend on the irrational position that the same establishment which manufactured support for the Iraq invasion using lies is now beneficent and trustworthy. But if you point out the many reasons to be skeptical of these narratives, you belong in the crazy box.

The good news is that there is an easy remedy for this tactic. We need only to be thoroughly confident in our own judgment.

History has testified unequivocally that extreme skepticism is the only rational response to have toward establishment narratives, especially when those narratives are beating the drums of war. The U.S. war machine has an extensive history of using lies, false flags and propaganda to manufacture support for its bloodthirsty agendas, and the adage that truth is the first casualty of war holds up flawlessly in cases of both hot war and cold war. It is simply self-evident that there is no good reason to take these people at their word, and every reason not to.

Your own educated best guess about what is going on in the world is infinitely superior to placing unquestioning faith in an establishment which has a vested interest in lying to you and a demonstrable history of doing so. Trust yourself and have full confidence that your conclusions, however imperfect, are always superior to those of known liars and manipulators.

Never, ever let anyone bully and cajole you for being skeptical of mainstream narratives instead of believing the say-so of malignant deceivers. Trust yourself. You are not being crazy, you are behaving logically. Don’t let them gaslight you.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers. This article was re-published with permission.




Understanding Russia, Un-Demonizing Putin

Since Vladimir Putin became president of Russia in 2000, there has been a steady barrage of negative press and hostility from the West. With Putin up for reelection this year, Sharon Tennison tries to separate fact from fiction.

By Sharon Tennison

Russian President Vladimir Putin obviously has his faults and has made his share of mistakes. Yet, my experiences with him, as well as what I have heard over the years from people I trust –– including U.S. officials who have with him worked closely –– indicate that Putin is essentially a straightforward, reliable and exceptionally inventive man.

The Russian president is clearly a long-term thinker and planner and has proven to be an excellent analyst and strategist. He is a leader who can quietly work toward his goals under mounds of accusations and myths that have been steadily leveled at him since he became the Russian Federation’s second president.

I’ve stood by silently watching the demonization of Putin grow since it began in the early 2000s –– I pondered my thoughts and concerns, and included them in a book published in 2011.

Like others who have had direct experience with this little-understood figure, I’ve tried to no avail to avoid being labeled a “Putin apologist.” If one is even neutral about him, they are called “soft on Putin” by pundits and average citizens who get their news from CNN, Fox and MSNBC.

I don’t pretend to be an expert, just an NGO program developer who has lived in Russia and the Soviet Union for the past 30 years. But during this time, I have had far more direct, on-the-ground contact with Russians of all stripes across 11 time zones than any of the Western reporters or for that matter any of Washington’s officials.

Understanding Differences

I’ve been in country long enough to reflect deeply on Russian history and culture, to study their psychology and conditioning, and to understand the marked differences between American and Russian mentalities which so complicate our political relations with their leaders.

As with personalities in a family or a civic club or in a city hall, it takes understanding and compromise to be able to create workable relationships when basic conditionings are different. Washington has been notoriously disinterested in understanding these differences and attempting to meet Russia halfway.

In addition to my personal experience with Putin, I’ve had discussions with numerous U.S. officials and American businessmen who have had years of experience working with him –– I believe it is safe to say that none would describe him as “brutal” or “thuggish,” or the other slanderous terms used to describe him in Western media.

I met Putin years before he ever dreamed of being president of Russia, as did many of us working in St. Petersburg during the 1990s. Since the anti-Putin vilification started, I’ve become nearly obsessed with understanding his character. I think I’ve read every major speech he has given (including the full texts of his annual hours-long telephone “talk-ins” with Russian citizens).

I’ve been trying to ascertain whether he has changed for the worse since being elevated to the presidency, or whether he is a straight character cast into a role of villain that he never anticipated –– and is using sheer wits to try to do the best he can to deal with Washington under extremely difficult circumstances.

If the latter is the case, and I think it is, he should get high marks for his performance over the past 14 years. It was no accident that Forbes declared him the World’s Most Powerful person of 2013, replacing Barack Obama who held the title in 2012. The following is my one personal experience with Putin.

The year was 1992, two years after the implosion of communism. The place was St. Petersburg.

Meeting Putin

For years I had been creating programs to open up relations between the U.S. and USSR, and hopefully to help Soviet people to get beyond their entrenched top-down mentalities. A new program possibility emerged in my head. Since I expected it might require a signature from the Marienskii City Hall, an appointment was made.

My friend Volodya Shestakov and I showed up at a side door entrance to the Marienskii building. We found ourselves in a small, dull brown office, facing a rather trim nondescript man in a brown suit.

He inquired about my reason for coming in. After scanning the proposal I provided he began asking intelligent questions. After each of my answers, he asked the next relevant question.

I became aware that this interviewer was different than other Soviet bureaucrats who always seemed to fall into chummy conversations with foreigners with hopes of obtaining bribes in exchange for the Americans’ requests.

This bureaucrat was open, inquiring, and impersonal in demeanor. After more than an hour of careful questions and answers, he quietly explained that he had tried hard to determine if the proposal was legal, then said that unfortunately at the time it was not. A few good words about the proposal were uttered. That was all. He politely showed us to the door.

Out on the sidewalk, I said to my colleague, “Volodya, this is the first time we have ever dealt with a Soviet bureaucrat who didn’t ask us for a trip to the U.S. or something valuable!”

I remember looking at his business card in the sunlight –– it read Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

An Unexpected Briefing

Two years later, in 1994, U.S. Consul General Jack Gosnell put in an SOS call to me in St. Petersburg. He had 14 Congress members and the new American Ambassador to Russia, Thomas Pickering, coming to St. Petersburg in the next three days. He needed immediate help.

I scurried over to the Consulate and learned that Gosnell intended me to brief this auspicious delegation and the incoming ambassador.

I was stunned but he insisted. They were coming from Moscow and were furious about how U.S. funding was being wasted there. Gosnell wanted them to hear the “good news” about my NGO –– the Center for Citizen Initiatives –– and its programs which were showing fine results. In the next 24 hours Gosnell and I also set up “home” meetings in a dozen Russian entrepreneurs’ small apartments for the arriving dignitaries (St. Petersburg State Department people were aghast, since it had never been done before, but Gosnell overruled).

Only later in 2000, did I learn of Gosnell’s former three-year experience with Vladimir Putin in the 1990s while the latter was running the city for Mayor Sobchak. More on this further down.

December 31, 1999

At the turn of the millennium, with no warning, President Boris Yeltsin made the announcement to the world that from the next day forward he was vacating his office and leaving Russia in the hands of an unknown Vladimir Putin.

On hearing the news, I thought surely not the man I remembered –– he could never lead Russia, I thought. The next day a NYT article included a photo.

Yes, it was the same Putin I’d met years ago! I was shocked and dismayed, telling friends, “This is a disaster for Russia, I’ve spent time with this guy, he is too introverted and too intelligent –– he will never be able to relate to Russia’s masses.”

Further, I lamented: “For Russia to get up off of its knees, two things must happen: 1) The arrogant young oligarchs have to be removed by force from the Kremlin, and 2) A way must be found to remove the regional bosses (governors) from their fiefdoms across Russia’s 89 regions.”

It was clear to me that the man in the brown suit would never have the instincts or guts to tackle Russia’s overriding twin challenges.

Oligarchs on Edge

Almost immediately Putin began putting Russia’s oligarchs on edge. In February 2000 a question about the oligarchs came up; he clarified with a question and his answer: What should the relationship be with the so-called oligarchs? The same as anyone else. The same as the owner of a small bakery or a shoe repair shop.

This was the first signal that the tycoons would no longer be able to flaunt government regulations or count on special access in the Kremlin. It also made the West’s capitalists nervous.

After all, these oligarchs were wealthy untouchable businessmen –– good capitalists, never mind that they got their enterprises illegally and were putting their profits in offshore banks.

Four months later Putin called a meeting with the oligarchs and proposed a deal: They could keep their illegally acquired wealth-producing Soviet enterprises and they would not be nationalized if taxes were paid on their revenues and if they personally stayed out of politics.

This was the first of Putin’s “elegant solutions” to the near-impossible challenges facing the new Russia. But the deal also put Putin in crosshairs with U.S. media and officials who then began to champion the oligarchs, particularly Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The latter became highly political, didn’t pay taxes, and prior to being apprehended and jailed was in the process of selling a major portion of Russia’s largest private oil company, Yukos Oil, to Exxon Mobil. Unfortunately, to U.S. media and governing structures, Khodorkovsky became a martyr (and remains so up to today).

Yeltsin’s Criminals

In March 2000 I arrived in St. Petersburg. A Russian friend (a psychologist) since 1983 came for our usual visit. My first question was, “Lena what do you think about your new president?” She laughed and retorted, “Volodya! I went to school with him!”

She began to describe Putin as a quiet youngster, poor, fond of martial arts, who stood up for kids being bullied on the playgrounds. She remembered him as a patriotic youth who applied for the KGB prematurely after graduating secondary school (they sent him away and told him to get an education).

He went to law school, later reapplied and was accepted. I must have grimaced at this, because Lena said: “Sharon in those days we all admired the KGB and believed that those who worked there were patriots and were keeping the country safe. We thought it was natural for Volodya to choose this career.”

My next question was: “What do you think he will do with Yeltsin’s criminals in the Kremlin?”

Putting on her psychologist hat, she contemplated the question and replied that if left to his normal behaviors, Putin would watch them for a while to be sure what was going on, then he would likely throw up some flares to let them know that he was watching. If they didn’t respond, he would address them personally, and if the behaviors still didn’t change, some would probably spend time in prison.

I congratulated her via email when her predictions began to pan out in real time.

Through the 2000s

Into Putin’s first year as Russia’s president, U.S. officials seemed to suspect that he would be antithetical to America’s interests –– his every move was called into question in American media. I couldn’t understand why and was chronicling these developments on my computer and newsletters.

During the same period, St. Petersburg’s many CCI alumni were being interviewed to determine how the Production Enhancement Program business training program was working and how we could make the U.S. experience more valuable for their new small businesses. Most believed that the program had been enormously important, even life changing. Lastly, each was asked: “So what do you think of your new president?”

None responded negatively, even though at that time entrepreneurs hated Russia’s bureaucrats. Most answered similarly, “Putin registered my business a few years ago.”

Next question: “So, how much did it cost you?”

To a person they replied, “Putin didn’t charge anything.” One said that they had gone to Putin’s desk because the others providing registrations at the Marienskii were getting “rich on their seats.” In other words, Putin had been earning a reputation for honesty and fair-dealing.

U.S.-Russian Relations

The U.S. Consul General, Jack Gosnell, had a close relationship with Putin when he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. The two of them worked closely to create joint ventures and other ways to promote relations between the two countries. Gosnell related that Putin was always straightforward, courteous and helpful.

When Putin’s wife, Ludmila, was in a severe auto accident, Gosnell took the liberty to arrange hospitalization and airline travel for her to get medical care in Finland. When Gosnell told Putin, he reported that the latter was overcome by the generous offer, but ended saying that he couldn’t accept this favor, that Ludmila would have to recover in a Russian hospital.

She did –– although medical care in Russia was notoriously bad in the 1990s.

A senior officer at the Center for Strategic and International Studies whom I was friends with in the 2000s worked closely with Putin on a number of joint ventures during the 1990s. He reported that he had no dealings with Putin that were questionable, that he respected him and believed he was getting an undeserved dour reputation from U.S. media.

As a matter of fact, he closed the door at CSIS when we started talking about Putin. I guessed his comments wouldn’t be acceptable if others were listening.

Another former U.S. official also reported working closely with Putin, saying there was never any hint of bribery, pressuring, nothing but respectable behaviors and helpfulness.

I had two encounters in 2013 with State Department officials regarding Putin. At the first one, I felt free to ask the question I had previously yearned to get answered: When did Putin become unacceptable to Washington officials and why?

Without hesitation the answer came back: The “knives were drawn,” I was told, as soon as it was announced that Putin would be the next president. From what I was told, it seemed that his previous status as a KGB officer had something to do with it.

When I offered that Bush-41 had previously led the CIA, the reply was that Bush was “our guy,” so this made no difference.

The second encounter was a former State Department official with whom I had participated in a radio interview on Russia. Afterward while we were chatting, I remarked, “You might be interested to know that I’ve collected experiences of Putin from numerous people, some over a period of years, and they all say they had no negative experiences with Putin and there was no evidence of taking bribes.”

He firmly replied: “No one has ever been able to come up with a bribery charge against Putin.”

Demonization and Reality

From 2001 until today, I’ve watched the U.S. media negatively portray Putin, comparing him to Hitler, and making accusations against him of ordering assassinations and poisonings. Yet no one has come up with any concrete evidence for these allegations.

During this period, I’ve traveled throughout Russia several times every year, and have watched the country slowly change under Putin’s watch. Taxes were lowered, inflation lessened, and laws slowly put in place. Schools and hospitals began improving. Small businesses were growing, agriculture was showing improvement, and stores were becoming stocked with food.

Alcohol controls were strengthened, smoking was banned from buildings, and life expectancy began increasing. Highways were being laid across the country, new rails and modern trains appeared even in far out places, and the banking industry was becoming dependable. Russia was beginning to look like a decent country –– certainly not where Russians hoped it to be long term, but improving incrementally for the first time in their memories.

In addition to St. Petersburg and Moscow, in September 2013 I traveled out to the Ural Mountains, spent time in Ekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk and Perm. We traveled between cities via autos and rail –– the fields and forests look healthy, small towns sport new paint and construction. Today’s Russians look much like Americans –– which makes sense considering we get the same clothing from China.

Old concrete Khrushchev block houses are giving way to new multi-story private residential complexes, which are lovely. High-rise business centers, fine hotels and great restaurants are now commonplace –– and ordinary Russians frequent these places. Two- and three-story private homes rim these Russian cities far from Moscow.

We visited new museums, municipal buildings and huge supermarkets. Streets are in good condition, highways are newly renovated and well-marked now, and service stations look like those dotting American highways. In January 2014 I went to Novosibirsk out in Siberia where similar new construction was noted. Streets were kept navigable with constant snowplowing, modern lighting kept the city bright all night, lots of new traffic lights (with seconds counting down to light change) have appeared.

It is astounding to me how much progress Russia had made in the past 14 years since an unknown man with no experience walked into Russia’s presidency and took over a country that was flat on its belly.

Understanding the Misunderstanding

So why do our leaders and media demean and demonize Putin and Russia? To paraphrase Shakespeare, is it a case of protesting too much?

Psychologists tell us that people often project on to others what they don’t want to face in themselves. Others carry our “shadow” when we refuse to own it. We confer on others the very traits that we are horrified to acknowledge in ourselves.

Could this apply to nations as well? Is this why we constantly find fault with Putin and Russia?

Could it be that we project on to Putin the sins of ourselves and our leaders?

Could it be that we condemn Russia’s corruption in order to ignore the corruption within our corporate world?

Could it be that we condemn their human rights and LGBT issues, not facing the fact that we haven’t resolved our own?

Could it be that we accuse Russia of “reconstituting the USSR” because of what we do to remain the world’s “hegemon”?

Could it be that we project nationalist behaviors on Russia, because that is what we have become and we don’t want to face it?

Could it be that we project warmongering off on Russia, because of what we have done over the past several administrations?

Could we be accusing Russia of election-meddling because we do this ourselves?

Whether we can answer these questions with any certainty, one thing I am quite sure of is that 99% of those who excoriate Putin in mainstream media have had no personal contact with him at all. They write articles on hearsay, rumors and fabrication, or they read scripts others have written on their tele-prompters. This is how our nation gets its “news,” such as it is.

There is a well-known code of ethics worth bearing in mind: Is it the Truth; Is it Fair; Does it build Friendship and Goodwill; and Will it be Beneficial for All Concerned?

It seems to me that if our nation’s leaders would commit to using these four principles in international relations, the world would operate in a completely different manner, and human beings across this planet would live in better conditions than they do today.

Sharon Tennison ran a successful NGO in Russia funded by philanthropists, American foundations, USAID and Department of State, designing new programs and refining old ones, and evaluating Russian delegates’ U.S. experiences for over 20 years. She adapted the Marshall Plan Tours from the 40s and 50s, and created the Production Enhancement Program (PEP) for Russian entrepreneurs, the largest ever business training program between the U.S. and Russia. Running several large programs concurrently during the 90s and 2000s, funding disappeared shortly after the 2008 financial crisis set in. Tennison still runs an orphanage program in Russia, is President and Founder, Center for Citizen Initiatives, a member of Rotary Club of Palo Alto, California, and author of The Power of Impossible Ideas: Ordinary Citizens’ Extraordinary Efforts to Avert International Crises. The author can be contacted at sharon@ccisf.org.




Ten Commonsense Suggestions for Making Peace, Not War

President Trump’s first year in office brought an escalation of military aggression abroad as he built on the interventions of previous administrations, but there are steps America can take to move towards a more peaceful future, writes retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel William J. Astore at TomDispatch.

By William J. Astore

Whether the rationale is the need to wage a war on terror involving 76 countries or renewed preparations for a struggle against peer competitors Russia and China (as Defense Secretary James Mattis suggested recently while introducing America’s new National Defense Strategy), the U.S. military is engaged globally.  A network of 800 military bases spread across 172 countries helps enable its wars and interventions.  By the count of the Pentagon, at the end of the last fiscal year about 291,000 personnel (including reserves and Department of Defense civilians) were deployed in 183 countries worldwide, which is the functional definition of a military uncontained.  Lady Liberty may temporarily close when the U.S. government grinds to a halt, but the country’s foreign military commitments, especially its wars, just keep humming along.

As a student of history, I was warned to avoid the notion of inevitability.  Still, given such data points and others like them, is there anything more predictable in this country’s future than incessant warfare without a true victory in sight?  Indeed, the last clear-cut American victory, the last true “mission accomplished” moment in a war of any significance, came in 1945 with the end of World War II.

Yet the lack of clear victories since then seems to faze no one in Washington.  In this century, presidents have regularly boasted that the U.S. military is the finest fighting force in human history, while no less regularly demanding that the most powerful military in today’s world be “rebuilt” and funded at ever more staggering levels.  Indeed, while on the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised he’d invest so much in the military that it would become “so big and so strong and so great, and it will be so powerful that I don’t think we’re ever going to have to use it.”

As soon as he took office, however, he promptly appointed a set of generals to key positions in his government, stored the mothballs, and went back to war.  Here, then, is a brief rundown of the first year of his presidency in war terms.

Trump’s First Year of War-Making

In 2017, Afghanistan saw a mini-surge of roughly 4,000 additional U.S. troops (with more to come), a major spike in air strikes, and an onslaught of munitions of all sorts, including MOAB (the mother of all bombs), the never-before-used largest non-nuclear bomb in the U.S. arsenal, as well as precision weapons fired by B-52s against suspected Taliban drug laboratories.  By the Air Force’s own count, 4,361 weapons were “released” in Afghanistan in 2017 compared to 1,337 in 2016.  Despite this commitment of warriors and weapons, the Afghan war remains — according to American commanders putting the best possible light on the situation — “stalemated,” with that country’s capital Kabul currently under siege.

How about Operation Inherent Resolve against the Islamic State?  U.S.-led coalition forces have launched more than 10,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since Donald Trump became president, unleashing 39,577 weapons in 2017. (The figure for 2016 was 30,743.)  The “caliphate” is now gone and ISIS deflated but not defeated, since you can’t extinguish an ideology solely with bombs.  Meanwhile, along the Syrian-Turkish border a new conflict seems to be heating up between American-backed Kurdish forces and NATO ally Turkey.

Yet another strife-riven country, Yemen, witnessed a sixfold increase in U.S. airstrikes against al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (from 21 in 2016 to more than 131 in 2017).  In Somalia, which has also seen a rise in such strikes against al-Shabaab militants, U.S. forces on the ground have reached numbers not seen since the Black Hawk Down incident of 1993.  In each of these countries, there are yet more ruins, yet more civilian casualties, and yet more displaced people.

Finally, we come to North Korea.  Though no real shots have yet been fired, rhetorical shots by two less-than-stable leaders, “Little Rocket Man” Kim Jong-un and “dotard” Donald Trump, raise the possibility of a regional bloodbath.  Trump, seemingly favoring military solutions to North Korea’s nuclear program even as his administration touts a new generation of more usable nuclear warheads, has been remarkably successful in moving the world’s doomsday clock ever closer to midnight.

Clearly, his “great” and “powerful” military has hardly been standing idly on the sidelines looking “big” and “strong.”  More than ever, in fact, it seems to be lashing out across the Greater Middle East and Africa.  Seventeen years after the 9/11 attacks began the Global War on Terror, all of this represents an eerily familiar attempt by the U.S. military to kill its way to victory, whether against the Taliban, ISIS, or other terrorist organizations.

This kinetic reality should surprise no one.  Once you invest so much in your military — not just financially but also culturally (by continually celebrating it in a fashion which has come to seem like a quasi-faith) — it’s natural to want to put it to use.  This has been true of all recent administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, as reflected in the infamous question Madeleine Albright posed to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell in 1992: “What’s the point of having this superb military you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”

With the very word “peace” rarely in Washington’s political vocabulary, America’s never-ending version of war seems as inevitable as anything is likely to be in history.  Significant contingents of U.S. troops and contractors remain an enduring presence in Iraq and there are now 2,000 U.S. Special Operations forces and other personnel in Syria for the long haul.  They are ostensibly engaged in training and stability operations.  In Washington, however, the urge for regime change in both Syria and Iran remains strong — in the case of Iran implacably so.  If past is prologue, then considering previous regime-change operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, the future looks grim indeed.

Despite the dismal record of the last decade and a half, our civilian leaders continue to insist that this country must have a military not only second to none but globally dominant.  And few here wonder what such a quest for total dominance, the desire for absolute power, could do to this country.  Two centuries ago, however, writing to Thomas Jefferson, John Adams couldn’t have been clearer on the subject.  Power, he said, “must never be trusted without a check.”

The question today for the American people: How is the dominant military power of which U.S. leaders so casually boast to be checked? How is the country’s almost total reliance on the military in foreign affairs to be reined in? How can the plans of the profiteers and arms makers to keep the good times rolling be brought under control?

As a start, consider one of Donald Trump’s favorite generals, Douglas MacArthur, speaking to the Sperry Rand Corporation in 1957:

“Our swollen budgets constantly have been misrepresented to the public. Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear — kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor — with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant funds demanded. Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”

No peacenik MacArthur.  Other famed generals like Smedley Butler and Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke out with far more vigor against the corruptions of war and the perils to a democracy of an ever more powerful military, though such sentiments are seldom heard in this country today.  Instead, America’s leaders insist that other people judge us by our words, our stated good intentions, not our murderous deeds and their results.

Perpetual Warfare Whistles Through Washington

Whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere in the war on terror, the U.S. is now engaged in generational conflicts that are costing us trillions of dollars, driving up the national debt while weakening the underpinnings of our democracy.  They have led to foreign casualties by the hundreds of thousands and created refugees in the millions, while turning cities like Iraq’s Mosul into wastelands.

In today’s climate of budget-busting “defense” appropriations, isn’t it finally time for Americans to apply a little commonsense to our disastrous pattern of war-making?  To prime the pump for such a conversation, here are 10 suggestions for ways to focus on, limit, or possibly change Washington’s now eternal war-making and profligate war spending:

  1. Abandon the notion of perfect security.  You can’t have it.   It doesn’t exist.  And abandon as well the idea that a huge military establishment translates into national safety.  James Madison didn’t think so and neither did Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  2. Who could have anything against calling the Pentagon a “defense” department, if defense were truly its focus?  But let’s face it: the Pentagon is actually a war department.  So let’s label it what it really is.  After all, how can you deal with a problem if you can’t even name it accurately?
  3. Isn’t it about time to start following the Constitution when it comes to our “wars”?  Isn’t it time for Congress to finally step up to its constitutional duties?  Whatever the Pentagon is called, this country should no longer be able to pursue its many conflicts without a formal congressional declaration of war.  If we had followed that rule, the U.S. wouldn’t have fought any of its wars since the end of World War II.
  4. Generational wars — ones, that is, that never end — should not be considered a measure of American resolve, but of American stupidity.  If you wage war long, you wage it wrong, especially if you want to protect democratic institutions in this country.
  5. Generals generally like to wage war.  Don’t blame them.  It’s their profession.  But for heaven’s sake, don’t put them in charge of the Department of “Defense” (James Mattis) or the National Security Council (H.R. McMaster) either — and above all, don’t let one of them (John Kelly) become the gatekeeper for a volatile, vain president.  In our country, civilians should be in charge of the war makers, end of story.
  6. You can’t win wars you never should have begun in the first place.  America’s leaders failed to learn that lesson from Vietnam.  Since then they have continued to wage wars for less-than-vital interests with predictably dismal results. Following the Vietnam example, America will only truly win its Afghan War when it chooses to rein in its pride and vanity — and leave.
  7. The serious people in Washington snickered when, as a presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008, Congressman Dennis Kucinich called for a Department of Peace. Remind me, though, 17 years into our latest set of wars, what was so funny about that suggestion? Isn’t it better to wage peace than war? If you don’t believe me, ask a wounded veteran or a Gold Star family.
  8. Want to invest in American jobs? Good idea! But stop making the military-industrial complex the preferred path to job creation. That’s a loser of a way to go. It’s proven that investments in “butter” create double or triple the number of jobs as those in “guns.” In other words, invest in education, health care, and civilian infrastructure, not more weaponry.
  9. Get rid of the very idea behind the infamous Pottery Barn rule — the warning Secretary of State Colin Powell offered George W. Bush before the invasion of Iraq that if the U.S. military “breaks” a country, somehow we’ve “bought” it and so have to take ownership of the resulting mess. Whether stated or not, it’s continued to be the basis for this century’s unending wars. Honestly, if somebody broke something valuable you owned, would you trust that person to put it back together? Folly doesn’t decrease by persisting in it.
  10. I was an officer in the Air Force. When I entered that service, the ideal of the citizen-soldier still held sway. But during my career I witnessed a slow, insidious change. A citizen-soldier military morphed into a professional ethos of “warriors” and “warfighters,” a military that saw itself as better than the rest of us. It’s time to think about how to return to that citizen-soldier tradition, which made it harder to fight those generational wars.

Consider retired General John Kelly, who, while defending the president in a controversy over the president’s words to the mother of a dead Green Beret, refused to take questions from reporters unless they had a personal connection to fallen troops or to a Gold Star family. Consider as well the way that U.S. politicians like Vice President Mike Pence are always so keen to exalt those in uniform, to speak of them as above the citizenry. (“You are the best of us.”)

Isn’t it time to stop praising our troops to the rooftops and thanking them endlessly for what they’ve done for us — for fighting those wars without end — and to start listening to them instead?  Isn’t it time to try to understand them not as “heroes” in another universe, but as people like us in all their frailty and complexity? We’re never encouraged to see them as our neighbors, or as teenagers who struggled through high school, or as harried moms and dads.

Our troops are, of course, human and vulnerable and imperfect.  We don’t help them when we put them on pedestals, give them flags to hold in the breeze, and salute them as icons of a feel-good brand of patriotism.  Talk of warrior-heroes is worse than cheap: it enables our state of permanent war, elevates the Pentagon, ennobles the national security state, and silences dissent.  That’s why it’s both dangerous and universally supported in rare bipartisan fashion by politicians in Washington.

So here’s my final point.  Think of it as a bonus 11th suggestion: don’t make our troops into heroes, even when they’re in harm’s way.  It would be so much better to make ourselves into heroes by getting them out of harm’s way.

Be exceptional, America.  Make peace, not war.

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor, is a TomDispatch regular. He blogs at Bracing Views. [This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com and is republished with permission.]




‘Deep State’ Veterans find New Homes in Mainstream Media

NBC News’ hiring of former CIA Director John Brennan is the latest in a wave of intelligence community stalwarts being given jobs in the media, raising concerns over conflicts of interests, reports Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone

“Former CIA director John Brennan has become the latest member of the NBC News and MSNBC family, officially signing with the network as a contributor,” chirps a recent article by The Wrap, as though that’s a perfectly normal thing to have to write and not a ghastly symptom of an Orwellian dystopia. NBC reports that the former head of the depraved, lying, torturing, propagandizing, drug trafficking, coup-staging, warmongering Central Intelligence Agency “is now a senior national security and intelligence analyst.”

Brennan, who played a key role in the construction of the establishment’s Russia narrative that has been used to manufacture public consent for world-threatening new cold war escalations, is just the latest addition in an ongoing trend of trusted mainstream media outlets being packed to the gills with stalwarts from the U.S. intelligence community. Brennan joins CIA and DoD Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash on the NBC/MSNBC lineup, who is serving there as a national security analyst, as well as NBC intelligence/national security reporter and known CIA collaborator Ken Dilanian.

Former Director of National Intelligence, Russiagate architect, and known Russophobic racist James Clapper was welcomed to the CNN “family” last year by Chris “It’s Illegal to Read WikiLeaks” Cuomo and now routinely appears as an expert analyst for the network. Last year CNN also hired a new national security analyst in Michael Hayden, who has served as CIA Director, NSA Director, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and an Air Force general.

Former CIA analyst and now paid CNN analyst Phil Mudd, who last year caused Cuomo’s show to have to issue a retraction and apology for a completely baseless claim he made on national television asserting that WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is “a pedophile”, is once again making headlines for suggesting that the FBI is entering into a showdown with the current administration over Trump’s decision to declassify the controversial Nunes memo.

More and more of the outlets from which Americans get their information are being filled not just with garden variety establishment loyalists, but with longstanding members of the U.S. intelligence community. These men got to their positions of power within these deeply sociopathic institutions based on their willingness to facilitate any depravity in order to advance the secret agendas of the U.S. power establishment, and now they’re being paraded in front of mainstream Americans on cable news on a daily basis. The words of these “experts” are consistently taken and reported on by smaller news outlets in print and online media in a way that seeds their authoritative assertions throughout public consciousness.

The term “deep state” does not refer to a conspiracy theory but to a simple concept in political analysis which points to the undeniable reality that (A) plutocrats, (B) intelligence agencies, (C) defense agencies, and (D) the mainstream media hold large amounts of power in America despite their not being part of its elected government. You don’t need to look far to see how these separate groups overlap and collaborate to advance their own agendas in various ways. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, for example, is deeply involved in all of the aforementioned groups: (A) as arguably the wealthiest person ever he is clearly a plutocrat, with a company that is trying to control the underlying infrastructure of the economy; (B) he is a CIA contractor; (C) he is part of a Pentagon advisory board; and (D) his purchase of the Washington Post in 2013 gave him total control over a major mainstream media outlet.

Bezos did not purchase the Washington Post because his avaricious brain predicted that newspapers were about to make a profitable resurgence; he purchased it for the same reason he has inserted himself so very deeply into America’s unelected power infrastructure – he wants to ensure a solid foundation for the empire he is building. He needs a potent propaganda outlet to manufacture support for the power establishment that he is weaving his plutocratic tentacles through. This is precisely the same reason other mass media-controlling plutocrats are stocking their propaganda machines with intelligence community insiders.

Time and again you see connections between the plutocratic class which effectively owns America’s elected government, the intelligence and defense agencies which operate behind thick veils of secrecy in the name of “national security” to advance agendas which have nothing to do with the wishes of the electorate, and the mass media machine which is used to manufacture the consent of the people to be governed by this exploitative power structure.

America is ruled by an elite class which has slowly created a system where money increasingly translates directly into political power, and which is therefore motivated to maintain economic injustice in order to rule over the masses more completely. The greater the economic inequality, the greater their power. Nobody would willingly consent to such an oppressive system where wealth inequality keeps growing as expensive bombs from expensive drones are showered upon strangers on the other side of the planet, so a robust propaganda machine is needed.

And that’s where John Brennan’s new job comes in. Expect a consistent fountain of lies to pour from his mouth on NBC, and expect them to all prop up this exploitative power establishment and advance its geopolitical agendas. And expect clear-eyed rebels everywhere to keep calling it all what it is.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on FacebookTwitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.